So, welcome to part two. Those joining us, you can find part one and our look at the lore here.
Now, some of you are immediately wondering why this took so long to do. After all, Age of Sigmar is a simple and easy beer and pretzels game, so this should have been a cinch to deal with. Well, there are three reasons. The first was that this was new territory for us, given that this is both a relatively new game and the book itself changes up quite a few things, so rushing in was never an option. The second meanwhile was that barely anyone seemed to care.
Really, compared with the few thousand the average Codex review generates, barely a hundred of you looked into the lore for the new book. This blog was always made to give established fans what they wanted, so it was put on the back burner until a few more prominent topics could be covered in its place. As a result, this is likely to be the last battletome we'll cover for the moment. While I personally quite like the game and have enjoyed Age of Sigmar warts and all, there's simply no point in covering something barely anyone is interested in at the moment.
Right, with all that done, onto the core rules.
Despite their Wood Elf origins, the Sylvaneth here are more akin to the Craftworld Eldar in their role. You have a few highly specialised and very specific units built with a single role in mind, and a few big ones to help take some hits. What's more, the common grunts are relatively fragile, relying upon speed and swarm tactics when they're not serving as a big arrow/magic/cavalry magnet to keep casualties down on your more valued troops. This isn't to say that it's a perfect translation of course, as the Sylvaneth are overall somewhat more durable and there is more of a crossover between units in terms of abilities. It's just that out of all of Warhammer's armies, they fit into that one more clearly than any others.
Also, some of their units seem to have gone right past powerful into full weapons-grade game-breaking levels of insanity.
So, starting with the named characters, we have Alarielle the Everqueen. Returning to the game with a beautiful model and hitting like a freight train, she's been the one hogging the spotlight both in and out of universe for some time now. Then again, with sixteen wounds and a standard 3+ save, not to mention a D3 regen, who wouldn't. In most games this would immediately push her into overpowered territory but Age of Sigmar keeps going. If being an absolute Behemoth class anvil capable of soaking up damage from whole units weren't enough, her Soul Amphorae extends 30" about her and extends that D3 regen to any Sylvaneth unit nearby. Oh, and just to cap this off, this same ability can be used to summon units all the way up to the powerful and extremely hard to kill Treelords. Yes, she can summon Treebeard on steroids while handling all this.
Even her offensive magic proves to be at least as effective as her bolstering abilities. Known as Metamorphosis, this unique spell basically transforms enemy units into her personal fodder. Really, with a casting value of five (the only thing which balances out its power somewhat) it allows her to throw an equal number of dice as her casting result at an enemy target within 16”. On a roll of a 4+ or more for each dice rolled, an enemy model is instantly slain and replaced with a standard Dryad. The Dryads in of themselves aren't the impressive part of course, it's largely the ability to rob an army of its Death Star squads which makes this stand out. Target that unit of pesky Phoenix Guard with this spell a few times, and your foe has lost one of its big scale heavy hitters. Keep in mind, she can also perform this stunt on single models as well, so any guy with a Bloodthirster is going to be cowering in fear from her from here on.
Alarielle's main weapon, the Talon of the Dwindling, also scythes through just about anything which makes the mistake of getting within arm's reach. Four attacks is fairly impressive for a single unit in any game, but atop of this she also has the ability to roll 2D6 per attack. If this rises above the enemy unit's total number of wounds or she gets double sixes, that unit is a gonner. No questions asked, they just get booted right into oblivion without a second thought.
Oh, and just to top this all off, she also has a very nice command ability. Any and all Sylvaneth units on the table can promptly re-roll any failed wounds until the next hero phase, even going through your opponent's turn.
So, now most other Age of Sigmar players have been sent screaming for the hills and we've set the tone for this army, what other monstrosities can we expect as well? Drycha Hamadreth just for starters AKA The bitch who will cover your army in bees.
Notable as much for her bipolar and extremely hostile temperamental nature as effectively piloting a woodman mecha, she's another durable and heavy hitting named unit. Capable of leaping across the board with an insanely speedy 9" move, one which isn't altered by any damaged state no less, she has a wound and damage output which easily rivals that of Alarielle. This might have been somewhat eased up by her lack of spammable healing abilities, but instead she gets the chance to spam bugs (Flitterfuries) at her foe.
Damaging any unit within 18", both your own and your enemy's, this causes one wound per unit within the model, slowly whittling down their numbers the longer you're in range of her. This can be focused instead as a shorter range and more focused attack by launching giant centipedes (Squirmlings) at targets within 10", with a D6 rolled per model. On a 3+ result while undamaged, this instantly deals a Mortal Wound. While this impact is admittedly limited in the face of multi-wound foes, it means she acts like a buzzsaw to any common or garden grunts who get in her way. At the very least, this severely weakens units she charges in against, meaning within a couple of turns of exposure, you're likely to lose anything she's facing down.
Drycha also retains the ability to switch her mode and boost certain attacks depending upon what she's set to at the start of the turn. There's an Enraged state which turns her into a bark-skinned Angron for a while, boosting her main attacks and allowing her Flitterfuries to extend to a much wider area. On the other, there's her Embittered state, which negates up to two wounds which might be slowing her down and boosts the power of her Squirmlings.
Oh, and finally, she also has a Primal Terror ability which extends to 10" around her and lessens the leadership of enemy units. It's not by much admittedly, and against anything with a Bravery of eight or more they're just going to laugh at this, but it'll play hell with standard troops.
While certainly not the beetle riding treekin' Godzilla which is Alarielle, Drycha is still hitting extraordinarily hard. Just pairing her up with a couple of basic supporting units will offset most of her shortcomings, and she seems to have almost been tailor made to work with the Spite-Revenants (no surprises there). In fact, she's so good at that she has a unique spell which ties into them, allowing her to use their Bravery lowering abilities to charge her own powers, then in turn offering them re-rolls to Wound. Much like the above Drycha also counts as a Behemoth, taking up one of those very useful monster slots, but she's still a strong choice for someone facing down swarm armies.
The Wyldwood is the one which stands out above all others as an oddity, as it's more of a terrain feature than a true attacking force. You effectively just stick them about the board, more or less wherever you want save for the enemy deployment zone, and that's about it. So, how do they benefit you in the game? Many unit abilities tie into these forests, ranging from punting them about the board to some major defensive bonuses when they're close by. What's more, these things serve as excellent roadblocks for holding back any enemy force, cavalry or otherwise. Basically, each and every one counts as if it's Dangerous Terrain for any non-Sylvaneth units close by, so any unit which moves in needs to roll a D6. If they get a one as a result, it's lights out for them.
The Spirit of Durthu is up next and, ironically despite the title, isn't a unique named character in any way. While this means you can field multiple figures in a single game, the fact they also count as a Behemoth and consume a staggering amount of points means you'll rarely get the chance to use them in mass. This, after seeing their stats, is an extraordinarily good thing, as these things are only a step below eldar Wraithknights in terms of comparative damage output.
Outfitted with three weapons - two melee options and a single ranged choice - he's relatively versatile for his price. While the ranged option is effectively just a Stranglevines attack on steroids, the 10” combined with a higher number of attacks and damage output makes it useful for softening up targets before an assault. It can also be further reinforced by channeling his life-force into these shots, upping the number of attacks at the cost of taking on a few wounds. While there are admittedly a few occasions where this would be useful, his sheer toughness and raw power at close range means he's better off just sticking to the vanilla version before charging into close range.
Up close and personal, Durthu shares the standard Treelord ability, Massive Impaling Talons. Serving as a somewhat weaker version of Alarielle's own mass slaying attack, it does offer him the chance to instantly kill most things he bumps into, even if you're stuck to 1D6-1 per model to pull it off. However, what makes him stand out (and worth his weight in gold) is that rather nasty looking sword he carries. Anyone made of highly flammable bark has to be something of a badass to carry a perpetually burning blade of course, and his attacks with this truly prove it; hitting on a 3+ with a -2 option to Rend a foe. This would be meaty enough on its own of course, but it promptly follows this up with 6 to D6+D3 attacks, allowing him to utterly ream entire units at a time. The only thing you're going to see once he bumps into Sigmar's boys in gold is a lot of armoured bisected bodies going flying.
Durthu also retains a few other abilities with his fellow Treelords, notably Groundshaking Stomp and Spirit Paths. While it does mean he's a bit less special and fails to fully stand out from the crowd, both of these are hard hitting and fairly reliable options, with the first (provided it's used at the start of the combat phase) forcing a -1 onto enemy attacks against him. A good choice to be sure, as combined with his heightened stats, it means it's hard for him to ever be mobbed to death in a single assault. Spirit Paths is the much more dangerous one however, as it gives him limited teleportation. It's the old Wood Elf tactic of having him move into a wood (a Wyldwood) to be specific, and having him instantly beam himself between them. This wouldn't be bad on its own, but what pushes him a little too close towards broken territory is Durthu's bonus ability, which further augments this the Spirit Paths. Known as Tree Singing, it permits him to summon a Wyldwood within 30” of him.
On paper this seems fine, but it effectively allows him to instantly fall back from an army should he risk being overwhelmed. Atop of this, it means he can be allowed to summon a portal for other units after teleporting himself about the battlefield, effectively doubling up Imperial Knight level damage and durability with full on Webway portal potential. Unless you have a solid and very powerful flying units (read: dragon) you're in for a bitch of a time to actually bring him down.
The Sylvaneth Treelord Ancient and standard Treelords are the next obvious option given how closely in line they are with Durthu himself. Most of their core abilities and basic traits have already been outlined above. Along with counting as a Behemoth choice, armed with Massive Impaling Talons, Groundshaking Stomp and Spirit Paths, they are extraordinarily durable and solid speed bumps even for the most determined assaults. However, unlike the common or garden Treelord, the Ancient is a Wizard with more than a few fun abilities as a result. As he can can cast one spell and unbind one spell, this offers him a little versatility and some potential for screwing with certain units before moving in for the kill. It's admittedly more of a secondary ability than a primary focus - anything more on a Treelord would have turned this thing into mini-Alarielle - but it's a nice choice to be sure. The Ancient is also further augmented by a much higher Bravery stat and a couple of unique spells atop of this, notably allowing all nearby Sylvaneth to reroll ones on armour saves.
Overall, both are solid units with the Ancient being a solid, big and beefy option for anyone who doesn't want a named character in play, and the standard Treelords still serve as excellent living battering rams.
The Branchwraith is up next, an old carryover from Warhammer Fantasy, and while useful she's not nearly as essential as she used to be. For starters, the models themselves are relatively fragile, both in physical terms and stats. With only a 5+ save, she's the sort of leader you'd want to keep as far out of the fight as you can, lobbing spells at long range. Thankfully she gains quite a bit more durability in a Wyldwood, allowing her to withstand a few volleys from opportunistic archers. Blessings of the Forest is to thank for this, as her unique power forces any rolls to attack against her to subtract one from any rolls to hit.
Even if they do get in close, she does also have the ability to summon 2D6 Dryads per turn herself, giving her some fodder to serve as a wooden shield or slowly throw into melees. Ultimately this is probably what you should have her doing more than anything else, as it is incredibly infuriating to have someone show up close to the front lines and spam reinforcements.
To contrast with the Branchwraith we have the Branchwych. Fitting the more offensive minded players, she contrasts heavily with her more unit spammy counterpart by ditching the Dryad summoning for a Sorcerous Blast. Well, not exactly a Sorcerous Blast admittedly, but it's just as unreliable but utterly infuriating for enemy players; driving back any mob forces and ripping through any carefully formed attacking groups. In addition to this, these are units you want up close and personal, leading the fight with surprisingly decent melee capabilities.
While they still remain relatively fragile thanks to the basic stats, they make up for this with anther Wyldwood ability. Rather than blocking enemy attacks, they gain a number of attack bonuses when they stand within 3" of one of these things. The downside sadly is that this is only activated once she is hurt, meaning after a while this is offset by the standard limitations of being wounded. As such, she's useful for spearheading initial attacks so long as you can ensure enemy forces aren't going to bunch up in front of her; or if you seriously need a major speedbump to cull a massed assault close to a Wyldwood. Personally speaking, I would recommend the Branchwraith over her unless you have a very specific list in mind.
Anyway, since we've been talking about them so much, what are the benefits and positives of the Dryads anyway? Well, you've probably guessed that their role is basically to run in and die a lot unfortunately, with only a 5+ standard save, they're likely to die in droves against the likes of Stormcast Eternal Liberators. The fact that, even with two attacks basic, each one only retains a 4+/4+/-/1 chance of killing someone means you're unlikely to actually bring anyone down. As you might imagine then, their strength lies in sheer numbers to help overwhelm a foe, but this works in more ways than one.
Okay, spamming attacks at close range until a bigger unit fails a save and absorbing plenty of heavy hits, that's nothing new. However, the Dryads have a special rule to help back this up. Mob them together into units of twelve upwards and they suddenly gain 2" attack radiuses, allowing you to line them up like spearmen against a target, and their hit ratio is also boosted to 3+. What's even more surprising is that, aside from a rather speedy 7" basic movement, these guys also have some major benefits to being used in cover. Keep them back in a Wyldwood in certain games, and they can be a major headache to an enemy player's advances.
Despite these bonuses, the Dryads are still the workhorse of the army, there to serve as a backbone but largely to die. They can certainly do some serious damage in the right circumstances, but it's difficult to balance out the right options. Mass them together into a single unit and you end up with too many arrows flying at them at once. Spread them too thin and you lose that big, very useful bonus. Ultimately, you should regard them as a very brittle hammer. Allow them to take too much punishment and they break; but place them in the right location and balance out their benefits properly, and they can cause some surprising damage when combined with a bigger unit.
Tree-Revenants are the second Battleline choice, and the newer option which no one seems to be as of yet decided upon. On the one hand, they have some very useful benefits and interesting standard rules. On the other though, their standard stats and capabilities are somewhat weedy.
Their chief benefit is their sheer mobility and offensive power. Capable of teleporting between Wyldwoods, and table edged as well, they're adept at hit and fade attacks. Backed up with the ability to move a full 6" while piling into combat, at least when paired up with a musician, they can ambush units and get everyone hitting them almost all at once. Oh, and they also have the Rend special rule just to assist with a few basic wounding re-rolls. This means they can dish out serious damage against basic infantry, but they simply cannot take it in return. They remain just as fragile as the Dryads, but suffer from a much shorter movement. While this can be re-rolled to judge distances both on the charge and running flat out, there's plenty of opportunities for them to be cut down by ranged units.
This is a difficult one for sure as they have a high points cost but suffer from a problematic lack of any serious durability. What's more, if they're caught in combat for too long you can usually kiss them goodbye, as they're not built for fighting whilst outnumbered either. Because of this, you should probably treat them as ambush predators and distractions. If they can tie up an enemy unit while the rest of the army engages the main force, that can work. What's more, their potential to harry and tie down ranged units and siege weapons means they're a godsend to anyone fearing massed dakka lines. Overall, they're good but somewhat unreliable and oddly situational as well.
Spite-Revenants are the much more hostile and less gimmicky alternative to the standard Tree-Wraiths. Playing up fears and demoralizing the enemy (again, something we see a lot here) their role is to sap the Bravery of enemy forces. There's little to really say besides that, as they don't have any kind of major alpha damage or serious durability, so they're more a unit you'd want distributed among Dryads or general front-line forces. It's not much admittedly, but it can be enough of a bonus to cut through more fodder heavy armies like the Skaven. That's really it unfortunately.
Now, if some of this has sounded a little tame with the last few options, then the Kurnoth Hunters will change your mind. To put it simply, these guys have about the same kind of damage output as a basic Hero and you can expect them to ream damn near anything they bump into. The unit has several weapons to choose from but the primary one is, a bow capable of targeting units from a massive 30" out (well, massive for this game at any rate) can firing two shots a turn. Each shot itself is capable of unleashing D3 damage, so these guys will quickly cut through more lightly armoured foes with ease, and even the infantry decked out in heavy duty plating won't last long against them. This is definitely their most advantageous weapon of choice here, as they fill out a nearly unparalleled level of ranged damage few armies can truly match.
The other alternatives are a sword or scythe, each with their own unique benefits. The sword hits with four attacks basic per turn, with a -1 Rend special rule to back that up, and a basic damage of two. The scythe, meanwhile, does the opposite, with three attacks at -2 Rend and D3 damage, sacrificing numbers for higher overall damage. What does admittedly offset the bows somewhat is the addition of a Quiverbug when taking blades. These are small extra units which are surprisingly durable and retain the ability to shoot into combat, giving just a slight extra bonus in battle. That quiet whimpering you just heard was a Dark Elf Executioner realising he's been replaced as official elf badass.
Now, thus far all this certainly sounds dangerous to be sure, but nothing overly horrendous by any standard. Well, that quickly changes when you look into their other stats. Combined with a decent 4+ save, these guys have five wounds per model, an excessive amount even for a melee character, let alone a full unit. In effect, even just three of these guys can absorb several rounds worth of firepower without flinching and promptly kill all of them in return. In a head on fight, these guys have a serious chance of taking out Treelords at range, and there's really not much which can truly topple them outside of named characters.
So, those are the units. On the one hand, I will credit the book this - It's obvious that they are testing out ideas for a new setting while trying to remain loyal to some basic Warhammer Fantasy concepts. That said, the problem here is that they seem to have skipped a great deal of the tactical nuance in favour of sheer power and bigger models. You can see traces of where they are trying to match games like Infinity in this regard, and it does even work out in quite a few places, but there's also a lack of restraint as well. Let's face it, few sane designers would ever add in Kurnoth Hunters as a standard unit.
Now, that said, there is a much greater sense of grandeur and power here, and there is more of a push to have each unit play off one another. There's also a much more notable sense of fun to the book, and the units are angled towards quick, exciting and costly games. The best kind, in other words. These are all positive traits, but it just desperately needs a hell of a lot more work in order to smooth things out. Personally, I just wish "more power" wasn't treated as the best answer.
Still, we're not quite done yet. Join us in a few days time when we finish things up, looking over the equipment, traits and battalions.