Dawnbringers: Book V – Shadow of the Crone Lore Review

This review was completed using a free review copy of Dawnbringers: Book V – Shadow of the Crone provided to us by Games Workshop.

We come now to the fifth and actually final Dawnbringers book, Shadow of the Crone. As with previous entries, there are a number of narratives that will both weave together and stand alone. How will the Twin-Tailed Crusade end? Who is this crone, and what’s the deal with her shadow? Read on to find out!

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. The focus is heavily skewed towards the new Strongpoints rules, a system by which players can fight over cities they build on the tabletop. As for the rest, we’ve got:

  • Over 40 pages of new narrative about the Twin-Tailed Crusade, and the conclusion of the Dawnbringers saga
  • New rules and Battleplans for Strongpoints, purchasable terrain pieces for siege battles
  • Matched play rules in the from of the Strongpoint Assault Battlepack, where teams of four battle over these Strongpoints
  • Path to Glory rules representing the foundation of new Dawner cities
  • Warscrolls for Krethusa the Croneseer, Callis, Toll, and Toll’s Companions
  • Army of Renown: The Croneseer’s Pariahs, representing the followers of Krethusa and their schism from Morathi
  • Regiment of Renown rules for Callis, Toll, and their adventuring party, letting them join any Order army

All of these are woven together by the narratives in this book, each of which we’ll cover now.

Callis and Toll’s Sewer Level D&D Adventure

Following plot threads from Book IV, the mysterious shipments of Kingsblood wine have found their way from Ushoran to Hammerhal. For those who haven’t kept up, the Mortarch of Delusion’s vino is mostly vitae – as in, it’s made with his blood. Partaking of Ushoran’s Pinot Noir makes even the most mild-mannered critter a flesh-hungry ghoul, and there’s casks of the stuff in Hammerhal. While there are bottles being distributed by his agents from storehouses, most worryingly it’s found its way into the reservoirs below the city. The Freeguild soldiery are by-and-large too busy holding the walls from a nebulously defined horde of Khornate Bloodreavers, so it’s up to Callis and Toll to save the city from within.

They gather the mortal members of their new model kit along with a platoon of Wildercorps reprobates who were hanging out to guide them through the sewers. After finding the scent, the Wildercorps’ hunting hounds lead them right to the tainted reservoir, and a battle between humans and ghouls ensues. Each member of Callis and Toll’s warband gets at least one moment to be heroic or do something cool, while the Wildercorps are largely just there to die for dramatic effect and give the battle some scale. A ghoul king emerges to lead the subterranean monstrosities and is as quickly shot in the face, only to emerge again on a zombie dragon. As Toll is about to die during the second stage of this boss battle, Krethusa the Croneseer shows up to deliver the killing blow and save the day. This deus ex machinaelf kind of takes the wind out of the sails of this story, and Krethusa and her elf pals burn out the infection and take off.

With the waters cleared, Krethusa’s crew departed, and the Kingsblood Curse more or less under control, you’d think Hammerhal’s troubles were over. But threats still lurk further below: beady red eyes in the dark, the sounds of scuttling, and the odd disappearance in the city’s back alleys and gutters. There are reports of Skaven sightings around town, so Callis and Toll still have some work to do. After this, there are profiles of Callis and Toll’s party that may as well read “Lawful Good Fighter, True Neutral Rogue” and so on, but it’s all pretty charming. Curiously, their Stormcast ally, Valius the Keeper Aqshian, doesn’t show up in this story at all.

Pontifex Zenestra and the Ghost Hole

Nighthaunt Reiknor the Grimhailer. Credit: Magos Sockbert
Nighthaunt Reiknor the Grimhailer. Credit: Magos Sockbert

We last saw Zenestra, Matriarch of the Great Wheel, and her half of the Twin-Tailed Crusade in Aqshy. They’d recently won a great battle against Soulblight Gravelords and the realm itself, settling down in an ancient tower. This settlement is now the fledgling Dawner outpost of Embergard, and their troubles aren’t over yet. Exploring the basement of the tower finds a realmgate to Shyish, and Reikenor the Grimhailer and an awful lot of Nighthaunt aren’t too keen about their new upstairs neighbors. Naturally, battle ensues, with an already spent Zenestra seemingly pushed to her limit, as more and more of her palanquin bearers age and die. Symbols of the Cult of the Wheel dot this ancient tower, and Zenestra is incanting ancient, lost languages as her flagellants burst into silver flame. For the first time since he can remember, Reikenor is scared, and the Nighthaunt are driven back into their ghost hole. The actual battle isn’t all too important here, but the mystery around who – or what – Zenestra is has only gotten deeper.

Fearin’ in Ghyran

Cities of Sigmar Freeguild Steelhelms. Credit: SRM

As you may remember from last time, Druid-Marshal Iscilla Thorian is leading her half of the Twin-Tailed Crusade through Ghyran, now free of the clutches of Ushoran. As she slowly turns to wood (a weird, cool, Age of Sigmar-y detail that warrants more writing and/or a model) she takes her troupe of traumatized troopers to Naithwaite’s Crossing. This outpost of civilization founded by fellow Dawner Evander Naithwaite is a welcome respite from Thorian’s travels, with food, water, and even wine! Why, that red wine is almost kingly! A walk-on role by some Hedonites of Slaanesh sees them raid the Dawners and steal some of these mysterious casks of wine with a big ol’ “K” on them, and the crusade moves onward to found the city of Verdigris. The city will be fed water by the Voryll Dam, a public works project being overseen by Naithwaite and his supernaturally-tireless construction crews. Sub-Marshal Vandice is told by some mysterious Lumineth that Naithwaite has been afflicted by the Kingsblood Curse, and that Naithwaite must be stopped. Vandice musters some forces to confront Naithwaite, and finds the dam is full of body parts mixed in with the cement. It turns out Naithwaite is in thrall to the Kingsblood Curse. The dam isn’t what it seems, and will actually be directing tainted water into the river that feeds Verdigris and much of the region, spreading this ghoulish malign magic freely. Vandice’s small party is slaughtered and he is thrown off the dam, only to be rescued by a mysterious winged aelf by the name of Krethusa.

Krethusa and Vandice tell Marshal Iscilla Thorian what’s going on, and she quickly orders them to bring Naithwaite to justice. With the slower elements of the Crusade remaining to defend Verdigris from offscreen marauding Kruleboyz and Nurgle swamp-dwellers, Krethusa and Vandice ride out with their most mobile forces. What ensues is a battle for the dam, with ghouls spilling out of every crevice against the Sigmarite and Khainite alliance. As Krethusa strikes down the winged ghoul king, Naithwaite has a moment of clarity and sees what he and his men have become. In one last redemptive act, he takes their powder reserves and blows himself and the dam up, saving the river from the Kingsblood curse. The rest of the ghouls are driven back or killed, and the nascent city of Verdigris is saved.

What Else is Going On?

As we come to the end of the Twin-Tailed Crusade, two new cities have been founded – Embergard in Aqshy, and Verdigris in Ghyran. It took no small amount of death and terror, but these two nascent cities might actually have a shot at sticking around. However, as alluded to in previous stories, Kruleboy raids, Nurgle cults, Skaven uprisings, and Bloodbound hordes are all at or under the gates, depending on where we’re talking about. New allies have been found in Krethusa and her Morai-Heg cult, but this is the Mortal Realms, and safety is never guaranteed. Fort Gardus is destroyed, and while the Lumineth of the Ydrilan Riverblades might seem friendly to some, they’re more concerned with the sanctity of the rivers than anyone living on them. Most worrying of all are reports that a massive army is forming in the West of Ghyran. Tales tell of a daemonic empress leading a horde of flying knights, and they’re closing in on Greywater Fastness. Could this be Valkia the Bloody and the Red Riders? Could this tie into the odd mention of Khorgos Khul from the last book? Time will tell!

So What’s Krethusa All About?

As the unifying character in these stories, we have to ask what Krethusa’s whole steez really is. Despite her classical aelven aeloofness, she does have a somewhat consistent motivation behind helping all these hapless humans. People up on their Khainite lore will know that their head honcho Morathi-Khaine has been betraying former allies left, right, center, up, down, and sideways. As a result, your average Sigmarite views her blood worshipping knife-ears with a healthy dose of suspicion. Morathi’s also made it pretty clear that she’s the only god in charge of her followers, and anybody who thinks otherwise is next in line to get murdered. Krethusa, meanwhile, has been a worshipper of the dead god Morai-Heg for a long time, left to live by Morathi because it was seemingly beneath her to do anything about it. When Morathi split open Slaanesh’s belly, a shard of Morai-Heg found its way to its most devout follower, and suddenly Krethusa’s faith was rewarded with foresight, powerful magic, and a pair of extremely goth raven wings, the feathers of which can turn into more ravens. With her faith rewarded, Krethusa is now going around and smoothing things over with the people Morathi once betrayed, gathering allies, and looking to break up the iron grip Morathi-Khaine has on her people. Krethusa is acting according to the faint whispers of her chosen goddess, and by fulfilling these requests and protecting civilization, she just might prevent the cataclysms she sees in her visions.

What’s Next?

The story of the Twin-Tailed Crusade is at an end, and the next chapter of the Age of Sigmar story is clearly being set up. Over the course of this series, new places of interest have been added and cleared from the map, new schisms have appeared in existing forces, and new heroes and villains have made their presences known. Signs are pointing to Khorne and Skaven as the next big threats to civilization; two ranges that could both benefit from some new and updated miniatures. More importantly, this series has done a solid job of contextualizing how your average troops get across the map in the Mortal Realms. While powerful forces like Krethusa or the Stormcast Eternals can seemingly be anywhere at anytime, the poor bloody infantry have had to slog across the most hostile environments imaginable. Looking over the maps in these books, it also puts into context that they really haven’t gotten that far, and the Sigmarite holds on these places are fragile at best.

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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