Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Age of Sigmar background primer: Soul Wars

Between the final installment of the Realmgate wars books and the release of the new edition of the Age of Sigmar core rules a lot of background has been added to the Mortal Realms. As my last series of background primers was/is rather popular it seems an apt time to bring everybody who has not quite gotten around to reading all the background up to speed.

Undead play a rather large role in the latest part of the story.

The Mortal Realms
Let’s start with a very quick and dirty summary. After the destruction of the Old World a number of the more powerful creatures in it (including Sigmar) discovered a faster plane of existence known as the Mortal Realms. At the start of the lore these were rather loosely defined as planes of existence that align with the colors of magic. These planes are connected through Realmgates. On these planes powerful souls from the Old World took on the aspects of gods and worked together to create an Age of Myth.

The Age of Chaos
This didn’t last as the Realms of Chaos seek to destroy the Mortal Realms and the differing’ gods ego’s got in the way. In the end Chaos did what it did best and exploited human (and divine) weakness to cause strife. At that point the howling hordes attacked and managed to destroy most of civilization. Sigmar, seeing destruction looming, slammed closed the Realmgates to Azyr and started building an army.

The Age of Sigmar
After what we now know to be about three centuries of destruction the Age of Chaos ended with the Age of Sigmar. Gold clad Stormcast swung down and attacked to reclaim the Mortal Realms for civilization in what is now known as the Realmgate Wars. These ended with the conquest of a few realms and a big battle at the most important point of all – the Allpoints or Eightpoints – a central plane that features realmgates to all the other realms. Whoever holds this, has the upper hand in every battle. Sigmar struck a new alliance with Nagash to conquer the Allpoints, but Nagash turned out to be a no-show. In the end Archaon, the most powerful champion of Chaos, held the Allpoints. This was the conclusion of the Realmgate wars.

The Mortal Realms are inhabited by nine Gaunt Summoners, all followers of Tzeentch and beholden to Archaon.
The Silver Tower
At this point time was sped up and we are now about one or two centuries further down the line. We’ve learned that Tzeentch has created a Silver Tower (or nine Silver Towers, you can never tell with this god). The Silver Tower houses Nine Gaunt Summoners (powerful Tzeentch aligned sorcerers) and offers direct access to the crystalline maze of Tzeentch. Meanwhile Sigmar has founded three cities known as ‘the Seeds of Hope’ and a number of other fortress cities through the freshly conquered realms.

The Seeds of Hope
The Seeds of Hope are three cities in the realm of Ghyran (life). Their fate was determined by a global AoS campaign in 2017. The Living City was founded by Alarielle it was grown to be part of nature, guarded by Human, Aelf and Duardin settlers from Azyr within and by Sylvaneth from without. Greywater Reach was built by a visionary architect called Valius Malti. He discovered the magical properties of Realmstone (more on this later) and used the powers of the Eldritch Council (Aelf wizards) and the arms of the Freeguilds and Stormcast to blast out a city within the realm of life. The third Seed of Hope is the Phoenicium. This was built on the well preserved ruins of a Phoenix Temple. It houses rather a lot of Phoenixes, accompanying Aelfs and a number of Arcane researchers exploring the old vaults.

Another new fortress city that has a bit more background attached to it is Hammerhal. It was founded by the Stormcast equivalent of Ultramarines, the Hammers of Sigmar. The city is built on top of a huge permanently opened realmgate that connects the realm of fire Aqshy to the realm of life Ghyran. A huge river of lave flows from Aqshy to Ghyran and keeps excessive plant growth at bay. In reverse Ghyran provides an abundance of food and water to the otherwise parched part of the city in Aqshy. It also provides for rather dramatic backdrops.

Remnants of Nurgle's Rotbringers still inhabit the Realm of Ghyran.
Realmstone is a relatively new invention. It is the condensed magic of a realm. For instance a permanently glowing piece of coal might contain some – or a lot – of magic from Aqshy. For those of you going ‘this sounds very familiar’ one of the Realmstones, raw chaos given form, is called warpstone. It still forms the basis of Skaven engineering and greed. All forms of Realmstone power different magics and magic items. Those who use realmstone or items made from it too freely tend to suffer awful fates, therefore it is also known as Cursestone.

More soul than James Brown
Souls seem to be even more popular than Realmstone in the Mortal Realms. In the Realmgate Wars we learned that Sigmar took the souls of heroes and forged them into the Stormcast Eternals. We also learned that Nagash is still around and jealously claims all souls as his own. Chaos wants to corrupt men’s souls. The new lore adds even more souls to the mix.

The return of Slaanesh
 The new lore finally teaches us the fate of Slaanesh. During the destruction of the Old World this god of Chaos gorged itself on souls, especially the much coveted souls of elves aelfs. It swallowed so many that it was almost insensate from the pleasure of it. Meanwhile Tyrion, Teclis, Mortarion (Malekuth) and Morathi all managed to escape the destruction of the Old World. All searched the realms for other Aelf survivors, Tyrion started in Hysh (light) and Mortarion in Ulgu (shadow). During their travels they discovered they where so inimical to each other they could not meet.

Luckily Teclis could act as a go-between. Even more luckily he discovered Hysh and Ulgu are connected to each other (shadow cannot exist without light and vice versa). He also discovered a place between Ulgu and Hysh called Uhl-Gysh, the Hidden Gloaming, sort of Schrödinger’s realm where light and shadow both exist and don’t exist at the same time. Here Mortarion and Tyrion could meet and – despite eternal hatred – form an alliance against a more hated foe. The two used their powers (and a lot of help from friends) to lure and finally trap Slaanesh in Uhl-Gysh. This leads to one of the coolest pictures in the Age of Sigmar core book.
Aelf magic holding Slaanesh at bay and releasing caputred souls.
Souls Galore
With Slaanesh trapped, Tyrion and Malerion started rescuing captured Aelf souls. Morathi has also joined in on the fun. She has formed a new cult of Khaine in Ulgu called the Sisters of Slaughter. Hidden even for her devotees this is actually not about the worship of Khaine, but her means to attain full godhood. Another Aelf race that has been built of reclaimed souls are the Idoneth Deepkin. Deep sea Aelfs looking for fresh souls to patch up their damaged ones.

Damaged Souls
Meanwhile in Azyr the Stormcast have discovered their souls are not quite up to the task of dying and being reforged again and again. With each reforging most Stormcast lose a bit of their identity which slowly turns them into the munchkin variant of a Paladin (ser Bartholomew the Insufferably Intolerant Slayer of Defenseless Heathens). Sigmar has opened up a fresh chamber of Stormcast specializing in recovering and saving Stormcast souls.

A very angry soul
Nagash mentioned briefly before. The Great Necromancer and God of Death claims all souls for himself. He is not amused by Sigmar, Tyrion, Malerion and the Chaos gods laying claim to souls of their own. Being a patient deity (with anger management issues) he has been pursuing his own plan. It turns out he was fighting chaos with one bony hand tied behind his back as he ordered his chief lieutenant Arkhan the Black to use a humongous horde of skeletons for a different task.

To the edge of the abyss
Turns out the different Mortal Realms do not have solid edges. They sort of stretch out endlessly, their magic becoming stronger (and deadlier) the further from the center you go. In the case of Shyish, regular mortals would have the flesh stripped from their bones by Death magic if they venture too far out from the center. On the other hand Realmstone becomes more prevalent the further you venture out. Turns out Arkhan has been using his skeleton horde to collect Grave-sand, Shyish Realmstone, one grain at a time. Bringing these to the center of Shyish where Nagash’s fortress Nagashizzar (sort of) stands.

Kemmler and Krell or as they are currently known: Wight King with Black Axe and Necromancer.
Dark things that go Boom in the Realms
Nagash has been using this Grave-sand to change Shyish. Instead of being the most powerful around the edges this realm became strongest in magic in the center. The Deity of Death was planning to build and use an enormous upside-down black pyramid of Grave-sand to suck all the power of all the realms into himself. This was the backdrop of the Malign Portents source book.

Rats moving onto a sinking ship
All allegiances moved out to fight in Shyish, both with each other and to stop Nagash. Each for their own reasons. One group fought because greed overcame cowardice (as usual). The Skaven sent out agents to capture the entire hoard of Realmstone for their own purposes. A first attempt by Clan Skryre missed the mark and accidentally drained a sea of wailing undead into Ghur, also almost accidentally revealing the Idoneth Deepkin living there. A second strike force of Skaven, this time formed by Eshin, managed to board Nagash’s pyramid.

It’s twelve o’clock and nothing’s well…
As Nagash, using the power of his pyramid, set off his biggest spell since destroying Nehekhara he discovered that a) it was rather a lot of power to handle and b) an unwanted presence of Chaos creatures was disturbing the process. In the end the power exploded outwards in an event called the Necroquake. Deposits of death magic where thrown over all the realms. At the same time a sort of maelstrom (called Nadir) has appeared in the center of Shyish. All souls will eventually be devoured by this Maelstrom, presumably even Nagash’s. Even the most powerful creatures of Death cannot go too close to it as it leads to madness on approach.

Soul Wars
After the Necroquake even more magic has washed over the realms. This has empowered feeble frauds, turning them into mediocre magicians. On the flipside powerful Battle Wizards have gotten even more powerful. This is in part illustrated by the introduction of Endless Spells that haunt the realms until dispelled, resulting in the formation of specialized bands of spell hunters. With the spread of Death Magic over the realms no grave is silent for long. We’ve seen the introduction of the ghosts of the Nighthaunt and before that were introduced to the growing legions of Nagash. For now the fate of the Mortal Realms and the people trying to resettle is not just a fight between destructive denizens of the realms and the agents of Chaos, but also against the death; both those buried long ago and those freshly slain on a battlefield near you...

Whatever happens next, I guess it will involve a bit more blood- and ectoplasm-shed
That is the lore for Age of Sigmar as it stands right now. I am curious to see what the story will bring us next. Hopefully new Moonclan Grots, a fresh collection of Highborn Aelfs and unified books for Skaven, Freeguilds and Greenskins. In the meantime I think I should start building a few small inverted black pyramids to add to my collection of terrain. Also I have not read all the AoS novels released by the Black Library yet, so a lot of lore may still be missing. In other words, to be continued…


  1. Not too my taste (far far too uber), but thanks for summarizing it for me!

    I too hope for new grots and regular elves, but with everything in AoS turned up to 11 (or beyond) I fully expect them to be unpalatable anyway. (that way if they were not, I can be more fully pleased with them!)

    1. I have to agree if you don't enjoy an over the top setting, the Old World is the better place to be. With all the over the top creatures I am occasionaly reminded of this old sketch: