So, let's say you are new to Age of Sigmar and know practically nothing about the game and world(s) of Warhammer. Maybe you just went to your buddy’s place or a Games Workshop store, saw all those cool models, and wondered what the game is all about. Maybe you played a Games Workshop licensed video game that piqued your interest in Warhammer Fantasy, but upon stumbling into Age of Sigmar, you really have no idea as to what's going on. What is Age of Sigmar lore anyway?!
Regardless of where you're coming from, this article is here to help you understand some of the fundamentals of the setting and lore of Age of Sigmar.
I'm not here to do an extensive retelling of the history found in Age of Sigmar, but just to get you familiar enough with the lore that you'll be able to orient yourself when reading about the setting. Hopefully by the end of this article you'll have a better idea of what's actually going on in Age of Sigmar setting, so that this information can then be used as a jumping off point to do some further exploring of the setting on your own!
Please note here that this is just a general overview of the major events of Age of Sigmar’s fictional history. There is a lot here that I have left out in the interest of time and attention span.
Our story begins with Sigmar…
A note on the artwork
In this article, I have used the amazing artwork from the faction battletome. I have done this to convey the right aesthetic and feel of the army. All rights for the images are reserved by Games Workshop and the very talented artists that have made them (and I hope they will not get pissed by me displaying the army artwork here).
Genesis: the destruction of the Old World and the birth of the Mortal Realms
Sigmar flew through the black void of space, clinging desperately to the burning molten core of his world. The flames seared Sigmar's divine flesh, causing him immense agony, but what hurt more than any physical pain was the knowledge that he had failed. Sigmar, the God-King of mankind, had failed to stop the corruptive force known as Chaos from devouring his world. Now, this burning husk was all that Sigmar could claim divine providence over.
Sigmar knew not for how long he flew through the inky abyss. Was it years? Centuries? Millenia, even? Utterly alone, Sigmar only had the ghosts of his past to keep him company. Faces of those he had failed appeared in the flames, taunting him, as did the face of chaos itself: Archeon the Everchosen, champion of Chaos, the being most directly responsible for the sundering of the world that was.
It was Archeon who united the hordes of the Chaos wastes and led the united armies from their dark wastelands into the heart of ordered civilization, bringing about the end times. As Sigmar relived the destruction of his world, over and over, his grip weakened.
But just when all seemed lost and Sigmar's mind had begun to fade, hope appeared. Dracothion – the great celestial drake – was drawn to the light of the burning core. Upon sensing another divine soul, Dracothion found Sigmar and brought him to the Mortal Realms – realms formed from the energy of the world that was, guided into being by the winds of magic that govern the cosmos.
It was here that Sigmar learned much – many other beings from the old world had also survived the end times through their own means, some of whom ascended to divinity. The cylindrical nature of reality demanded that the gods of old were to be reborn or reincarnated through the winds of magic, some of whom were bound within said winds or scattered across the realms.
Sigmar also came face to face with a stark truth: Sigmar and Archaeon were seemingly connected on a metaphysical level, as two sides of the same coin. This meant that with Sigmar's return Archeon would not be far behind him. When Archeon did return, it would mean the return of Chaos, and the corruption and destruction of the world would begin anew. Resolving to not fail his world again, Sigmar set out to prepare the realms for the inevitable rise of Chaos.
With Dracothion guiding him, Sigmar learned how to traverse the realms using magical paths and doorways known as realm gates. He set out to explore the realms, and these wanderings marked the beginning of the Age of Myth.
The Age of Myth begins
During his journeys, Sigmar encountered, awoke, and unbound many gods and other divine beings from the winds of magic and the perils of the realms.
Beings such as Alarielle, the Goddess of Life, mother of the Sylvaneth race; Grimnir and Grungi, the dwarven Gods of Martial Prowess and Smithing, respectively; Tyrion and Teclis, the twin gods of Light, and now the patron guardians of the Aelven race along with Malekith, the god of shadow; Gorkamorka, the Orcish warrior and hunter God; and Nagash, the god of Death, who Sigmar reluctantly revived, but whose power Sigmar knew would be necessary to stop the tides of Chaos.
Sigmar established this pantheon of gods in Azyrheim, his capital city founded in the realm of Azyr, where the gods sought to usher in an age of prosperity and growth.
Primitive forms of the mortal races were found, guided, and given the protection of the gods.
During this time, Sigmar sought to destroy or seal away many of the dangers that plagued the realms in order to pave the way for civilization. Godbeasts, primal creatures of immense power, were slain or tamed. Ancient artifacts of the gods and uncooperative divine beings that could not be destroyed were sealed away in vast stormvaults, before being erased from mortal perception. With the realms becoming safe enough for mortals to prosper in, the divine aid of the gods ushered in a golden age. Various major cities were established, technology flourished, and order was spread throughout the realms.
However, even in this golden age, the presence of chaos was a stain upon the land. As is the nature of mortals, some refused the wisdom of Sigmar's pantheon and turned to the Dark Gods of Chaos in the pursuit of power. Cults existed in even the largest of Sigmar's cities, and nomadic tribes of chaos worshippers were always a threat on the fringes of civilization. Beasts of Chaos, foul crossbreeds between man and beast, dwelled in the darkest corners of the realms and practiced their profane worship.
In the face of this growing threat of Chaos, the gods were not idle.
The twin gods Tyrion and Teclis, along with Malekith, executed a plot to capture and bind one of the four major Gods of Chaos – Slaanesh, the dark god of excess. They succeeded, and although Slaanesh's influence continued to seep from its prison, the god was greatly reduced in its capability to corrupt the mortal realms.
Chaos arrives to ruin the party
Yet it was not enough. Slowly, cracks began to form in the societies of the mortal realms. Chaos worship began to corrupt the mortal races as the power of the chaos gods grew. Often beginning innocently enough, the boons the chaos gods offered the mortals of the realms often came at a great price. It was not long until the deamons of Chaos broke through the veil of reality in Aqshy's arid plains, and chaos truly began to incur upon reality once more.
Sigmar and his divine pantheon rallied and fought back against the forces of chaos wherever they would appear, and for a while the forces of Chaos were kept at bay. However, just as the mortal realms began to falter in the face of chaos, so too did Sigmar's pantheon. In their determination to fight back chaos and serve Sigmar, many of the gods felt that they had abandoned their people and shirked off their duties.
Alarielle retreated to her realms to protect her creations in the corrupting face of chaos. Grungi felt that he had failed his dwarven people and himself, and sought exile. Nagash felt betrayed by Sigmar for abandoning his realms of the dead to attend to other realms as the chaos hordes encroached upon them, and the petty god sought revenge.
During the fateful struggle for Allpoints, where Sigmar and his forces battled for control of the realmgate nexus, Nagash betrayed Sigmar and turned his undead forces against his longtime ally. This betrayal culminated at The Battle of Burning Skies, where Sigmar and his forces faced Archeon the Everchosen himself in a titanic, final battle for the gateways to the realms.
Here, as Sigmar attempted to strike down Archeon, he was tricked by the foul forces of Chaos into casting Ghal Maraz, his legendary divine weapon and conduit of his power, across the realms.
No longer at the apex of his power, Sigmar could not face Archeon alone and was forced to retreat as his forces were decimated. Chaos now had control of Allpoints, and no corner of the realms was beyond the reach of Chaos.
His alliances broken and his forces waning, Sigmar retreated to the realm of Azyr. There, he seemingly turned his back on the realms, sealing himself and Azyr off from the rest of the realms. Chaos, largely unopposed by the forces of order, rampaged across the realms, razing cities and decimating regions.
This era was known as the Age of Chaos. Many civilizations turned to chaos simply to survive, and many of those who did not were brought to ruin. The great architectural accomplishments and technological wonders of Sigmar's golden age were lost, torn down and replaced by dark effigies to the thirsting gods of chaos.
The Age of Sigmar begins
During all of this destruction, Sigmar did not leave Azyr. While it pained him to do so, Sigmar knew that he could not risk Chaos tainting Azyr while he began his great work.
Sigmar could no longer risk to take part in battle; with his powers diminished and his allies fighting independently, the risk of his death, and the death of order in the realms, had become too great. Sigmar would need a new army, an army to shake the foundations of the realms and to fight chaos wherever they might be. And so, Sigmar toiled in his forges for many years as the realms burned.
On the arid plains of Aqshy, where the hot winds were now intermingled with that tang of blood, the brimstone peninsula would make the first debut of Sigmar's forces. As the warriors of Khorne marched over the blood red sands, feasting upon the fallen and howling cries of bloodlust, storm clouds gathered.
With the crashing sound of thunder and the blinding flash of lightning, they appeared: The Stormcast Eternals, Sigmar's elite fighting force, clad in golden armor and eager to avenge the realms. Battle was met, blood was spilt, and the beginning of The Age of Sigmar had begun.
The Stormcast Eternals usher in The Realmgate Wars
The Stormcast Eternals were Sigmar's answer to the Chaos invasion. Reforged from the souls of those who died valiantly fighting Chaos, the Stormcast Eternals shared Sigmar's hatred of Chaos and where resolute to see it utterly destroyed.
Armed with weapons and armor forged from Sigmarite, exceptional metal from the core of the world that was, the Stormcast eternals were equipped to handle any horror they encountered. And should a Stormcast fall in battle, Sigmar would guide that soul back to Azyr to have them reforged once more. Order had hope once more.
Sweeping across the realms in a military campaign known as the Realmgate Wars, the Stormcast eternals sought to reestablish Order as a dominant force in the realms. Ghal Maraz was recovered from the clutches of Tzeentch, Alarielle was given much needed aid to hold back the forces of Nurgle and forge a critical new alliance, and new cities such as Hammerhal were founded as bastions of hope.
(if you are interested in reading more about the Realmgate Wars, GW have made a bundle with the novels with the whole storyline)
The taint in the Stormcast Eternals and other bad news
Yet all was not as Sigmar had hoped. A worrying weakness in the Stormcast was discovered: each time a Stormcast soul was reforged, the soul would lose a portion of itself.
First, memories would fade, but over time, Stormcast Eternals would become mindless automatons, devoid of any personality and emotion.
Furthermore, Nagash, Sigmar's once time ally, has not been idle as Sigmar forged his armies. Nagash sought to conquer the realms, enslaving all through the service of undeath. Nagash believed the only way to stop Chaos was to snuff out all free will and life; after all, it was the dark hearts of man from which Chaos grew.
To make matters worse, the raging orruk hordes of Gorkamorka rampaged across the realms in a green tide destroying anything in their way. These hordes rallied all manner of foul creatures under their banners, such as Ogors, Grots, Gargants, and other monsterous creatures that worshipped Gorkamorka.
The Necroquake reveals the Stormvaults and magic comes alive
With these four Grand Alliances of Order, Chaos, Death, and Destruction now all contenting for dominance of the realms, war reached an apex state.
Many campaigns, grand battles and cataclysmic events happened across the realms, but the most world shaking of them was the Necroquake.
Seeking to complete a ritual of immense power, Nagash sought to invoke death magic across the realms, raising the legions of the dead wherever they might lie and having utter dominance over the other grand alliances.
Were it not for the intervention of the Chaos worshipping Skaven, Nagash would have succeeded in his plan. Instead, the Skaven sabotaged Nagash's ritual, causing it to go wild and forever alter the nature of magic in the realms.
The polarity of magic was reversed, and magic which would only last normally for a few brief moments could now last indefinitely with seemingly a will of its own. These endless spells became a new threat to the realms, but also a new weapon to be used in the wars to come.
Not all was lost for Nagash however. The ripples of energy that disrupted the nature of magic so also awoke great hordes of gheists and spirits to be pressed into his service, beginning a conflict known as the Soul Wars.
Nagash sought to use these great hosts to foil the plans of Sigmar's Stormcast Eternals and gain dominance over all the Grand Alliances once more.
The key to this, it seems, was the Stormvaults, the great prisons Sigmar used during the Age of Myth to lock away artefacts and beings of great power. Previously hidden from mortal perception, the Necroquake disrupted the magic that kept their locations hidden, revealing them openly.
With the realms girding for war once more, all the Grand Alliances prepared for conflict as they competed for the stormvault's forbidden power.
Where can I learn more about Age of Sigmar lore?
If you want a general overview of the storyline, the factions and so on a great place to start is the Age of Sigmar Big Core Book
That said, the lore explantion in that book can quickly become a rundown of “these things happened”. If you are more interested in reading stories, you should try some of the Black Library novels. Their audiobooks are also really good!
If you are mainly interested in a specific faction, look for the battletome of that army. It contains a truckload of lore, stories, and information.
More a youtube person? 2+ Tough is definitely the place to go for lore.
Why I think the lore and setting is critically important for a game like Age of Sigmar
Warhammer: Age of Sigmar, though still relatively new, is a game that is rapidly growing in size. Having just emerged into its second edition last summer, we have been treated to an onslaught of releases at a breakneck speed over the last year.
We've seen new factions, revamped battletomes, stunning terrain, and even new boxed games such as Warcry all adding to the ever-expanding world of Age of Sigmar. It's easy as a newcomer to the hobby to look at the scope of Age of Sigmar and be completely at a loss on where to start.
I've always been in the camp that believes that the lore and story should be the first thing a newbie to the hobby checks out. After all, in this hobby, it's the lore that adds context and flavor to the mechanics of the game. Why is it that certain units have certain abilities? Why would these factions be fighting or allied? What does all this detail on the models represent? It's the lore of Age of Sigmar that answers these questions.
If you think about it, at the end of the day it's the lore of Age of Sigmar that justifies the whole game being miniatures based! If there were no story context, we might as well be playing with marked bases… and while I'm sure the game would be much cheaper, I think everyone here would agree with me when I say that the game simply wouldn't be the same, and it wouldn't capture our interest as it does now.