Thursday, July 5, 2018

REVIEW: Stormcast Eternals Battletome

The launch of Age of Sigmar second edition sees the Stormcast Eternals Battletome return anew, fresh from its reforging, and bursting with new lore, artwork, and rules. After three previous Stormcast books, what does this one contain? A surprisingly good amount of new material actually!

Wow, that cover is something else. I know, I know, I say this a lot, but I think THAT is now my favorite AoS cover. There is just something so menacing about it. These are the good guys, the heroes of the setting, but that Stormcast does not like like someone you would want to mess with, probably not even meet. This perfectly encapsulates what's contained within this book. The once golden and perfect Stormcast are now tarnished, lesser, and a lot of the time, uncompromising. I really like that they went with an un-helmeted Stormcast too so that we can see that they're human, another element of the army that seems to be being pushed more. Everything about this art just screams awesome.

Just like with the Nighthaunt Battletome, the Stormcast get their own opening page in here that's tailored to their book instead of just being a generic statement on AoS. Once we move into the lore there is a lot existing fans will be familiar with, but also a ton of new stuff. I'm not going to spend a ton of time recapping existing lore here, so let's move right onto the new stuff. It's revealed here that when Sigmar threw his Stormcast into the fray with Vandus leading the charge he actually wasn't done perfecting the reforging process yet, but Chaos forced his hand. There was still a vital flaw in the magical process, something that has become more and more pronounced over time. Essentially each time a Stormcast Eternal is reforged they lose a little bit of themselves. This could either be memories, personality traits, or something else, and in some Stormcast they gain strange new abilities, like how Gardus seems to glow with an internal light. This makes them a little less human each time, both in appearance and demeanor, until eventually they are almost like automatons. The Sancrosanct Chamber are the magically inclined Stormcast who are in charge of supervising the reforging process. They stand guard outside the Anvil of Apotheosis and ensure that everything goes correctly. Sometimes a Stormcast's soul won't be able to withstand the reforging, either due to some flaw in their soul, having endured it too many times, or having suffered some form of trauma that's just too much for their psyche to handle. In these cases it's the job of the Sancrosanct Chamber to try and soothe the soul and ease them back into the process. Sometimes the soul can escape and become a Lightning Ghiest. When this happens it's up to the Sancrosanct Chamber to hunt them down before they cause too much destruction and either usher them back to the anvil, or destroy them if they need to. Some souls that are too distraught to return to the anvil are instead interred within one of the many statues that line the processional way to the anvil itself. With the events of the Necroquake, Sigmar has been forced to dispatch the Sancrosanct Chamber from Azyr to help contain the forces of Death. Most importantly though, they have secretly been tasked with finding a cure for the flaw in the reforging process, and as such are frequently found investigating arcane and magical areas, especially in Shyish. With no one left to guard the Anvil of Apotheosis who knows what will happen to errant Stormcast souls who reject the reforging process.

We also learn more about what's been going on with the existing Stormcast Eternals in the Mortal Realms. Since the end of the Realmgate Wars they have been raising giant Stormkeeps, fortress homes for the different Stormcast Stormhosts. Most of these have become the hearts of major cities, such as in Hammerhal and Excelsis, others stand on their own such as the one on the Brimstone Peninsula raised in honor of Vandus' first victory. The ones inside the cities act as their main source of defense, but in many cases, also as their main dispensers of justice. As the Stormcast have been reforged more and more, some Stormhosts have become detached from humanity, and see them merely as assets to be managed. In Excelsis, the Knights Excelsior went on a purge, wiping out the majority of the citizens in an effort to cleanse the city from suspected taint. Even Azyrheim itself isn't immune from these issues. When more and more dissenters began popping up in the capital of Azyr, Sigmar had his Stormcast round up any who objected to his rule and his methods and severely punished. Those who survived were forever branded, literally, as one of the faithful. In these desperate times, even the God-King is turning to more brutal methods as he walks the Mortal Realms down the razor thing line of survival against the forces of Chaos, Death, and Destruction. There are a lot more descriptions of the Stormkeeps and the cities here, such as how they were built, and a lot of ominous hints about potential strife amongst the forces of Order under Sigmar's ever tightening grasp.

The timeline section here covers a lot, taking up six whole pages and covering all three ages. The Age of Sigmar gets the most attention here, but before that the Cleansing of Azyr gets more description then I've seen before. Most of the events of the Realmgate Wars and Malign Portents are covered here, with a few new things, like the Sky Bridges of Ghur mentioned again. Those Sky Bridges are mentioned almost every other Battletome and sound so cool, I would love to see them explored more fully. The Celestial Vindicators try to curb crime in their home city of Vindicarum by executing several thieves on the spot. This leads to full on rioting as the citizens of the city start to panic. In retaliation the Stormcast slaughter two-thirds of the populace in one night, which quells the riots and drives many of the survivors towards a rabid devotion, and into the ranks of the Devoted.

After this we get a breakdown of how the Stormhosts are structured. It goes through each of the open Chambers so far, the Strike, Sancrosanct, Extremis, and Vanguard Chambers. The Strike Chambers are the most numerous and the Stormcast we're most familiar with from the start of AoS. These are the Warrior Chambers led by Lord-Celestants with ranks of Liberators, Paladins, Prosecutors, and so forth. Here is where we also find the Exemplar and Harbinger Chambers. The Sancrosanct Chamber get the most attention since they're the newest and least explored of the Chambers. Like I mentioned earlier, they were tasked with securing the Anvil of Apotheosis and are now sent out into the Realms to fight back the tide of undead. They're also tasked with discovering a cure for the reforging flaw, as well as being sanctioned to take down any Stormcast should they prove to be to unstable.

The Extremis Chamber contains all of the Stormhosts Stardrakes and Dracoths. Much of this is a recap from past Battletomes, but we do get some really cool new artwork for them, including a much cooler looking vignette of Lord-Celestant Imperius, who was featured a lot in past books. The Vanguard Chamber are the rangers and scouts of the hosts, and get the smallest amount of explanation. Their role is pretty straight forward, and they'll spend years out in the wilds without ever returning to their Stormkeep or any of the cities. The majority of the Stormcast from the Vanguard Chambers were previously members of the Strike Chambers who showed an aptitude for scouting and such, and upon their reforging were reassigned. However, there are a growing number of Stormcast assigned directly to the chamber now upon their initial creation. There's also a nice visual representation of all of the Chambers of a Stormhost, including the unopened chambers of the Ruination, Covenant, and Logister Chambers, as well as the Lord-Commanders, who we have yet to meet.

The next section goes over how the Stormcast fight on the field of battle, as well as a description of the different "Brotherhoods." These are smaller bands of Stormcast that fight together for protracted campaigns, and can sometimes cross through several Chambers. These are mostly the battalions you can use in the rules section, such as the Hammerstrike Force and Thunderhead Brotherhood.

Each of the "main" Stormhosts gets their own time in the spotlight. The big four, Hammers of Sigmar, Hallowed Knights, Celestial Vindicators, and Anvils of the Heldenhammer, each get two pages apiece. The less known hosts of the Knights Excelsior, Astral Templars, Celestial Warbringers, and Tempest Lords get one page each. Here the general temperament of the Stormhost as well as some of their quirks and history is explored. The Knights Excelsior are extremists who only see the world in black and white. You're either pure, or evil, and if you're evil that means you must be cleansed. This has lead to them attacking supposed allies occasionally. The Anvils are all recruited from spirits from Shyish, meaning they were already dead before becoming Stormcast, some for long ages. They are most hated by Nagash and the forces of Death who see their very existence as the most basic betrayal. The Hammers of Sigmar are the exemplars of Sigmar's armies. They are the largest of the Stormhosts, and also the most frequently reforged. Those of their number who have been reforged too many times appear as gilded statues come to life, empowered by lightning alone. Each Stormhost has its own interesting quirks and history and it's hard to read these and not feel inspired to start an army for each of them. The art here is great too, with each Stormhost getting its own little vignette. This is where we see some of the darker looking Stormcast. Warriors slightly unhinged who have seen too much war in their many lifetimes. It really helps put a whole new spin on this army.

The next section goes over each unit in the army, and there are a lot of them. Some units get an entire page to themselves, like the Celestant Prime and Lord-Arcanums, while others only get a single column on a page, like the Lord-Relictors and Knights-Venator. This is great information for new players, and there's plenty of new details scattered throughout for veterans as well. Obviously, each of the new Sancrosanct units gets its first reveal of lore here, as well as, surprisingly, each of the Shadespire Stormcast warbands so far. 

In a first for the Stormcast, we get details on several special characters. When the last Stormcast book came out, there weren't any special characters yet, since the rules for Vandus came out shortly after its release. Here we get a focus on Vandus Hammerhand, Neave Blacktalon, Gavriel Sureheart, Aventis Firestrike, and Asteria Solbright. For Neave and Gavriel this is the first time their backstory really gets explored, and Asteria and Aventis are brand new characters. I really love named characters in AoS, so it's great to see the Stormcast starting to get the amount they deserve. Aventis is the Magister of Hammerhal, a former mage of the Agloraxi empire. He's now determined to make sure the Great Parch of Aqshy never falls into the hands of Chaos again. Asteria is one of the leading figures in the hunt for a cure to the flaw, while Gavriel was a former pit fighter in a Khorne held city, forced to fight for their amusement until he led a revolt. They're all pretty interesting and I really hope to see this expansion continue with some characters for a few of the other Stormhosts and maybe a promotion for Vandus to Lord-Commander?

The last bit before we leave the background section of this book after 87 pages, is a color gallery for a bunch of different Stormhosts. A lot of these we've seen before, but there are a bunch of new ones as well. For some of the older ones they give examples for the Sancrosanct Chamber so you know what colors to use for their robes. I have to say, the quality of these illustrations has gone up greatly, with full shading and rendering on each one. There are quite a few cool color scheme in here, with The Silent Host, the Stormblood Guard, and the Fists of Sigmarite stand out to me.

The model gallery has a bunch of cool mini photography in it, with each of the units showcased. The diorama scenes continue GW's quality work with some cool lighting and framing. The coolest bit for me though are the alternate scheme examples they have in here. Most of the units are in the colors of the Hammers of Sigmar, but we get some examples for the other Stormhosts as well, and these ones are usually slightly converted, and have a definite grittier quality to them. There's just something cool about seeing a Stormcast with battle damage and dirt and grime on them.

The painting section also includes several guides the cover some things like beast skin, marks of battle and prosecutor wings. The coolest part though are the guides for the 13 main Stormhosts, which are each covered in six steps. This is similar to the Deepkin book and should help hobbyists get an idea on how to paint them. They even go over a further four Stormhosts that only require a minor tweak to one of the existing guides, like the Knights of Azyr.

The rules start off with the allegiance abilities for the Stormcast which are pretty straight forward. Scions of the Storm will be familiar to existing Stormcast players and it's pretty similar, but with a few major upgrades. When you're deploying your army, you can keep up to half of your units off the board in the celestial realm. At the end of your movement phase you can bring on any of these units, up to 9" away from enemy units. So, the first big change, you no longer have to roll to see if they come in. This gives you a lot more control over this ability. The only catch is that you have to bring on all your units before turn four. The other new allegiance ability is Shock and Awe, which subtracts 1 from all hit rolls that target a Stormcast unit that is set up that turn. That means any unit deploying from the Scions of the Storm ability, as well as several other abilities like the Vexillor's banner, the Translocation prayer, or the Vanguard Astral Compass. 

To say there are a ton of artifacts, traits, spells, and prayers to choose from is an understatement. Amongst all the different categories there's a total of 30 different artifacts, six command traits, nine spells, six prayers, and 18 different mount traits. There's no way I can go over all of these, so I'll just go over some of the basics. The command traits have a few standouts, like the ever favored Staunch Defender, which has been changed to units wholly within 9" of the general. One that stood out to me is Consummate Commander, which allows you to generate an extra command point on a 4+. The artifacts are broken down into Storm-Forged Weapons, Heaven-Wrought Armor, Artifacts of the Tempest, Treasured Standards, Mystic Lights, Celestial Staves, and Scrolls of Power. Amongst these are plenty of returning favorites, like Mirror Shield and the Luckstone, some with minor changes. The Standards can only be given to Relictors or Vexillors and the Lights to Veritants and Castellants. The new categories are the Staves and Scrolls which are both for the Arcanums and Incantors. Each of these categories have three artifacts to choose from. Staff of Focus is a standout, granting you +1 to cast as well as +1 to any mortal wounds dealt from a spell, but it's only once a battle and just for that round. Scroll of Unravelling is also cool. This is a once per battle ability, but if used any enemy casting rolls for that phase that equal the casting roll of the spell they're attempting fail and the caster suffers D3 mortal wounds. The spell lore has six to choose from in the Lore of the Storm, with a bunch of good choices. Stormcaller goes off on a 7+ and has you roll a dice for every enemy unit on the table, and on a 6+ you do D3 mortal wounds to them. That's pretty powerful, especially if they have a lot of smaller units. The Lore of Invigoration only has three spells in it, and focuses on buffing your own units, like adding +1 to the wound rolls for one unit. The Prayers still have one standout, now renamed Translocation, which is essentially the old Lightning Chariot with a few tweaks.

Several of the most well known Stormhosts get their own rules in the game as well. The Hammers of Sigmar, Hallowed Knights, Celestial Vindicators, Anvils of the Heldenhammer, Knights Excelsior, Celestial Warbringers, Tempest Lords, and Astral Templars all get their own set of rules. These don't cost any points to use and there are no paint requirements at all. They're all pretty good, with the only restrictions being that each has a command trait and an artifact that you're required to take. This means that you won't get to use any of the regular command traits and you'll have to take a battalion if you want to take any of the normal artifacts. The Hammers of Sigmar stand out as a particularly good set. Their First to Be Forged rules gives them all +1 Bravery, which is decent, but the real star is their command ability. Soul of the Stormhost allows you to roll a dice when a friendly unit with the Redeemer keyword, so Liberators or Sequitors, is destroyed. On a 5+ you can set up an identical unit anywhere on the board more than 9" away from the enemy. This is basically summoning for Stormcast. Their Command Trait gives your general and friendly units wholly within 9" a death save of 6+ and the artifact adds one to the damage of the hero's weapon on an unmodified 6 to hit. The Tempest Lords can generate more command points, the Celestial Vindicators can give units +1 attack to all their melee weapons, and Anvils of the Heldenhammer can fight or shoot in their hero phase. Like I said, they all have really good rules to use.

The Path to Glory section follows what we're used to, with charts for followers and rewards. We also get two narrative battleplans that showcase the way that the Stormcast fight.

The Warscroll Battalions section has had a bit of a change. Now only the "mega" battalions get pictures, while the "smaller" battalions just have their list of units and their additional rule. This is because the Stormcast have 20 battalions in total, so space had to be saved. Some existing battalions have been dropped all together, while others have had significant tweaks. Now each battalion only has one special rule. The ever popular Vanguard Wing now add 1 to the damage of an attack for the Liberators or Judicators on an unmodified hit of 6 if they're wholly within 16" of one of the units of Prosecutors. The Lords of the Storm battalion now generates an additional command point in your hero phase on a 4+, while the Vanguard Justicar Conclave lets you re-roll hits of 1 for the shooting of your Raptors if the target unit is within 18" of one of the units of Aetherwings. The Sancrosanct Chamber gets four battalion, including their mega battalion. The Cleansing Phalanx, which is two units of Evocators and two units of Sequitors, lets you re-roll hit rolls for the Sequitors if the Empower spell was successfully cast on them from the Evocators in addition to their normal abilities. 

Just like with the Nighthaunt book, the look of the Warscrolls themselves have gotten a little bit of an update. As far as the rules go, there are 53 different units, including the three Endless Spells. All of the existing units are in here, most of them more or less the same, just with minor tweaks here and there. For example, the Liberators are now Bravery 7 instead of 6, and their paired weapons rule now does 2 hits on an unmodified roll of a 6 instead of allowing re-rolls. Another change is to the Starsoul Mace of the Paladins. Instead of just doing D3 mortal wounds without any rolls, you now roll a dice first and on a 1 nothing happens, on a 2-5 you do D3 mortal wounds like normal, and on a 6 you do D3+1. So now there's a chance of failure, but also the chance for extra damage. Since this isn't technically a hit roll though it can't be buffed or de-buffed. The Prosecutors have had their scrolls merged into one, while the Gryph-hounds now come in units of six for 140 points, matching their boxset. The characters who come packaged with a Gryph-hound, the Castellant and Veritant, now get their's for free.

There are also the new scroll for the Sancrosanct units. The Sequitors will be a favorite at only 20 points more than a unit of Liberators. You can take two grand maces for every five models, plus your prime can take one, meaning in a unit of 10 you would have five grand maces. That's a pretty good damage output. On top of that they have their built in ability to either buff their attacks or saves, and can be further buffed by the Evocators' spell. The Ballista will find its way into most lists at only 100 points and doing D6 hits for each hit roll scored. The heroes, of course, bring the ability to cast spells into the Stormcast. There are five different versions of the Lord-Arcanum, including Aventis, and then the Knight-Incantor and Lord-Exorcist. The Arcanum is pretty dang good, and also unlocks Sequitors as a battleline unit if he's your general. Out of the other two wizards, I think we will see the Incantor the most. She's able to cast spells, has a once per game auto-unbind ability, and has the Soul Flasks, which she can break to cause mortal wounds to everyone around her, including herself. Out of the three Endless Spells I think we'll see the Everblaze Comet the most. It needs a 6+ to cast and is set up wholly within 36" of the caster. On the turn it comes down you roll a dice for each unit within 10" of it and on a 1-2 it inflicts 1 mortal wound, on a 3-4 it does D3 mortal wounds, and on a 5-6 it does 3 mortal wounds. After that, at the start of each battle round, during the Endless Spell phase, roll a dice for each unit within 5" of it and on a 1-3 it does 1 mortal wound, and on a 4-6 it does D3. It also subtract 1 from the casting roll of all wizards within 5" of it. Best of all, it's not predatory, so once it's down it stays in that spot, so you don't need to worry about you opponent moving it back into your lines. It's 100 points though, so on par with the Purple Sun for cost, but it's pretty dang good and very reliable.

This is definitely the definitive Stormcast Eternals Battletome. Everything has streamlined rules wise, with tons of options to customize your army through the plethora of artifacts and the Stormhost rules, as well as all of the new Sancrosanct units. The lore section has been greatly expanded, and I really love the darkness that's slowly growing inside of them. They have always mentioned that with each reforging they lose a little bit of themselves, but this book really lays out that stakes. Even though they're effectively immortal it really gives them a reason to not just throw their lives away knowing they'll just come back later. If you play Stormcast this is a definite must buy, probably for Order players as well, since you can ally in anything from this Battletome. If you're a fan of the storyline and setting I would recommend getting it as well. The Stormcast and Sigmar himself are such an integral part of AoS that they affect everything else, plus we get a more in depth look at the cities and their Stormkeeps. I'm definitely excited to see where the various story lines and nuggets of information in here eventually lead. Will Sigmar find a cure, or are the Stormcast and the forces of Order heading towards disaster?

Until next time,

Tyler M.

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