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Concepts for Endless Deserts 2.0


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Mengel doesn't seem to be working on his Homebrew TK battletome anymore, and GW aren't going to be updating the official AoS rules any time soon.  If the Old World game gets a new Tomb Kings army then they might get some form of official AoS rules as well, much as many 30k units have FW rules to play them in 40k, but that's far from guaranteed, especially since the rumored time period of the Old World game is not one where Vampire Counts, not Tomb Kings, are by far the most active undead faction.

As such, if anyone is going to be adapting Tomb King rules to the current AoS design standards, it probably has to be a homebrew community project, and might as well start here.

As I've discussed elsewhere, there's some tough choices that have to be made updating Tomb Kings for Age of Sigmar, that mostly boil down to a single question - are you trying to directly translate the oldhammer tomb kings into AoS rules, or are you trying to adapt the army to fit into the AoS setting?

Direct Translation

  • Focus on Oldhammer Lore (nehekhara, mortuary cult ) and Characters (Settra, Khalida, etc)
  • Mostly if not entirely anti-Nagash, and almost entirely separated from other undead factions.  As such not part of Grand Alliance Death, probably not part of any Grand Alliance since they aren't part of the AoS setting.
  • Basically a 'Legends +' ruleset in that sense, a stand alone army not part of any alliance and not part of the current lore, but with the additions of modern AoS style faction rules and points values to be playable in pitched battle games - at least those where your opponent is open to homebrew content.
  • Keep all previous units, serving more or less the same roles that they did in the 8e / Compendium armies, only changing mechanics from the current rule set where those mechanics don't really work due to changes in AoS core rules or faction design
  • Conceptual or mechanical overlap with existing Deathrattle & Ossiarch units wouldn't matter much since this version of the Tomb Kings would be entirely stand alone regardless.

Adaptation

  • Re-imagine the faction to fit into the modern Age of Sigmar setting, including brand new history and characters
  • As an undead faction they would be mostly if not entirely servants of Nagash.  They might be rebellious and unreliable servants, similar to the Flesh Eater Courts, but Nagash isn't just 'the great necromancer' in AoS, he's the literal god of death and undeath and an anti-Nagash undead faction doesn't really fit with the setting.
  • So a proper Grand Alliance: Death faction, potentially with allies among the other factions, letting you bring in the modern versions of surviving Nehekharan characters including Arkhan and Neferata.
  • Since you're already adapting the lore and narrative, you open up space to adapt or rethink the units as well.  Maybe Carrion, Tomb Scorpions, and Tomb Swarms are endless spells instead of units.  Maybe the Casket of Souls is free faction terrain.  Maybe you don't need to keep /all/ the old units.  Maybe you come up with a few new ones, or combine some units with similar units that exist elsewhere in the AoS line - Do Tomb Kings and Wight Kings, Tomb Guard and Grave Guard, or Skeleton Warriors and Skeleton Legionnaires /really/ need to be separate units?

Of these two possible design directions, Direct Translation is by far the easier one - since most choices have already been made for you - and the one that would probably best satisfy the old school TK players who just want a functional ruleset to keep playing their existing models in the current game.  In my opinion, however, Adaptation is by far the more interesting direction, with the most potential, and were it to catch on it would be the version most likely to attract interest and attention outside of die hard TK king players.  Personally, I'm much more excited by the idea of a version of a community TK project where the army can be a proud part of a larger AoS undead collection and combined Grand Alliance Death coalition.

In the interest of spit balling ideas, here's my initial draft take on lore for a version of TK adapted for AoS:

lore/history

Spoiler

In the ancient times, before the formation of Sigmar's  Pantheon, Shyish was already populated by civilizations of the dead.  The Realm of Death was comprised of many underworlds and afterlives, formed from the beliefs of the mortal races of the other realms out of the wild storms of death magic that whirled around the realm's perimeter, and populated by the spirits of those who believed in them.  As the beliefs of ancient civilizations solidified and became codified, so too did their underworlds and afterlives become more stable in Shyish and drift away from the wild unstable regions at the edge of Shyish, eventually joining with other afterlives to form stable land masses in what would come to be called the 'Prime Innerlands' towards the center of the Realm.

These underworlds, and the experiences of the spirits trapped in them, took on a dizzying variety of different forms.  If the people believed in gods of death that would rule over them in the afterlife, then those gods would appear in their underworld.  If they believed they would continue to exists as spirits, then so they would appear, but if they believed they would have bodies in the afterlife like those they had in life, then matching physical bodies would appear for them, manifested by the raw magic of the realm itself.

While there were a great variety of different underworlds and afterlives, the largest and most successful civilizations in the early, pre-Sigmarite period of the Age of Myth shared a number of characteristics based on shared patterns of belief:

  1. They believed in an afterlife very similar to their regular lives.  The dead would still have the same bodies they did in life, Kings would still be kings, soldiers would still be soldiers, workers would still be workers.  The dead would live in the crypts they were entombed in.  Whatever tools and treasures a person was entombed with, and any offerings the living made to them, would appear in the afterlife for their use. 
  2. Because of this belief in an afterlife that was a direct analog of the living world, over the centuries these cultures tended to build grand elaborate necropolis complexes and temples occupied by 'mortis cult' priesthoods charged with tending to the dead, and these structures would likewise appear in their afterlife, though the dead themselves might change or reconstruct them.
  3. Since these civilizations believed the bodies in the afterlife would reflect the body in the physical world, they tended to develop a variety of elaborate embalming and mummification practices, though the cost of these practices meant there was usually a significant difference between the preservation of the wealthy and the poor, such that after a few centuries these afterlives would be populated by a ruling class of well preserved wights and mummies, and an underclass of animate skeletons.
  4. The burial place is the home of the dead.  All the dead must periodically return there, and if their manifested bodies are 'slain', their remains eventually crumble to dust and a new body manifests in their crypt, provided their underworld still has enough death magic to do so.
  5. These cultures decorated their death cult temples and necropoli with statues of legendary heroes, gods, monsters, and guardian spirits to protect their dead from the imagined horrors of Shyish.  These stone creations would likewise appear in their afterlives, only animated by the magic of Shyish and acting out protection they were believed to represent.  The artisans and architects who built the necropoli and and statues in life would in death study the magic of Shyish in order to continue advancing their craft.
  6. These cultures believed that their afterlives were sustained by worship and offerings made by the living.  So as the living civilizations that fed these afterlives fell or changed their beliefs, the afterlives would go quiet.   Rivers would dry up, vegetation would wither, the great statue guardians would cease their motion.  Eventually the dead would returning to their crypts and tombs, falling into a perpetual silence as their great necropoli disappeared beneath desert sands.

Civilizations that shared these characteristics are now known as 'Mortuary Civilizations' or, more commonly, 'Deathrattle Dynasties'.  In the earliest days of the Age of Myth, Mortuary Civilizations sprang up across the other realms.  So many, and with so many striking cultural similarities, that some modern scholars who study the Age of Myth believe that there may have been frequent travel and trade between the realms even before the coming of Sigmar, allowing for these cultural beliefs to spread.  Other, more conspiratorial scholars speculate that perhaps some figure or figures were traveling the realms with the deliberate purpose of spreading Mortuary beliefs, with the intent of creating afterlives with these characteristics.

Regardless of how they came to be, a great many Mortuary Civilizations rose and fell in the centuries before Sigmar, leaving a great many lost necropoli buried beneath the Prime Innerlands of shyish, full of silent and senescent but not entirely dead mummies and skeletons, and the generations of treasure that had been buried with them.  Other Mortuary Civilizations, such as Ossia and Necros, persisted all the way to the coming of Sigmar and Nagash, and it was these cultures that Nagash waged his Wars of the Dead against, consuming their death gods and enslaving their dead.  Particularly long lived Mortuary Underworlds were striking blends of cultures across centuries, Warriors carrying bronze weapons riding skeletal chariots riding out alongside wight knights in iron armor and barding.  But regardless of the number or variety of warriors brought to bare, all were crushed by Nagash and incorporated into his Undead Legions, the faces of their statues carved away, the memory of their gods obliterated, leaving only Nagash's grim skeletal visage in their place.  So did all the Mortuary Underworlds meet their end, all except for the dead of forgotten civilizations that slept silent beneath the ground, the long ages passing them by...

... Until they were awakened by Nagash's Necroquake.  The cataclysmic explosion of Death Magic that ricocheted out from Nagashizzar provided a new source of animating death magic separate from the long lost faith of the living cultures, and over the following centuries a great many Deathrattle Dynasties have awakened and re-emerged from the black sands of Shyish.  In some cases the energies of the necroquake blasted entire necropolis complexes back to the surface of Shyish, sometimes destroying living Order and Chaos settlements that had been built above them.  In more cases the Dead awoke entombed, and spent maddening years carving their way back to the surface.  Many accidentally broke into skaven warp tunnels, leading to a new outbreak of wars beneath the Skaven and the Dead entirely unknown to other peoples.

Though less sudden and dramatic in their appearance than the waves of Nighthaunt unleashed by the Necroquake, the new emergence of Deathrattle Dynasties did not go unnoticed by Nagash.  Some re-emerging Dynasties see Nagash's control of Shyish as an abomination.  They still worship their old gods and struggle against the Great Necromancer, whose attention has been too focused on the 8 points to systematically stamp out all of these upstarts... yet.  Others see Nagash as the god who has restored them to unlife and willingly serve him, going to war against their more rebellious neighbors.  Several great necropolis complexes rose up around Neferata's capital of Nulahmia, their rulers quickly swearing fealty to the Queen of Mysteries and their armies greatly reinforcing her own, almost as though she had already arranged for exact circumstance.

A number of Deathrattle Dynasties appeared in Ossiarch territory, and initially the Bonereapers sought to harvest this new source of skeletal remains leading to a rash of conflicts temporarily disrupting Katakros's supply lines.  However, the Mortisans quickly discovered that the bodies of the Deathrattle Dynasties are not true bones, but rather a facsimile manifested from Shyish realm matter that crumble to useless dust when separated from the spirit occupying them.  This discovery, and the diplomatic intervention of Arkhan the Black, lead to treaties between the Ossiarchs and any Deathrattle Dynasties willing to swear fealty to Nagash and help build and defend Ossiarch structures in Shyish, allowing for even more resources to be funneled to Katakros's campaign in the Eight Points.

...

Subfactions: These newly emerged Deathrattle Dynasties fall into 4 distinct groups:

Spoiler

 

  1. Those who oppose Nagash, many allied in a loose coalition, possibly led by Settra.  These have stronger warriors, but no Death allies.
    Maybe they lose even lose the Death keyword altogether.  If so, maybe they gain the Order keyword and stormcast allies.
  2. Those who have sworn fealty to Nagash through Arkhan.  These have stronger architects and Ossiarch allies.
  3. Those who have sworn fealty to Nagash through Neferata.  These have stronger priests, and Soulblight allies.
  4. Those that are more focused on retaking their lands and treasures from the Order or Chaos forces currently occupying them, and are not yet explicitly for or against Nagash.  These are the generic 'non-subfaction' version of the army, with maybe some various 'Dynasty' rules in place of subfaction rules, the way generic FEC have their delusions.  Still a Death army, but probably without allies.

 

...

Special Characters:

Spoiler

Possibly Settra, as the leader of the anti-Nagash subfaction.  If returning, his lore would be that he survived the destruction of the Old World and went on to conquer and found a new civilization - the first civilization in the Realms - in his own image, before eventually making his way to Shyish to rule over its afterlife in preparation for a war against Nagash that he knew would eventually come.  He was defeated but not destroyed during Nagash's conquest of the dead and wandered Shyish without his memory until the Necroquake blasted him back to his senses and he started gathering re-emerging Dynasties to lead them against Nagash again.  Or you could have an entirely new character taking up this role.

Possibly Khalida, as the leader of the Neferatian subfaction, or possibly as part of the independent, non-subfaction group.  I always liked the way Neferata and Khalida saw the end of the Old World hand in hand, their ancient grudge rendered meaningless by the doom of the world and only a sort of kinship left in its place.  I'd like to see what they could do as allies instead of enemies, or possibly as secret allies, with Nagash raising up Neferata's ancient enemy to keep her ambition in check, only for the two to be working together behind his back.

Possibly Krell or Apophas?  They were interesting enough to bring back, or you could skip them.

New Folks?  Maybe a new named Necrotect, offering services to the highest bidder to enhance their stone units, or working specifically for Arkhan to spread Nagash's influence?  Maybe a former Stormcast, one whose memories had been stripped from her in the reforging, but with the necroquake she remembered her past life and abandoned Sigmar to rejoin and lead her re-emerging kingdom of the dead?  Maybe a priest who in ages past turned his entire afterlife to the worship of Shyish's terrible 'Dreaming God', who Sigmar and Nagash together only barely managed to contain, and now he and his dynasty seek to find and release their primordial deity? 

Certainly Arkhan and Neferata will be playable in some form, similar to how Arkhan and Nagash are playable in OBR.  Maybe Nagash, too.

....

Some general design ideas:

Spoiler

 

  1. Merge units with Deathrattle.  Wight Kings and Tomb Kings are the same unit, Grave Guard and Tomb Guard are the same unit, Skeleton Warriors and Skeleton Legionnairs are the same unit.  Maybe have Black Knights replace Skeleton Horsemen counts-as style?  Legions of Nagash keep their own versions of these units much as they kept their own version of the Black Coach.  Yes, the Dynasty versions of these units aren't physical skeletal remains in the lore, but the difference would be reflected in faction rules, not warscroll rules.  The aesthetic differences between TK and VC versions of these units would be explained by long-lived civilizations whose afterlives accumulated dead ranging from bronze age chariots to medieval knights in an unbroken chain.
  2. Like modern AoS armies, there should be a piece of free faction terrain and a set of endless spells (or the prayer-based equivalent, see below).  Personally, I would make the Casket faction terrain, and replace the Scorpion, Swarm, and Carrion units with endless spells, maintaining a use for those models while also reducing the total number of units, which is a bit large for an AoS faction.
  3. Liche Priests are priests, not wizards.  Liche Priests would still get their dispel scrolls, and maybe the ability to unbind as a wizard even if they aren't one, or if not some other anti-magic options would need to be introduced.  In any event, focusing on priests instead of wizards would give the faction a distinct thematic and mechanical feel among death armies.  The prayer rules can also be seen as a more fitting analogue for the distinct magic system of some older incarnations of the TK rules.
  4. Wizards are either not present, apart from Arkhan and Neferata, or perhaps necrotects take on the role of the faction's wizards.  Or maybe Necrotects become wizards, but only in Arkhan's subfaction.  If wizards aren't otherwise present in the army, then Arkhan's & Neferata's subfactions would have their own exclusive mini spell lore, similar to Legion of Grief, for the mortarchs and any allied wizards.
  5. Keep banners as an important aspect of the army, similar to the current compendium rules, which I find to be fittingly distinctive now that other undead factions have transitioned to less powerful banner effects.  Maybe include a set of limited special banners as faction rules, or as artefacts that can be given to unit banners instead of heroes if you wish.
  6. Combine previous units where reasonable, not just between TK and deathrattle, but also within TK.  We don't need both Exalted and Royal chariots, both Tomb Kings and Tomb Heralds, both Bone Giants and Heirotitans.  Old Tomb Kings are a big faction for AoS, imo truncating where possible should be a goal.
  7. Don't bother with Heirophant rules.  They're awkward and don't really fit with AoS.  If you're going to tie the army to anything, rather then a central animating caster, maybe use the casket/faction terrain, like dynasty warriors can't travel too far from their underworld normally, but they find a way around that by carrying a chunk of it with them in a casket, and that's what the casket represents now?  Maybe then the terrain would be the source of the 6++ death save, like any unit of your units that can draw line of sight to the casket get the save?  I don't know.

 

...

So that's my loose, overlong pitch for a version of a homebrew TK tome that tries to update the faction to the current lore and general design principles of AoS rather than just directly translating the oldhammer army into the current ruleset.  IMO it holds onto the feel & principles of the army while carving out a space where they could still fit in the lore, and also explaining away the hodge podge of different miniature styles that a new player would have to resort to as representing different civilizations or different ages of the same civilization.  It has some ideas for what some old favorite characters could be up to while also making room for some new ones, and gives the surviving Nehekharan named characters a way to tie to the faction as well.

Any thoughts?  Does anyone else think adaptation is the right direction, and either likes these ideas or has other ideas on how to do it that might be better?  Or is the entire endeavor a waste of time, and direct translation keeping as much to the prior tomb kings lore and rules the way to go, since the main point of such a project would be to let existing tomb kings players keep playing their existing armies, and anyone who wanted something more different and modern can already just play Legions of Nagash or Ossiarch Bonereapers?

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