Sunday, May 15, 2022

REVIEW: Nighthaunt Battletome - The Lore

Are you ready for a ghost story? Well strap in, because you're about to hear the greatest ghost story in the entire Mortal Realms, that of the Nighthaunt! With the storyline moved on from the Soul Wars, which was their big debut, what has changed with our favorite ghastly ghiests?

First off, a big thank you to GW for sending me an early review copy for free to look at. The first thing you notice when you look at the battletome is the cover. This is still the same cover art as they had last time, but with the new red border around it. This isn't a bad piece of art by any means, in fact, it's terrific! That being said, I still would have liked to see a new cover to help differentiate it. Also, I'll never say no to more new Nighthaunt artwork!

The lore section opens up with a general overview of the Nighthaunt, which is still the same as last time. One of the big story hooks for them is that their ghostly form reflects a form of punishment that Nagash deems proper for their crimes in life. So, Grimghasts were mass murders, Chainrasps were people who died as prisoners, etc. It also mentions how prior to the Necroquake, ghosts were a much less common occurrence. Basically, they hung around haunted areas or where they died, but with the completion of Nagash's great plan in Shyish, they've been let loose and now terrorize the Mortal Realms in vast armies and hordes.

One thing that this edition of their battletome does more than the last is spend quite a bit of time talking about the nature of ghosts and afterlives in the Mortal Realms in general. Some of this is stuff we would have read before in places like the main rulebook, but it dives a lot more into the minutia of it. In the Mortal Realms there are many afterlives. Essentially, if a culture believed in a specific afterlife enough, it would manifest within Shyish and once they died their souls would go there. After awhile, if that culture died off, or the living stopped believing in that afterlife, it would fade away in Shyish and all of the souls would disappear into oblivion. It also mentions how there are aelf afterlives there, that hover above the rest in the sky, and duardin afterlives that exist beneath the ground. The underworlds also weren't gated communities. It was possible for souls to wander from one to another, creating a blended culture.

All of this first started to change during the Age of Myth, when the living first started to settle in Shyish. They made their homes amongst the underworlds, some of them are direct descendants of the souls who lived there already. This caused a lot of resentment amongst some of the souls, who were offended by the vibrancy of the living, but at the same time a lot of the underworlds lived in harmony with them, as long as they helped protect the lands. This was especially true during the Age of Chaos, when the living and the dead often had to fight together to survive.

This changed even further with the coming of Nagash and the Necroquake. Peaceful afterlives are few and far between now, with Nagash taking the majority of the souls under his command and twisting them into the deadly Nighthaunt. The Necroquake also reversed the natural flow of the realm, with everything now being drawn towards the Shyish Nadir at its center. Instead of underworlds slowly fading, they are instead "devoured" by the nadir and their energies added to Nagash's might. 

One of the most interesting parts in here is how it talks about the importance of fear to the Nighthaunt. It states how fear of the ghosts is what gives them power, and if an individual believes enough in a god or totem, even if it's not real, it can stave off the Nighthaunt. Basically, just believing in anything and believing that it protects you from them actually protects you from them. Yet, as soon as that belief starts wavering and fear creeps in, that protection goes away. Lady Olynder, Mortarch of Grief and Ruler of the Spirit Hosts understands the importance of this more than others. She is a master of psychological warfare and studies the varied cultures and races across the Realms to best learn how to instill fear in them. 

My favorite new addition to the Nighthaunt lore here is the fact that Olynder uses mortal agents to help spread this fear abroad ahead of a Nighthaunt invasion. This way a traveller may slip into a fortified city and start spreading stories about the Nighthaunt that play up those fears, seeding the doubt and terror that will allow the ghostly warriors to conquer it with ease later. This is just such a terrific idea and really plays up how smart Olynder is and makes the Nighthaunt more than an unthinking tide of ghosts. I just love the idea of a living human secretly working for Olynder in the same way that Neferata has her agents spread throughout the Realms.

Speaking of Olynder, we get a two page spread called the Haunted Empire that shows where Sylontum, the capital of Dolorum, is, and how the Nighthaunt have spread across the realm from there. We also learn more about the kingdom of Dolorum before it fell to Nagash. It was founded in the underworld of those who saw injustice, but did not speak up against it. It also conquered much of the surrounding lands, including the island of Tzlid, the current home of the Unmade warcry warband. After Olynder's takeover of the kingdom, and its fall in the Age of Chaos, it became the new seat of power for the Nighthaunt forces.

For the timeline we get 5 1/2 full pages of new entries! I particularly like the story about Vholdian Keranus, who became the first of Nagash's Lord Executioners during the Age of Myth. We also get the origins of the Quicksilver Dead in the ruins of Elixia, the origins of Awlrach the Drowner, and another of my favorites featuring the Scarlet Doom. In Khul's Ravage in Aqshy, a Dawnbringer Crusade is trying to reclaim the land. So much blood is spilled by the forces of Khorne and souls consigned to death, that the ghosts rise from the pools of blood scattering the land. They then proceed to completely slaughter the Khornate forces, before approaching the Dawnbringers in parley, allowing them safe passage back to their city. We also get all of the major events you would expect, from the Soul Wars, to the events of Forbidden Power and Broken Realms. We even get mention of conflict on the island of Tzlid and someone named the Flayed Prince, who used to be an ally of Olynder's. The final entry has the Nighthaunt instilling the fear of death into the Sons of Behemat after Olynder turns one of their number into a scattering of black rose petals. There's a ton to dig into in here in general.

The next section goes over the organization of the Processions, which is basically focused around the old Warscroll Battalions from the last battletome. 

Like most battletomes now, the Nighthaunt finally get some sub-factions, in this case called the Evercursed Hosts. The four we get details on are the Grieving Legion, the Emerald Host, the Scarlet Doom, and the Quicksilver Dead. The Grieving Legion are essentially the studio collection of Nighthaunt. This is the old Legion of Grief, with all of the non-Nighthaunt elements discarded. It's the grand legion of Dolorum itself and often led by Olynder or Kurdoss. The Emerald Host on the other hand are the personal hunters of Olynder. When someone has particularly aggrieved her, she will cast a hex on them which all but ensures their doom. The Host is mostly made up of horsemen and is always preceded by an emerald glow. 

The Scarlet Doom are the ghosts of those whose corpses were mutilated, eaten, or decapitated. They have a special hatred of unrepentant killers and take the form of ghosts made of blood. As is fitting for them, they arrive to battle by rising from the pools of blood spilled in war. Lastly, the Quicksilver Dead may be familiar to those who have been around since the Realmgate Wars. They hail from Chamon, and in particular, the city of Elixia. The first of their number is Celemnis, who assisted the Stormcast in defeating the forces of Chaos who held that city. They take the form of quicksilver, as their name implies, and instead of being able to float through walls they turn into pools of metallic liquid and spill through any available cracks.

Lastly we come to the individual unit section. Most of the existing units' backstories are more or less the same, but we also have a few new ones. Awlrach the Drowner is the new boat guy and he has a particularly grim story. Hailing from Aqshy, he used to ferry people across the Ocean of Swords. When he would make it halfway across he would instead throw his victims overboard and watch them drown for the pure joy it brought him. Eventually he was discovered and drowned in return for his crimes. Nagash saw him as a worthy soul for his legions though, and remade him as a Nighthaunt who now ferries his own forces. Uniquely amongst the Nighthaunt he doesn't see his fate as a punishment, but instead a reward, since he now gets to drown new souls for eternity.

There's not a ton of new artwork in here, but what we do get is awesome. There's a new two page spread right near the start of the book that I love, and also a bunch of vignettes of the various Nighthaunt heroes in the unit section. The gallery section in the middle of the book shows off all of the 'Eavy Metal models as well as some awesome scenic photos. They also have painted examples of the different legions, such as the Emerald Host and Scarlet Doom. This is then wrapped up with a tutorial section showing you how to paint various parts of the models.

Moving on from the lore we get the Path to Glory section. This is actually nestled within the rules section, but since we covered all of the other rules yesterday we're just going to focus on Path to Glory. The first unique rule they get is called Haunters of the Realms. This allows you to pick up to 3 different Nighthaunt units and secretly hide them in 3 separate terrain features. You need to make sure you mark these down somewhere. Then at the end of ANY movement or charge phase, you can reveal 1 or more of these units and they only need to be 3" away from an enemy unity. It seems that this is in addition to the Vanishing Phantasms rule.

They then have a rule similar to how Nurgle could corrupt territories, but instead the Nighthaunt get to haunt it. You can find these naturally on an exploration roll of 61-66, or you can haunt territories you already control by completing certain quests. There is also a way for your opponent to Exorcise a haunted territory, which would replace it with the normal version of it instead. Speaking of quests, there are four of them for you to pick from. Souls for Shyish earns you 1 quest point per major victory, and once you have 3 you can haunt a territory. Hatred of the Living ends in you fighting one of the two battleplans included in this section. Feed on Terror gives you 1 quest point for each enemy unit that becomes terrified during the game and once you get 7 quest points it's completed. Then in your next game you can give EACH Nighthaunt Summonable unit in your army a veteran ability for that battle only. This quest seems like something you might be able to complete in one game depending on the size of the game you're playing. Lastly, Ethereal Rising, which you complete by winning a major victory and having 6 or more haunted territories. In your next game you can return 1 slain model to each of your Summonable units at the start of each of your hero phases.

There are 6 unique veteran abilities you can pick from here, with Champions of Olynder being my favorite. This is a once per game ability that where when any unmodified melee hit roll is a 6 then it does D3 mortal wounds. There also ones that increase your ward save and your normal save. There are 6 Haunted Territories as well, with the Harassed Outpost, Shyisan Realmgate, Tormented Barracks, Ancient Battle Site, Cursed City of Order, and Soul-infested Slums. Each of these have an original form, as well as a special bonus. For example, with the Harassed Outpost, in the aftermath sequence you can roll a dice and on a 6+ you can skip an injury roll for one of your heroes. Lastly, you're able to upgrade a Knight of Shrouds to a Knight of Shrouds on Ethereal Steed for 15 renown points or 2 glory points.

There are two battleplans in this section, which go along with the Hatred of the Living quest. The first one is Phantasmal Invasion which has the Nighthaunt emerging in the middle of an enemy fortified position. The Nighthaunt player gets to put more of their units in the underworlds to pop up later, and the defender has to spend 2 command points instead of 1 to issue commands in the first battle round. There are two siege targets you're trying to control, and if the Nighthaunt player wins they get to haunt a territory and also get a bonus to their roll for haunted territories in the next aftermath sequence. The final one is Fight or Flight, which has the Nighthaunt pursuing an enemy leader that is hiding. There are 3 areas marked as concealed shelters, and the defender must pick 1 of their heroes to be hiding in one of them. The NH player can then search the shelter if they have a hero nearby and on a 6+ they find them. They win the game if they kill the hidden enemy hero. If they win then they get 1 heroic upgrade for one of their heroes for free and also a bonus to the haunting roll.

Lastly we get all of the warscroll battalions. These are all more or less the same as the ones from the last book, with a few tweaks for what units are in it. Regardless of which ones you take they all have the same bonus of Bound Beneath Indomitable Will. Once per turn you can pick 1 NH unit from the battalion within range of a NH hero and re-roll ward rolls of 1.

I really like the new additions to the lore with this book. There's nothing revelatory, but it really fleshes them out more. The way the underworlds work is thoroughly explored, and like I said before, I really like the fact that Olynder has mortal agents spreading fear ahead of her. It makes the Nighthaunt feel like they have more agency instead of just being a force of nature. At the start of the Soul Wars they really were more of a tidal wave just spreading across the Realms, but now they're so more than that. 

Until next time,

Tyler M.

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