Arcane Journal: Tomb Kings of Khemri Review

Now make ready your weapons, my soldiers, for the time is at hand. Go forth, I command you go forth in haste and march with your king into the darkness of the tomb. Make great the name of Settra and Khemri! The darkness draws near and there are great deeds that remain undone, enemies yet to crush and raptures yet to rejoice in. So as it is written, so shall it be done. I, Settra have proclaimed it and let none dare oppose my will!

—Inscription on the Great Obelisk of Khemri (Warhammer Armies: Tomb Kings, 6th edition)

With the release of Warhammer: The Old World we have also been blessed with the first two ‘Arcane Journal’ army supplements for this new game. In this article we’re going to dive into these army expansions and explore what they bring to the table for the fans of Bretonnia and Khemri alike. With the massive and thorough army compilations in the Fantasy Forces books , what does a Warhammer army book look like now? Are they a requirement to play the game in a meaningful way going forward or just nice to have? Let’s dive into Arcane Journal: Tomb Kings of Khemri to find out.

Special thanks once again to Games Workshop for providing us with early access to these books.

The Tomb Kings March to War at the Square Based GT. Credit: Skari

What’s in the Book!?!

Arcane Journal: Tomb Kings of Khemri begins with 19 pages of lore on the cities of Khemri, the rise of the totally good and fair Settra, as well as the Mortuary Cults whose machinations fluctuated between aiding his return to power and solidifying their own. While much is rehashed and recolored, the artwork in the book is the kind of stuff that just absolutely makes you want to run to the webstore and hope there is something available to purchase. The necroserpents and sphinxes just jump off the pages and I really wish there was more of it. That Tomb King rizz is the real deal, folks.

We also get an ‘Historical Recreation’ called the ‘Clash on the Zandri Road’ recreating a pivotal battle between the recently arisen Tomb Kings and a marauding horde of Orcs. This scenario contains unique rules and deployments for those of us that like to dabble in some narrative fun from time to time or who wish to have an additional battle scenario to use outside of those core ones found in the main rulebook.

The requisite 6 pages of unit and army photos are here as well to give you inspiration when putting together your new models and keeping them on-theme and then we get to the good stuff.

The Tomb Kings march to war. Credit: Skari

The Armies of Infamy

The armies of Infamy are new and thematic ways to build out your faction’s army lists. They contain new army-wide special rules and unlock access to new ‘upgraded’ units that enhance a particular style of play at the cost of a far more restrictive army composition list than what is found in the base books. Taking an army of infamy invariably locks you out of running particular units and honestly the Old World rules team has done a pretty good job of balancing fun and flavor here in particular.

We should get out of the way that these Arcane Journals are not the army books of the past. These are supplements to the unit lists and army rules found in the Ravening Hordes and Forces of Fantasy books that they have been released alongside of. You cannot play a game of the Old World using the Arcane Journals alone as they require references to the army and unit special rules found in their base counterparts. Don’t know what the Khopesh special rule does? Well, you won’t find it here. They just unlock new ways to play your faction (and a handful of special characters which we’ll get to later).

The Nehekharan Royal Host

The first of the new army composition lists is for those of us that are looking for a more elite play experience from our bone daddies. Or if you were just really into Ben-Hur as a kid. In short, the Nehekharan Royal Host is meant to represent the upper echelons of the tomb kings forces and does so at the cost of its magical capabilities. There are no High Priests here to steal any of your glory, just chariots as far as the eye can see and the formed ranks of the royal guard.

The Royal Rules

As far as new rules go, to represent the vanguards of the host of hosts, Royal Host chariots gain the ‘Grind Them Down’ rule so long as they are within their General’s command range allowing them to reroll the number of impact hits they inflict on their enemies. In addition, this general must be a Tomb King or Tomb Prince but they get the option of upgrading themselves to be a level 1 wizard with the Arise! special rule, though if they choose to do so they automatically count as your Hierophant regardless of if there is a more powerful wizard in your list.

In addition to the above, 1 unit of Skeleton Skirmishers per 1000 points of your army may be given the Ambushers special rule for free and 1 unit of Skeleton Horse Archers per 1000 points may take the Chariot Runners special rule for free as well. Given that you’re going to be running a couple of chariot units in this list anyway, this is a great way to purchase yourself the perfect screens so they don’t get shot down on their ride to glory.

Lastly, some units with the Volley Fire special rule in the army gain ‘Steadfast Discipline’ and may use it even after moving or when declaring the Stand and Shoot reaction.

The Royal Host Cavalry and Infantry Cohorts bring some unique playstyles to the standard Tomb King list. Credit: @Tristangray

The Royal Composition

In order to access these rules, your army composition list has to change. Heroes still make up 50% of your list, and a Tomb King or Prince is mandatory (1+), but there is no requirement that you field a Mortuary Priest so long as you take the 35 point Hierophant upgrade on your general.

The core restriction is now a minimum of 33%, basic skeleton archers and warriors have been replaced with the more versatile Royal Host infantry and cavalry cohorts. Skeleton chariots become a 1+ choice and you may have a single unit of Tomb Guard or Tomb Guard chariots (they’re new) count towards your core selections instead of the Sepuchral Stalker option found in the core book.

Skeleton skirmishers and horse archers are moved to Special choices here and Tomb Scorpions are down to 0-2 per 1000 instead of 0-3. Tomb Guard chariots are also slotted into special choices after your first unit.

Lastly, in your rare slot you now only have the option to take screaming skull catapults.

And what is missing? Royal Host armies do not have access to: High Priests, Necrotects,
Skeleton Archers/Warriors, Tomb Swarms, Carrion, Necrolith Colossus, Necrosphinx, and the Casket of Souls.

The Royal Units

As previously mentioned, the Royal Host gains access to a handful of upgraded units to represent the more elite hordes that the greatest Tomb Kings surround themselves with. Royal Host Infantry cohorts and Cavalry cohorts are mixed units of their plainer brethren from the Ravening Hordes rulebook.

Royal Host infantry are 5 points per model and must consist of a minimum of 5 skeleton archers and 5 skeleton warriors though you may purchase as many of either model type as you wish after that. The skeleton warriors in the unit will always move to be in the fighting rank if able and they maintain all of the rules of both units plus gain Steadfast Discipline as well as the ability to purchase the Nehakaran Phalanx special rule. I really enjoy this squad as an anchor point for your back line. A large squad of royal host infantry with a tomb prince BSB can push forward to the mid-field in wide formation while still firing at a decent clip using Steadfast Discipline and then redress ranks into a solid brick that should hold up an enemy unit for multiple turns and allow your faster elements to hit some devastating flank charges.

Royal Host cavalry cost 11 points per horse archer and 12 per horseman. Much like their infantry counterparts they are a sum of their parts gaining all of the special rules of both units combined. Cavalry hosts must start with a minimum of 5 horsemen and 5 archers, gain Steadfast Disciple and may purchase the Countercharge special rule for 1 point per model. It’s an interesting unit to be sure and I enjoy the flavor of it but in practice it ends up doing 2 things more poorly than it would running the units separately for little upside.

Last but not least, Tomb Guard chariots are an excellent shock unit that only the Royal Host has access to. For 10 more points than their garden variety, Tomb Guard chariots lose their bows and spears in exchange for shields and halberds, an extra pip of strength, cleaving blow on their melee attacks, Indomitable 2(!) and an extra impact hit per model (d3+1). With a decent armor save, extra impact hits and the ability to mask themselves behind very cheap chariot runners, I am a huge fan of this unit on the battlefield.

An Arch Necrotect rides a tomb scorpion onto the field. Credit: @tristangray

The Mortuary Cults

The second army of infamy available to the Tomb Kings are the armies of the high priests themselves. Themed around the rarer constructs that were secreted away after Nagash’s betrayal and the magical necromantic might of the hierophants, the armies of the Mortuary Cults sacrifice the speed of chariots and the realm’s mightier warriors in exchange for broader control over their minions of dust and stone.

Mortuary Cult Special Rules

Mortuary Cult armies must take at least 1 Liche Priest to be their Hierophant and that priest must be their general regardless of if they have the highest leadership in the army.

In addition, all Liche Priests in the army gain the ‘Harmonious Incantations’ special rule allowing any Liche Priest that is within the command range of one or more other friendly Liche Priests to recover an additional wound when using the Arise! special rule. This bonus is quite eye opening if you’re willing to spam smaller Mortuary Priests in your back field. That extra 3-5 wounds you regain a turn can mean a full monstrous infantry base or 2 being added to the field. As someone that nearly wiped out a unit of ushabti in a single round of combat only to have 6 of the models stand back up in the following turn and start swinging back, I am very impressed with the ability.

Liche priests may also choose to drain the wounds from nearby swarms, monstrous infantry, monstrous cavalry, monstrous creatures, and behemoths in order to power their spells. By using this ‘Sepuchral Animus’ friendly Nehekharan Undead within the command range of a liche priest may lose 1-3 wounds in order to boost the next spell that wizard casts by 1-3. This is an extremely powerful rule to call upon when you really need to force through your buffs and hexes in a critical turn as it potentially buffs a High Priest up to a +8 or more to cast depending on if you brought a Casket of Souls and your magic items of choice.

Finally, Tomb Scorpions and Necroserpents may pay 2 points per model for ‘The Terrors Below’ special rule. If you are someone that enjoys running low-middling initiative infantry squads I recommend you be highly wary of this special rule and position your models as best you can to screen this out as best you can. When a unit with this upgrade comes onto the board using ‘From Beneath the Sands’ it may nominate a single enemy infantry or heavy unit within 8 inches to take a number of initiative tests equal to the unit strength of the ambusher or be removed from play. As an avid lizardmen player, going up against an ability that combines the old Purple Sun with the old Dweller’s Below on an efficient body that cannot be dispelled makes my sphincter close up in a way that I only ever experience when I stand on a cliff edge. Luckily, this is an ability that can be played around, but it still feels a bit too strong for an extra 2 points on a tomb scorpion.

The Necrolith Colossi of the Mortuary Cults are brutal constructs enhanced by Arch Necrotects. Credit: @tristangray

Cult Composition

Mortuary cult lists must take at least 1 High Priest or Mortuary Priest to be their general, and have no requirement to bring a Tomb King or Tomb Prince onto the battlefield. In fact, Tomb Kings are completely off the menu should you choose to run this Army of Infamy. In exchange, Cults players gain access to the new Arch Necrotect hero option.

Like the Royal Hosts, at least 33% of a Mortuary Cults list must be from your Core options with your first unit of Ushabti and Necroserpents counting towards the tax and Tomb Swarms being limited to 1.

In terms of Special slots, 1 Tomb Scorpion is required per 1000 points in a Mortuary Cults list and unlike the Ravening Hordes force org chart they have no upper limit outside of your special points allotment. In addition, you may claim 1 Necrolith Colossus or Necrosphinx as a Special choice rather than using up any of your Rare points allotment. The Rare slot options for the cults are unchanged from the main book.

Mortuary Cults lists lose access to: Tomb Kings, Tomb Heralds, Tomb Guard, Necropolis Knights, Skeleton Chariots, and the Khemrian Warsphinx.

Cult-Specific Units

Not to be outdone by the armies of the Royal Host, the Mortuary Cults have unlocked their secret vaults and unleashed a couple of unique units of their own.

The Arch Necrotect is a unique Hero unit for the Mortuary Cults bringing further buffs to the units in your lists through 2 abilities. ‘Immortal Overseer’ increases a friendly unit’s initiative by D3 on a successful leadership test and ‘Stone Shaper’ improves the Regeneration save of a friendly Necrolith Colossus, Necrosphinx, or Ushabti unit within 8 inches by 1.

Venerable Ushabti are close combat monstrous infantry that sacrifice an inch of movement over their simpler kin in exchange for an increase in strength, weapon skill and the Magic Resistance(2) special rule.

Finally, the Mortuary Cults will sometimes field Necroserpents that have doffed their Knight riders in exchange for the ambushers special rule, the Open Order formation, and a reduced points cost.

Guess Who’s Back?

Something that was missing from the main army composition lists found in Ravening Hordes and Forces of Fantasy was the plethora of special characters we had come to know and love in our favorite factions. It is understandable given the time shift that many of these unique anchor points of the lore may not yet exist, but it does leave a hole in my heart to not have something fantastical to hold onto. The Arcane Journals rectify this by adding a handful of special characters both new and old to their respective armies and there are none older than those found here.

Settra the Imperishable is here and he is everything you’d want him to be. Coming in at a whopping 445 points, the King of Kings rides to war on his heavy chariot the Chariot of the Gods as of old. At 8 wounds with a 5+ ward save and 5+ regen, the skeleton that will some day spit in the face of the Chaos Gods (SPOILERS) has some real survivability in this edition, a fact furthered if you run him as part of the Royal Host army of infamy as he gains the ability to join units of Tomb Guard chariots for extra protection.

As expected, Settra has a whole slew of special rules to match stature. Settra may use the Arise! special rule when locked in combat, unlike his lesser peers and his ‘Crown of Nehekhara’ grants his ‘My Will be Done’ ability to all friendly units within 6 inches, rather than just the one he has joined. On top of this and more, Settra’s Blade of Ptra is as deadly as ever at Str 6 Ap -3 and applying a -1 permanent to Hit penalty on any enemy model he wounds with it that is alive after to tell the tale.

Alongside Settra is his loyal bodyguard Nekaph. Nekaph’s role as the ‘Herald of Despair’ makes him perfect in larger infantry squads as he forces Fear and Terror tests to be taken with an extra die, dropping the lowest rolled. As both Fear and Terror are significantly better than they were in 8th edition, he might just have a slot in your lists with or without his Lord on the field. Though it should be noted he cannot be taken in a Mortuary Cults list as he is considered a Tomb Herald. As Settra’s Champion, Nekaph must always declare and/or accept challenges if he is able and his challenges cannot be refused. While in a challenge, Nekaph strikes a killing blow on a 5 or 6 to wound.

Lastly, Prince Apophos the Cursed Scarab Lord is back. Apophas, as before, is a flying assassin built as a missile to deal with a singular target or blow up trying. As Usirian’s Reaper, the disgrace prince gains full rerolls to hit and to wound against a single enemy character declared at the beginning of the game and has a breath weapon that always wounds on a 4+, though with 0 AP.

The armies of Khemri encircle the Knights of Bretonnia on all sides. Credit: Skari

On the Topic of Magic Itemry

The last pages of the arcane journal feature 17 new magic items that can be equipped to your Tomb Kings heroes, 3 of which may only be used in the Armies of Infamy described above and 1 locked to armies fielding Settra himself or Nekaph.

The Blade of Antarhak is a 45 point weapon that may only be fielded by the Royal Host and grants its wielder +1 str, -1 ap and allows its user to regenerate a wound for every unsaved wound they cause in combat.

The Staff of Aeons is a 30 point weapon locked to the Mortuary Cults. A liche priest carrying this staff gains +2 strength, an ap of -1 and any unsaved wounds caused by the staff permanently reduce the armor save of the opposing model by 1.

The Royal Mantle is a piece of magical armor that costs 40 points and may only be taken by a member of the Nehekharan Royal Host. Models wearing this mantle gain +1 armor save and their My Will Be Done special rule applies to all units within 6 inches.

The Royal Standard of Settra is a 50 point banner that grants the unit carrying it Hatred (enemy characters) and the Terror special rules.

Other particularly interesting items are the Banner of the Desert Winds that gives a unit the Vanguard and Reserve Move special rules, Phakth’s Blades of Justice which increase the user’s attacks by 1 for every rank of the enemy units they are engaged with and Phazerakt’s Kanopi which allows the user to summon 2d6+3 Skeleton Warriors to the battlefield on a successful leadership test.

What Does it Look Like on the Table?

Settra Does Not Kneel
Composition: Nehekharan Royal Host
Drops: 9
Points: 1999

Heroes 656pts
Settra the Imperishable 445
Royal Herald BSB, Great Weapon, Shield 91
Nekaph 120

Core 671pts
4x Tomb Guard Chariots, Full Command, 233
10x Royal Host Warriors, 20x Royal Host Archers, Full Command, Nehekharan Phalanx, Banner of the Desert Wind 205
5x Skeleton Chariots, Full Command 233

Special 422pts
3x Tomb Guard Chariots, Full Command, 180
6x Skeleton Horse Archers, Chariot Runners, 66
6x Skeleton Horse Archers, Chariot Runners, 66
10x Skeleton Horse Archers, 110

Rare 250pts
Screaming Skull Catapult, Skulls of the Foe 125
Screaming Skull Catapult, Skulls of the Foe 125

This list is built for speed using the smaller skeleton archers as early game speed bumps and screens for your elite chariot squads as they thunder up the field while the larger squad can scout ahead to either force an angle charge on an important opposing piece or potentially snipe out a war machine early. The block of royal host infantry wants to move up field in support of the chariots and act as an anchor point, taking advantage of steadfast discipline and the reserve move provided by the Banner of the Desert wind to effectively march and shoot each turn. Settra’s unit is your hammer, meant to be able to smash directly into something’s frontage if need be while the other chariot squads take the flanks. Bear in mind you have effective 0 magic power here and so are heavily reliant on stuffing opposing wizards into combat whenever you can to avoid a fight you cannot win.

Bring Out Yer Dead
Composition: Mortuary Cults
Points: 2000

Heroes 584pts
High Priest lvl 4, Warding Splint, Scarab Brooch 225
Mortuary Priest lvl 1, BSB 75
Mortuary Priest lvl 1 50
Mortuary Priest lvl 1 50
Arch Necrotect 90
Tomb Prince Great Weapon 94

Core 730pts
5x Tomb Swarms 185
24x Skeleton Warriors, Full Command 135
20x Skeleton Archers, Full Command 110
6x Ushabti 295

Special 231pts
1x Tomb Scorpion, Ambushers, Terror Below 77
1x Tomb Scorpion, Ambushers, Terror Below 77
1x Tomb Scorpion, Ambushers, Terror Below 77

Rare 385
Casket of Souls 135
Necrosphinx 195
Screaming Skull Catapult, Skulls of the Foe 125

This list tries to take as much as advantage as it can on the new abilities available to the cults. Your characters will split themselves with the priests hiding amongst the archers tand the prince and necrotect with the warriors in case you need to sally forth and boost an aggressive Necrosphinx or Ushabti play. While I am normally wary of running only a single monster in any list, a monster with a 4+ regen save is another story entirely. If the thought scares you, drop the sphinx for a second catapult and move points around to add 2 more Ushabti to that block. The Scarab Brooch comes in clutch here as it can be pretty easy to find yourself out of areas to properly position a From Beneath the Sand against cavalry heavy armies in particular. Tomb Swarms make for an excellent screening unit for your archers and liche priests if you need it and otherwise make for the pefect battery to ensure your spells go off when you need them via Sepuchral Animus.

Is it Worth it?

For such a small bundle of pages, the Arcane Journal: Tomb Kings packs a lot of punch. I have found both the Royal Host and Mortuary Cults rules to really amp up the Tomb Kings’ play with some unique tactics and having extra options is never a bad thing.

I do have some concerns around the Mortuary Cults as a few of their abilities are a bit more oppressive than I’d like. Losing out on the Tomb King is a small price to pay for the sheer casting power you get in return. Beneath the Sands is absolutely brutal when it goes off even with all of its restrictions, considering that for 2 points you’re going to remove far more points in return so long as it goes off even a single time. That said, having experienced it first hand the army is far from unbeatable, it is just very versatile and does not bend easily to shock tactics.

If you’re a fan of Tomb Kings, you really do need this book if just for Settra alone. Not from a competitive standpoint really (the ravening hordes book is fine for that, though Mortuary Cults is incredible) but because He will come for you if you don’t.

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