This review was completed using a free review copy of Dawnbringers: The Mad King Rises provided to us by Games Workshop.
We come now to the fourth and final(?) Dawnbringers book, The Mad King Rises. The Twin-Tailed Crusade has worked their way through the Grand Alliances and are now firmly in Death territory, with ghouls, Ossiarchs, and vampires galore.
What’s in the Book?
As with previous books in this series, this tome contains a mix of lore, narrative rules, and Matched Play rules. They’re all thematically connected and make for a wonderfully cohesive package.
- Over 40 pages of new narrative about the Twin-Tailed Crusade, its heroes, villains, and more besides
- Triumph and Treachery: Conquest Unbound rules for games with 3-4 players
- Path to Glory rules for the Aqshian and Ghyranite crusades, with scenarios recreating key moments of The Mad King Rises‘ narrative
- Rules for Ushoran, Mortarch of Delusions, as well as Sekhar, Fang of Nulahmia
- Army of Renown: Scions of Nulahmia, a new beast and vampire-focused Soulblight Gravelords army representing Neferata’s finest
- 6 Regiments of Renown for Flesh-Eater Courts, Soulblight Gravelords, Ossiarch Bonereapers, and Nighthaunt
The book is split into two narratives, detailing the Ghyran and Aqshian halves of the Twin-Tailed Crusade. These stories are thematically connected by hostile environments, cults, fanaticism, internal schisms, and multiple kinds of vampirism. We won’t go too deep into spoiler territory, as there are some fun details and twists that would be more enjoyable to discover for yourself, but we’ll set the stage for y’all. Maybe in a few months once the Dawnbringers series is done we’ll do a Lore Explainer on it. For now, we’ll give an overview of the main story and touch on a few of its key characters.
The Ghyran Crusade
We start with Marshal Iscilla Thorian, the Dame of Leaves, and her Ghyran half of the Crusade. They’ve been driven north by Kruleboyz, Kragnos, and more besides in the previous books, and are now heading to The Neck, just North of the ruined Fort Gardus. The story begins here, as they encounter Exile’s Palisade, an Ossiarch wall built to keep invaders out – or something far worse in. We wouldn’t have a story if things ended here, so the Crusade busts through and encounters Astreia Solbright and her conclave of Stormcast wizards in the mountains beyond. She’s here on her own quest, seeking the Sombre Paladin. This ancient hero supposedly lives in this crumbling castle on the spookiest peak – a castle known as New Summercourt. Astreia, Thorian, and a complement of their best soldiers find their way to the castle, only to be invited in by a Nulahmian vampire and her mysterious serpent. The regent of this castle, The Summerking, would like to have them in for a feast. Chances are you know at least some of the twist here already, but what follows is some macabre fun that fleshes out the book’s central characters as well as the political engineering and backstabbing of the various undead factions. Portraying the undead as a fragmented front of bastards vying for power is far, far more interesting than showing them as a unified front of mindless ghouls.
The Aqshian Crusade
The other side of this crusade is in Aqshy, where the schism instead lies within the crusade itself. After a battle corrupts the Dawners drinking water and sees Neave Blacktalon wrongly given the boot for it, the crusade is seeing a supply shortage. Desertion, dehydration, and the whole marching-through-a-realm-of-fire thing are hurting morale. On one side of this you have Pontifex Zenestra, demanding the crusade march onward. On the other is a promising young junior officer named Thungus Smold who wants to abandon the crusade and head back to Hammerhal. In this story the undead enemies are more of a backdrop element, and while some named ones show up the story is more about Pontifex Zenestra grinding her own crusade to dust in pursuit of a lofty goal in a hellish environment. The wheel turns onward, and while this story might drag a little more than the first half, it goes to some cool places that raise some new questions about Pontifex Zenestra and the Cult of the Wheel.
As more or less the Big Bad of this book, he gets the most written about him. From big backstory dumps to prose narratives, we learn enough about this guy to make him feel like he’s always been there. As the Mortarch of Delusion, his madness is infectious, and how much it affects him at any given point is hard to determine. There’s a narrative irony to that which makes him hard to read throughout, and he’s invariably the most interesting character in any scene he’s in. How a Strigoi from the Lahmian court in The World-That-Was wound up here is still unknown, but there’s already a lot here to hang narratives on. Speaking of Lahmia…
Sekhar, Fang of Nulahmia
Nulahmia is the capital city of Neferatia, Neferata’s favored kingdom. This city and its armies are defined not by the typical hordes of zombies and skeletons you’re used to, but by swarms of beasts and marching ranks of vampires. Whole cadres of Nulahmian vampires show up in the first half of this story, and Sekhar is first amongst them. Her actual role in the narrative is brief, serving as concierge and behind the scenes manipulator, but she gets a bit more background later on in the book. At her side is a bound remnant of the god-beast Ouboroth, a threatening companion as well as a symbol of her mastery of manipulation.
I hesitate to call her the protagonist of the Aqshy half of this book, but she is the driving force behind it. There’s a hook in her previous backstory about how her palanquin bearers seem to age and die rather quickly, and how that might have something to do with the skeleton on the back of her throne. You won’t find definitive answers to these questions here, but her consuming desire to reach The Crimson Keep and what she finds inside will give readers a bit more to chew on.
He’s technically in here! Maybe it’s a tease for a future release, maybe they just needed to fill the pagecount and had a paragraph about him lying around.
With the foundations set by the lore, we’ll move on to this book’s Path to Glory content. Join is in the next part of this series to see the narrative put into action!
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