Friday, June 16, 2017

Age of Sigmar primer: The Silver Tower, Excelsis, Shadespire and witch hunters

With 8th edition Warhammer 40K appearing tomorrow I’m getting ready to do a bit of sci-fi wargaming in the near future. Having said that, I’m going to finish my overview of the Age of Sigmar background first. This is the third and (for now) final installment of the background overview. In part one I’ve discussed theRealmgates, the transition from the Old World (the world that was) to the newand some of the other (global) changes to the realms, Slaanesh and other races. My second blog was a condensed version of the Realmgate Wars as described in the five hardcover source books (with a few bonus facts from the Black Library novels). This post will deal with the realms as they are now.

Games Workshop has pushed the clock/story forward by about a century (I think) after the Realmgate Wars. The Grand Alliance Order (led by Sigmar) is trying to resettle areas formerly terrorized by Chaos. Grand Alliance Destruction is rampaging across the realms doing what it does best (destroying things). Death (so far) is shaded in mystery. Nagash has refused to ally with Sigmar and Mannfred is somewhere out there betraying (and angering) everyone. Not much action is taken on a large scale.

Last but not least is Chaos. The brunt of the fighting in the Realmgate Wars was against followers of Khorne and Nurgle (and Chaos undivided led by Archaon). In part because the realms Sigmar primarily assaulted (Aqshy and Ghyran) where theirs. Also in part because these two gods do rather well in an open war setting. With Sigmar ascendant the god of betrayal and change is more in his element. So Tzeentch has been given a lot of love in the past year (our time).

The Gaunt Summoners rule the Silver Tower (and are in their turn ruled by Archaon who holds their true names).
The Silver Tower
At the end of the Realmgate Wars the nine Gaunt Summoners of Tzeentch met and created the Whispervane. This is a location that appears in the realms as a silver tower. It offers a direct gateway into the Crystal Labyrinth of Tzeentch. In WarhammerQuest: Silver Tower players get to explore this ‘dungeon’ with its ever shifting hallways and rooms.

The object of the game is to find an amulet that will force the resident Gaunt Summoner to give the characters a boon (‘let me leave this horrifying tower!’ springs to mind). The Silver Tower gives Tzeentch direct access to the mortal realms and allows promising recruits to be picked up for training. As it turns out this was the vanguard of Tzeentchian machinations. Hopping from realm to realms and causing trouble (or even better: laying the seeds of trouble at a later date).

In tandem with the Silver Tower Games Workshop ran a global Age of Sigmar campaign called Season of War that further reinforced the setting. Three cities in three areas were presented where settlers from Azyr and local survivors tried rebuilding civilization. The four grand alliances fought over these three cities to determine their fate. All three cities where defended successfully by the Order Grand Alliance.

Greenskinz, including Troggoth Hag Mothers, are terrorizing all the Mortal Realms. 
To rebuild the realms
This is the key to understanding (most of) the mortal realms right now. It reminds me of the old Earthdawn roleplaying game by Fasa. The premise of Earthdawn was players emerging from magical fallout shelters to rediscover a world shattered by horrors, in Age of Sigmar the inhabitant try to rebuild realms ravaged by Chaos.

Colonist coming from cramped but safe life in Azyr have to settle newly conquered territories and mix with the locals. The cities are under constant threat from newly risen Chaos armies, roaming forces of Destruction and even the occasional attention from the Undead. Protection is offered by Stormcast although these are mostly aloof and rather overeager to go into exterminate-mode when Chaos is present. Occasionally survivors and even surviving cultures (like the Kharadron Overlords) are rediscovered.

The novel City of Secrets is the first one (as far as I know) that gives us a view of life in the realms as it is for normal humans (and humanlike creatures). It is a rather interesting story about a plot to bring down one of the cities. Without spoiling too much I’ll try to pick out a few nice details from the book to give a taste of the current setting.

With the return of human cities on the Mortal Realms siege warfare (of non-chaotic castles) is a viable game plan again.
Excelsis, the City of Secrets
City of Secrets is set in the bay-city Excelsis. This city is built around a rather suspicious (Tzeentchian?) oracle called the Spear of Mallus. Currency in the city is formed by Glimmerings. These are small shards of the Spear of Mallus that can be used to get a glimpse of the future. The city itself has been built by human and duardin from Azyr. As the world outside is rather dangerous everyone wants to live within the city walls making the poor quarters cramped (think of a shanty town build on a shanty town within the space allowed by the city walls). Duardin technology provides things like limited steam power and electric light analogues, giving the place a renaissance (Old World) meets Steampunk feel. Nothing luxurious like this is available to the regular folks living in the shanty towns of course.

The mix of Old World races makes the setting unique. Dark Aelf Scourge Privateers are responsible for security of the bay. Now there is a deterrent for piracy (or is that a hiring tool?). As we know from their Oldhammer ancestors, Dark Elves are not a nice bunch (neither are their woodland and highborn cousins but that is another matter). The entire city sits on a razor’s edge of tension because the factions living there do not like or trust each other. To complicate this, inhabitants with an Azyr heritage do not trust their potentially corrupted counterparts who stayed behind. This is not entirely illogical as these people have been born and raised in Chaos infested territories.

So Excelsis is, like most other cities in the realms, under constant threat from outside the walls. It has little to no comradeship inside the walls and there is no room to give each other space. Add to this a lot of magic and weird items, most of them very attractive and likely corrupted by chaos. The setting is quite dark. The constant wars against rampaging Orruks draw Stormcast and warriors from the Freeguilds (humans) out into the wilds, upping the pressure. To make matters worse, it is rumored the resident Stormcast have at some point in the past eradicated the entire city population because they suspected chaos corruption had taken hold. Warriors of Order can be as awful as their Chaos counterparts.

The return of witch hunters and a skirmish game almost begs you to rebuild the old Morheim warbands again, here is mine (painted in 2015).
Witch Hunters in the Age of Sigmar
In this setting one of the Old World favorites reappears in a slightly new guise: a Witch Hunter from the Order of Azyr. Apparently Sigmar wants to stem the chaos corruption, but good help is hard to find. The order of Witch Hunters numbers too few to adequately safeguard the lands. They read like their counterparts in His Most Holy Imperial Inquisition of Terra in 40K. These seemingly all-powerful hybrids of spy, politician and warrior rather frequently discover that power doesn’t work if the agencies you’re trying to control have been corrupted by the arch-enemy (or just plain don’t like you).

The Mortal Realms setting differs from the Old World in being more fully high fantasy, but manage to morph with the grim darkness that makes Warhammer what it is. Whereas the Old World featured German (Holy Roman Empire) analogue cities where magic was illegal and trade was by rickety ship and risky coach here we get flying ships, vessels made giant crabs and other odd contraptions. Still the prevalence of magic seems to make the world more dangerous, politics more unstable and it gives Chaos even more room to corrupt and destroy. You just know that even if they manage to settle down and conquer more territory Slaanesh will jump out and add to the mayhem.

The realms give writers room to dream up really unique locations and it shows in the setting. Shadowsover Hammerhal, the second Warhammer Quest game, is situated in the city of Hammerhal. I have to write this based on what I’ve heard described (as I don’t have this game yet and can’t get my hands on a background booklet), but Hammerhal is situated around a permanently open Realmgate that connects Aqshy and Ghyran. A lava flow from Aqshy rolls down the green slopes of Ghyran burning away vegetation that – because of the strength of Ghyran – grows back almost as fast as it burns away. Apparently Tzeentch is busy being naughty underneath Hammerhal.

A city cursed by Nagash and filled with undead? Krell and Kemmler approve!
The final bit of setting I have come across is the city of Shadespire set in the realm of Shyish. This city was built in the Oasis of Souls on a waypoint between two important realmgates. Some arcane forces keep the malign influence of the realm off Shyish at bay here. As the location also offers water and vegetation grows here, it is inhabitable. The settlers soon discovered a special glass made within the Oasis of Souls called Shadeglass. This allows you to store your soul at the moment of death, preventing it from being sucked into one of the Underworlds of Shyish. Yeah for immortality. The combination of a good waypoint for merchants, food, water and immortality for sale set Shadespire up to become a very wealthy city.

Unfortunately (as shown in the Realmgate Wars) Nagash has little appreciation for people that meddle around with souls (whose name is not Nagash). The inhabitants of Shadespire have been annihilated by the Great Necromancer. Other cities – fearing Nagash – have tried to erase all mentions of Shadespire from their history. But the dusty city of the dead harbors a lot of treasure, not the least of it Shadeglass. This setting forms the basis of the Age of Sigmar Skirmish game that allows you to build a warband from existing warscrolls to fight over treasure and Shadeglass. It brings to mind a certain asteroid destroyed setting called Mordheim that had us fight over Warpstone Shards.

With the end of the Realmgate Wars the time has come to really start carving out the setting of the Mortal Realms in Age of Sigmar. So far I love the intriguing locations Games Workshop has dreamt up. It also invites you to go wild inside your own mind (or borrow wildly where imagination fails). You can be sure that whatever you think up van easily be added to the wider setting. I can’t wait for the announced RPG in the Age of Sigmar setting. It has been slated for release in 2018 (after a new edition of Warhammer Fantasy (we live in a golden age of gaming)). With the Age of Sigmar roleplaying game I’m already planning to have my players revisit the remnants of Maisontaal, this time deep in an Underworld of Shyish. Perhaps I’ll followed this up with a visit to Hammerhal, Shadespire, one of the ruins described in the Realmgate Wars or the shifting hallways of a Silver Tower. Only another years wait, and a new edition of 40K to fill that wait with. Now about family, work and those other things….ah never mind ;).


  1. Thanks for doing these, I really enjoyed them, even if I remain a AoS skeptic (not helped by GW destroying the old world and starting off the new world(s) with Sigmarines)

    Some of the new stuff is very intriguing, such as Shadespire and flying dwarves. The miniatures are of course great... just harder to figure out how to shoehorn them into my WHFB armies. ;)

    1. Thanks. In part I still agree, nice sendoff or not, I'm still smarting myself over the destruction of a setting I played in for over 25 years. As for shoehorning the new stuff into the old world, I would say Shadespire gives you a choice between placing it in Lahmia or going wild and having (insane) warbands raiding around Sylvania. The flying dwarves are actually easier. Just call them Malakai Makaisson's followers. That Slayer Engineer had a rather gigantic airship in one of the Gotrek and Felix novels if my memory serves me right.

  2. Sorry to comment so long after the conversation started out, but I was wondering where you came across the information linking the Silver Tower to the name "Whispervane"?

    For context, I'm not incredibly well-versed in the lore of AoS (trying to catch up, and I found this post REALLY helpful- so, thank you), but I am trying to find out 1) where the Silver Tower in the game is located in the mortal realms, or 2) if the Silver Tower(s) exist(s) simultaneously in multiple realms, if there are any known and recorded manifestations (preferably shown on a map).

    1. Sorry you post got lost in moderation for a bit. I think both questions are answered by this passage from The Realmgate Wars vol 4. - All Gates (p. 243):

      "The battle for control of the Mortal Realms continued. While gods and demigods pondered their next moves, and the Sigmarabulum rang to the hammer blows of Reforging, an insidious evil was taking form, solidifying out of the pure madness that was the Realm of Chaos.

      Nine in number, the Gaunt Summoners hailed from the Crystal Labyrinth. There, the coven had created the Whisperfane – an impossible mind-maze filled with deadly illusions, and one of the dreaded Silver Towers. With a push of their unfathomable minds, the Gaunt Summoners could shift these twisted citadels into the reality of the Mortal Realms. There, many a brave warrior would be lured inside with promises of riches untold. Many entered, yet few returned.

      Plans within plans, plots within plots. Who can tell the endgame of those cabalistic sorcerers? Their methods are insane, their goals inscrutable – yet it is said in ancient and little-understood rhymes that ‘death becomes the smallest fear when the Silver Towers appear’.

      Fear them, for they are coming…"