Why Age of Sigmar Might be my Favourite Fantasy Setting

What a title! When AoS first came out, I wasn't exactly devastated; I'd never played much WHFB, so I wasn't mourning the loss of the Old World; I just wanted more world-building for the new one! One of the first questions I ever asked when playing a game of Warhammer was 'where are the fleeing civilians?', which in hindsight, is a bit stupid, but I suppose it was emblematic of my approach towards the settings of 40k and AoS. Stormcast, Nighthaunt and Khorne Bloodbound mean very little without regular human characters to compare them to. I want to know who they're fighting for, what they once were, what cities they will return to after the war. An intimate moment where a Stormcast saves a fleeing family means more to me for the world of AoS than a Celestant Prime killing a thousand Slaughterpriests. It's metal, sure, but it's just not my favoured approach to fantasy.

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My men-at-arms for Warcry
That being said, the last couple years of AoS content have remedied all my criticism of the initial release and gone above and beyond. The Soul Wars starter set and lore gave real depth to the characters that we're using to play out games with; our Stormcast are haunted, painfully human. Our Nighthaunt are tragic, decaying. The Cities of Sigmar (and its precursor, Firestorm) book has done a great deal for expanding the world and adding context to the battles taking place there.
That one Battletome has opened up a new world of the game; you can build alliances between all the 'human' races, convert to your heart's content and explore the cities and realms, so that when mass armies of Stormcast do gather, it means something much more tangible. Now I can imagine myself as a farmer or townsfolk or bard living a life not dissimilar from real history in the setting; so, when a Stormcast Eternal marches into the city with a retinue of preachers, it has an even greater impact. The image of smaller, more realistic elements against the high fantasy add so much more credence to the setting than there only being fantasy elements--part of why I think the earlier Game of Thrones series are so good.
Speaking of tangible fantasy, there's this really cool hashtag on Twitter called postcardsfromtherealms which people add to weird pictures of real life locations or phenomena that might fit into the world of AoS, which is really cool as it adds further credence to these worlds being real, tangible places.
Image result for cities of sigmar warhammer community"
From https://www.warhammer-community.com/2019/09/23/faction-focus-cities-of-sigmargw-homepage-post-4/
The Warhammer Horror books have also been really cool and insightful when focusing on AoS, preferring small-scale stories so that when these crazy, fantastical things happen, they seem even more powerful and terrifying. One of my favourites is The Widow Tide by Richard Strachan from Maledictions.
And how could I forget Warcry? Possibly my favourite GW game--it focuses on primarily small bands of relatable, yet distinctly AoS, human factions. The lore is fantastic as it adds some real shades of grey to Chaos and opens up a whole can of worms about the role of Stormcast and Sigmar himself in the narrative. Being as most mortals in AoS worship Chaos in one form or another, the invasion and 'liberation' of their homes by Stormcast would be seen more as brutal colonisation, which serves to add some more depth to the poster boys.
Image result for age of sigmar map"
The Realm of Fire from https://www.warhammer-community.com/2018/05/12/your-intro-to-the-mortal-realms-may-12gw-homepage-post-4/
Another common complaint about the initial release of AoS was the scope of the realms: endless, unchanging, singular element landscapes don't allow for a ton of creativity. But one look inside the newest Core Book changes that; all of a sudden, there are detailed maps (that will hopefully never be expanded to the whole realm, to keep some creativity), as well as example inhabitants. But they're not all one element; while the flavour of the realm might help guide or give cues to its content, it doesn't define it. Snowy mountains, lush forests, tropical beaches and endless deserts could be features of any of the realms (or the Eight Points).
Something I also love about AoS is the tech. It has this advantage over much of the Old World stuff due to the inclusion of Chamon, Cogforts and Duardian engineering, and more! Anything is possible--Howl's Moving Castle type cities? Go for it! Armies of clockwork robots? Fair game! Any fantasy concept is transportable, and yet the lore and the world still has a distinct flavour and setting.

But what does AoS have over its counterpart, 40k? Well, I love Warhammer 40,000 and its history, lore and its races, but its greatest appeal and its biggest fault are right there in the opening mantra: the events taking place in it, in your headcanon or in your tabletop battles probably don't really matter. So what if a solar system blows up? There are a million more worlds. While cataclysmic things can happen in AoS without ending the setting, the realms seem far more finite and grounded to me. They're essentially a single solar system, flowing into one-another through realmgates, they exist on solid, nigh-endless but tangible, physical plains. Also, in 40k society, there's almost no upward mobility. Heroes are literally made or born for greatness. In AoS, I can imagine a humble farmer or priest ascending to the ranks of the Stormcast one day, which makes me feel that my characters matter. Versus WHFB, it was difficult to conceive why Lizardmen might be fighting in the snowy north, but AoS allows you all kinds of freedom while still having meaningful consequences. I think in the Old World, if a city blew up it would matter too much. In 40k, a city blowing up is an every second occurrence (and that's the satire of the setting, and it should stay that way), but for me, that nice in-between found in AoS is the sweet spot for me. It's like a sandbox with cues of where to go if you get stuck.
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A monstrous Preyton from the Varanspire

So, hopefully I've convinced just one of you to try out AoS. So, where do you go from here? Well, it depends where you're coming from...

If you're a 40k player...

I think you'll find an easy home here. Most 40k races have somewhat of a counterpart in AoS. Pick up Soul Wars or a Start Collecting! set. If you really want more lore, I can't recommend the core book and the Cities of Sigmar Battletome enough.

If you're a Blanchitsu enthusiast...

Cities of Sigmar and Stormcast are a great place to start, echoing Mordheim. AoS has the realm of metal and all its weirdness to go with it too, so much of the 40k range can be ported over for parts. Check out http://www.exprofundis.com/introducing-aos28-inq28-meets-age-sigmar/ for more.

If you're new to Warhammer and don't know where to start...

The Mortal Realms magazine is currently running at most newsagents and is your friend--basically, super cheap miniatures! If that doesn't appeal to you or isn't available, go into your nearest Warhammer or Games Workshop or gaming store and ask for help.

So, thanks for reading--hopefully I've piqued your interest. For my takes on AoS, you can follow this blog or my Instagram @theempyrean_ or Twitter @theempyrean__.

Comments

  1. This a good, well written, post. Theres a lot to like in the AOS stuff, but I'll admit, I'm still a bit lost with it after having spent so many years in the Old World. That one was so familiar, that all of these realms and such is a bit too much info to absorb - I'm still trying to understand it, mind. Not written it off, but keep defaulting back.

    Keep finding myself coming up with background for chaos that "and then they went North" occurs :) Its just too ingrained, I think. There is the option of "ah, well this is all in a particular realm" but possibly thats part of the problem for me - the realms are a huge great place with just about every possible variation of anything! Doesn't really geographically root in the same way.......suppose its a case of pick a realm and stick to it!

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