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Alliance of Death Factions; How many are there?!

Disciple of Nagash

The Perverted One
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#1
So, getting recently back in the Age of Sigmar, I'm getting really confused over how many factions there are for the Alliance of Death, and how they are made up.

I was going to create stickied thread similar to what we used to have on which Bloodline people prefer (or mix of). But then when I tried to figure out the factions, some of them just seem to be units like Dire Wolves? And the Flesh Eater Courts seem to gone their own way?

Any of you more knowledgeable people care to explain it to the old timer?
 

Malisteen

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#2
The situation for Death is a bit complicated, but when considering what counts as a 'faction' you should be looking for what actually has 'allegiance' rules. Going into AoS 2nd edition, there are five main allegiances. They are:


Grand Alliance: Death

The Death alliance rules are currently found in the Legions of Nagash book, and will be reprinted, with few to no expected changes, in the 2nd edition big rulebook and probably the 2018 general's handbook as well. Death lets you freely mix any and every death model, and is currently the only way to run old tomb kings stuff.

Unfortunately, Tomb Kings will be getting the 'Warhammer Legends' treatment sooner or later, which will remove them from matched play by dropping their points support, and will remove them from the Death alliance even in open play games (note how WL Dark Elves don't have the 'order' keyword). Additionally, a lot of undead stuff is rather dependant on their individual allegiance rules. Running a plain Death army cuts skeletons and zombies off from graveyard healing, cuts vampires, necromancers, and deathlords off from faction spell lists. And Legions of Nagash already includes basically everything but tomb kings and flesh eaters, and since tomb kings are going away and there's relatively little synergy between flesh eaters and other death units (necromancers can no longer cast damse macabre on mordant units), basically imo 'grand alliance: death' as an allegiance is basically dead, you can safely ignore it.


Flesh Eater Courts

The ghoul faction, ghoul kings and ghouls only. They have a battle tome, which you'll want for some pretty good formations, but it was an early book, so doesn't have allegiance rules. For those, you'll need the general's handbook 2018, releasing along with the 2e stuff this month. They're not the strongest faction, but they have some great fluff in AoS, basically they're all crazy, and see themselves as noble, civilized people.

As I said, they have some decent formations. Apart from that, they lean heavily on small 'courtier' heroes, which replenish nearby units. Unfortunately, small heroes are pretty easy to snipe in this game. Also, the courtiers don't have their own models, you have to convert them from regular troopers, but since AoS uses batch pricing, that leaves the rest of the box king of unusable, which is frustrating.

Flesh Eaters have very limited ally options, but they don't have that much synergy with other undead anyway.

The ghoul kings have summoning command abilities, which were worthless in AoS before now, but should be pretty good in 2e, though they're going to be limited to one use per king per game. And the courtiers will be slightly harder to snipe.

They're an interesting if a touch undersupported faction. If you want to know more about them, search for Age of Nagash's youtube videos on them, as he used to run them in tournaments and has some good overviews for them.


Soulblight

All vampires and bats. Their allegiance rules are in the Legions of Nagash book, along with a halfway decent formation, access to a nice faction spell lore, and named characters (neferata, mannfred, and a new guy who is just the dragon lord with sword and no helmet, but gets some neat rules).

Their only battleline is blood knights, and they get some minor but interesting bloodline rules. Unfortunately, their unit selection is very limited, and somewhat refundant (vargheists and bloodknights serving anout the same role, and you'll already have to field a bunch of blood knights, so...) and leans too heavily on expensive, offensive elites with not enough defensive weight to stick around and hold objectives. Rumored points decrease for blood knights will help, but probably not enough.

A very minimal, very extreme faction. Interesting to play, but hard to win with, and expensive to collect, unless you find an alternative to the official blood knights. If you're willing to field non-vampire battle-line units (dire wolves are pretty good, and in theme for vamps, imo), then Legion of Blood is probably a better way to run this.


Nighthaunt

They're getting a new book with new rules and new units, so it's too early to say much about how they'll play, apart from that, like Flesh Eaters, they seem somewhat dependant on small, short ranged support heroes, which probably isn't a good thing in competitive games. Their caster, spirit host, and hordy core unit should all be pretty good, but from the battle reports we've seen, their wraithy elite units seem decidedly underwhelming.

The models look great, though, and they're one of the starter box factions in 2e, so at the very least Nighthaunt should be easy to collect and fun to paint.

Most of their units will also be available to Legions of Nagash armies, so if you don't like the Nighthaunt rules and named heroes, you can run them with LoN rules instead. Considering how good the LoN rules are, this is likely to be a better competitive choice, but without seeing the full nighthaunt rules its too soon to say. Still, the option is nice, as a mostly nighthaunt collection will have at least six sets of allegiance rules to choose from. Even if only half of them are decent, that's still a lot of gameplay variety out of the same models.


Legions of Nagash

All current death units fall under the legions of Nagash except for Flesh Eaters, Tomb Kings, and the forgeworld Mournghul. Yes, there are a bunch of mini sub-factions like deathrattle, dead walkers, deathmages, etc etc, but they aren't really playable as stand alone factions, and all are subsumed within the actually playable Legions of Nagash. Supposedly, most of the new Nighthaunt units will also be playable in Legion of Nagash armies. As such, the legions are basically the replacement for the now largely defunct catch-all Death allegiance.

The legions are the strongest and most diverse current death faction by a country mile, set to only get stronger in 2nd edition. The legions are actually a set of four different allegiance rulesets, each themed to one of our named characters. Each of these allegiances shares access to basically the same wide variety of undead units (Nagash can't be fielded in the mortarch allegiances, otherwise everything can field everything), and share a few key rules.

Most prominent of the shared rules are access to two great faction spell lores (one for necromancers, one for vampires, with deathlords having access to both), and gravesites. These are four markers you place on the board after sides are chosen but before deployment. They heal nearby units with the 'summonable' keyword (skeletons, grabe guard, spirit hosts, etc); you can deep strike summonably units from gravesites, provided you have a hero nearby to call them in, instead of deploying them normally; and your general gets a command ability to restore a slaun summonable unit to life via gravesites as well, an ability that won't cost reserve points in 2e and us potentially quite game breaking. I wouldn't be shocked to see errata nerf that one, but even without it, gravesites give your army significant recursion potential that usn't character dependant and allow for tricky deployment shenanigans that significantly offset the slow speed of some of our units.

Grand Host of Nagash

As for how the legions differ, Nagash's legion buffs morghasts and makes them battleline if nagash is your general. Grave guard become battleline regardless, and the command traits and artefacts offer several ways to buff skeletal units. This is the legion if you want to run maxed out, buffed up skeleton hordes supported by powerful morghast hammers. It's also the only legion that can field nagash, who gets to choose three spells from the new lores (other casters only pick one spell). Nagash also has access to a formation that lets him pass wounds off to a morghast bodyguard unit, making him insanely durable, even for his mammoth points cost. And the new edition is set to make him even more dangerous via the new remains in play spells, one of which lets him cast Hand of Dust at a target 20" away.


Legion of Sacrament

Arkhan's legion is all about magic, with a boost to casting rolls, and artifacts and command traits that support or enhance your wizards. The legion was lacking a bit of punch before now, but the endless spells should help considerably. Arkhan also has a good formation that allows him and a coven of necromancers to cast extra spells per turn as long as they stay near a mortis engine.


Legion of Night

Mannfred's legion is all about dirty tricks, with its most notable trait being the ability to outflank a few units, deploying them from any board edge during the game. This is especially deadly with terrorgheists & banshees, which can scream the turn they deploy, or morghast harbingers, which have a good chance of making a charge. Some of the artifacts are quite nice as well. Mannfred's formation isn't too good, but the outflanking ability alone is pure gold, its value really cannot be overstated.


Legion of Blood

Neferata's legion emphasizes the regal vampyric lords of the dead with more powerful blood knights and vampire lords (including dragon lords) than even soulblight has access to. The legion's units also impose and extra leadership penalty on nearby enemy units, enhancing the power of terrorgheists and banshees. Neferata's formation isn't that great, but her legion probably makes the best use of the soulblight formation of outflanking blood knights.


Again, all these legions have access to basically the same unit selection, so you can collect a single army and then field it in very different ways from game to game, or you can commit to a particular legion and collect the specific units that take best advantage of that legion's traits.
 
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#4
Seriously, this is brilliant. Amazing what you were able to accomplish in a few paragraphs that I couldn't make sense of in two years worth of Warhammer Community updates! Thanks DoN for asking what I wanted to know.
 

Malisteen

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#5
More generally, speaking accross subfactions, the undead in AoS are recognizeably warhammer undead, in that they are tricksy, hordey, meleeish, and magicky; slow on paper but surprisingly quick on the field (with some very fast units like dire wolves or crypt flayers and tricksy deployment options from outflanking ghoul formations to legion of nagash gravesite deployment fo get even slow units in the enemy's face quickly).

Individually most undead units are rather frail, reliant on recursion for durability and buffs for offense; and we're highly vulnerable to hero sniping as most of our units aren't tough or killy enough to want to fight on their own, and those that are generally aren't points efficient enough to make up the backbone of your force (with some exceptions, including flayer based flesh eater lists). While there are no rules for "fear" or "terror" in AoS, that psychology aspect still comes accross in various bravery penalties, battleshovk penalties, and attacks like banshee or terrorgheist screams that target bravery. In contrast out bravery is quite high, but if left unsupported our frail horde units can end up suffering fozens of casualties at once, and crumble to battleshock losses before they have a chance to restore wounds.

In general, we're fantastic against melee opponents who have to brute force their way through our hordes, but can struggle against shootier enemies that can snipe out heroes. However, even in melee we can struggle against particularly well armored foes, as our rend is generally low across the board.

We're also very vulnerable to double turns, because that means waiting that much longer to replenish losses. The dead prefer the order and structure of their rigid routines, and to not appreciate the wild, unpredictable surges of the living. If you have the opportunity for a double turn yourself, you should consider passing on it, just to prevent your opponent from getting a double turn in the future.


The tricksy/combo/magick bit is very important, and you'll want to familiarize yourself with buffing, debuffing, healing, and alternate deployment options of whatever subfaction you choose, whether these take the form of spells, command abilities, command traits, allegiance abilities, unit abilities, or formation abilities. This stuff is scattered /all over/ our rules, so be ready to do a deep dive into whatever faction you choose.

Some particularly strong choices to look at:

Flesh Eaters:
  • Ghoul Kings (all of them, though gheist rider is my fave)
  • Terrorgheist. Its just a strong, versatile monster.
  • Crypt ghouls, and their courtier, and the formation that lets them outflank. These are your buffable, recursive backbone hordey unit. A bit overpriced, but not at all bad
  • Crypt flayers, the courtier that makes them battleline. Strong, tough, fast, and killy elites. Can pierce armor pretty well. With the formation that buffs them, they can be the backbone of one of relatively few somewhat functional undead elite armies
  • Varghulf, a good, strong, multipurpose courtier.
Unfortunately horrors aren't too great right now, mostly due to a lack of rend. Anything they can chew through, regular ghouls could chew through just as easily, while having a lot more bodies to claim objectives with. The two main competitive flesh eater builds before 2e were outflanking ghoul hordes and flayer based flying circuses, both supported by ghoul kings, terrorgheists, and/or ghoul kings on terrorgheists. Ghoul kings get a lot better in 2e, each essentially bringing a free bonus unit with them, plus they have more spellcasting options, and more generic command abilities for when they've already summoned their freebie unit.


Legions of Nagash (more my thing so longer descriptions)
  • Nagash. practically an army unto himself. Take him in his 'first cohort' formation and a very competitive but also very lopsided list basically writes itself. New endless spells will do a lot for him, especially the spellportal. If you take Nagash, he is your army, which can lead to very lopsided games, so I don't recommend using him all the time in casual games.
  • Vampire Lord on Zombie Dragon. Whether generic or special character version, this is the toughest, killiest undead hero apart from nagash, with a good command ability, healing, and decent spellcasting to boot. In particular, they're a good bit tougher than the mortarchs. Probably the best default general out of any undead faction.
  • Terrorgheist. Due to some slightly different wording, it's arguably even better that the ghoul version
  • Vamp lord, winged or on horse. Great buffing, command ability, healing, mobility, access to the vamp spell lore, just a solid hero option, if a bit pricey & vulnerable.
  • Necromancers. The LoN necromancer spell lore is amazing. So is their signature spell. Plus they have a healing ability, and their ability to shift wounds to nearby units makes them slightly tougher to snipe than most heroes, but be warned, it doesn't work for mortal wounds
  • Morghasts. Pricey, but very killy, the legions' best elite hammers. Grand host especially loves archai, while legion of night especially loves harbingers.
  • Skeleton warriors. Amazingly potent offensive hordes when taken in max units of 40 with spears. Be warned, one unit of 40 will get focus fired to death, but 2 units of 40 is more than many armies can handle, and is the typical default LoN backbone. Terrifying enough on their own, but with tons of buffing potential as well.
  • Dire wolves. Tougher, less killy, much faster skeletons, a strong alternative battleline option that works equally well as msu distractions or max size hordes.
  • Blood knights. legion of blood only, arguably better than morghasts for them. Arguably.
Those are pretty much the staple units for legion of nagash, apart from some ghostly stuff described below. Several other units are decent, but generally just a bit outclassed by those. Eg grave guard/zombies are slightly less efficient/effective than skeleton warriors at mostly the same role, ditto vargheists compared to archai in grand host, or harbingers in legion of night, or blood knights in legion of blood. Wight kings are alright support for skittles, but vamp lords offer the same buff, and are a bit tougher, and have some good spellcasting options, for not that many more points.

Even with a semi-consistent staple, there's still a lot of variety in how LoN plays between the different legions, slow skelly hordes vs fast wolf rush vs tricksy inbetween gravesite summoning vs outflanking legion of night lists. Mastery of LoN depends heavily on understanding our magic, and in careful positioning & use of gravesites.

2e makes the endless legions command ability, shared by all four legions, free, allowing you to bring back entire symminable ynits, potentially max units of skeletons, hexwraiths, spirit hosts, dire wolves, or chainrasps back multiple times per game, so long as you jeep control of your gravesites. So far, it looks to be the most broken ability in 2e, and might get nerfed going foreward.


Nighthaunt (speculative since we don't know all the units or any of the allegiance rules. Asterix means LoN can take them as normal units in their army, non asterix units can still be taken by LoN as allies.
  • Knight of shrouds on foot. A buff to hit, amazing synergy with spirit hosts, hexwtaiths, anything else that gets spectral grasp
  • Knight of shrouds on steed*. Attack buff instead, good for chainrasps, any hard hitting elite unit nighthaunt might get.
  • Spirit guardian* Great buff, decent spell support.
  • Spirit torment*. Decent buff.
  • Chainrasps* the nighthaunt hoardey battleline, cheap as skittles and arguably even better. Tougher certainly thanks to unmodified 5+ armor, not as dependant on huge numbers eith two attacks by default, faster, fly. Way fewer attacks than max skelly blobs, though, especially when you consider reach. Still very good. Summonable.
  • Spirit hosts* tough, can deal mortal wou ds on 6+ to hit. Huge synergy with KoS on foot. Battleline for pure nighthaunt armies. A good elite choice, but super vulnerable to hit debuffs. Summonable, but 3 woinds per model makes them hard to heal.
  • Hexwraiths* spirit hosts that trade some attacks and wounds for greater speed. Also summonable, also battleline for pure nighthaunt. The flyover attack is a pointless gimmick, but spectral touch is still great.
  • Banshee* cheap hero with a scream attack.
  • Mourngul. A bit nerfed from its hight of power, but still a strong monster with a useful debuff aura.
I'm not too impressed with the executioner or the wraithy elite infantry from the starter box at the moment, but we don't have full allegiance rules yet, and several whole units haven't been seen.

So far super efficient rasp hordes taking advantage of offensive hero buffs, plus spirit hosts or hexwraiths using non-mounted knights of shrouds to deal mortal wounds on 5s to hit look like a potentially solid foundation. Again though, several units and characters remain unseen, along with the allegiance rules and half a dozen formations, so yet unexpected competitive builds are likely. Pay especial attention to any unit recursion and alternate deployment rules that might appear.

Most of those units can be integrated into LoN armies as well. Chainrasps in particular offer a serious alternative to skeletons and wolves as battleline hordes, and benefit just as well from vampires and necromancers, which will generally be superior to Nighthaunt buffing heroes in LoN lists due to access to the spell lores. Spirit hosts are a decent alternative to morghasts for cracking armor. The knight of shrouds on foot, while not a shared LoN unit, is easy to fit into ally points to help enhance their killing potential, and they're valid targets for vanhel's as well. Just remember that they're super vulnerable to hit penalties, which is a common debuff in AoS.
 
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MasterSpark

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#9
Thanks Malisteen, that's very helpful.

I plan to go with Soulblight for an escalation league in August to celebrate the new edition. It'll be a bit limited but impactful, and during lower points levels the lack of options shouldn't be too bad as it fills up so fast anyway.
 

Malisteen

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#10
Hrm. There have been some rumors of new vamp lord / blood knight models later this year. The rumors could be entirely fake, and probably are. New vamp models w/o a soulblight book seems unlikely, and a soulblight book itself seems unlikely given that the allegiance rules were printed only recently in Legions of Nagash.

That said, between the rumors, the competitive difficulties faced by soulblight, and the high cost of current blood knights in real world munny, now might not be the best time to start them.

I'm not saying definitely don't do it, if you love the vamps go for it, they're a very neat and distinctive army, even if battles can be a bit uphill, just do so with open eyes is all.
 

Irisado

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#11
This is the best write-up and analysis of the Death factions that I have ever seen and I finally, thanks to you, understand all the different factions for our army. Thank you :). You've also inspired me to get my army sorted out over the summer to make it much more playable for Age of Sigmar.

N.B. This information is so useful for new or less experienced players in particular that I have made this topic a sticky.
 

Count michael

The Undead Sparky
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#12
Thanks for the write up it's prettt amazing
I'll probably go for the new Nighthaunts since I love the new models plus the starter set will prove amazing as a cheap way of getting a decent sized Death army though I would love to get a vampire or 2 into an army of them somehow as you can't have a Death army without at least one vampire xD
 
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#13
Yes great summary. And as for that rumor I hope it's true (even if my wallet does not). I have just been painting Dragon Princes as Vamps but even I know that's not "great". I'd love some new "Soulblight" models though. And with talks about reducing their points, maybe they will make a multi part kit.
 

MasterSpark

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#14
@Malisteen, I forgot to say that I already have all the models, with 10 of the old metal blood knights just dying to ride again. :)

The thing I'm waiting for now is to see what GW comes out with for official base sizes, which I've heard will be part of either the new rulebook or general's handbook.
 

Malisteen

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#15
This is the best write-up and analysis of the Death factions that I have ever seen and I finally, thanks to you, understand all the different factions for our army. Thank you :). You've also inspired me to get my army sorted out over the summer to make it much more playable for Age of Sigmar.

N.B. This information is so useful for new or less experienced players in particular that I have made this topic a sticky.
Thanks, although I really should say to take my competitive advice with a grain of salt. I'm no pro player, most all of my games are casual, narrative affairs. In particular, some folks on the tga forums who probably know better than me have been talking up the grimgast reapers.

They look better than grave guard to me, and I did miss their 2" melee reach, which helps them, but... i don't know. I'm still skeptical of the 14 point cost per wound, but we'll see. They are summonable, which could make them pretty nasty with vanhels, gravesites, etc. We'll see.
 

Malisteen

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#16
Also, for anyone who is an old tomb kings player, and plays in a casual setting amenable to house rules and community content, Tyler Mengel of the Mengel Miniatures blog put together a pretty cool homebrew battle tome for tomb kings here: The Endless Deserts

It's out of date on the current officisl points values and unit rules, but otherwise is nice, and I do recommend it to anyone who plays with people who would be cool with it. Hopefully he updates it after the tomb kings get the warhammer legends treatment.
 

Malisteen

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#17
Re ghosts with a vampire: all of the old nighthaunt units (wraiths, banshees, spirit hosts, hexes, the old coach - though nighthaunt are getting an entirely different version) are in Legions of Nagash, and all of the starter box ghost units are added to legions of nagash outright, including the battleline (ie 'core' or 'troops') chainrasps. Additionally, all of the legions can take nighthaunt as allies (currently up to 1/5 your points/unit count can be allies, iirc, tho that may change).

So it is very possible to take a legion of nagash army with vampire lords as your heroes, maybe some blood knights, and fill up the bulk of your army with ghostly units, using your ally points to grab anything that wasn't added to LoN directly, maybe that new bansher unit, or the fancier nighthaunt version of the black coach (presumably it has syronger rules, since it costs more than twice as many points as the LoN version).

Alternatively, Nighthaunt armies can take soulblight units as allies, so you could run a full ghost army and ally in a couple vampire lords, or one vamp lord and 5 blood knights in a 2k game. Not enough room for a dragon lord though, and your vamps would lose access to the vampire spell lore from LoN.
 
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Malisteen

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#18
@Malisteen, I forgot to say that I already have all the models, with 10 of the old metal blood knights just dying to ride again. :)
You're good to go for 1k point games then, though you'll need 15 blood knights (3x5) minimum for a soulblight army in games of 2k points, or 20 (4x5) in 2500 point games.

3x5 is also the minimum for their new formation with prince vordrai, which is actually pretty ok. Vordrai himself is pretty good, especially if you can run him in a double-dragon tag team with a generic vamp lord on zombie dragon, as his command ability allows another undead hero to fight a bonus combat round in your command phase.
 

Irisado

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#19
Thanks, although I really should say to take my competitive advice with a grain of salt. I'm no pro player, most all of my games are casual, narrative affairs. In particular, some folks on the tga forums who probably know better than me have been talking up the grimgast reapers.
I was and remain the same type of player and my view is that this is the most enjoyable and fulfilling way to play. Besides, what you're saying makes sense to me, and judging by the positive reaction it does to others as well.

Re ghosts with a vampire: all of the old nighthaunt units (wraiths, banshees, spirit hosts, hexes, the old coach - though nighthaunt are getting an entirely different version) are in Legions of Nagash, and all of the starter box ghost units are added to legions of nagash outright, including the battleline (ie 'core' or 'troops') chainrasps. Additionally, all of the legions can take nighthaunt as allies (currently up to 1/5 your points/unit count can be allies, iirc, tho that may change).

So it is very possible to take a legion of nagash army with vampire lords as your heroes, maybe some blood knights, and fill up the bulk of your army with ghostly units, using your ally points to grab anything that wasn't added to LoN directly, maybe that new bansher unit, or the fancier nighthaunt version of the black coach (presumably it has syronger rules, since it costs more than twice as many points as the LoN version).

Alternatively, Nighthaunt armies can take soulblight units as allies, so you could run a full ghost army and ally in a couple vampire lords, or one vamp lord and 5 blood knights in a 2k game. Not enough room for a dragon lord though, and your vamps would lose access to the vampire spell lore from LoN.
This is very good news for me, as my favourite army type to build from my collection is effectively a combination of Soulblight and Nighthaunt. I would definitely use the Legions of Nagash army book to do it though, as I like the idea of having access to vampiric spells.
 

Menkeroth

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#20
Much boils down to what scenarios you want to play and obviously we don't have them as Death players, because pretty much everything was centered on Order and Chaos and their forces. Soul Wars might change that as MP certainly didn't.
 

Malisteen

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#21
Much boils down to what scenarios you want to play and obviously we don't have them as Death players, because pretty much everything was centered on Order and Chaos and their forces. Soul Wars might change that as MP certainly didn't.
I mean, the narrative and tone of Malign portents did an ok job of putting Death front and center, but yeah, that was totally undercut by the major releases during the event all being for elves. We got a great battle tome in Legions of Nagash, I love that book to death, if you'll pardon the pun, but as much as we might debate the rules design philosophy till the cows come home, the minis will always be what matters most in this minis hobby wargame, and the minis just weren't there for death during malign portents.

Imagine if we had gotten new plastic zombies, blood knights, and vampire lords with Legions of Nagash, how different that campaign would have felt.

Oh well, I'm very excited for Soul Wars, with an actual major wave of new undead models and characters. Hopefully Olynder gets a compelling backstory.
 

MasterSpark

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#22
Malisteen, do you reckon the Legion of Nagash book will be fully usable in the next edition of AoS? Will it contain anything not in the coming new rulebook and handbook to merit picking it up?
 

Menkeroth

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#23
Imagine if we had gotten new plastic zombies, blood knights, and vampire lords with Legions of Nagash, how different that campaign would have felt.
That's my old dream since 7th ed of WHFB, but no, GW still seems to be content with those old awful models (well, knights are great but resin and horrendously overpriced). Now we have only ghosts, but maybe, just maybe, if we do get a vampire book, this might change. I expected all of that with MP but why, a Death centered campaign was no reason to issue any new models except the knight of shrouds who looks decent but very bleak compared to other harbingers.
 

Malisteen

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#24
Malisteen, do you reckon the Legion of Nagash book will be fully usable in the next edition of AoS? Will it contain anything not in the coming new rulebook and handbook to merit picking it up?
Yes, very much yes. None of the battle tomes are outdated by 2e. I personally hope we eventually see a second edition of the flesheater battletome, but there are no rumors of that actually happening in the foreseeable future.

In terms of Age of Sigmar books you might consider getting and why, Here's a breakdown:

Free stuff that you can download from GW:
  • The core ruleset (go to ageofsigmar.com, or on games-workshop.com by clicking 'age of sigmar rules')
  • A brief overview of the setting and lore (same site)
  • Lore for specific recent events leading into 2nd edition (see malignportents.com, especially the short stories and the summary of how the dread solstice global campaign went)
  • Current unit rules for models GW still sells (go to the model's page on the games-workshop.com webstore, click on the 'rules' or 'downloads' tab
  • Current rules for discontinued product lines (go to games-workshop.com, click 'age of sigmar rules', find the appropriate compendium, or go to warhammer-community.com/legends for old stuff that's switched to that format, currently just dark elves)
  • The current official points values for all existing units (available from the official listbuilder app/website scrollbuilder.com, will be updated for the new points values sometime after the general's handbook 2018 release)

Stuff you'll get from the us$60 core rulebook that comes in the starter box
  • more in depth setting, lore, and timeline info for age of sigmar, including what has happened in the wake of the malign portents campaign.
  • the same core ruleset above, but I think with more explanation and examples maybe?
  • an overview of the distinction between 'open play' (no rules, use whatever you want), narrative play (more narrative scenarios, use models appropriate to the story), and 'matched play' (actual regular play you're used to from 40k or oldhammer, with armies selected to a particular points value and some modifications to the core rules intended for pick up games or tournaments).
  • some scenarios designed for each of the above three 'ways to play'
  • 'allegiance' faction rules for the four over-faction grand alliances, Order, Destruction, Chaos, and Death. As I mention previously, however, I do not consider the Death allegiance to be a particularly enjoyable or relevant way to play the undead in age of sigmar currently.
  • rules for playing games specifically in one of the 7 mortal realms currently under contested control (ie, not the realm of heavens, which is on sigmarite lockdown). These are more narrative in nature, but not specifically restricted to 'narrative play'.
  • basic introductory collecting, hobby, and painting advice

Stuff you'll get from the us$35 general's handbook 2018
  • probably the same overview of open play, narrative play, and matched play
  • the current updated points values for all the currently published models from games workshop, plus the new nighthaunt and stormcast models releasing over the next month or two. though, again these will be free via scrollbuilder.com
  • many more scenarios for open, narrative, and especially matched play.
  • allegiance faction rules for all significant current factions that either do not have their own battle tomes yet (eg, 'free peoples', what became of the old empire models) or who got early battle tomes before those books included faction rules (eg, 'Flesh Eater Courts').

Stuff you'll get from the Malign Sorcery box set
  • Rules for additional magic spells that wizards can use when playing games in the matching mortal realms (like the realm rules generally these are more narrative in nature, and tournament games might or might not use them)
  • rules for how 'endless spells' work, basically Age of Sigmar's version of the old concept of remains-in-play spells. info like how to cast them, how to dispel them, how they behave once they're on the field, etc.
  • rules for what each specific endless spell does while it's on the field (these are free to download from the store page for the malign sorcery box, like other unit rules)
  • actual models for most of the endless spells described in the set (not for the 'balewind vortex', which is available separately)

Stuff you'll get from Battletome: Flesh Eater Courts
  • lore specific to the ghouls in Age of Sigmar, how they think, what they do, how they came to be in the mortal realms, what their relationship to Nagash and the rest of the undead is
  • a bunch of 'warscroll battalions' - formations of multiple units that grant extra abilities. this is the only real mechanical selling point of the book, though again the lore is pretty fun.
  • You also get the unit rules for the various ghoul units, but again those are available free online
  • You do NOT get the flesh eaters allegiance rules in this book, because it pre-dates actual faction rules in AoS, so ghoul players will need the GH2018 for that.

Stuff you'll get from Battletome: Legions of Nagash
  • lore specific to Nagash, his mortarchs, and what they've been up to in Age of Sigmar leading up to the Malign Portents campaign (see below), as well as a (slightly) more in depth look at Shyish, the Realm of Death. Like the Flesh Eater's battle tome lore, it's pretty good, and there's certainly more of it here than that book got.
  • allegiance rules for Death (probably the same as in the core rulebook and generals handbook 2018), Grand Host of Nagash, Legion of Sacrament, Legion of Night, Legion of Blood, and Soulblight
  • spell lores for both Vampires And Necromancers, available to spellcasters in Grand Host, Sacrament, Night, Blood, and Soulblight armies.
  • a few formations, though 5/6 of them are built around expensive named characters so they're not as flexible as those available to most other factions. oh, well.
  • unit rules for basically all the non-ghoul old vamp count units, though again these are available for free online.

Stuff you'll get from Battletome: Nighthaunt
  • more in-depth lore on ghosts and spirits in AoS, what the afterlife is like for those claimed by Nagash, who the new nighthaunt characters are, what the undead specifically have been up to in the wake of the malign portents campaign
  • allegiance rules for Nighthaunt. There may or may not be additional allegiance rules - I've heard talk of a 'Legion of Grief' ruleset, but as far as I can tell that's pure speculation at this point.
  • several formations
  • One or more spell lores specifically for ghostlt casters in nighthaunt armies
  • unit rules, though you'll again be able to download those for free

Stuff you'll get from the Malign Portents campaign book
  • Yet more in depth lore about Shyish, and about what's going on in Age of Sigmar in the wake of the Realmgate wars - basically Nagash is up to... "something", and prophets and seers across the realms are freaking out about it and trying to convince the armies of the other alliances to go to Shyish and stop it.
  • extended rules for playing in Shyish (these are likely replaced by the 2e realm rules).
  • a 'power of death' table of extra events and abilities triggered at the start of each players turn based on how many units died in the previous turn
  • extended rules for a 'prophesy points' system, where you choose a guiding prophetic sign for your army, generate points from wizards and 'heralds' (one for each grand alliance), and use those points to trigger special abilities during the game. the system's kind of cool, but a bit obnoxious.
  • scenarios for both narrative and matched play intended to be used alongside the prophecy points system
  • rules for the four 'herald' heroes. these are again also freely available online. note that they are automatically valid ally options for any faction in their matching grand alliance if you're playing a game using the prophesy point rules. Relevant for Flesh Eater Courts, who can field a Knight of Shrouds on foot this way in order to get more prophesy points, even though Nighthaunt are not normally a valid ally option for the ghouls.

Stuff you'll get from the Nagash: Undying King novel
  • A more in depth look at how one particular Nagash-worshipping society of living humans works on Shyish, along with a basic sense of their history, culture, lifestyle, how they interact with the undead and ghouls, etc.
  • the story of one of their leaders as she attempts to help her people survive and repel a nurglish invasion of their lands
  • a description of just how the mortarchs work in age of sigmar, how much autonomy they do or don't have, how they attempt to work around the restrictions nagash places on them, how much they actually remember of the old world
  • a sense of the specific personalities of Arkhan and Neferata. I complain about Neferata's use in the book, but her actual characterization and dialog is all very good.
  • a sense of the relationship between the mortal and demonic followers of nurgle, the difference in their personalities and attitudes, the politics of jockeying for favor, etc
  • A description of Nagash as he was during the age of chaos, physically and mentally broken after his defeat by Archaon, but still a monumental and omnipresant force of nature, still plotting on a level even his own broken mind wasn't fully aware of.

Stuff you'll get from the Mortarch of Night novel:
  • Mannfred being kind of dopey (this was retconned later to be an act put on for the stormcasts' benefit)
  • As with my complaints about Neferata in Undying King, this is mostly a problem with Manny's use in the story, his actual characterization and dialog is fine
  • Nagash as a petulent, tantrum-throwing god angry at his wayward mortarch mannfred (again later retconned as an act)
  • Nagash f'ing pissed at sigmar for stealing the souls of the dead to make his stormcasts (not an act)
  • What's (seems to be) going on with Nagash and the mortarchs, particularly Mannfred, during the early-to-mid part of the Realmgate Wars, the major overarching narrative arc of Age of Sigmar 1st edition
  • a walking tour of parts of shyish and ghyran, though this is early fluff so there's not a lot of detail or relatable terrain
  • a bunch of stormcast characterization. the undead are not the focus of the realmgate wars campaigns, even the parts that most involve us are more about spotlighting the stormcasts and sigmar's war against chaos.

Stuff you'll get from the Lord of Undeath novel:
  • Neferata being a lot more cooperative with the stormcasts, serving a role as a more diplomatic voice for Nagash
  • the aforementioned retcons, which go a long long way to salvaging both Nagash's and Mannfred's previously dopey actions
  • though sadly at neferata's expense
  • a lot of other junk going on with stormcast and chaos and whatnot
  • seriously, the undead were a background element in the realmgate wars, we are not the primary focus.

Stuff you'll get from Mengel Miniatures homebrew Battletome: Tomb Kings
  • unofficial, fanfic lore for tomb kings in Age of Sigmar
  • allegiance rules for tomb kings armies
  • unit rules (out of date, check the tomb king compendium from GW instead)
  • points values (out of date, check scrollbuilder.com instead)
  • a bunch of formations
  • it's free, and a major, high polish undertaking for a fan work
  • seriously, at the very least stop by The Endless Deserts to take a look, read it over, leave a comment
  • I want to encourage this sort of community undertaking on behalf of legacy factions, because they'll be needed to keep those factions alive after GW mothballs them via the warhammer legends rulesets.

...........................


So, in general, you get basic lore, core rules, and unit rules for free online, including points values via scrollbuilder.com, but you pay for in depth fluff, faction rules, formations, scenarios, modificaitons or additions to the core ruleset meant for narrative or matched play games Out of all the paid-for content, the big rulebook is the most skippable, so I guess it's good that it comes in the starter box.

The main things I would suggest purchasing (in addition to your army) are, in order:

  1. The battle tome matching your army (flesh eater courts for ghouls, nighthaunt for pure-ghost-armies, the Mengel Miniatures free homebrew pdf for tomb kings, and Legions of Nagash for everything else, including armies that mix nighthaunt and other units). Even if you can get points and unit rules free online, these books have good lore for how their specific factions fit into the new setting. Even if you don't care about lore, they have formations and faction rules that you'll want (except for flesh eaters, which only has formations, but the formations are particularly important for that army).

  2. The General's Handbook 2018. Don't bother with the earlier versions. Even though you can get the points values from scrollbuilder.com, You'll want this for the adjusted rules for matched play, campaign rules if your into that stuff, and especially the scenarios. If you play Flesh Eaters, you'll also need it for your faction rules, so for ghoul players its purchase priority is equal to your battletome. It's kind of shitty that they've increased the price on this one from last year, given that the general's handbook is a yearly release so you'll end up needing a new one in 12 months, but whatever. Consider the cheaper e-book version, though be warned GW uses a rather difficult epub3 format that a lot of e-readers have trouble with. I find infinity reader can handle them on android, and the readium chrome extension works on PC. I don't know what you should use for windows phones or apple products.

  3. The Malign Sorcery box, for the endless spell rules & models, especially for Legions of Nagash players, and double especially if you run Nagash or Arkhan. This one can wait the longest, but there are tools in here that you'll want access to eventually, and the models are mostly nice.

The big rulebook will be nice to have, but mostly as a peruse through it, coffee table sort of thing. If you're getting it via the starter box then great, but I'm not sure I'd go out of my way to purchase it separately otherwise.
 
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