There are several sets of rules that are often overlooked in Age of Sigmar. Usually this is because these rules are tucked in the back of the rules section, implying that they are optional and can be ignored. Often, they’re seen as unnecessarily complicated, especially when learning the game because they add additional book-keeping.
One of these sets of rules is Scenery Rules. In my experience people ignore this step of the game and it’s a shame. While Scenery rules may not be the most intuitive rules to follow until players have played a few games (making it wise to skip them when teaching new players), once both players are comfortable with the rules they are a great way to keep the game interesting.
At its core, Age of Sigmar has incredibly basic rules for terrain. A terrain feature grants a unit cover if a unit is entirely on it (Though MONSTER and WAR MACHINE units over 8 units do not get the benefit of this), and at player discretion a terrain feature can count as a garrison (allowing units to hide inside and get cover and -1 to be hit with ranged attacks). And that’s pretty much it. The Scenery rules are meant to improve this, adding a level of depth and positioning that a game otherwise might not have.
Just so we’re all up to speed on what the Scenery rules actually are I’m going to break them down first, and then discuss how you can generate these, plus some ways to streamline the process to not be so cumbersome. The Age of Sigmar Core Rules started with 6 different Scenery Rules and the General’s Handbook 2019 included 6 additional ones. These are not in the pocket gamebook, but will probably be included in future General’s Handbooks as they are considered a core part of Age of Sigmar. When setting up terrain before a game, you can roll to determine the effect each terrain piece will have, and use a D6 roll to determine whether you’ll be rolling for a trait from the Core Rules (1-3) or the 2019 General’s Handbook (4-6).
The Initial Six Scenery Rules (1-3 on dice generation roll)
- Damned – If a unit is within 1″ of the terrain piece in the Hero Phase you can deal D3 mortal wounds to the unit to give the unit a free reroll 1s to hit for the rest of the turn. Basically you sacrifice a model (or possibly multiple) to grant a pretty powerful boon. General’s Handbook 2019 added universal command abilities to re-roll 1s to hit but those only apply to either shooting or melee, this is both. So if placed correctly, you can lose a few models to save Command Points. Will be especially helpful with units that can regain lost wounds and mitigate the damage.
- Arcane – Adds +1 to casting, unbinding and dispel rolls for all Wizards within 1″. Unambiguously great if it’s in a good place for your wizard to be but be careful of putting them somewhere dangerous.
- Inspiring – +1 bravery within 1″. Meh, still a buff nonetheless.
- Deadly – If a friendly unit ends a move or charge within 1″ of this terrain, roll a die. On a 1 deal D3 mortal wounds to it. Not all of the Scenery Rules are buffs and some will make you work around them. A 1 in 6 chance to take D3 Mortal wounds isn’t catastrophic but it’s serious enough to make you work around it. Weigh your options on whether it’s worth the risk to get some cover or secure an objective.
- Mystical – Grants the ability to ignore wounds on a 6+ (also sometimes referred to as a 6+ “Feel No Pain”). Probably the best all-around option of the original 6 since it helps just about everyone. Death and Nurgle armies will love this but it’s good for everyone (for you 40k players new to Age of Sigmar, you can stack multiple ignore effects).
- Sinister – Grants -1 to a units Bravery within 1″. The Anti-inspiring. -1 Bravery can hurt if your opponent knows to take advantage of it, so as with the Deadly terrain rule make sure to weigh the risks before wandering into Sinister terrain.
In total that’s 2 debuffs, 3 buffs and one sorta buff with a catch. Aside from Damned they’re pretty straightforward: You stand near them and they do a thing. Damned adds an element of strategy as you decide if the hit you take is worth the buff, and maneuvering over to it.
As mentioned above the General’s Handbook added 6 more that are somewhat more complex.
The Next Generation (4-6 on a generation die)
- Overgrown – Makes the terrain feature line-of-sight-blocking as long as the invisible line of sight drawn between models crosses more than 1″ of the terrain. This is probably more complicated than it has to be since it means weird edge cases can cause arguments about what is and isn’t line-of-sight-blocking, particularly if the terrain is irregularly shaped, but in most cases you can just say it blocks line of sight.
- Entangling – Subtract 2 (to a minimum of 0) for run and charge rolls for units within 1″ of the terrain. Presumably it means within 1″ of when the roll was made. This one can be iffy if a charge is needed and a smart player should plan around it.
- Volcanic – Each hero phase, roll a die for each volcanic terrain feature. On a 6 deal D3 Mortal wounds to each unit within 1″. This is very similar to Deadly with a few distinct difference. First, Volcanic erupts every turn instead of only when a unit stops near it. Second, Volcanic asks you to roll once for the terrain rather than individually for each unit near it. In short, its much more deadly than uh…Deadly. The risk persists round-to-round and if you’re unlucky enough to have an objective on top of it you’re really rolling the dice to stay on it.
- Commanding – If your General is within 1″ of this terrain and your opponent’s general is not, get a Command Point. Probably the best one you could get, especially if its in your deployment zone. If it’s somewhere near the center make sure to be careful and not overextend your general too much attempting to hold it.
- Healing – Each Hero phase roll a die and on a 6, heal d3 wounds to each unit within 1″. The anti-volcanic. Not much to say other than this is good to hang out near, but do note the text does not say a unit is revived, so for 1-wound models this is pretty useless and has more use for MONSTERs and the like.
- Nullification – A HERO who begins the hero phase within 1″ of the terrain can unbind a spell that turn. If they could already unbind spells, they can unbind an additional one. In addition, any endless spells which end within 1″ of the terrain are immediately dispelled. This one is very tactical; wizards should be careful about casting too close to one of these if an enemy Hero is on it, and be cautious of where they are directing their endless spells, lest they go poof.
In this case we have 2 buffs, 2 debuffs and 2 unique abilities (Overgrown’s not really a debuff but both it and Nullification make you rethink your positioning), which helps even the spread out a bit to 5 total buffs, 4 debuffs and 3 adding more of a tactical consideration to the battlefield.
Why They’re Great
Scenery Rules add a layer of complexity to your games that make you look at the battlefield as a hostile force impeding you, or a supporting hand to help strengthen your army (And something to deny your opponent beyond the main objectives). It helps avoid the problem where games boil down to two front lines just clashing in the center of the field; instead those armies may need to work around difficult terrain or can gain an edge by securing a position of power by denying their opponent key buffs.
Scenery rules also have strong narrative weight; part of the fun of playing Age of Sigmar (or any tabletop wargame) are the stories that form organically through you and your opponent and the dice rolls that occur. Since Scenery Rules are generated randomly, a simple cottage can become a Damned piece of terrain, representing horrendous Chaos rituals performed there in absolute secrecy. A small collection of trees can become Healing and represent a small piece of Ghyran, the Realm of Life.
Generating Scenery Rules
Rules as written you are meant to generate all these rules randomly, with dice rolls for every piece of terrain that does not have a warscroll. That is, for all army-specific terrain features and any terrain that isn’t sold by Games Workshop. Terrain like the Baleful Realmgate and the Dominion of Sigmar have their own warscroll and you just refer to the rules for those. Your generic church terrain or little forest trees you created? That’s what we roll for. First you roll to figure out which of the above tables you get (1-3 for Table A and 4-6 for Table B), and then you roll on that specific table. Repeat this for all of the non-warscroll terrain on the field. Do this after choosing a battleplan and setting up unique terrain such as army-specific terrain but before choosing deployment sides.
There is a creative aspect to rolling entirely at random and generating seemingly bizarre combinations like Commanding on what appears to be a simple rock. It can add some narrative quirks to what’s otherwise pretty mundane. Maybe a powerful general gave a speech on that rock, imbuing it with powerful magics. You can really come up with some great stories when a close game is affected by this terrain. You can of course feel free to tinker with this a bit in your casual games. Got a little church? If your opponent agrees make it mystical, or damned if you wish to make it chaos-oriented. Be careful doing this though, this shouldn’t be done so a player can wield an advantage over the other.
One of the biggest challenges with using this rule is that it’s not very easy to convey at a glance unless you play often enough you’ve memorized the different scenery rules. Games Workshop used to have a play aid for this – Scenery Dice that you could roll containing the symbols to represent the different types of terrain. For each piece of terrain you could roll a dice and then put it next to the terrain piece as a reference. These are incredibly helpful but have since gone out of print. Even if you have them they’re incomplete at this point, only covering the initial 6 rules, so here’s hoping they’re able to produce new ones with both sets of 6. In addition, they did struggle with the problem that they just had cryptic symbols on them which, among the several dozen rules you’re trying to rattle in your head, can create some unnecessary confusion.
The first and most obvious solution here is to write (or type) the rules on a piece of paper and place it next to the terrain. This can get cumbersome if you have a lot of terrain and unless secured the paper could risk drifting away if a stray breeze or a passerby walks next to your game. It also does not look aesthetically pleasing to have scraps of paper everywhere. It’s still easier and especially when teaching a new player scenery rules or the game in general it’s a lot quicker than having to constantly go “what does that do again?”.
The second choice, which I use, is making up little token which have the symbols on them. The actual table in the Core Rules/General’s Handbook has short hand symbols for each terrain piece. Initially it can be tricky to remember what each of them do so it’s wise to keep a print out of the scenery tables next to you while you’re learning what each symbol means, over time a reference becomes less necessary. Tokens can still look aesthetically off, especially when there’s a ton of them scattered around the field but sometimes concessions need to be made. It’s probably not too off from the numerous dice and tokens already on each players side, and next to big wound units to track how many wounds they have taken.
Taking Time to Enjoy the Scenery
If you haven’t been using Scenery rules, consider giving them a try. It may seem daunting at first to try and remember the effects of 12 different scenery types but over time it will become like second nature, particularly with a set of player aids to help identify what’s what on the table. Try them out at your next game and be sure to give us feedback if there’s any issues you feel or ways that you improve upon using these rules in your game. Thanks for reading, and feel free to reach out to us in the comments below or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.