Battletome: Nighthaunt - A quick review




Being more of a variety act, not quite big enough in my following, and not specifically Games Workshop, I have to wait until books release in stores to get my hands on them but now it's out so I can write away!

Back in 2019 I wrote about what was, due to global pandemics largely being outside of my control, the last major Age of Sigmar event I was able to go to. The armylist summary is HERE but in short I took a Legions of Nagash army which happened to do pretty well. As I outlined in my Soulblight Gravelords battletome review, which incidentally was released almost exactly a year ago (Battletome Ossiarch Bonereapers or Flesh-eater Courts May 2023 confirmed?), that army is well and truly dead (if you excuse the pun) and I find myself left with a good amount of Nighthaunt miniatures as a result. Fast forward to this week and the new Nighthaunt book has hit the shelves so I decided that I wanted to take a look at it to see how (or even if) those miniatures and style of play could be adapted for the new book.

The Lore (spoilers)

 
I swear this never gets old

Firstly, we have the obligatory lore section of the book; now fully uptodate as of the release of Broken Realms: Teclis and Kragnos which saw Arkhan the Black thrown off the edge of Hysh, Nagash's body broken and his essence sent screaming back to Shyish to reform and spend the next millenia plotting his revenge (personally I think it will have something to do with building a great pyramid given his track record), and also the aftermath of Kragnos being released into the realms after Alarielle's Rite of Life.

It's revealed that after the effects of the Necroquake, essentially all souls that make their way to Shysh are transformed in the end to Nagash's Nighthaunt hordes which pretty much makes his eventual win all but secured (but as normal, it may take several millenia for this to actually play out). Nagash, bring the benevolent god that he is, punishes the souls that enter his realms to reflect the crimes that the being might have committed in life; A criminal who spent the last years of their life locked away in heavy chains for example would find that their spectral form is laden with more shackles then ever before. Once you pass through the abyss, Nagash is law and his justice inescapable.

The book then goes onto explore the nature of spirits in the mortal realms and the afterlives that they inhabit (some of which was covered in the Soulblight Gravelord battletome) and how due to the effects of the Shyish Nadir, instead of fading away into nothingness once all remnants of the culture and memory of the peoples are gone, all afterlives are eventually consumed and remade into raw magic for Nagash to use as he sees fit.

In the Mortal Realms, a soul fleeing from its body upon death passes into the underworlds of Shyish. There it will manifest as a spirit in the very same afterlife believed in by its living incarnation. Sad, solemn or contemplative, the spirit usually finds some manner of contentment.

Since the coming of Nagash to Shyish, the rise of undeath, and more recently, the rite of the Necroquake have overturned that natural order completely. Now, the harmless phantoms that once made up the vast majority of Shyish's inhabitants are found but rarely. The dead have been claimed utterly by the Great Necromander, molded and forced into obedience as per his whims.
The book also goes into great length about the nature of fear in the Mortal Realms, what each race is fearful of and how Lady Olynder uses this knowledge to her advantage. It is detailed that its actually strength of spirit and steely conviction which can be used as weapons against the Nighthaunt and one is just as likely to destroy them with a wooden sword as a great blade as long as it were wielded with enough courage (though I would argue that wielding a fine blade goes a long way to giving whoever is fighting with it the courage they need). Olynder uses her agents in the Mortal Realms to sow fear and discord among the free peoples so that her forces can easily wash over them with little defense.


Finally we have the obligatory map of Dolorum, Lady Olynder's realm along with a hefty timeline of events covering everything from the Age of Myth right up to the recent re-banishing of Nagash back to Shyish, coming of Kragnos and a couple of recent entries covering the coming of new characters such as Awlrach the Drowner, my most favorite being the battle of Andtor Gulch which saw Lady Olynder transform a Mega Gargant into a scattering of black roses marking the introduction of true dread into the psyche of the Sons of Behemat.

Unit Background


For those familiar with the unit summaries from the previous books, alot of this will seem familiar. The book details the Nighthaunt hierarchy, covering the various processions we saw in previous books with the addition of the four new hosts; The Grieving Legion, previously known as the Legion of Grief but now refined to the royal household of Sylontum, the capital city of Dolorum, The Emerald Host; personification (spiritifaction?) of Lady Olynder's personal enmity and life-draining curse against one individual in particular (which only Be'lakor can claim to have survived), The Scarlet Doom; A host consisting of those whose corpses were mistreated, hacked up, eaten or decapitated and granted the chance of revenge by Nagash, and finally the Quicksilver Dead; Whose liquid metal bodies spill through doors and keyholes instead of passing through as do other spirits.

The Rules


Now into the real meat of the book and probably what's going to be the most important thing for most players; the actual rules! There are four different 'processions' or sub-factions that you can choose for your army, each with it's own special rule but interestingly unlike some other books, no unique command traits and artifacts.

In terms of battle traits shared by all of the factions, it seems like they have moved some of the more generic special rules into the list, with Ethereal still granting it's save modifier ignore as per last edition but now with the added bonus of being able to retreat and charge in the same turn which will be very important for any unit with on charge abilities and Bladegheist Revenants in a Scarlet doom list (See below) and also the generic 6+ 'death save' now with the added ability of being 'always on' losing the requirement for a death hero to be in range of your units.


The army also benefits from the new Frightful Touch; making all Nighthaunt auto-wound on 6s to hit, and Vanishing Phantasms which is an up to 3 unit ambush, putting those units into reserve after deployment. These two combo together nicely to pretty significantly up the consistency of the army; pushing up the amount of wounds caused in combats and making sure that your ghosts are in the right place at the right time whilst also allowing some neat deployment tricks like making your opponent expect flank attacks from deployment that no-longer exist, moving your entire battleine to the left or right and focusing on different objectives than those it looked like you would.

We also have the new Aura of Dread, stopping nearby units from benefiting from the inspiring presence command which finally makes bravery matter, and the similarly fright-themed Wave of Terror ability, which is probably the most significant rule available in the book and where you will most definitely be taking advantage of the Ethereal retreat and charge:



Essentially every time you charge with a Nighthaunt unit you look up the corresponding result on the table and apply that effect: On a 4-7 you get Shriek, which makes the enemy unit -1 to hit against you; on a 8-9 you get Stun, which makes the enemy unit -1 save, and on a 10+ you get Petrify, which makes the enemy unit strike last. All effects last until the end of that combat phase and more importantly, if you have multiple units charging at the same unit you can both apply multiple different debuffs if you roll them, and stack the same debuff should you wish to. You are also allowed to pick a lower result on the table than you rolled which all combine into some very reliable debuffs for your opponent, massively boosting your resilience and damage output in combat.

Finally, characters gain access to a new command ability called Discorporate, essentially boosting a units ward save to a 5+ when picked as the target of an attack.

Onto the factions themselves;

Grieving Legion


Enemy units cannot retreat while they are within 3' of any friendly Grieving Legion units with 10 or more models.

Grieving Legion is your generic Nighthaunt faction stopping enemy units retreating if they are in range of friendly units with 10 or more models. To be honest, I think that this is overshadowed by both Emerald Host and Scarlet Doom who have more direct ways of affecting the battle so I don't see this being used all that widely.

Emerald Host



After armies have been set up but before the first battle round begins, you can pick up to D3+1 different enemy units on the battlefield. At the end of each battle round, roll a dice for each unit you picked that is on the battlefield. On a 2+ that unit suffers D3 mortal wounds. If that unit is a Monster, it suffers D3+1 mortal wounds instead of D3.

Who doesn't like free mortal wounds each turn on 2-4 units? Super simple, and doesn't require any additional units to use, I think that Emerald Host might almost be the default faction to pick if you aren't particularly interested in Bladegheist Revenants or Dreadscythe Haridans for the other two factions below. This is a pretty nice ability to throw onto smaller support heroes and watch them melt over the course of the first few battle rounds.

Scarlet Doom


After a friendly Scarlet Doom Bladegheist Revenants unit makes a charge move, you can pick 1 enemy unit within 1' of that unit. If you do so, roll a number of dice equal to the number of models from the charging unit. For each 5+, The target suffers 1 mortal wound.

Look, it's more mortal wounds! Probably the reason Hachette has been selling all those mortal realms magazines lately, Scarlet Doom uses Bladegheist Revenants who are already a decent unit and pushes them further with mortal wounds on a 5+ on the charge. Remember this combos with both Wave of Terror and the new Ethereal run and charge so I would expect this to be the core for a number of successful lists going forward. It is also worth noting that Bladegheist Revenants become core under this faction so if you own the miniatures I would think that some sort of charge/flee/charge healing list to keep the numbers up would be a popular choice.

Quicksilver Dead


Ward rolls cannot be made for wounds caused by attacks made with melee weapons by friendly Quicksilver Dead Dreadscythe Haridans units.

I think Quicksilver Dead can be good with the Dreadscythe Haridans but only really against specific opponents such as Fyreslayers with their inbuilt wards. Dreadscythe Haridans themselves aren't terrible with a good amount of attacks but they are infantry blenders in an army of infantry blenders so I feel that both Emerald Host and Scarlet Doom would be more popular to run. They do become core in a Quicksilver Dead army however so if you have the models it's a nice way of building up your core requirement for battalions.

Command Traits and Items


Nighthaunt heroes have access to six command traits and ten artifacts of power that they can choose from to bolster their combat abilities or compliment their utility during the game. For command traits there are the usual fare of a 4+ ward save vs mortal wounds and rerolls of hits and wounds but the standout trait for me is Cloak In Shadow, which means that the general cannot be picked as the target of a shooting or combat attack by more then 1 unit per phase.

As mentioned previously, there are ten artifacts of power that can be given to your characters, though they might all be under different categories, any Nighthaunt hero is elligible for any of them so they could have just pushed them together into one section. Of the list, Midnight Tome is interesting for one of your wizards to automatically cast an unbindable endless spell. Lightshard of the Harvest Moon also looks very good for a once per battle flat +1 attack on all Nighthaunt units within 12" of the hero and possibly Beacon of Nagashizzar for an emergency spirit host model heal.

Spell Lore


Despite not being in the spell lore themselves, the three Nighthaunt Endless Spells also make a return with the Shyish Reaper and Vault of Souls providing mortal wounds, and the Mortalis Terminexus doing mortal wounds or healing depending on who moved it

As per pretty much every other book released, Nighthaunt have their own spell lore (The Lore of the Underworlds) with some returning spells and a number with new, updated abilities. There are a good number of unit buffs in there that do overlap with some of the rules of other units in the book. This redundency allows you to spread out your abilities and hit the largest amount of units possible, or make sure that you hit exactly what you want when you want to. Soul Cage is probably pretty important as it gives Strike-Last to a unit, followed in my opinion by Shademist (attacks are at -1 to wound the target unit until your next hero phase) and the wardsave boosting Seal of Shyish. The book only has one double-spell casting wizard in Lady Olynder who already has Grief Stricken as her signature spell which is a hard debuff on a single enemy unit so perhaps something like Lifestealer, which would combo with Spirit Hosts to keep her alive for even longer or Spectral Tether for a quick teleport-veil attack. I think Shademist would benefit from being on one of your smaller support heroes so all your eggs aren't in one basket but overall it's a good mix of spells that should have something for most occasions.

Grand Strategies


With the move away from Core Battalions, instead we have Grand Strategies and Battle Tactics for you to pick for extra victory points. Feed On Terror seems the most straightforward to score as all you need is to end the game with one or more enemy units terrified which is almost guaranteed if  you managed to have a unit in combat when the game ends. Out of the Battle Tactics, I think the easiest are probably Tide of Terror, scoreable by having 2 friendly units in combat with one enemy unit at the end of the turn. and Mass Panic involving having 3 or more units terrified at the end of the turn (again pretty easy if you go MSU for lots of charges).

Units


As with the Soulblight Gravelord book, I think that there is something to be said about the balance of units that Games Workshop has been pushing with these updates. Nighthaunt now have 16 Leader options, 10 actual units and discounting Nagash, the Black Coach as their only behemoth with no monsters until the Mournghul gets an update from Forge World. With 3 of the infantry units (Reapers, Revenents and Harridans) all kind of filling similar roles and Olynder being so good that she is almost mandatory, I wonder how this will affect list building going forward. I know it's easier to put out single model units then whole new infantry or monsters but I feel like more could be done in this department.

As for the rest of the units, of course everyone has access to the warscrolls themselves so ill go over what I think are some interesting takes from the list.

Lady Olynder


Olynder, first lady of the Nighthaunt

Lady Olynder got a big boost since her previous outing. Now far more bulky with an inbuilt 4+ ward save and Spirit Host support (see below) and strong magic debuff (-1 to hit for a unit and +1 for it to be hit with your Nighthaunt) make her an immediate contender. This coupled with her considerable once per battle global heal of D6 models to every friendly Summonable Nighthaunt unit in range (and the range is the ENTIRE table) and very strong offensive shooting in Lifting the Veil (essentially D6 mortal wounds with an additional boost if the target is terrified with an additional inbuilt heal) and you have a real powerhouse of a leader for your army. But that's not all! Her Mortarch of Grief ability to negate command abilities used within 12" of her on a 5+ is the icing on the cake for a character who will want to be at that range of enemy units anyway, so overall I'm willing to bet good money that she will be in the majority of lists going forward despite her points increase.

Kurdos Valentian


The big man with the big stick is back and it's bigger than ever. Now with 5 attacks at rend -3 and 3 damage apiece he is effectively our monster killer and with the changes to Spirit Hosts (See below) he has the survivability to be able to really dish out the pain whilst being pretty bulky in return. His command point stealing ability makes a nice return also but aside from that he is a pretty straightforward missile to throw at your opponent. Speaking of command point shenanigans, both Olynder and Kurdos' abilities combo pretty nicely with...

Tomb Banshee


The Banshee in my opinion neither got better or worse, rather like the Spirit Hosts which ill detail later got more of a side-grade into a new role. It's shooting attack which was previously based on opponent bravery has changed to a now flat D3 attacks at 1 damage apiece which isn't anything spectacular. However, it's new rule; Ghostly Howl is where the real money is. Essentially making command abilities cost double the amount of CP to use on a unit within 12" (it is on a 4+ but you get +1 to that roll if the unit is terrified which should essentially be most of the time). It is most definitely still a support character in a list full of support characters but I think this could be a neat way to put a strain on your opponent's CP economy with Olynder negating on a 5+ and Kurdos also stealing on a 5+.

Spirit Torment


Probably, next to Spirit Hosts, my favourite upgrade in the book

You remember when I talked about taking units of Bladegheist Revenants in a charge/flee/charge healing list and was wondering how you were going to keep them alive? This is the answer. The Spirit Torment got a big improvement this time around with a flat 3 wounds worth of healing at the end of each and every combat phase means either 3 infantry or a Spirit Host coming back each turn. It doesn't stack but I think that you can expect to see at least one of these in every list going forward.

Spirit Hosts


Spirit hosts have had a very interesting update. Neither an upgrade or downgrade, they have had more of a sidestep into a different role than before but its one that I find they can be very effective in. They have lost their mortal wounds and haven't changed in points but now are pseudo-bodyguards with the ability to absorb wounds from your heroes if they are in range on a 3+. I think that this is very important in an army of essentially support heroes and can go a long way to extending their life and keeping the army rolling along. My initial list has 2 units of them (one to babysit Olynder and another to keep various other heroes alive) which may or may not be overkill but only time will tell.

Black Coach


The Black Coach has had such a big update that it's worth mentioning just for that. Gone is the old dice-rolling level of power ability in favor of a simpler and arguably easier to achieve system: Evocation of Death. The idea is that the coach gains tokens (starting at 1 and represented by a die face) equal to the amount of enemy models slain within 12" of the unit (up-to a maximum of 6). 5-6 increases the coach's ward save from a 5+ to a 4+ and if you are on a 6, during the shooting phase you get to choose an enemy unit within 12" of the coach and do a huge 3D3 mortal wounds to that unit (resetting to 1 in the process). The coach itself also has baked in impact hits at D3 Mortal wounds when it charges which ofcourse adds to Evocation of Death. It can also teleport across the battlefield instead of moving which is a neat trick though remember the model is HUGE so placement might be an issue making sure that it re-deploys more then 9" from enemy models. In combat it's got a bunch of decent attacks and alot of smaller ones so overall this acts more like a bullet that you point at something near where the fighting is happening and dish out some serious damage.

Awlrach the Drowner



Such a cool model

I wanted to cover Awlrach and the other *new* units for a couple of reasons; Foremost being the models themselves are just really cool to look at, and secondly because they are new so it gives Games Workshop the opportunity to try out some different things. Essentially Awlrach the Drowner is the previous universal command ability that let you teleport units around the battlefield baked into a model. This makes him yet another support character but I wonder his actual usefulness given the free reserve units granted by Vanishing Phantasms and his hefty 175 point price tag. Overall it seems strange to me for Games Workshop to double down on abilities like this especially on one of their brand new sets (which incidentally compares less favorably to Reiknor the Grimhailer in my opinion for both utility and damage output) only serving to reduce the amount of play that it could potentially see.

Scriptor Mortis


Another one of the new Nighthaunt kits, this time hailing from the Arena of Shades box, the Scriptor Mortis comes complete with it's malicious quill. Is the pen mightier than the sword? In this case I don't think so. It's gimmick is the Sentenced to Eternal Torment special rule which essentially allows you to pick one enemy hero in your hero phase and roll a dice; if that roll is less then the current battle round then the unit takes 2D6 wounds. Whilst on the outset this might seem pretty good, we have to remember that it's dead on the first turn, and has only a 1/6 chance of activating on the second. You can't stack the effect on the same hero from multiple Scriptors so ultimately it's 155 points of very unreliable mortal wounds which could otherwise be spent elsewhere.

Craventhrone Guard


I was ready to scour the internet for so many of these from Arena of Shades when it was released due to the models alone but unfortunately (or fortunately if you take my bank account's point of view) it doesn't look like ill be pursuing that

The final new unit from Arena of Shades is the Craventhrone Guard. Much fanfare was made over on Warhammer Community about this being the first 'true' ranged unit available to Nighthaunt and the community hoped that there would be some additional rules to bolster it's mediocre shooting and statline. Unfortunately this is not the case, and with a unit size of only 5 for 115 points it makes it very difficult to justify the 10 shots from a base unit that will only do on average 2.5 wounds before saves. It feels like a real let down for a unit that I was initially very excited to field given the models but now makes me relieved that I didn't spend any additional money on the Arena of Shades box. I think if they were base unit size 10 with a small points break (200 points for 10 perhaps) it would go along way to resolving these issues as you could at least reinforce them into a decent-sized range unit.

Final Thoughts

Does it suck? No. Not at all

I think overall I am pretty pleased with the new book. Old units seemed to either be upgraded or side graded into different roles and despite the points costs going up almost across the board, which isn't something that is wholly unique to the current Nighthaunt outing, there aren't that many units that seem out of place. I think the updated battle traits offer alot of flexibility in how you play with both MSU to take advantage of the Wave of Terror rules, and larger, heal-centric forces being playable (personally I'll be looking to play a hybrid MSU'ish Bladegheist Revenant Scarlet Doom list with small units of Revenants and cavalry backed up by a chunky Chainwrasp anchor). This coupled with the boosted units offers some much needed reliability to the army as a whole and I think that overall there is a good deal to be pleased about. That being said I am however, quite disappointed with the new miniatures rules, with the Craventhrone Guard being especially let down. I feel like Games Workshop had a real opportunity here to couple some truly great miniatures with rules that would at least encourage them to be played even in a niche setting but in my opinion this was not the case and seems like a bit of a missed opportunity.

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