Monday, July 2, 2018

REVIEW: Nighthaunt Battletome

The Nighthaunts have been a favorite of mine for over a year now, starting before they even had Allegiance Abilities in the 2017 General's Handbook. When I saw that they were getting their very own Battletome I was beyond excited, and let me tell you, I was not disappointed. So, what makes up the processions of Lady Olynder?

First things first, the cover. We've seen this image for awhile now since it was first revealed in part back during Warhammer Fest. I think it's a really cool piece of art that really captures the darkness of the Nighthaunts. I like when the cover art focuses on one of the rank and file troops, in this case a Chainrasp, over a hero or something. In some cases it makes sense for a hero, like Nagash on the Legions of Nagash cover (Since All is Nagash and Nagash is all afterall). While I think it could have been cool to see Lady Olynder or something, I am happy with the Chainrasp. He really has a great tortured look which falls right in line with what we'll learn about the Nighthaunts in here. It's not my all time favorite cover (I mean, just check out the awesome Stormcast cover that just came out), but it's definitely good and spooky.

When you open it up the first thing you'll notice is that the opening bit is different from what we've previously seen. In all other Battletomes and books before the launch of the new edition we got the same couple of paragraphs about the Mortal Realms, the Age of Chaos, and the dawn of the Age of Sigmar. It's been the same since the launch of AoS in 2015. Well, now it looks like each book is getting its own, tailored more to the army. Both the Nighthaunt and Stormcast book have a different intro. I think this was a good change since each book should be more about the army it's featuring instead of AoS in general.

The lore section for them starts off with a general overview of what the Nighthaunts are and how they fight. More or less they're what you expect, an army made up of ghosts who begrudge the living for, well, being alive, and are driven to kill by Nagash. Some of their more interesting twists though are in their unique forms of punishment, which I'll go into in a bit. Needless to say, but Nagash has a twisted sense of humor.

Nighthaunts have always existed within the Mortal Realms, but usually not in numbers that could really threaten a city or a formal army. They were more roving gangs of gheists who would terrorize villages or haunt particular areas with no real agenda. Certain Nighthaunts, like Cairn Wraiths or Tomb Banshees, could be bound to a powerful Necromancer or Vampire with enough effort and bid to fight for them, but that was about it. That is until the Necroquake. We get all the backstory of Nagash's scheme and the resultant shift in power of the Shyish Nadir that has been explored in the Core Rulebook and the Malign Sorcery book again. Basically, over the course of countless centuries, Nagash had his skeletal legions move the gravesand, which is the magically imbued realmstone of Shyish, from the outer reaches of the realm to its center of Nagashizzar grain by grain. There he used the sand to make Shadeglass which was then used to create massive monuments, including his giant, inverted black pyramid. Once he finally enacted the ritual the greatest source of magic in Shyish was redirected from the edge to the center, creating the Shyish Nadir, and unleashing a tidal wave of magic and necromantic power across all of the realms. As well as creating the Endless Spells, this also caused every spirit within Shyish to race back along the thin strand that connected it to its mortal remains.

All of a sudden massive legions of Nighthaunts were running rampant throughout the Realms. They ravaged whole continents and put entire cities to the torch, killing all they came across. Despite this they had no direction, and instead of capitalizing on the victories, they just kind of milled around and started haunting places. Seeing how effective the newly invigorated masses of the Nighthaunts were, Nagash decided they were to be his new shock troops, though they needed a leader, a Mortarch. With that he began his search throughout the underworlds for someone that could rise to the occasion. This is when he remembered Olynder. She had been the ruler of one of the largest empires in Shyish during the tail end of the Age of Myth and into the Age of Chaos. She had gained this position by continually marrying into power and then having her spouse mysteriously "disappear." She did this until she eventually married the crown prince, and then the next day him and his father, the king, both disappeared, making her the ruler. She continually pretended to be mourning the loss after that and was known as the Mourning Bride. When the Age of Chaos rolled around she persisted even as her empire crumbled around her and eventually she tried to parlay with the forces of Nurgle. This is when Nagash stole away her soul and condemned her to feel all the grief of the entirety of the Mortal Realms. There he left her, to haunt the remains of her former kingdom. This is where he found her in the present, now the ruler of a kingdom of gheists. Imbuing her with a sliver of his divinity he made her his Mortarch of Grief and gave her command over all of the Nighthaunt processions. She successfully led the Nighthaunt forces until near the end of the reconquest of the underworld of Lyria where she was nearly killed by a Bloodthirster until Nagash and Arkhan intervened personally. To temper her headstrong attitude and recklessness he betrothed her to Kurdoss Valentian, the Craven King, though he was merely to be her advisor and bodyguard and never hold any actual power himself. Together, they have been tasked with the reconquest of all of Shyish, and eventually the other Mortal Realms too.

After the main chunk on the Nighthaunts we get two pages on Shyish itself. Most of this is similar to what we've seen in the Core Rulebook, Legions of Nagash, and Malign Portents, but for people new to the lore it does a great job of explaining it all.

The timeline for the Nighthaunts covers everything from the Age of Myth through the Souls Wars. The events during the Age of Myth and Chaos are a little sparse since the faction didn't really grow in strength until after the Necroquake, but we do learn about a few other successful haunting and invasions. There is also a section that goes over the organization of the Nighthaunts. Olynder leads them, with Kurdoss advising her. Below them are the Knights of Shrouds, who lead the armies of Nighthaunts which are called processions. Each processions is broken up into the different warscroll battalions we get in the rules sections such as The Condemned or The Execution Horde. Each of these get a brief description as well.

The individual unit descriptions is where we get a lot of the meat of the army since their history is a little sparse. Olynder and Kurdoss are the stars of the army, with Kurdoss having some great bits in his lore. He always wanted to be king and tried to kill his way to the top. Nagash plucked away his soul right before he would've achieved that and punished him by ensuring he had all the trappings of a king, but none of the power. His heralds that hover nearby him call out titles for him such as the Craven King, and generally insult him in a passive aggressive way. All of the units in the army are being punished in a way that amuses Nagash. Spirit Torments were jailers in life and now must be soul jailers for eternity, where as Dreadscythe Harridans were healers, and now have had their healing hands replaced with blades which they use to slaughter all in their path. Worst of all, the spirits of the Harridans are aware of what they're doing, but have no control over it so they just have to watch as they kill indiscriminately. Bladegheists are the souls of people who died especially frenetic deaths, such as drowning or being trapped in a small space. They are now forever trapped in those last moments of their lives, lashing out frantically. All of them are pretty interesting and really show off how sick Nagash is. While a lot of the souls were killers in life, or at least bad people, not all were. The Mymourn Banshees always sought magical power in life, so now must consume that same magic to subsist.  

The model gallery section in here has some amazing looking photography, like the one above. While we do get the individual models on a white background, the thematic scenes are the ones that really draw my attention. They make a great use of color, lighting, and contrast to really make these pop. I would say that the Nighthaunt and Legions of Nagash book have some of the best model photography in AoS. They're just so engaging and fit the army perfectly. The art throughout the book is great as well, with a few older pieces, but mostly new ones. The art for Olynder, her procession to Nagash, and of the Spirit Torments are a few of my favorites.

The paint guide section in here covers a lot of the basic things you would want to know, like ghostly effects and some of the other cloth colors. This will definitely be helpful for people unsure of how to paint their Nighthaunts. I thought it was interesting how they use the new Idoneth colors that just came out for some of the ethereal colors. That's not something I would have thought of.

The rules for the Nighthaunts are outstanding. As a play tester, I was beyond excited to get to mess around with these, man oh man were they fun. So, let's start with the Allegiance Abilities, and the Nighthaunts actually get quite a few of these. To start off they have the "Death Save" in the form of Deathless Spirits. This works more or less the same, but has a range of 12" and states models must be wholly within. This means you can have half of a unit in range and roll for the Deathless Spirits save until that half of the unit is dead. They also have a rule similar to what they had in the GHB17 allowing them to come up from the underworlds during the game instead of deploying. The change to this now though is that only half of your total number of units can start off the board in this manner, but you no longer have to roll for them. They just come on when you want them to, 9" away from any enemy units. That makes this ability a lot more reliable. Aura of Dread makes all enemy units within 6" of a Nighthaunt unit -1 Bravery, which will be great for Banshee screams and battleshock, and whenever an enemy unit fails a battleshock test one Nighthaunt hero within 6" of them can heal 1 wound. The most exciting and fun rule to me though is the Wave of Terror ability. Anytime you roll a natural 10+ on the charge, that unit gets to immediately attack out of sequence. You then finish your charges, and that same unit can attack again normally in the following combat phase. There's nothing like have a unit of Spirit Hosts dish out mortal wounds on the charge, and then get to attack again later. Last, but not least, is the special army command ability, which allows you to pick up a Nighthaunt unit from anywhere on the board, and re-set it up wholly within 12" of your general. This counts as their move, but what's most interesting to me is using this on Nighthaunt units that can retreat and charge in the same turn. Pull a unit out of combat, re-deploy it, and then charge into a new enemy.

The command traits for the Nighthaunts are actually fairly similar to the ones from the GHB17, with a lot of the same names used and some abilities reworked. My favorite is definitely Ruler of the Spirit Hosts, which allows you to pick a unit within 9" of your general during your hero phase, and return D3 models to it. That'll be amazing with Spirit Hosts and Hexwraiths. Most of the other ones either buff your hits, increase your wounds, or debuff enemy hits. They're decent, but Ruler of the Spirit Hosts is definitely the stand out option. There are some good choices in the spell lore as well, such as Soul Cage which prevents an enemy unit from retreating and makes it so they fight last in that combat round, or Spirit Tether, which allows you to heal heroes. For the artifacts you have a table of six weapons and six relics. My favorite weapons to take was actually a fairly simple one, the Balefire Blade. This increases one melee weapon's damage by 1. Put that on a Cairn Wraith, and you have a fairly cheap hero unit dishing out damage 3 attacks with a good chance of hitting and wounding with most of your -1 rend attacks. Amongst the relics, the Pendant of the Fell Wind is still a good choice, adding 3" onto the movement of nearby Nighthaunt units. The Midnight Tome allows you to make a character a wizard, or if they're already a wizard, allows them to cast an additional spell each turn. Lastly, there is a choice of three lanterns that can be taken by a Guardian of Souls. Here is where you'll find my previous and still favorite choice, the Lightshard of the Harvest Moon, which allows you to re-roll all missed hits once per game for all units wholly within the range. This is fantastic for Spirit Hosts, who dish out mortal wounds on a 6 and hit on a 5+, meaning most of your non-mortal wound dice will be misses. The Beacon of Nagashizzar is also a good choice, which adds 3 onto the amount of wounds healed or models brought back from the Spectral Lure spell. This essentially ensures you'll bring back one Spirit Host at least if you're healing them.

The Path to Glory section is similar to what we've seen before, with tables for followers, as well as rewards tables for both heroes and followers. We also get a battleplan tailored to the Nighthaunts for narrative play which represents them appearing from the underworlds in the midst of the enemy's battle lines.

We get eight battalions in the Battletome, one of which is a "super" battalion, consisting of all the other ones. There are quite a few good choices in here. The Chainguard battalion, which consists of a Guardian of Souls and two units of Chainrasps, each at least 20 strong, allows the Guardian of Souls to bring back 2D6 models to one of the units of Chainrasps when he casts Spectral Lure. If you couple this with the Beacon mentioned above in the artifacts section you'll be bringing back 2D6+3 models. The Shroudguard is another one that stood out to me. You need to take a Knight of Shrouds or Reikenor the Grimhailer, and two units of Bladegheists. This increases the Bladegheists Deathless Spirits save to a 5+ if they're within range of the Knight or Reikenor. I like this one since you can do it for fairly cheap. The Bladegheists can be taken in units of five, and if you take the Knight on foot, the total cost of the battalion, including all of the units is only 410 points. Not only do you get the bonus from the battalion, but you also get an extra command point and artifact. Bladegheists are pretty good too, so you'll probably end up having them in your army anyway. I might end up running the Execution Horde battalion since I already have so many Spirit Hosts painted. It basically just makes your Lord Executioner better, but I'd mostly be getting it for the reduced deployments, artifact, and command point.

The warscrolls themselves have been redesigned from what we were used to from the last edition of the game. You may have noticed this already from the Soul Wars box, but it's a really nice redesign. There's nothing drastic, but the wheel has gotten a bit of an upgrade and the layout has been shifted around a bit. Most notably, a picture of the model has now been included in the upper right corner. This seems like a nice compromise from the versions we had at the very launch of the game that took up a whole page with a half page picture of the model and what we got post Sylvaneth with no picture at all. Now you at least know what model goes to the rules if you weren't sure already. We get 11 heroes, including the three special characters of Olynder, Kurdoss, and Reikenor, 10 units, and three Endless Spells. All of the existing Nighthaunt units are in here, most of which haven't changed from their Legions of Nagash version besides Frightful Touch working on an unmodified 6. The one exception is the Black Coach, which got a considerable upgrade for its fancy new model. Besides just being more robust, its different levels of power are better and are accumulated differently. Instead of it being based off wizards nearby, each hero phase you roll three dice for it and for each 4+ it gains a level of power. The first level, Nimbus of Power, allows the Coach to heal D3 wounds each hero phase, as well as return D3 slain models to a Summonable Nighthaunt unit within range. This will be really good around Spirit Hosts. The last level, Witch-Fire, does D3 wounds to each nearby enemy unit on a 4+, with a bunch more power between those two for a total of five levels. For battleline units you have the choice of Chainrasps, which are always battleline, and Grimghast Reapers, Spirit Hosts, or Hexwraiths which are battleline for pure Nighthaunt armies. Chainrasps will be good tarpits, but I think the heavy hitters are Grimghast Reapers and Spirit Hosts. The Reapers have 2 attacks a piece with rend and when buffed by a Knight, they can really tear through stuff. Spirit Hosts are just always good with their mortal wounds. The Bladegheists are another unit that stands out to me as being particularly good offensively. These guys also have rend and 2 attacks, but gain an additional attack when they charge, and oh, they can retreat and charge. So, there should never not be a reason to retreat and charge back in for that bonus. The characters are all great, with Spirit Torments and Guardians of Souls being an obvious inclusion for their buffs. All of the special characters have the place as well, depending on how you want to play your army. I'm a fan of Olynder personally. The Cairn Wraiths are still nice little combat blenders for only 60 points as well.

Of the three Endless Spells, the Mortalis Terminexus is probably my favorite. This one is the hourglass, and it lets you either heal your unit or hurt an enemy unit. The Shyish Reaper has you roll a dice for every model, not unit, that it passes over, and if the dice roll is equal to or greater than that model's save it causes a mortal wound. This will be really good against anything with a better save value, like Stormcast. All of these spells are known by all Nighthaunt wizards, as well as Nagash, meaning the big guy himself can use them in a Legions army.

I'm really super excited about this army and this book. Nighthaunts have been a favorite of mine for awhile now, so it's awesome seeing them get their own book and model line. Man, these models are nice too. They're so dynamic and make such great use of negative space. While their backstory is a little sparse due to them being rather recent additions as the enemies of the Mortal Realms, what is there is awesome, and I'm excited to see where Olynder's story goes from here. I'm definitely looking forward to seeing some of her interactions with the other Mortarchs and Nagash himself. The rules for the army really reflect their shock troop status. They'll hit like a ton of bricks and cause quite a few armies to crumble in terror around them. The thing I'm having the hardest time doing is writing lists for them. I just want to take everything in my army, and sadly, I don't have the points for it. If you're a fan of all things spooky in AoS, then you'll definitely love this book. I think the Nighthaunts are going to be a triple threat: fun to play, extremely effective on the table, and beautiful, easy to paint models. I suspect we'll be seeing a lot of these spooky lads on the tabletop soon.

Until next time,

Tyler M. 

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