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The 9th Age Part 2: A World of Story, A World of War

We kick off part two of our 9th Age review just after the release of the “legendary” version of the “Warriors of the Dark Gods” faction and by the gods, it’s packed full of cool stuff. This is great timing as we’re going to be looking at the background, theme and lore of the 9th Age (you can find part one, here).

In this Article

  • We shall briefly look at the world composition and history of the 9th Age,
  • Introduce some of the darker themes,
  • Take a look at a couple of the factions, comparing them to similar factions from Games Workshop’s old Warhammer Fantasy Battles,
  • Finally, we’ll look into the new Warriors of the Dark Gods faction book to see just what the 9th Age team are capable of.

The Written Lore

Before I begin, it’s worth mentioning the writing style of the lore and setting of the 9th Age. Rather than being a single monotonous view point, the style instead portrays the world through personal accounts, letters and journals, detailing the wonders and horrors of the 9th Age. Some of the characters are recurring throughout the texts providing successive layers to their often woeful stories. This style of writing was common during the early decades of the last century but dropped out of favour with the advancement of film and TV.

Pick up any fictional book from that early era and you’ll see what I mean: H.P Lovecraft (Cthulhu mythos), H.G Wells (War of the Worlds), Mary Shelly (Frankenstein / The Modern Prometheus), all use this style of writing. It’s effective because it puts the reader next to the author and immediately draws our attention. The reader knows from the outset that the account is first hand, likely to be believable. In my opinion, a well executed literary move by the 9th Age writers.

The World of the 9th Age

Dark & Gritty? We shall see. What I think stands out from the history is the poetic style. The 9th Age history is presented to us in several verses, similar to something we would find in a bible or viking saga. They call it the “World Hymn,” found on a tapestry thought to be ancient in years, perhaps a copy of a similar, older Dwarven text. The Hymn details the previous ages in allegory, of how the ancient lizards races once ruled the world, and how a comet gave the first sign to rebel and break free.

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Perhaps because it is still early days the world seems to be breathing and growing slowly. The groundwork seems to be there and we’re likely to see more content as each faction receives its legendary faction book. We must remember that the 9th Age is designed with tournaments in mind but with all the effort into creating such a beautiful world, are we asking too much to hope that there will at some point be a narrative story arc? Maybe we might one day see the “Storm of Father Chaos” as a campaign?

Indeed in the executive board mission statement it is made very clear that they believe the background is critical for players to access and fully enjoy the 9th Age. They’ve given the Background Team powers to oversee the story development, so expect to see full on Legendary versions for each faction over the coming years… and if they’re anything like Warriors of the Dark Gods, we’re all in for a great deal (free, totally free!)

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Perusing one of the 9th Age forums recently suggested by Ghiznuk (a member of the Translation Team Russian), I gained an insight into the world setting development. In it, Ghiznuk explains how the world map is designed and how it must permit different factions to have a reliable narrative reasoning for encountering one another. It’s such a simple idea but one that never seemed to be fully realised in Warhammer Fantasy Battles.An example: the Highborn Elves were once part of a huge empire which has since crumbled, leaving countless outposts in the form of harbors and ports scattered across the world. These elves are a mighty naval force and thus have strong trading routes, allowing factions to encounter them.

An example: the Highborn Elves were once part of a huge empire which has since crumbled, leaving countless outposts in the form of harbors and ports scattered across the world. These elves are a mighty naval force and thus have strong trading routes, allowing factions to encounter them.

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I think it is fair to say that in their mission to gather and develop more players, the 9th Age teams are performing a herculean effort to produce something of quality – the fact that this is essentially volunteer work towards something created by and for the community makes it more remarkable. If the last two paragraphs haven’t given you enough to believe in it, I guess you’ll just have to read on…

Killing for Fun, or with Purpose

It came to my attention on one of many frequented sub-reddits that a few people are put off by the fact that the 9th Age was, as they understood it, designed purely for tournament players. I can see where this misconception came from. One redditor went as far as to say that they wished the game had some sort of scenarios to make the game-play more engaging, much like Age of Sigmar does now (you pretty much HAVE to play Age of Sigmar as a scenario). It did not take me long to find what I was looking for…

The 9th Age Scenario Supplement!

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With a book of 18 scenarios, there’s plenty of scope to create a series of skirmishes or mammoth battles with a purpose beyond simple annihilation. Each game can be randomly generated with some dice rolls, or picked from a list to create narrative campaigns. Problem solved!

A Note on Equal Representation

Reading all the different snippets of background out there, we get the impression that female characters are more represented than in Games Workshop, even by their current standards. There’s little reason that GW can’t rectify this quickly, but it seems to be going at a slow pace for them currently. Not so for the 9th Age! This is great, and I’m certain the inclusivity will encourage players of all identities.

Moving onward, I think it is time we had a spotlight review on some of the factions. I chose these two factions because they are my favourite themes; noble elves and efficient troops of the empire!

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Factions Spotlight

I should point out that the background lore for most of the factions is pretty slim at the moment. The exceptions to this are Demon Legions, Sylvan Elves, Undying Dynasties and the newly released Warriors of the Dark Gods (which I’ll take a deeper look at later). For the time being, most of the background is contained within snippets of accounts and journals scattered throughout the 9th Age website or contained within the above mentioned faction books. There is an effort to get everything into one easy to access source, fully translated, but community driven projects on this scale can take time. As mentioned previously, there is a concerted push to achieve this grand goal!

Still, even with these little taster pieces, the nature of the different factions should be familiar to those who possessed an interest in the Warhammer Fantasy brand. Even if you’ve never played the tabletop war-game, some of you will be familiar through digital or role-playing games such as the Total War series or Warhammer Fantasy Role-playing Game (recently published again by Cubicle 7).

I’ll admit that my Warhammer lore is a little rusty, but if you get a chance, leave a comment after reading this and let me know if you’re getting a similar feeling with any of the factions currently in the 9th Age!

Highborn Elves

Look and Feel

The Highborn Elves are similar to the middle-era of Warhammer Fantasy Battles. In a nutshell they are:

  • A civilisation in retreat,
  • A nation of naval traditions with settlements all over the world,
  • Highly trained troops who are quick to strike,
  • Heavily armoured or mixed lightly armoured
  • An adaptable force, with giant dragons, powerful or swift cavalry & multipurpose infantry,
  • Brimming with high magical potential
  • Disciplined troops, less likely to behave poorly and let you down!

History

There are a tonne of similarities with the Elves of the Warhammer world and the 9th Age, which is pleasing to see because there’s such a rich and noble history involved. From the snippets of information we have we can glean that the Highborn are in retreat, very Tolkien-esque. We are told that they’re divided into three hence the factions symbol of 3 spheres, each representing an elemental theme such as wind, waves and fire.

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For ease, I’ve copied the brief history snippets for you to read here.

“The white isles of Celeda Ablan, home of the Highborn Elves, are said to be a truly awe inspiring sight. They are guarded by fleets of the finest ships to set sail, and phalanxes of Elves blessed with the natural grace and skill of their people. Led by Princes borne aloft on terrifying dragons, the Highborn have ever maintained a proud and aloof manner, yet they are capable of fighting with the same savagery their cousins display.”

“Although they have the greatest naval power the world has seen, the Highborn Elves have retreated from many of their former conquests. Despite this, they continue to hold outposts on coastlines across the globe. The fall of the Highborn’s appointed Raj, ruling over the Sagarika Kingdoms in their name, marked the extent of their decline. Yet even with increasing resources diverted to combat the Dread Elf threat, they still dominate the seas and the resulting trade.”

“In the mists of time, they rebelled against the enigmatic Saurians to become guardians of much of the world, while the ancestors of the Dwarves held the rest. Once they were a single race, yet their united rule could not endure. Even these most graceful of beings are not immune to in-fighting or betrayal. The details are veiled in allegory and myth, but it is clear a great schism rent the Elven peoples asunder, resulting in the three powers we see today.”

Note that these small parcels of information hint or mention other factions, such as their cousins, the Dread Elves and the human Sagarika Kingdoms (which we learn in other sources was sponsored by the Elves to help overthrow the rule of the Ogre Khans!)

Game Abilities

Martial discipline is a key faction ability which gives the elves some staying power. What they lack in physical resistance they make up with strong training. This ability allows the player to roll two dice instead of one, and choose the lowest (best) score for tests of leadership.

Unlike most elves in fantasy worlds, there doesn’t seem to be a huge physical weakness to them. The Resilience characteristic determines how “easily the model withstands blows” much like the toughness characteristic in Warhammer Fantasy. Compared to humans troops, Highborn troops are just as resilient however, their commanders are weaker, retaining a resilience of 3 compared to 4 for humans.

Their agility is great – in the 9th Age models with a higher agility score attack first. What I loved about the High Elves from Warhammer Fantasy was their speed but I didn’t agree with the “always strike first” rule as it seemed too forced. In 9th Age elves are fast not because of a rule, but because of their profile: a typical Highborn elf has an agility score of 5 compared to a normal human warrior who has a score of 3, making elves super agile.

I punched a simple army into BattleScribe and assuming it’s up-to-date, I was amazed that Citizen Spears (a regular unit of spear-men for the Highborn Elves faction) were even more agile in certain circumstances.

I’ll explain…

In the 9th Age, weapons all possess special rules. For spears this means they provide fighting in extra ranks (which Citizen Spears do already, so there’s plenty of attacks there), they provide a bonus to penetrating their targets armour (+1) and assuming they unit did not charge, are engaged and not flanked, grant a further bonus to agility and armour penetration. This amounts to an agility of 7, armour penetration of +2 and if they’re fighting in 3 ranks of 5, you’re looking at 15 attacks – sounds like a very effective greek-styled phalanx.

It seems that simple (basic) units are capable troops and are not just there to provide filler units to your armies. I got excited when I played around with the BattleScribe app and so purchased some Oathmark Elves – you get 30 miniatures in a box for around £25, so £50 essentially gets you 3 units of mixed spears, bows or hand weapons (I’ll review them another time).

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Empire of Sonnstahl

Look and Feel

The Empire of Sonnstahl echoes the Empire from the old Warhammer world, as you would expect. It is:

  • Blocks of trained state troops,
  • Gothic knights riding heavily armoured horses,
  • Battle mages and War Priests,
  • Cannons and siege engines galore,
  • Works best when units are used together as a whole.

History

Replace the bearded Sigmar with Sunna, a female goddess who united the human tribes, and you’ve pretty much got the gist of the Sonnstahl Empire (Sonnstahl, as we learn below, is the name of Sunnas sword).

Throughout the snippets we get the idea that the Sonnstahl Empire, while lacking the extensive age and focus of the elder races, makes up its shortfalls in dedication and record keeping. It really is an interesting and refreshing idea that humans are able to record and pass down their learnings so that each successive generation is better prepared and able to learn more. It really gives the human faction a great feel.

“A nation founded upon the exploits of Sunna, goddess given flesh, our ally has developed far from its early days. The tribes Sunna unified have endured together, never forgetting her memory and glory, symbolised by her eponymous sword Sonnstahl. The core of human supremacy in Vetia, with Destrian wealth now united through marriage with its grand armies and economy, there is no limit to the Empire’s ambition.”

“But, to command such a diverse nation, an Emperor must not simply conquer in battle, he or she must compete in the political arena, navigating the treacherous currents of rival families and churches, to unite the nation against its enemies. A true seat of learning, with magic and technology refined into effective weapons, the Empire has become a master of many trades and has begun extending its grasp to foreign lands.”

Game Abilities

The Empire has a great feeling of tradition to it. Much like in Warhammer, the main human faction is designed with cooperation in mind. What individuals lack in raw brute strength, they make up in battlefield tactics and cunning.

Detachments allow for support units to respond on behalf of their parents units, meaning they can counter charge, shoot or support those units in trouble. This low-level mastery gives the Empire faction a strong sense of unity and training which marries well with the “state troop” feel it possesses. Lines of missile troops supporting blocks of eavy infantry has nice historical feel to it, which will appeal to history buffs, while allowing the fantasy element to smooth over a need for absolute accuracy.

Generals and Commanders of the Empire can also issue “Orders” once per turn. These play into the feel of the troops, as orders allow units to move faster, embolden them against losses or near defeat, make shooting units more accurate or brace a unit against an incoming charge. Multiple characters who can give orders stack up so long as the order isn’t the same, so in theory a stout line of missile troops and spears troops could effectively gain the accurate rule and fight in extra ranks which feels nice thematically.

An example of the above is a simple army list created with BattleScribe:

1 Commander, with bits and pieces.

15 Imperials Guard with greatswords (think, WFB “Greatswords”) as a parent unit, with a magical banner, the “Banner of Unity.”

2 units of 10 handgunners, both as support units.

This combination means that if the Commander issues an order to the Imperial Guard unit, the banner allows a further free order to be given to a support unit, effectively providing a chain of command across the units. They make ideal rank and file strategies when you start to add in extra commanders capable of giving orders.

Dark Lore – the Lore of Badass

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So, the bit that’s really caught my attention and imagination this week: Warriors of the Dark Gods!

Warriors of the Dark Gods

This faction book is packed. I mean, seriously stuffed with stories and lore generating the background of the world effortlessly. It is a piece of art in its own right, with writers and artists packing in their hard work to create something that exceeds the stuff we see written by the likes of Games Workshop. I’ve said it before in previous articles, but for a group of people working for nothing, this is exceptional. It feels more like Warhammer Fantasy Battles than Warhammer Fantasy Battles! If this is what we’re to expect for all of the factions in the 9th Age, then we are to be truly blessed with something amazing.

Even the artwork is superb, but for me, the art looks REAL. It hasn’t just been banged out by a Wacom tablet and stylus, no, these artists have spent a great deal of time on their art and it really shows! (I have nothing against digital artists, I just expect more from the likes of GW who are funded by their sales!)

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We are treated with 80 pages of storytelling, lore and fantastic artwork before we even get to the game mechanics section, of which there are nearly 30 pages of army choices and stat lines, completed with a quick reference guide to make consulting your stats easy. And don’t forget, you can simply download the “slim” version of the army book, which contains only the game mechanic components.

At the beginning of the book we are given a story of the trials of commander Ilarion Yanovich, whose frontier town becomes surrounded by raiders. Yanovich is visited each night by one of seven envoys from each camp, enticing him to their dark gods. In this story, we are given insights into the dark gods and how their warriors behave. The temptations and trials are reminiscent of Dante’s Inferno, with each envoy representing what we would call a sin. Yanovich appears throughout the stories, each snippet exploring the newer peaks of his plight.

The artwork here is amazing: tall, robust warrior figures in heavy plated armour representing each of the envoys. Take a look at the images below (courtesy of the 9th Age book). I can certainly feel the nostalgia rising in the artwork. Some examples carry a 90’s style I’ve missed so much, emulated so well that they could have passed the high standard of golden age of Games Workshop and the White Dwarf magazine. It is probably unfair to keep comparing the 9th Age with a well established setting, but the creative talents behind the 9th Age have managed to not just copy the art, but perfect it further.

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Moving on: as we read further we get an idea of how the world was made, of the Mother & Father who make up the twin worlds and of the veil, a hair’s breadth barrier between the two worlds. Mother is law and Father Chaos is the opposite. We’ve learned now that there are seven dark gods, but also an extra layer to the hierarchy, with Father Chaos acting as the Overlord.

The story of Anaba by a mysterious sorcerer further defines the pantheon, describing the symbol of the dark gods, an eight-pointed star. The longest point of the star symbolising Father Chaos. In the lore, it is said that Father’s plans underpin the plans of the seven. We also learn that those dark gods fashioned themselves on the sins of mortals.

The richness of this cosmic lore could go on and on, but I can’t stress enough how much you will learn about the 9th Age from this.

I could go on, but this article is already over 3K words and it is late in the night!

Join us for the next part, where we will undertake to create some armies of the 9th Age and battle it out over several scenarios to get an actual feel for the game. We will cover:

  • Choosing and creating our armed forces,
  • Create a narrative mini-campaign using the scenarios supplement,
  • A brief overview of the battles, with some analysis,

Then we will answer some questions, such as:

  • How long does it take to setup a game,
  • How long does it take to play a game,
  • How much it costs (potentially)
  • Is it accessible to new players and how easy was it to learn.

Join us, and we’ll see if we can’t convince you to try it for yourself!

(All images borrowed from the 9th Age website library, unless otherwise stated. 11/7/19)

Ferris, for the Creator Consortium

@FerrisWrites for Twitter

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