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Opinion: How can we make the mortal realms feel like the mortal realms

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When Age of Sigmar launched the setting of the Mortal Realms seemed more like an afterthought. References to it felt vague and generic. The Mortal Realms could be anywhere while they themselves were nowhere in particular. Maybe that was the aftershock of losing the Old World in my mind, or maybe not... When the second edition of AoS rolled along the Mortal Realms got a revamp. GW released a great video explaining the realms, outlining each and explaining its character and make up (see Exploring the Mortal Realms by Warhammer on YouTube). Ever since then the realms have been a unique part of Age of Sigmar lore and a criminally underused part of their IP.

Too often the realms are depicted as “generic fantasy land” that will fit with whatever F.A.T. matTM(#notsponsored) you ended up buying. They have no effect on your game and worse still no impact on your imagination. Even in many of the Black Library books that have been released, the realms are nothing more than a generic setting (two great exceptions I’ve read are ‘The Red Hours’ novella by Evan Dicken and the ‘Spear of Shadows’ by Josh Reynolds). In older editions of the game there was a table you could roll on to determine special rules to help set your game in a realm (which you would then forget by turn 2 due to how ignorable they were). This seems to have been totally eschewed in the current edition where each new GHB is set in a single location within a single realm. While confining a limited rulebook like a GHB to a single location is fine, confining an entire edition to a single realm does not lead itself to the expansive freedom that a universe like the Mortal Realms should be able to offer. 

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So what I would like to do is try and come up with some rules for playing in each realm. These rules aim to be impactful and evocative. They aim to make a meaningful impact on the game leading players to feel like they are in a particular realm. Rules that simply get in the way, or worse still do nothing and can be ignored are what I am trying to avoid. Once we have a set of rules that feel like playing in each unique realm we can worry about balancing them (though if you want balanced play you should probably play the professionally put together GHB and not my crazy chicken scratchings).


The Realm of Fire


The Realm of Fire is more than the lava level of the Mortal Realms. It is not Mustafar and there is no high ground. Instead the Realm of Fire is a passionate and lively place. People are quicker to anger, but they are also quicker to forgive, their emotions flow more freely leading to an active and fast-paced lifestyle. In the Old World the spell lore of fire had a lot of direct damage and aggressive spells so our rules should also be aggressive and direct.


“Heroic” action: choose a unit to be caught up in moment; for the rest of the turn that unit gets +1 to charge, +1 to hit, -1 to their save characteristic and can’t ignore battleshock for any reason. At the start of the battleshock phase they take d3 mortal wounds.


Realm rule: It’s getting hot in here: at the start of every battle round after the first, roll a dice for each unit (both on and off the table) if the roll is less than or equal to the battle round the unit suffers D3 mortal wounds.


The heroic action tries to simulate what happens when a unit is influenced by the Realm of Fire and gives up to their more aggressive urges. The negatives hopefully give players a cause to question if they really need the buffs or think they can get away with them without getting burned. Fire has a cost. The realm rule hopefully encourages a faster more aggressive play style. By increasingly the likely hood of more damage the longer the game goes on should hopefully drive the players to be more active earlier in the game rather than being cautious and passive in their play. 


The Realm of Beasts

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The Realm of Beasts is brown and spiky. It’s Warhammer’s Conan the Barbarian/He-Man world. The Realm of Beasts has been the focus of the entirety of AoS 3rd edition, including the associated Warcry and Underworlds releases. In the Realm of Beasts everything is either predator or prey, and often both. If you sit around on your laurels, you get eaten. When playing in the Realm of Beasts you should feel anything but safe.


Heroic action: A hero may go beast mode. If they do so they may reroll charges and be picked to fight twice in the next combat phase, however they can not issue or receive commands until your following hero phase.


Realm rule: Hungry and Eating terrain: If any unit starts or ends a move within 1” of a terrain piece, roll a D6, on a 1 they take D3 mortal wounds. At the end of the movement phase if no units are within 1” of a terrain piece then move that terrain piece D6 inches directly towards the nearest unit. If multiple units are equidistant roll off and the player who wins decides towards which unit the terrain moves. 


Heroes should be able to go beast mode in the Realm of Beasts. The heroic action will let them get stuck in and make a huge mess, but it will also isolate them from the rest of the army. They become a missile. The realm rule hopefully makes the board feel alive. Nothing in the realm of beasts can be taken for granted, it is coming for you and is going to take a bite outta you.


The Realm of Shadow


The Realm of Shadow is all about mystery and intrigue. They are the mid-2000s edgelord magician realm. People from the Realm of Shadow are less trusting but not necessarily less trustworthy (e.g. Gandalf the grey was the inspiration for the shadow wizards of old Warhammer). Playing a game in this realm should fill the players with doubt, not knowing if they can trust their own eyes. In the old days of AoS this meant everyone getting a teleport spell but now every army and their dog can teleport so we need something a little more special.


Heroic action: Roll a D6, on a 3+ swap 2 friendly heroes. On a 1-2, your opponent can pick 2 of your heroes to swap positions. 


Realm rule: Can’t trust your eyes: At the start of your hero phase, after you have picked a battle tactic your opponent rolls 1 dice for each of their units on the battlefield that are more than 3” from any of your units. For each 6 they may immediately move that unit up to 6” (remaining outside of 3” of your units). 


The heroic action allows you to bluff with your heroes, putting them into danger only to later pull them out and replace them with something scarier. The risk of failure should also give players pause instead of using it as an easy get out of jail free card. In the Realm of Shadows you should always worry that your underlings could betray you. The realm rule tries to build that doubt in players before they really get into their turn. While it is very unlikely to roll a bunch of 6s, it could always happen and a 6” move you weren’t expecting can be quite impactful. I’m hoping that this is a constant niggle in the players mind when they start their turn instead of a game breaker turning the game into who can roll the most 6s game (which arguably AoS already is :P).


The Realm of Light


The Realm of Light is all about wisdom and introspection. It is about capital T “Truth” rather than objective fact. The LRL book goes over a lot of detail about what the realm is like. It is a very ordered place, perfect to a fault. It is also very magical (which is a bit of a weird way to describe something in a universe build around 8 magic discs).


Heroic Action: Non-WIZARD heroes only. They may attempt to cast 1 spell this turn from the core rule book.


Realm rule: Inspiration strikes: At the beginning of each battle round each hero on the battlefield receives 1 CP as if they had completed the Heroic Leadership heroic action. This does not prevent heroes from using this heroic action later in the turn.


The heroic action is a little bland compared to many others, but there is a lot of command points going on in this realm already and I think having a safe good, option to replace Heroic Leadership was a good bet. The realm rule aims to increase the amount of impact that heroes have in the game. Command points can really ramp up a hero’s involvement and give the players more ways to impact the game without adding too much additional complexity. Hopefully it makes the players feel more active, taking more initiative in the game as it plays.    


The Realm of Metal

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In contrast to the Realm of Light as the realm of wisdom, the Realm of Metal is the realm of logic. It is the mechanic mind, which while logical is not always reasonable. It is this interesting balance that makes the Realm of Metal both understandable but also fantastical and something more than just a world where everything is just made out of metal. The quintessential faction GW have used to explore this realm are the Kharadron Overlords. This dwarf faction specialises in technology, industry and mercantile pursuits. They ain’t your daddy’s dwarfs. The realm they live in also backs this up, at times feeling like being inside a realm-sized clock.


Heroic action: Select an objective on the battlefield each objective can only be selected once per game. Until the end of this turn, attacks against units within 6” of this object get +1 rend. Whoever has the most models within 6” of this objective at the end of the turn gains 1 additional VP (they will score this even if they are not the active player), if there are no models within 6” no one scores a point. 


Realm rule: Double edged terrain: While in a piece of terrain a unit may forfeit its movement to hunker, if it does so add +2 to its save from cover instead of the normal +1. Roll a D6 for each unit that decides to hunker, on a 1 it takes D3 mortal wounds.


The heroic action allows a player to get a little greedy and score an additional point. Opening scoring on both turns allows from some unique plays, do you use it to get a rend buff on an enemies objective hoping to kill them all at the risk of them picking up an extra point? Or do you try and score an extra VP while making yourself more vulnerable? The realm rule tries to capture the idea of a metallic landscape. It is both harder than normal terrain (i.e. giving +2 to save from cover) and sharper (i.e. having a chance to harm the unit in it). 


The Realm of Life

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The Realm of Life should be more than a fairy garden for Allarielle to sit in. In Greywater Fastness (a city of Sigmar set in the realm) they constantly have to fight the forest to keep it at bay and keep the city safe. The realm is constantly growing and increasing. It should feel more like a deep rainforest rather than a picturesque glen, constantly overgrowing over the previous life constantly. It is a realm of aggressive growth. As Dr Malcom says, “Life finds a way.”


Heroic Action: choose a unit (does not have to be a HERO) on the board within 3” of a terrain piece added via the realm rule. Remove the added terrain piece. That unit cannot attack this turn.


Realm rule: Growing strong: Roll a D6 at the start of your turn, on a 3+ place a new terrain feature on the board more than 3” away from any objective or more than 1” away from any unit. This terrain has the OVERGROWN keyword.


Adding terrain might be a little more than people would like to engage with (not everyone is a sylvaneth player with hundreds of trees ready to go), though it does give you the feeling of an aggressively growing environment, getting more claustrophobic as the game goes on. Creating a heroic action that gives the players some control over the expanding terrain and a way to struggle against it is important. This interaction between Heroic action and Realm rule I feel creates a more fitting environment than the cutesy stereotype people like to think of as the Realm of Life.


The Realm of Death


The Realm of Death is basically all of the generic concepts of an underworld lumped together for convenience. It contains different pockets for all the various religions of the Mortal Realm’s souls to go to once they die. It is a patchwork of belief created by the living that is slowly fading into dust as the communities that created them die out.  Also, Nagash lives there. He is the boss and is slowly homogenising it. 


Heroic action: call the spirits for aid; roll a D6, on a 3+ apply one of the below effects to a unit. On a 1-2 the enemy can choose the unit and effect. This effect lasts until the end of the turn.

·       -1” to their move characteristic and -1” to their run distance

·       -1 to their save characteristic

·       No Inspiring presence


Realm rule: Depression: Only HEROs can issue commands. Unit champions and ELITE units can not issue commands.


Across GW games ‘Death’ is often synonymous with debuff. So I gave both players access to a debuff heroic action, this should hopefully capture some of that repressive feeling that death/debuffs can have on players without being too restrictive. To make it strong enough to consider taking I felt I needed to make it at least a little risky. To make the realm feel like the entropic malaise it is often described as without making the game more tedious to play I limited the amount of units that could issue commands. This should hopefully make people feel like their units are less responsive (i.e. like they are degrading) without making the game more of a chore to play. 



There is my afternoon’s worth of work trying to make the game feel more like you are in the Mortal Realms. The Mortal Realms is a cool and unique setting that I don’t think gets enough love and attention. Would you be willing to give these rules a go? Or what would you use instead to create that feeling in your games?

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