In which Jamie reviews a Warhammer Age of Sigmar battletome based on the opportunities it offers for creative painting, converting and army themes.
Welcome to what I hope will be the first of a semi-regular series in which I take a different look at Warhammer Age of Sigmar battletomes, old and new. There are a lot of people out there treading well-worn ground when it comes to battletome reviews, so I really want to offer a unique perspective - something that you’re not going to find anywhere else.
For me, one of the most exciting things about a new army, faction or battletome is the opportunity to put my own stamp on the models in creative ways. That can be through an interesting paint scheme, creative conversions or even an entire army-wide theme. Ideas can come from many different places, but the intricate and evocative lore created by the Games Workshop writers never fails to inspire. With this in mind, The Hobbyist’s Review series will review Age of Sigmar battletomes based on the scope and opportunity they offer for the creative hobbyist, using the lore presented in the books as a jumping off point, and suggesting ideas that you might like to think about for your own projects.
The Beasts of Chaos battletome is a wonderful book, full of great artwork, background writing and rules. There’s very little filler here (the pages of staged miniature photography being the notable exception - but you have to have those!), and for the most part it seems like the quality content is so densely packed in that it’s struggling to contain itself. The Beasts of Chaos are introduced to the Age of Sigmar setting in style, and their background is as rich and interesting as any faction in the Mortal Realms.
It feels to me that there’s been a clear effort to take the Beasts of Chaos in new and exciting directions, whilst simultaneously restoring and honouring everything that was great about them in Warhammer Fantasy and the World That Was. This book should please everyone. Brayherds, Warherds, Thunderscorn and a whole menagerie of monsters have been combined into a single army with a strong personality and theme, but also with a great deal of flexibility, continuing the trend started in Legions of Nagash. I’m sure this approach will be hugely popular, and long may it continue. This book makes the Beasts of Chaos seem fresh and exciting again, which is quite the feat considering some of the models in the range are pushing 20 years old!
This is a review from a hobbyist’s perspective, so I won’t be going into detail regarding rules and warscrolls. If you’d like more information about these aspects of the book, I heartily recommend checking out Hobby Hammer’s written review or Kitetsu’s video review. Or both!
Most Beasts of Chaos belong to a loosely knit tribe called a ‘fray’. There are three major frays known as ‘greatfrays’, whose territory can span whole continents and even multiple realms; the Allherd, the Dark Walkers and the Gavespawn. These greatfrays are all covered in the battletome, and all have their own abilities and special rules. But what opportunities do they represent from a hobby perspective?
The Allherd are the poster boys of the Beasts of Chaos battletome - the archetypal beastmen. They are part creatures of nature and part Chaos, and their sole purpose in life is to cut a swathe of destruction and anarchy across the Mortal Realms. In terms of their background and abilities, the Allherd can summon more reinforcements than any other greatfray via sacrifices made at their herdstone. All of this is great, but by itself it doesn’t stoke the creative fires when it comes to painting, converting and theming an army - the models and the miniatures range are perfect representations of the Allherd right out of the box.
Of course, there are still many different colour schemes that you can use to paint your Allherd. The Beasts of Chaos battletome suggests a number of options, all of which look great, and most of which are based on earthy tones like browns, greys and various varieties of flesh. If you want to go pure, unadulterated Allherd you may be best off taking inspiration for your colour scheme from the mammalian fauna of the natural world. You can also theme your Allherd to a particular realm, which I’ll talk more about shortly.
The Dark Walkers are where things get a little more varied and interesting. These beasts know all the secret paths and ways of the Mortal Realms. They are able to travel great distances quickly, and melt away into the landscape before appearing out of the wilderness again in the most unexpected places. Their connection with the natural (and unnatural) worlds of the Mortal Realms seems deeper than any of the other greatfrays. Rules-wise, the Dark Walkers are an ambush army. They can set aside more units in reserve and bring them onto any table edge later in the game.
There isn’t anything in the battletome to suggest that Dark Walkers look markedly different to any other type of beastmen, but their background does offer a little extra scope for customising your army. Playing on their ability to disappear into the wilderness, you could paint them in a colour scheme that blends with their bases, suggesting an element of camouflage. This could be particularly effective if you build up the plants and shrubbery on their bases to partially obscure some of the model, making it look like they’re bursting from the undergrowth. To represent their deep and somewhat otherworldly connection with nature, you could convert the models to have roots and branches growing out of their bodies, or replace their shields with huge chunks of bark that they’ve torn from trees.
This is the greatfray that probably offers the most for the adventurous hobbyist. The Gavespawn are more twisted by the energies of Chaos than any other greatfray, and the most heavily mutated. They worship Morghur, a beastmen character from the World That Was, whose essence is thought to still exist in the Realm of Chaos. Morghur the Shadowgave was a primordial force of pure Chaos who caused everything around him to become twisted and corrupt. The Gavespawn are very much a continuation of that theme, with killed hero models having a high chance of becoming a Chaos spawn that will continue to cause havoc on the tabletop.
When it comes to modelling and converting Chaos mutations, the only real limit is your imagination. Arms can become claws or tentacles. The subject can sprout extra limbs, eyes or gaping jaws. And that’s at the tamer end of the spectrum! A Chaos spawn is a full-on, dialled-up-to-eleven, Cronenburgian nightmare. This has been grotesquely represented in Games Workshop’s artwork over the years, including my favourite piece of Warhammer artwork of all time (pictured above). The great thing about converting and sculpting Chaos mutation is that you can’t really get it wrong - if you mess something up it will only look more grotesque and corrupted. If you’re not happy with the work you’ve just done, keep adding more of a gribbly mess on top of it until it looks right!
With each hero in a Gavespawn army having the potential to become a Chaos spawn, you’ll have the opportunity to customise each spawn model to represent the character that they’ve devolved from. If you already like to convert your heroes and give them a personalised backstory, this adds an extra layer of creative modelling and storytelling for you to explore.
The Chaos Gods
At long last, the new Beasts of Chaos battletome makes it possible for Brayherd, Warherd and Thunderscorn units to be given Marks again, meaning that your army can be dedicated to one of the four Chaos gods. This comes in the form of four very flexible battalions, although they do have some limitations that are appropriate to their theme - Khorne can’t include wizards, naturally. Each of the Chaos gods has their own very distinctive aesthetic, and for those who love to have a strong theme for their armies there’s now even more reason to align with Khorne, Nurgle, Slaanesh or Tzeentch. I think it makes all the difference and is so much more motivating when a theme is supported by gameplay, so for me the inclusion of these battalions in the battletome is a huge plus from a hobby perspective.
Khorne - The Brass Despoilers
Khorne is the god of war, rage, martial prowess, blood and skulls. His Beasts of Chaos battalion reflects that, allowing hit rolls and wounds rolls of 1 to be re-rolled under certain circumstances, making it more likely that your beasts will inflict damage. The followers of Khorne tend not to suffer from mutation, so there’s not much scope for model customisation there (and you probably won’t want to combine this battalion with the mutation-heavy Gavespawn greatfray if you’re going for a coherent theme). That said, by kitbashing your beasts with the existing Khorne plastic kits and applying a Khornate colour scheme, you could build a very unique looking army.
Many of the Khorne Bloodbound infantry kits have very distinctive weaponry with Khornate symbols worked into their design, so some simple weapon swaps will go a long way. One idea might be to replace your bestigors’ torsos and axe-heads with those from the Blood Warriors box. To get the most out of the box you could even give your regular gors Gorefists to replace one of their standard hand weapons. There are also plenty of distinctively Khornate shields, banners, pauldrons and other bits in the various Bloodbound kits, all of which could add a lot of character to your Brass Despoilers.
Khorne is strongly associated with the colour red, so you’ll probably want to work this into your colour palette, although many Khorne armies make good use of black, bone, gold and brass too. Using red doesn’t necessarily mean a super bright colour scheme either, as a rich red-brown tone for your beasts’ skin and fur will help to communicate that these are followers of Khorne whilst still keeping a naturalistic look.
Nurgle - The Pestilent Throng
Nurgle is the god of disease, decay and the more disgusting aspects of the cycle of life and death. His Beasts of Chaos battalion is called The Pestilent Throng, and provides a strong chance for your units to inflict mortal wounds on nearby enemy units when they die. The aesthetic of Games Workshop’s Nurgle models has become more elaborate in recent years, featuring not just sores, gangrenous limbs and exposed organs, but also all manner of weird mutations - usually something involving tentacles. Their armour also tends to look extremely rusted and decayed. There’s lots of scope there to customise your beasts and make them look really nasty. Combining the Nurgle aesthetic with some of the customisation ideas suggested by the Dark Walkers or Gavespawn could be very interesting, and might result in something a little different from the norm.
Because most of the features that make Nurgle distinctive are organic, it might be a bit more difficult to kitbash components from the existing Nurgle kits, and you may need to resort to sculpting on bloated bellies and clusters of pustules. That said, I’ve seen the Plaguebearer kit combined with various beastmen infantry models to great effect. Weapon swaps may be an option, but then it’s fairly straightforward to make any weapon look old and rusty using a few simple techniques, so that may be the better (and cheaper) way to go. Other iconography associated with Nurgle includes a single horn protruding from the forehead (rather than a pair on either side) and antlers - very appropriate for beastmen.
When it comes to your colour scheme, green in all its myriad shades would be the obvious choice. But there are lots of ways to paint diseased flesh and decaying armour, and the Maggotkin of Nurgle battletome is a good resource if you’re looking for examples (I don’t recommend searching for reference images of diseased and decaying flesh online - trust me on this. Games Workshop has done the research so you don’t have to!).
Slaanesh - The Depraved Drove
Slaanesh is the gender-fluid god of pleasure, pain, desire and decadence. His/her followers can make use of the Depraved Drove battalion, allowing your units to re-roll charge and hit rolls if they’re within a certain distance of an enemy hero carrying an artefact of power. This represents the fact that Slaaneshi beastmen crave the trappings and baubles of civilisation - but they also want to destroy it utterly. They’re very conflicted and confused. Slaanesh is an odd one, since historically his/her aesthetic has basically boiled down to overt sexualisation and crab claws. Sure, you can sculpt breasts onto your gors if you really want to, and the claws can be obtained from the Daemonettes kit, but perhaps there’s another way to go here.
The lore in the book makes it pretty clear that Slaaneshi beastmen destroy the artefacts they capture almost immediately, but perhaps there’s scope for some flexible interpretation here in the name of the rule of cool. It would be an interesting contrast to see the savage Beasts of Chaos converted to carry the most finely crafted equipment available. Weapons, shields, equipment and perhaps even armour taken from the Idoneth Deepkin range would look suitably ornate, and in the hands of the forces of Chaos they even take on kind of a Slaaneshi vibe. If you want to go more down the comedic route, why not give your beasts fancy hats with plumes?
In terms of colour scheme, Slaanesh tends to contrast very pale colours with very dark colours - usually various shades of purple and pink, although if you want something more muted and naturalistic then black and white can also be very effective.
Tzeentch - Phantasmagoria of Fate
Tzeentch is the god of schemes, plots, change and fate. His battalion, Phantasmagoria of Fate, allows all of your units to potentially attempt to unbind spells, not just those with the ‘wizard’ keyword. Tzeentch used to be heavily associated with rampant mutation (although he seems to have relinquished that to Nurgle in recent years), so there’s certainly scope for creative customisation there, and a Tzeentch-Gavespawn theme could be the most eye-poppingly bizarre Beasts of Chaos army ever conceived if done well.
Ironically, given Tzeentch’s focus on change and mutation, I find that the battletome doesn’t inspire me to theme an army around this god as much as the others. This is because the battletome includes all of the Tzaangor units that previously featured in the Disciples of Tzeentch book, meaning that all of your Tzeentchian fantasies are very well catered for by the existing model range. Why convert gors or bestigors into Tzaangors when there are already excellent models available off the shelf? It’s a good problem to have in a way, and I’m certainly not complaining, but the fact remains that there’s less need to get creative with kitbashing and green stuff if you want to field a Tzeentch beastmen army.
That said, if you want to expand your army to include warherd models or any of the various monsters available, there are certainly opportunities there. It would be interesting, for example, to see a Ghorgon converted to match the aesthetic of the Tzaangor models. Also, if you want to go wild with a face-meltingly bright, multicoloured paint scheme then Tzeentch gives you a lot of options. The Disciples of Tzeentch battletome provides a lot of exotic colour suggestions.
The Hordes of Chaos
I’m also excited to report that all of the above battalions can be included in their respective god-based armies; Disciples of Tzeentch can include the Phantasmagoria of Fate, Moggotkin of Nurgle can include the Pestilent Throng, and so forth. Note that they’re included as a standard part of the army - not as allies. This means that you can paint and convert some beastmen to match your existing Chaos army and (unlike allies) they’ll benefit from your army’s existing allegiance abilities. This is great news for us old-time Warhammer-fanciers, as it’s now even easier to field a themed army that harks back to the fully united Hordes of Chaos seen in earlier editions of the game. At the other end of the spectrum, if you want to field an army composed entirely of Khorne beastmen, but using the Blades of Khorne allegiance abilities rather than the Beasts of Chaos abilities, you can do that too.
To my mind, any mechanic that encourages hobbyists to mix factions together more freely is great for creativity, as it allows for the telling of a broader variety of stories through army composition and theme.
The Mortal Realms
While this isn’t something that’s specific to the Beasts of Chaos battletome it’s worth bearing in mind that, on top of all the options already discussed, you can also theme your army to a specific Mortal Realm. Considered alone, or combined with the themes of the greatfrays and Chaos gods, the eights realms offer a wealth of painting, converting and theming possibilities.
The battletome goes into fascinating detail on how the Beasts of Chaos were the original inhabitants of the Mortal Realms, seemingly forming as a species via the same process that created the realms themselves. Given their deep connection with the natural world, you have to assume that the Beasts of Chaos take on the characteristics of the realm they inhabit. The Realms of Beasts (Ghur) and Life (Ghyran) would probably produce what we think of as the more typical beastmen, although even these offer some creative options. Some kind of green-skinned Green Man or Herne-inspired army from Ghyran would be interesting (antlers anyone?), as would a more tribal take on Ghur beastmen covered in skulls and totems.
Some more wild ideas; albino beastmen covered in crystalline mutations from the Realm of Light (Hysh). Beastmen with rusted axes and steampunk gadgets hanging from their belts and banners as trophies from the Realm of Metal (Chamon). Beastmen with mutations that expose their bones from the Realm of Death (Shyish). Volcanic beastmen covered in cracked, black skin with lava bubbling in their veins from the Realm of Fire (Aqshy). Beastmen with half their bodies sculpted to look like amorphous shapes literally emerging from the terrain from the Realm of Shadow (Ulgu).
Special mention should be given to the Thunderscorn (formerly Dragon Ogres) who, the battletome reveals, were the original inhabitants of the Realm of Heavens (Azyr) and wielders of the lightning energies that Sigmar would later claim for his own. I’d love to see a pure Thunderscorn army with a celestial theme - bright, majestic and full of cosmic wonder. Something that suggests they’re not quite the knuckle-dragging brutes that the forces of Order choose to see them as. I challenge you to kitbash a Shaggoth with a Celestial Hurricanum!
One thing to note is that the battletome alludes to Beasts of Chaos that may not be based on goats and bulls. The Mortal Realms are apparently home to a much wider variety of beast-kin than we’ve seen represented in miniature form. Beatmen with the heads of sharks that terrorise the Idoneth Deepkin are specifically mentioned, and you have to assume that just about any combination of man and animal is possible. If you’re an especially skilled and dedicated hobbyist, this would be a wonderful avenue to explore. The first person to build an army of sharkmen will surely have a place of honour in the annals of Warhammer history!
In case it’s not clear, a Beasts of Chaos army can pick a greatfray, a battalion and a realm. This means that all of the ideas above can be combined in any number of imaginative ways, giving you literally hundreds of wild and exotic themes to play with. Just imagine the Slaaneshi Gavespawn sharkmen from the quicksilver oceans of Chamon!
I think the Beasts of Chaos battletome is one of the most tantalising ever released for Warhammer Age of Sigmar from a hobbyist’s perspective. Perhaps more than any tome before it, the vast scope of army building options directly inspire a whole host of creative army theming ideas, rather than just representing different ways to play with your models. It’s given me so many great ideas that I could easily spend the rest of my life converting and painting beastmen, and never exhaust all of the unique possibilities. Add to that the fact that the faction looks like great fun from a gaming perspective, and that the background lore is incredibly rich and characterful, and Games Workshop have produced a battletome that I wholeheartedly recommend.
I hope you found this review interesting and useful. If you have any more ideas for theming a Beasts of Chaos army, or especially any great conversions, I’d love it if you’d post about it in the comments below. Or just let me know what you think of the review.
To get your hands on your own copy of this amazing battletome, order from Element Games for a substantial discount on the recommended retail price. Ordering from Element Games via this link helps keep the light of Azyr shining on the Realm of Plastic.
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