Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Age of Sigmar background primer: The Realmgate Wars

In an effort to give the Age of Sigmar background more love I previously madea post with a general Age of Sigmar background primer. Here you can read (a bit) about the fate of the Old World, the Mortal Realms and their gods and – most importantly – the realmgates and the setting in general. This post deals with the Realmgate Wars. These are the wars that kick off the Age of Sigmar, got us started on the current background story and are dealt with over the course of five sourcebooks.

Black Library published a number of novels and audio books on the Realmgate Wars. More importantly Games Workshop released five hardcover books telling the story, adding rules and giving rules for themed battles. I’ll be using these books as the basis for this post. In the books Games Workshop tells the story by jumping from one realm to the next, slowly following the timeline up to the finish. I’ll be summarizing in a slightly different fashion, giving descriptions of the events on a per realm basis. As with the other post here’s a ‘here be spoilers’ warning. I recommend getting the Realmgate Wars books. They are quite an entertaining read and a collection onto themselves.

I don't have any Stormcast painted up to show here, so I went with a nice old Skaven model instead. Ignoring the fact that this makes no sense whatsoever. 
Stormcast Eternals
It is quite impossible to tell any wargamer you play Age of Sigmar without having to talk about Stormcast. For troops riding the lightning to battle, they sure act as lightning rods for the ire of some. Personally I did not like the models when they were released. I’ve painted a few test models so far and I’m still torn. Occasionally I love them and get ready to build a small army. At other times I hate their constipated faces and stuff what I have back in a project box. Recently I’ve seen a few paint schemes that really bring them to life. Now here’s to hoping I can steal one of those (and add some uncovered faces to the lot, I like seeing faces).

As characters in the story they work surprisingly well. They get nicely fleshed out backgrounds and read like fascinating tragic heroes. The Stormcast form the vanguard forces fighting Chaos. Basically Sigmar took the souls of the most defiant heroes from the start of the Age of Chaos to Azyr. He re-forged them (gave them new bodies) and armored them in Grugni-designed battle-plate. Stormcast are organized by Stormhost, each host has a different battle doctrine and its members have a shared background (they were all royalty of a certain nation, all died defying chaos with their last breath, etc.). When a Stormcast dies, his soul is whisked back to Azyr in a flash of blue. There he is reforged over an unpredictable period of time. After being reforged the warrior loses a bit of his old self (mostly memories), so over time the Stormcast seem to slowly turn into animated suits of armor.

The Realmgate wars
At the start of the Realmgate Wars Sigmar unleashes his first host of stormcast on Aqshy to re-open a gate to Azyr. His plan is to open many more Realmgates on every realm and use these to send reinforcing waves of Stormcast. The overall goal is to find the Seven All-Gates and close them. These are the Realmgates that lead to the All-Points that is currently hosting the citadel of Archaon the Everchosen. By cutting Archaon off it might become possible to fight Chaos armies that don’t have an endless supply of reinforcements coming in.

Secondary goal of the Realmgate wars is to reconnect with old allies and reforge the alliances. This will be a difficult as quite a few of the other gods do not like Sigmar. Nagash, the god of death, considers him a traitor and a thief. GorkaMorka is bored by Sigmar and just wants to fight everything. The Everqueen Alarielle might just be rather angry about Sigmar leaving her to her fate, and so on. For clarity’s sake I’ll describe what happens in the wars on a per realm basis. If you want a more chronological order, read the books.

Ghorkos Khul is introduced in the Age of Sigmar starterset as a very mighty lord of Khorne.
Aqshy, the realm of fire
The Age of Sigmar begins on the Brimstone Peninsula in the realm of fire Aqshy. The first Stormhost commanded by Lord-Celestant Vandus Hammerhand takes on a mighty Chaos lord called Khorgos Khul (both the main characters in the boxed starter set). Vandus wishes to open the first realmgate to Azyr and summon reinforcements. Khorgos has been spending an inordinate amount of time looking for the skull of an immortal to complete his tower of skulls for Khorne (and ascend to daemonhood). They fight and Vandus manages to both keep his skull and open the realmgate.

The story continues with another Stormhost contacting Fyreslayers living in Aqshy. These are Duardin (Dwarves) that live in the realm of fire. They use Magmadroths (a sort of magma emitting dragon) to tunnel around active volcanoes. Fyreslayers paint their hair in bright colors, are nearly immune to heat and spend most of their time looking for Ur-Gold. This is a special type of gold left behind when their god Grimnir was shattered. The Fyreslayers hope to resurrect their god by finding all his pieces and putting them together. The Stormcast buy the loyalty of the Fyreslayers by emptying the vaults of Azyr of Ur-Gold.

At first a Fyreslayer and Stormhost alliance attempts to enter Bloodkeep. This is a huge fortress that features a prison where Skarbrand is locked away. Skarbrand is the greatest of Bloodthirster Greater Daemons of Khorne. Tricked by Tzeentch he once attacked Khorne himself and was punished rather severely. Now Skarbrand is chained in Bloodkeep and occasionally released to cause mayhem. The Stormcast plan to steal Skarbrands chain. It is forged by Khorne himself and as such the only thing that can hold Skarbrand down. In the end they fail and (without realizing it) they accidentally release a bit of true name of Kiathanus, a Greater Daemon of Tzeentch.

Kiathanus has been a naughty daemon and Tzeentch has him locked up on Anachron Plateau where he has to serve as the Oracle of Thruths. For a Tzeentch daemon there is no greater punishment than being forced to always be truthful. A Stormcast Stormhost fights to get access to the oracle of truth. Unfortunately for them Archaon has received the last bit of the true name their colleagues released in Bloodkeep. In the end Archaon wipes out the Stormcast and claims the oracle as his personal property.

Another big battle is fought over the Orb Infernia. This is a gigantic malevolent eye in the sky that is closed as long as four floating islands are out of alignment. A rather clever Slann starmaster called Lord Xen’phantica has manipulated the four daemon princes (The Infernal Tetrarchy) inhabiting this orb to constantly fight each other. In the end they betray Khorgos Khul on another battlefield. The Lord of Khorne hops on by, bashes in (a lot of) Chaos heads and takes control. Khul follows up by defeating the Seraphon, killing Xen’phantica and by that action destroying a bit of the soul of the Slann. In the end thanks to Khorgos Khul the malevolent eye of the Orb Infernia looks out over Aqshy. I’m not fully sure what that does in the end, but it does not sound very promising.

Meanwhile, elsewhere on Aqshy, a fight to control the Hengegate Realmgate ends up with Stormcast and ragtag human survivor allies fighting a joint Nurgle and Khorne force. This force features the raging Greater Daemon Skarbrand. A rather clever Stormcast realizes that the local bloodquartz crystals amplify hate and rage. He lures Skarbrand between cystal pylons and the amplified rage of the daemon kills all mortals Choas followers present, and the Stormcast, and their human allies. It also the lands of Nurgles taint. A bit of a Phyrric victory there, at least no one is around to complain about it.

Also on Aqshy Fyreslayers fight with Stormcast to stop Archaon from capturing the godbeast Ignax. Godbeasts are humongous creatures, like dragons that curl around the sun for a quick nap or giants that name a gigantic floating island their ‘torc’. Archaon manages to snap the chains binding Ignax (not a mean feat, as they are forged by Grugni himself). He misses a defiant action by a Fyreslayer Runesmiter. This guy manages to secretly place Ariakh the Father Rune of Binding on Ignax, giving the Fyreslayers a secret way to control the Godbeast.

In the end it all comes down to a fight over the Brimstone Gate. This is the All-Gate on Aqshy and it is protected by the eight-castles-that-were-one. Sigmar decides to attack the eight castles at once, slay all champions and leaders in them and use the confusion to capture the gate. A humongous battle follows. Near the end Archaon sends Ignax to kill everybody, but the Fyreslayers use the secret rune to force Ignax to kill only a large part of the Chaos horde. Lord-Celestant Vandus Hammerhand duels and vanquishes Skarbrand in the end. The Stormcast take control of the Brimstone Gate and close it, making Aqshy (slightly) safer from Chaos.

Ghyran, the realm of life, gives you the best excuses for sticking fake plants on homemade scenery.
Ghyran, the realm of life
The realm of life Ghyran has the special attention of Nurgle. As a disease god he is rather interested in adding this realm to his garden in the Realm of Chaos. The realm also hides the Everqueen Alarielle. Nurgle wants to cage her and use her to decorate his garden (if only Nurgle had heard of garden centres, so much trouble could’ve been avoided). On Ghyran we meet unpleasantly filthy champions of Nurgle like Rotgut Spume and Toglug the Despised. Lord-Celestant Gardus enters the realm looking for the Everqueen to make an alliance.

During one of the first fights Gardus falls through the Gates of Dawn to stop a Great Unclean One called Bolathrax. The Gates of Dawn is a corrupted realmgate that leads straight into the Garden of Nurgle. With the help of Sylvaneth voices Gardus manages to escape the Garden of Nurgle. The Sylvaneth are a new faction consisting of Dryads and Treelords (and some new models) that serve the Everqueen (she has soured on elves during the End Times).

Meanwhile Lord Castellant Lorrus Grymn takes over command of Gardus’s Stormhost. He continues searching, meets up with an escaped Gardus just in time to find the Everqueen in her hiding place The Hidden Vale. With their discovery they accidentally reveal this location to Nurgle’s henchmen. A fight ensues, Gardus is killed and returns for a reforging. Grymn takes charge again and defends the retreat of Alarielle’s court but the Everqueen herself is badly hurt and turns into a seed.

Grymn defends the remnants of the court during their long retreat all over Ghyran. After a lot of running and battles and a mysterious voyage through mystic pathways, the Stormcast make a last stand on an ice plain. There the Celestant Prime, wielder of Ghal Maraz, appears and saves the day. In the end they plant Allarielle’s seed in the remnants of a warriors civilization and wait.

A rather interesting thing storywise is the death of Torglug the Despised. It turns out this rather tortured general of Nurgle was an involuntary fighter to the cause. Inside his disease wracked frame he held on to a sliver of good. Sigmar takes this sliver, and uses it to cleanse Torglug’s soul. He is turned into a Stormcast. The reborn Tornus the Redeemed joins the fight against Chaos.

The next part of the Ghyran campaign is fought on the Scabrous Sprawl. Beneath this part of Ghyran is the sleeping form of Behemath, father of all Gargants (giants). On Archaon’s orders Clan Skryre has built rather imaginative parasite engines. These huge machines poison the land in an effort to turn Behemath insane (mental not: must make a Parasite Engine as a terrain piece some day). The Stormcast fight Nurgle’s warriors, Skaven and Beastmen up onto a floating landmass called the Great Green Torc. There they fight more Beastmen, are tricked into a fight with Spiderfang Grots and fight Gargants. In the end an insane Behemat arises. The Celestant-Prime shows up and uses Ghal Maraz to split Behemat’s skull.  

The final battle for Ghyran is fought over the Genesis Gate (no relation to the band). The gate is situated in a fortress on a disease infested lake. The lake is fed filth through the Filthfall waterfall. After some scouting it turns out that a Pox Behemoth called pustrol is responsible. Tornus the Redeemed takes some friends along and kills it. A final battle around the fortress ensues and the Glottkin, of End Times fame, enter the fray. Just as everything seems to go wrong Alarielle, now in her warrior form riding a giant beetle appears. The final chapter is called Wrath of the Everqueen. To keep it short and simple: the All-gate to Ghyran is closed.

You can't beat old school Nurgling bases for sheer amount of character per square centimeter.
Chamon, the realm of metal
But where did Ghal Maraz and the Celestant Prime come from? If I’d put this in chronological order, it would have made sense... In the realm of metal Chamon is another special Realmgate called The Silverway. It can transport you to any realm, the problem is it is a one way trip. On the new realm you’ll have to find another realmgate to travel elsewhere. The Stormcast enter Chamon and – to their surprise – easily find and capture The Silverway. Turns out, thanks to Duardin protections, the Tzeentch sorcerer living in Chamon, Ephryx is his name, failed to find it over the decades.

Ephryx commands a fortress in the Hanging Valleys of Anvrok. He is also one of my favorite characters in the series. A complete tool of man with the social graces of a piece of sandpaper and a vile attitude to complete the horrific package. Ephryx takes power and betrays everyone to get a girl (who hates him, doesn’t want him so he kills her rather gruesomely, turning her into a banshee) he ends up with a gigantic fortress around a magical artifact (he can never use) and his best friend is Kairos Faithweaver (who has no best friends and is rather uncharacteristically obvious about that).

Ephryx fights the Stormcast but keeps being defeated until they almost take his castle right from under him. Luckily for Ephryx he has a teleportation spell on his inner citadel and zaps away before his defeat is total. Unluckily for him the Stormcast spot the artifact he is hiding in his castle. It is Ghal Maraz, Sigmar’s magic hammer! Apparently the god threw the hammer away after being tricked by Tzeentch. Ephryx managed to conquer the civilization holding the hammer in a secret vault and has been trying (and failing) to get it to work for him since, building a giant castle around it in the process.

To put it mildly, the presence of Ghal Maraz motivates Sigmar to send more troops. They travel through a lot of very interesting Chamon scenery including a huge lake of molten silver. The silver is molten due to constant heat being applied to it by a Godbeast. In the end Sigmar’s own friend and godbeast Dracoth is needed to distract and fight the other godbeast so the Stormcast can cross the now solidifying silver. They take on Ephryx at his castle’s new location. In the end Ephryx is forced by Kairos to cast the teleportation spell on the castle again. It is placed there to teleport Chamon straight into the realm of chaos. Ephryx tries to use Ghal Maraz to power this spell. It turns out he can’t do this and dies. Kairos’s plan fails and the Stormcast gain access to Ghal Maraz. This leads to the creation of the Ghal Maraz wielding Celestant Prime.

The final fight on Chamon is over the All-Gate called the Mercurial Gate. It is defended by the Ironhold. A clockwork fortress that constantly shifts its configuration. The Stormcast enlist help from Fyreslayers. They use the Magmadroth’s abilities to burn a tunnel straight to the center of the fortress. There they fight their way towards the Mercurial Gate over a broad bridge. During this fight Archaon appears. His appearance explains the name of the chapter ‘Bridge of Butchery’. He swings the fight into Chaos’s favor and slays Lord-Celestant Thostos Bladestorm in a duel, sucking the soul out of the Stormcast and keeping it. At the end of the Realmgate Wars the All-Gate to Chamon remains in Archaon’s hands.

I have a shortage of good pictures of my Death army, so I'll be using this picture of my Skaven Doomwheel for now (no this does not make sense).
Shyish, the realm of Death
I think the realm of death is interesting as in ‘how are you going to portray people living there?’ So far the few inhabitants we’ve met are working quite well. The first is a group of pilgrims on the Blood Wastes. These people go off to voluntarily feed a monastery inhabited by Vargheist vampires as a gift of gratitude for their protection against chaos. The second is a (by now ruined) civilization in Age of Sigmar Skirmish that traded in Black Glass, a magic material that holds the souls of the departed. Nagash took exception to this and ended the city.

On Shyish we also meet Mannfred von Carstein, chained to a wall and hated by everyone (I love this character as well, he is just such an awful person). The Stormcast free him and spend a large amount of time wondering if that was the right idea. In the end they spend even more time regretting it. Mannfred does lead the Stormcast to Nagash. We also meet Arkhan the Black as he reenters the Age of Sigmar from the End Times. On meeting Nagash Mannfred instantly turns on them and offers them as sacrifices. Nagash takes some time to describe just how much he hates Sigmar. Then he tells the Stormcast all their souls belong to him. Being the god of death, he might just have a point there. He also tells Mannfred he is still angry with him. In the end a lot of Stormcast die and their souls do not return to Azyr. Mannfred hightails it out of Nagash’s sanctum and the remaining Stormcast set off after him in pursuit.

Meanwhile elsewhere (in the sourcebooks) we meet Queen Neferata of Nulahmia just as she’s losing her final castle to the forces of Slaanesh. She gets unexpected help from another group of Stormcast and together they drive off the Chaos forces. They celebrate by forging an alliance. Nagash speaks through Neferata but is rather vague on whether he accepts the request for an alliance or not.

In the end we go back to the All-Gate Gothizzar that connects Shyish to the All-Points. Stormcast patiently wait for back-up by Nagash but the Great Necromancer never shows up. In the end the Stormcast decide to go at it without help. They fail, die and the gate connecting Shyish to Archaon’s Citadel remains in the hands of Chaos.

As I don't have any Ironjawz in my collection (so far), I'll make do with some truly ancient Orc Arrer Boyz.

Ghur, the realm of Beasts
On Ghur we meet the Ironjawz for the first time. In the traditional Warhammer background Orcs never stop growing until they die. Age of Sigmar may rename them Orruks, but it keeps this and takes this up to eleven. Ironjawz recruit from regular Orruk tribes by taking the ‘Ardboyz (formerly Black Orcs) with them. These are the biggest and strongest Orruks in a regular warband and the ‘runt of the litter’ in an Ironjaw band. On Ghur is a place called Deffgorge, sort what you get when you fill the Grand Canyon with predators. Ironjawz are expected to travel the Deffgorge alone. If they come out, they have proven themselves. If they come out without new scars and wounds they are assumed to have cheated and have to run the Deffgorge again. If they don’t come out, they weren’t ‘ard enough to be Ironjawz. Shortly put, Ironjawz are big, bad and nasty.

The Stormcast manage to make a few deals with the Ironjawz. Among other things they get help in their hunt for Mannfred. He has fled from Shyish to Ghur and taken refuge on the Plains of Bones (a useful piece of geography for a necromancer). One of the impressive things we see on Ghur are Ancient Orruks the size of mountains, also a rancid bunch of reanimated Ogors (Ogres) in the service of Mannfred. Most of this takes place in the novels.

In the sourcebooks we learn about the Mawgate called Fangathrak. This is the All-Gate connecting Ghur to the All-Points. Being the realm of beasts, Ghur has a rather lively All-Gate. Fangathrak is described as “a burrowing worldworm of immense proportions held chained by six Crawlerforts.” Think of Shai Hulud from Dune chained in place by six Chaos Castles on legs. In the end the Stormcast assault the forts. The Ironjawz, led by Gordrakk, Fist of Gork, join the fight. Orruks being Orruks they attack everyone. In the end both the Chaos defenders and the Stormcast are pummeled into the dust. The Crawlerforts are demolished (we think, or perhaps looted (we hope)) and Fangathrak is free to roam Ghur again. It is no longer controlled by Chaos but it’s also not been sealed off. In theory Archaon can still send troops through, but he’ll never know where on Ghur they will pop-out exactly. Well done Orruks.

No word from Hysh and Ulgu yet, and no new Aelfs either.
Hysh, the realm of Light
Aside from the fact that Teclis and Tyrion are on the realm of light we learn next to nothing of Hysh. The final message in the All-Gates sourcebook is that it “was difficult to decipher whether the war had brought victory or defeat.” Maybe a release of new Aelfs/Elves will bring us more news.

Ulgu, the realm of Shadow
As with Hysh we also know next to nothing of Ulgu. It is inhabited by (at least) two former Dark Elves (who turned out to be mostly right all along in the End Times). Of the Penumbral Gate in Ulgu the fate “remained a mystery, for no word returned.” As with Hysh I think a release of new Aelfs might shed some light.

The end of the Realmgate Wars
At the end of the Realmgate Wars the score is three for Sigmar who controls/closed off: Azyr, Aqshy and Ghyran. Archaon sits at two controlling Chamon and Shyish and still occupying his citadel at the All-Points. The realm of Ghur is doing its own thing (Orruk Style) and the fates of Ulgu and Hysh are a mystery.

At the end of the Realmgate wars we get the news that the Nine Gaunt Summoners of Tzeentch meet and create the Whispervane. This is a magical construct that, among other things, offers entry to the Crystal Labyrinth of Tzeentch. The Whispervane manifests itself on the Realms as a Silver Tower. This concept was also featured in the excellent reimagining of Warhammer Quest: The Silver Tower.

In my next post I’ll be looking at the most current Age of Sigmar background. As opposed to previous games Games Workshop has turned the story into a living document that changes over the years. But we’ll get back to that later. 

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