Broken Realms: Be’lakor – Narrative Play

An article by    Age of Sigmar Books Gaming Hobby Reviews The Narrative Forge        0

As our final article on Broken Realms: Be’lakor we will deep dive into the Narrative section. It’s recommended you either read the story or read our plot synopsis in order to follow along.

Finally we come to the end, my friends. Be’lakor comes with an absolutely jam packed narrative play section for those who’d like to immerse themselves in the world of Age of Sigmar and re-enact key events. The Narrative play in the first 2 broken realms were pretty mediocre, mostly consisting of a few seperated narrative play matches you can reproduce if you have the necessary models. Be’lakor has a bit more going on, with 6 narrative missions that form an interlocking chain of events to repeat the story, where success or failure can have consequences on the next mission. Additionally it has rules for replicating siege warfare and 3 new Realms of Battle to use to better represent the battlefields in the narrative campaign. We’ll go through each one and see what value there is to someone who might play to play this oft overlooked game mode.

Credit: Liebot – https://instagram.com/liebot_pics

Realms of Battle

There are three Realms of Battle present to represent major locations: The Genesis Gate in Ghyran where the Stormcast bravely held their ground against the forces of Nurgle. Dolurum in Shyish where Be’lakor led his forces against Lady Olynder. Finally, Prosperis in Chamon, where the final battle takes place. These realms of battle do show a bit more thought than ones shown previous. They’re designed very specifically to be used in the time and place they represent, with the bonuses on offer meant to specifically benefit or hinder the armies who will be taking place in the campaign.

The Genesis Gate, being in Ghyran shares the Shield of Thorns spell from that Realm of Battle which is useful to just about anyone with its mortal wounds inflicted to the enemy when charged.  The feature Ironwood Bulwarks asks you to dig out your Citadel Wood models, even if you don’t play Sylvaneth as they deal a mortal wound on a 4+ if you end within 1″. Where it gets interesting is that the realm command ability and artefact only benefit Order armies (if you’re playing by the story, it’s going to be Stormcast and Seraphon). The command ability Command the Land allows a Hero to cast Shield of Thorns as if they were a wizard, or a second time if they’re already a wizard and the Seed of Rebirth lets a character come back on a 2+ when they perish. Given how outmatched Order is in scenario this is used it, it makes sense that it leans toward assisting them to hold their ground longer.

Dolorum represents Lady Olynder’s domain in Shyish, as Be’lakor invades her castle. As a result the bonuses are aimed at benefiting the Nighthaunts (or whatever Death army you might be using as a stand-in). The uniue spell Quickening Doom deal D3 mortal wounds and reduces bravery of the target unit if a model is killed as a result. The Realmscape Feature Aura of Ancient Tragedy grants the Sinsister scenery rule to all pieces of terrain. Additionally roll a die at the start of your Hero phase (if you’re a Death general, add 2) roll a die and on a 6+ deal D3 mortal wounds to an enemy unit. Much like the Genesis Gate the artefact and command ability are locked to Death. With the command ability Soul-force Sacrifice your general can pass wounds to nearby friendly units (and heal the damage taken themselves) and the artefact Banshee Blade deals D3 mortal wounds on a 6+ if you beat the enemy’s bravery with a 2D6. The Blade leaves a bit to be desired with the extra bravery check (though it combos well with Quickening Doom and the Nighthaunt’s many, many bravery affecting abilities) but the command ability is incredible, making Death’s general near impossible to kill. To take Lady Olynder’s castle, Be’lakor needs to fight tooth and nail.

Prosperis is a bit more flexible as much of the campaign takes place here and many armies will fight in the lands of Chamon. The unique spell Final Transmutation is usable only by Cities of Sigmar or Stormcast’s Celestial Vindicators. It’s an odd twist on the mortal wounds spells, allowing you to roll D3 dice and for each roll greater than the unit’s wound characteristic slaying a model. Great for disposing of smaller units, or chipping off a few leftover models in a larger group. The realmscape feature Ironclad Buildings reduces rend for all by 1, ouch! With a rend -1 heavy meta thats going to make it harder to do lasting damage, even if this is a narrative fight. Finally the command ability Exult in Battle gives a friendly unit within 12″ of a friendly Cities of Sigmar or Celestial Vindicators unit exploding 6s, while the Gildenbane artefact shuts down all other artefacts within 3″! Particularly good if your opponent is cheeky and brings some cheese.

Overall none of these are really suited for matched play, even casually, but that’s not their point. They’re ideal for just the right match up, and are intended to accent the missions they’re aimed for, which we’ll see below. I do think they’re rather clever, as being lopsided toward benefiting specific armies lets them experiment with unique ideas. For their intended purposes, great stuff, would love to see more of it.

Siege Warfare & Coalition of Death

These are largely reprints of other published material, as the rules are important for certain mission types.

Siege Warfare was introduced in Wrath of the Everchosen and are presented here in a much condensed form. If you have Wrath of the Everchosen you can probably utilize those to get a more complex experience, as this version only covers the Siege phase (though strangely, some terminology was changed it still works the same mechanically). As one would expect, the defender holds a large wall while the attacker tries to get in, to get the sweet, sweet objective within. The short version is that the defender and attacker each secretly choose a tactic in a rock-paper-scissors game. The attacker can cut off supplies, demolish or mine under the ground while the defender attempts to anticipate the action by choosing its opposite to gather supplies, rebuild or countermine. After this, the attacker makes a siege roll that corresponds to their chosen tactic, within modifiers for whether they won, lost or tied the rock paper scissors. The effects can result in dealing mortal wounds from starvation, destroying a garrison or tunneling through, allowing a Hero and 2 additional units to pop out the other side of the wall.

Missing from Wrath of the Everchosen are unique command abilities and army abilities, which aren’t strictly needed. They do sometimes overcomplicate the game so if you prefer the streamlined version, then definitely stick to these. If you have Wrath of the Everchosen and want the full siege experience, consider bringing that.

Coalition of Death in short allows 3 or 4 players to play in a game. Originally printed in General’s Handbook 2020, they’re here in case you don’t have that. Gameplay works largely the same, with 2 players working on a team. Both players get a general but one is the “Warlord”, basically an arbiter if theres any decision the team can’t agree on. Otherwise it works as you’d expect, a more formally codified way to do 2 vs 2 battles. General’s Handbook 2020 introduced an Ally matrix, which you are free to use if you wish, but similar to Siege Warfare above that might over complicate what should be a simple narrative battle.

Credit: FlamingFig

The Campaign

As previously mentioned, the campaign of Be’lakor is broken into 6 battles played in sequence. To fully commit to this as written, you will need a very diverse group of players as every army that is featured for even a second shows up (well except Fyreslyers, poor guys). That’s a lot of armies! Additionally the actual Be’lakor model is going to be a necessity, of course, and that’s going to be hard to find right now. Still you can always proxy or substitute similar armies as approriate to try and get through it.

While the first 3 battles are standalone and don’t affect each other, the last 3 represent a series of back to back events. Representing the final battle between Be’lakor and Gardus Steel-Soul it is a grueling battle where the result of the first 3 battles will affect which forces will come to bear in the final battle. It’s a very rudimentary attempt at some continuity, but it’s a great start for things to come.

Defenders of the Genesis Gate

Armies: Nurgle (Attackers) vs. Stormcast – Hallowed Knights and Seraphon Allies (Defenders)

Special Rules: Siege Warfare

Realms of Battle: Genesis Gate

As the only battle at the Genesis Gate, the Stormcast must hold the line against the forces of Nurgle. Ghardus and a Lord Castellant with a retinue of 8 units are the only ones blocking the Genesis gate against the Invidian Plaguehost (From Broken Realms: Teclis) and 16 units! Seraphon will help, but only temporarily. They are only interested in getting to the realm gate, so they will deep strike in, and make their way to the gate, only stopping if a Nurgle unit blocks their path. So a smart Nurgle player will want to avoid that at all costs. Victory is determined by 3 pieces of scenery in the defenders zone chosen at the start, whoever controls the most at the end wins.

The Stormcast, as defenders, have a lot of useful tools to aid them in their defense, with the Shield of Thorns spell and defense orientated artefacts and command abilities. Meanwhile, Nurgle has the numbers. This definitely is a true Siege battle, replicating that Helm’s Deep feel.

Stampede of Scales

Armies: Tzeentch – Eternal Conflagaration vs. Seraphon – Thunder Lizards

Special Rules: None

Realms of Battle: None

This battle is much closer to a traditional matched play. Both armies are bringing their new Warscroll battalion (Atra’zans Blazing Cavalcade and The Celestial Stampede), with a bonus that all Horrors and Stampede units count as being part of that battalion, beyond the usual count. Otherwise it’s 14 Tzeentch Daemons vs. 12 Seraphon units, the only goal being to kill Tzeentch’s mandatory Gaunt Summoner (representing Eater of Tomes). If Eater of Tomes is unharmed Tzeentch wins, and if he is harmed but not killed, a tie breaker goes to whoever killed the most units. There isn’t many special twists here, no realm rules or special rules, just keep your most important character alive or try and assassinate him.

In the Court of Death

Armies: Legion of the First Prince (Attacker) vs. Nighthaunts – Emerald Host (Defenders

Special Rules: None

Realms of Battle: Dolorum

Finally, Be’lakor appears. Aided by 12 Daemons he will fight Lady Olynder’s Sorrowmourn Choir and 12 other Nighthaunts. An interesting rush to save the Nighthaunt queen, the map is split vertically, with Be’lakor on the Left and Lady Olynder on the right. The left side contained Lady Olynder’s coffin, secured by an arcane gate. Be’lakor must successfully breach the gate, rolling 2D6 and trying to meet or beat a 9 to break it open. Be’lakor grants a +3 to the roll and a friendly Wizard adds +1. If the gate is opened Be’lakor can move to the coffin and hold her body hostage.

Not too wild on this one, 9 is an awfully low number to start, considering Be’akor starts right next to the first objective and a 9 is not hard to roll when you can easily have a +4 to the roll. There doesn’t appear to be anyway for the Nighthaunt player to slow it, by tying up Be’lakor in a battle or something like that. Anything to make it more than a mad dash to try and assassinate Be’lakor on turn 1 or risk losing the fight entirely.

The Gate of White Gold

Armies: Legion of the First Prince & Nighthaunt – Reikenor’s Condemned (Attackers) vs. Stormcast Eternals and Cities of Sigmar (Defenders)

Special Rules: Coalition of Death

Realm of Battle: Prosperis

A four player slugfest as the allied forces of Be’lakor’s daemons (though he isn’t there yet) and Reikenor charge the free city of Vindicarum. This battle will require serious work on both sides as each army has roughly 16 units, with the attackers having the undoubtedly potent trump card of Reikenor and 3 Greater Daemons (A Bloodthirster, Lord of Change and Great Unclean One) while defenders have some tough restrictions on what units they can take. The defenders start surrounded on almost all sides, and the only goal is to survive. If the Attackers can wipe out the Defenders they win, while the defenders just need to hold on with half their units.

This is the first game where previous events can affect this battle, although it is strangely punishing in its repercussions. If the Nighthaunt player lost the last battle they start with 2 fewer units, whereas if Be’lakor slayed Lady Olynder, she cannot be used this fight. Even as allies, they took a real beating against Be’lakor previously, so it may not be in Be’lakor’s best interest to win too well.

Disaster at Armsgate Zul

Armies: Tzeentch – Eternal Conflagaration (Attackers) v. Stormcast Eternals – Hallowed Knights (Defenders)

Special Rules: Siege Warfare

Realm of Battle: Prosperis

A mixture of Cities of Sigmar and Hallowed Knights units are defending Armsgate Zul from Atra’zan attempting to blow up the Duardin’s Munitions. Altra’zan starts on the right half of the table and is attempting to move to the very left side,  where the munitions are. As a siege battle, the middle is defended by a giant wall, and the Stormcast need to keep Altra’zan from getting to the other side at any cost. This is a real nail biter of a fight, with a lot of potential options for Altra’zan to get to his destination, requiring the Stormcast player to think tactically to defend it. The Tzeentch player must equally protect Altra’zan’s forces, as only his special battalion can ignite the munitions.

Once he gets there, he rolls 2D6 similar to Be’lakor in Court of Death, giving the Stormcast one final shot if he flies over them. Additionally, some nuance is added based on past events. If the forces of Nurgle won in the first battle, the Stormcast lose 2 units to reflect diminished forces. Tzeentch faces the same fate if his player failed in the second battle, leading to a mismatched fight or amongst equals.

On Wings of Iron

Armies: Legion of the First Prince & Tzeentch – Eternal Conflagaration (Attackers) vs. Stormcast Eternals & Kharadron Overlords – Barak-Ziflin (Defenders)

Special Rules: Coalition of Death

Realm of Battle: Prosperis

The final battle, Be’lakor vs Gardus and both must be present. This fight is extremely chaotic: divided into 4 quadrants, one for each army, the players must defend an objective in their own territory (for one point) while stealing from another (D3 points). If played as the finale of the narrative campaign, the reward is a lot of variety in tactical options for players. For each Chaos Major Victory during the campaign Be’lakor gains another unit, for any Major Loss for Chaos, they lose a unit. All players can put any number of units in reserve, but reserved units are worth additional victory points when killed. Do you hold back some of your forces to strike in later, risking them being a golden goose for your opponent? Or do you put it all on the table, risking it all?

Ultimately, the goal is to take down Be’lakor, for if he lives or dies will affect the outcome of the battle. Kharadron players can attempt to suicide bomb Be’lakor, by rolling a die when they begin in combat with him. On a 6 they will destroy him, but on a 1-5 he destroys them! I’m not too crazy about this as it seems like dumb luck could mean Be’lakor’s player could lose due to dumb luck despite their best effort, but they can attempt to shield him from the dastardly Duardin.

Credit: Ellarr

Conclusion

Narrative Play doesn’t get as much traction in Age of Sigmar due to a few major problems, the way I see it they amount to this:

1.Requires specific armies – Usually narrative battles requires very specific armies, and sometimes specific units that both players may not have. Whether someone is willing to play this is going to be less about whether one is interested in the fight, and more if they have one of the armies required and a friend with the other. This could be fixed by making it less focused on specific narrative events and more about adapting a narrative of the players inventions, like Crusade in 40k. Path to Glory comes close but lacks the codified customization of Crusade.

2.Not good for replay – There tends to only be one way they play out and there’s not any real variation for winning or losing. They tried here, with the reinforcements on some battles affected by the winner or loser of the previous battles but there’s still no variation. If Be’lakor is killed fighting Lady Olynder, then what? We know the plot doesn’t advance, so it’s just written off screen. There’s not even an attempt at a little bit of narrative fluff explaining what happened based on who won, even if it was ultimately the same it’d at least be interesting to feel like divergence happened.

3.Unbalanced Mechanics – Narrative play isn’t matched, its not meant to be balanced, and that’s ok. What I am not a fan of is how many of these battles are decided by literally a single dice roll. Be’lakor needs to break down an arcane gate? Well one roll and you win. Kharadron Overlords player charges Be’lakor and gets a lucky 6 turn 1? Be’lakor loses. Don’t let so many battles boil down to a single dice roll, it turns it less into a fun narrative experience or a tactical one and more a slot machine. Less of these.

Overall I think Be’lakor is on the right track. There’s a real attempt here to add some diversity in gameplay and create a narrative structure from mission to mission. It just needs to go a bit further.

And that’s all for our coverage of Broken Realms: Be’lakor. It’s been an exciting few weeks dissecting this book and we are eagerly awaiting Broken Realms:Kragnos next. In the mean time, what has your experience been with Narrative Play? Any good campaigns you’ve done with friends you can tell us about? Let us know below or at contact@goonhammer.com.

 

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