Category Archives: Undead

Spiritual Awakening

I’ve always been a big fan of the undead. Back in the old days when bases were square I dreamed of a vast host of walking corpses with which to dominate the living. Then I discovered how many skeletons I’d have to paint and rather went off the idea, plus the models for the zombies were ancient and terrible – and believe it or not they still are. Games Workshop; by far the most successful miniatures company in the world and they still can’t find the time to replace a staple of the fantasy genre like the zombie.

It wasn’t so much the number of bodies I needed to paint that put me off (I went for Skaven in the end after all) but the real world cost of buying them all, especially when compared to the rats which were at that time rumoured to be in the starter set for a forthcoming 8th edition. In the end though I did acquire a small collection of revenants and last year I even got around to painting them. I should probably have put them on round bases whilst I was at it but even then AoS was hard to take seriously, it’s background fiction a slapdash, cobbled together nonsense of copyrightable names and unfinished ideas.

Vampire Counts Convert Or Die (4) - Copy

My zombie apocalypse begins – without the zombies.

Now, however, Games Workshop have recognised the value in expending some time and energy fleshing out the setting and the rest of us are reaping the rewards. It’s still a bit pompous and overly convoluted, it’s still a mishmash of ideas carried over from previous iterations and it still doesn’t always know when to be serious and when to be silly but that’s Warhammer for you. Things weren’t any different before the Age of Sigmar came along.

Anyway, the undead are back in town and my interest has been rekindled. The ghosts that we met in the Soul Wars starter set have been bolstered into a fully fledged fraction. Some of the new releases are the same or similar to the models that appeared in Soul Wars so I won’t go over them again here, if you want to know what I thought of them you know where to look. In the meantime let’s turn our attention instead to the rest of the new ghosts, starting with the big boss, Lady Olynder, the Mortarch of Grief.

Olynder 1

Looking around online I find myself wondering if I am the only person on the planet who’s not a huge fan of Olynder. Then again I’m not terribly enamoured with Nagash either, his model is just a little bit too over the top and special effect heavy for my taste. Released at the beginning of the End Times he falls down for me between his two incarnations – a little too big and showy to be the great necromancer of the old world, a little too small and unspectacular to be an actual god. Gods in my opinion should be too big and awe inspiring for the tabletop. Imagine a miniature of Khorne or Nurgle for example. Alarielle gets away with it, firstly by being awesome and secondly because there’s an exception to every rule.

As for Olynder, she’s nice enough but I’m not sure I share the rabid enthusiasm for her that others have displayed. The clever trick the designers have pulled here is that she is essentially a large, detail-light space, framed by detail-heavy elements; a blank canvas but one you would never really be able to play with without spoiling the illusion. I’ve got no doubt that there will be Golden Daemon entrants using her as an opportunity to create eye-aching works of technical perfection but to my taste I don’t think I’d find her either interesting or relaxing to paint. She’s not my least favourite Mortarch, that dubious honour falls to Arkhan the Black who shares his employer’s taste in ludicrous hats, but she’s a long way from the downright gorgeous Neferata.

That said there are some truly wonderful elements and the whole design is undoubtedly extremely clever. Look at the way she holds up the trailing hem of her dress for example, a very human gesture which grounds her as a person rather than just an ambulatory sheet. She doesn’t have to worry about tripping over, she doesn’t even have any feet, but we expect a bride to need to worry about her train and so the gesture humanises her and helps to turn a faceless absence into a relatable person.

Lady Olynder

By dressing Olynder as a Miss Havishamstyle bride the designers have also defined her by the absences around her. Instead of the groom and wedding ceremony she has only two little ghosts for company. She is forced into a role, and weakened by it. Neferata is a queen, Olynder will at best only ever be the wife of a king. That king certainly is not Kurdoss Valentian however, hunched on the looming throne he appears subservient to it, as though his incorporeal arse is only keeping it warm for someone stronger and he expects to get kicked off at any moment.

Olynder is also without doubt the most original of the four Mortarchs, the others harking back to the same motif; an undead general mounted upon a flying steed. Thus of the three named heroes available to the Nighthaunt, Reikenor the Grimhailer is the most immediately familiar.

Reikenor Grimhailer 01

His steed is also surprisingly traditional for AoS where no-one seems to ride horses anymore when you can scoot about on a half-cat, half-dragon or a flying shark instead. With his winged horse, Kyallaron, which could easily pass for a Hellsteed he wouldn’t have looked out of the place in a Vampire Counts army and thus he acts as something of a sop to fans of a more traditional aesthetic.

Like the other Nighthaunt there’s nothing terribly fancy about Reikenor himself, a carved mask and a few candles being his only concessions to grandeur. Kyallaron however makes up for it, from his battered armour to the candelabra’s worth of candles stuck to his nose this horse is one of the most extravagantly dressed heroes in the Nighthaunt army. Or maybe he’s just angling for a job with House Cawdor.

Reikenor Grimhailer 03

The angel statue deserves a special mention. A wonderfully evocative addition it almost feels wasted tucked away under Reikenor’s hooves and would make for a cracking terrain piece for either AoS or 40k were one willing to construct something else for the Grimhailer to gallop over the top of.

Reikenor Grimhailer 02

Of the three new leaders however by far my favourite is Kurdoss Valentian, the Craven King. As a leader he’s a perfect exemplar of the army as a whole. He looks physically weak, hunched on the edge of his crumbling throne, his glory faded, the stone work of his dais breaking to dust beneath him. Unlike the rest of the range, which is defined by being ethereal to varying degrees, there is a distinct solidity to him; his throne may be floating but it is still a big lump of rock and the mace he clutches looks more than heavy enough to crush heads and break bodies. Kurdoss himself however is a wretched and frail creature, lacking the solid presence of the throne and weighed down both actually and figuratively by the weight of his crown.

The Craven King

Having three named characters, each of which could easily be the faction leader, serves to emphasise the feeling of weakness at the heart of the Nighthaunt. Can you imagine Neferata, Arkhan or Mannfred suffering competitors to their thrones? Yet whilst those three were powerful rulers in the Old World, with an independence and authority that defined their characters, these newcomers are nothing more than puppets for Nagash. No wonder Kurdoss Valentian sits so awkwardly on his throne.

Ghosts riding down their victims on spectral horses makes for a suitably terrifying image but for a long time the only way to represent this was with the less than spooky hexwraiths. Oddly, despite sharing a kit with the wonderful black knights, the hexwraiths are, at least to my eye, rather naff. Their upright poses and chunky garments make them quite the opposite to the spectral Nighthaunt we’ve seen released this month. Rather than being ghostly they’re just skeletons with lumps of plastic flame stuck to them at random. Luckily those wanting to paint spooky horsemen of actual quality are at last being rewarded. As well as the Knight of Shrouds and Reikenor we have the Dreadblade Harrows which sounds like the title of a Harry Potter book in which the plucky boy wizard joins a long and illustrious list of people who have aggravated Nagash and got away with it.

Dreadblade Harrows 2

We already received one spirit torment in the Soul Wars box now we have another, this time wearing a gibbet but still looking every inch the jailer. He carries a huge padlock clearly intended to serve as some kind of bludgeoning flail and it looks downright heavy too pulling the whole model towards the ground and needing both hands to support it. The narrative here is clearly and cleverly conveyed. He may carry the padlock and keys but he is the prisoner forced to lug them around and struggling under their weight.

He also comes with two spookily faceless bodyguards presumably to stop other ghosts trying to nick his keys. It would have been nice however if his mask had matched that of his peer in the Soul Wars box to tie the two together a little more and to help differentiate him from his body guards.

Crawlocke

 

Sadly I’m not at all keen on the Dreadscythe Harridans. Perhaps they would have worked better in isolation but looking at them one almost feels that the designers used the best ideas for the Myrmourn Banshees already and were struggling to match them. There are two squads of female ghosts available to this army and whilst one is pretty much perfect the other smacks of trying too hard with too little inspiration in the creative tank. Whilst the veils of the Banshees show little and imply a great deal to create a wonderfully spooky effect the Harridans just come across has a little hammy. As special effects go having a skull for a face has been done to death already and given that this is the Warhammer universe where skills are literally everywhere a ghost with a skull for a face probably doesn’t make the “Top 10 most frightening things I’ve seen this week” list for even the most sheltered of citizens. I do wonder how they would look with the serene death masks of the Sanguinary guard – if I’m right, the answer is downright terrifying.

Harridans 4

Then there are the flowers in their hair. I found myself asking if this might be sexist before deciding I was probably reading too much into it. Of course there is a long association of flowers with death, particularly to cover up the smell of ripe corpse puts out. Then again, as incorporeal beings ghost are not normally associated with being whiffy.

One wonders if the designers asked themselves “how do we represent female ghosts when all we have to play with his a white sheet with a skull on the front?”

“How about long hair?” another would ask.

“Good idea”, says the first, “but they might still be rock musicians”

“Hmmm.. how about flowers then – girls love flowers!”

Ultimately though it’s probably nothing and even if it isn’t it’s still a big improvement on boob armour. I don’t see any of the boy ghosts carrying floral arrangements into battle with them though…

Harridans 1

Apparently the Harridans are all former healers who are being tortured by Nagash. Hands which were once dexterous have been turned into lethal blades and the Harridans are driven forwards against their will to slash at the enemy.

Which begs the question; what does Nagash have against healers anyway? Was he once beaten up by a doctor? Did a surgeon mock his taste in hats? Did Morathi dump him for a sexy neurosurgeon who drove a sports car and was “good with his hands”? Surely it cannot be that by saving lives he feels the healers are denying him souls? It’s not as though any of them are promising immortality. The soul still goes to Nagash, the doctors are only delaying the inevitable. The soul may not arrive quite as quickly but to an immortal like Nagash the delay should be barely noticeable. If that’s what he’s upset about it just seems downright petty. I know that as characters go Nagash can spectacularly small minded when the mood takes him but such an obvious dick move just smacks of lazy writing and makes the whole narrative less compelling. A truly well written baddie is one you find yourself sympathising with but GW stamped out any hope of moral complexity here by firmly reminding us that Nagash is just an arsehole and Sigmar is the good man who we ought to be cheering for.

The opportunity was here to create something truly terrifying but alas the designers bottled out at the last moment and then added insult to injury by saddling them with some rather silly background fiction.

Bladegheist 1

Much better in my opinion are the Bladegheist Revenants.  There is a sense of speed and motion here unmatched not just in the Nighthaunt range but across the broader spectrum of AoS as well. Zombies and skeletons may have typecast the undead as slow and ungainly but these are anything but.

The masks are also much more imposing than any skull and, being separate components to the rest of the body, can easily be used to make anyone you want look terrifying. Necron lords, dark eldar, the henchmen of radical inquisitors, the elite of the chaos cults, a troupe of particularly malevolent harlequins, if you need to inspire fear simply apply Bladegheist masks. My only fear is that they might be a little on the small side, it can be hard to judge scale exactly until the miniatures are properly released.

Bladegheist 3

Sadly like the harridans their background seems a little off, at least based on what I’ve read of it so far. Apparently these are the ghosts of those who were murdered in confined spaces or buried alive and their wild swings comes from there frantic attempts to escape death during their final moments.

Their poses on the other hand would seem to imply skill as well as speed, the precise cuts of master duellists rather than the while hacking of those caged in an eternal claustrophobic death. Furthermore these have the look of elite warriors not trapped victims, a look intensified by their grim and fearsome masks. Again it’s a mismatch between design and execution that the writers would have been sensible to avoid. Far be it from me to stifle creative thinking but you can have too much of a good thing. On this occasion it smacks of trying a little too hard to be creative and ending up with something that is just contrived. Does Nagash need to have legions of ghosts defined by highly circumstantial deaths? The ghosts of those who were stabbed (but not shot) in meadows? The ghosts of those who were decapitated whilst on the phone? The ghosts of those who were poisoned whilst looking at a goldfish?

Bladegheist 2

I’m aware of GW’s desire to create unique and copyright-able concepts but surely this is over-egging it. One look at these models is enough to tell you everything about their battlefield role. They are fast moving and wield large, double-handed swords. Their job, therefore, is to punch through the enemy lines, forcing a breech for the other ghosts to pour through. Surely you don’t need to have died in a confined space to be a ghostly shock trooper? Surely you just need to be good at fighting and not afraid of dying and as a ghost you should have one of those things down pat already.

Black Coach 01

We really can’t talk about the Nighthaunt without sparing a moment for the black coach. Unlike the rest of the range it’s been around for quite a while and the outgoing model was already old when I first discovered the vampire counts range. The old coach however was a distinctly solid and earthbound affair drawn by skeletal horses with none of the dynamism that today’s techniques make possible. The old one was so sedate it was probably stationary, its wheels locked solidly to the ground and the driver fast asleep, whilst the new one rattles along so fast it’s become airborne. Where a sleeping vampire needs to go in such a hurry remains unknown but it plays right to the core of the vampiric mythos, an undead lord rushing through the night to perform some unspeakable business or speeding back to his lair before the coming of the dawn.

Black Coach 2

Since the coming of the Age of Sigmar there has been a fear amongst long time fans that many old classics maybe gone for good. Across the fence in 40K the grim darkness of the far future has been more than willing to plumb the glories of the past for inspiration. From Wulfen to Genestealer Cultists concepts long thought forgotten are back on centre stage. AoS however has preferred to be new and innovative. Who cares about old square based fuddy-duddy’s when you have flying dwarves and fish elves riding giant turtles?

In the old days things were predictable; sure the rat ogres and plague monks, the squig hoppers and zombies might look a little past their best but sooner or later Games Workshop would get around to them just as they had with countless other old kits. In this new era however nothing is set in stone. The plus side is that we’ve delved into a world of boundless creativity, the negative is that we might never see new versions are well loved old models. Now old does not necessarily equate to bad, I enjoy a lump of lead as much as the next man, but some of the early plastics especially really do deserve to be replaced and soon. The black coach then offers a little glimmer of hope that Games Workshop haven’t left their history behind entirely here.

Thieving Ghosts 2

Speeding alongside the coach are a little flock of ghosts. I think these are intended as attendance carrying precious items for the convalescing vampire; a sword, a book and a chalice. The more I look at them however the more I think they are actually stealing things. There’s something conspiratorial about the glance exchanged by the two at the top, whilst the one at the side twitches the curtain aside for a nosey peek inside. The effect is emphasised by their positioning, hidden behind the coach’s driver and out of his line of sight. Of the lesser ghost we’ve seen these are the first not to be wearing iron shackles making me wonder more and more if they might be mischievous spirits who have temporarily escaped Nagash’s clutches and are now indulging in some stealthy high-jinx.

Thieving Ghosts

Back when I first got into Warhammer all the various sorts of undead where to be found under one banner, barring the Tomb Kings who were by then off doing their own thing. There were skeletons, zombies, ghouls and ghosts, all of them fairly generic, and generally there was one sort of each. Over time the range diversified but the idea of a whole army with a similar number of units to the Vampire Counts of that era made up exclusively of ghosts is still novel enough to blow my mind a little. Imagine if Games Workshop brought the same commitment to skeletons, zombies, even – dare I say it – mummies? And before you remind me that the Tomb Kings are dead and gone, never to rise again let me suggest that not all mummies are Egyptian. Imagine a race of bog bodies or corpse driven golems!

There is a line in the new Age of Sigmar rulebook which describes how, during the Age of Chaos, enslaved spirits were forced to dig up their own cadavers and mount their skulls on fortress walls. I wonder if Nagash has thought to do the same thing, sending the ghosts into the Nighthaunt and the corpses to become zombies – a sort of buy one get one free on undead armies.

In the old days the undead were defined by a lack of character. Hordes of zombies, skeletons or savage ghouls were puppeteered by powerful vampire lords and commanded to do their will. Beyond the most dominant undead creatures the person they had once been was entirely gone, all that remained was a cadaver shambling about doing its master’s bidding. The old Vampire Counts were equal opportunities employers, albeit also controlling micromanagers. Lords and peasants alike were welcome in their armies, your achievements in life made meaningless. Once they had you, you became a husk to do their bidding and nothing more. Not so the Nighthaunt. They are defined by their former lives and their deaths. Sometimes this is well written, the Craven King for example, at others it seems a little tagged on (the Harridans again I’m afraid).

If you’d told me before this release that Games Workshop planned a whole army of ghosts I would have questioned its viability. Could they really get a whole faction’s worth of models from such a simple concept without the whole thing becoming a little stretched and thin? Where would the variety come from? Games Workshop however have pulled it off in style. Some of the concepts are undoubtedly weaker than others but there’s nothing here that’s particularly objectionable.

This is the breath of fresh air that the Death range was desperately in need of, yet it’s not actually as radical as some of the things we’ve seen appearing amongst their living adversaries. Regardless of your thoughts on AoS (and frankly if you’re still full of rage and bitterness about the fate of the Old World it’s time to take a seat and re-evaluate) aesthetically and conceptually these tie in quite closely to the Vampire Counts of old, and the Shyishian Legions they’ve become. A High Elf might be a little taken aback if one of the Idoneth Deepkin waded ashore in Ulthuan, a Stormcast Eternal would cause quite a panic in the Empire and no true son of Grungni would tolerate the innovative thinking of the airborne Kharadrons, but a ghost from Silvania setting its eyes on a member of the Nighthaunt would at least know it was looking at a kindred spirit.

As usual however these are just my rambling thoughts and opinions. Are you a fan of the new ghosts or do you want to see them exorcised with extreme prejudice? Let me know what you think in the comments box below.

All the pretty pictures have been borrowed from Games Workshop without permission, barring the one at the top of my own Vampire Lord. He never did grow to become a terror in Silvania but I can hear him stirring in his grave in Shyish…  

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Soul Survivors

It’s all kicking off in the Age of Sigmar. A whole new edition has arrived, bringing with it a stack of new models, which I’ll be gushing over shortly (or reviewing them dispassionately like the cold and emotionless agent of the grave I am, depending on your perspective). Once again we’re also seeing the timeline moving forward as Nagash makes his play to replace Chaos as the biggest baddie around. After all he’s been around for millennia and, despite being burdened with a truly terrible hat and getting murdered by the Skaven on a semi-regular basis, he’s risen to attain a well deserved godhood. Until now however he’s been stuck with the same bunch of minions he commanded back in the Old World, minus the Egyptian-looking ones. Of course, never one to back down from a fight or miss out on the merest hint of limelight, Sigmar has sent his Stormcast Eternals to give the agents of his old frenemy a good kicking. Don’t worry, it’s all in fun, none of them can really die.

A new edition means a new boxset and this time we get Soul Wars, the successor to the rather unimaginatively named “Age of Sigmar Starter Set”. Naturally lots of intelligent, literate people who actually have the box in front of them have already shared their opinions about it so you might be forgiven for thinking I wouldn’t bother, but of course you’d be wrong because here I am.

Soul Wars 2

Most excitingly of all I can now look forward to some nutter raving in the comments section about how much he hates AoS and what a truly terrible person I am because I personally murdered Warhammer and ruined everything. If you’re out there mate, the reason I don’t publish your comments is because I genuinely believe you’re unwell and need help and in a rare moment of frankness from me to you I would beg you to consider what this obsessive rage is doing to you and your life. Of course I’ll add that the misplaced bile you pour in my direction also brings a warm glow to my heart and makes me feel that I’ve truly arrived as a reviewer and commenter because I can’t imagine that a busy man like yourself has time to rage at every two bit blog around and you save your burning rage for those platforms where it will garner the most attention. Plus as you are happy to tell me, a stranger, that you hate me, I’m not above mocking you for  a cheap laugh.

So, having agreed that Age of Sigmar is responsible for every unpleasant and terrible thing that has ever happened, from flicking a cigarette butt towards the Hindenburg to producing the music of Shania Twain, let’s acknowledge our shared infamy in still being interested and take a look at the new models.

AoS 2

Faced with a rising tide of ghosts, and discovering that the Scooby-doo gang were unavailable, Sigmar has called in the support of another chamber of Stormcast Eternals; the warrior-mages of the Sacrosanct Chamber. Apparently he heard about the Grey Knights and decided that an army of armoured wizards were just the thing he needed to tackle an incorporeal adversary.

Of course, with tiresome predictability, some sectors of the internet are positively electric with self-satisfied outrage that once again Stormcast Eternals are featured in the boxset. It’s a bit like the people who complain constantly about there being Space Marines in the 40k starter-sets (indeed, it’s probably exactly the same people). Have the courage to admit that you’re just a tedious moaning bore rather than stretching for a silly complaint, especially when that complaint is one that you know will be fulfilled. “I’ll be upset if they put Stormcasts in the starter set” they bleat, smugly knowing that this is as inevitable as if they said “I’ll not buy it if they put the words Games Workshop anywhere on the packaging – after all that’s an anagram of Shag Pokes Worm!” Do you see a giant statue of an Idoneth Deepkin or a Bride of Khaine outside GW HQ in Nottingham? Neither do I – although there’s no denying that the latter would send a powerful message to Games Workshop’s competitors and local burglars alike.

Golden Boy

Still not marrying Khaine

When the first Age of Sigmar starter set was released the Khornate half represented something fairly traditional and familiar. Swap out the round bases for square ones and it would have fitted in nicely as a 9th Edition starter set for Warhammer. Korghos Khul would have made a fine lord of Khorne, the Bloodsecrator a champion with the battle standard, the blood warriors could have been chaos warriors with the mark of Khorne – and likewise the bloodreavers as marauders. Even the Khorgorath could have been a chaos spawn with the mark of Khorne. Alongside this the Stormcasts were the radical choice, making it indisputably clear that here we had something new and different, that the old world was gone and the new was defined by more than round bases and silly names.

This time things are different. This time it is the Stormcasts who are the conservative choice of faction to showcase in the starter set. Like Space Marines for 40k it’s safe to assume that for decades to come each new addition of Age of Sigmar will contain Stormcasts in the boxset.

Secateurs

The core of those Stormcasts are the rather stylish looking Sequitors. I’m not always that keen on Stormcasts, there’s something a little too uniform and faceless about them, but I’ll give the Sequitors two thumbs up. The robes help of course, giving the designers more to play with than plain armour would, but overall these have a lot more individuality and character than previous Stormcasts, whilst still maintaining their cohesiveness. After all, each one is a storied hero – a champion even before Sigmar raised them up – not a clone or another faceless soldier. Early Stormcasts were accused (often rightly) of being a bit repetitive but with these GW have got into their stride. Rather than lacking character each one is a character, and one could imagine oneself ascribing traits to them, identifying them from battle to battle and coming to regard them as individuals in their own right, more like Necromunda gangers than, for example, the twelfth ork in the unit.

Sequitors

I keep telling myself that I don’t need to buy the boxset because I’ll never paint an army of Stormcasts but if I ever do these will form the bulk of it.

Sequitors 1

There’s no denying the visual impact of the Castigators. Stormcasts with grenade launchers? What did the poor followers of Chaos do to deserve this?! As with the Sequitors the robes look great and there’s a real sense of power and weight to the models.

Castigators 2

It’s also good to see more female models as Games Workshop responds slowly to repeated reminders that women have a place in fantasy and science-fiction too (somewhere a fat and unhygienic Star-Wars obsessive is crying into his keyboard at this baldy-stated news but I’ve never sugar-coated anything and I’m not about to let the creepy lard-arse down gently). By subtle narrowing of the masks, waist and legs, and softening of the brow, the designers have rather cleverly managed to incorporate female Stormcasts into the ranks of the Castigators and Sequitors without needing to go down the road of form-fitting armour, boob-armour or even bare heads.

Castigators

I was never the biggest fan of Stormcast based truescale marines, finding that the sleeker armour shapes left them looking more like Stormcasts in space than Space Marines. The arrival of the Primaris marines has generally rendered them a thing of the past, as marines of most chapters can be kitbashed with ease from the Primaris chassis. The exception of course is the Sons of the Lion. Now there are plenty amongst the First Legion who go around dressed in plain power armour, and there’s no reason not to just paint your models green and have done with it. However to really capture the Dark Angels you want long monastic robes and between them the Castigators and Sequitors provide a lot of potential. The hammers, lightning bolts and other Sigmarite flourishes would need trimmed away but a virtue could be made of all the lion iconography.

As I say I’m not that keen on Stormcast based truescale marines, nor do I particularly like the Dark Angels (those filthy traitors!) but I might just pick up a few Sequitors to experiment with.

Evocators

After the excellence of the Castigators and Sequitors the Evocators prove to be a bit of a disappointment. The weird looking armpit robes are a bit too odd for my liking, whilst the tabards starting at the rib-cage makes the torso look very short. The tempest blades meanwhile look rather too long and heavy to be wielded one-handed.

In the early days the Stormcasts were often accused of looking rather blade, a charge which can now be firmly refuted.  The Evocators however seem to be trying too hard to put a flourish on the Stormcast aesthetic and the result is a little half-baked and falls short of the elite warrior-wizards these are intended to be.

Lord-Arcanum

This may sound a little overenthusiastic but I think the Lord-Arcanum is pretty damn magnificent. It showcases the glorious heroism of the Stormcasts and the fantastic richness of the Age of Sigmar in one fell swoop. My love of gritty realism and the “aesthetic of the pathetic” is well known but Age of Sigmar is big, bold and bombastic and this model encapsulates that perfectly. If we’re going to replace the toothless, shoeless Empire soldier as humanity’s defender with an immortal golden giant then let’s do it in style and give that giant a glorious haughty half-horse, half-eagle beast to ride around on. No half-measures here, no implied moral complexity, just over the top heroism through and through. Cut this man and he’ll bleed one-dimensional wholesomeness and moral fibre.

Many people – and I include myself here – took one look at the first Stormcasts and feared that Age of Sigmar would be dumbed down, simplistic and lacking the moral depths of old-Warhammer. Needless to say the likes of the Idoneth Deepkin and Daughters of Khaine have put paid to that, leaving the Stomcasts to encapsulate the goody-two-shoes heroism that they’ve become known for. Given that it’s only right that they be allowed to do it well and to the full extent of the designers’ abilities. Criticising this chap for being a bit OTT and overtly heroic would be like criticising the Idoneth for hanging around with fish.

Being harsh I’ll admit though the model does have a few flaws; the staff is a little top-heavy and cluttered with superfluous detail (just give him a hammer – it wouldn’t make him any less of a wizard) and there’s really no need for every beast in the Stormcast army to have two tails, but these niggles aside he’s still excellent.

Lord-Arcanum 2

Second in command to the Lord-Arcanum is the Knight-Incantor. Even at a glance it’s clear she’s a mage of some kind, the outspread arms, subtly upturned gaze and windblown, billowing robes neatly conveying her connection to the storm. Again her staff is a little top-heavy, as is her crest, and the silly armpit capes continue to look uncomfortable and impractical, but overall she’s a fine model who works in spite of her flaws. The sculpted musculature of the torso is an unusual, but very welcome, choice for a female miniature and would have been far better than the layered tabards of the Evocators. We can expect to see plenty of clever Inquisitrix and Cannoness conversions from this one I suspect. 

Knight-Incantor

The forces of the Stormcasts are diversified further by the arrival of their first artillery piece, the Celestar Ballista. No longer just clones in gold armour the faction has grown, chamber by chamber. Sigmar has unleashed legions of heavy infantry, flying warriors, knights on dragons, even adorable mini-gryphons and, finding his enemies are still going strong, now he’s rolled out the big guns. To my mind this model encapsulates a very Sigmarish, bullish attitude to solving a problem. One can almost hear him saying “Ghosts now you say? Have you tried shooting them?” The Stormcasts must be wishing they’d had access to this back when their enemies were a little more corporeal.

Celestar Ballista

A lot of the elements of the model are a little obvious, indeed this is pretty much exactly what you’d expect from a Stormcast artillery piece, but as it’s their first that’s no bad thing and very much to be expected. Plus it may well be the case that this is setting the template for further artillery and warmachines to come after.

What is interesting is that here is a glimpse of Stormcasts who’re not straight-forward fighters. Whilst previous Stormcasts have clearly been chosen by Sigmar for their combat prowess or tactical acumen, these follow on from the Lord-Ordinator, bringing more to engineering the future of the Realms than just hitting things with a hammer.

Ordinators

Overall I’d call the Stormcast half of the boxset a success. Games Workshop could have used it as an excuse to just churn out more Stormcasts, just as the 40k starter-sets of yesteryear always contained plenty of tactical marines. Instead they seized the chance to broaden the Stormcast range, bringing in mages and artillery and putting a new spin on an already ubiquitous army.

All the usual Stormcast characteristics are present, with hammers, anvils, masked helms, lion faces and more lightning bolts than a Harry Potter convention. Ultimately if you like the look of the Stormcasts then these will add further variety to your collection. If, on the other hand, you’re not so keen on the slightly different style might just sway you.

AoS 2 Knight of Shrouds

Another common complaint from the first edition of Age of Sigmar centred on the lack of mortal threat to any of the participants. Chaos lords were reborn by the gods, Stormcasts and Seraphon were reforged, even the Sylvaneth got in on the act with their soul-pods. Add in the Idoneth and their soul harvesting and a death god like Nagash starts to get seriously irritated. Indeed the situation has now become so grave (sorry – I couldn’t help myself) that he’s unleashed a whole army of ghosts to make his displeasure felt in no uncertain terms.

A number of vocal scoundrels have been calling for Age of Sigmar to give up the ghost since it was launched and, to my personal excitement, now it has. This is what they were wanting right?

First Knight Of Shrouds

Front and centre of the Nighthaunt half of the boxset is the glorious looking Knight of Shrouds. Earlier in the year Malign Portents brought us our first look at a Knight of Shrouds, a magnificently creepy and well executed model which, it is now apparent, was just the precursor to the deathly horde now descending upon us. So impressive is it that even if I wasn’t already a fan of the Death alliance I would have picked one up just to paint. Unfortunately the model was wildly overpriced for a single miniature, a product of Games Workshop’s location (both geographically and philosophically) in the UK’s deeply skewed economic landscape, so I never stumped up the cash for it. Never mind, a nicer one has come along now, and he’s on a horse.

Knight of Shrouds

Once again I may sound a little effusive in my praise here but the Nighthaunt are generally excellent and none more so than their undead general. For the ghosts the pressure to impress was always high. The Vampire Counts range was a well loved staple of Warhammer and for a while new releases were a regular occurrence, with each one including models even bigger and more impressive than the last. The culmination came at the beginning of the End Times with the arrival of the Mortarchs and Nagash himself – the latter being a model I’m not a big fan of but which is otherwise generally well loved.

After the triumph however came the fall. In the purge of Warhammer factions that followed the End Times the Tomb Kings, the Vampire Counts’ sister race and the other branch of the undead in GW’s stable, were swept roughly into the dustbin of history. There followed three years of near silence. The beginning of 2018 saw the arrival of the Malign Portents, something many of us assumed to be Death’s triumphant return. Of course it turned out we were right, just a little premature. Instead of a new army, the undead got an army book and a single overpriced model – but then so did everyone else. Only after two elven factions had appeared did the dead rise at last.

Thus I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who went into this release desperately hoping it would be good and fearing the outcry that would come if it was anything less than perfect. Luckily when it comes to the risen dead GW are still very much on top of their game. If the Knight of Shrouds is suffering from any kind of performance anxiety he doesn’t show it and as a general he can stand proud alongside vampire lords, ghoul kings and Mortarchs alike. Death is back in style, top marks Games Workshop, I should never have doubted you!

Knight of Shrouds 2

There’s something slightly frail about the Knight of Shrouds, a whipped look in his thin arms and hunched shoulders which only adds to his sense of spiteful danger. Here is a ragged and wiry warrior, a pauper general, the very essence of his steed sloughing away in echo of its long rotted flesh. He’s a long way from the wall of golden musculature sent by Sigmar yet one suspects his sword would cut the deeper for the bitterness behind it.

Lord Executionar 2

Alongside the Knight of Shrouds Soul Wars spoils us with three more Nighthaunt characters. First up we have the Lord Executioner, an overenthusiastic headsman in life now bound to eternally serve Nagash. The elements are relatively simple; an executioner’s hood, a gallows and a great big axe. Nonetheless the model does a lot with these few ingredients and the result is delightfully sinister and imposing. A small group of ghosts swirl around him, framing the model’s face and helping to tie these newer models in to older figures like the spirit hosts and mortarchs.

Gallows Gallery

Back when I reviewed the Lord of Blights from the Nurgle release (in January) I described the gallows worn on his back as “a good idea amateurishly executed”. With the Lord Executioner we get to see it done properly.

Lord Executionar 3

An executioner never has to rush around chasing after victims and thus the model encapsulates a sense of slow-moving power. He calmly stares ahead, picking out his next victim, and the model’s golden angle has him looking directly at the viewer. Meanwhile his greater height above the base implies a potential for downward movement, he’s not racing into the sky but preparing for a powerful decapitating downswing. I’m also no fan of sculpted smoke, fire or magical effects, something you would think would put me off the Nighthaunts in general, but here it’s been done with such aplomb that it’s impossible not to be impressed.

Guardian of Souls

The Guardian of Souls is the first Nighthaunt wizard (you can tell by his staff, pointy hat and beard). Apparently his role involves guiding the spirits of the dead back into the Mortal Realms, a story that is subtly but skilfully told by his pose. His sword is held low – he’s not really a fighter after all – and his lantern is outstretched overhead to guide others, with wisps of ethereal flame coiling back behind him.

Spirit Torment

Whilst the Guardian of Souls and Lord Executioner clearly convey their mortal origins the Spirit Torment looks more like a cross between a deep sea fish and one of the bridges over the Seine that people cover in padlocks. The result is deliciously creepy, the eyeless face and gaping mouth creating a strong impression of something utterly without compassion, driven only by instinctual hunger.

Furthermore whilst most ghosts look soft and ethereal this one looks heavy, it’s pose hunched and bullish, it’s arms pulled low by the weight of the locks it carries, its thin flesh poking from beneath a shell of heavy iron. And whilst the locks are so heavy they almost scrape along the ground the keys float out of reach, hidden from the creature directly behind its sightless head.

Indeed the head itself deserves a special mention, an excellent bit which would prove handy in adding an extra level of creepiness to all kinds of characters, from tech-priests to archons. The only flaw is the padlock earring, a tiny bit silly and a detail too far I feel.

Edit: It has been pointed out to me, quite rightly, by Faust that this is a lock on a collar and not an earring. This is what I get for not double-checking my facts! Indeed on second examination it actually looks quite cool so anyone who was avoiding buying the entire Soul Wars boxset on account of this should now feel free to do so.

Chainrasp 2

The rank and file of the Nighthaunt contingent is made up of the chainrasps, of which we get 20 in the box. These are the middle of the road souls, criminals and bad ‘uns but not evil enough to have sold their souls to Chaos. For those who’ve been crying out to see the normal folk, the great unwashed of the Mortal Realms, this is them – it’s just unfortunate that by the time GW got around to them they were already dead.

Once again the undead maintain the theme of a mighty host of the risen slain at the core of their armies. Now we can choose between skeletons, ghouls, zombies (if you like really ugly models) and now ghosts as well. There’s nothing wildly unusual or creative with these but that’s no bad thing. If you want straight-forward ghosts, or a chassis upon which to build more unusual ghosts, you’ve got it. Whatever the setting, so long as the spectral dead wander around in a sheet moaning, these will have you covered.

Chainrasp 3

It’s safe to say that the Inq28 community will be having a field day with these (not that those geniuses couldn’t make gold out of anything). Expect plenty of little tech-thralls ahead.

Grimghast ReapersIf the Chainrasps are the rank and file of the Nighthaunt then the Grimghast Reapers are the shock troops; blindfolded spectral berserkers  sent to reap a fresh crop of souls for Nagash. Overall these are the closest to the cairn wraith, the spiritual forefather of the Nighthaunt. Indeed anyone still playing Vampire Counts in old-Warhammer would do well to consider these as a great way of making cairn wraith squads, alongside the Myrmourn Banshees as, well, Banshees.

The stereotypical Death archetypes are out in force here, from the tattered black robes to the long scythes. There’s a real sense of speed too, a darting, almost fish-like motion, combined with a sense of savagery in the sweeping blades. The unfortunate exception is the one holding his scythe directly overhead. The sense of motion is still there but the sense of direction isn’t, so whilst the others appear to have just made a killing blow he’s either indulging in some purposeless scythe waving to no real effect or he’s just blindly charging and probably about to suffer a comedic collision with something unyielding.

Charging Ghost

I also wonder if it’s strictly necessary for one of them to be wielding a bell on a stick? In old Warhammer pretty much every squad, regardless of how small, featured an optional command group  comprising a leader or champion, a banner and a musician. This practice has declined in Age of Sigmar and so a musician feels as unnecessary here as a banner would. It’s clear the ghost isn’t using it for its intended purpose, he appears to be smacking someone over the head with it, so why give him a musical instrument at all if he’s just going to break it by using it as a weapon? Plus although bells are closely associated with death in the real world, in the Warhammer universes they’ve become much more closely tied to Nurgle and the Skaven so if GW really wanted an instrument in the squad – presumably to some in-game effect – then why not pick something else? Wind instruments, not usually great for creatures without lungs, could be great here – how about bone pipes sticking out of his back that howl and moan as he flies around with his mouth open, turning the whole model into a giant set of bagpipes?

Bellend

In spite of these minor quibbles there’s a lot to like about the Reapers. They may be the most obvious and least original concepts in the Nighthaunt range but they do it with such style that I’m more than happy to forgive them.

Glaivewraith 2

Creativity and weirdness are becoming the trademarks of Age of Sigmar and although GW have been a little less wild with Soul Wars than they were with, for example, the Idoneth Deepkin or Kharadron Overlords (this is still stormcasts vs ghosts after all) they’ve still managed to sneak in some wonderfully innovative models all the same. Perhaps my personal favourites, and the models that first drew me to the Nighthaunt faction, are the Glaivewraith Stalkers.

Hunters in life the Glaivewraith have been fused in death with their steed creating bizarre hybrids, the hunting beasts of Nagash. I may have poured praise on the Nighthaunt rather exhaustively by this point but here GW have done it again, pulling another star out of the bag.

In theory one presumes a sufficiently powerful necromancer can resurrect almost anything, with the possible exception of a dwarf. In the old Vampire Counts era however the bestial companions of the undead were lifted straight from Bram Stoker’s rather hammy writing, with giant bats and wolves predominating. Sadly the superstition of the dark ages still seems to be associative with these creatures and unnecessary persecution has been heaped on them as a result (and yes, I did have to rescue my neighbour from a bat once whilst she screamed hysterically, and rather imaginatively, that “everyone knows they’re poisonous!” I restrained myself from pointing out that there was only one mad old bat in the room and it wasn’t the unfortunate flying mammal…).

Now I’ll forgive the later edition dire wolves which were suitable terrifying zombies (and even the most gentle of creatures becomes frightening once it’s a zombie as these lovable farm animals painted by Alex of Leadballoony prove). Regardless of how rare or endangered a species becomes I’m all in favour of killing it once its risen as a zombie but until then there’s really no reason for a hobby with its foundations in imagination and creativity to keep repeating the short-sighted ignorance of medieval peasants. Thankfully Nagash, and his mortal servants in Nottingham, have proved themselves capable of shrugging off the hackish prose of old Bram to invent a bestial pack of a rather more creative kind.

Vampire Counts Convert Or Die (2) - Copy

Wolves – majestic wild animals… until they rise from the grave…

Releases like the Kharadron Overlords and Idoneth Deepkin have really cemented Age of Sigmar as a setting in which Games Workshop can let their creative hair down and indulge their talents. With Soul Wars they’ve naturally been a little more restrained, Stormcasts are Stormcasts after all, but that hasn’t stopped them showing off a little on the ghostly side of the set. The Glaivewraith Stalkers are exactly the sort of thing one imagines skulking in the corner of a Blanche painting, or popping up in the margins of a rulebook.

Glaivewraith

I’m also tempted to a couple of pairs of human legs emerging from beneath one of them to create a macabre carnival beast, pantomime horse or suitably weird steed for an Inq28-style knight.

ETBGlaivewraithStalkers

Unfortunately the Easy To Build Glaivewraith Stalkers released to expand the set in Soul Wars don’t bring much more to the unit than was already present on the models in the core box. They do add a drum of course and a crow with a skull for a head, which is probably the cutest thing GW have ever come up with, but neither, to my eye, merits a whole new kit (and separate purchase) on its own when those two items could have been included in the core box just as easily. That said the Easy to Build sets are so cheap, and the models in them so nice, that it seems churlish to make a fuss about this.

Skull Crow

The drummer is apparently called a Deathbeat Drummer which sounds like something a music journalist would come up with to name a sub-genre of death metal. Really they should have gone the whole hog and called it a Deadbeat Drummer, which is after all what everyone will call it anyway.

Banshee 1

More exciting are the Myrmourn Banshees which are without a doubt one of the best bits in a release already full of wonders. Much has already been said about the clever use of negative space and the way that the greater part of what should be the model’s flesh is either hidden or absent. The torsos are hollow, the mouths screaming gaps which, in the absence of the model’s eyes, draw in the viewer’s gaze, and the models writhe and twist as though boneless, like cloth tugged by a breeze.

Banshee 2

Soul Wars picks it’s themes and sticks to them with an unyielding vigour. If you like heroes in shiny armour or lots and lots of ghosts you will not be disappointed. If, on the other hand, your predilections for the undead are more diverse and you’d like a skeleton or two, perhaps a zombie, or even – heaven forbid – a mummy, then you may find this something of a letdown.

I make no secret of my own bias, I started out as a vampire counts fan several editions of Warhammer ago and I’ve been tempted to join the undead legions of Nagash since Age of Sigmar began. I even painted a vampire count just the other day and, like the Lord of Undead himself, I fondly remember the World-That-Was, I have a healthy distrust of Stormcasts and I look silly in a big hat. I’ve tried to remain neutral in this review but if my praise for the Nighthaunts has been a little more emphatic than for the Stormcasts that may be part of it.

That said I really do feel that the Nighthaunt half of the box outshines the Stormcast half by a sizable margin. It doesn’t help that a Stormcast in a robe is still a Stormcast and so the look of the models was very much constrained by what had gone before, whereas with the Nighthaunt the designers were able to create something a bit stranger, darker and more creative, and thus more to my taste. Furthermore whilst the Stormcast set contains models both good (the Sequitors) and less so (the Evocators) the ghosts are consistently top-notch. Needless to say between this and the models already revealed I’m very much looking forward to the full Nighthaunt army when it arrives.

Ultimately I don’t think I’ll be running out to buy Soul Wars, partly because I’m not that excited by Stormcasts (no matter how beautiful the Sequitors are) and partly because GW are bombarding us with other releases more to my taste. I will however be seeking a good bargain on the ghosts, and plotting a spiritual awaking in Shyish. And of course it’s always possible that I’ll change my mind, those Sequitors really are pretty lovely, and I really want to read all about the realms in the new rule book and sometimes it’s easy to forget that I’m trying to save my pennies for all the other lovely things Games Workshop have been previewing lately…

Nighthaunt 1

So what about you? Are you already preparing yourself mind, body and soul by wandering the house with a sheet over your head making “woooo” noises, or are you a valiant servant of the God-King ready to take the fight to the dirty deadies? Or perhaps your sympathies lie with the somewhat under-represented forces of Destruction, in which case here’s hoping that with Stormcasts vs Chaos in the  first boxset and Stormcasts vs Death in the second I’ll be reviewing a box of Ogres (and Stormcasts!) in three years or so. You heard it here first folks!


Garage Days Revisited – Part 1

Recently I received a gift from a friend, a box of miniatures which he’d been given by a friend of his. Apparently when my friend was helping his friend clear out his garage they’d uncovered the models, neglected and filthy, on the floor (I wasn’t there of course so I may be misrepresenting what happened – they may have been clean and on a shelf for all I know but where’s the harm in a little dramatic licence?). The owner of the garage (and the miniatures) didn’t want them (the miniatures – I think he kept the garage, I’m slightly hazy on that part) so donated them to my friend, who passed them on to me. It’s a nice little pick-and-mix of old models and you can expect to see them appearing on the blog over the coming months as I get around to painting them, but to begin with there are a few that have jumped the queue by insinuating themselves into upcoming or existing projects. First of all we have this vampire, who’ll be joining the ranks of the undead I painted last year.

Vampire Count Oldhammer Convert Or Die (1)Vampire Count Oldhammer Convert Or Die (2)Vampire Count Oldhammer Convert Or Die (3)

I’ve been fond of this model for a very long time but never managed to pick one up so it was amazing to open the box and find him lurking inside. Painting him turned out to be a lot of fun and getting to play around with two different reds on the one model made me feel quite arty.

Vampire Count Oldhammer Convert Or Die (4)

If you’re reading this then a big thanks to Tom’s mate (whoever you are) and my apologies if I have met you or do know your name and have just forgotten. Hopefully whatever you were doing with your garage has worked out as you intended – at least your old models have found their way to a loving home.

Meanwhile the keen eyed among you will have spotted that he’s on a round base. Could it be the start of something? At this stage, who can say?