This review was completed with a free copy of Battletome: Soulblight Gravelords, provided to us by Games Workshop
A double whammy of Death is on offer this weekend, with Soublight being the perhaps surprise choice alongside Ossiarch Bonereapers. With their previous book still holding up decently well into the edition, let’s see what’s changed for our favourite vampiric overlords.
Why Play Soulblight Gravelords?
You love halloween? You still clutch your 5th edition Vampire Counts army book to your chest? Soulblight have a cool, old school warhammer aesthetic with a brilliant model line that has (almost) totally been revamped. The depth of the line gives you options to monster mash, to take hugely powerful heroes, devastating heavy cavalry and shambling hordes – but it’s also totally viable to take a mix.
Top 5 Things About the Battletome
- Evolution not revolution – Whilst the book isn’t bursting with new ideas, it’s a really solid iteration on the previous tome, and almost everything has been tinkered with.
- A focus on heroes – Every subfaction now provides heroic actions (and/or monstrous rampages), and the glut of hero warscrolls on offer have all had extra attention paid to them.
- The Hunger – This rule has been totally rewritten and can now provide incredible amounts of healing, if your vampires don’t get put down in one shot they can really stick around.
- Replenishing and returning units without rally – Soulblight retain their unique mechanics for bringing back models, but they have been revised and feel much better to use.
- Daddy – Nagash is on his 26th warscroll rewrite and is looking much better for it.
This is the core bringing destroyed units back mechanic, and has seen a total overhaul to be simpler and better. At the end of each movement phase, you now pick one summonable unit that has been destroyed and roll a dice, succeeding on a 3+ in your turn and 4+ in your opponent’s turn. We’re also introduced to a new thing here – some heroes now have the summonable keyword. When you bring a destroyed unit back it has to be wholly within 12” of a gravesite or gravelords hero. If you return a summonable unit you get a new unit with half of the models of the destroyed unit as before, if you return a summonable hero it is explicitly the same hero again (so we are assuming they keep their enhancements, but it’s not totally clear).
The other big change here is to the distances from enemy units, your returned unit only has to be set up more than 3” from enemy units, so it’s really difficult to zone out now. The trade off is that in the turn they are set up, they can’t charge or make pile-in moves. This renders the ability immediately less offensive than it could be in your own turn, but a better reactive defensive tool for throwing up screens in your opponent’s turn and it’s fantastic for throwing out control of objectives after your opponent has already made their moves.
The Unquiet Dead
Gravesites make a return and are pretty much unchanged. You get four gravesites, two in your territory and two anywhere else. They only need to be 1” away from terrain and objectives, and they’re still just an abstract point on the board.
During setup you can put one summonable unit in the grave for each unit you have on the board, you can then bring them onto the board at the end of any of your movement phases. This uses normal reserve rules for distance, they need to be wholly within 12” of the gravesite and more than 9” from enemy models, and they can charge as usual.
This has had another big change and is now very consistent. You now always pick 3 summonable units that are wholly within 12” of a Soulblight hero and heal 3 wounds or return 3 wounds worth of models. You can’t pick the same unit more than once, but there’s no dice rolling here, it just happens. Fans of two wound summonable units will be glad to see that if the unit is near a gravesite, you can return one extra slain model to the unit (eg. four slain zombies, two slain dire wolves).
As you might have expected with the changes to other Death battletomes, this is now a 6+ ward without condition.
A note here, the old Locus of Shyish rule is totally gone, each spell now has a bespoke ability that triggers on an unmodified 9+ to cast.
Lore of the Vampires
Vampire hero only, this has traditionally been the weakest lore in the book and… it still kinda is. The initial change to get over here is that both lores have been trimmed down to three spells and old reliable amathystine pinions is just gone with no replacement. Soulpike is probably the strongest spell in the lore and and is cast on a 6 with a healthy 24” range, this is great because when you put it on an enemy unit they will essentially ogor charge themselves – you roll a number of dice equal to their charge roll and each 4+ is a mortal wound. On a 9+, you can affect two enemy units with this.
Spirit Gale is an odd nuke, cast on a 7 it does a single mortal wound to every enemy unit on the battlefield, or two mortal wounds on a 9+. It’s… OK, if you get the enhanced version it’s strong chip damage but you’ve no control over that. Vile Transference is a disappointment, cast on a 6 with just a 9” range you’re rolling dice equal to the target’s wounds characteristic and doing mortals on a 5+, or 4+ if you get the enhanced version, then the caster heals for every wound you do. This is feast or famine, amazing against gargants but otherwise the low range and limited targets this will do anything at all to make it weak.
Lore of the Deathmages
A whole lore of debuffs and all three this time around are spicy. Your Necromancers and Mortarchs have access to this lore. Fading Vigour casts on a 6 with an 18” range and subtracts one from the attacks of the target’s melee weapons (to a minimum of 1). If you cast on a 9+, subtract two from their attacks. This is a great debuff and if you can only pick one it will be between this and Waste Away, which has the same range and casting value. This time the target subtracts one from wound rolls and damage in melee.
Along for the ride but also pretty good is Prison of Grief, which only has a 12” range but hands out strike-last to the target unit. On a 9+ you get a much more flexible 24” range. As a spoiler for the rest of the review Necromancers are really cheap now, so being able to pick multiple of these spells up is a definite possibility.
The Cursed Bloodlines
Shockingly, unlike a lot of 3.0 tomes, subfactions are not just a Battle Trait. Artefacts and Command Traits are still tied to different subfactions, with many including unique heroic actions or Monstrous Rampages (sometimes both). So as such there is a lot of variety to cover here.
The Legion of Blood
Previously a somewhat confused Deathrattle + Vampire subfaction, this now zeroes in on creating the biggest, baddest vampire heroes possible. You still get access to battleline Black Knights for whatever reason, but that’s actually a good option to have.
Unparalleled Expertise sets up two states for your vampire heroes to be in: more than 3” away from an enemy to be empowered, within 3” of an enemy to be bloodthirsty. Empowered heroes get +1 to cast, bloodthirsty ones get +1 attack to their melee weapons. Both of these buffs are great. Do note that the latter buff isn’t restricted to specific weapon types anymore, so your Vampire Lord on Zombie Dragon will be picking up bonus attacks on the mount’s maw and claws as well.
On top of this there are two vampire-only heroic actions which are both situational but good. Premeditated Bloodshed lets the hero ignore wards with their attacks, which lets your smash VLoZD smash even harder when the situation requires it. Immortal Majesty is a strong control ability and super thematic for Neferata’s legion – until the end of the turn your opponent has to spend 2CP on all-out defence and inspiring presence issued to units within 12” of the hero.
An unusual set here, all of the command traits target a specific unit type and apply an effect when your general is within 3” of that unit type. You will run into games where these will do nothing in an all-comers list, but the trade-off is that they all have a significant effect.
Tailored Downfall asks you to pick one enemy hero after deployment and they get strike-last within 3” of your general. Of what is on offer here, this is the most likely to see play in an all-comers environment, most of your opponent’s will have some kind of hero that wants to see combat.
Game Hunter is powerful but the most limited in application, targeting one enemy monster that isn’t a hero and their melee weapons get reduced to one attack each near your general. Doomed Minions picks d3 units that aren’t heroes or monsters and if your general is within 3” then unmodified hit rolls of 2+ always hits them. At its worst, that’s a free all-out attack for your general (even better if mounted on a dragon), but your lack of control over what it can target potentially holds it back.
Artefacts of power
Cloak of Mists and Shadows is here to give nightmares to everyone who had to play against the ethereal amulet in editions gone by, and forces the bearer to ignore any modifier to their armour save. In a world of save stacking this isn’t always a strict benefit like amulet was, but if you’re running more than one combat hero this can be a good defensive tool for one and then focus stacking on the other.
When an enemy unit casts a spell that isn’t unbound within 18” of the Amulet of Screams they take d3 mortal wounds on a 3+, so if you like watching skinks and grots blow themselves up this is for you. The Orb of Enchantment is a once per battle artefact you use on an enemy hero within 3” in the combat phase, on a 3+ they don’t get to fight. Long suffering Kruleboys players will sing you songs of the horror of one-use artefacts that require a dice roll.
The Legion of Night
For technical players who like to frustrate opponents by messing with their heads with teleports and counter-moves that can be difficult to anticipate.
The Legion of Night is Mannfred’s tricksy subfaction and that’s embodied by Ageless Cunning, letting you attempt a charge with a unit if an enemy unit finishes a charge within 12”. You can’t already be in combat and it’s limited to once per turn, but having these long range counter-charges can really mess with your opponent’s plans and will have extra value into melee glass canon armies.
On top of this there’s one heroic action and one monstrous rampage. The heroes get Swift Form which is a pretty standard teleport, but can’t be used if the hero is within 3” of an enemy unit. Great for Galetian Champions and late game objective grabbing.
Zombie Dragons and Terrorgheists get access to Into the Jaws of Death which might win the award for wordiest monstrous rampage. This can only be used if an enemy unit makes a charge move within 6”, you roll 2d6 against their charge roll (with a +3 if they’re within half an inch) and if you beat it then the monster can make its shooting attack against them. If we’re honest, you’re probably not going to see many unridden monsters hanging around Soulblight armies that aren’t Anvegorii but this works on the Vamp Lord on Zombie Dragon and whilst it’s niche, there are situations where unleashing and using this can ruin your opponent’s plan.
Above Suspicion lets you deploy your general in reserve and bring them onto the battlefield at the end of one of your movement phases with normal more than 9” away from enemy unit restrictions. Not a bad way to protect a key piece into shooting alpha-strike match ups, or long deployments now that pinions has gone.
The Bait has moved from a battle trait to a command trait which is a bit odd, it hands out +1 to save rolls and ward rolls for summonable units in the first battle round, which is also a decent defensive boost, though your summonable units tend not to be racing into combat that quickly with 4” moves.
Brand new and providing decent power is Unbending Will, giving your general a 12” aura that makes summonable units count as two models on an objective. With the sneaky ways Soulblight have of getting summonable units onto objectives, this could have a lot of value in flipping close matches.
Artefacts of Power
Yet more defensive tools in the form of the Shard of Night which lets you ignore negative modifiers to save rolls, but only versus missile weapons. It’s hard to think of too many missile weapons with very high rend in the current metagame but if we’re in a land of 80 Blissbarbs, this does give you more efficiency out of an all-out defence. There’s enough melee only armies in the game that this can be a rough pick in all-comers.
The Chiropteran Cloak instead seeks to punish attackers, dealing a mortal wound for every hit roll of a 1 on the bearer in melee. Again, the utility here depends on what you’re fighting to a large degree, but units throwing lots of dice like Witch Aelves are going to badly hurt themselves.
Morbheg’s Claw gives you the option to activate a 12” aura of +2 to cast, an incredible bonus, at the cost of being totally immoble: no moving, running, retreating or charging. The good news is that Necromancers don’t often need to be doing much of any of that, and having one sat still pumping out a massive cast bonus is great, you can even combo with a Corpse Cart if you really want those big bonuses.
This initially looks like a big downgrade for Vyrkos but holistically this subfaction has substantially improved and can run a downright nasty aggressive infantry build.
The Strength of the Wolf is the Pack – when a Vyrkos hero fights, you can pick another Vyrkos unit wholly within 12” to immediately fight. This explicitly doesn’t chain if you pick another hero, but this kind of out of sequence fighting is good, and 12” is a healthy bubble.
There’s two heroic actions again for Vyrkos, focussed on expanding your forces. Pack Alpha lets you add d3 zombies to a unit within (not wholly) 12”, and a designers note explicitly states this can take them above their starting size. Zombies aren’t the best anymore, but if you’re running them this is good extra healing on top of your invocation.
Kin of the Wolf is all gravy though, you can use it once per game ever but you can summon a brand new unit of 10 Dire Wolves wholly within 9” of the hero. Dire Wolves are a perfectly acceptable unit and getting one for very little resource expenditure is fantastic.
There’s an important note on the Vyrkos enhancements here – unique Vyrkos units can take these traits and artefacts. Vyrkos is bursting with great named characters and this lets you take them with no regrets, there’s also some pretty nice combinations out there.
Driven by Deathstench is a 9” aura of re-rolling charges, which is perfectly acceptable if unexciting. Spoor Trackers suffers from the general depowering of zombies in this tome, but if you do choose to use a lot of them then this aura of granting a 3” normal move in the hero phase almost makes them fast. Finally is probably the best pick, Hunter’s Snare which lets your general count as a number of models equal to their wounds characteristic for controlling objectives. This is straightforwardly great on a Vampire Lord on Zombie Dragon, but it’s also a nice choice for Radukar the Beast with his 12 wounds. Popping this on a summonable hero like a Wight King on Skeletal Steed can also let you do cheeky things with Endless Legions and the Unquiet Dead.
Artefacts of Power
These all rule, and a lot of why you might see more Vyrkos going forwards resides here. Firstly we have the Ulfenkarni Phylactery which improves the deathless minions save of summonable units wholly within 9” to a 5+. That’s a huge boost on a basic level, but note that this is explicitly a boost to deathless minions, and a number of summonable units get to re-roll 1s on their deathless wards, so even better.
The Terminus Clock is probably going to get an FAQ to say “once per battle” because otherwise the wording is weird, but as it stands you can choose to roll a dice in your opponent’s hero phase and on a 3+ every enemy wizard is -1 to cast. If this stays ever turn it’s fantastic, if it gets changed then more likely than not a skip.
Finally the Standard of the Ulfenwatch lets you roll a dice whenever your opponent spends a CP, on a 4+ you gain a CP. Given the pressure on your heroic actions, this can get you a good command economy going.
A bit more versatile than it was, it’s another faction for people who want a more herohammer-y Vampire list, and naturally, Blood Knights.
Might of the Crimson Keep returns with a couple of tweaks. Firstly is a nice usability upgrade in that the bonus abilities now trigger when a vampire kills an enemy model in melee, not an entire unit. Bloodied Strength is +1 to the damage of non-mount attacks for the unit if they kill a hero or monster, Seized Fervour is new and is +1 attack to non-mount melee weapons if they kill a model with 3 or more wounds that isn’t a hero or monster and Absorbed Speed is disappointingly +1” to the unit’s move characteristic if they kill a unit with 2 or less wounds.
The changes here mean that you’ll be picking the second two bonuses up a bit easier, and that it’s all much more aggressively focussed, no more bonus wounds – it’s about punching things in the face. To be fair, this is a lot more narratively appropriate than getting tankier.
Kastelai are a heroic action and monstrous rampage subfaction here so let’s start with the worst. Masters of Retaliation is a baffling heroic action that means until the end of the turn, the hero will do d3 mortal wounds on a 2+ to an enemy unit within 3” if any wounds or mortal wounds were allocated to it each phase. If you’re starting your opponent’s turn stuck into a tough unit and they’re a multi-phase army like Seraphon but they’re also not going to immediately kill your hero, I guess this could do a lot of damage. Deeply situational.
Battle-crazed is a lot better and is a simple monstrous rampage that grats +1 to wound rolls with melee weapons in the following combat phase. There’s not a lot of wound bonuses out there in the game, so this is pretty nice, especially if you already have a source of hit bonuses available.
Remember the Vyrkos trait of a 9” aura to re-roll charges? Say hello to Swift and Deadly, a 12” aura to re-roll charges. Undead Bladelord lets your general gain one of the might of the crimson keep abilities whenever another Kastelai vampire does, once per turn. It’s no rousing commander, but it’s pretty damn good for getting those crucial buffs up on a VLoZD quickly. The Shifting Keep is for some reason a command trait and not a battle trait, it lets you set up units of Blood Knights in reserve (but only once your general has been deployed already), they can be brought on wholly within 6” of a battlefield edge later in the game. Fine, if baffling in where it’s been placed.
Artefacts of Power
Yes, Fragment of the Keep has returned. It still creates an aura of -1 to wound rolls for your enemy in melee, but the range is now a lot tighter at just 3”. This is still an incredible effect, but essentially requires your general to be stuck into the same combat. Grave-sand Shard feels like it was accidentally added to Kastelai instead of Legion of Blood, but here it is. Once per battle round at the end of the battlshock phase you get return one model to each summonable unit wholly within 18”. That’s an unusually generous aura for this book, but how many summonable units are you reasonably taking in Kastelai? Odd.
If you want a super-reliable vampire to charge off into enemy lines, consider The Red Casket which is a nice and simple +3 to run rolls and to charge rolls for the bearer. There’s a lot to be said for just not failing those crucial low distance charges and this will do exactly that, whilst also making your medium to long range charges a lot more reliable.
The designated “Monster Faction” if you want to run lots of Zombie Dragons and Terrorgheists.
Oh my poor sweet Anvegorii, what have they done to you? Nobody ever took this subfaction so you would have assumed some sick buffs were incoming. Anyway, Cursed Abominations lets you use one monster within 3” of an enemy unit at its top profile in the combat phase. Whilst I’m loathe to bemoan what was lost from old books, this is replacing a flat -1 to be wounded in melee for your monsters and nobody ever took this subfaction. This ability is fine, it’s OK. The monsters still have pretty gnarly damage tables, so it does help keep your offence up.
No heroic actions, this is the big bad monster faction so we get two rampages instead. Maddening Hunger picks d3 enemy models within an inch and if you can roll over each model’s wounds characteristic it’s slain. I know you’re already thinking about breaking coherency but the timing of this renders that essentially pointless unless you can stop them piling in as well. Still: selectively murdering enemy command models is always good and on a basic level this can be a better stomp depending on the target.
Unstoppable Nightmare is weird, but it lets your monster immediately fight the first time a friendly unit within 6” is destroyed in the combat phase. You’ll probably have a good idea whether or not this is likely to actually trigger when you get to decide whether to use it, and the chance to be able to double fight with a Terrorgheist is pretty disgusting.
Monstrous Might is another case of battle traits teleported into command traits and gives your general a 12” aura of -1 to be wounded in melee for your monsters. I mean it’s a good ability, and you will take this, but c’mon.
Torment-driven Throes is a start of combat phase ability that rolls a dice for each enemy unit within 3” and deals them a single mortal wound and the strikes-last effect on a 5+. Strikes-last is great, a 5+ is not. Unhinged Rampager lets your general re-roll charge rolls and also turns them into a second edition Ironjawz unit – if they get damaged in the shooting phase and they’re more than 9” from enemy units your general can make a d6” move. Neat, but you’re probably taking monstrous might.
Artefacts of Power
Someone decided that the Anvegorii artefact gimmick was that they should all be once per battle abilities and I have to point out that this is a terrible gimmick.
Breath of the Void Maw lets you do a Lady Olynder impression and picks an enemy unit within 6” at the start of the combat phase and on a 2+ you do a number of mortal wounds equal to the roll. Ghorvar’s Collar also activates at the start of the combat phase and gives you strikes-first, of the two combat phase abilities here this is the more consistently high value as the strikes-first ability can help you dictate the order of fighting across more than that one combat. The Furious Crown lets you do an Ogor impression and activates at the start of the charge phase, if you make a charge you get to roll a number of dice equal to the charge roll and do mortals on a 4+. This is an OK ability but if I’m honest the fact that you have to choose to blow your once per game ability before you even roll the charge feels mean.
Of these you’ll take the collar if you take anything, but I wouldn’t blame you for starting to look really hard at the arcane tome right about now.
It’s worth pointing out here as much as anywhere that there are no core battalions in this book for whatever reason, not even reprints of the White Dwarf ones. They were terrible anyway.
Lust for Domination is a good grant strategy, you need to control more gravesites than your opponent when the game ends, with control being determined as per objectives rather than terrain. Having to have four things sounds more onerous than other ‘control your faction terrain’ grand strats, but you have so much control over where to place these and so much of the gameplay in Gravelords focuses on them, it’s a natural pick.
Empire of Corpses asks you to replace 3 or more summonable units that were destroyed earlier in the battle. Actually not that bad, it’s dicey but you get to roll for it every movement phase and it’s really hard for your opponent to zone it out.
The Danse Macabre is there for team events or when Take What’s Theirs rotates out, and requires you to have more summonable units than enemy units wholly within enemy territory. Gravesites can help with this a bit, but beyond Dire Wolves and Black Knights these units are pretty slow.
Crimson Larder asks you to kill all of your opponent’s heroes and only have vampires left from your own hero selection. Doable but by far the most dependent on factors outside of your control, so probably the weakest pick here.
Callous Overlords returns from White Dwarf and requires a summonable unit of your choice that is more than 3” from enemy units to be destroyed. Not really ideal, but plays into the themes of the army, and you should generally know whether you can engineer it or not.
Cursed Unlife also looks familiar and asks for either your general or two other vampire units to heal with The Hunger. This rule is now great anyway and vampires are stronger in general in this book, so this is one to take to the bank.
The Grasping Dead is a flip reverse of callous overlords and needs you to pick a summonable unit within 3” of an enemy unit, it needs to still be within 3” of an enemy unit (but not necessarily the same one) at the end of the turn. Sometimes you get into big grindy combats with junk units in Sigmar, and this is a reward for that. It’s also quite easy to get a not very killy but quite tanky unit like Dire Wolves into combat and just ride this out.
The Choicest Vintage would like you to kill an enemy hero with a vampire hero. If you’ve got an appropriately powerful hero, which the book is stuffed full of, this can work. You do have to pick a specific enemy hero, so your opponent gets advance warning they can react to.
Expand the Grave-empires is extremely battleplan situational, and needs you to hold two or more objectives wholly outside of your territory and have them also be contested by summonable or vampire units. If the situation comes up this can be a gimme, but there will be games where it’s literally impossible.
Endless Nightmare is also quite niche, as you have to return 6 or more slain models to a summonable unit during the turn. There are limited ways to make this happen, so you will have had to build for it to make this work.
Next up: the Units
Given the astronomical length of this tome, we’re breaking the review up into two parts. Join us in part two for an endless legion of warscrolls.