Wrath of the Norsemen

'O Sigmar Preserve Us From The Wrath Of The Norsemen'
--Unknown Imperial Priest, Town Cryer 13

The Hordes of Chaos are gone. The Warriors of Chaos are among us. And that little change in wording means everything.

Games Workshop's latest Army Book for the Warhammer Fantasy Battle system goes a long way toward rectifying the distress created when, with the publication in early 2008 of Daemons of Chaos, GW veered away from their much-lauded prior approach toward Chaos army-building--that of allowing hobbyists to use elements of *all* the Chaos forces, whether mortal or daemonic or beastmen, so long as their army emphasized one as primary--and enforced a 'choose an army book and stick to it' model upon the masses. To say it wasn't broadly well-received would be understating; however, the new Warriors of Chaos book presents such a wealth of choices under its one stunning Adrian Smith cover--and does it so well--that most players will be mollified. Unless they wanted to include daemons, of course.

The primary credited author of Warriors of Chaos is Phil Kelly. Any Warhammer Armies book or Warhammer 40,000 Codex is necessarily going to be a product of the entire design studio...but it is always worth noting where the buck ultimately stops: if one name begins to be associated with a run of unsatisfactory codices, players should recognize that--and the converse is true. In Phil Kelly's case, he is the author of record of a number of really-well-received force books (Eldar and especially the hilarious new Orks for 40K amongst them), so hobbyist expectations are high...and with Warriors of Chaos, he has delivered again.

There are three things I look for in a new force book; a fourth, if it is a new edition of an existing book (as is the case here): 1) Does it reflect a proper grasp of the force covered; is it 'convincing?' 2) Does it do enough with that force's rules to make a new edition worthwhile, whether by tightening, focusing or expanding? 3) Does it do both with a proper respect toward what has gone before? And 4) Is it at least as good a version of the force book as the edition it replaces (and preferably, is it better)?

Warriors of Chaos succeeds wildly in almost every category.

One of the things best things about this Army book is that it hammers home who (or perhaps more accurately what) Chaos Warriors really are--and then builds the entire army list around that concept. Kelly has infused the book with a Norse feel, from the specific--an excellent background section detailing the Old World's northernmost climes, and the history of those who descend from it upon the civilized races of the south--to the general--especially in the grim worldview of those Old World tribes, so very like the outlook of our Scandinavian cultures of the eighth-eleventh centuries, upon whose Viking exploits this aspect of the Warhammer world is clearly based. Kelly's Warriors of Chaos are not paper-thin caricatures come screaming down with pointy-horned helmets and over sized axes...they are a people from a landscape always one extra-harsh winter away from starvation, for whom, because of the fountain of Chaosstuff warping reality at the Old World's pole, supernatural powers are not abstract concepts--they are real. They interfere with the world. They bring power, real power--but power which always comes with a price. Death is everywhere--so life should be seized, and all the glory possible wrung from it.

It is a helluva compelling ethos, for putting toy soldiers on a table spoiling for a fight.

If in its 'iron and steel' emphasis Warriors of Chaos succeeds admirably in evoking the 'force concept,' the way it proceeds to translate that concept into effect via tabletop rules is arguably even better. One of the strengths Kelly has demonstrated in previous force books is a knack for finding ways to massage the existing rules to make the covered army play the way it should, without forcefeeding hobbyists only one way to build armies within that framework. He plies that skill again here: without question, the focus of the majority of armies built from this force book will be Chaos Warriors, as stout a Core choice as is available in any army in the game. But players who like monsters will be able to build an effective--and evocative--army by emphasizing such creatures, and players who preferred to emphasize the 'hordes of frothing northmen' from the previous edition army book will find that an army of primarily Marauders can still be put together with this one, and must still be reckoned with on the tabletop. Where Warriors of Chaos shines, however, is in the rules applications and variations for said unit type: Chaos Warriors and upgrades thereto--from mounted Chaos Knights on Daemonsteeds to elite Chosen to the spectacular heroes at the very pinnacle of such status, the Exalted Heroes and Lords (and the Chaos Spawn which shamble about to illustrate the fate of those who reach for such heights of glory, and fail)--are the heart of this army book, and are evoked masterfully.

Throughout, there is clear appreciation for what has gone before. As he did in the Eldar Codex, where he was tasked with combining what had become, essentially, a half-dozen army lists into one and somehow show proper respect for them all, Kelly always keeps his particular emphasis on the grim-norsemen-become-something-more at the fore, without excluding important aspects of Chaos lore which have been with Warhammer--which have arguably *made* the Warhammer World something unique, something more than just another Tolkien filter--from the start. Almost every major Chaos figure who has ever made an impact in Old World history at least gets a mention in the copious background, and a fair few of them return as newly-statted special characters (including, admittedly, a personal old favorite, in the fallen Scylla Anfingrim).

As well-done as this aspect of the new army book is, it is also where the likeliest objections to the new edition will arise: in keeping with GW's approach toward Chaos as evidenced in both the Daemons books for Fantasy and 40K, traditions of long standing regarding the four Ruinous Powers are no longer in evidence. There are no sacred numbers, no animosities between specific Dark gods...in fact, Warriors of Chaos enthusiastically endorses mixing Marks and Gifts and Magic Items not only within armies, but on individual characters. Chaos is now a true pantheon, in the GW cosmology, and there is nothing amiss for a Champion of Khorne to now possess a Slaaneshi soporific musk to overwhelm with sensation those from whom he intends to take skulls. As a purist, I freely admit this drives me crazy; and I think in the long run, it encourages a 'genericizing' of GW's background, atmosphere and 'feel' which will be bad for the game, and by extension the hobby. Fortunately, there is nothing actively preventing traditionalist hobbyists from restricting characters, units and entire armies to one power, or numbering their soldiers in multiples of six, seven, eight or nine, using Warriors of Chaos. As time goes on, continuing to do so will simply mark out the old grognards, who will smile and acknowledge each other knowingly while the Old World goes on....

A new force book addressing the mortals of Chaos in the Warhammer world was absolutely needed, once Daemons set the new alliance paradigm. That necessity in place, Warriors of Chaos meets the challenge and surmounts it: it is a better army book than the very good editions which it supersedes, well-written, better designed rules wise, broader of choice than anyone could have expected (a new *female* Khornate champion? a positively kaiju-esque super shaggoth? a flying ghost-longship?)...and most importantly, accompanied by an onslaught of beautifully-sculpted new iron-and-steel-clad miniatures, to bring the grim pursuit of martial glory to Warhammer Fantasy Battle tabletops everywhere.

The Hordes are no more. But in their place come the Warriors. The Wrath of the Norsemen is preserved.

Are You Ard Enough?

Games Workshop generally refers to 'The Hobby' by that broad term because it includes so many related-but-distinct activities, each of which has its adherents amongst hobbyists, and finding ways to reflect them all in their Grand Tournament circuit has proven one of the trickiest parts of making those events satisfying to the largest number of said hobbyists. While I believe they've done a very good job of that in their most recent iteration of GT rules, as noted in a previous blog, there is something to be said for the purity and clarity of events devoted to just one aspect of the hobby at a time.

GW recognized that early on with their Golden Daemon miniature painting competition; now they have begun acknowledging the other major aspect of 'The Hobby'--actual tabletop game play--with its own dedicated event series: the Ard Boyz tournaments.

At an Ard Boyz (so named for a particularly combative Ork army unit, which thus lends the circuit its orky iconography), a player is not scored for painting, for army theme or adherence to background or creativity of army list, or even for sportsmanship; so long as he meets the clearly-specified participation requirements, the player advances purely on what happens in his three rounds of tabletop combat.

Hobby events I favour--whether running or playing--have always embraced the entirety of the hobby, and so I have been asked whether I think the Ard Boyz' focus on pure generalship is a good thing or not; I believe context in this question is important--but I also think the answer is unequivocally 'yes.'

First of all--the Ard Boys events are *free.* Credit for that goes not just to GW but also to every Independent Stockist who hosts an event: because of them, every hobbyist who desires can participate in at least the first round of the circuit, the Retailer-level round, playing an entire Saturday of Warhammer Fantasy Battle or Warhammer 40,000 with challenging scenarios, against new opponents, at absolutely no charge. That is good for the hobby from any perspective. Moreover, the circuit provides the top three finishers at each Retailer-level round the opportunity to play again--for free--at one of several Regional-level rounds scattered across the country (also usually a location provided by an Independent Stockist worthy of support)...and top finishers at those events meet at a national Games Workshop function, usually immediately prior to a Baltimore GamesDay or Grand Tournament, for the climactic Finals--again, without charge. It is difficult to find fault in such logistics (yes, I am aware that players have to reach the various round venues on their own: GW and/or their local stockists are more than doing their part by providing opportunity--it is unrealistic of hobbyists to expect them to get them there to take advantage of it, as well; and yes I am aware that, by relying on local stockists to run the Retailer- and many of the Regional-level rounds, GW runs the risk that some may be administered much better--or much worse--than others: these things *aren't* as easy to administer as one might guess, such retailers are generally doing it for their customers' benefit, so while I would not discourage hobbyists from letting a retailer whose moderator struggled know about it, I would hope they would do so with some empathy for the comparative thanklessness of the job...and of course the reverse is always true: if you have a moderator in your area who does a good job with these events, choose the stockist he is administering for these events when you can, be sure the retailer knows the event was moderated well--and, perhaps, tell the moderator, too :).

Second--though related to the first point--GW generously supports the Ard Boyz tournament circuit with prizes. There aren't many paid-ticket events in this hobby with up to US$150 available in prizes, plus Certificates of Victory for the top three finishers and top-quality, limited-run t-shirts available to participants...and that is just at the Retailer-level rounds. Prizes can become as much a problem as an attraction in hobby events, I've found; the problem specifically arises when the prize becomes the point, either of being there or of how one plays. But at the end of the day, that isn't GW or the Independent Stockist's fault--that is pure-and-simple greed, and that lies entirely within the character of the participant, and where that vice rears its head, things inevitably suffer regardless of the circumstance (I will refrain from digressing to the national economy to make this subcultural point). Suffice that everyone loves to end a day of great fun by taking home something cool, and GW has supported participation in Ard Boyz most generously, to that end.

Finally--tactical skill may be the least-acknowledged of the hobby's aspects across the broad community: when we face an army on the table that is clearly more striking than our own, most of us have little trouble admitting it and appreciating the talent involved in a superior painting or converting or presentation job--but when we lose that game, it is always the dice which betrayed us (or blessed the opponent), or the scenario which screwed us (or favoured theopponent), or the unfairness of the opponent's new/beardy/cheesy/overpowered/undercosted codex or army book...never that the opposition was just a lot savvier at the nuts-and-bolts of move and maneuver than we were. Ard Boyz may not remove any of those rationalizations from the vocabulary--but by rewarding consistently good generals, it might increase the appreciation for their skill by a fraction, at least. From my perspective, that is a good thing: one of the attractive elements of this hobby is the opportunity it provides to continue to stretch the intellectual muscles, and it has always bothered me to see players who excel at that admittedly difficult-to-quantify aspect of the hobby diminished regularly.

Ard Boyz is most valuable in the larger context of the entirety of organized events within the GW hobby, however: if 'outcome-only' events were a big emphasis, something like Ard Boyz might be a circuit I would have concerns about--but the fact is *most* GW organized events, whether official (like GamesDays or the GTs or the Lucky 13s campaign) or independent (like the Adepticon or Astronomi-cons), tend to be of the 'embrace all aspects of the hobby' sort...or emphasize something else, usually painting and converting, like the GDs.

In that context, Ard Boyz fills a definite roll in the hobby--and given its inherent virtues noted previously, it is hard not to view it as a 'good thing', and encourage every interested hobbyist to take advantage of the opportunity to play in one. The Retailer-level round for 40K was completed in September; check the Games Workshop Events website for Regional-level round locations, to be held in October (the North Texas one will be at HobbyAnnex in North Dallas) if you want to come out and see what sorts of armies are 'ardest, in preparation for the 2009 circuit!