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Master Necromancer
True Blood
Sep 23, 2009
In this thread I'm going to take a look at the history of the Mortal Realms, the setting of Age of Sigmar, with an eye to the major undead factions that were active at various points, and from the biased perspective of Nagash. The first post will cover all the setting backstory leading up to the Age of Sigmar. The second post will cover the narrative developments through the first and second editions of the game, bringing readers roughly up to date with the start of the current third edition of the game. The third post will take a look back at the various undead factions that have been playable throughout the course of the game.

Before the Age of Myth: The End of the World That Was

There are few who can remember the World That Was, but those who do tell of a single realm governed largely by physical laws. There the raw destructive magic of chaos was refracted like light through a prism into eight distinct winds of magic, and the flow of these purified winds, inimical to the frenzied and disordered powers of the warp, granted the World That Was and the souls that lived there some defense against the depredations of Dark Gods. But the Dark Gods of chaos are not easily denied, and their power infiltrated this realm of eightfold order in the form of twisted servants committed to their own world's undoing. The greatest of these was Archaon the Everchosen, who led a massive army of chaos warriors, beastmen, and daemons. With this mighty army he smashed aside the Human, Elf, and Dwarven nations, before preparing a terrible ritual that would spell the undoing of the World That Was. The forces opposed to Chaos launched a mighty counter-offensive, led by eight incarnate demigods, each soul-bound to one of the purified winds of magic. The greatest of these were Sigmar, the Incarnate of Azyr - the golden magic of the Heavens; and Nagash, the Incarnate of Shyish - the amethyst magic of Death. These ancient enemies could not be more opposed to one another in aspect and temperament, yet when the world needed them most they put aside their mutual hatred to fight side by side in defense of their world... and in the end they lost.

At the last possible moment the Alliance of the Incarnates was betrayed by one of Nagash's lieutenants. This momentary distraction allowed Archaon's ritual to grow out of control, creating a warp rift that tore the Old World apart and siphoned the remains into the Realm of Chaos. The eight winds of magic were blasted thought the rift, billowing out into the realm of chaos in great swirling stormclouds. The physical forms of those nearest to the event were reduced to atoms, their souls alone making it through the rift. As the rift grew and reached further away, great chunks of the old world were torn through at a time. Entire Cities, islands, and subcontinents were sent through the rift with survivors yet alive, only for the daemons of the warp to descend upon them in an endless tide - or for the dark gods themself to snatch up hundreds at a time in great handfuls to feast on alive. The last piece of the Old World to pass into the Realm of Chaos was the great iron core of the planet, which was sent rocketing out into the distance far from the nascent moral realms.

The Dark Gods feasted on the souls of the Old World until they were swollen to bursting - none more so than Slaanesh, who for reasons none yet remember had exclusive claim to the souls of the elves. When they could consume no more, each retreated to hidden places in their own realms for an age to digest the souls they had consumed, and as they did so they turned their thoughts and ambitions to other worlds.

But the annihilation of the Old World was not quite complete. The rarefied energies of the winds of magic, now raging in eight great eldritch storms, were still anathema to the dark gods. They still repelled the wild disordered magic of chaos, creating a relatively stable region even within the Realm of Chaos itself. And within these winds there remained refugees from the World. Its not clear if these were living survivors clinging to the shattered remnants of their world or merely souls of the dead that had escaped consumption, caught in the swirl of the great magical storms, but there were survivors none the less, and chief among these were the Incarnates, bound forever to their respective winds as a new kind of divinity. In time they were able to pull together new physical manifestations for themselves, even as the storms of their respective winds slowly coalesced. Within these storms the physical remnants of the old world slowly collected, drifting inward to form great disc worlds in the center of each, and in this way the Mortal Realms were born.

Before the Age of Myth: The Mortal Realms

Over time the Mortal Realms stabilized, resolving into the eight disc-worlds known today. At the edges of these disks, the wind of magic that dominates them still swirls in a terrible and endless storm. Though these storms are sources of great arcane power, it is impossible for mortal creatures to survive here, and even the gods find it difficult to control the fierce magic. Within these raging winds are chunks of physical matter - some left over from the World That Was, some newly created in response to the thoughts and emotions that mortals associate with a particular Wind of Magic. This happens because Mortal Realms still exist within the wider Realm of Chaos, and reality here is governed by symbolism and metaphor rather than physical laws. As an idea is shared by more and more mortals, as it becomes more concrete and stable in their minds, a new object, creature, or entire region representing that thought or idea drifts inward from the wild border of the Mortal Realm, joining the more stable inner regions. Also formed within the winds of magic at Each Realm's perimeter is Realmstone, a unique material that embodies and contains tremendous reserves of a Realm's energies. This material filters out from the storms at a Realm's edge like snow, and draws many foolish mortals to the edges of their Realm in search of riches or reserves of arcane power.

The Inlands of the Mortal Realms are great disk worlds, governed by what seem to be more natural laws - though even these are manifested by shared mortal conviction rather than physical laws. Each of these worlds is huge - with great oceans and multiple continents. And while they are stable enough for mortals to survive, they are still fundamentally strange and magical places, dominated by their respective wind of magic. Additionally, while the people of the Old World thought the Realm of Chaos was entirely dominated by the Dark Gods and their daemonic legions, in truth the greater Realm of Chaos is populated by a dizzying variety of strange and ancient entities, creatures mortals never knew simply because they had no interest in invading and consuming mortal worlds. And while the Dark Gods and their daemonic legions had lost interest in the mortal realms once they had consumed their fill, many other strange entities were drawn to the new Realms and chose to make their homes there - beings that might not be as malevolent as the Dark Gods and their daemonic hosts, but are often no less dangerous. Further majestic, terrible, and godlike entities were imagined into existence by the mortals of the Realms in the same way as the physical spaces of the realms were formed. Whether warp-born or shaped by the minds of mortals, the greatest of these entities came to be called 'Godbeasts', and their power in some cases dwarfed even the Incarnate Gods themselves.

The Mortal Realms float within something of a void in the Realm of Chaos, the wild magic of Chaos seemingly calmed by the eightfold Winds of Magic. There are many thousands of miles of nothing between most of the realms, and each would be completely isolated from the others were it not for the Realm Gates. These arcane portals connect two different points - which can either be within the same realm or can be two entirely different realms. The greatest of these gates, large enough for an army to pass through shoulder to shoulder, each connects one of the reams to a continent-sized smaller Realm called the All Points, formed from magic swirling into a central point from all eight Mortal Realms.

How the mortal races first came to inhabit the Mortal Realms is a bit of a mystery. Some sources say there were living survivors of the World That Was, clinging onto chunks of their world and somehow surviving until those chunks settled into the Inlands of a Mortal Realm, though this seems unlikely. Others say the mortal races didn't appear until the Incarnate Gods reformed, and that the gods then set about plucking the surviving souls from the storms of magic surrounding their realms to create new mortals to serve and worship them. However they came to be, these first Humans, Aelves, Duardin, Orruks, Grots, Ogors, Seraphon, and more found the early Mortal Realms to be a dangerous place, already overrun with strange creatures, Godbeasts, and most of all the Children of Chaos - great roving tribes of Beastmen, who considered the Mortal Realms to be their inheritance and birthright, gifted to them by their Dark Gods. The mortal races spread and formed civilizations, but the realms overall remained wild and untamed, far too inhospitable for any one people to settle on their own, even with the power of an Incarnate Deity behind them.

Before the Age of Myth: Shyish in the Early Realms.

Before the Age of Myth, there were no living mortals in Shyish, the Realm of Death. Governed by mortal beliefs and emotions about their own inevitable ends, Shyish was uniquiely inhospitable to the living. Even as mortal races began to appear and their civilizations spread among the other realms, none could travel to Shyish, for the Endgate leading from the All Points to Shyish was guarded by terrifying Hydragors, the spawn of the Godbeast Gnorros. Any unlucky mortals who happened to stumble through smaller, more obscure Realmgates were quickly overtaken by the Realms many dangers - from horrific godbeasts to hungry ghosts to terrain and weather conditions that were simply incapable of sustaining life. The peoples of the Mortal Realms knew of Shyish, and that the souls of the departed were drawn there from all the other realms, but in the absence of direct knowledge they were left to imagine what the Realm of Death was like, and these imaginings took on a reality of their own as ghostly afterlives and underworlds in the storm of amethyst magic surrounding Shyish. When faith in a particular afterlife spread and solidified, this caused the afterlife that faith created to take on a more stable physical form and drift inwards, leaving the wild magic of the Realm's perimeter to join the more stable Inner Heartlands of the realm, eventually settling among the other afterlives that preceded it. If faith in that afterlife eventually faded away, then the afterlife and those spirits who existed there likewise faded away, leaving behind empty wastelands.

These afterlives were as varied as the peoples who imagined them. Hallost, the Land of Dead Heroes, where the spirits of warrior tribes spend their days battling an endless tide of great monsters and beasts, dying each night only to be roused again to glorious battle the next day. Athanasia, an afterlife of peace and enlightenment where Souls rest and study and await their rebirth. The Latchkey Isle, a paradise filled with wonderous treasures protected by devious traps, intricate locks, and watchful guardians, where the spirits of the greatest adventurers and thieves spend eternity challenging themselves to ever more daring heists. Ossia, a land of endless toil where those who spent their entire lives serving priest-kings in life continued to serve those same priest-kings in death, forever expanding their grand necropolis temples and building ever greater monuments in their monarch's name. Many of these afterlives were ruled over by their own god or gods of death, imagined into being by the faith of mortals just as the afterlives they ruled were, but none the less enjoying powers rivaling that of Incarnate Gods and Godbeasts, at least within their own afterlife or underworld.

When mortals died, their souls were drawn to the afterlife most closely matching their own beliefs, and in this way many mortals granted themselves eternal rewards, or unwittingly cursed themselves to damnations of their own choosing. However, they didn't always find themselves in quite the hereafter they expected. As the various afterlives settled together in the heartlands of Shyish, they came into contact and could influence each other. In some places this resulted in peaceful coexistence or open trade, but in other places wars broke out as the masters of one underworld attempted to conquer or exterminate another. In this way a mortal soul expecting an afterlife of quiet contemplation could find themselves drafted into a war between heavens and hells they had never heard of. Other afterlives weren't the only threat, either. Shyish had it's own menagerie of strange creatures and terrible godbeasts, and as the Realm of Death, governed by mortal emotions about their own inevitable ends, these beasts were far more terrible than those found in any other Mortal Realm.

What Shyish did not have was an Incarnate Deity of its own, for while the other incarnates were reborn as deities in their own Realms, and set about fostering their own followers, Nagash was mysteriously absent. Without the Great Necromancer, in these early days Shyish was left to its own devices, with no guiding hand to impose order upon it.

The Age of Myth: The Return of Sigmar and Nagash.

In these early days when the Mortal Realms were first taking form, Mallus - the molten core of the World That Was, was still streaking through the Realm of Chaos like a mighty, twin-tailed comet. And clinging to that comet for dear life was Sigmar, the Incarnate Deity of Azyr.

Just how long exactly Sigmar traveled like this is unclear, especially since time in the Realm of Chaos drifts in strange ways the further one wanders from the Mortal Realms. Eventually though, Mallus was plucked out of the sky by the Godbeast Dracothion, the Celestial Drake and friend to Sigmar, and placed in the firmament above Azyr, the Realm of Heavens, to which both Sigmar and Dracothion are mystically connected. From here Sigmar was able to pass into the All Points, and from there the God of Storms proceeded to visit each of the Mortal Realms in turn, even slipping past the monstrous hydragors to visit the Realm of Death.

He found his fellow Incarnate Deities - some still sleeping, others struggling on their own to foster their chosen peoples. He saw civilization struggling to survive in the corners while all around the Realms disorder, beasts, and monsters reigned. And, after seeing so much of the Realm of Chaos on his celestial voyage, Sigmar knew that time to establish and fortify civilization within the Mortal Realms was limited, for eventually these new worlds would attract the attention of the Dark Gods just as the Old World had, and in their current fractured state there would be no way to defend them.

Sigmar knew he needed to re-forge the Alliance of the Incarnates, but to begin this new Alliance he would need at least one ally not already overwhelmed with the task of protecting their own struggling people. And for this, to his own everlasting regret, he eventually turned to his old enemy, Nagash.

Sigmar found Nagash sealed away beneath a great mountain cairn of Gravesand, the realmstone of Shyish. The entropic properties of so much Gravesand was enough to immobilize even the Great Necromancer. How Nagash came to be this way is unclear. Some early stories say the Dark Gods went out of their way to find and seal the spirit of Nagash before they had even finished consuming the souls of the old world, for among all who had opposed them it was Nagash alone that they feared. Others suggest that a great quantity of Gravesand was naturally drawn to Nagash's soul during the formation of Shyish by the sheer gravity of his dark power and malevolent will.

In any event, the Mortal Realms would never have known the curse of undeath had Sigmar not made the fateful decision to free Nagash, in exchange for the Great Necromancer's pledge to join Sigmar's Grand Alliance against the Dark Gods, and to help Sigmar bring order to the Mortal Realms. This Nagash readily swore, for he has always sought to impose his own terrible order upon the world.

In time the differences between Sigmar's and Nagash's vision of what 'order' meant for the Realms would prove to be fundamentally incompatible, but in the early days of the alliance the two gods, so unalike in aspect, fought side by side as brothers, laying low the horrors of the Realms, bringing unexpected salvation to their peoples, and bringing their fellow Incarnate deities one by one into Sigmar's Grand Alliance - though some, as with Gorkamorka, required persuasion by force of battle. Still, there seemed no foe, no godbeast, no power in the Realms that could match the might of Sigmar and Nagash working together, and it was this alliance of opposites, even more so than the greater allience they came to spearhead, that truely ushered in the Age of Myth.

The Age of Myth: Settling the Realms.

With the Grand Alliance of the Gods newly forged, Sigmar turned his attention to the Settling of the Mortal Realms, and Nagash and his Undead Legions were instrumental to this effort. Uncountable throngs of skeletal laborers working day and night without end at the Great Necromancer's command built the early cities, fortifications, roads, and walls of Sigmarite Civilization in all eight Realms. The ruins of these great works still bear reliefs depicting the contributions of the dead.

Fearless, tireless, and pitiless, Nagash's armies fought back the hordes of beastmen mile by mile, and brought the Realms to heel. Even the Endgate was thrown open and the terrible Hydragores slain, allowing Sigmarite civilization to populate the inner heartlands of Shyish - much to the consternation of some of the spirits who resided there.

But the residents of Shyish's afterlives had more immediate problems to contend with than unwanted human settlers. Once free of his Gravesand tomb, Nagash would tolerate no rivals within his domain. He quickly set about conquering Shyish, pitting the undead against the dead in the Wars of the Dead. Resist as they might, though, the forces of the various afterlives could not hope to oppose the unliving embodiment of Shyish itself, especially as they were too divided against one another to unite in mutual defense. One by one they fell, and their gods were consumed by Nagash. Even mighty Ossia fell, after their greatest general, Katakros, defected to Nagash's side, becomeing the Great Necromancer's foremost battle tactitian and seige engineer.

In this way the Mortal Realms brought into the order of the Grand Alliance of Sigmar, and, together with the foremost Slaan wizards of the Seraphon, the Incarnate Gods were able to seal away many otherwise unkillable terrors of the realms - including the earthquake god Kragonos. For a single, glorious, golden age, it seemed Sigmar's plan had succeeded, and the people of the Mortal Realms would forever be free from the terrible fate that befell the World That Was.

The Age of Myth: the Mortarchs.

Nagash was a busy god in the Age of Myth. Conquering Shyish, slaying cosmic horrors and rampaging godbeasts, driving back the beastmen hordes, managing diplomatic ties with gods and mortals that feared and distrusted the undead, building the infrastructure of Sigmarite civilization across all 8 Mortal Realms, and even making time for a few personal projects. The God of Death can spread his mind far and wide, but even he cannot be everywhere at once.

Nagash needed lieutenants that could work his will where he was not, so he chose a number of supremely talented and powerful undead to serve as his Mortarchs. Each was already a legendary undead warlord in their own right, with long and bloody histories. As part of their ascension they are soul-bound to Nagash himself, and share in a sliver of his own nightmarish power. This dark blessing expands their own necromantic abilities, dramatically increases their dominion over other undead, and renders them not just undead but truly deathless - for their souls cannot be destroyed while the dark god they serve yet endures.

However, these gifts come at a terrible price, for Nagash's dominion over the Mortarchs is absolute. They may have their plots and plans, they may seek to subvert him in subtle ways, but any action they might wish to take against the explicit will of Nagash must be made through cat's paws, as the Mortarchs are physically incapable of directly defying the Great Necromancer's word. Such is his dominion over them that Arkhan the Black, the first of the Mortarchs, has openly wondered whether the Mortarchs are really themselves at all, or whether perhaps they are simply pieces of Nagash shaped in the likeness of his favored servants of old.

Though the exact number and identities of the Mortarchs in the Age of Myth have been lost to the fog of time, Five in particular are remembered, their cruel legacies persisting into the modern day.

First among the Mortarchs, as it has always been, was Arkhan the Black, the Liche King, the Mortarch of Sacrament, and the Left Hand of Death. Arkhan is the closest thing the megalomaniacal Incarnate Deity of Shyish has ever had to a friend, and is the only creature in all the Realms that the Great Necromancer trusts with the full scope and detail of his dark designs.

A supremely skilled necromantic adept who has studdied at Nagash's foot from time immemorial, Arkhan's innate talents are supplemented by artefacts of fell power hand crafted by Nagash. With these tools, Arkhan is capable of working necromantic rituals of a scale and subtlety surpassed only by the Great Necromancer himself. He applies these tools and talents to Nagash's most critical and sensitive missions, those that cannot be trusted to lesser Mortarchs, and in this way the Mortarch of Sacrament advances Nagash's terrible designs in the shadows, keeping them hidden until it is too late for his enemies to stop them.

Arkhan's very first task was to build Nagashizaar, Nagash's terrible fortress capitol, at the dead center of Shyish, and it is from here that the forces of undeath launched their campaign to unify the Realm of Death in the Great Necromancer's dread image.

Three of the Mortarchs were Vampires. Among the strongest varieties of undead, Vampires are unliving focal points of death magic, invigorating lesser undead around them by their very presence. Vampires also retain all the knowledge and cunning of their once living minds, and supplement this with an instinctive understanding of necromantic sorcery and a ceaseless hunger for mortal blood that made them among the foremost foes of the living in the World That Was.

Less helpfully to Nagash's designs, vampires are also deceitful and ambitious to a fault, and tainted by further vices retained from their mortal lives. Furthermore, they are constantly on the edge of being overwhelmed by their own dark, predatory hunger and fell magical nature. Many vampires, perhaps even all of them eventually, are doomed to lose their human minds and bodies, degenerating into nightmarish beasts. Even so, the strengths of vampires were too great for Nagash to ignore, and he had long ago learned to mitigate the runaway ambitions of vampyric servants by playing them off of one another. Unable to truly die, the souls of several vampires had survived the Old World's destruction, and three of these Nagash is said to have pulled from the void to serve as his generals, introducing the Soulblight Curse to the mortal realms. These were:

Neferata, The Mortarch of Blood and the Queen of Mysteries. The very first vampire, Neferata is a being nearly as ancient as Nagash and Arkhan. While a formidable general in her own right, directing her warriors in battle from high above the fray on the back of her Dread Abyssal, Nagadron, Neferata's true talents are in diplomacy, espionage, and political manipulation. No other undead had ever been so adept at managing information and disinformation networks, using the Soulblight Curse to spread her agents throughout the World That Was.

In the Mortal Realms she turned those same talants to managing the alliance between Nagash's undead and the other god's mortal followers, undermining those who advised caution when dealing with the undead, planting her own agents among the leadership of the other races, turning their attentions towards whatever Nagash wished them to see, and away from what he did not. She also managed the governance of the mortal outposts within Shyish, cultivating an elite aristocracy devoted to her alone and founding the nation of Nefertaria, and its grand capitol Nulahmia, in the glorious goldan image of her long-lost homeland.

Ushoran, the Lord of Masques, the Carrion King, and the Mortarch of Delusion. A blood relation of Neferata in life, Ushoran was once a fell prince of the undead, resplendent in his dark glory. In time, however, he and his bloodline were hounded to the margines of the Old World by their fellow vampires for a perceived slight against the Queen of Mysteries. Though Ushoran's line survived, the extremes they were forced to resort to, including subsiting on the blood of beasts or even corpsesblood, twisted them into hideous monsters clinging to the ragged edge of their sanity. Yet such was Ushoran's mastery of vampyric illusions that he was able to convince both himself and his followers that they retained their exalted nobility and their finery of old. It was this supernatural power of deception which motivated Nagash to revive Ushoran in the Mortal Realms.

With hypnotic powers greatly enhanced by his fell master, Ushoran founded and cultivated a devoted cult among the mortals of the Realms, compelling them to see Nagash as a belevolent deity of rightful endings and peaceful rest, and to see Ushoran himself not as the hideous monstrosity he was but rather as the Sombre Paladin, a divine exemplar chosen to preserve and defend the natural order of Shyish and its Underworlds. None were more completely beguiled by this deception than Ushoran himself - a break from reality that may have been responsible for the Mortarch's eventual fall from Nagash's favour when the dark reality of Nagash's ambitions diverged too far from the noble fantasy Ushoran had constructed for himself.

Mannfred von Carstein, the Mortarch of Night. While Mannfred was the spawn of a much younger generation of vampires in the Old World, as a survivor of the World That Was Mannfred was none the less unspeakably ancient by the standards of the Mortal Realms. A singularly selfish and duplicitous creature, it was Mannfred who betrayed the alliance of the Incarnates and doomed the World That Was. That Nagash would willingly choose to revive such an untrustworthy servant is testament to just how useful Mannfred can be.

The Mortarch of Night is a necromantic prodigy of strength and skill second only to Nagash himself - even Arkhan the Black would be no match for Mannfred's raw power without the prodigious arcane treasures and secret rites bestowed by his fell master. Mannfred is also blessed with a cruel tactical cunning, able to draw foes into deadly traps, or identify and strike at unexpected weaknesses. Mannfred is such a master of deceit that he's often able to anticipate his opponents traps and evade them with ease.

Where Neferata's gifts were turned on Nagash's allies, and Ushoran's influence held sway over the Death God's worshippers, Mannfred's talents were unleashed on the Great Necromancer's enemies, sapping the strength of beastman hordes and rebellious underworlds alike before swooping in for the kill on his Dread Abyssal, Ashigaroth. In the wild outskirts of Shyish he carved a dominion of his own, Carstinia, forged in a petty, self-serving parody of his homeland in the World That Was. However, Mannfred's memories of home were mostly bitter and filled with regret, so in the end he spent little time there, and left its governance to his progeny.

The last Mortarch still remembered from the Age of Myth is Katakros, Mortarch of the Necropolis. As the brilliant general of the underworld of Ossia, Katakros successfully repelled Nagash's forces for many years, deflecting the attacks of even Nagash's Mortarchs, until Nagash himself was forced to intervene directly.

Katakros soon saw that the Great Necromancer's overwhelming power was beyond any strategy he could devise. With no hope of victory, he instead defected to Nagash's side, bringing with him all his battle plans, treatises on the art of war, and designs for seige engines, war machines, and fortresses, along with hastily drafted notes on how these designs might be further enhanced through the necromantic arts.

Nagash was greatly impressed by these works, and by Katakros's successes against his favored generals, and so rather than destroy the Ossian for having opposed him for so long, the Great Necromancer instead elevated Katakros to the rank of Mortarch, and placed him in charge of the campaign to unify Shyish, as well as the consolidation and ordering of the various afterlives into a single great Necropolis of the Undead once the Wars of the Dead were complete.

The Age of Myth: the Vision of Nagash

Sigmar's vision of harmony and order for the Mortal Realms seemed to be a great success, but Nagash knew that it couldn't last. Chaos and disorder is the fundamental nature of all life, most especially that of the intelligent mortal races. All living things die, and yet so too do they struggle against their inevitable end. The fundamental irrationality of that struggle is the fuel that powers Chaos. The Dark Gods themselves are, at their core, mere manifestations of the mortal races' defiant will to live. As long as life persisted, the threat of Chaos would inevitably return. But that return needn't come soon. Nagash would honor his pact with Sigmar for as long as order within the Realms endured, even as he prepared for the day that it would all fall apart.

During his long imprisonment beneath the cairn of gravesand, Nagash had been carefully examining his failures in the World That Was, up to and including the final failure that led to the world's destruction. He knew that all life must be extinguished in order to obtain final victory over the Chaos Gods, but his attempts to achieve this end had all met with misfortune and disappointment. After long contemplation, Nagash concluded that, loathe as he was to admit it, the root of these failures was himself.

As powerful as he was, he was not powerful enough to wipe out life without relying on a great Legion of undead soldiers to act as his hands. He could raise - had raised - impossibly vast armies of the undead, legions more than capable of stamping out all life, but lesser undead like skeletons and zombies lacked the independence necessary to operate on their own, and Nagash could not be simultaneously present to lead all the forces he could raise on every front at once. Greater undead like Vampires, Wights, and Liches boasted superior physical and arcane powers, while retaining the intelligence and awareness needed to lead Nagash's armies where he could not. However, they also retained the petty vices and personal failings they had in life, emotional weaknesses and selfish ambitions that constantly undermined the Great Necromancer's work. Now as in the past Nagash delegated power and authority to a handful of Mortarchs, over whom he maintained direct control and who in turn could keep lesser generals and lieutenants in line, but this top down chain of authority made Nagash himself a single point of failure. And, time and again, he had failed.

Time and again, Nagash had underestimated the strength and cunning of his foes, had acted too brazenly in the mistaken belief that none were mighty enough to oppose him. Yet always some unforeseen champion - Alcadizaar, Settra, Sigmar, Archaon - had managed to strike him down. Though these defeats were always temporary, though the Great Necromancer always returned in time, in his absence his mortarchs would turn on each other, the lieutenants beneath them would scatter, and the greater undead hoard, left in leaderless disarray, would collapse. Yes, Nagash was a god in truth now, but then again so too were some of the very rivals who had laid him low in the past.

The interdependence between Nagash and his Undead Legions was the weakness he needed to expunge. Either he needed to be strong enough to personally snuff out all life, or else he needed a legion of the dead that could be trusted to continue working towards that purpose even should Nagash himself be temporarily struck down. With two paths open to ultimate victory, Nagash devised two plans to pursue.

The first plan was to absorb the entire power of Shyish into Nagash's person, which would make the Great Necromancer powerful enough to personally wipe all life from the Mortal Realms, before tearing the Dark Gods from their thrones with his boney claws. Nagash had attempted something similar to the first plan in the closing days of the World That Was, setting his mortarchs and their undead legions to delay the forces of the Dark Gods while he absorbed the Wind of Shyish through his Black Pyramid. But this method had been too slow, and too obvious, giving his enemies the opportunity to disrupt the ritual and destroy the pyramid. The new Realm of Shyish, and its peculiar realmstone, gravesand, presented a unique opportunity though. By shifting the bulk of Shyish's gravesand from the perimiter of the realm to its center, Nagash could work a ritual to invert the natural flow of magic within shyish, causing it all to suddenly cascade into Nagash in a single terrible moment. So long as the gravesand was collected and the ritual prepared in secret, Nagash's enemies would have no time to react.

To enact his ritual, Nagash would need a huge quantity of gravesand transported thousands of miles from the perimeter of Shyish to its very center. Furthermore, the gravesand at the realm's edge was so saturated with death magic that even an already-dead skeleton could transport but a single grain at a time or else it would be ground to dust by the realmstone's entropic energies before it could reach its destination. To move so much of it, so far, and in complete secrecy, would be the work of millennia. None the less, Nagash tasked Arkhan with collecting the needed gravesand, and so in the hidden pathways of Shyish trains of millions of skeletons began traveling in single file from the perimeter of the realm to Nagashizzar at its heart, each clutching a single grain of precious gravesand in their bony fingers. In the mean time, Sigmar's Grand Alliance was the best chance of holding Chaos at bay long enough for the work to be completed.

While time meant nothing to Nagash, the scale of time involved meant that, no matter how carefully and quietly he proceeded, there was a real chance that his enemies would discover the work before it was finished. If they did, then Nagash's rivals within Sigmar's Grand Alliance of Order would unite against him, potentially overwhelming and imprisoning him, or perhaps even banishing his spirit from the Mortal Realms altogether. Nagash deemed the potential for complete victory to be worth this risk, and yet to insure against the possibility of such failure Nagash also pursued a second plan in parallel to the first, one that could succeed even if Nagash himself were removed from the picture. This would be a new kind of undead army, comprised of a new kind of undead soldier - one that retained the 'positive' qualities of intelligence, independence, drive, and hatred from life, yet was simultaneously devoid of the 'weaknesses' of willfulness, greed, ambition, honor, regret, and compassion. The Great Necromancer had already been experimenting with new forms of undead in the latter days of the Old World, creating the Morghasts - monstrous undead atrocities to act as his personal bodyguard and the vanguard of his armies. These concepts he refined further into the Ossiarch Legions.

An ossiarch's body would not be limited to the haphazard remains of an individual creature. Rather they would be hand-crafted constructs assembled from magically reshaped bone taken from many sources and reinforced with enchanted metals to create bespoke forms according to Nagash's purpose for them. Their souls would be similarly hand crafted - with dozens of mortal souls carefully teased apart, the qualities most useful to Nagash retained and re-combined to form a single ossiarch soul that would then be bound to an indestructible soul stone affixed to its construct body. Retaining mortal intelligence but devoid of their personal weaknesses, the Ossiarch Legions would be the perfect undead army - one that would continue to labour tirelessly towards Nagash's vision even without Nagash's direct oversignt to direct them.

Early experiments proved promising, but the process of constructing even a single ossiarch warrior would prove incredibly time and resource intensive, so accumulating a Realms-conquering army of them would again be the work of millennia. Once more this most sensitive task was assigned to Arkhan, so while Nagash's undead were building Sigmar's cities, Arkhan's were secretly carving out vast underground tomb complexes in the most inhospitable corners of the Mortal Realms, where construction of the Ossiarch Legions could continue in secret, even if Nagash's enemies discovered his planned betrayal and scoured Shyish from top to bottom to undo his works.

While Nagash trusted Arkhan with the task of assembling the Ossiarchs, and keeping them secret, he knew he would need another to lead them once they were ready for war. Arkhan's loyalty and arcane talents were without flaw, but while he was a veteran field commander with ages of experience, he was no battlefield genius. Meanwhile the Vampire Mortarchs simply could not be trusted with command of Nagash's perfect army.

This was of little concern to Nagash - The construction of the Ossiarch Legions would take countless centuries. There would be time to find - or create - a general suited to them. But it turned out Nagash didn't have to wait long, for Katakros proved to be exactly the general Nagash desired. Supremely talented in the art of war, yet utterly devoid of greed or ambition. Alone among all the Ossiarchs, Katakros's soul possessed no flaws that needed to be excised, nor were any traits lacking to be filled by bits of other souls. Furthermore his conceptual designs for war machines and siege engines provided significant improvements to existing Ossiarch designs.

With Katakros joining the ranks of the Mortarchs as Nagash's warmaster, gravesand pouring into the hidden vaults beneath Nagashizzar, Ossiarch construction underway in the distant corners of the Mortal Realms, and the vampire Mortarchs keeping Nagash's mortal followers, allies, and enemies in check, all seemed to be proceeding according to the Great Necromancer's will.

The Age of Myth: A Mortarch's Fall

It was during this time that Ushoran, the Mortarch of Delusion, chosen champion of the Benevolent Nagash and defender of the underworlds of Shyish, heard rumors of a great theft taking place at the very edges of the Realm of Death - massive quantities of Nagash's holy gravesand were being stolen by some mysterious unknown enemy. Enough of Shyish's realmstone was being taken that the absence could potentially destabilize the flow of magic through the entire Realm. This was clearly a threat to the balance of Shyish significant enough to demand the Sombre Paladin's direct attention. Unfortunately, the wild magic swirling at the Realm's edge was too much for his followers to endure, so Ushoran went on alone to investigate this threat to the Nagash's domain. It is unknown what exactly transpired there on the edges of Shyish, but when Ushoran returned his mind was broken, even his devoted and deluded attendants perceiving his speech as maddened, blasphemous ravings.

The enraged mortarch rampaged across the hinterlands of Shyish, hunting and feeding on grim cthonic beasts and taking on a massive and monstrous form. Where once Ushoran was the most devoted of Nagash's mortarchs, now he toppled the works of Nagash wherever he found them and scattered the armies sent to contain him. In the end his fellow mortarchs were forced to work together to capture their errant peer and drag his monstrous bulk raving and screaming back to Nagash.

Accounts of what followed vary. Ushoran's abhorrent progeny, at least in their more comprehensible moments, claim that Nagash placed Ushoran in a great fortress called the Shroudcage in order to slowly reconstruct the Mortarch's mind. Such was the damage that the healing process would be long and agonizing, but in time Ushoran would be returned to his full glory and Nagash's hidden enemy, the mysterious thief who had maimed his most cherished servant, would be rightfully identified and hunted down. The progeny of Mannfred and Neferata agree that Ushoran was taken to the Shroudcage, but they say this was a prison intended to punish Ushoran for his failure to defeat the thief and his subsequent rebellious rampage. According to their telling, the Shroudcage inflicted a unique psychological torture - reflecting back at Ushoran the damning truth behind every lie he had ever told, especially those he told to himself.

What seems most likely, however, is that there never was a thief. That Ushoran instead encountered Arkhan's servants at the realms edge, collecting realmstone in secret for Nagash's great ritual, a ritual that could in time spell the doom of all life and the end of all Realms, including Shyish. Perhaps this led to a duel between the Mortarchs of Sacrament and Delusion, and Ushoran's mind was broken in the battle. Or perhaps the irreconcilable contradiction between the benevolent Nagash Ushoran had deluded himself into worshiping and the true Nagash who held the reigns of his soul was in itself enough to break the Mortarch's mind. Either way, in this version of events Ushoran's imprisonment in the Shroudcage would have been neither healing nor punishment, but rather a simple necessity to ensure the secrecy of Nagash's apocalyptic ambition.

Regardless of the true nature of Ushoran's madness, in the wake of his imprisonment the delusion that held sway over Nagash's cult faded. Once freed from their enthrallment, the horrified mortals turned on Ushoran's Abhorrent progeny, who were now revealed as the twisted monsters they truly were. They found now respite among their Soulblighted kin, who considered them traitors to Nagash after their mortarch's short lived rebellion, and so the Abhorrents were hounded by mortal and undead alike, forced to survive on the edges of society like wild beasts of the hinterlands, in an ironic echo of their Srigoi forebearers in the World That Was.

The collapse of Nagash's cult, and revelation that soulblight monsters had been enthralling mortal populations, likely strained relations between Nagash and the rest of Sigmar's grand alliance. It should perhaps be considered testament to Neferata's diplomatic skills that the alliance didn't fall apart then and there. Thankfully, Ushoran's rampage against Nagash made it seem as through all of the Mortarch's misdeeds had been a rebellious plot, while the hounding and persecution of Ushoran's surviving followers by the Legions of Blood and Night would have lent further credence to Nagash's claims of innocence.

The Age of Myth: Cracks in the Grand Alliance

Despite the unfortunate situation with Ushoran, everything still seemed to be proceeding according to Nagash's plans. Both of his grand designs presented a viable path to absolute victory, and while both would be ages in the making, Sigmar's Grand Alliance seemed strong and stable, fully capable of keeping the dark powers at bay until Nagash was ready to destroy friend and foe alike. Unfortunately, the alliance was not so stable as either Nagash or Sigmar supposed. Even as the Great Necromancer was laying the groundwork for his long term plots to betray the other gods, far more immediate cracks were appearing.

As the godbeasts were tamed or laid low and the beastmen tribes pushed to the fringes of the Mortal Realms, the battle lust of the twin headed god GorkaMorka and their greenskin children drove them to turn on their Sigmarite allies. Though GorkaMorka themselves were defeated and imprisoned, the now leaderless greenskins quickly became as dangerous and disorderly a threat as the beastmen had been before them, especially in Ghur, the Realm of Beasts, where they were the most numerous.

While GorkaMorka's betrayal had been quite damaging, it had not been altogether unexpected. Far worse, and a surprise to all, were the actions of the Aelven Deities - Tyrion, Teclis, and Malerion.

Very few aelven souls had survived the end of the World That Was, and the ravenous hunger of Slaanesh. The Aelven Gods had attempted to foster new aelven peoples in the Mortal Realms, but they had so few souls to start, and aelven populations expanded so slowly, that their peoples were faced with a grim future. Even if their tiny populations proved viable - far from a sure thing - the shorter lived and faster multiplying races would surely have settled and occupied all the realms before the nascent aelven civilizations could really even get started.

Alarielle, goddes of Life, accepted this as the natural course and instead channeled her attention, favor, and share of precious aelven souls into her new plant-like Sylvaneth people. Tyrion, Teclis, and Malerion, uncompromising deities of Light and Darkness, would not abandon the aelves, though, and eventually an opportunity presented itself in a most unlikely form.

Morathi, Malerion's mother, who had been consumed by Slaanesh in the destruction of the World That Was, reappeared, claiming to have clawed her way out of Slaanesh's gullet and traveled in secret to the Mortal Realms. She knew where Slaanesh was hidden and vulnerable, still digesting the souls of the Old World's aelves even now, and she proposed a daring plan - capture Slaanesh in their torpor, bring them back to the mortal realms, and extract as many aelven souls as might yet be saved, possibly numbering in the millions.

Tyrion, Teclis, and Malerion supported this plan, desperate as they were for any chance of reviving their peoples. The other gods, especially Nagash, opposed the plan as unthinkably reckless. Even were it possible, capturing one of the Chaos Gods would surely attract the attention of the rest. Furthermore, Nagash argued, according to the pact sworn by the deities of the Grand Alliance, the souls of the dead belonged to Nagash and Nagash alone. Even the aelven gods had sworn to this - thinking their oath largely meaningless since aelves are without age or natural death regardless. Nagash had already shown tremendous grace in forgiving the use of souls of the dead by the various gods in establishing their peoples before the Alliance had been sworn, but now that they had all acknowledged his claim, by all rights any souls of the dead still being digested within the Dark Prince belonged to Nagash, and it was his will that they should rot there rather than risk everything the Incarnate Gods had built together (and everything Nagash was building in secret).

Still, the aelven gods appealed to Sigmar's greatest weakness - his hope. Sigmar would do anything, risk anything, for his own people. Could he in good faith deny the aelven gods this last desperate chance to save their own? For her part, Morathi reminded Sigmar of all the evils Nagash had done in the World That Was, of the enemy he had been to all life, and characterized the Great Necromancer's wise counsel as petty cruelty. For a trembling moment, it seemed as though the Storm God would break the tie in favor of this foolhardy plan. In anger and desperation, Nagash struck Morathi in her lying face. The terrible blow tore away the illusion she had woven around herself, revealing her true form - hideous, snake-like, and clearly tainted by the corruption of Slaanesh.

As Morathi slithered off into the shadows, swearing revenge for the insult, Nagash made his final argument, tailored to snuff the flame of hope that the aelven gods had fanned in Sigmar's heart. Just as Morathi was so clearly tainted by chaos, so too would be any aelven soul dredged up from the Dark God's gullet. Corruption is the very nature of chaos, and no mortal soul could persist within the body of a Chaos God for so long and not be irrevocably tainted by that corruption. Not only would the aelven gods' plan place all the Mortal Realms in jeopardy, it would be - could only be - for nothing. Finally bowing to the Necromancer's superior wisdom, Sigmar sided with Nagash, and the Grand Alliance ruled that Slaanesh, and any aelven souls trapped within, would be left to their fate.

But if Nagash had imagined this disaster to be averted, he was wrong, for just as the Aelven gods had intended to defy their oath to Nagash, so too did they defy the will of Sigmar and their oaths of loyalty to the Grand Alliance as a whole. They proceeded with Morathi's plan in secret, despite Nagash's wisdom and Sigmar's command. And while their daring raid was successful in capturing the Dark Prince, the result was exactly as Nagash had said it would be. The other Dark Gods immediately noticed the disappearance of their peer and rival, and, rising from their convalescence, turned their dread gazes towards the Mortal Realms.

The Age of Myth: The Return of the Everchosen.

At first the remaining Dark Gods - Khorne, Tzeentch, and Nurgle - didn't know what to make of what had happened. Slaanesh was gone, and the Dark Prince's domain was in a panicked uproar. Perhaps their initial thought was a gleeful inclination to take advantage of the weakness and claim part of Slaanesh's holdings, only... where had Slaanesh gone? Was this some sort of trick?

Following the traces, they were drawn to the Mortal Realms, and looked in wonder and greed at these new worlds that had sprung up right under their nose. Had Slaanesh merely found these Realms first? Were they there already, consuming as many souls as they could before the other Dark Gods could stake their claims? Such would be poor sportsmanship in the great game... but no, Slaanesh's trail led to these Realms, and then vanished.

And there was something familiar about the Mortal Realms. There were presences here that they had not felt since their last great feast, little godlings of light and shadow, fire and metal, beasts and forests. There was the golden godling Sigmar, who had defied them to the last. And one more besides, a dark presence, darker even than the Dark Gods themselves. The memory came like a voice on the winds of chaos, a voice that whispered the name "Nagash," and for the first time in an age the Gods of Chaos knew fear.

Nagash, who had transcended death. Nagash, who had torn mortal souls away from the warp and tainted them with the blasphemous curse of undeath, turning succulent meals for the Dark Gods into bitter poison. Nagash, who had come closer than any other entity all the histories of all the worlds to not just defying the will of the Dark Gods, but destroying them altogether and usurping their thrones. Nagash had not been not destroyed after all, nor even imprisoned, he was here, free, now more powerful than ever as a god in truth, young and weak by the standards of the Dark Gods but growing in power and with an entire array of fellow godlings dancing on his puppet strings. Had this upstart deity of death discovered a way to kill even a Chaos God?

This could not be allowed, could not even be imagined. These Mortal Realms must be smashed, these new gods - especially Nagash - destroyed. More than anything else Slaanesh's fate had to be discovered and understood. Yet the Dark Gods would not attack directly. They couldn't risk suffering whatever fate had befallen Slaanesh. Indeed, the entire situation might be a trap to lure them in. Furthermore, if there was some weapon or tool capable of defeating a Chaos God, they couldn't want to risk it falling into the hands of their remaining siblings, either. They needed a neutral pawn to lead the conquest of these Mortal Realms and the hunt for Slaanesh. Since they now knew these Realms were born out of the remains of the World That Was, they dredged up from the well of souls the dark champion who had led the destruction of that world and defeated these same Incarnate Deities once before - Archaon, Lord of the End Times - and heaped upon him a greater share of dark blessings and unholy gifts than they had dared lend to any one champion since the time of Be'Lakor, the First Prince.

So it was that the Daemonic Legions of Khorne, Tzeentch and Nurgle, under the command of Archaon Everchosen - the most terrible chaos warlord ever seen on these or any worlds, crashed down on the Mortal Realms in an apocalypse of blood, fire, and plague.

The Age of Chaos: Blood, Fire, and Plague

While Sigmar's Grand Alliance had already been stretched to the breaking point by the rebellion of GorkaMorka and the betrayal of the Aelven Gods, It did not collapse all at once. The Gods of Order held out for centuries, fighting a slowly losing campaign against Archaon's seemingly endless daemonic hordes. But the daemonic legions were forced to tear their way in from the fringes of the Realms, while what remained of the Pantheon of Order held the stable innerlands, and in particular the crucial All Points. The great Realmgates in the All Points allowed the forces of order to swiftly move vast armies from one Mortal Realm to another, responding with overwhelming force wherever Archaon's legions were able to amass themselves.

Yet the Dark Gods were relentless and their Daemonic Legions seemingly without number. The war dragged on, and the Mortal Realms suffered terrible atrocities, sometimes at the hands of their own desperate deities. This was especially true in Shyish, thanks both to the intensity of the Chaos onslaught there and to Nagash's lack of care for the suffering of any innocents that might be caught in his counter-attacks.

Hallost - the afterlife of great heroes and champions, was attacked by Khornate Daemons, drawn by the eternal battles that raged there. The warrior spirits of Hallost welcomed battle with the Blood God's daemons as much as they did with the cthonic beasts they had spent their afterlives hunting, but the demons were themselves invigorated by this pure and honorable combat, and the Blood God's daemons began to overwhelm their foes, dragging the souls of these mighty heroes back to Khorne's throne one by one.

Furious at this usurpation - especially knowing the souls of Hallost's great warriors were exactly the kind of raw material his Ossiarch Legions would require - Nagash brought a thousand living prisoners to Hallost and sacrificed them all in a single terrible necromantic ritual. The souls of these victims were transformed into into the first true Nighthaunts - spirits of the dead twisted and tortured by necromantic magic into horrors that exist only to spread their suffering to others. These Nighthaunts, lacking honor or battle pride or even true blood lust, possessing only a hatred so pure and relentless that even the Blood God's daemons could find no nourishment in it, were able to repel the daemons, at least for a time.

Meanwhile the mortal nation of Dolorum in Shyish was beset by a legion of Nurgle daemons. At the time Dolorum was led by the ruthless and ambitious Lady Olynder, but she came to power through deception and political machination and had no way of fighting daemonic armies and daemon-borne plagues. Seeing no alternative, she decided to surrender her nation to the forces of chaos in the hope of buying a position of privilege on the enemy side. But Nagash learned of her betrayal before any bargain could be struck and descended upon Dolorum in his wrath, destroying the entire nation himself rather than letting it fall to the enemy. With no more carriers the plagues died out, and the Nurgle daemons were weakened enough for the vengeful ghosts of Dolorum to push them back. For her treachery, Nagash cursed Lady Olynder's spirit to wander her dead land forever, suffering the combined sorrows and regrets of all the Mortal Realms.

While vast daemonic armies ran riot on Shyish's surface, the Everchosen himself at their head, beneath the ground countless millions of rat men began to pour through their gnawholes, attacking the underworlds of Shyish directly. Long had the Skaven been waiting in the corners of the Realms, dismissed as mere beastmen by Sigmar's Pantheon, and now they hoped through aiding in the conquest of Shyish to make way for the Great Horned Rat to fill the vacuum left by Slaanesh. Nagash's great work was at risk, and his legions were so overwhelmed by the ferocity of this battle on multiple fronts that the Great Necromancer was forced to call out to Sigmar for aid. Even if the Pantheon they had forged was collapsing, surely Sigmar, the self-styled God of Heavenly Order, would honour his oaths to Nagash, sworn before the rest of the Grand Alliance was even formed?

As decades of warfare rolled into centuries, the already strained Grand Alliance had reached a breaking point. Attrition had taken its toll on the forces of Order, until they barely had enough strength to protect their own realms, with nothing to spare for mutual defense. Sigmar himself had committed his final reserves to the defense of the All Points, which only barely held. Perhaps Sigmar didn't hear Nagash's call for aid. Perhaps he did and chose not to answer. Either way, Sigmar's failure to act was the final betrayal that Doomed all the Realms to an Age of Chaos.

The Age of Chaos: The Grand Alliance Broken

With Sigmar's alliance broken by the golden god's own betrayal, Nagash could see that there was no hope of victory against the Dark Gods, at least not in this battle. Instead, Nagash would do as he had often done in the World That Was - retreat into the shadows and wait out his enemies. This time, though, he wouldn't just be waiting, for his two great plans could continue in secret.

The Ossiarch tomb-complexes were well hidden in the other realms, their locations too inhospitable for mortal chaos worshippers to stumble across them and their staff lacking any living souls to draw daemonic attention. But the monstrous reserves of gravesand that Nagash's great ritual would require were under threat, particularly from the Skaven burrowing through the underworlds, and so Nagash removed all his forces from every non-essential field of battle, and dedicated their efforts to preparing a crypt to conceal his trove of realmstone, a refuge where Nagash himself could wait out Archaon's dawning Age of Chaos. For this he chose a sunless abyss beneath the underworld of Stygxx.

This sub-realm within the damp, rocky landscape of Stygxx proved an ideal hiding place, for it could only be accessed via the Starless Gates - a set of Realmgates with one side opening into the Abyss of Stygxx and the other side appearing only briefly, infrequently, and at locations that none but Nagash and Arkhan could predict in advance. This benighted Abyss was so inimical to life that even the accursed Skaven would find it impossible to access via their gnawholes. The nature of the Starless Gates would greatly slow the accumulation of gravesand, but this was still preferable to its discovery by Chaos forces.

By withdrawing his undead legions from the field of battle, however, Nagash had left the all important Death Gate exposed. Jumping at the opening, Archaon took the gate and streamed into the All Points. Sigmar's forces were taken completely by surprise, having barely enough time to register the undead withdrawal before Archaon's forces smashed through. From their perspective it seemed as though the undead had willingly turned the gate over to Archaon, and there were even some reports of undead joining the daemonic hordes in attacking the living, though these are surely mere slander. With the All Points no longer under Sigmar's control, the last defenses of the other Realms began to fall.

The long dying hope of victory was finally lost, and Sigmar had only himself to blame. Yet his pride was such that he refused accountability for his broken oaths and blamed Nagash instead. Overcome with a blind idiot rage, Sigmar took on the aspet of a brutish Barbarian King and smashed into Shyish, ignoring the forces of Chaos to instead attack the undead, all the time calling out Nagash to face the Storm God's fury. This Nagash hadn't expected, forcing him to work with even greater haste. He sent Katakros to delay Sigmar, only for the Storm God to smash the mortarch and, seemingly, destroy him outright, something Nagash hadn't even thought possible. This was a terrible blow, as Katakros was crucial to one of Nagash's great plans. Even if he did complete his Ossiarch Legions, he now had no general worthy of leading them, and Nagash was unlikely to find a worthy replacement while waiting out the Age of Chaos beneath Stygxx.

Sigmar also discovered and smashed the Shroudcage containing Ushoran, and if the fallen Mortarch's imprisonment had been meant to heal him, then this sudden release came far too early. Still thoroughly insane, the monstrous vampire-beast immediately embarked on his own indiscriminate campaign of destruction, scattering the forces of Order, Chaos, and Death alike. Maddened as he was, Ushoran was still a Mortarch of Nagash, and might have been brought to heel, even put to productive use, if Nagash had time to deal with the creature personally. Alas, there was no such time.

Eventually Sigmar came to his senses and retreated to defend Azyr, but the damage was catastrophic. The Skaven continued their assault from below, daemons ran roughshod over the surface, and Ushoran rampaged through the hinterlands, preventing Nagash's remaining forces from collecting for any sort of coherent counter offensive. Finally, Nagashizzar was beseiged by Archaon himself, at the head of a great host of nurgle daemons, immune to the undead capitol's entropic aura. In the Battle of Black Skies, the Everchosen cleaved Nagash's body in twain and cast the burning remnants to the ground.

Luckily for Nagash, they landed amid his own forces - though a rogue Vampire Lord named Prince Vhordrai attempted to destroy the remains by hurling them through a corrupted Realmgate. It was only through the swift, desperate actions of Nagash's remaining Mortarchs that his remains were saved at the last moment and spirited in secret to the Stygian Abyss.

Archaon went on to conquer all the Realms save Azyr only, where Sigmar and Grungni - the Duardin God of Smiths, incarnate to the fallen Realm of Metal - managed to fight back the forces of chaos and seal every single Realmgate leading to any of the other Realms. Archaon settled down for a seige of Azyr that would last for an entire age, while his forces scoured the Mortal Realms, burning and pillaging where they willed, but also searching for any sign of what had happened to Slaanesh.

The Age of Chaos: Surviving Under Archaon's Heel.

The Great Necromancer was dead, his armies broken, his works undone, his power banished, and any threat he might have posed to the Dark Gods ended forever. Or so it seemed, for this was all according to Nagash's plan. He had willingly allowed himself to be "defeated" by Archaon in order to create a false narrative of his own death, and further had intentionally arranged for his own Realm of Shyish to be the most completely destroyed and overrun by Chaos so that the Dark Powers would turn their gaze elsewhere and fail to detect his ruse.

Even so, this clever deception had cost Nagash dearly. Not just his body, but also his mind and soul had suffered grievous injury, scattering his thought and purpose. It would take an Age for Nagash to pull himself back together, but that was no matter, for it would take an age for Arkhan to prepare the Great Work. The other gods, for their part, followed the path that Nagash had chosen, withdrawing into their own hidden refuges, abandoning their peoples to the depredations of Chaos.

In the mean time, Nagash's mortarchs were left to their own devices. Arkhan the Black, ever loyal, continued preparations as instructed, pausing only long enough to track down Prince Vhordrai and seal the traitorous vampire within a realmstone coffin to wait for Nagash's return, so that the Great Necromancer could personally choose a suitable punishment.

Neferata returned to Nefertaria, where she fought a centuries long defense of her chosen lands, slowly loosing ground until all that was left was her capitol of NuLamia, locked in a perpetual siege.

Mannfred abandoned his own lands to their fate and disappeared into the mists of history. His actions and whereabouts during the Age of Chaos are known only to himself.

For a time Ushoran roved the wild places of shyish in the form of a great beast, hunting the servants of Nagash and the Chaos Gods alike. Whether any vestige of his former identity still existed in his madness clouded mind, none could say, and once his anger was spent he disappeared entirely.

With the Soulblight Mortarchs missing or preoccupied, many Soulblight Vampires throughout the realms were cut off from any chain of command and left to struggle for survival in whatever way they could. Some, following in the traditions of Carstinia or Nefertaria, claimed particular mortal hold outs as their own and attempted to rally the defense of their chosen mortal chattle. With the gods abandoning their people, the vampires who stayed to defend them were often worshipped as gods themselves, and lived in unimagineable luxury - at least until Archaon's armies came to topple their little kingdoms of the night.

Others formed isolated knightly orders, honing their combat abilities and animating tireless undead steeds to carry them into battle against any roving chaos warbands who discovered their refuge - or to help them flee from any chaos forces too large to defeat through martial skill alone.

Still others embraced the monstrous nature of the Soulblight Curse. Placing base survival above all other virtues, these vampires deliberately triggered their own beastly transformations in order to gain the strength needed to persist against the powers of chaos, even at the cost of their minds.

There were also those who retreated from cities and settlements as the chaos armies burned them, and spent the Age of Chaos skulking in the wild places, beasts in behavior if not in body. In the frozen forests of Shyish, a woman named Volga was visited by a huge wolf that gifted her and her progeny the vampiric strength to survive and fight back against raiding chaos marauders.

In this way the bloodlines that the Vampire Mortarchs had founded blended and diverged, giving rise to a number of new Soulblight Dynasties.

The mortal peoples of Shyish struggled to survive. Those in the stable inner heartlands were mostly overrun, or turned to chaos worship themselves. In the more remote regions of the Realm, there were societies that managed to avoid the notice of chaos, at least for a time, some abanding their homes and becoming nomadic or simply moving further out towards the unstable rim. But as the centuries under Chaos rule dragged on, there were fewer and fewer places where such refugees could go unnoticed.

As those who managed to hold off Chaos armies were locked in prolonged seiges, and those who fled from Chaos armies sought refuge in less and less hospitable regions, food became scarce. Many were driven by desperation to cannibalism. Where such acts, while taboo, might be understandable, even justifiable, in a world without magic, the Mortal Realms exist within the wider Realm of Chaos. The physical properties of reality are fundamentally magical and symbolic in nature, and breaking powerful cultural taboos invites real physical and spiritual corruption. Death Magic slowly collected within the souls and bodies of those who resorted to such unsavory meals to survive until they were little removed from undead themselves.

Ever eager to see themselves as the defenders of the weak and the downtrodden, the Abhorrant progeny of Ushoran were drawn to such cannibal communities, spreading their unique variant of the Soulblight curse and with it their patron's delusion of chivalric nobility and honour in undeath. Primed by the death magic they had ingested, the influence of nearby Abhorrents triggered a final transformation from mortal humans to Mordants - horrific ghouls with twisted bodies and broken minds. Mordant communities sprang up in the isolated regions of all the realms, but most especially in Shyish, where Death Magic and necromantic energies were already abundant and mortal food was scarce even before the coming of Chaos.

Yet it was in Ghyran, the Realm of Life, that Ushoran himself would eventually settle after his initial fury was spent. Perhaps he arrived there by chance, wandering through some obscure Realmgate in his madness, or perhaps his mind had recovered enough to deliberately settle in the Realm of Life, where the power of Death is at its weakest, in order to hide from Nagash's wrath. Regardless, in Ghyran Ushoran found his refuge, slowly recovering what passed for his sanity while feasting on the corpses left in the wake of titanic battles between Alarielle's Sylvaneth and the followers of Nurgle. In time a following of Mordants and Abhorrants were drawn to him, founding the ghoul kingdom of New Summercourt.

The Age of Chaos: Nagash in the Shadows, and the Missing Souls.

The forces of Chaos scoured the Realms, warring back and forth against survivors, breaking apart into smaller tribes and warbands that slaughtered each other. Everywhere they went, the dead piled high in their wake, and in Shyish the dead do not rest easy. Soon every field hid a mass grave ready to erupt in a tide of deadwalkers. In every ruined fortress and city an army of skeletons stood ready to defend walls long ago breached and families long since dead. Cthonian monsters soared on ethereal winds, undying beasts stalked the woods, and vengeful ghosts haunted the night, eager to share their suffering with any living soul they encountered.

As hard as life was for the struggling survivors in Shyish, it was a nightmare for the invaders as well. Prideful Chaos Champions proclaimed that Nagash was dead, that the Great Necromancer was no more, that the Everchosen had ground his bones to dust, but the warriors and marauders who followed them still whispered in their tents that perhaps Nagash was not truly dead at all.

And they were right to fear, for Nagash was not dead. His broken body reclined unmoving upon a great basalt throne in the Abyss of Stygxx, but the remnants of his mind and spirit soared on the winds of Shyish. This vestige of Nagash roamed to and fro, back and forth across the far reaches of his realm, stirring the dead and the undead to action against the forces of the enemy wherever he happened to find them. But these were merely incidental acts of frustration, it was not his true purpose. It was not quite time to rise up against the powers of Chaos. No, Nagash was searching for a thief.

In all the long centuries since he feigned defeat at Archaon's hands, Nagash's great works had proceeded as planned. Under Arkhan's guidance, a mountain of Gravesand had been brought from the edges of Shyish to the inner heartlands one grain at a time, and deep in the Abyss of Stygxx this Gravesand was being processed and refined into great blocks of vitrified black shadeglass. Furthermore, in the hidden places of the other realms, the catacombs of the Ossiarch Legions were nearly full to bursting with finely crafted undead soldiers waiting only for suitable souls to animate them. However, a bottleneck had formed in the supply of those souls. The Realms were blanketed in the dead, there were no end of mortal souls to comb through, but souls with the specific attributes needed for Ossiarch soldiers - courage, valour, military training, tactical acumen, the strength of will to face down the forces of Chaos - in a word, heroic souls? These had all but disappeared.

There were yet champions to be found in the Realms. While surviving communities were few, centuries of war and hardship had honed those remaining populations to a razor's edge. Yet where these heroes fell, Arkhan's nighthaunt psychopomps found no fresh heroic souls to carry back to his workshops, only scorch marks and a hint of ozone. Someone or something was snatching up the heroes of the Realms, including those of Shyish, in the moment of their deaths. And not just living heroes, either. With supplies of living souls cut off, Arkhan had turned to the tattered soul-vestiges of skeletal wight champions, but there too he was often stymied, with several deathrattle kingdoms that had continued the war against Chaos even after death left leaderless when their champions had simply vanished.

If the souls of dead and dying heroes were out of reach, Arkhan was more than willing to turn to the souls of the living, his Legion of Sacrament appearing from the darkness to slaughter entire communities of survivors in order to harvest a mere handful of heroic souls brave enough to stand against them. Yet even here thieves had stymied his efforts, as several such communities - populations Arkhan had expended considerable resources to keep hidden from the forces of Chaos specifically so he could harvest them himself - were found soulless and deserted, the population vanished but their treasures left behind and their buildings left undamaged. The only clue to their fate was a mysterious dampness and a crust of ocean salt.

The situation was desperate enough to wake Nagash from his sleep early, an action that had involved inviting an army of Nurgle warriors and demons to the very threshhold of Nagash's hidden sanctum in order to force the Great Necromancer to consciousness out of sheer desperate self defense. A risk, certainly, but a calculated one, and exactly the sort of judgement call Arkhan existed to make.

Once awakened, Nagash had cast sentence on Prince Vhordrai, whose rebellous spirit had been well and truly cowed by his long imprisonment, and yet who impressed Nagash by holding onto his human form and the last vestiges of his martial dignity despite the centuries of starvation. The Great Necromancer freed the vampire from his coffin, but bound him instead forever to his castle, never to be caught outside it by the light of day lest his soul be utterly destroyed. The castle itself, however, Nagash unmoored from its physical foundations and cast adrift on the winds of Shyish. Henceforth it would appear from the night mists wherever Nagash wished, unleashing Vhordrai and his followers, now called the Kastelai, upon the Great Necromancer's unsuspecting foes.

That business resolved, Nagash's invisible will, conscious but still fractured, still not fully recovered, now ranted silently to itself as he scoured his Realm, seeking the identity of these Soul Thieves. Soon enough he found them. One of them, at least. For even as Nagash hunted for the lost souls that belonged to him, a handful of those same stolen souls had been sent to Shyish to seek Nagash.

Sigmar's stormcast had arrived.

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Master Necromancer
True Blood
Sep 23, 2009
All the stuff in the previous post? All of that's before the Age of Sigmar game even really started, setting backstory mostly inserted as after-the-fact retcons. The game 'Age of Sigmar' proper started with the Age of Sigmar, specifically the arrival of the Stormcast Eternals on the scene. First edition Age of Sigmar focused on the Realmgate Wars and the establishment of the Cities of Sigmar, and ended with the Malign Portents. Second edition Age of Sigmar - a.k.a. the Age of Nagash - started with the Necroquake, mostly focused on the Soul Wars, and ended with the Broken Realms and the fall of Nagash. Third edition Age of Sigmar began with the Dawnbringer Crusades, and focused mainly on events within Ghur, the Realm of Beasts. Now third edition is drawing to a close with the two largest Dawnbringer Crusades yet, both embarking from the Twin-Tailed City, Hammerhall - one into Ghyran, the Realm of Life, and the other into Aqshy, the Realm of Fire.

The Age of Sigmar: the Stormcast Appear

In other realms the Stormcast arrived like bolts of lightning, crashing from the heavens straight into battle with the marauding Chaos hordes, playing the part of glorious divine saviors to those few precious holdout communities that remained, a living sign that Sigmar had not abandoned the Realms after all. But in Shyish they showed a different face, slinking and skulking in the the shadows, meek and downcast, for in Shyish they didn't come to inspire hope in the mortals nor fear in the enemy, but rather to abase and supplicate themselves before Nagash, to beg on Sigmar's behalf for the Great Necromancer's forgiveness and aid.

To study Sigmar's curious new pets, Nagash placed Mannfred in their path, bound up in a trap enchanted to appear as though he had been contained within for the entire Age of Chaos. When the Stormcast discovered the vampire mortarch, he inquired as to their purpose, and they told him that they sought Nagash, in the hope of reforging Sigmar's alliance of the gods - the very alliance that Sigmar himself had destroyed with his betrayal and had further spat upon with his soul theft. Mannfred offered them a bargain - if they released him, he would lead them to the Starless Gate and Nagash's sanctum beyond. The Stormcast accepted, and Mannfred led them through a number of Shyishian dangers ranging from Chaos warbands to Flesh Eater kingdoms, so that Nagash might study the Stormcast in battle. They were mighty indeed, surviving far more than any mortal soldier could, and when they did fall in battle their souls blasted their way back to Azyr on bolts of Sigmar's lightning to be forged anew. A neat trick, if one that only hammered home how keen the Storm God was to deny Nagash his rightful due.

After testing their mettle - and weeding them down to a small and easily manageable group, Mannfred finally led the remaining Stormcast through the Starless Gate as promised, where Arkhan and Nagash were waiting to act out a little play. First Arkhan accused Mannfred of being a traitor, of trying to usurp Nagash and hand his realm over to the Dark Gods. He inquired how Mannfred had escaped the bindings Nagash had imprisoned him in for his crimes. And when Mannfred revealed that the Stormcast had helped him escape, Nagash emerged in all his fury, accusing the Stormcast and Sigmar of siding with the traitor. With the deception established, Nagash smashed the remaining Stormcast, and plucked their leader's soul from the ether in the moment of his death, the will of Nagash overpowering even Sigmar's lightning, so that he could study their soul's inner workings as well.

These scions of the barbarian storm god were blessed with a portion of their master's essence, lightning magic of Azyr fused to their soul which could carry them from Azyr to other realms without relying on Realmgates. This magic also increased their strength, empowered their weaponry, and ensured their return to Azyr upon their defeat, that they could be reforged and sent back out into the realms again. They were encased in enchanted armor which Nagash realized was forged from the metal of Mallus - the core of the Old World itself. It seemed Sigmar was sparing no resources in the construction of his new army. Their wargear was forged with a skill beyond anything the crude barbarian god was capable of - Nagash rightly guessed that Sigmar had recruited the Duardin god Grugni to help him there.

The physical forms of Sigmar's army were beyond compare. There were even some concepts that could be adapted for improvements to Ossiarch designs. But where the bodies and equipment of the Stormcast were immaculate, the soul-work was worse than amateur.

Nagash had wondered why Sigmar even bothered offering this new alliance. If the Storm God had truly regretted his betrayal of Nagash, if he had honestly desired the Great Necromancer's assistance in this Stormcast project, then he would have sought out Nagash from the beginning, would have asked for souls rather than stealing what rightfully belonged to Nagash. "Easier to beg forgiveness than permission" might be true for doting mothers and dottering nursemaids, but not for Nagash, and Sigmar had known the God of Death long enough to understand this. No, it was clear from studying the soul of his captive Stormcast that Sigmar had intended to bypass Nagash altogether, and had only been compelled to beg for the Great Necromancer's aid in desperation after realizing how terribly flawed his creations were at their core.

For Nagash, that flaw was plain to see. Sigmar's reforging process, like everything the Storm God did, was clumbsy and brutal. It damaged the delicate workings of the soul, and with each reforging that damage would compound. This would manifest in clouded memories and progressive loss of humanity until, with enough reforgings, Sigmar's glorious army of saviors would inevitably degrade into uncaring, unfeeling automotons, engines of destruction as dangerous to those they were meant to save as to their enemies.

It would almost have inspired mirth in Nagash's mummified heart, but for the fact that this meant Sigmar had compounded his theft with the careless destruction of Nagash's property. Sigmar had not only stolen a great wealth of precious heroic souls, he had gone on to ruin them with his incompetence.

Of course, Nagash could easily have corrected the errors in Sigmar's process, had he any desire to rekindle their alliance. If Sigmar had come to him to begin with, Nagash might even have considered doing so. But no, this too-late and self-serving offer of alliance was just insult piled on injury.

Even so, Nagash had no desire to wage a war on two fronts. Hope was ever the Storm God's greatest failing, and it was Sigmar's hope that Nagash now played on to manipulate him, as the Stormcast he had laid low returned to Sigmar with news of their failure tempered with word of Mannfred's betrayal. Thus was a seed of hope planted in Sigmar's heart - had Mannfred, not Nagash, been responsible for withdrawing undead troops from the defense of the All Points? Nagash rejected alliance now, but could he be won over if his Stormcast repaired their mistake by re-capturing the traitor Mortarch? These seeds of false hope took root in Sigmar's heart as he prepared his next moves in ignorant accordance with Nagash's design.

The Age of Sigmar: More Soul Thieves

Sigmar wasn't the only thief robbing Nagash of the Souls that were rightfully his. The Dark Gods continued to harvest the souls of their followers and their victims, and those dark champions who pleased them were granted immortality as daemon princes or merely restored to life each time they died in unholy defiance of the Law of Death and the Supreme Will of Nagash. But the Dark Gods are the enemy, and their blasphemy was to be expected. The greater insult to Nagash came from the Incarnate Gods who should have known better, who had agreed to subject their worshippers to the Law of Death when they joined Sigmar's Alliance, only to break their oaths and abandon their obligations when it became convenient to do so.

While Sigmar's own crimes were the most brazen, those of the Aelven Gods were only slightly behind. Alarielle retained the souls of her Sylvanneth minions in an endless cycle of seasonal reincarnation - a perpetual life in flagrant violation of the natural order she claimed to uphold. But where Alariaelle simply denied her Sylvaneth the finality of True Death, the other Elven Gods took their crimes even further, restoring life to the souls of dead aelves that they fished up from Slaanesh's gullet in an outright reversal of the natural order.

Teclis, Tyrion, Malerion, and even the pretender-god Morathi each created new Aelven peoples in their own image which they used to settle Hysh, the Realm of Light, and Ulgu, the Realm of Shadow. While neither Realm was free from the taint of Archaon's Age of Chaos, the innate hostility of these Realms to the forces of Chaos, and the relative lack of Sigmarite human civilization, meant they received far less attention from Archaon than the other Mortal Realms. Later in the Age of Chaos and early Age of Sigmar Archaon would track the traces of Slaanesh to Ulgu and Hysh, greatly increasing the pressure of invading Chaos forces, particularly Slaaneshi cults and daemons seeking their absent god. But early in the Age of Chaos Hysh and Ulgu enjoyed a reprieve while the rest of the Realms burned, giving the nascent aelven empires time to grow.

But where the threat of Chaos from without was, at least for a time, limited, the taint of chaos from within was overwhelming. The Aelven gods had ignored Nagash's wise council, but the truth of it was soon readily apparent, as the Aelven souls they dredged up from the bowels of Slaanesh were as corrupt as Nagash had revealed Morathi to be. Many manifested physical mutations when given new life - as with the serpentine or harpy-like shadow aelves among morathi's people, or the eyeless Namarti within Teclis's Seafaring Idoneth. But the worst corruption was of a spiritual sort.

Morathi's Khainite shadow aelves were bloodthirsty predatory murderers one and all. The Idoneth souls were so corrupted that they couldn't even sustain themselves, forcing them to feed on the souls of other mortals to survive. Even Teclis was forced to recognize this failure, but at the same time he refused to destroy his abominations, instead releasing an entire civilization of soul thieves into the seas of the Mortal Realms.

Working together, Tyrion and Teclis thought they had succeeded with the creation of the Lumineth, with their untarnished physical bodies and self sustaining souls, but even these eventually proved their corruption. The impulse to pride and excess instilled by their long exposure to Slaanesh eventually drove their entire civilization to collapse, a catastrophe they only averted by using Hyshian realmstone to drain their emotions and suppress the inherent corruption in their souls. The result was an empire of aelves that seemed alive from without but in truth were just as dead inside as any skeleton in Nagash's service. That Teclis could not see this only proved that the self-styled 'God of Magic' was as blind as his brother.

The Age of Sigmar: The Realmgate Wars

Archaon's greatest military asset at the dawn of the Age of Sigmar was control of the All Points - now renamed the Eight Points after the eight pointed star of chaos. As it had done for Sigmar's alliance when Archaon first invaded the mortal realms, this critical territory, with its huge gates to each of the Mortal Realms, allowed the Legions of Chaos to shift overwhelming force to a single Mortal Realm in response to any challenge.

Sigmar's first goal in his war to re-take the Realms was to deny Archaon that advantage. Even his new Stormcast lacked the power and resources to actually take any of the great realmgates, but if they could close them off then Archaons ability to move his armies between Realms would be dramatically diminished, while the Stormcast could ride bolts of Sigmar's lightning from Azyr to any other Mortal Realm without relying on gates at all. In the Realmgate Wars, the Stormcast succeeded in closing or destroying several gates, while also re-establishing relations with other Incarnate Deities & peoples of Order where they could.

In Shyish, hoping to find a more suitable voice to advocate to Nagash on Sigmar's behalf, the Stormcast helped break the siege of Neferata's capital, Nulahmia, and through her were able to establish contact with Arkhan, pleading ignorance of Mannfred's supposed betrayal and entreating the aid of Nagash. Arkhan spoke to them of Nagash's terrible anger, but offered to help the Stormcast appeal to his master regardless. Arkhan said he would do this because he too hoped to see the alliance between Nagash and Sigmar reforged, a lie made all the more convincing because it was true. The mortarch of Sacrament suggested that if the Stormcast could recapture Mannfred then Nagash might be persuaded to help them close the End Gate at Gothizzar.

Together they pursued Mannfred's trail through a realmgate into Ghur, the Realm of Beasts, eventually cornering the supposedly rebellious vampire mortarch, with Arkhan himself cutting Mannfred down. However, the vampire escaped. Even so, Arkhan and Neferata promised to entreat Nagash for aid in the assault on the End Gate, and, relying on these promises, the Stormcast launched their assault on Gothizzar. In the end, though, Nagash's aid did not appear, and the Stormcast army in Shyish was overwhelmed by Chaos forces and blasted back to Azyr in defeat.

This was Nagash's grand manipulation throughout the Realmgate Wars, holding out the possibility of alliance through Neferata and Arkhan, gaining the aid of Stormcast forces to help break Chaos sieges of Death strongholds, while never delivering material aid in return. Thus Sigmar helped strengthen Nagash's position in Shyish even as Nagash's full resources were committed to the final stages of his own masterstroke.

Whenever Nagash failed to deliver on his part of any supposed deal, Mannfred was always there to take the blame. As long as Sigmar could still convince himself that there was someone else at fault, that there was still hope to reforge his alliance with Nagash, the Stormcast would never attack the Great Necromancer's forces directly.

Even without Nagash's support, the Stormcast assaults weakened Chaos forces enough that Nagash was personally able to retake Nagashizzar, after first freeing an entire legion of undead soldiers from the Cage of Bones, a Khornate fortress built on the remains of the undead army left behind when Nagash was slain at the Battle of Black Skies. Archaon himself took to the field to confront the Great Necromancer at the scene of their previous duel, but while he was able to drive Nagash from the battle, the great hoard of undead Nagash had raised overwhelmed the much smaller chaos army that Archaon had brought with him.

Had Archaon valued the ruins of Nagashizzar more highly, he could have brought reinforcements to overwhelm the undead. But that would have meant withdrawing troops from battles against the forces of Order in other Realms, or worse leaving the vital End Gate at Gothizzar vulnerable to Undead or Stormcast attack. If the End Gate had been taken or sealed behind him Archaon himself might have been prevented from returning to the Eight Points.

Nagashizzar's treasures were long since stolen, its towers reduced to rubble, and its position seemingly held no great strategic importance, merely the symbolic value of being located at the center of Shyish. As far as Archaon could see, Nagashizzar's ruins served nothing but Nagash's vanity, so why waste resources contesting them when the Storm God's new champions were threatening vital Chaos strongholds throughout the Realms?

Of course, Nagash hadn't stepped out of his refuge for the first time since his feigned defeat purely for vanity's sake. As skeletal laborers set to work rebuilding the fortress city of Nagashizzar on the surface, below ground a great chasm was opened to make room for the construction of Nagash's last and greatest Black Pyramid, and massive blocks of Shadeglass began to make their way from the Abyss of Stigyxx for the final assembly.

The Age of Sigmar: Points of Light

The Realmgate Wars eventually stalled out as, after the closure or destruction of several gates, Archaon was able to focus enough strength on the defense of the remaining gates to prevent further successes for the Stormcast on that front. Even so, the movement of many Chaos legions were hampered by the gates that had already been closed, and yet more had been forced into a defensive posture to protect those that remained. Furthermore, while Nagash had seen through the Storm God's clumsy pretense of diplomacy, the Azyrites had successfully re-established ties to the Elven and Duardin gods and to many surviving mortal communities throughout the Realms. With these gains, Sigmar was able to begin the work of building several massive cities to serve as the forward command centers of his push to reclaim the Mortal Realms.

These "Points of Light" were cosmopolitan places. Their populations included Humans, Aelves, Duardin, and more exotic folk, an uneasy culture clash of Azyrites who had sheltered through the Age of Chaos in safety and those who had survived under Archaon's heel by stealth, sacrificd, and strength of arms. Most included lesser realmgates within their walls, allowing them to sprawl over multiple Mortal Realms or even connecting them back to Azyr. All were founded on the bones of ancient cities from the Age of Myth. Some were joint ventures built in concert with other gods, physical manifestations of Sigmar's new Grand Alliance of Order, where Azyrite civilians and Stormcast champions shared space with Sylvaneth, Lumineth, Kharadrons, or even the murderous Daughters of Khaine, albeit not always peacefully.

The forces of Chaos didn't suffer the construction of these bastions of Order and civilization lightly. Each of these cities were built under a constant state of siege, but with Archaon's forces temporarily on the back foot, construction of the first great Cities of Sigmar was completed all the same. The undead played little part in these conflicts, as Nagash had no interest in Sigmar's offer of a renewed alliance, and his and Arkhan's personal legions were engaged in the final stages of the Great Work in Nagashizzar, regardless. Mannfred and Neferata did keep an eye on the conflict and construction however, via vampire-led exploratory and infiltration missions. Neferata's Legion of Blood in particular was able to insert many spies and agents into these nascent centers of expanding Azyrite civilization.

While several such cities were built throughout the Realms, the most prominent in Shyish, and the most vexing to Nagash, was the city of Lethis in Stygxx, built on the shores of Lake Lethis, beneath which Nagash's secret refuge during the Age of Sigmar was hidden. The insult of its location was compounded by the city's tenuous alliance with a faction of Idoneth Deepkin, Teclis's ill-spawned race of corrupt sea aelves, soul-thieves one and all.

There would be time enough to repay that insult, however, as by this point the Great Work was nearing its completion. While the Grand Alliances of Order and Chaos had been preoccupied by their wars against each other, the balance of power had slowly been shifting beneath their feet, one humble grain of gravesand at a time. At long last, the scales of fate had reached a tipping point.

The Age of Sigmar: Malign Portents

Keeping the progress of the Great Work secret through much of the Age of Myth and all of the Age of Chaos had been a staggering task, testament to Nagash's awesome will and Arkhan's unflinching attention to detail. But now the Great Work neared completion, and the time for secrecy had passed. An array of inverted black pyramids rose into the air around Nagashizzar, with the greatest, as large as a mountain, blotting out the sky above Nagash's capitol city itself. These had been constructed from blocks of Shadeglass, refined from the impossible quantity of Gravesand that had been carried one grain at a time from the perimeter of Shyish over countless millennia by Arkhan's Legion of Sacrament, with each block etched in intricate arcane patterns by Nagash himself. As the Great Necromancer brought the pyramids into alignment and began the final ritual, the very fabric of reality in Shyish began to shudder, sending ripples out into the cosmos that were impossible to conceal.

In every Mortal Realm, seers and soothsayers, diviners and stargazers found their visions overwhelmed by terrible signs of an unspeakable danger at the heart of Shyish. In the Varanspire Archaon's panicked Gaunt Summoners pleaded with their master to abandon the seige of Sigmar's Cities and even the defense of the remaining Eight Points realmgates to throw all his available power at Nagashizzar. In Azyr, the seers and sign readers among the Stormcast urged Sigmar to do the same. But while both Sigmar and Archaon did send armies to Shyish, neither was willing to risk exposing weakness to the other, so they sent nothing close to the forces that would have been necessary to stop what was coming. It was a simple matter for Mannfred's and Neferata's agents to lead the armies of Order and Chaos into each other's paths, delaying and weakening the armies arrayed against Nagash long before they reached Nagashizzar.

Sigmar and Archaon weren't the only ones to act, however. Of all the powers in the mortal realms, the Great Horned Rat and the Council of 13 were perhaps the only ones who truly believed their prophets and seers about the impossible scale of the threat, partly because many of the Council of 13 are Grey Seers blessed with prophetic visions themselves, but mostly because the Skaven have had a unique understanding of the threat Nagash posed going all the way back to the World That Was. Time and again the Skaven had averted the most dangerous of Nagash's schemes, plots and rituals that otherwise would have spelled the doom of all life, but they had always done so from the shadows, averting apocalypses before the other races had even become aware of the true danger.

So it was that the entirety of the Skaven civilization bent itself to invading Nagashizzar. However, these efforts, aggressive to the point of carelessness - accidentally opened a large gnaw hole into one of the oceans of Shyish, flooding massive skaven caverns and much of their capital with water poisoned by the accumulated corpses of the ages and full of aquatic undead abominations. Even so, soon great legions of Skaven were marching on Nagashizzar through the tunnels and underworlds of Shyish, allowing them to bypass the conflicts between Sigmar's and Archaon's armies above ground.

However, these Skaven armies were also delayed, for a number of Moonclan grot shamen had entreated their own respective warbosses to send forces to Shyish, and once in the realm of Death these armies, like the skaven, preferred to travel in the lightless subterrainean caverns. Soon they crossed paths with the Skaven armies and, greenskins being greenskins, quickly fell to fighting whatever enemy there was to fight.

In the last hours of Nagash's great ritual, the remaining forces arrayed against the undead converged on Nagashizzar from all sides, but it was too little, and far too late. Even as the armies neared Nagash's capitol, the very Realm of Shyish around them was breaking apart at the seams. The armies of the living began to crumble under an incredible entropic force, warriors withering away to dust in mere moments. Chains of unliving steel burst from the ground to drag those more supernaturally empowered warriors - Stormcasts, Daemons, & the Chosen of the Dark Gods - down into the prisons beneath Nagashizzar. A few managed to fight their way back out of those prisons, in the process freeing many legendary souls who had been trapped there in ages past for defying the Great Necromancer's will. But of the armies that had come to stop Nagash, not one even came close to disrupting the ritual.

And yet, as the final moments approached, something was wrong. The great pyramid began to sink, as Nagash intended, pulling with it all of the magic of Shyish. By moving so much realmstone from the Shyish's perimeter to its center, Nagash had inverted the normal balance of magic. His intent was, through perfect alignment of the pyramids and their ritual carvings, that the pyramid would sink down, down, down, into Nagash, and would carry all the Magic of Shyish behind it, the entire Realm following on after, until the entirety of Shyish, the sum totality of Death itself, was contained within him. This was exactly what Nagash had attempted to achieve in the World That Was, only in one terrible moment that his foes would be unable to react to in time.

As the Ur Death, Nagash would have proceeded from one Realm to the next like the hand of a great implacable clock, snuffing out all life on each in turn. Without mortals to feed them power the Dark Gods would then fall before him as well, leaving a perfect, silent universe where nothing could exist except for Nagash.

But as the pyramid began to descend, something was clearly throwing off its delicate balance. What had caused the misalignment? Casting his mind through the intricate inner workings of the Pyramid, Nagash found what he had missed, a handful of Skaven infiltrators, shrouded by spells woven by the Council of 13. Nagash killed them with a thought, but the damage was done. The great pyramid began to tilt, and to spin, and the whole ritual began to buckle and heave. Rather than collecting all of Shyish's power into himself, the ritual now threatened to destroy the Realm in a titanic implosion, shattering the other realms, and worse scattering the power Nagash was meant to consume across the cosmos so thinly that even with an eternity of effort Nagash would never be able to collect it all together again. He could hear the laughter of the Dark Gods echoing in his head as his greatest work threatened to become his undoing.

But the Great Necromancer did not despair. He threw his shoulder against the tilt and spin of the pyramid and with all his terrible strength and will he FORCED the entire mountain-sized pyramid back into alignment. As he did so the laughter of the Dark Gods died away, to be replaced the joyful, victorious laughter of Nagash.

The Age of Sigmar Nagash: the Necroquake, and the Nadir

Nagash's last second efforts saved the ritual from becoming a complete disaster, but could not salvage it entirely. As the colossal weight of Shyish's magic fell inward, a portion ricocheted back out, crashing through the Realms in a tidal wave of death magic that historians would call the Necroquake. The effects of the Necroquake were catastrophic. Storms of magic sanks islands beneath the waves and threw mountains into the sky. Intricate rituals were torn asunder and artefacts of power twisted and corrupted into cruel new forms.

Vampires, Necromancers, and other Death wizards found their magic empowered as never before. Some were overwhelmed by it - many vampires near the epicenter of Nagash's ritual were transformed into nightmarish Vengorian Lords - but those that mastered the energies of the necroquake found their powers expanded by orders of magnitude. In contrast, the priests and wizards of Order, Destruction, and Chaos saw their magic twisted and corrupted in horrific ways. Spells were ripped from the minds and hands of their casters to take on malevolent, predatory lives of their own.

When the souls of the dead made their way to Shyish from other Realms, they maintained a tenuous, trembling connection to their corpses or the places they died. Throughout the Realms the force of the Necroquake blew those connections open, blasting the souls of the dead out through them, the trauma and shere arcane force of the event twisting them into Nighthaunts in the process. Millions of such horrors were unleashed on every Realm in a riot of murder and destruction. Dozens of settlements, fortresses, and even entire cities of the Order, Chaos, and Destruction fell in a single apocalyptic night of ghostly terror, the victims' souls ripped from their bodies and converted into more Nighthaunt monstrosities by the same Death magic that had created and empowered the Nighthaunt tide. The soulless bodies, flooded with the power of Shyish, rose up as flesh hungry deadwalkers, turning every casualty suffered into a pair of new undead horrors to spread the carnage exponentially.

The power of the Necroquake did not simply wash over the Realms and then pass. Aftershocks of death magic echoed across the Realms continuously, shuddering out from the core of Shyish, keeping the nightmare going for years. These aftershocks turned the Nighthaunt horror into a perennial threat, another perpetual danger in Mortal Realms already ravaged by greenskin waaghs, beastmen tribes, chaos warbands, daemonic incursions, roving predatory monsters, and fiends yet stranger still.

Nagash's ritual had not succeeded, at least not perfectly, but none the less it had reshaped the Mortal Realms in his image, and no Realm was changed more completely than Shyish. The Necroquake, the wave of Death Magic that caused so much devastation, was but a tiny fraction of the total power Nagash's ritual had channeled. The remainder had followed the pyramid down, down, down into the center of Shyish. The disruption of the ritual caused by the skaven presence in the great pyramid meant the magic could not all be concentrated into Nagash's person. Instead it collected into his city, consuming Nagashizzar within the 'Shyish Nadir', a black hole of death magic more concentrated than any arcane power in the history of creation.

The Nadir had become the metaphysical lowest point in existence, realigning the leylines of all magic in all Realms such that, for arcane purposes, "down" was no longer a subjective direction relative to the caster, but instead pointed towards Nagashizzar. From this moment forward, all unbound souls would be inexorably drawn to the Nadir, to be torn apart and added to its power. With enough effort, rival gods could still hold on to their most favored servants, and Sigmar's Stormcast would still be carried back to Azyr on bolts of his lightning - tough the damage caused by his brutal reforging process would only increase - but psychopomps would no longer be necessary to collect errant souls, and Nagash would no longer face any difficulty collecting the resources he needed to complete his Ossiarch Legions.

Nagashizzar itself was now far beyond the threat of any invading armies. Nothing that lived could exist there, and even daemons and Stormcast would be quickly ground to dust if they lingered there. Few undead could even withstand the concentration of entropic power within the Nadir. For Nagash and his closest servants, however, the Nadir became an infinite battery of arcane power. The slight taint of chaos introduced by the Skaven meant that not even Nagash could stay within the Nadir forever, lest he risk going mad. Even so, the Nadir was a refuge to which the Supreme Lord of the Undead and his Mortarchs could retreat in order to escape any threat, and they could easily endure its oppressive weight long enough to fill them with enough power to annihilate their enemies or conduct necromantic works the likes of which had never been seen before.

The Nadir didn't just change Nagashizzar, either. Rather, it redefined the entire Realm of Shyish. No more would new afterlives and underworlds form in storms of wild magic at the perimeter of the Realm, for those storms and their magic were gone forever. Instead the edge of Shyish was now a barren wasteland, devoid of both magic and life. The heartlands near the center of the Realm, once the most stable region, were now the least stable, rocked by the malevolent energies of the Nadir. As the mortal souls of these regions, both living and dead, fall deeper into despair, so are their lands pulled closer to the Nagashizzar, eventually breaking away to be devoured by the Nadir and converted back into the pure Death Magic from which the Realm had originally been created, adding to the Nadir's power, causing it to grown in size and increase its pull on the lands that remain.

In time, when generations of battling the Nighthaunts had numbed the peoples of the Mortal Realms to their horror, when the Nadir had existed long enough that mortals could pretend it had simply always been there, when the shame of the abject failure of combined armies of every other Grand Alliance to stop Nagash had faded out of memory, some would try to claim that the Great Work had been a failure, an embarrassing defeat for Nagash. But the Necroquake and the Nadir had reshaped the Mortal Realms and fate itself to Nagash's favor, leading to further events that would see the forces of the Death God marching from victory to victory.

Nagash's ritual may not have been The End of All Things as he had intended it to be, but it was none the less a victory of staggering proportions, and may yet prove to have been the begging of the end that Nagash desired.

The Age of Sigmar Nagash: The Mortarch of Grief

The flood of Nighthaunts created by the Necroquake dealt a terrible blow to Nagash's foes that well served the Great Necromancer's designs, but they were unfocused and undisciplined, more a supernatural disaster than an army. They might stream through an enemy fortress or city slaughtering all life inside, but the angry spirits, driven into a maddened frenzy by the Necroquake, would not stay to capture and garrison the site, instead abandoning it in search of new victims. Likewise, when faced with defenders equipped to battle spectral foes - walls blessed and enchanted to bar their passage, warriors carrying enchanted blades capable of tearing apart their incorporeal bodies, or even mere zealots whose faith, light or dark, eclipsed their fear of death - the Nighthaunt assault would falter and fail. Maddened by the overwhelming power of the Necroquake, the Nighthaunts were incapable of organizing a coordinated assault, let alone staging a patient siege, and would instead simply throw themselves at any enemy they found until their strength was expended.

To truly capitalize on the opportunity the Nighthaunt represented, they would need leadership, a commander capable of collecting and binding the angry ghosts into regimented armies. Any of his mortarchs, and indeed many lesser vampires and necromancers, were capable of binding a number of Nighthaunts at a time, but for what Nagash envisioned he would need to delegate a more signifant share of his power and authority over the dead. Arkhan could have been trusted with this, but the Mortarch of Sacrament's attention was now wholly dedicated to completing the Ossiarch Legions now that the Nadir was drawing in a wealth of worthy souls to use as raw materials. Both Mannfred and Neferata were capable of serving, but Nagash did not wish to divide the authority over these new Nighthaunt forces, nor was he willing to upset the carefully balanced rivalry between the Soulblight Mortarchs by granting this authority to one or the other. Ushoran remained missing, but even if he had been available his disordered mind would have made him incapable of imposing the order Nagash desired on the mortarchs. And Katakros, well, Katakros was lost, but even if he hadn't been his duties like Arkhans would like with the ossiarchs. No, Nagash would require a new Mortarch for this purpose, and he cast his Nadir-enhanced senses out over the wreckage of his Realm in search of a suitable candidate.

There he spied the the haunting specter of Lady Olynder of Dolorum. Nagash had wiped out her people and cursed her to carry the sorrow and regret of all the Mortal Realms for her betrayal at the outset of the Age of Chaos. Either punishment would have shattered the pride and resolve of most rulers, but Olynder possessed a drive and ambition that outlasted both her own life and that of her subjects. In the centuries since Nagash had passed judgment on Dolorum, Olynder had claimed dominion over the ghosts of her former people. Their spectral undead state had given them the martial strength that they had lacked in life, and Olynder had use this not just to retake Dolorum and defend it from Chaos incursions, but to expand her dominon as well.

Even more impressive was how she had mastered her own punishment and turned it into power. Experiencing all the sorrows and regrets of the Mortal Realms gave her intimate familiarity with the shameful misdeeds and secret weaknesses of her enemies and rivals. Furthermore, any mortal or spirit who looked upon her stricken face would experience a fraction of her suffering, a side effect of her curse that she ruthlessly weaponized against any who opposed her. By turning her suffering into strength and Nagash's punishments into gifts, Olynder had become a queen far more glorious and terrible in undeath than she had ever been in life, and a wicked embodiment of Nagash's vision for the Nighthaunt as a whole.

So it was that Nagash elevated Olynder as the Mortarch of Grief, and gifted her supernatural chains forged from his own authority over the spirits of the dead with which to bind the great hordes of Nighthaunt horrors created by the Necroquake into orderly Processions capable of enacting the Great Necromancer's will with ruthless precision. While Arkhan was busy completing the Ossiarch Legions, and Neferata and Mannfred were tasked with taking advantage of the devastation unleashed by the Necroquake to reconquer regions of Shyish currently held by Chaos forces, Olynder and her Nighthaunt Processions would be Nagash's primary weapon against the forces of Sigmar and his Grand Alliance of Order in the early days of what would be called the Soul Wars.

The Age of Sigmar Nagash: Soul Wars

The Soul Wars were a series of conflicts throughout the Mortal Realms that followed the Necroquake and the devastating but unfocused initial wave of Nighthaunt attacks. The remaining Nighthaunt hordes, now bound into orderly processions by Olynder's authority, launched campaigns in several Mortal Realms targeting the settlements and supply lines of Nagash's enemies, harvesting souls and striking back at the Soul Thieves - Sigmarites, Aelves, & Chaos Powers - who dared to usurp Nagash's authority over the dead. Though the more established cities & centers of military power managed to hold out, the losses suffered were crippling and many smaller settlements were lost altogether.

Archaon's forces, already struggling to maintain control over his unimaginably vast Realms-spanning dominion under pressure from the Stormcast, were forced back at an accelerating rate, and the expansion that Sigmarite and Aelven domains had managed to achieve during the early Age of Sigmar through hard fought battles against the forces of Chaos was largely halted, and in some places reversed, for many mortal generations.

The fiercest battles of the Soul Wars were fought in Shyish, with Arkhan leading a combined army of Nighthaunts and corporeal undead against the city of Glymmsforge and Olynder leading her own Legion of Grief, spearheaded by her spectral procession the Emerald Host, against the city of Lethis. At first both attacks seemed to be a matter of satisfying Nagash's pride and ego by attacking Sigmarite strongholds in the Realm of Shyish, but while Nagash would have gladly seen these bastions of Sigmarite civilization wiped from Shyish, in both cases the targets were not the cities themselves but what lay hidden beneath them.

The City of Glymmsforge was built atop the Ten-Thousand Tombs, the silent resting place of an army of spectral soldiers who had earned glory in the Age of Myth. Arkhan sought these souls as raw material for the Ossiarch Legions. In the end, though, Arkhan undermined his own assault in order to bring about a moment of direct communication between Nagash and Sigmar, for the Mortarch of Sacrament had come to believe that only by working together could the forces of Order and Death fight back the powers of Chaos. This interaction did not lead to a renewed alliance between the two, but Arkhan is, if anything, even more unfathomably patient than his master, and the Gods of the Heavens and the Underworlds, while still enemies, had at least established communications. While Arkhan neither overthrew Glymmsforge nor captured the Ten Thousand Tombs, his armies did manage to capture a great many souls of the city's most valiant defenders, including may Stormcast Souls that Arkhan had devised a means of trapping before the lightning of Sigmar could carry them back to Azyr, and so his goal of collecting souls for the Ossiarch Legions was not altogether unsuccessful.

The more vital target, Lethis, was assigned to Lady Olynder, a sign of Nagash's confidence in his new mortarch, and the first real test of her competence. Late in the age of Myth, Teclis had gifted Sigmar a number of 'Enlightenment Engines' - arcane devices designed to expand the throughts and awareness of mortals in their presence. Sigmar had taken these gifts and inverted their energies, creating 'Penumbral Engines' which clouded the awareness of those in their vicinity, hiding whatever was placed near them from all memery and perception. He used these to conceal a number of 'Stormvaults' - great storage houses where Sigmar hid artifacts and entities that he could not destroy and yet considered too dangerous to let free in the Mortal Realms. The Necroquake had disturbed the delicate operation of the Penumbral Engines throughout the Realms, revealing their existance to Sigmar's allies and enemies alike, damaging Sigmar's alliance with Teclis who considered the Penumbral Engines to be a perversion of his gift, and leading to a scramble of battles to take or secure the stormvaults.

The City of Lethis was built atop such a stormvault, the Midnight Tomb, where Sigmar had hastily hidden a number items that he had captured during his rampage through Shyish. Among those treasures was one that Nagash could feel keenly the moment the Penumbral Engine that concealed the Midnight Tomb began to fail. That this treasure hadn't been destroyed, but merely concealed from him, filled the Great Necromancer with joy, while the realization that it had been so close throughout the entire Age of Chaos - with Nagash himself recuperating in the Abyss beneath the lake of Lethis that the city boardered, was an infuriating insult. Yes, he wanted the city destroyed for that insult, but Olynder's orders were coldly practical - smash her way into Lethis, break open the Midnight Tomb, and return Nagash's lost treasure.

The assault on Lethis was brutal and sudden, but also extremely costly to Olynder's forces. Lethis was well defended by a combined Order force, including Fyreslayer mercenaries and Stormcast warhosts who had come to defend the Midnight Tomb. The defence was led by the Celestant Prime, first and greatest of the Stormcast Eternals, armed with Sigmar's own hammer, Ghal Maraz.

At first it seemed these forces would be enough to hold back Olynder's Nighthaunt army, until the Fyreslayer mercenaries, furious when they discovered that the leaders of the city had no intention of paying their agreed price, abandoned the battle, leaving the gate they had defended open to the Nighthaunt invaders. Once inside the city, Olynder made stright for the Midnight Tomb, where the Celestant Prime was waiting for her.

Though Sigmar's second in command was mighty, his strength could not match Olynder's determination to succeed at this first and most vital task that Nagash had assigned to her. The Mortarch of Grief bested her Stormcast counterpart, cracking the seal on the Midnight Tomb and releasing Nagash's imprisoned treasure, the immortal soul of Katakros, Mortarch of the Necropolis.

The Age of Sigmar Nagash: A Tithe of Bones

With a wealth of heroic souls claimed in the Soul Wars, Arkhan was finally able to complete the Ossiarch Legions - or at least bring them up to a strength sufficient to unleash them on the Realms, and with the return of Katakros's soul - now housed in an ossiarch body of sublime perfection, Nagash once again had a worthy general to command his new legions into battle. The gates of the hidden Ossiarch tomb complexes buried in the most inhospitable corners of the Mortal Realms were thrown open and the Legions marched forth. Most made their way by long forgotten realmgates to the blasted ruins of Ossia in Shyish. Others began to fortify and expand territory in the other Mortal Realms. Ossiarch construction and expansion moved quickly, for their laborers required neither food nor sleep and their architects worked according to shared design principles etched into their very souls. The Ossiarch Legions were an undead force like nothing the Mortal Realms, or even the World That Was, had ever seen before. As relentless as wights, as intelligent as vampires, yet completely untainted by the mortal flaws, doubts, or desires. The Ossiarchs were perfectly unified in their pursuit of the Great Necromancer's grand design, capable of working both entirely autonomously or in unnerving synchronicity with their fellow Legionairs, and they switfly began laying the foundations of the great Necropolis that was Nagash's grand vision for the Mortal Realms.

The Ossiarchs constantly hungered for resources to fuel their rapid expansion. Some of these were mundane resources that any expanding empire required - stone to build their structures, metal to forge weapons and armor, realmstone to fuel their spells and rituals. The two most critical resources for the Ossiarchs however were souls and bone. Souls the ossiarchs had in relative abundance thanks to the Nadir and to Olynder's successes in the Soul Wars, but no amount of bone could ever be enough. The Ossiarchs were the greatest manipulators of bone in all Shyish, able to shape it into whatever form they desired, then infuse it with necromantic enchangments to change its properties, making it as sharp as steel, as strong as stone, as flexible as rubber, or impenetrable to spectral and daemonic forces. Humanoid bone was preferred, especially for the construction of new Ossiarchs, as the remains of sentient life were best suited to housing new sentience, but lesser qualities of bone were still needed for reinforcing structures, roads, and bridges, or constructing animated beasts of burden. Even Ossiarch steel had bone dust added in the smelting process, allowing it to carry necromantic enchantments or even ossiarch intelligence.

After all the slaughter of the Age of Chaos, there was no shortage of mass graves, abandoned battlefields, pillaged villages, & burned wild lands to harvest bone from, but Nagash had a plan to ensure a steady supply of valuable humanoid bone while simultaneously weakening his enemies. As the Necrotopian Empire grew and inevitably began to run up against mortal lands, Ossiarch diplomats would present their new neighbors with a grim message. "The dead belong to Nagash, as promised by your ancestors and your gods in the Age of Myth," they would say. "For millennia this debt has gone unpaid, but the Lord of Death has returned, and now demands his due. We trust that your people have meticulously catalogued all their dead in the centuries since Nagash last walked the lands, and are now prepared to hand over the preserved remains of each and every one. No? Oh, how unfortunate! But the Great Necromancer is nothing if not merciful, and in place of what is rightfully due we are prepared to negotiate a reasonable Tithe of Bone."

Those who refused from the start were met with overwhelming force, crushed beneath the heels of Ossiarch armies that outnumbered the beseiged population 2 or even 3 to 1, with lines of massive unilving catapults to smash their walls and ranks of heavy cavalry to run down fleeing survivors. Only a scant handful were allowed to escape to carry the story of what had happened to other mortal communities, so that when the Ossiarch diplomats came to those lands, the Tithe really did seem to be a reasonable price to avoid such a fate. Of course, reasonable was almost always carefully calculated, by Ossiarchs assembled from the souls of only the most meticulous accountants, to be ever so slightly more than the population in question could sustainably pay.

The first payment was almost always payable from the settlement's existing graveyards and cemetaries, but as the ossiarchs returned generation after generation, the supply of the already dead would be expended, and the settlement would have to take sacrifices from the living, either offering a few of their people, or taking toes or fingers from every citizen. Over time the population would grow smaller and weaker until they could no longer pay at all, and the Ossiarchs would then harvest the remaining dregs with ease. In this way the growing Ossiarch empire was able to harvest a steady supply of humanoid bone and weaken their mortal neighbors while conserving most of their military strength for the war against Chaos.

Different Ossiarch Legions had different roles in the Tithe. The brutal, uncompromising, life-hating Stalliarch Lords demanded impossible tithes from weak settlements, and slaughtered the mortals who were inevitably unable to meet those demands. This made the less extreme demands of other legions seem all the more reasonable. The Crematorians, based on earlier, more experimental Ossiarch designs, were sent to devastate more proud and powerful cities which were sure to refuse the tithe but which were sufficiently defended to make any subsequent seige costly. The bodies of the Crematorian were unstable and prone to exploding when damaged, so the defenders' own strength would only accellerate the destruction of their cities. For his part, Katakros took direct command of the Mortis Praetorians, the largest Ossiarch legion, and began building the core of their Necropolis empire atop the ruins of his ancient home of Ossia. The Praetorians took advantage of spreading stories of the slaughter and devastation suffered by those who had refused the demands of the Stalliarch Lords and Crematorians to extract a more reasonable Tithe from the more pliable mortal settlements they boardered, and carefully avoided coming into contact with better defended Cities of Sigmar in order to avoid unnecessary conflicts. With massive resource collection and minimal resource expenditure, the Mortis Praetorians were able to amass a colossal fighting force in a few short mortal lifetimes.

Arkhan himself 'rewarded' his Legion of Sacrament, the undead soldiers and spellcasters that had labored for ages to bring the Ossiarchs into being, by making them the first victims of the Tithe of Bone. Vampires who had brought entire civilizations to their knees in Arkhan's name, Necromancers who had studdied at his feet since the early days of the Realms, all were hauled away screaming to suffer the same fate as the common skeletons and zombies. Their bones were harvested to construct more ossiarch soldiers, and their arcane talents were teased from their souls to add to the abilities of the Mortisan caste. Their shocked sense of betrayal was discarded with their rotting flesh, deemed to be without value by the Mortarch of Sacrament. Most of the Legion of Sacrament's physical and spiritual remains went to the Null Myriad legion. The bones of the countless skeletons who had carried grains of gravesand across Shyish for the construction of the Black Pyramid had become infused with the entropic energies of Shyish's realmstone, making the Myriad's soldiers particularly resistant to the magics of other Realms. For this mighty contribution to the war effort, Katakros rewarded Arkhan with direct command of the Null Myriad, which soon earned an even more terrifying reputation than the Legion of Sacrament that had been sacrificed to create them.

The Age of Sigmar Nagash: the Summer King's Vintage

The Abhorrant nobility ruling over their kingdoms of flesh-eating mordants, like their more typical Soulblight cousins, were empowered by the surge of death magic that the Necroquake released on the realms, greatly increasing the strength of both their physical bodies and the delusions they projected. The Soul Wars that followed also created a great many vulnerable and starving refugees to recruit new mordants from. New Flesh Eater Courts sprang up throughout the realms, while established Courts grow larger and more active. In this blessed time of plenty, the most successful Abhorrant monarchs began to receive unexpected emissaries - foreign mordant courtiers carrying bundles of strange bones with odd markings scratched into them as though by some great beast's talon. To those not ensnared by the Abhorrant delusion, these scratchings were mere nonsense, but to the progeny of Ushoran these relics were precious beyond all other treasures, for they were in truth eloquent missives from New Summorcourt, penned by the hand of Ushoran himself.

Finally restored to his dubious senses as the Sombre Paladin and his unquestionable might as the Carrion King by the power of the Necroquake, Ushoran now sought to reclaim his righful place at the Great Necromancer's side as his Mortarch of Delusion. As such, the Summer King was now reaching out to all his progeny throughout the Mortal Realms, asserting the authority of his personal delusion through the bones his heralds carried, to unite his people in service to the benevolent god-king, Nagash.

The increased and uncharacteristically focused activity among the Flesh Eater Courts did not go unnoticed, and agents of Neferata eventually tracked the source to New Summercourt, discovering the somewhat restored Mortarch in the new seat of his power. When news of Ushorans wherabouts and current activities reached Nagash, the Great Necromancer chose to respond with caution. While his devotion to Nagash seemed to have returned, Ushoran in his current form was lost deeper within his self-delusions than ever before. The Carrion King's separation from reality made him an unreliable tool that had turned against Nagash twice before already. However, if the Flesh Eater Courts throughout the realms could be united in his service, they could be a powerful weapon against his enemies, not to mention a plentiful source of raw materials for the Ossiarch Legions, with bodies (and bones) already saturated with death magic.

To ensure that Ushoran didn't disappear again, and to protect the Mortarch of Delusion from external threats, Nagash commanded a contingent of Ossiarch labourers to build a massive wall of fortified bone around the perimeter of New Summercourt. Then he tasked Neferata with managing her oft-wayward blood-kin. Neferata in turn tasked her most trusted and mentally resilient servants, those she believed could resist Ushoran's delusions, to keep watch over the Carrion King and in particular to keep him soothed and content in the home that had now become just another prison.

Of course, the Mortarch of Delusion was not merely a prisoner to contain, he was also a weapon to exploit. To this end, Neferata had her dignitaries at New Summercourt collect the corrupted blood and bile that oozed from the sores that covered the Carrion Kings twisted and monstrous form. They bottled the vile fluid, and labeled it as fine wine. This poisoned vintage was then distributed by Neferata's agents to various free cities and settlements, undermining Sigmarite culture with a subculture twisted by Ushoran's delusions.

The Age of Sigmar Nagash: Death Comes for the Hordes of Chaos

While Lady Olynder was directing the Soul Wars against the bastions of Order, the soulblight mortarchs, Mannfred and Neferata, were busy reclaiming their ancient holdings from the forces of Chaos. Though Mannfred had no particular sentimental attachment to Carstinia, he could plainly read the shifting balance of power within Shyish, and knew he would need control over his own territories if he wanted to maintain his personal position. Carstinia and its gloomy capitol of Sternieste had always been a downtrodden land, poor in natural resources. What treasures it did contain were well hidden, and thus even though Mannfred himself had abandoned his hold, it still managed to go relatively unravaged by the forces of chaos. There simply didn't seem to be anything worth plundering, certainly nothing that warranted grueling and costly marches through Carsteinia's haunted forests and zombie-choked swamplands. It didn't take Mannfred long to clear out those chaos forces that had infested his lands.

Neferatia, however, had been the prized jewel of Shyishian civilization during the Age of Myth - Neferata's queenly pride could allow nothing else. Its capital city of Nulahmia had been a beacon of trade, learning, and culture, attracting fabulous wealth and no end of arcane treasures to Neferata's lands. During the Age of Chaos this had invited constant attention from powerful warlords and daemon princes of the dark gods. Nulahmia itself had managed to just barely survive a centuries long seige, which had only been broken during the Realmgate Wars with the help of the Stormcast Eternals. Since then, Neferata had reclaimed territory around Nulamiah, fighting back chaos forces and gloomspite hordes alike, but the bulk of what had once been Neferatia was now the Khornate emprie of Angaria, ruled by the Hyshian daemon prince Graunos. Through a series of subtle manipulations, Neferata was able to lure Graunos's forces into a single great battle, but where Graunos expected to face Neferata's Legion of Blood in open war, he instead was forced to watch in impotent fury as Neferata dropped the floating mountains that made up the afterlife of Velkan down onto his armies. Neferata's Legions then moved in to slaughter any survivors. The cataclysm of Velkan's destruction caused earthquakes throughout the Realm of Shyish, scarred an entire continent, annihilated the most powerful chaos empire in Shyish, and snuffed the life out of the hundreds of thousands of mortals that Neferata had fought to rule. This mattered little to Neferata - her subjects would serve her just as well in death. What did matter was the unmistakable message sent to all the Mortal Realms of just how far the Mortarch of Blood would go to claim what was hers.

Meanwhile the Bone Tithe continued to do its work of quickly expanding the Necrotopian Empire and extorting vital resources from neighboring mortal settlements through intimidation, keeping costly military expenditures to a minimum. Within the span of a few short mortal lifespans, Katakros's Ossiarch Legions had built up a military force to rival any other in the Mortal Realms, and extended their territory to within striking range of Gothizzar, the great chaos fortress built around the End Gate connecting the Eight Points to Shyish.

Recognizing that his legion's greatest strengths were in fortification, defense, and slow but implacable expansion rather than sudden shock assaults, Katakros had Nagash recall Lady Olynder and her personal Nighthaunt procession, the Emerald Host, from the Soul Wars in order to aid in the attack on Gothizzar. Finally the chance presented itself - Katakros's spies informed him that the Everchosen had left the Eight Points at the head of a massive chaos warhost, launching an invasion into Hysh and Ulgu in search of the captive Chaos God, Slaanesh. Sensing their opportunity, the two mortarchs launched their attack, taking Gothizzar in a single terrible night of battle, streaming through the End Gate to crush the chaos defenders on the Eight-Points side of the gate, and then erecting a massive Ossiarch fortress of enchanted bone to secure the position. After fighting off reprisal attacks from a number of warlords still active in the Eight Points, and still no sign of Archaon, Katakros realized the path was open to the Varanspire itself, the very seat of Archaon's power. This opportunity was too great to ignore, so Katakros and Olynder led a joint army to Archaon's fortress capital - even as the supply lines of the Necrotopian Empire in Shyish worked around the clock to funnel more soldiers and resources into further fortifying the End Gate.

Katakros & Olynder's army had breached the Varanspire's outer walls before an enraged Archaon finally returned to defend his throne. The Everchosen had successfully found Slaanesh, but was forced to abandon the Chaos God before the Dark Prince could be freed in order to meet this challenge to his control over the Eight Points. This would give the Aelven Gods time to move Slaanesh's hiding place, forcing the hunt to begin all over. The Everchosen vented his wrath on the undead armies, defeating both and smashing Katakros's physical form. But the spirit of the Mortarch of the Necropolis simply retreated to the fortress of Gothizzar, now firmly under ossiarch control, where a new body had been prepared for him, and Olynder soon followed, having been defeated in the skies above the Varanspire by the First Prince, Be'Lakor. The undead losses at the Varanspire were negligible, and in the meantime the Ossiarch defenses around both sides of the End Gate had become one of the most impregnable fortresses in all the Mortal Realms, in preparation for Archaon's inevitable counter attack. However, before the Everchosen could launch his counterattack and put the Ossiarch defenses to the test, the Realms were shaken by a series of events that would forever change the balance of power, fragmenting the Grand Alliances as they had existed to that point.

The Age of Sigmar Nagash: Broken Realms and the Fall of Nagash

Since the Necroquake, Nagash's forces of Undeath had marched from one victory to another. Partial victories, sure. Never complete or unqualified. But nobody said annihilating the stain of life from the Mortal Realms would be easy. Nagash's great ritual hadn't given him the strength to wipe out his rivals outright, but it had provided him with a nearly bottemless supply of necromantic power, awakened a spectral warhost large enough to threaten all the other realms, completely derailed the ambitions of his divine rivals by casting their various arcane works into disarray, secured a steady flow of precious souls, and revealed the location of the long missing Mortarch of the Necropolis. Yes, the Seige of Lethis had failed to wipe the City from the face of Shyish, but it succeeded in freeing Katakros, giving the Ossiarch Legions the commander they needed to march. Olynder's Soul Wars had put the other Grand Alliances on a back foot, forcing them into a defensive posture and preventing them from making any significant gains in the other Mortal Realms. Meanwhile, between the Soulblight Mortarchs reclaiming their ancient holdings and Katakros expanding the Ossiarch Necropolis, much of Shyish had been brought back under Nagash's Control. The Undead had even managed to take and hold territory within the Eight Points, the very heart of Chaos Power in the Mortal Realms, something no other faction, not even Sigmar's vaunted Stormcast Eternals, had been able to accomplish.

It was a difficult road, and there had been setbacks, but all in all matters had been progressing in the Great Necromancer's favor for several centuries. But behind the scenes resistance to the advancing armies of Death throughout the Mortal Realms was building, and rival gods and would-be gods had been preparing designs of their own - designs that would disrupt the status quo throughout the Realms.

Morathi had long pretended to represent the dead Aelven god Khaine while aspiring to true godhood herself, and in a daring scheme that played the forces of Chaos and Sigmar against one another she finally succeeded, using the multi-elemental realmstone of the Eight Points to be re-born as Morathi-Khaine, shedding her monstrous physical body, which took on life of its own as Morathi the Shadow Queen. Even Katakros had been caught up in Morathi's manipulations, bribed by a mountain of highest quality tithe-bone to launch a diversionary assault on the Varanspire, preventing Archaon from interfering with Morathi's realmstone heist.

Not content with mere ascention to godhood, Morathi also betrayed Sigmar, conquering and claiming the Sigmarite city of Anvilguard and adding it to her growing dominion. She also secured an alliance with the Idoneth Deepkin, Teclis's abandoned children. Tensions had long been building between Sigmar and the Aelven Gods, ever since their actions had drawn the attention of the Chaos Gods, and Morathi's betrayal of both sides of this divide threatened to be the final catalyst tearing the Grand Alliance of Order to pieces. Worse, the lingering connection to Slaanesh from Morathi's time in the Dark Prince's gullet channeled some of the power of her divine ascension to the captive Chaos God, enough for pieces of Slaanesh's essence to break free from their bindings, becoming the twin Newborns of Slaanesh.

Teclis might have managed to prevent Morathi's scheme, but he was focused on his own plans. The proud Aelven god had taken Nagash's ascendency as a challenge to his own dominion over the arcane arts, and Nighthaunt assaults on Lumineth settlements were a tangible injury layered upon that unforegivable insult. With the still echoing reverberations of the Necroquake and the endless well of power in the Shyish Nadir, Teclis knew he had no hope of challenging the Great Necromancer within Shyish itself, so he instead schemed to draw Nagash into a conflict in Hysh. To begin with, while the bulk of Nagash's undead legions were engaged in various wars against Chaos, A small but elite force of Lumineth invaded Shyish. They didn't target inportant supply lines or key fortifications, nothing which could mount a prolonged defense, but instead targeted monuments to Nagash's vanity - Bone Tithe collection points, monuments to the Great Necromancer's glory, and other symbolic representations of Nagash's authority. The attack caused no real damage to Nagash's plans, but the god of Death was as proud as Teclis, and could not let the insult go. Still, he would not be drawn into needless conflict, not when he was making significant progress in battles agaisnt the true enemy, so Nagash dispatched Arkhan to answer Teclis's challenge.

Arkhan led an ossiarch invasion force of Mortis Praetorians and his own Null Myraid through a realm gate into Hysh. There the Mortarch of Sacrament met up with a kingdom of Nagash-worshipping mordants hidden in the mountain hinterlands of Hysh. Together the Ossiarch and Flesh Eater forces battled against combined Lumineth and Azyrite armies, while behind them Arkhan's mortisan acolytes harnessed the echoeing energies of the Necroquake to prepare a ritual which would have relocated the Shyish side of the realm gate to Nagashizzar, at the heart of the Shyish Nadir. If they were successful, the Hysh side of the gate would have effectively become a small Nadir itelf, and started to tear apart the surrounding region of Hysh much as Shyish was being torn apart by the greater Nadir.

While a competent field commander, Arkhan is no great general, and the Hyshian forces were able to outmaneuver the Mortarch of Sacrament, simultaneously stopping the ritual and cutting Arkhan off from his escape back into Shyish. The undead army first retreated into the Mordant's territory, where the Ossiarchs, running low on supplies, attempted to tithe their Flesh Eater allies. The leader of the mordants was fanatical enough to allow this, his devotion to Nagash ensured by the influence of Ushoran's missives, but their second in command was not so fully lost to maadness, and the alliance to collapse into infighting. This left Arkhan's forces even weaker when the Lumineth continued to pursue them. Arkhan was driven to the very edge of Hysh, where he believed the swirling storms of uncontrolled light magic would be too dangerous for mortals to follow. Yet the Lumineth, driven on by the spirit of Eltharion, who had been slain by Arkhan in the Old World, pursued all the same, driving the undead off the very edge of their realm even as their own bodies were turned to crystal. Eltharion himself cast Arkhan from the brink, seemingly destroying the mortarch utterly - though the ancient Liche had suffered such apparently final fates before.

The destruction of Arkhan - who personified the bulk of Nagash's self restraint at the best of times - drove the Great Necromancer into a fury the likes of which the Realms had never known, and he strode into Hysh like a walking apocalypse, laying waste to multiple armies simultaneously. Teclis engaged the Great Necromancer in a desperate arcane duel, but it seemed as though the Aelven god was overmatched even in his home realm. Only the timely intervention of Alarielle, goddess of life, allowed Teclis to endure long enough to spring his trap, immobilizing Nagash while a fleet of Luminarks burned away his Physical Form, allowing the grievously wounded Teclis to banish Nagash's spirit, sending it screaming back to Nagashizzar in tatters. Nagash's own death-cry provided the necromantic power Teclis needed to work the final part of his plan, stilling the echoes and aftershocks of the Necroquake.

The Nadir would remain, its power ensuring that Nagash would need far less time to restore himself than he had after previous defeats. But even temporary as it is, Nagash's fall was still a mighty setback for the forces of Death. Freed from the Great Necromancer's collar, Manfred and Neferata quickly abandoned their own missions from Nagash in order to war with each other over territory in Shyish. Katakros was left to defend the Ossiarch foothold in the Eight Points with significantly reduced resources as mortal settlements, given hope that the undead could be opposed by the Lumineth campaigh, began to refuse the Tithe. Olynder, whose Nighthaunt Processions had relied upon the aftershocks of the Necroquake to stay invigorated and replenish losses, now needed a new source of souls to maintain her own grip on power. The Realm of Shyish remained an inhospitable nightmare for the living, almost entirely under the dominion of various undead factions, but as the echoes of the Necroquake finally faded away and the forces of the undead collapsed into petty infighting or returned to Shyish to shore up their individual claims, the long night of the undead that had settled over the reast of the Mortal Realms finally began to lift... only for a new darkness to take its place.

With the Grand Alliances of Order and Death collapsing, a united Grand Alliance of Chaos might have seized the opportunity to crush the Mortal Realms once and for all. However, unity is one thing the forces of Chaos have in short supply. The worshippers of the Dark Gods, like the Dark Gods themselves, are by nature selfish and factional, seeking conquest over each other as much as over their enemies. For the entire Age of Chaos, Archaon had kept his Grand Alliance in line by shocking acts of violence, sheer despotic force of will, and a reputation of absolute invincibility. Yet cracks had begun to show in the Everchosen's facade. He had failed to penetrate the gates of Azyr, had failed to stop Sigmar's Stormcast from closing several major realmgates to the Eight Points, had failed to prevent the Necroquake, had failed to free Slaanesh, had failed to prevent the ascension of a new rival deity under his very nose, and now the forces of Nagash occupied territory within the Eight Points itself. These signs of weakness invited pretenders to his throne, and none had more ready a claim than Be'lakor, the First Prince, Daemon of Chaos Undivided, and former Everchosen himself.

Be'lakor had gained considerable prestige during the undead attack on the Varanspire when he defeated and banished Lady Olynder's spectral form in the skies where all the chaos forces could witness his victory, and though the First Prince wasn't ready to challenge the Everchosen directly, he had other plans that would draw further power and glory away from Archaon and towards himself. Be'lakor recognized that the strongest pillar in Archaon's power base was the Eight Points and their Realmgates. Even with a several gates closed and one in Ossiarch hands, Archaon could still move mighty armies of Chaos Mortals through various Mortal Realms with dire speed. Be'lakor's own Daemonic Legions had significantly less need of realmgates. Yes, they could be redirected to the Chaos Realms to allow for daemonic incursions, but sufficiently bloody rituals conducted by the chaos fanatics that still infested all the Mortal Realms but Azyr could conjure daemonic legions even without the aid of Realmgates. The only faction that could move as quickly from one Mortal Realm to another without the use of Realmgates was Sigmar's Stormcast Eternals. Thinking to strike rival and enemy alike, Be'lakor devised plan to destroy all the Realm-gates on the Eight Points in a chain reaction beginning with the destruction of a Silver Tower of Tzeentch, larglely destroying Archaon's usefulness to the Dark Gods. He would then channel the arcane storm unleashed by such destruction to shroud the Mortal Realms in a great cloud of chaos magic, blocking the Stormcasts' ability to ride Sigmar's lightning between the Realms.

Be'lakor could not be seen to act against Archaon by attacking the Silver Towers openly, however, so instead he created an opening for the Seraphon to do so. The attack didn't go quite as Be'lakor had hoped, with the Silver Tower teleporting to Chamon, the Realm of Metal, in its final moments rather than exploding in the Eight Points. The Mortal Realm was too large for the chain reaction to destroy all of its Realmgates, but Be'lakor found an unlikely ally to help him finish the job. Olynder had placed a curse upon the First Prince when he defeated her during the seige of the Varanspire, establishing a connection that Be'lakor was able to use to contact the Mortarch of Grief, explaining his plan and offering all the Stormcast souls that would become trapped in Be'lakor's Realms-spanning shroud of darkness were it to succeed. Olynder agreed, seeing this plan as a way to secure the power and souls her Nighthaunt processions needed now that the Necroquake's energies had been stilled. Together the First Prince and the Mortarch of Grief succeeded in destroying enough of the remaining realmgates in Chamon to power Be'Lakor's shroud of darkness, cutting the Realm of Metal off from the other Realms almost entirely and trapping the Stormcast chambers in whatever Realm they found themselves in at the time. No longer could they ride Sigmar's lightning from Azyr to any battlefield that needed them, and once slain they would no longer be able to ride the lightning in their souls back to Azyr for reforging. Instead, the dark shroud between the realms would deliver their souls to the Mortarch of Grief, an unholy ransom paid to forestall the effects of Olynder's curse on Be'lakor's soul.

Meanwhile in Ghyran, the Realm of Life, Alarielle had been putting the finishing touches on a grand ritual of her own. Before Teclis's battle with Nagash, Alarielle had been preparing a rite that would unleash a flood of life magic, to counterbalance the echoing death magic of the Necroquake. With the Necroquake already stilled, however, this act wouldn't restore the balance, but rather create a new imbalance in the opposite direction. Unfortunately, it was too late for Alarielle to forestall her plans, and even if it hadn't been, the Realm of Life remained beset by foes on all sides - Nurgle infestations, undead incursions, hordes of beastmen and greenskins, and now Be'Lakor's dark shroud - and Alarielle would not abandon a source of power she could use against her foes, even if it came at the cost of further destabilizing the Mortal Realms. As the effects of Alarielle's Rite spread through the realms, the forces of Death outside of Shyish were further diminished, and Alarielle's Sylvanneth were greatly empowered, especially in Ghyran. But so to were wild creatures and mortal peoples throughout the realms, from beasts of chaos to tribes of greenskins and ogors to great predatory monsters of all sorts.

In Ghur, the surging life magic was enough to awaken Kragnos, the God of Earthquakes, a mighty spirit of destruction that had opposed Sigmar's Grand Alliance in the age of Myth, and subsequently been imprisoned by the combined strength of Sigmar's Pantheon and the mage-priests of the Seraphon. Now free, Kragnos became a mighty rallying point for the forces of Destruction in Ghur, attacting massive stampedes of Orruks, Ogors, and Gargants.

Thus ended the Age of Nagash. The undead had accomplished much, but whether they could hold onto their gains with the Necroquake stilled, Alarielle's Rite of Life further suppressing death magic in the Realms, Nagash and Arkhan temporarily out of the picture, and the Soulblight Mortachs turning their efforts towards their own petty rivalries remained to be seen. One thing was sure, though - Nagash wouldnt be gone for long. And If Olynder's death curse was enough to threaten even the First Prince of Chaos, Nagash's own death curse would prove all the more terrible still for Teclis. The place where the God of Death fell has already become an open wound in Hysh that would never heal, and the self-styled God of Magic could already hear the Great Necromancer's hollow laughter echoing from hole where Nagash's sword had pierced him through. Alarielle may have saved Teclis during the battle, but for how long?

The Age of Sigmar Beasts: The Dawnbringer Crusades

The combined events of the Broken Realms caused tremendous upheval throughout the Mortal Realms. Old alliances collapsed, and many dangers new and old were set loose on the Realms. The forces of Destruction were ascendant with Kragnos's awakening, as were daemonic forces under the First Prince and the newborn Twins of Slaanesh. Chamon had been almost entirely cut off from the other Mortal Realms, and Be'lakor's Dark Shroud limited the Stormcasts' ability to defend those beacons of Sigmarite civilization that had survived the Soul Wars.

However, the Soul Wars were definitively over. The people of the Mortal Realms no longer faced a constant seige by the spectral dead. Archaon's Realms-spanning Empire of Chaos continued to decline, forced into a defensive posture by the threat of the Ossiarchs in the Eight Points, and no longer able to move power as freely throughout the Realms with more and more key realmgates closed to them. Alarielle's Rite of Life further suppressed the undead and bolstered the living, improving their health, lifting their spirits, and increasing the fertility of their crops and their peoples alike. While many dangers remained, and their once strong Grand Alliance teetered on the brink of collapse, this was a time of growth and opportunity for Humes, Aelves, and Duardin alike.

Sigmarite civilizations, their enemies on the back foot and their fortress cities overcrowding thanks to Alarielle's Right of Life, prepared the Dawnbringer Crusades - massive expeditions of Azyrites marching out of the gates of the various Cities of Sigmar in the hopes of founding settlements that could grow into new Cities in the future. To support these heroic undertakings, Sigmar had readied a new order of Stormcast soldiers, filled with enough divine power to punch through Be'lakor's dark cloud. These new Stormcasts were less stable than the previous sort - prone to spectacular explosions when they fell in battle. They also required even greater expenditures of the Storm God's power to create, limiting their numbers, and the reforging process was even more taxing on their souls - though at least the damage caused by the process was no longer compounded by the effects of the Necroquake. As such, these new Stormcast were assigned mainly as strike teams to bolster existing forces, rather than being deployed as armies freely moving between the realms on Sigmar's lightning as Stormcast had before. The bulk of the stormcast forces were reduced to marching through realmgates like mortal soldiers. Even so, these new Stormcast remained an invaluable weapon and a useful tool to raise morale among the common Azyrites.

This was a period of growth and abundance, not one of death and decay, but even so the threat of the Undead remained. Olynder's bargain with Be'lakor continued to pay dividends in captured stormcast souls. Katakros's Ossiarch empire proved their worth by continuing to expand and fortify their boarders even within the Eight Points, labouring ceaslessly towards Nagash's ambitions even with their master temporarily indisposed. Flesh-hungrey Mordant Courts feasted and grew strong on newly abundant prey. While the various Soulblight Dynasties fell into infighting and battles over territory, the danger they posed to the mortal populations caught between them only increased now that Nagash no longer had his skeletal hand on their leash. In the Realm of Beasts alone the ravenous Gristlegore mordant court, the prideful Ivory Host bonereaper legion, and the monstrous Avengori soulblight dynasty were all active already, and more were drawn there as it became the key battleground in conflicts between Order, Chaos, and the ascendant forces of Destruction. Meanwhile in the Realm of Death, with Nagash and Arkhan temporarily off the field, territory and influence were taken by any who were strong and bold enough to do so.

The Age of Sigmar Beasts: The Bonereapers Tested

The Age of Sigmar Beasts: Ushoran Unbound
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Master Necromancer
True Blood
Sep 23, 2009
Undead Factions in Age of Sigmar

Null Edition / AoS Beta / They thought this was good enough to release at all, let alone to replace WHFB?!

The Warhammer Fantasy Battle game and world, long beloved but floundering financially, had been thoroughly closed by the End Times campaign - worthy of a retrospective thread in their own right at this point. The end times had been a major event that stirred up an incredible amount of interest and activity in the long stagnant Warhammer Fantasy community, and now they all waited with baited breath to see what the Old World had been destroyed for. They finally got their answer with the Age of Sigmar's release, and it was, to put it mildly, bad.

Age of Sigmar released in a frankly unfinished state. The core rules were brief and extremely vague. With no points values, balance and structure was left entirely up to the players. Even mildly competitive play was impossible. The game was basically unstructured freeform play only. With AoS faction rules only for the stormcast and Khornate models in the stater box, most players were left using pdf 'compendium' rules depicting old warhammer fantasy armies and characters that lacked any place or grounding in the new game. These compendium rules were full of weird larpy stuff like 'if a player running settra ever kneels, they lose the game' or 'orks get a bonus when charging if their players can yell "waagh" the loudest' and so on that were meant to be fun but were largely received as immature and embarrassing.

While the compendiums represented old world factions, several of which no longer existed in the new setting, they were none the less sorted into four main camps or 'Grand Alliances' - Order, Chaos, Destruction, and Death. Of the four, Death was the smallest grand alliance, containing only two compendium factions. At this point there were no 'allegiance' rules, the only rules a unit had access to were those on its warscroll. While much of this earliest and darkest period of AoS's history is inarguably terrible, there was an elegance to that that I somewhat miss in the modern day of warscroll + faction + subfaction + campaign + white dwarf supplement confusion.

Compendium: Vampire Counts

With rules for all the units from the oldhammer Vampire Counts, this compendium included rules for what we currently know as Soulblight Gravelords, Nighthaunts, and Flesh Eater Courts - though the latter two were later expanded after being split off into their own things. The Vampire Count compendium, unlike the Tomb King compendium, also included rules for the End Times releases - Nagash, his Mortarchs, and the morghasts, which was as strong an indication as any of which half of the old undead would survive the transition.

In this first crack at the undead in Age of Sigmar, the most defining feature would be the depiction of summonable units. In modern AoS that concept is conveyed via a keyword and a number of healing affects that can target that keyword. In the Compendium, the concept was conveyed by summonable units each including a spell in their warscroll that any Death wizard could cast to conjure entire new units to the tabletop mid game. Nagash even had an ability to double the number of models in summoned units. You might think all these free units would be completely unbalanced, but remember that at the time there was no balance - sure you could summon entire units mid game, but if your opponent wanted they could just deploy arbitrarily more units at the start. There was no limit to how many units were deployed by any method within the game itself, and no reason why any homebrew limits devised wouldn't equally apply to summoned units. In that sense, this form of summoning was less an ability to add to your army mid-game, and more an alternate form of deployment, similar to gravesite deployment in the modern Gravelord faction. That said, there were many rancid first impressions of AoS formed when players trying the game for the first time set up armies that looked to be fair and balanced at the start only or the undead player to add unit after unit during the game.

A feature common to units across many armies at this time was 'horde bonuses'. Units that were meant to be fielded in large groups would get bonuses when deployed that way. The Vampire Counts had several such hoardy units - most notably skeletons who got an extra attack for having at least 20 models, and another for having at least 30, plus spears with reach to put all those extra attacks to use. They could also be summoned, and easily healed, and given further offensive buffs by vampire & necromancer heroes, making them a terror to face for any enemy that lacked good armor saves, which were relatively uncommon back then.

Another common feature of the Compendium armies were larpy 'joke' rules. Manfred, the mortarch of Night, gained a bonus to hit and wound rolls if you were playing at night. Nagash had his signature hand of dust spell, where you hide a die in your hand and have your opponent guess which one, and if they guess wrong you kill one of their models outright - one of the only such rules to survive to the modern day. One thing that can be said in favor of the compendium rules is that they had a lot of interesting 'fluffy' abilities, stuff you wouldn't see today for a number of reasons. For instance, Neferata could 'turn' slain heroes, raising them as new vampire lords. There were also a wealth of old world special characters - including Kemmler and Krell, which helped add hero variety.

Despite all the changes since - the addition of faction rules, splitting FEC and NH off into their own factions, and re-writing how this or that unit works, modern Soulblight Gravelord players would still find an awful lot familiar in this very first outing for Age of Sigmar undead. Many of the statlines are the same, vampire lords are still filling more or less the same support roll with a +1 melee attack command ability, skeletons and zombies are still hoardy chaff, dire wolves still run interference, grave guard are still fragile but choppy glass cannons, necromancers still shrug wounds to your summonable units while casting danse macabre to let them swing twice in melee, corps carts and mortis engines still provide aura casting buffs, etc. The details have changed, but the through-line, as with many of other oldhammer hold over factions, has remained remarkably consistent.

Compendium: Tomb Kings

To this day I still feel that the Compendium Tomb Kings rules are a tragedy. Not because they were bad, though. Far from it. In many ways the C:TK rules were the best rules Tomb Kings have ever had. In Oldhammer they often suffered from the comparison to Vampire Counts. In some editions Tomb Kings had a bunch of weird special rules to make them different from vampire counts but mostly in ways that interacted poorly with the core game rules. In other editions they were test beds for revised undead rules that a later vampire counts book refined and improved on. But for all that they were a very cool and very distinctive undead army with a strong visual aesthetic and conceptual hook that set them aside from the unstructured vamp counts hodge podge of miscelanious undead monster cliches. Some people will tell you that GW didn't support Tomb Kings, that they eventually dropped them altogether, because they couldn't trademark their Egyptian concept, but this isn't true - after all there's nothing trade markable about the generic vampires, skeletons, necromancers, and zombies that still make up the Soulblight Gravelords. And Tomb Kings saw considerable support from the studio right up to the end of Warhammer fantasy - the 8th edition Tomb Kings book in particular saw a huge range of amazing new plastic models, including the plastic sphinxes.

No, TK struggled not for lack of care from the devs, but because their concept, while very neat, was also very niche, and their often wonky rules didn't help that. The decision to discontinue them had already been made before the Age of Sigmar compendiums were even released, and that's such a shame because the C:TK rules were quite strong and pretty interesting, and saw a small but significant renewal of interest from Tomb Kings players even as the Fantasy player base in general was collapsing due to the state of the core rules. In addition to the summoning spells gimmick of the Vampire Counts, the tomb kings also had banners that let you restore models to units - including entire 5 wound chariots and giant-snake-riding necropolis knights. There was even a banner-carrying hero, who could be mounted on a skeletal steed, to bring back more models to surrounding units, allowing charriot and necropolis knight units to restore 10 wounds a turn. The chariots were a decent basic troop unit with a ton of low quality attacks on the charge, while the necropolis knights were powerful elites capable of dishing out an impressive number of mortal wounds. And their special character leader, Settra on his chariot, could keep pace with your chariots and necroknights and mounted battle standard while buffing them all to high heaven.

Settra also had an ability common to many supreme commander type special characters that allowed all your heroes to use a command ability - something otherwise restricted to your general at the time. He was the only Death character with that ability, not even Nagash had that privilege, allowing TK armies led by settra to stack buffs through the roof. Not just on chariots and necropolis knights, either. Tomb Kings skeletons had the same wealth of attacks that the Vampire Counts counterparts did, tomb guard were every bit a match for grave guard, and both had better shields to boot. Tomb Kings also had access to archers and catapults, which, while not the strongest ranged support in the game, was still utility the vampire counts side completely lacked. And their statue units - from the ogor-sized ushabti to the massive sphinxes - gave them access to a range of tough and hard hitting elites and monsters.

Yes there were still some wacky rules. You'd lose the game when playing settra if you ever knelt, so you had to be sure your shoes were firmly tied before the game started. And yeah, the overall game was practically unplayable at first, but once the game did start coming together, first through community tournament packs and later through the general's handbooks, the discontinued Tomb Kings managed to persistently stand out as the stronger, more versatile, and more tactically interesting undead faction for pretty much the entire first edition of the game. The Tomb Kings rules themselves changed a couple times - notably via nerfs to the sphinxes, points hikes (after points had been introduced), then the shift to legends rules - which removed the summoning spells but otherwise left the compendium rules largely unchanged apart from further painful points increases. But despite all of that it's not until the core rules changed with 2nd edition, leaving the Tomb Kings firmly in the past, that they finally truely gave up the ghost.

The Tomb Kings legends rules are still available for download from Warhammer Community, complete with points values for matched play (though Legends stuff technically isn't allowed in official matched play, so you'll need your opponent's consent). Power creep has tarnished their strengths a bit. They have no allegiance rules - though third edition's generic enhancements help make up for that. Some of their rules simply don't work due to not being worded to interact with the new core rules. And their points values were over-inflated even back when all their rules still worked. Even so, if you happen to have a TK army in storage somewhere, or a 3d printer and some appropriate print files (perhaps from Lost Kingdom Miniatures), then I still think it's worth giving the AoS Tomb Kings a go. Narratively, the Legends: Tomb Kings rules are still probably the best representation for armies of the independent afterlives and underworlds of Shyish from before the coming of Nagash.

I still hope to see some effortful and intrepid online community take up the task of an unofficial home brew battle tome update. Mengel Miniatures put together their own take on it back in the latter days of 1st edition, which was a really nice, high-production-value effort, but it also hasn't been updated to accommodate changes in the core rules.

Age of Sigmar 1st edition proper

It's hard to even call age of sigmar a game until the General's Handbook was released, and with it points values which finally enabled competitive and pick-up games alike. The other big change that came with or roughly contemporary to the General's Handbook was allegiance rules - army-wide special rules, artefacts, spells, and so on that were accessed by playing an army of a specific faction. There were basic allegiance rules for the four main Grand Alliances - death armies for instance had the now classic 6+ ward save and a handful of thematic artefacts - but if you wanted more interesting, detailed, and powerful faction rules you needed to restrict your army to a particular faction within your Grand Alliance.

Grand Alliance: Death (Compendium: Vampire Counts version 2)

The first major faction books for Age of Sigmar, released before the general's handbook or even many battletomes, were the paperback 'Grand Alliance' books. These were meant to replace the Compendiums, collecting and slightly revising the warscroll rules within, and when the eventual Grand Alliance allegiance rules were introduced these were the main books to draw from for them. Grand Alliance: Death was, by a wide margin, the smallest of these tomes, as it only included the warscrolls from the Vampire Counts Compendium, the Tomb Kings model line having been discontinued at this point. Tomb Kings units from their PDF compendium were still technically 'Death' units, they had the keyword, so generic 'Death' allegiance armies all or partially made up of Tomb King units continued to appear throughout the edition, but this was the first step towards portraying the undead as they would exist in the Age of Sigmar game, and it's more notable for first snippits of fluff and lore and setting info than it is for rules, which again were mostly just a reprint of the existing Vampire Count compendium, just with a couple old special characters or discontinued models removed. It was here that we first started to hear about sepulchral deathrattle kingdoms & hordes of cannibal ghouls lost to corruption and madness.

Eventually we would see the introduction of Allegiance Rules, including faction traits, command traits, and artefacts. Grand Alliance: Death had some particularly noteworthy examples, including an enchanted ring that could spare one of your heroes from death and the Red Thirst which could dramatically increase your general's melee threat. The most enduring element of these rules, however, had to be the 6+ ward save for undead units within range of their heroes, something every subsequent set of undead faction rules in Age of Sigmar has had in one form or another.

Flesh Eater Courts

The second major shake up to the undead in Age of Sigmar, after the phase out of the Tomb Kings, was splitting off the Flesh Eater Courts into their own 'mini faction' - an allegiance with only a tiny handful of units. Mini factions were all the rage at the time, whether they were entirely new AoS factions that were released with only a few kits like the Fyreslayers, or some subset of an oldhammer faction shaved off into its own separate thing, like the Bonesplitters from Orruks in general or the Beastclaw Raiders from the rest of the Ogors. Flesh Eater Courts was thankfully the only Death faction to get this poor treatment, though unlike most of the other Oldhammer sub-subfactions to suffer this they have neither been meaningfully expanded since then (as the Gloomspite gits have) nor rolled back into their parent faction (as the Bonesplitters, Beastclaws, and Pestilens clan were).

Regardless, the Flesh Eater Courts were a faction with fantastic lore and personality - the idea of mad cannibal ghouls who imagine themselves to be noble knights and squires is very compelling - but with rules and models that just don't bring that vision to life, mostly due to the inadequate range. They had some fast units, some outflanky hordes, some aggressive monster riding heroes, and some decent healy support heroes. If I remember correctly, this first outing also heavily leaned on some powerful warscroll battalions. Their first battletome predated proper allegiance rules, so they didn't have any of the delusion rules to try to bring their lore to life, though later generals handbooks did introduce those (remember when battletome updates of this sort were in the easily to find generals handbooks instead of scattered in random white dwarf issues?), which helped. And they weren't entirely without new units - though the only new units they did receive were ones the writers could make up out of existing boxes. The ghoul king on terrorgheist, except on a zombie dragon instead, or crypt horror bodies + vargheist arms to make crypt flayers.

Even with existing kits stretched out in this way, the limited model range was still painful. They didn't have actual models for their support heroes, so you were supposed to just paint a regular trooper different, but then you couldn't use the rest of the box since units could only be fielded in multiples of box size. You were still stuck with a resin model for the Varghulf, one of their key utility & beatstick pieces. There were no unique named heroes, which left the faction without any compelling individuals to represent them in the overall game narrative. And since all the models were oldhammer holdovers that predated the delusion lore, none of them even tried to convey the faction's compelling new personality. And all of these are problems that persist to this day. The FEC were and are a fantastic conceptual idea and often an effective and interesting army to play mechanically, but all of that is held back by the inadequate model range.

Soulblight (but not Gravelords)

The Flesh Eaters, with their stand alone battletome, weren't the only Death subfaction to get their own allegiance rules in the General's handbook. But with so few units to work with, having only the Vampire Counts range to draw on, the other Death subfactions to get that treatment weren't particularly noteworthy, with the exception of the Soulblight. A pure vampire army without any necromancers, skeletons, or zombies; relying on ultra-elite blood knights or vargheists as their only battleline, Soulblight armies were generally so badly outnumbered that they just couldn't play the objective control game that was the heart of Age of Sigmar even back in post-GHB first edition. But they were a distinctive army, and notable for trying to reintroduce a streamlined version of the bloodline rules, which were central to the Vampire Counts faction identity back in oldhammer days but had been completely dropped by the Compendium and later Grand Alliance rules.

As niche and frankly non-competitive as pure Soulblight armies were, they none the less had a following, and also a place in the narrative, as some black library outings had already introduced 'noble' vampire clans who battled the forces of chaos in order to protect the mortal livestock who worshipped them. When the 'Soulblight Gravelords' were announced, there was a core following of Soulblight players who thought this pure vampire army concept was getting fleshed out into a proper stand alone faction, and were quite disappointed when it turned out that the actual Gravelord battletome was just the fourth rebranding of the Vampire Count Compendium.

Still, while the concept suggested by the Soulblight allegiance has at this point faded away, it was none the less an interesting footnote in the evolution of undead faction rules in Age of Sigmar as one of the roads not taken.

The Wraith Fleet

In addition to battletomes and general's handbooks, another source of faction defining allegiance rules throughout Age of Sigmar's lifetime has been campaign supplements. A notable early example, and one of the more compelling box sets of this type, was the Fyrestorm box, which introduced a detailed map campaign system for Age of Sigmar with a narrative focus on the Flamescar Plateau in Aqshy, the Realm of Fire. The campaign book included allegiance rules for a number of involved factions from the various Grand Alliances, most prominently from the order bastion of Hammerhall, one of several newly founded Cities of Sigmar. The only death faction included was the Wraith Fleet, which allowed Vampires, Necromancers, Skeletons, and Ghosts (basically everything in Grand Alliance: Death minus Tomb Kings, Flesh Eaters, and Zombies), with allegiance rules that allowed these units to deploy from any board edge mid game, representing units jumping down into the battle from floating ghost ships.

The faction, while niche and obscure, had an interesting and tactical play style. Narratively, as far as I'm aware anyway, the Wraith Fleet and their vampyric captain Varkos Varactyr continue to raid the southern coastline of the Great Parch continent in Aqshy, but while their mechanical concepts and play style persist in the Legion of Night subfaction of the Soulblight Gravelords, the narrative concept of ghost and vampire pirates are mostly just notable in representing another road not taken, one where different undead factions might have shared various types of undead like vampires, skeletons, & ghosts, and instead differentiated themselves with various themes layered on top - eg pirate undead, legionnary undead, etc.

Legions of Nagash (Compendium: Vampire Counts version 3)

The Legions of Nagash battletome was a significantly more exciting publication than you might expect given that, at its core, it's basically just the third time round for Compendium: Vampire Counts, with no new models and no new units and honestly not even that many changes to the warscrolls for existing units. But Legions of Nagash was more than just C:VC 3.0. It was arguably the first real second edition battletome, with in depth faction and subfaction rules, and significantly expanded lore sections. For many players, Legions of Nagash was the first detailed, bird's eye view of Shyish, of any of the Mortal Realms really. This was where the idea of what the Mortal Realms were and what it was like to live on them started coming together. For the undead, it was also the first really good explanation of the Undead command structure, of who the Mortarchs are now (as opposed to who they were in the Old World) and what their purpose was in Nagash's designs. Of how the various undead units fit into the lore and setting of Age of Sigmar specifically.

Parts of Legions of Nagash almost felt like a direct message to Death players - yes, you've been sidelined throughout Age of Sigmar to this point, but we promise that's about to change. And change was definitely in the air - Age of Sigmar, both the game and the setting, were finally finding their feet. Factions other than Khorne and Sigmar were actually doing things, promising a more interesting and interweaving narrative. The Mortal Realms were starting to make sense as a place, however fantastical, setting a stage capable of hosting that narrative. The faction books were finally feeling like proper Army Books again, with context and lore being an equal partner to game rules. The rules were intricate enough to be interesting but with at least enough of an attempt at balance for them to be fun to play. Age of Sigmar had started off on the worst possible foot, but for those who had stuck through it all, or who were willing to come back and try again, things were finally looking up.

While Legions of Nagash warscrolls were little changed from those of the Vampire Counts Compendium, the implementation of 'summonable' units had been completely re-worked. Now instead of raising the dead with spells, you would select gravesites on the map and could use those as deployment points for summonable units mid game, reinforcing the idea that the previous summoning rules had been intended as an alternate deployment method. There were also several stacking ways to heal your summonable units, including your general being able to bring slain summonable units back as a command ability.

This eliminated the problematic old summoning spells and allowed for counter play, since your opponent could use their own units to cut off access to your gravesites, while still making the undead hordes extremely difficult to fully eliminate, especially while your general was on the table. They could also target and remove your heroes to prevent healing, or assassinate your general to prevent you from using the unit-reviving command ability. Nagash himself, despite being nearly a thousand points, was a real monster on the table, too. The mortarchs were a bit underwhelming, mostly due to being pretty fragile for their points, but powerful Vampire Lords on Zombie Dragons provided a strong generic monster hero option, and the undead support heroes were more effective than ever thanks to their new healing invocations and spell lores.

The subfactions - Nagash's Grand Host with its endless skeletal legions and elite Morghasts, Manfred's outflanking Legion of the Night, the elite vampires of Neferata's Legion of blood, and the necromantic adepts of Arkhan's Legion of Sacrament, were all compelling and effective, with their own play styles, command traits, and artefacts. The faction was fun to play, fun to write lists for, and fun to just read about. Finally, a better class of villain was making themselves known in the Mortal Realms, and everyone was excited about it, from tournament players to narrative gamers.

Legions of Nagash is still an interesting book to skim through. It deserves a place next to the WHFB 4th edition Undead book and 8th edition's End Times: Nagash in any Warhammer Undead afficionado's bookshelf. If you ever get the chance, pick it up.

Malign Portents

Following quickly on the release of Legions of Nagash, and picking up directly from the narrative hooks that battletome introduced, the Malign Portents campaign & global event had the newly reinvigorated undead taking center stage in a campaign that pitted every other Grand Alliance in the game against the Grand Alliance of Death in a desperate bid to stop Nagash's Great Work. And despite everything, Death Won. Not just in the story either, Death won the global event as well. Given how few Death factions and players there were relative to the rest of the game, this is probably a sign of the event being rigged, but I choose to interpret it as even players of other factions calling in their victories for Nagash out of sheer boredom. Age of Sigmar had been nearly three years of generic khornate barbarians and faceless sigmarines bludgeoning each other, and Nagash's grand scheme offered the promise of a change in tone at least.

But the Malign Portents campaign was more than just a change of setting and antagonist. It also further expanded on the work the Legions of Nagash battletome had done in making Shyish a coherent and engaging setting. Where Legions of Nagash finally gave players a clear top down view - what a Mortal Realm was like, how it worked, how the most important divine figures in the Realm planned and thought and organized their forces, Malign Portents zoomed in for the opposite approach, a bottom up view of what life in Shyish looked like for individual mortals fighting and dying there. The campaign book itself was supplemented by a series of short stories published in White Dwarf and on the campaign website, stories that you can still read over on this post on the tga forums. They vary in quality, but for many Age of Sigmar players - those who either hadn't bothered engaging with Black Library content or who had been put off by some of the less well handled early Age of Sigmar fiction (not the fault of the writers, the studio gave them next to nothing to work with while also refusing to let them introduce concepts of their own), these short stories were the first time that any of the Mortal Realms started to make sense as a place and a setting and a backdrop full or people that they could engage with emotionally. Even the Stormcast Eternals finally had some depth, and some flaws, as we began to understand what the reforging process took from them, and the pitiless monsters they could be reduced to when reforged a few too many times.

There were no new faction rules in Malign Portents, but the campaign book is notable for the introduction of four 'herald' models, one for each Grand Alliance. Nagash's herald was the Knight of Shrouds, the very first new warhammer undead model since the End Times, and like the other heralds it was a preview of future releases coming in second edition. I still have mine. He looks great. Shame the infantry version isn't currently worth fielding, but when he was released he was a real monster, granting nearby nighthaunt units +1 to hit, which at the time allowed spirit hosts and hexwraiths to deal mortal wounds on hit rolls of 5+. With the close of the Malign Portents campaign, and the culmination of Nagash's Great Work, Age of Sigmar second edition was right around the corner. The Knight of Shrouds promised that this time the Undead would not be left on the sidelines.

Age of Sigmar 2nd edition

If Age of Sigmar 1st edition's release had looked more like Age of Sigmar 2nd edition, a lot of oldhammer fantasy armies might have been spared the fate of ebay, garbage can, or worse. A game you could play! A setting you could comprehend! A narrative with forward momentum, driven by engaging characters with conflicting motivations and interweaving plots! And at the center of it all was Nagash and the Undead Legions. This was our time to shine, and shine we did.

Malign Sorcery

AoS 2e released alongside a brand new expansion, Malign Sorcery, which introduced the concept of Endless Spells to the game - powerful spells with ongoing effects, their own models, and a points cost to include them in your army. The difficult-to-control nature of endless spells left many of them without much of a place in competitive play, but a few did make their mark. The Malign Sorcery supplement also introduced new lores of magic for each of the Mortal Realms which your spellcasters could access depending on where a particular game was taking place.

While the supplement overall was a strong boost to all wizards going into second edition, there was one wizard in particular best positioned to take this supplement's rules and run with them, and that of course was Nagash. With his eight casts per hero phase Nagash's only difficult when it came to spellcasting was running out of useful spells to cast, and with Malign Sorcery in effect that was no longer a concern. Plus the new Umbral Spellportal granted Nagash's signature Hand of Dust a terrifying reach.

Legions of Nagash + Soul Wars

The starter box for Age of Sigmar 2nd edition was Soul Wars, pitting Stormcast Eternals of the newly introduced Sacrosanct Chamber against a horde of Nighthaunts unleashed by the Necroquake. The box contents itself were... ok, the models looked good, but the actual contents of the Nighthaunt half of the box were questionable at best. Four Grimghasts when they can only be legally fielded in multiples of 10? A Spirit Torment without any Chainghasts, when Chainghasts themselves would only be made available in a box that already included another Spirit Torment, rendering the starter box torment redundant?

But whatever, that's neither here nor there. The important thing for our purposes is that, while it was obvious Nighthaunts were going to be their own faction, that faction and battletome would be released a month or two later than the Soul Wars box. How were people supposed to play with these new ghostly models in the mean time? The solution GW's devs landed on was an FAQ that officially added all the new Nighthaunt units from the Soul Wars box to the Legion of Nagash faction, and by Nagash's bones, was that a mistake.

The Legions of Nagash book was already quite strong for its time, particularly thanks to powerful allegiance abilities and stacking character buffs that all interacted with the Summonable Keyword. So when Soul Wars added two new summonable units to the faction, the durable cheap chaff chainrasp hordes and the semi-elite scythe flailing grimghast reapers, this was a huge boost to the Legions' power. Grimghasts especially. We heard you liked grave guard already, but what if they were twice as fast, and flying, and had reach, and a real armor save - ethereal to boot - for exactly the same points cost per model? Things got out of hand fast, and soon Nagash + Spellportals + Grimghasts + maybe a necro or vamp support hero was dominating all the top tables. Multiple tournaments ended in Nagash + Grimghast mirror matches.

The correct answer to this problem would have been to rescind the FAQ adding Soul Wars units to Legions of Nagash once the Nighthaunt battletome was out. At that point, LoN players could still run them as allies if they really wanted to, without having a bunch of toxic interactions with LoN summonable rules. Instead, GW cranked the points cost of Grimghasts way, way up, making it difficult to effectively field them alongside the near-thousand-point Nagash. This was a huge shame since they really weren't unreasonable within the Nighthaunt faction proper, which had far less support for the summonable keyword.

In some ways we're still paying for this mistake even today. In particular the significantly nerfed new rules for Nagash feel like they're coming from devs who where snakebit by the early days of second edition going out of their way to make sure the newly legal presence of Nagash in Nighthaunt armies wouldn't lead to a repeat of those days. Even so, while it wasn't balanced, and had lingering negative effects going forward, I have to say that as an undead fan, after the long dry spell that was Age of Sigmar 1st edition, it was nice to see Nagash winning big, not just in the lore but on the table as well.


Following close on the Soul Wars box set was the new Nighthaunt battletome, with an entire new range of ghostly horrors to add to the small handful of oldhammer holdover ghosts. Taken alongside the Knight of Shrouds that had foreshadowed them, these were the first new undead models in all of age of sigmar, and made for quite a debut. The new nighthaunts had a strongly unified aesthetic - leering skulls, spindly limbs, hunched shrouded forms trailing into nothing, the occasional banshee unit with veils instead of shrouds or roses in their hair. The new ghosts looked good, and their empty bodies connected to their bases with just a few trailing whisps of smoke really pushed the boundries of what Games Workshop's figure production was capable of - though at the cost of leaving some models a bit fragile or wobbly.

The Lore for the new faction was also fantastic. As with Legions of Nagash before it, the Nighthaunt battletome devoted fully half it's pages to lore, adding further detail to the Realm of Shyish - in particular fleshing out now the afterlives used to function before Nagash and his Necroquake. And where the new Nighthaunt models had a unified aesthetic, the lore for their units had a unified theme - the cruel Irony of Nagash. Generals who had betrayed their men were rewarded in death with command of ghostly legions. Healers of the sick and dying were punished by turning their hands into scything talons that could only kill and maim. Murderers who, in Nagash's mind, were too reserved and circumspect in their crimes were blindfolded so they could only kill at random. Prisoners who prayed for the release of death were punished for the hubris of thinking that death should serve them, rather than Nagash alone, with an eternity in chains. Each of these punishments not only demonstrated Nagash's cruel and petty sense of humor, but also his calculating frugality - the nighthaunts didn't just suffer for the sake of suffering, their punishments inevitably turned them into tools and weapons to serve Nagash's ambitions. The Great Necromancer wasn't even a unit in the second edition Nighthaunt Battletome, yet it did more to flesh out his personality than even the Legions of Nagash book.

The crown jewel of Nighthaunt lore was their brand new Mortarch, Lady Olynder, who had suffered one of the worst of Nagash's ironic punishments - in life she had feigned grief for the husband she had assassinated in her rise to power, so in death she was forced to suffer the sorrows of all the Mortal Realms. Yet her tenacity and ambition persisted into undeath, and she turned her punishment into a weapon against her enemies. In this way Olynder is the personal embodiment of everything the faction stands for, making her one heck of a compelling faction leader. As the first new Mortarch for Age of Sigmar, she really hit the mark, fully earning her place next to characters with decades of history inherited from the Old World. She wasn't the only new special character either - where the undead to this point had been headlined by Nagash, Arkhan, Neferata, and Mannfred - all oldhammer holdovers who had to be grafted on to the Age of Sigmar setting, Olynder, Kurdoss, and Reikenor were brand new faces that helped breathe new (un)life into Age of Sigmar's setting, rather than calling back to Warhammer Fantasy.

Rules-wise, the Nighthaunts were a bit of a mixed bag. They had some compelling faction rules - in particular, half the army could deep strike, and whenever one of their units successfully charged, if they rolled a 10+ on the charge dice (regardless of the actual distance moved), they could immediately pile in and attack in a 'Wave of Terror'. Several of their units were respectable combatants to begin with, making Wave of Terror attacks a real threat. Grimghasts were battleline that hit hard and with reach. Spirit hosts could deal mortal wounds on 6's to hit. Bladeghast revenants hit hard and could retreat and charge in the same turn, letting them fish for those bonus combat rounds over and over. And the damage from these units was supplemented by a variety of support heroes, who could improve their hit rolls, or wound rolls, or heal models, or grant extra attacks. And the whole faction was fast (at least movement 6), and flying, striking a dramatic contrast to the usual slow, implacable advance of traditional warhammer undead armies. On a narrative level, the nighthaunt battletome was incredibly effective at conveying their place and playstyle as Nagash's shock troops and terror weapons, a supernatural storm that appearing from nowhere, crashing on defenders who had to endure the gale before they could even think about fighting back.

In a competitive sense, though, the army had problems. Between deep strike (with its requirement to deploy more than 9" from the enemy) and the Wave of Terror, the army was highly dependent on long bomb charges. Make those charges, and you were tearing the enemy apart before they could react. But if you fail those charges, your units are left exposed for the enemy to pick off at their leisure. This led to a sort of 'roll big or go home' play style that could be fun in casual contexts but made it very difficult to sustain success over multiple rounds of a tournament.

And that was just the faction rules, the individual units had problems of their own, mostly in the form of redundancy. The heroes of the faction were all small, relatively fragile support pieces, up to and including their mortarch, Olynder. Nothing with the wound count and defenses to take much punishment. Nothing that could do appreciable damage in its own right. This made the faction extremely vulnerable to ranged damage which could easily snipe out those support heroes, regardless of which ones you take. The units also suffered from considerable redundancy, particularly in the form of semi-elite melee units. There was a lot of overlap between grimghasts, bladegheists, and dreadscythes especially. The faction had some decent chaff, some ok melee beatsticks, and some effective but fragile support heroes, but for all the units you had to choose from there wasn't much else. No monsters. No appreciable ranged support. No anvils.

As a result, Nighthaunts as a faction lacked in build versatility, leaving them at the mercy of their faction's core play style. You prayed to the dice gods for long bomb charges, or you scooped. Frustratingly, you could arguably field a better nighthaunt army, or at least a more reliable one, out of the Legions of Nagash battletome by using the Nighthaunt units from Soul Wars as described above, taking advantage of the staying power provided by LoN's grave sites and Deathly Invocations. This was especially the case once Grimghasts, otherwise the strongest battleline option for Nighthaunt armies, suffered a dramatic points increase meant to reign in Nagash, making them hard to justify fielding without all the extra support that Legions of Nagash heaped on the summonable keyword.

The initial Nighthaunt battletome also lacked any subfactions, both in the lore and in the rules. This is perhaps unsurprising, since the entire faction was being built from the ground up. The writers and rules devs needed to define their core identity before they could add a bunch of branching variants, I guess. Still, though, that's one potential avenue

I want to stress that the Nighthaunt rules weren't terrible. They did fine in casual contexts, where their highly dicey play style could win any given game, and win or lose played out in a highly cinematic and narratively engaging way. It's just in the tournament scene, where winning armies need to perform reliably in multiple games in a row, where they suffered. But tournaments are where overall community impressions of what is good and what is bad take root, and tournament performance said that the new Nighthaunts, the first real new undead faction in Age of Sigmar, and one of the starter box factions of the edition, had problems.

NH Supplemental Rules (Mournghul, Mortality Glass, Emerald Host, BR:Be'lakor)

Over the length of second edition, we saw repeated attempts by GW's devs to address those problems. But as these patches were all outside of the battletome, they inevitably became pretty obscure after their release, and inevitably someone at the studio would decide that it wasn't good for a starter box faction to rely on obscure non-book material to be fielded at full effect, then down would come the nerf hammer.

Forgeworld had the Mournghul, an oldhammer holdover monster, which was given a powerful set of rules - heavy hitter, hard to kill, dangerous debuff aura - at a competitive points cost. One of the faction's most obvious gaps - no monster units - wasn't an issue at all for any player who knew where to find the Mournghul's model and rules. For a while the Mournghul really did help prop up Nighthaunt armies, but it was a pretty obscure unit, and so eventually the anti-obscurity dev came in with multiple nerfs, including points increases and the loss of some of signature abilities.

About mid-way through second edition, Games Workshop released an alternative Guardian of Souls as one of their limited edition store anniversary models. As an alternative to the normal healing lantern, this model could be assembled with a 'Mortality Glass', which gave it a new signature spell and a 9" aura reducing enemy charge ranges to 1d6. While this didn't help with the faction's weakness to shooting - this guardian of souls was as snipable as the normal one, the Mortality Glass did make it much more difficult for enemy melee armies to charge in and eliminate deep striking nighthaunt units that failed their initial charge attempts. The new spell gave a friendly nighthaunt unit within a huge range a free move during your hero phase, and explicitly allowed the target unit to charge again in the same turn if it used this move to retreat from combat - an amazing spell on its own even before you consider the obvious synergy with Wave of Terror. Naturally the Guardian of Souls with Mortality Glass instantly became a staple unit in competitive nighthaunt armies, in some cases even run in multiples, as both capitalized on the major faction strengths and mitigated one of their worst weaknesses. But a couple years later anti-obscurity dev decided that it was a bad thing for a battletome army to rely on a must-take unit that GW didn't even sell anymore, so the Guardian of Souls was schuffled off to Legends before being deleted entirely, and now it's just a different model for the normal Guardian of Souls.

Later on in second edition, we began to see 'Tome Celestial' articles in white dwarf, detailing a particular army at large in the Realms. These articles typically included some extra rules to go with them, often in the form of a handful of Warscroll Battalions. The Tome Celestial for the Nighthaunt included the Emerald Host. Where the Legion of Grief was Olynder's official army when carrying out the orders of Nagash, the Emerald Host was a special Nighthaunt Procession that she would send on missions of personal importance. As expected, the lore write up for the Emerald Host included a few new Warscroll Battalions for Nighthaunt players, and the most notable of these was an especially cheap formation, only requiring a couple units of hexwraiths with a minimal additional fee for the battalion, that made the hexwraiths bodyguards, allowing them to take wounds for your general. Since the fragility of Nighthaunt heroes was one of the factions key flaws, this formation was suddenly a very big deal. In particular, Lady Olynder herself finally started to see some play.

Eventually the Emerald Host rules were obsoleted, but unlike some of the previous Nighthaunt Fixes the bodyguard hexwraiths weren't dropped entirely or nerfed out of existance, but rather carried forward in a new form into the next attempt at patching the factions - Nighthuant Procession subractions introduced in Broken Realms: Be'Lakor, in the closing days of second edition. BR: Be'Lakor brought new rules for the dreadsythe harridans, a new support hero in the Crulghast Cruciator. The harridan's were much improved, though they were still a semi-elite ethereal melee beatstick and thus somewhat redundant with Grimghasts and Bladegheists. The Cruciator was a strong support hero, with a good aura buff and absolutely made its way into many Nighthaunt armies, but the faction had if anything an overabundance of this sort of hero already so wasn't about to change things on a fundamental level.

More compelling were the two new subfactions, Olynder's Emerald Host - replacing the Tome Celestial rules - and Reikenor's Condemned. The most notable aspect of the first was replacing the battleline hexwraith battalion with an allegiance trait that just made Emerald Host Hexwraithes bodyguards for your general by default - plus gave them an extra attack on the charge to boot. The faction also got to curse an enemy hero at the start of the game, reducing their armor save for the duration, representing the Emerald Host's roll in enacting Olynder's personal vendettas. Where the Emerald Host were fast cavalry assassins and bodyguards letting you invest in a big expensive general (such as Olynder herself), the Condemned were a hoardy infantry force, granting additional movement and attack rerolls to chaffy chainrasp hordes while within aura range of their Spirit Torment ant Chainghast jailors. How that connected to Reikenor exactly - a deadly arcane assassin mounted on a lightning-fast ghostly pegasus, is a bit beyond me. Not that it mattered much - the Emerald Host was by far the more popular of the two, as that bodyguard rule answered one of the faction's key weaknesses while the Condemned took what hoardy-leaning builds of the existing nighthaunt game plan already did and just did it a bit more. Not really the game changer Nighthaunt most nighthaunt fans were looking for. Still, Reikenor is a great model and had great rules, so there was absolutely a group of core fans who were sad when the Condemned were later dropped.

But that's getting into 3rd edition stuff.

Forbidden Power & the Legion of Grief

Not long into second edition we saw its first campaign set, Forbidden Power, detailing Olynder's seige of Lethis. The box set was mostly a way to introduce new Endless Spells, but the campaign supplement included rules for a new allegiance - the Legion of Grief - which was basically Nighthaunts, but with the faction rules from Legions of Nagash. Clearly the devs were throwing up their hands and saying 'if players would rather run nighthaunts with gravesites instead of wave of terror, then go ahead'. Still, the Legion of Grief was notable in comparison to the other Nighthaunt Patches in that the anti-obscurity dev didn't get around to killing it until 3rd edition's release. Maybe the Legion of Grief got to live because the Forbidden Power supplement stayed in print - after all, it was still the source of a bunch of Endless Spells that many factions were still using.

Regardless, the Legion remained a legal faction for all of 2nd edition, joining the speed and hitting power of nighthaunt units with the resilience and recursion of grave sites and endless legions, and even threw in a handful of LoN units to boot, including Nagash as a big monster/hero/general and necromancers as another support hero option, with their potent Danse Macabre spell. Was the Legion of Grief better than Nighthaunts proper? It's hard to say. More reliable, certainly. But they didn't quite capture that same shock assault / ethereal storm feel that the Nighthaunts own rules so effectively conveyed.

So there was maybe a bit of an open question on which version of Age of Sigmar ghosts would get carried forward into the next edition. GW had a set of undead faction rules in AoS that mostly worked, and a set of undead faction rules in AoS that kind of didn't. Would they persist in trying to fix the Nighthaunts proper, despite several unsuccessful attempts, or give up and just replace them with 'generic warhammer undead: ooops all ghosts'?

Flesh Eater Courts 2e

My primary complaint about the 1st edition FEC was unchanged by the upgrade to their second edition battletome. The only expansions to the model range were the faction terrain, endless spells, and the abhorrant archregent which, while a great model, mostly just served to obsolete the existing plastic ghoul king on foot. None of what the faction desperately needed - no stand alone models for the courtiers (though basic ghoul courtiers could at least steal models from the Underworlds warband), no plastic varghulf, no named heroes to lend the faction personality and a voice in the overall setting narrative, nothing that really brought the delusions concept into focus.

What the 2nd edition FEC battletome did have, at least for a while, was power. Lots of power. Amazing allegiance rules, amazing subfaction rules (for both the generic delusions and the named grand courts). From double-attacking feast day armies to blisteringly fast blisterskin flayer spam to abhorrant courts taking turns on the bone throne to churn out free summons (a big deal since you really wanted to save command points for the double-attack) to strike first double-attacking gristlegore monster mashes, 2e FEC had a variety of extremely competitive builds on release. Several have been subsequently nerfed and the rest fallen behind due to power creep or the edition changeover, for several months Death armies were once again absolutely dominating second edition top tournament tables, while giving feelbad beatdowns to more casual gamers at local shops. Even going into 3rd edition, FEC were probably the Death army best positioned to take advantage of that season's focus on monster units.

And for all I complain about the lacking model range, they're very easy to paint - just skin, bone, fur, gore, dot the eyes & do up the bases. They take particularly well to contrast paints & a splash of Blood for the Blood God. FEC 2.0 were and are a tournament players faction - tactical, competitive, cheap to buy, & quick to paint up to at least a basic tabletop standard. You can throw a tournament ready FEC army together over a single free weekend after purchasing little more than a couple start collecting boxes, and while they're not top tier anymore it's still very possible to do well with them.

Ossiarch Bonereapers

The second brand new undead faction & model range to be introduced in second edition, the Ossiarch Bonereapers represented the culmination of all of Nagash's (largely retroactive) schemes, and a physical embodiment of the Great Necromancer's vision for the mortal realms, making them a fairly big event release for undead fans. A legion of disciplined, durable, elite troopers in bone mold armor and wielding cursed weapons. Aesthetically, the Bonereapers drew a mixed reaction. Narratively their soldiers were intelligent and independant, with personality and purpose and ambition - albeit wholly dedicated to the will of Nagash - not the mindless skeletal automotons that filled out the ranks of the previous Undead Legions. The sculptors chose to depict this by giving them face-masks of shaped bone rather than featureless undifferentiated skulls. These masks displayed a variety of expressions from rictus grins to angry scowels, and in some players opinions they effectively portrayed the Ossiarch's unique vitality and personality. Others, however, found them to be goofy. There is a definite toyetic quality to the line. They would fit better fighting He-Man's friends across the rocky wastelands of Eternia than the armies of Karl Franz on the muddy battlefields of the Old World. Again, many players found them fun and exciting, myself included, but that opinion was far from universal.

The lore of the Bonereapers focused on the Tithe of Bone - it's right there in the name. Where the Nighthaunt's core theme of punishment highlighted Nagash's bitter and ironic sense of humor, the Bonereaper's tithe conveyed his undying patience and implacable will, grinding his enemies to dust over a span of generations with an army as unyielding and inevitable as death itself. And just as with the Nighthaunts, the Ossiarch Bonereapers brought us a trio of brand new named characters to embody this concept, none more effectively than the Ossiarch's own brand new mortarch, Katakros. Where the Bonereapers as a whole represented Nagash's vision for a perfect undead army, with all the vitality and intelligence of life preserved and all the flaws and failings of mortality meticulously removed, Katakros is that perfection honed to a razor's edge. Everything Nagash values - strength, cunning, creativity, patience, pride, hatred for the living - and absolutely nothing else. No tragic flaws, no lingering attachments, no festering regrets, no ambition but to serve Nagash and crush his enemies in battle.

Rules-wise, the Bonereapers were designed to be as implacable as Nagash's will. Extremely resilient - combining strong armor saves with a bit of traditional undead-style recursion - but also very slow. Their elite nature means Bonereaper armies tended to be small and compact, relatively few units, relatively few models per unit apart from their core infantry. They did have some faster units - flying morghasts, stalwart deathrider cavalry, & the lanky, four-armed Stalkers - but while these were fast for Ossiarchs they weren't setting any speed records in the game as a whole, and they lacked the numbers needed to seriously contest objectives. That was the job of the Mortek Guard, and these guys were faction defining. Incredibly tough, especially in melee thanks to their command ability, reasonably killy, with small bases allowing for compact formations and concentrated attacks. Mortek Guard were and are faction defining, and remain one of the toughest infantry units in the game, whether you're counting per point or per model.

The faction also boasted a handful of strong support heroes - none more potent in terms of force multiplication than Katakros himself - and some effective support units, including the massive Mortek Crawler catapult. This impressive centerpiece gave the Bonereapers an ability to threaten targets at range - particularly small wizards and enemy support heroes cowering behind their lines, that no other undead army in Age of Sigmar had. The Crawler could also pick out individual models from units to break coherency or drop a pile of mortal wounds on hoardy units with low bravery. Two Crawlers quickly became a staple of Bonereaper lists. The other big support piece was the Gothizaar Harvester - its name foreshadowing that the End Gate's infamous fortress would soon be changing hands - sort of a bone giant + corpse cart in one, simultaneously smashing opponents and collecting their bones for future use.

Unlike the Nighthaunts, the Bonereapers were favored with a selection of subfactions right out of the gate. The lore of these factions helped characterize the diversity of personalities displayed by the Bonereapers as well as the variety of tasks to which they were assigned, from the Ivory Host who barely concealed the brutality of the Ghurish beast-bones from which they were constructed beneath a thin veneer of martial pride to the silent menace of the magic-devouring Null Myriad, built from the bones of Arkhan's Legion of Sacrament and tasked by the First Mortarch with disabusing any fools who thought oto contest Nagash's dominion over the arcane. Rules-wise, however, the only subfaction worth mentioning was the Petrifex Elite, with an army-wide +1 to the Ossiarch's already strong armor saves and a command ability to enhance the rend of their weapons, the only other Ossiarch subfaction to see serious play was Katakros's own Mortis Praetoreans, and even then only when led by the Mortarch of the Necropolis himself. Nagash and Arkhan, abandoning their previous Legions, joined the new Ossiarch Bonereapers faction - arkhan even getting an improved warscroll making him a triple caster. Notably, both benefitted from the subfaction rules of whatever army they joined, granting them added durability in the Petrifex as well. In OBR they could even heal themselves with their own invocations.

The petrifex elite were so oppressive in early showings that they eventually brought a heavy nerf hammer down on themselves, dramatically reducing their effectiveness. This would eventually prove to be an excessive change, and was partially reversed in 3rd edition, but at the time Covid was in full swing and global lockdowns meant there were no major tournament results to draw from in judging the results of the change. By the time the competitive community was back up and running at anything close to full steam, 3rd edition was already right around the corner.

Speaking of third edition, in many ways the Ossiarch Bonereapers were a test bed for ideas that would get folded into the core rules going forward, particularly when it came to command abilities. Examples include having more command abilities to choose from, unit champions being able to use command abilities on their own units, and players getting more command points to work with each game round, while being unable to carry unused points forward into latter turns. For the remainder of second edition, playing Ossiarch Bonereapers felt like having access to core rules unavailable to your opponent, like you were playing AoS 2.5 while everyone else was stuck in AoS 2.0. Unfortunately for Bonereaper players, that feeling was not going to persist into the new edition.

Other than the Petrifex nerf, the Bonereapers didn't see much rules development in second edition after their release. They had prominent narrative roles in multiple campaigns - a successful incursion into the Eight Points in Wrath of the Everchosen, and a less successful invasion of Hysh in Broken Realms: Teclis. But while these campaign supplements introduced a fair amount of new rules, none of them were for the Bonereapers. There was a Tome Cellestial for Vokmortian's personal retinue of Tithe collectors within the Mortis Praetoreans which introduced a handful of new Warscroll Battalions - however all of these battalions required you to field Vokmortian himself, and none of which were good enough to make doing so an attractive prospect.

Soulblight Gravelords (Compendium: Vampire Counts version 4)

Legions of Nagash closed out 1st edition, set the standard for AoS faction books going into 2nd edition, defined the Realm of Shyish and the undead threat in Age of Sigmar, and successfully rebranded the old Vampire Counts line, giving it an entirely new flavor and grounding within the Age of Sigmar. That's quite a legacy to live up to, so the Soulblight Gravelords battletome, the 4th repeat version and third major rebranding of the Compendium: Vampire Count, had a lot riding on it. Especially with all the major developments in the Realm of Death throughout the course of 2nd edition leaving so much open ended. In a post-Nighthaunt, post-Ossiarch Shyish, what function did lesser corporeal undead like zombies and skeletons even serve? Wouldn't the Legions of Nagash been the first subjected to the Bonereaper's Tithe? If the Bonereapers were Nagash's new legions then what were the Legions of Nagash? What were the ever-ambitious vampire mortarchs Neferata and Manfred doing now that Teclis and his Lumineth had taken Nagash and Arkhan out of the picture, however temporarily. Teclis had stilled the echoes of the Necroquake, but what did that mean for the Shyish Nadir? It seemed unlikely that the classic Vampire-Counts style undead were going away, but their next battletome would have to answer all of these questions AND deliver a fun and functional set of faction mechanics.

The Soulblight Gravelords battletome were more than up to the task. Not only were classic style warhammer undead staying in Age of Sigmar, they got a huge wave of new model kits updating out of date oldhammer boxes to prove they would be sticking around long term. New skeletons, zombies, and dire wolves. A fantastic new mounted wight king. The long wished for plastic blood knights! And none of the divisive Bonereaper toyetic feel, the new Gravelords were serious tabletop miniatures for serious tabletop miniature wargamers. Apart from some scale creep, these new models would have looked right at home in the most oppressive, comparatively-low-fantasy battlefields of the old world. Many of the models - in particular the spectacular new mounted wight king, incorporated specific call backs to old Warhammer Fantasy models and artwork. The mythic fantasy / 80's cartoon aesthetic of the Bonereapers wasn't going anywhere, and those who liked that sort of thing might enjoy the monstrous new Vengorian Lord, but those who preferred a more grounded take on their spooky, scary skeletons were well served here.

The lore was also fantastic, bringing satisfying answers to all the major open questions. The aftershocks of the Necroquake had been stilled, but the Nadir remained, ever threatening to consume the lands that boardered it. No more would new afterlives form on the edges of Shyish or fade away quietly when forgotten, the Nadir was now the inevitable end of all souls, and nothing Teclis or any other god could do would change that. Nagash and Arkhan *had* ground up their Undead Legions to make more Ossiarchs, and the bonereapers in general were of the opinion that lesser corporeal undead *didn't* have any place in Nagash's vision going forward. As such, they had imposed their Tithe on neighboring lands of the dead with, if anything, even greater ruthlessness than they had on the living.

In response, Wight Kings with their deathrattle kingdoms and Death Mages with their deadwalker hordes alike had turned to the most powerful non-Ossiarch undead around for protection - the Lords and Ladies of Soulblight Aristocracy. Vampires, able to infiltrate and spread through mortal societies, or raise massive armies from a field of corpses overnight, still had use to Nagash, still had the Soulblight Mortarchs to intercede on their behalf, and had the physical power to forestall the Tithe if that intercession failed. As for the Soulblight Mortarchs themselves, with pressure from the Ossiarch Empire threatening their holdings and Nagash's boney hands temporarily off their leashes, they immediately moved to fortify and expand their own territories, bringing them into conflict with both the Ossiarchs and each other. That in-fighting further divided power over the undead in Shyish, with ambitious vampires of Soulblight Dynasties both old and new rising up to claim dominions of their own. Broken Realms had been about the shattering of the Grand Alliances - Morathi vs. Sigmar, Be'Lakor vs. Archaon - and in the Soulblight Gravelords battletome we see first hand how Grand Alliance: Death had been the most thoroughly shattered of all. But there were exciting opportunities to be found in the wreckage as now any sufficiently powerful vampire lord could raise an army of the dead, conquer a city, and either found their own Dynasty or choke on their own failure - with Radukar's conquest and loss of Ulfenkarn presented as just one example.

In some ways the Soulblight Gravelords are even more dangerous than the Legions of Nagash had been. No, they didn't represent the same existential threat to the Mortal Realms as a whole, but the Legions of Nagash had been focused on Nagash's goals. If you didn't live in Shyish, then they weren't likely to trouble you directly. But the Soulblight Gravelords are a thousand disparate undead warlords, each looking to carve out their own individual legacy, and any one of them might show up to conquer your own city or settlement tomorrow, no matter how remote it may be.

The lore sections in Soulblight Gravelords established this new paradigm perfectly, and in addition set up the various Soulblight Dynasties that were now vying for power. Neferata's Legion of Blood and Mannfred's Legion of night returned, of course, and the Blood Knights of prince Vhordrai's Kastelai were elevated to a subfaction in their own right. These were joined by two new players - the volpine Vyrkos and the monstrous Avengorii. In contrast to most other battletomes, where subfactions are given relatively streamlined rules, each of these Soulblight Dynasties received their own special rules plus full sets of command traits and artefacts and at least one bespoke named character to represent them.

Though Nagash was still present, able to assert his authority over any of the subfactions, his personal Grand Host was gone, as was Arkhan's necromantic Legion of Sacrament. In the absence of the Grand Host, Neferata's Legion of Blood was made the new skeletons faction for some reason, and despite the Legion of Night having a decent artefact for necromancers and the Vyrkos having a bonus for vampyric spellcasters, there's really no suitable substitute for the Legion of Sacrament. No necromancy themed dynasty like the oldhammer Necrarchs. But while there are some gaps in the subfaction lineup, what is there is compelling and varied.

As for the overall allegiance rules, they were mostly a dramatically toned down version of the Legions of Nagash rules. Invocations could no longer be layered multiple times onto the same unit. Gravesites no longer provided healing at all, just alternate deployment spots and 6+ death ward bubbles. Endless Legions, instead of bringing back an entire summonable unit on demand, brought back only half and required a die roll to do even that, though at least it no longer required a command point or your general's presence. By the end of second edition Legions of Nagash were hardly the top ranked power faction they were at the start, so these nerfs might at first seem excessive, but the truth is that even when they weren't technically overpowered, the ability of Legions of Nagash to return even the most damaged units - even slain units entirely - to full strength was often a 'feels bad' moment for opponents, and these new faction rules captured the same narrative concepts without being quite so oppressive.

In exchange for weaker allegiance rules, many of the individual warscrolls in Legions of Nagash became much stronger in the transition to Soulblight Gravelords. Skeletons lost their bonus attacks for large units, but can now reanimate themselves mid combat phase. Zombies can overwhelm elite soldiers with massive numbers and the ability to deal a handful of mortal wounds. Blood Knights are fast, tough, cause a ton of damage on the charge, and can trample their way out of combat and charge right back in on the same turn. Vengorian Lords, including the Avengorii Queen Lauka Vai, are fast and points efficient beat sticks coupled with a debilitating debuff aura. For many units these were the first major warscroll revisions since Grand Alliance: Death, and while there are a couple duds (Black Knights are a bit drab, especially next to the stellar blood knights, and Vampire Lords losing the option to ride a steed and having their CA buff restricted to summonables just as Blood Knights were finally released in plastic was a tragedy), there are far more hits than misses. Soublight Gravelords thankfully didn't dominate early 3rd edition the way Legions of Nagash had dominated early 2nd, but their presance is always felt, and they bring with them a much healthier variety of competitive builds.

If there's one place where the Soublight Gravelords fall a little flat, its in the Vampires themselves. Not the special characters, they mostly work fine, even the Soulblight Mortarchs for maybe the first time in Age of Sigmar. But the generic Vampire Lord warscroll, while an effective enough utility hero, is pretty bland, probably the most bland it's been in AoS now that it's lost both its mounted & winged options and its bonus attack command ability now applies only to summonable units, not to any death unit. Those were unnecessary downgrades. And while the new subfactions each have their own set of artefacts, they don't do much to make generic vampire lords more compelling or to make you want to run multiples of them. Vampire Lords on Zombie Dragons remain pretty strong, but still kind of generic. What the Dynasty rules really wanted was a system of bloodline traits to make your generic vampire lords more interesting and varried. Oh, well. Maybe next time around.

Small complaints aside, it's really hard to overstate how significant the task of writing the Soulblight Gravelords battletome was, or how impressive the end result is. As with the Legions of Nagash before it, this is a battletome I recommend picking up to anyone interested in the undead in Age of Sigmar, regardless of whether you plan to play the faction yourself, and I will continue to hold onto and revisit my own copy long after it's replaced by future faction books in future editions of the game. It's also more than a little humorous to me how the Vampire Counts compendium has come full circle, to once again be founded on a handful of vampiric bloodlines and their hodge podge of miscellaneous undead minions. They really are the Vampire Counts once again, only now fully integrated into the Mortal Realms, not just the old world's leftovers, and I couldn't be happier for them.

AoS 3rd Edition

The changeover from Age of Sigmar 2nd edition to 3rd edition might at first glance seem smaller than the change frim 1st to 2nd, if you only look at the rules in their initially published states, but 1st edition changed considerably over the course of its lifespan, so the actual transition from 1st to 2nd edition was much less dramatic, at least in terms of the rules, than the transition from 2nd to 3rd. Perhaps feeling that slowly increasing army sizes was scaling the buy in cost out of reach of new players, the devs hobbled the hoard meta by removing 2nd edition's discounts for fielding units at max size and introducing a hard cap on reinforced units. Also, unit champions can issue command abilities now, and players refresh command points ever turn, and here are far more command abilities now, including game changing ones like redeploy. Also monsters and heroes have a pile of new abilities they can use. Also coherency restrictions are far more strict, resulting in hard times for 32mm and 40mm base units that don't have 2" melee reach. Also the generic grand alliance allegiances are gone, you have to play some more focused faction, though there are now a handful of generic command abilities, artefacts, and spells. Also, also, also.

Opinions on the rules changes varied pretty dramatically, though it must be said that the presentation of the rules is just objectively better - much clearer and more detailed, which a clear shift of emphasis from brevity (AoS 1st edition advertized its 6 page core rules like brevity alone was a virtue) to clarity, with more visual examples and numbered rules sections for easy cross-reference.

The mechanics weren't the only shift in focus for 3rd edition. There's also a change in the scope, scale, and perspective of the narrative. Second edition was a zoomed out, birds eye, big picture edition, concerned the the schemes and actions of gods playing out on the scale of entire Realms, accomodated by including distinct realm rules and spells for whichever of the mortal realms you might find yourself in right from the core rules. These rules have been dropped in 3rd edition - perhaps in part because they were considered unbalanced and often ignored in 2nd edition, but I don't think it's by chance that this coincides with a shift in the narrative, at least within the core book, to focus down in much more detail on a smaller stage - specific regions within Ghur, the Realm of Beasts, as opposed to all the Mortal Realms or even all of Ghur. There's also a focus in the core book on 'dawnbringer crusades' - caravans of azyrite mortals striking out from the few established cities of sigmar in an effort to found brand new settlements of order in the wilderness. It's all still very mythic in scope, very high fantasy, with these caravans of hundreds of mortals dragging floating islands by ropes and chains, with pre-built forts on top for them to sink into the ground as a starter settlement when they find a suitable location. But as epic and mythic as it is, the perspective is still that of the hopeful settlers pulling those ropes.

Rules wise, the smaller focus is matched by roughly 6 month 'seasons of war' in the form of alternating generals handbooks and narrative campaign books all focusing on particular regions. On the one hand, I like the focus and worms eye perspective. Less positively, it's difficult to find a reason for every faction in the game to be invested in these smaller & more personal battlefields.

The Fall of Nagash

Narratively, Nagash fell in Broken Realms: Teclis, but mechanically he didn't fall until a couple months into 3rd edition. At the start, he was set to be stronger than ever before, taking advantage of new heroic actions and monstrous rampages and the return of 1st edition style mystic shield. But then came the 'gods and heroes' pdf update, and suddenly we saw an all new nagash. There were many minor changes, but most notably his previous, overwhelmingly powerful command ability - battleshock immunity and reroll 1s to hit and save for the entire army until your next hero phase when you just use it again - was replaced with +1 to ward saves for a single death unit for a single phase. That's a good command ability, and a very rare effect, don't get me wrong, but it is several orders of magnitude less powerful than it was, especially for nagash himself who really wanted re-roll 1s on a 2+ armor save to make him durable enough to justify his colossal points cost, which notably did not go down in this update. The other major change was that nagash can now be fielded in any Death army - so FEC and Nighthaunts could now run Nagash if they wanted - but he never benefits from faction or subfaction rules, and doesn't even gain their keywords. He can still cast all the subfaction spells, but can no longer target himself with most of their buffs. He no longer gains durability as a member of the Petrifex Elite. Nighthaunt and OBR bodyguard units can no longer tank wounds for him. He can't heal himself (or be healed by other units) in OBR. He doesn't even get a 6+ Death Ward against regular wounds.

The bottom line is that the new Nagash does far less on the table, can't take advantage of synergies to increase his effectiveness, and is both considerably easier to wound and far harder to heal, making him much more fragile. His profiles and casting ability are still very impressive, but he's no longer worth anything close to his nearly thousand point cost. For the time being, Nagash has been relegated largely to display shelves. Arguably this isn't even inappropriate - he's taking a (well deserved) nap in the narrative as well, so if he disappears from the table top for a while that's not the end of the world. And the 3rd edition rules do favor monstrous heroes, so if his points come down enough we might even see him make a return before 4th edition is out.

2nd Edition Battletomes + Balance changes & White Dwarf Updates

The year and change since 3rd editions release has seen a relatively slow pace for new battletome releases, hampered both by various global shipping disruptions and by GW's active release schedule for other games. In order to help older books adapt to the new game, the devs have been pretty active in publishing various updates and expansions to the existing battletomes, whether in online PDFs or White Dwarf issues. These updates and expansions have been of varying quality, but there's usually at least one or two stand out changes that do improve the way the army plays. As the game's narrative shifts its focus from the Realm of Death to the Realm of Beasts, naturally most of the undead factions have been put on the back burner, forcing us to put more weight on these updates than Order, Chaos, or Destruction.

To be honest, the White Dwarf updates have been pretty underwhelming, and a paid magazine issue that then disappears into inaccessible archives, almost impossible for new players to find or even know to look for, is an absolutely atrocious format to deliver these expansions in. They should be free online PDFs, or if GW wants to charge for them then put them in the general's handbooks - books which are always on the shelf, easy to access, and that players are directed to look to for rule updates anyway. That said, while the White Dwarf updates are underwhelming and misguided, the issues they're in do include some great lore sections with a lot of nice details on what the factions and their subfactions have been up to more recently, so imo they're still well worth the purchase and read through if you're into that stuff. The relevant White Dwarf issues for Death factions are 471, 472, and 477.

OBR + updates

The Ossiarch Bonereapers have had a very tough transition into 3rd edition. In 2nd edition, their rules were clearly testing out some ideas for third - including more command points (discipline points, but same difference) that do more things, with more per battle round but not able to carry them from one round to another so you're forced to use them while you have them. In that way in particular, playing OBR in second edition was like playing an edition ahead of everyone else. In third edition, though, OBR don't have access to any of the new core command abilities, including fundamental stuff like redeploy to avoid charges, or re-roll charges to have a chance of still getting into melee after the opponent redeploys.

Worse, new restrictions on command abilities - can't use the same one twice in a phase, each individual unit can only issue and receive one command ability per phase - hit OBR very hard. Thankfully an errata/faq shortly after 3rd editions release allowed OBR to by pass the usual restriction against using the same ability multiple times in the same phase, but the limits of only issues or receiving one ability per unit per phase was still devastating. Their unique discipline points mechanic ment OBR was the faction that made the most use of stacking multiple command ability buffs or handing those buffs out to multiple units at a time - it wasn't uncommon in the past for a single Liege to pass +1 attack to multiple crawlers in the shooting phase, and then multiple mortek units in melee. Mortek Guard were never intimidating on their base stats and abilities, they were intimidating because once a unit hit melee it would be hit with +1 attack and +1 rend and re-roll saves all at the same time.

Without stacking command abilities, the entire OBR play style has been left floundering, and all the other armies in the game being blessed with better offense, better saves, etc has only tipped things further against the bonereapers.

So a lot was riding on the inevitable White Dwarf update, which came in issue 472. Unfortunately, most of the update was pretty forgettable. A couple new command abilities - one to heal stationary units not in combat which has has limited application in such a melee oriented army, one to let a hero and unit activate in the same time in melee which is completely worthless because OBR's biggest problem right now is that they can't use all of the various much more impressive combat phase command abilities they already have. It's worth noting that this exact ability has been added to other armies as something they can just do for free, no command points involved, which makes the OBR implementation especially galling. There's also a new heroic action to issue an OBR command ability without using a discipline point, which, again, OBR's whole problem is that they have more discipline points than they have heroes to use command abilities with or target units to use them on, so meh.

It's not all bad though. With command ability stacking gone, OBR armies had already started shifted focus to spellcasting - less Katakros and more Arkhan, fewer Lieges & more Mortisans - since there's no similar restriction on stacking buffs from spells. The White Dwarf update granted an especially potent boon to OBR players following this path with a new heroic action that prevent the opponent from unbinding the first spell that mortisan attempts to cast. This ability is especially potent in the new Galatian season of Matched Play, with its dramatically more potent endless spells.

Speaking of the new matched play season, the pdf balance patch (link) released alongside it also makes Necropolis Stalkers and Immortis Guard battleline if your general is a Mortisan. Whether this constitutes a meaningful power increase is debatable - even if you run OBR monstrous infantry making them battleline means they'll take extra damage from the ubiquitous Bounty Hunters battalion. But at the very least it's a positive change for potential list variety, something that's long been a weak point of the faction due to high points cost elite units not leaving you many points left to work with after you've finished grabbing the essentials.

With all this taken together, there have even been a few decent tournament showings from OBR in the new season, despite everything seemingly stacked against them. Even with all the patches and changes, playing OBR still feels like your stuck playing an out of date version of the game while everyone else has moved on around you. But things have been smothed over enough that the army seems like it will remain playable until GW get around to putting out a proper battletome rework for third edition.

SBGL + updates

In contrast to the Bonereapers, the Soulblight Gravelords were ready to jump right into 3rd edition, with their late, late 2nd edition battletome clearly already written with 3rd edition's core rules in mind. And while their early successes have cooled as other factions have started to catch up with proper 3rd edition battletomes of their own, the Gravelords remain a strong upper-mid-tier faction that should never be underestimated, with a deep box of tricks and a wide unit selection that ensures opponents never know what to expect until they see the army on the table. Elite cav? Strong Monsters? Good casters (well, 'a' good caster, if you run Belladamma, but still)? Cheap chaff? Fast distractions? Hard hitting glass cannons? Deployment & outflanking shenanigans? Healing & unit restoration? Overlapping buffs and debuffs? A variety of subfactions to let you focus on whichever of the above you want? This faction has it all. Really the only thing missing is decent shooting options, and the army definitely has the tools to play around that gap. The Spite Gourds may not be the best at any one thing, but the're good enough at enough differnt things that no matter how the various seasons of 3rd edition twist and turn, they'll still be able to play the game at a high level.

So they didn't need all that much out of their White Dwarf update in issue 471. 3rd ed style Path to Glory rules and faction specific tactics and strategies was all really. And they got that (though I'm not a big fan of how the Path to Glory rules chose to handle summonable units), but they also got a few new faction specific core battalions (none particularly noteworthy but still nice to see), mount traits for a slight boost to Vampire Lords on Zombie Dragons, the ability to activate a non-monster hero and a unit at the same time in melee (for free, not even a command ability), plus Legion of Blood got a boost to their vampires reflecting their status as the bloodline of the very first vampire, Neferata - a choice of extra attacks in melee or bonuses to the first casting, dispelling, or unbinding role each turn for each generic vampire lord in your army. Nice!

Again, it's not all that much, but nothing to complain about either when the Gravelords were already in a good place. In particular I liked the move to shore up Legion of Blood - and in particular their vampire heroes - a bit. Still though, if you play were to play Soulblight Gravelords straight out of the battletome and didn't know the white dwarf update existed then you wouldn't be missing very much.

As The Sun King also helpfully pointed out, there have also been some pretty meaningful points cost changes as well, most notably for Black Knights. The unit is still pretty bland and boring mechanically, a far cry from the Grave Guard cavalry they're supposed to be, but at least they're now cheap enough to serve an effective role as fast chaff. They're especially relevant in the new matched play season where not being Galatian Vets (even when taken as Battleline in Legion of Blood lists) gives them an edge when tying up enemy bounty hunters. That isn't the role I personally think Black Knights should be filling, not when Dire Wolves and Fell Bats exist in the same faction, but it's something at least, which is better than you could say for them when the battletome first released.

FEC + updates

While the 2nd edition Flesh Eater Courts were extremely overpowered at the time of their release, they have faded considerably since then. They also made the transition into 3rd edition less successfully than you might have thought, given that both the 2nd edition FEC battletome and the early 3rd edition matched play season both heavily favored large monsters. But by that time there were other, stronger monster mash armies out there, particularly the Sons of Behemat. Apart from monsters, basic ghouls were always kind of weak for their points, and their monstrous infantry units didn't play very nice with the new coherency rules. So while the Flesh Eaters haven't had the specific and easily identifiable mechanical issues getting in their way that the Bonereapers had, they've still been struggling in the placings, and were hoping for a meaningful boost out of their White Dwarf update in issue 477.

Unfortunately, that update was a bit of a nothingburger. The usual 3e style Path to Glory rules and faction specific tactics and strategies were there. A new heroic action to heal nearby FEC units in the same manner as a Varghulf Courtier. Updated rules for their faction terrain. But that's about it. Honestly pretty disappointing.

The Gelato season of matched play hasn't done much for them either. The balance patch removed the need to keep your units in range of your heroes for the 6+ death ward, which is a fantastic quality of life change but doesn't do much for actual army strength. The Galatian Veteran rules help with the coherency issues that crypt horrors and flayers run into when reinforced, but taking advantage of that requires you to expose them to extra damage from bounty hunters, and they weren't exactly the toughest units to begin with. Regular ghouls could already attack in two ranks thanks to their small base sizes, so instantly evaporating whenever they're touched by bounty hunters arguably hurts them more than the rest of the galatian vet rules help.

I personally still don't think the Flesh Eater Courts are as bad as their recent tournament results might suggest - they have fast and hard hitting units in their monster riding heroes and crypt flayers to deal with enemy bounty hunters before they can engage your battleline infantry vets, letting the latter take advantage of their bonuses to objective capture. Plus the new bone throne + command abilities from your abhorrants let you outflank summoned units to get an early positioning advantage. So yeah, personally I think there's still room for play there, but that's just one random guy's unsubstantiated opinion. The actual facts of competitive results have been telling a very different story.

Honestly, a new battletome for the Flesh Eaters can't come soon enough. Hopefully when it does it actually brings a meaningful expansion to their model range this time.

3rd Edition Battletomes

So far GW has been really hitting it out of the park with the new battletomes in Age of Sigmar. There have been a few outliers which were a touch OP on release (eg Stormcast dragon riders) - but these were subsequently knocked back into place with later nerfs. Overall the new battletomes have been fun, exciting, and reasonably balanced - both internally and against each other. A good bit better than 2ns edition, even. Lately there's been none of the old 2e talk of 'sin guy' and 'bin guy'. Certainly AoS 3rd edition has put 40k 9th edition's faction balance to absolute shame.

Unfortunately, with the shift in narrative focus, the undead didn't get the chance to benefit much from the quality of 3rd edition battletome design in the first year & change. Sure, the Gravelords were effectively a 3e book, but all three of the other undead factions faced very difficult transitions into 3rd edition - OBR's entire discipline gimmick was broken, Nighthaunt's ethereal rule was more penalty than bonus in an edition jam packed with bonuses to armor saves, and FEC, well, they didn't have the same kind of specific problems, but they just hadn't kept up with power creep since their release. But when we did finally see a new Death faction battletome for 3rd edition, it was phantastic, and later Death tomes only built on that success.

Nighthaunts 3e

Nighthaunts are technically the first Death faction to get an updated battletome, and they definitely needed it. I've described above how the faction didn't quite come together in its initial second edition implementation, leading to a confusing hodge podge of patch attempts. The Nighthaunt model line was excellent, the lore and flavor were top notch, and there were even some great ideas in their mechanics that tried to convey their role as Nagash's shock attack troops and terror weapon, but they just didn't quite work right on the table.

A less than graceful transition to 3rd edition didn't help either - with the ethereal rule running afoul of 3rd edition's many bonuses to armor saves and the initial matched play season focusing heavily on monster units, something Nighthaunt just didn't have outside of the obscure and heavily nerfed Mourngul from Forgeworld, and the same uodate that gave Nighthaunts access to Nagash also nerfed the bug guy into the ground. The authors of the new Nighthaunt battletome had a tough task in front of them if they wanted to turn things around.

Well it turns out they were more than up for it, because the new Nighthaunt battletome is amazing. Not just because it integrates well into the 3rd edition core rules - it does. Not just because it's much better balanced, both internally and externally - it is. Personally, the thing I think is the most impressive about the Nighthaunt Battletome is that it does all that while also staying true to the strong mechanical flavor of the 2nd edition battletome. Instead of wholesale rejecting and reworking a design that didn't quite work, the authors of the 3rd edition battletome recognized the 'diamond in the rough', isolated it, and brought out its incredible shine.

The real highlight is the new 'Wave of Terror' rule. The 2nd edition version was a flavorful but very unreliable, all-or-nothing mechanic. The new rule imposes a set of stacking debuffs based on your charge roll. Even if you roll poorly you still get something good as long as the charge succeeds, and multiple nighthaunt units charging together can absolutely cripple a target unit in the following round of combat. As a result, the shock assault of the nighthaunts is reliably shocking. However, the debuffs only last for that round, so if the enemy can endure the assault, or even catch the nighthaunts in a charge of their own, then they can easily swing the fight to their advantage.

Overall the new Wave of Terror really captures that idea of the Nighthaunts more a supernatural disaster than an opposing army, something that needs to be endured rather than merely fought against. The new ethereal rule also grants the whole army the ability to withdraw and charge in the same tun, which, when combined with increased movement speed across the army, further reinforces the ABCs of Nighthaunt gameplay - Always Be Charging.

Other choice updates include spirit hosts now acting as bodyguards for Nighthaunt heroes, singlehandedly fixing their vulnerability problem; the terrified rule which prevents enemy units engaged in melee with nighthaunts from using their own special rules to skip battleshock tests; 6+ death ward free from hasslesome character ranges; a command ability to improve that ward to make up for the faction not being able to use 'all out defense'; and a revised version of their deep strike rule where instead of up to half the army deploying into reserve you can instead kick up to three of your already deployed units into reserve at the end of deployment to deep strike later - an arguably weaker ability since it likely affects fewer total units, but with a lot of tactical depth since it lets you play mind games with your opponent over whether the units you deploy will still be where you put them when the game starts. The command ability to teleport one of your units to you is gone, but it's been replaced by a new special character, Awlrach the Drowner, who can teleport himself and a nearby nighthaunt unit as a command ability - something Dread Harrows can then copy if you make Awlrach your general.

The overall faction favors MSU melee tactics to bring multiple charges off at once - though they do have some decent hoardy options for players who want to go that way. Even if you stick to MSU there's still a lot of variety. Do you build around Grimghasts, Bladegheists, or Dreadscythes? Which support heroes do you take? Or maybe you build around a deathstar of multiple heroes all buffing each other with their various auras and huddling around the same unit of spirit hosts for protection until they're able to charge in and break face. After all, single model units let you get the maximum number of charges into the minimum possible frontage, and can fit within each other's 'wholly within' auras a lot better than even MSU squads. Individual nighthaunt heros don't have terrifing offense on their own - outside of maybe Kurdoss, who traded a number of complicated rules for a brutal new melee profile - but several nighthaunt heroes together under multiple buff auras and Wave of Terror rolls can break just about anything.

There's also a variety of understated but very solid subfactions. Scarlet Doom boosts Bladewraiths, Quicksilver Dead boosts Dreadsythes, Grieving Legion boosts larger units for those who prefer hoardy Chainrasp or Grimghast builds over MSU. Finally the Emerald Host rolls each battle round to put a couple mortal wounds on enemy units that you 'curse' at the start of the game, a strong generic bonus which works well for any Nighthaunt build that doesn't specifically benefit from one of the other three subfactions, particularly the previously mentioned hero-hammer builds.

None of these subfactions include intrusive command traits or artefacts, so you're still free to choose what you like from core and generic nighthaunt options. Likewise, none of them interact one way or another with the special characters, so even though all of them are tagged as part of the Grieving Legion they won't be missing out on anything if you field them as part of another subfaction.

There are some things that aren't perfect. I don't like how the new ethereal rule is a faction trait rather than on the individual warscrolls, which effectively means Nighthaunt units stop being ethereal when taken as allies. IMO ethereal should have stayed on the scroll, with maybe the withdraw and charge separated out as a discrete faction trait. There are a couple dud units - in particular the glaivewraith stalkers, the new crossbow ghosts, and, sadly, the extremely cool looking scriptor mortis hero. There's still no Nighthaunt monster unit outside of Nagash or the Forgeworld Mourngul which is a shame when you think of all the cool possible forms a Nighthaunt monster could take. There are still way too many support hero options, making hero slots overly restrictive and several otherwise decent heroes very hard to justify fielding.

The various semi-elite melee units have been effectively differentiated, but the designers chose to do this via subfactions rather than on the warscrolls themselves, which means you mostly only field Bladewraiths if you're playing the Bladewraith subfaction, Dreadsythes if you're playing the Dreadsythe faction, and Grimghasts if you aren't fielding either. This works, but I think the result is overly restrictive and leads to spammy, cookie cutter lists. Bladegheists and Dreadcythes in particular still have trouble with the new coherency rules... or a least they did before the new matched play season and the Galatian Veteran rules.

This season is especially friendly to the Nighthaunts, as the Jelly Vet rules let Bladegheists or Dreadscythes attack with all of their models while maintaining two-rank coherency, and with the Expert Conquerors battalion MSU squads can still score objectives like big units. The one drawback that keeps Gelato Vets of all other factions in line, the +1 melee damage vs. vets Bounty Hunters' battalion, doesn't even need to be a problem for Nighthaunts. Their extra damage can be effectively negated by a nearby Krulghast Cruciator. No wonder Scarlet Doom and Quicksilver Dead have quickly overtaken the Emerald Host as the most popular subfaction in the new book.

That's not even all of the Nighthaunt's advantages in the current season. They're also able to make excellant use of the powerful new endless spell rules, thanks to Reikenor the Grimhailer's +1/+2 to cast and an artefact that lets its bearer auto-cast an endless spell with no unbinding allowed once per battle. Nighthaunts especially benefit from the new Chronomantic Cogs for spell rerolls for their casters or charge rerolls to power up Wave of Terror. And, of course, there's the all powerful new Purple sun. Quicksilver Dead in particular appreciate the Sun's save penalty aura thanks to the lack of natural rend on Dreadscythes, leaving them otherwise relying on Wave of Terror rolls to get through enemy armor.

Defensively, Myrnmourn Banshees can still help shut down enemy spells. Plus the entire faction doesn't suffer the save penalty from the newly ubiquitous Purple Sun thanks to the Ethereal rule. Hero spam nighthaunt builds are very vulnerable to its instant-death effect, though, further pushing Nighthaunt armies away from Emerald Host and towards Scarlet Doom & Quicksilver Dead in the current season.

I know this has been way more talk about mechanics, when I try and balance out mechanic talk with model line and fluff discussion in these summaries, but I mostly covered that stuff above when talking about the 2nd edition battletome. Nighthaunt already had fantastic fluff and models, and the new battletome still communicates that with great lore, art, and photographs. The main thing holding this faction back has always been mechanics that very nearly worked but just didn't quite make it all the way. And it's in bridging that mechanical gap while maintaining all of the cinematic elements that the 2nd edition battletome had tried to pull off that the new 3rd edition battletome truly succeeds. It's really one of the most enjoyable set of undead faction rules I've played with in a warhammer game. If you held off on starting a nighthaunt army in 2nd or early 3rd edition because you heard their rules were jank, then now is absolutely the time to jump in.

Edit: As time has passed in 3rd edition Age of Sigmar, power creep has taken a toll on the Nighthaunt Battletome, and subsequent GHB seasons have been less favorable to the Nighthaunt faction than the Galatian Veteran season was. Still, while the win rate of Nighthaunts eventually trailed off somewhat, I think the 3rd edition battletome still represents a commendable success in terms of converting second edition concepts into a faction that plays more consistently on the tabletop without sacrificing the strong narrative flavour.

Soulblight Gravelords 3e

Soulblight Gravelords were the final battletome of 2nd edition, with a rule set clearly designed with 3rd edition in mind. Between rules that mostly still worked fine and no place in the release schedule for significant Gravelords model range, I don't think many players were expecting much out of the 3rd edition Battletome going in. If it had simply been a reprint of the 2nd edition tome with the additions from the white dwarf supplement and maybe a few small tweaks here or there, nobody could have fairly taken fault with that.

So it came as something of a surprise when the 3rd edition battletome was a major overhaul, re-writing the faction rules, subfaction rules, and almost all of the warscrolls from the ground up. With such a complete revision to the rules, it took a while for the community to fully asses the strength of the latest major rework of what is still basically the Vampire Counts Compendium in personality and unit selection. But once people started playing with the book and results started coming in, 3e Gravelords proved to be an absolute monster, dominating multpile GHB seasons and surviving multiple rounds of nerfs, with the latest at time of writing still being too recent to judge whether it brought the faction into line.

The standout unit this time around was zombies - cheap as chips, multiple ways to heal the unit, multiple ways to give them a 5+ ward, zombies now cause mortal wounds when they die instead of when they attack, though corpse carts can give them mortals on 6s to wound, with the new 'endless legions' rule making it very likely that half the unit of zombies will return to the table at the end of the turn that the unit is finally killed. Zombies are slow, but can still forward deploy via gravesites. There's really no weaknesses to them, and they've recently seen a significant points increase to try to balance them, but it's too soon to say if that will even be enough.

But it's not just zombies - skeletons are in some ways harder to remove than ever, black knights are now cheap disposible missles that deliver mortal wounds on the charge, die, and come back to do it again. Dire wolves can cover a huge amount of board for a comparatively small cost and be a real pain to remove, Grave Guard are still a brutally hard hitting glass hammer, Blood Knights are maybe less tricky and maneuverable but they hit harder. Almost the entire book - with the exception of some of the random box game units and maybe the unridden monsters (though even they have made serious tournament appearances) - has been punching above its wieght thanks to strong faction, subfaction, and unit rules.

And it's not just a matter of strength for strength's sake. 3e soulblight gravelords are just as good as previous incarnations of the faction in terms of capturing the shambling undead horde marching in service to their vampyric aristocracy. The strong and characterful subfaction rules in particular serve the rival undead dynasties concept, which perfectly suits the factions current place in the narrative with the various Soulblight Dynasties pursuing their own agendas or even falling into civil war with one another after Broken Realms: Teclis took Nagash and Arkhan temporarily out of the picture.

I don't want to over-praise the 3rd edition book here. Too strong is too strong, and as a result Soulblight Gravelords have been living under a Sword of Damoclese in terms of balance updates, with each bringing new nerfs and no way of telling how badly the next one will hit your particular army. Even so, it's been an exciting time for Soulblight Gravelord players, and it's kept the faction relevant in the 3e competitive scene even as they've faded into the background in the overall setting narrative.

Ossiarch Bonereapers 3e

Released alongside the 3rd edition Soulblight Gravelord tome, the Ossiarch Bonereapers battletome required far more attention going in than the gravelords did, with the core mechanic of the Bonereapers faction - Relentless Discipline - playing extremely poorly with the core rules changes to Command Points and Command Abilities in 3e Age of Sigmar. Fixing this misalignment was the core task facing the developers of the 3rd edition OBR tome, and the solution they went with - just letting OBR use normal command points and abilities, but giving them extra command points and their own suite of additional command abilities that bypass some of the repeate-use restrictions on nomral command abilities - has been largely successful. The new version of Relentless Discipline and Ossiarch commands allows the faction to work effectively within the 3e paradigm and effectively captures the faction's personality as the elite Death faction, and in particular as supreme tacticians, strategists, and commanders.

Building on this initial success, the 3e OBR tome also boasts some of the most powerful and dramatic command traits in the game. In a faction where every unit leader is effectively a general in their own right thanks to Relentless Discipline and Ossiarch Commands, these command traits ensure that your actual general still stands out as a truly legendary warlord worthy of commanding such an elite force. The special characters - particularly the mortarchs Katakros and Arkhan - take this even further with some of the most impressive support and spellcasting abilities in the game.

Changes to some of the other warscrolls have been hit and miss. Immortis Guard were powered up significantly. The Crawler gained some utility support functionality but not really enough to make up for its much lower damage output relative to 2nd edition. The harvester made it to the book printing unscathed but was heavily nerfted in an errata shortly after reducing it from a major support piece to a beatstick with a bit of combat phase healing support, and with the heavily nerfed harvester the mortek guard weren't able to justify their new higher points cost. In the competitive scene the result was an extremely effective but also extremely repetitive list With a Boneshaper, either Katakros or Arkhan (or more rarely both), some Deathriders, and the rest of the points sunk into immortis guard. An initial round of nerfs hit all of these units with points hikes, and in response OBR players dropped a single unit of immortis and kept right on winning like nothing happened, which imo is very on brand behavior, but it led to a more recent round of adjustments that saw points decreseases for several of the units not seeing play - particularly mortek guard, harvesters, and crawlers - along with a significant points increase to Katakros and a change to the OBR healing rules that makes healing abilities less efficient on Immortis Guard and Stalkers. Time will tell whether these changes do the trick in terms of bringing OBR win rates down while allowing for more versatile lists.

While the internal and external balance has been questionable - in some ways even more so than with the gravelords (how did the book with so much more unit variety somehow have better internal balance?), the central achievement in making OBR's unique faction rules play nice with the 3e core rules without sacrificing the flavour really can't be overstated, making this book a success on par with the 3e Nighthaunt battletome.

Flesh Eater Courts 3e

Last edited:

Disciple of Nagash

Staff member
Feb 12, 2008
Brilliant, just seen this. Already looking great. I've written up a super high-level one here for those jumping straight back and linked to this. I'll include the links for the specific army threads when you get around to them as well


Master Necromancer
True Blood
Sep 23, 2009
I'm making some corrections as I go. Most minor, but some are pretty major. The biggest two are that the wind of Azyr did not get pulled along with the core of the old world on Sigmar's celestial journey. The core went on its own with Sigmar, and Azyr stayed behind to form its own Realm just like all the others. The other is that great realm-gate from the Allpoints to Shyish is the 'Endgate', not the 'Starless Gate'. The Starless gate is instead the access point to Stygxx, the underworld where Nagash spend the Age of Chaos hiding and recuperating in after his defeat at Archaon's hands.

Disciple of Nagash

Staff member
Feb 12, 2008
I was going to read it, but I've decided I'm not going to spoil it for myself, I'll wait until it's done and enjoy it all together!


Master Necromancer
True Blood
Sep 23, 2009
My current painting project has been really coming down to the wire, I maybe committed to a bit too much for a single month, and it's had a negative impact on other projects (commission painting, DMing a D&D group, this thread, homebrew project, housework, etc). Today's the last day of the current pledge, & I've learned my lesson & will pick a more reasonable committment for July which will leave me time to catch up here & elsewhere.
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Grave Guard
Jun 15, 2021
Rhode Island
My current painting project has been really coming down to the wire, I maybe committed to a bit too much for a single month, and it's had a negative impact on other projects (commission painting, DMing a D&D group, this thread, homebrew project, housework, etc). Today's the last day of the current pledge, & I've learned my lesson & will pick a more reasonable committment for July which will leave me time to catch up here & elsewhere.
I hear you there. Last month was basically my father, uncle and other uncle redoing the second floor of the house (I'm in the attic) which basically ruined my ability to do painting because no power for about six days on and off, and the constant work.


Master Necromancer
True Blood
Sep 23, 2009
Update: the rest of the Age of Myth and most of the Age of Chaos lore done, along with a brief description of what the Legions of Nagash book was. Still need to do write ups for the death factions that become relevant during the Age of Chaos (Soulblight Gravelords, Flesh Eater Courts), tie off the end of the Age of Chaos, and move on into the Age of Sigmar.
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Master Necromancer
True Blood
Sep 23, 2009
First draft of the Age of Sigmar 1st edition lore is up. It'll all need cleanup still, but that'll come later. Please let me know if I made any significant factual errors.


Master Necromancer
True Blood
Sep 23, 2009
Added basic write ups for Nighthaunt and Legion of Grief. I have little experience with either faction, so any feedback from actual Nighthaunt players would be appreciated to be sure I'm not steering folks wrong.

I also need to go back and revisit the Soulblight and FEC sections in light of 3e changes, and will be looking for feedback from players after I do, but I'm not ready for that quite yet.

As always, I am trying to spin all the lore descriptions from a Death-oriented, pro-Nagash perspective, but if I have anything factually wrong, or I spin anything to the point of being misinformative, please let me know.


Master Necromancer
True Blood
Sep 23, 2009
OBR description is up. Closing in on the end of the first drafts, once that's done I'll go back and start clean up work. As always, if I'm making any significant factual errors, please let me know.


Master Necromancer
True Blood
Sep 23, 2009
First draft of everything done. Major copy editing needs to follow - lots of typos, lots of awkward wording. I also might pull out the bits talking about the various death factions and put them in the third post, separate from the lore description. That might make more sense.

Anyway, as always feedback is appreciated, especially in terms of accuracy, particularly with the broken realms stuff, much of which I'm coming to second hand. I did deliberately try to give everything an undead slant, but I don't want to be outright misinformative.
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Master Necromancer
True Blood
Sep 23, 2009
Made another editing pass, including rewriting a bunch of the 'blood, fire, & plague' section which i accidentally missed when revising the whole thing to past tense. I also removed all of the individual faction write-ups. I'll be rewriting that stuff later and putting it in the third post.


Master Necromancer
True Blood
Sep 23, 2009
Faction write ups / game history done up through the end of second edition. Needs editing passes, & could use a check by NH and FEC players to make sure I'm not mischaracterizing anything. 3rd edition write ups will have to wait a while.


Master Necromancer
True Blood
Sep 23, 2009
I added descriptions for OBR, SBGL, and FEC in 3rd edition, describing how they managed the transition and what subsequent faqs, white dwarf updates, and balance patches have or haven't done for them. That said, I haven't actually played very much 3rd edition, so if any Soulblight, Bonereaper, or especially Flesh Eater players out there could glance those sections over to make sure I'm not misrepresenting anything, I'd really appreciate it.

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