The Kharadron Overlords are one of the most strikingly unique armies of Warhammer: Age of Sigmar, both in terms of playstyle, models and lore. They are basically high tech duardin (that’s AOS for dwarfs) whose trade empire spans the skies of the Mortal Realms.
The Overlords first battletome and miniatures were released in April 2017, and after a long wait, the new Kharadron Overlords battletome for Age of Sigmar 2.0 is finally available.
Here is my review of the new Kharadron Overlords Battletome, where I focus on how the book manages to bring Kharadron Overlords lore and rules closer together than ever before.
To the skies!
A short history of the Kharadron Overlords in Age of Sigmar – or – Why are the short men so angry?
If you’re new to the Kharadron Overlords, either because you’re new to the hobby or because they just haven’t caught your eye until now, it’s worth knowing a bit about their history as a playable army and some of the controversies that the new battletome tries to put to rest.
When the Kharadron Overlords were first released, many players bought into the faction because of its unique steampunk aesthetic and the amazing Skyvessel airships that were some of the most detailed miniatures GW had ever made.
The Kharadron player community grew quickly, but it wasn’t long until the conversation around the new army changed.
There were players that weren’t satisfied with how hard it was to win with the army, but the main problem was (at least in the communities I was part of on Facebook etc) that the Kharadron simply didn’t play on the tabletop the way they were described in the lore.
In Kharadron lore, they are a mix between a WW2-era airforce and an army of flying pirates. Their ships and aether-guns give them unprecedented firepower, and the ships transport the duardin in and out of danger.
Both the art in the battletome and the first Black Library stories about the Kharadron described them fighting from the decks of their ships and conquering technologically inferior foes.
The actual rules of the first Kharadron overlords battletome didn’t quite capture that feeling.
The Skyvessels could transport your units and heroes, but they couldn’t shoot from inside the ships, and if you moved your ship, you had to wait until next turn’s hero phase to disembark its passengers (unless you chose some specific army traits).
In a game that’s often over before the 5th round, that doesn’t leave room for a lot of interesting airship manoeuvres.
What is the point of having a dedicated ship crew unit, the Arkanaut Company, complete with hazard suits for high altitude combat, if they can only ever fight when they are disembarked and standing on the ground?
On top of this, the ships were rather expensive points-wise, and went down easily because of less than impressive Save characteristics, which, while pretty much in line with how often they break or malfunction in the Black Library stories, made it hard to justify including them in your army lists.
All of this lead to what I think was problem number one for the Kharadron Overlords before the new battletome:
Ships weren’t filling out the role they were supposed to, and as such, competitive army lists were lacking interesting options.
This was made worse by problem number two:
The army had only one choice for filling out the Battleline slots in a Matched Play army.
The Arkanaut Company is a pretty cool unit visually, but having to field 3 units of them no matter what other plans you had for your 2000 point list felt very restraining.
Kharadron players figured out ways to cope, of course:
One of the special weapons of the Arkanaut company, the Skyhook, was pretty good, and the rules were written so that you could include 3 of them per 10 models (even though 3 skyhooks weren’t included in one kit), so since you had to take Arkanauts anyway, lists with 40, 50, 60 Arkanauts with Skyhooks dominated for a while.
These lists were often buffed by the one hero of the army that was really, really useful, namely the Aether-Khemist, who could give a unit +1 to attacks on one of its weapons.
This buff was also often given to large units of Endrinriggers, one of the only Kharadron units with a melee weapon worth giving a +1 to attacks to.
Kharadron Overlords lists were way too often about spamming a very narrow selection of units and giving them a lot of attacks.
There wasn’t much list-building diversity in this, it could be boring to play and play against because of shooting phases that took ages, and these lists didn’t win any tournaments to speak of.
And I haven’t even gotten into the troubles around the Thunderers unit, one of the only units to have their warscroll rewritten before Age of Sigmar 2.0, so rules-wise, the situation was not good
Over the General’s Handbook seasons of 2018 and 2019, Games Workshop tried to fix the army, mostly by making Skyvessels cheaper, but it didn’t really change the fundamental problem that you couldn’t play the army the way you imagined it in your head when looking at battletome art or reading stories about the Kharadron.
The community still survived, for what’s a duardin community without grudges, complaint and grumbling?
For the longest time, I had marked the Kharadron “somewhat unsafe to buy” in my AoS armies overview, in anticipation for a new battletome for them.
And finally, it was the Kharadron Overlords turn to get a battletome!
I am happy to report that, unless you really insist on being a grumbly sky-duardin about it, almost all of the problems have been addressed by the new battletome.
Kharadron Overlords Lore Changes in the new battletome
The background lore of the Kharadron Overlords didn’t need a lot of changes.
One of the high points of the first Kharadron battletome was how detailed Kharadron society was described, and the army was one of the first to get dedicated rules for subfactions and more than a few lines of background story for each of them.
The Kharadron are the descendants of the last duardin of the Realm of Chamon, who took refuge above the clouds when the forces of Tzeentch swept across the realm during the Age of Chaos.
They now live in floating Skyports and travel the skies, where they trade, fight and search for anything they can turn into profit.
Unlike most other factions in Age of Sigmar, they are not an army per se.
They have plenty of firepower, but their only real military is the mercenary Grundcorps, an elite fighting force that anyone can rent for their journeys.
Their other units are privateers, engineers, expedition ships, adventurers and scientists, who have had to learn to fight to survive in an extremely dangerous environment.
Also unlike most other factions in the game, most of the Kharadron are uninterested in magic or the gods. Instead, they live by the Kharadron Code, a set of rules made as a compromise between all the skyports – which in turn is full of footnotes and amendments. Each skyport interprets the Code in their own way.
All of this was already established in the original battletome, so the Kharadron Overlords battletome is one of the few battletomes among the AOS 2.0 remakes where the changes in lore are few:
The subfactions were already there, so there was no need to come up with lore reasons for new ones.
What the new battletome does is add to the lore in a much better sense of how the Kharadron interacts with the world around them.
When they were first revealed, most of the Skyports were located in Chamon, and we didn’t know much about their politics in practice, apart from a focus on trade and a general alignment with Order.
Since then, the Necroquake has happened:
Nagash, the Lord of the Undead, released a great wave of necromantic magic across the Mortal Realms which messed up everything magical in a big way.
Normally, the Kharadron don’t care about magic (there are more than a few hints that many of them don’t really believe in it), but the new battletome details how the Skyports have reacted to this wave of Death magic.
The Grundcorps have established anti-magic units called Black Marines, which I can’t wait to make some conversions for, and the flow of aether-gold, the substance that powers all Kharadron technology (and is absolutely magical if you ask anyone but the Kharadron) has changed so much that expeditions for aether-gold are now underway across all the realms.
It’s a very elegant way of spreading out the Kharadron and giving players reasons for their skyvessels to travel to other realms than Chamon.
Another addition to the lore is the stories about how the different Skyports have different allegiances:
Barak-Urbaz have decided that the Stormcast Knights-Excelsior are their sworn enemies after a confrontation where the Stormcast wouldn’t take a bribe to let the Skyvessels of the skyport through a pass, and other skyports trade openly with the Ossiarch Bonereapers or the Ironjawz.
Finally, the new artwork in the Kharadron Overlords battletome gives us something we’ve never had before:
Actual art of what a Kharadron duardin face looks like. In the original battletome, the only time we saw a Kharadron outside of one of their arkanaut suits was an image of an aether-khemist with his tattooed back turned to the viewer.
In the new battletome, there is a small portrait for a famous member of each of the skyports, and there are even two female Kharadron among them.
They look quite different from traditional duardin with pale skin, tubes coming out of noses and tons of facial tattoos. This should make for good inspiration for mask-less Kharadron armies that don’t just look like they are Dispossessed fantasy dwarfs.
Looking for more AoS lore?
New rules in the Kharadron Overlords Battletome
The Kharadron Overlords lore didn’t really need any fixes, but the new battletome makes it come even more alive than before.
However, the best thing about lore in the new book is not found in the lore section, but in the way the rules have been changed to better represent the life and values of a Kharadron Overlords unit.
If you want a complete picture of all the new rules, allegiance abilities and artifacts, there are plenty of reviews out there on both blogs and Youtube (or you could buy the book), so I will focus on some of the highlights here:
Kharadron lore revolves around how everything they do is done to turn a profit. This is finally integrated into the rules:
Every Hero, every Skyvessel and every unit with more than 10 models start the game with 1 share of aether-gold, which can be spent to activate a Triumph.
A Triumph is a bonus from the games core rules (or General’s Handbook if you’re playing Matched Play, which has 3 additional Triumphs) that an army can choose if their army has a lower points value than that of their opponent.
When a unit uses aether-gold, it must subtract 1 from its Bravery statistic.
Lore-wise, this is brilliant.
The Kharadron are out to gather aether-gold, which can both power their technology or be sold for profit.
As such it makes sense that if they use it to get a boost, their Bravery will decrease since they aren’t bringing that aether-gold home as part of their cargo.
In the game, it gives Kharadron players a lot of flexibility.
A triumph used by spending aether-gold will let you reroll hit, wound or save rolls once for one unit per phase, which means that you can improve a unit’s efficiency without spending a command point or having a Hero nearby.
The downside to this ability is that a unit must subtract 1 from its Bravery characteristic every time it uses a piece of aether-gold.
This means that the Kharadron Overlords must depend on abilities that let them ignore Battleshock tests to mitigate this.
They have plenty of ways to do this, but it takes up space that could be used for other artefacts, command traits and hero abilities. Nevertheless, it’s a great way to give the army a system for rerolling rolls, something they had very little access to before.
New Skyvessel Rules
The Skyvessels, meaning the Ironclad, Frigate and Gunhauler, have gotten new rules for how they fly and transport units.
Flying Transport replaces the old transport system with the Garrison rules from the Age of Sigmar Core Rules.
This means that units that are transported inside a Skyvessel can now shoot and fight in melee from within the ship, and can also be targeted by enemies (but at a disadvantage).
This increases the survivability and mobility of Kharadron infantry a whole lot, and makes for a great number of new tactical options.
It can’t be used for objectives, though, as units garrisoned within a ship don’t count for holding objectives.
The only real downside to this compared to how transports worked before is that you can’t setup a Skyvessel and its passengers as a single drop in the setup phase anymore.
You have to setup the Skyvessel first, and then setup each unit that will garrison in it as separate drops.
This means that a Kharadron Overlords army now relies much more on battalions to keep its number of drops low if it wants to take the first turn.
Disengage lets the Skyvessel and its passengers retreat and shoot in the same turn if they’re not near any enemy flying units.
This again increases survivability and gives you more tactical options.
While being able to have units shoot from inside the Skyvessels is a welcome change, Fly High is probably the new rule that has the greatest impact on how Skyvessels are used in the game.
Instead of making a move, a Skyvessel can be removed from the board and set up more than 1 inch from scenery and more than 9 inches from enemy models.
The Frigate and Ironclad can only do this if they have taken less than 7 wounds, while the Gunhauler is always able to do it.
This is a wonderful ability that lets your ships engage in many different encounters over the course of a game, and your flying units such as the Skyriggers, the new Endrinmaster with Dirigible Suit and even Brokk Grungsson himself can tag along with a teleporting Skyvessel if they are within 6 inches of it when it takes off.
Since this allows you to set up, say, a unit of Skywardens, a strong flying hero and a Skyvessel stuffed with Grundstok Thunderers within both charging and shooting distance of any enemy unit on the board, and then even use aether-gold to get a reroll on some attacks, Fly High lets you make some pretty reliable surgical strikes on key enemy units.
There are many ways to counter this with screening units and so on, but it is a lot better than what Kharadron Overlords had before.
New Battleline options
The rules for the different Skyport subfactions have generally improved, to the point where it now feels like you choose to play Kharadron like you would choose a race in a role-playing game, and then choose a Skyport like you would choose a class.
This is most directly visible in the way different Skyports give access to using different units as Battleline.
In the previous battletome, Arkanaut Company was your only choice for Battleline, but now Frigates are Battleline in a Barak-Zilfin army, Gunhaulers are Battleline in a Barak-Urbaz army and Thunderers fill the slot for Barak-Nar.
On top of this, taking the new Endrinmaster with Dirigible Suit as your General makes Endrinriggers and Skywardens Battleline.
This means that each Skyport has at least three (Arkanaut Company, Endrinriggers, Skywardens) and possibly four Battleline options depending on how they build their army.
It doesn’t neccesarily mean choosing one of the new options is always best, as Arkanaut Company has gotten better in some ways, but where list-building for Kharadron Overlords could sometimes feel like figuring out which heroes you wanted to bring on top of what everyone else brought to a standard Kharadron list, there is now more options than I can quite figure out how to navigate – which is a good thing.
Great Command Traits and Artefacts for each hero
There are way too many of these to mention them all here, but many of them really adds character to your hero, often giving them brand new abilities of battlefield roles.
Here are a few of my favorite examples:
The Arkanaut Admiral, Endrinmaster and Aether-Khemist all have access to Grudgebearer, which is a Command Trait that lets you pick an enemy Hero and have your own General do double damage to that Hero throughout the game.
This encourages players to hunt down enemy wizards and other key enemy Heroes and take chances to make that cool duel between legendary warriors happen.
It might seem tempting to put this command trait on a Hero with a big hammer with high damage values (because it’ll be a good story to tell later), but turning the Aether-Khemist’s 3d6 ranged attacks into Damage 2 against a hero that you know is going to charge you is also a good option for making the Khemist more useful.
Or put it on the new Endrinmaster with Dirigible suit, let him hitch a ride with a Skyvessel to just outside of 9 inches from the enemy Hero, unload your double-damage ranged weapons and then charge and do the same with your melee weapons.
The Aetheric Navigator has access to an Artefact called Svaregg-Stein ‘Illuminator’ Flarepistol that lets you reroll hit rolls for attacks made by anyone in your army for the first target the Navigator’s Ranging Pistol scores a hit on in the same shooting phase.
This artefact isn’t going to flip the meta on its head or anything, but I love it because it turns a more or less useless weapon on a Hero that rarely fights on the front line into something that could actually turn the tide of a battle with a glorious countervolley of gunfire on some melee units closing in.
If the Navigator is garrisoned inside an Ironclad when its pistol hits the first target, it also turns an already awesome gunship into a steampunk Star Destroyer for one shooting phase.
The Endrinmaster with Dirigible Suit has an Artefact called Aether-injection Boosters, which is a good example of how an artefact can change the way a Hero plays. It lets the Endrinmaster use Fly High and Disengage like the Skyvessels (it uses the rules from the Gunhauler, specifically).
This means that if you pick this Artefact, your (potential) General can now teleport around the battlefield as well as retreat and shoot in the same battle round!
I have saved the best one for last, of course!
I have done this in part because it is the Artefact that has already gained the most attention across other reviews, Kharadron community pages and so on, but also because it would have overshadowed the other examples in this list if it had gone first:
The Aether-Khemist, who in many other ways has taken a bit of a hit to its usefulness (see below), has one of the most glorious Artefacts ever seen in Age of Sigmar:
Spell in a Bottle lets you pick an Endless Spell (for your non-Magic sky-duardin steampunk army), pay the points for it and then cast it once, automatically and your opponent can’t unbind it!
This is a silly idea with a lot of tactical depth for those who know their way around the Endless Spells in the game, but it gets truly crazy because you can pick any Endless Spell from any army in the game.
Yep, a single industrious Duardin Hero can have access to one of the 52 Endless Spells in the game as, I think, the only Hero in the entire game.
You can only use it once per game, of course, but just go to the Kharadron Overlords Facebook fan page and take a look at how many fun combos people have come up with for using this Artefact.
It’s the kind of game design that can really bring out the best in list-builders and combo nerds, or give the narrative gamers a cool hook for the background story for their army (what have they had to go through to capture a Wildfire Taurus or a Dreadful Visage in a bottle?)
Changes in Playstyle for Kharadron Overlords
All of the new options for the Kharadron Overlords have brought them much closer to playing like one would expect them to from reading their lore and looking at their miniatures.
Many Kharadron Overlords army lists played with the previous Battletome were centered around two or three strategies:
An early favorite was the “Clown Car”, where a player would load as many hard-hitting units as they could into an Ironclad, using the Barak-Zilfin Skyport’s old ability to teleport one Skyvessel up the board, and then unloading all your firepower on an essential enemy unit in an alpha strike.
Another popular option was to take as many Arkanaut Company units as you could and give them 3 skyhooks per 10 models, as this was one of the most effective ranged weapons in the army, and you had to take Arkanauts as battleline anyway.
Finally, Endrinriggers were considered to be one of the only decent melee units in the army, so many lists brought as many of them as they could.
Most of the mechanics underlying these earlier strategies have changed now:
Barak-Zilfin no longer has the deep-striking ability, but that doesn’t matter since all the ships have the Fly High rule now.
Also, the new transport rules don’t give the Clown Car list the advantage of setting up most of your army in one drop by putting all your units in an Ironclad.
This means that many more lists will now be built around teleporting with the Fly High Rule, but with much fewer units in each Skyvessel, and with good incentives for bringing multiple ships with different garrisons.
The Arkanaut Company list is probably the one we are going to see the least new versions of.
Arkanaut Company can only take 1 of each of their special weapons per 10 models now (which means that the options on their sprues now match what they can actually use in the game), and while their points cost have been reduced and their Save characteristic improved, I think the new Battleline options means we will see many Company-free lists for a good while yet.
Their special weapons are also much less reliable, since the Aether-Khemist can no longer give them +1 Attacks.
The change to how the Aether-Khemist works also changes the usefulness of the “Balloon boys”-lists with a ton of Endrinriggers.
Their melee attacks still hit hard, but with only 1 attack per model rather than 2 when buffed by a Khemist, they are much less reliable as an Alpha Strike unit.
However, the new Endrinmaster with Dirigible Suit makes the Endrinriggers (and Skywardens) battleline, so you can definitely build some interesting lists around them if you want to.
So what will replace these strategies? It is still too early to tell which lists will dominate among competitive players, but a safe bet would be that at least three big changes will occur:
- Kharadron playstyle will shift from being very Alpha Strike focused to a much more adaptable style based on harassing and outmaneuvering your opponent. Skyvessels will be used widely and in many different roles. This means that the army becomes more difficult and micromanagement-based to play, so if you just wanted a duardin gunline army, you are probably better off with building something from a Cities of Sigmar allegiance. Kharadron Overlords is still very much a shooting army, and has become even better at it, but it is always about combining shooting with planning and movement.
- Ironclads with big units of Thunderers is likely to be one of the army’s main sources of damage, but they will not be accompanied by Khemists, as their buff doesn’t work on garrisoned units.
- Battalions will be taken more often to minimize drops, and they will often be combined with the right Skyport to take maximum advantage of their composition. Barak-Urbaz, for example, can take 3 Gunhaulers, an Ironclad and 5 Thunderers as a Grundstok Escort Wing Battalion, which fills their Battleline since they can use Gunhaulers for that, and then still have 780 points to spend for a 2000 points army. A Barak-Zilfin army, which can take Frigates as Battleline, can fill them with objective-holding Arkanaut Company in the Iron Sky Attack Squadron, and the rest of us can take the Iron Sky Command battalion which can now include the new Endrinmaster with Dirigible Suit.
All in all, the new Battletome has made the Kharadron Overlords playstyle a lot more varied, complex and interesting, both for the player who has more options, and for the opponent who doesn’t always have to suffer through endless dice-rolling in the shooting phase because the biggest units have been buffed with +1 attacks.
Kharadron Overlords Models: Winners and Losers with the new book
With such sweeping changes to an army that actually sold really well originally, what models in your collection are now less useful, and what models should you consider dusting off for a new flight?
Here are a few suggestions for the winners and losers across the Kharadron overlords model range:
The Grundstok Gunhauler
The Grundstok Gunhauler was always a beautiful model, but there was no real incentive to put it on your army list.
This has all changed. The cute little fighter-bomber can now Fly High, Disengage, has better shooting (with two firing modes for its Sky Cannon for long and close range).
It can also take wounds for other Skyvessels on a 6+ without suffering those wounds itself.
It even has a boatifact (the silly new unofficial community name for the artifacts Skyvessels can take) that lets it transport 5 models. The Skyriggers can also teleport along with any Skyvessel they are close to when they Fly High, which makes the Gunhauler usable as their “transport”.
The Grundstok Thunderers
The shooting of Grundstok Thunderers hasn’t improved that much (it was already good), but they now have 2 Wounds instead of 1!
This combined with their new Drive them Back! rule that gives them +1 Attacks in shooting against enemies within 3 inches gives them a much better shot at surviving when holding an objective, which is something they will have to do more often in armies where they form the Battleline.
BONUS winner – The Start Collecting: Kharadron Overlords box set
Everyone was a bit confused when the Start Collecting box for Kharadron Overlords was released.
It included a Gunhauler (which nobody used), 5 Thunderers which was okay, 3 Skyriggers that everyone had a use for, and the Endrinmaster.
That meant it was the first starter box to include exactly zero Battleline units. How was that meant to help anyone start collecting the army?
Well, that has all changed now, as the box now contains 3 out of 5 possible Battleline choices for the army, and if an Endrinmaster with Dirigible Suit is your General, you can use 2 of those choices in your army.
The Aether-Khemist has gotten some new Artefacts that can make it fun to play, but the buffs it can give has changed from giving +1 attacks to one weapon in a unit and -1 attacks to enemies in melee to a reroll of wound rolls of 1 for 1 friendly unit and a -1 to hit rolls for enemy models in melee.
It’s still a nice buff/debuff, but it can’t be used on units in a garrison (ie in a Skyvessel), and the Aether Khemist just doesn’t have the survivability or firepower to hold his own, either.
I think I will still bring mine in most army lists for the Spell in a Bottle, but his glory days are over.
They have become cheaper, their Save has improved and they can now reroll battleshock tests when they are wholly within 9 inches of an objective, but they have definitely gone from an automatic inclusion in any list to something you fill out battalions with or use to hold back objectives.
My final verdict on the new Kharadron Overlords Battletome
So, did the Kharadron Overlords get the overhaul they needed?
Yes, yes they did.
Their playstyle has changed to fit the lore.
The army has many more options for building interesting army lists.
The new lore is great.
There are very few things to criticize in the new book that can’t be handled with an FAQ or a points update later. What can be criticized, though, is the rollout of a new Hero, The Endrinmaster in Dirigible Suit, who is almost essential to many lists, but only available in a limited box set. I hope it gets a separate release very soon (heroes from the earlier box sets finally released, but it took a while).
One could also argue that many of the issues that were fixed in this Battletome were issues that should have never occurred in the first place, but since The Kharadron Overlords was such an imaginative and innovative army release originally, and since I love the design strategy Games Workshop has of starting with the miniatures and then making the rules, I can forgive it now that we have a great new Battletome – even if it was a long wait.