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.