Saturday, April 9, 2022

REVIEW: Season of War - Thondia

Our first real narrative expansion for Age of Sigmar 3 has arrived in the form of Season of War: Thondia! AoS has always had "event" narrative books, like Malign Portents, Forbidden Power, or Broken Realms, but not nearly as many stand alone narrative supplements as 40k has been getting. To say I'm excited for this is a bit of an understatement. So, what lurks within the Realm of Beasts? Let's find out!

First off, a big thank you to Games Workshop for sending me an early review copy to look at. The cover on this is great. It's more stylized and graphical then the usual covers we see in AoS, and helps set it apart from the Battletomes. The black background with the mystical and astrological lines overlaying it, and the hexagonal central image showing the Krondspine Incarnate are just perfect. It has a real scholarly feel to it. The limited edition version of it is even better in my opinion.

Before we delve into the specifics, let's go over the basics of what this book is. It's a narrative supplement focusing on the continent of Thondia in Ghur. This is where the main story points are all focused in AoS3 and also the location of Excelsis, the city that was besieged by Kragnos in the Broken Realms series. The lore section is about a 50/50 split of background on Thondia and Ghur itself, from the history of the realm, to info on some of its bestial inhabitants, and then the other half is a continuation of the story from the Dominion box. On the rules side of things we have a new warscroll for the Krondspine Incarnate, as well as supplements for Open, Narrative, and Matched Play. I feel as if the Narrative section got the most goodies though.

Now that we have that out of the way, let's take a look at the actual specifics of the book. We start off with a brief description of what this book is, a supplement to the main rules, before going into the history of Ghur itself. This begins with a general overview of the realm, as well as a brief look at how, despite its wild nature, civilization has managed to take root within it. We then move onto the timeline, which takes up a full four pages! There's a lot in here that's already been covered elsewhere, but at the same time there is about an equal amount of new lore snippets. We learn that while humans almost always existed in Ghur, they were quite primitive and often on the back foot in the early days of the Age of Myth due to the predations of the orruks and beastmen. However, after Kragnos' war that ravaged the lands and his defeat and imprisonment, humans were able to establish more of a foothold due to the massive amount of casualties the greenskins and beasts suffered.

This is followed by a map of the Ghurish heartlands, which includes Thondia, Gallet, Bjarl, Lendu, Andtor, Rondhol, and Carcass Donse. Thondia is where the majority of the sigmarite settlements are. There's an interesting bit in here about how hard the lands are to accurately map, partially due to the dangers any cartographer would face in exploring the land, but also due to their ever shifting nature. It states that the maps Sigmar's empire currently holds are fairly accurate, but they'll probably be outdated within a decade or two. I would love to see this map change over the years to reflect this. Maybe in AoS 4 or 5 the coastlines will be different as the continents literally eat each other.

We then get a wonderful two page spread of various snippets of communications regarding the current conflicts in the realm. There's one from a Kharadron Speculator, a Skaven Gutter Runner, an Ogor Butcher, and so on. I absolutely love stuff like this. Not only does it give us an in-universe look at how the inhabitants of Ghur perceive the current events, it's also presented in the book as actual found scraps of paper. I was always a huge fan of the old source books GW used to do, like the one for Armageddon, the Storm of Chaos, or the Chaos gods, and they were full of creative presentations like this.

The map then zooms in even more, focusing on just Thondia itself. We also get four full pages of text exploring important locations in Thonida, such as the cities, the Krondspine mountain range, the jungles of Mekitopsar and its seraphon inhabitants, the Great Gutfort, and more. It really helps flesh out the region and gives you tons of background lore on it. Considering how vague and nebulous the realms were when AoS first started, seeing this kind of detail is great. This is RPG level of detail about Thondia, and I'm all for it. The more realistic and fleshed out they can make a region, the better.

After all of this we finally move onto the narrative story. Here we're following two main characters, Tyberain, the Lord-Imperitant from Dominion, and Brokkagok, the Killaboss on foot from the same box. Following on from the battle at Amberstone Watch we get a feel for what transpired immediately afterward. After a while Yndrasta reappears and recruits Tyberain and his Stomhost as well as some Astral Templars to join her in a mission into the wilds. Vague rumors have started to spread, and a bestial wildness has begun to infect the populace beyond the city walls. On the destruction side of things we catch up with Brokkagok, who is now sulking and skulking in the Drowned Lands with his warband. There he runs into a warband of Bonesplitterz led by a Wurrgog Prophet known as Da Snorter. The prophet has been having similar visions and premonitions to Yndrasta, and feels that the spirit of Ghur has awoken out in the wilds. The two team up and head out following the visions. As they reach the foothills of the Krondspine mountains they run into a beastmen encampment that's using humans as slaves for some nefarious purpose. With the forces of destruction and order both heading towards the Krondspine mountains, which shares a name with a certain new Incarnate model, what could be in store for them? The story does wrap up and have a conclusion in the book, but I don't want to ruin it here for anyone who wants to read it. All in all, the story covers 17 pages, so there's a lot to sink your teeth into.

My favorite part of the lore section actually comes after this, as we get another in universe look at part of Thondia. Presented as individual bits of paper on a wood desk we get snippets from a book called Dzantaster's Bestiary. This explores the various flora and fauna of Ghur, complete with a black and white sketch of each entry. These are written from the perspective of a sigmarite scholar and really, are just the best. I love them. The creatures covered are Bullgors, Frost Sabres, Cockatrices, Stegadons, Carnosaurs, Fellwater Troggoths, Jabberslythes, Thondian Flathorns, Corpse-Rippa Vulchas, Itcher Moss, Growl-Oaks, Barbed Snifferweed Spheres (which look suspiciously like the old green balls with red spikes that populated 40k tables in 2nd edition), and Terrorpins. Again, stuff like this is just so awesome to read and really helps being the realms to life.

With the lore section done we move into the rules. This starts our with the rules for Incarnates, and the warscroll for the Krondspine Incarnate of Ghur specifically. They are essentially bonded to a hero in your army, and if that hero is ever slain they revert to their Wild Form, which means they're just as likely to attack your own units as your opponents. They are a rather unique model, half way between an Endless Spell and a Monster. Like a monster, they have levels. In this case it's Empowered, Primal, Weakened, and Abolished. They start as Primal, and can move up by eating an Endless Spell or killing a monster. This also affects its Domination Range, which in the case of the Krondspine, gives units wholly within its range the ability to re-roll run and charge rolls, makes it so they can't retreat, and subtracts 1 from a Wizard's casting, dispelling, and unbinding rolls unless it's the bonded hero. These effects appear to apply to all units, not just friendly. In addition, if you give this model the All-Out Attack command, any friendly units wholly within its range gets it as well, and a Wizard bonded to it gets +1 to cast if it's within range. The way it's wounded is also different. It doesn't technically have a wounds characteristic. Instead, you keep track of how many wounds it's taken over a turn, then in the battleshock phase you roll 3D6, and if it's less then or equal to the number of wounds it's taken it drops a level, otherwise nothing happens to it. In either case, after that you remove all wounds from it. Once it reaches the Abolished state it's removed. This particular one is also quite hitty, as you'd expect from an Incarnate of Ghur. I really like the idea of this model, especially since it can be taken by any army. I'm excited to see the Incarnates of the other realms in the future.

We also get Realm Rules for Thondia, with a spell, a command, a unique Mysterious Terrain table, and rules for Monstrous Denizens. This is similar to the old realm rules for Ghur, and has a wild monster set up in the middle of the table. Each battle round the players roll off to see who controls it. This can also be an Incarnate.

After this we move into the Open Play sections. This gives you a new set of maps and tables to roll on to generate a battleplan, and also requires you to use the Thondia Realm Rules.

The Narrative Play section is where the real meat and potatoes are. First off we get a unique Path to Glory battlepack. We start with the ability to establish an outpost in Thondia for your roster. You can do this after you've won a battle using the battle pack. You're limited to how many outposts you can have based on the size of your stronghold. Presumably we'll be getting rules for more outposts in future books. If you have a Thondian outpost, you can use Thondian veteran abilities, prime monster abilities, Thondian territories, and do scouting expeditions in Thondia. Once you've established in outpost in Thondia you have access to all of this, even if you're not using this battlepack anymore. There is also a special rule called Beastslayer, which allows a hero to issue the All-Out Attack command if they kill a hero, with no command point spent, and even if that command has already been used.

There are two unique quests to pick from, Incarnate and Hero Quest. Incarnate has you pick a hero at the start, and once you have 3 quest points you can add an Incarnate of Ghur to your roster, bonded to that hero. Hero Quest allows you to add an Anvil of Apotheosis hero (more on that in a bit) to your roster once you complete it. As mentioned earlier, there is a unique table for veteran abilities, and territories. Also, if you add a monster to your roster and you already have a Thondian Outpost, then you can make a prime monster roll. On a 5+ you get to give that monster one of 6 abilities, such as Monstrous Constitution, which allows it to heals D3 wounds once per battle. The scouting expedition rules let you pick one unit from your roster in the aftermath sequence that did not participate in the battle, and roll on a special expedition table. Each result has an encounter tied to it, such as Frontier Settlement. For this you roll a dice, on a 1-2 the settlement was hostile and the unit's casualty score in increased by D3, on a 3-4 it was friendly and you gain D3 glory points, and on a 5+ it becomes your ally and you can increase your ally limit by 1. I really like this last addition. It has a real RPG feel to it. There are also 6 new battleplans that you have to pick from when playing games with this battlepack. Each of them uses the Thondia Realm Rules.

The true jewel of this section is the return of the Anvil of Apotheosis! These rules originally debuted in the General's Handbook 2020, and they largely remain unchanged, but are now compatible with AoS3! These are essentially character creation rules. To start with you pick a Destiny Point limit. This is either 20 for a "Champion" or 40 for a "Conquerer." The next step is to pick your Ancestry. This is what race/army you are. For example, you can be an Aelf, and then you have to pick which aelf army they're from, or you can be a Deathmage, a Grot, a Stormcast, a Malignant, etc. Each of these have a base Move, Save, Bravery, and Wounds consistent with their army, and a set of keywords. They also each have a destiny points cost, so a Stormcast is 5 destiny points, while a Grot is 3. Next you pick their weapons. There are some restrictions on what combinations you can do, but there is a list of one-handed weapons, a list of two-handed weapons, and a shield option. These all have their stats listed right there, so a Grandhammer for instance is 1" reach, 2 attacks, 4+ to hit, 2+ to wound, - 2 rend, and 3 damage. They each then have a destiny points cost, such as 2 for the Grandhammer.

After this you have to pick an Archetype. The choices are Commander, Mage, and Acolyte. There are some restrictions here depending on your ancestry, such as Khorne not being able to take a Mage. The Commander has two command abilities to pick from, the Acolyte has two prayers to pick from, and the Mage has four spells to pick from. Each of them can only pick one thing though. There's no destiny point cost here. You can then pick a Bestial Companion in the form of a Minor Beast (think a bird companion or the Deepkin's fish), a Mounted Beast, or a Gargantuan Beast. These again have a few restriction. No Bullgors or Dragon Ogors can ride a beast. They will bump up the character's wounds, and the mounted ones bump up the move value too. All of their attacks are presented with Claws and Maw attacks for each kind, as well as a destiny points cost. The Gargantuan Beast is 15 destiny points for example. You can then upgrade the bestial companion with 12 options. Some examples are being able to make it fly, giving it a breath attack, increasing the rend, and so on. Each has a destiny points cost, and some of them can be taken multiple times, like increasing the rend, and you just pay each time.

Rules I made with the Anvil
of Apotheosis

Lastly, you have the same options for your character themselves in the form of Characteristic Enhancements and Abilities. There are 22 options to pick from, ranging from increasing your wounds, move, or bravery, to things like becoming Ethereal, or adding 1 to your casting roll. There's also the option to make them a Battle Standard Bearer, which gives them the Totem keyword. I really miss the army standard bearers, so it's exciting to see a way to bring them back. Again, some of these can be taken multiple times, like increasing the wounds characteristic, while other are a one time thing, like Zealot, which lets them run and charge. At the end you total up all of your destiny points and multiply it by 10, and that's the points cost of your model. So if you spent 34 destiny points to make your hero, then they cost 340 points. To use your hero in games you do need to get your opponent's permission beforehand, as this is kind of an add on to the game, and at events/tournaments you can only bring them if the TO allows it.

The last section of the Narrative section gives you a battlepack to recreate the events of the story from earlier in the book. This includes some special rules, four unique battleplans, five unique warscroll battalions, and a list of what armies you need.

Lastly, we have the Matched Play section with the Strife in Thondia battlepack. This gives you all of the rules you need to run a 5 game event/tournament set in Thondia. This includes five battleplans, a new list of grand strategies, a new list of battle tactics, three core battalions, and uses the Thondia Realm Rules from earlier. The Grand Strategies seem pretty much the same, with the inclusion of one the uses Incarnates. The Battle Tactics though are all new. A lot of them have bonuses involving Incarnates. For the battalions we see Monstrous Kill-Pack and Hunters of the Heartland return, but we also see Incarnate Masters of Ghur. This requires a Krondspine Incarnate, a commander, and at least one troop, with the option for two more. The Incarnate must be bonded to the hero in this battalion, but the bonus is that it doesn't revert to its wild form until all of the units in the battalion have been killed.

The battleplans are all a pretty big divergence from what we're used to in Matched Play since there are no objective tokens! Clash in the Borderlands has you score by getting your units off the opponent's table edge, while Invasion's winner is determined by who controls the most table quarters at the end of the game. The deployments are also rather non-standard, and since these are meant to be played in order at a single event, the attacker and defender are determined by who won and lost in the previous game. If you won and get paired with someone who also won, then you roll off as normal, same if you lost and your opponent lost too. The final game is called Cut Off The Head and the objective is just to kill the opponent's warlord and keep yours alive. There are some additional battle tactics here too though to incentivize you to get your general stuck in instead of just hiding them somewhere. Even though battle tactics don't affect the outcome of your game, they do affect the outcome of the overall campaign. You get 20 points for a win, 10 for a draw, 1 for each battle tactic, and 5 for each grand strategy. This is definitely a more narrative themed Matched Play pack, with the battle plans being more unbalanced and geared towards narrative moments. I think this would work great for two players, because then you can stretch it out over a longer time period. For an event you would definitely need people who go into this with the right spirit, and I think a lower player count would help with the logistics of it. I love seeing this kind of variety in a Matched Play pack though and would equally love to play in a one off event that uses this.

Overall, I love this book! I love the lore. I love the focus on a smaller area. I love how much depth it goes into fleshing out Thondia and make it feel like a real place. The Incarnates are awesome and I can't wait to see future ones. The Anvil of Apotheosis is amazing, and in general, all of the Narrative and Matched play rules are a breath of fresh air into the hobby. This is the kind of content I've been dying to see in AoS. I really like the advancing story line, and this continues that, but it also takes the time to make sure the setting is just as important. I'm really excited to see more Seasons of War in the future (please do one in Shyish). I'm also really excited to mess around with the Anvil of Apotheosis and maybe run or participate in an event using the Matched Play pack in here. This is great, really. I highly recommend picking this up if you're a fan of the lore and/or setting.

Until next time,

Tyler M.

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