Pages of Sigmar: What to Expect in the Next General's Handbook
With less than a week away till Warhammer Fest 2023, all eyes are on Games Workshop to debut the next season of Age of Sigmar, in the form of a new General’s Handbook! Continuing the tradition of opening these brand-new seasons with fanfare at one of their live events, the experiment of keeping Warhammer as an ever-changing seasonal game for tournament play has been a tremendous success. As something of a tournament grinder myself, this way of handling the game has overall felt quite good, with its main draw being the wide variance in army lists for any given faction, dependent on the season’s rules. In the past, we’ve had a focus on Monsters, Battleline, and now Sub-Commander-sized Heroes, so what could be next for our battles in the Mortal Realms? I’m here to provide a quick history, and offer predictions below!
The release of Generals’ Handbooks began with the launch of the very game itself, although they were more akin to the general editionwide rule releases that had prior taken place in other Warhammer properties. Unlike those, however, these first General’s Handbooks were yearly, and kept that trend throughout 1st Edition, and into 2nd Edition. These books hardly altered the game in any massive way, and were moreso an expansion of the core rules, for competitive play as one may expect. These included things like pitched battles, altered point costs, and generic enhancements and tactics/grand strategies, or, the very core of the game we know & love today. Instead, seasonality was started in the 2nd Edition via the Broken Realms books, which many still regard as the best way of ‘refreshing’ AoS on a regular basis, to date.
Broken Realms managed to do a variety of things, from moving the story along in a franchise known for a static setting, to giving underplayed armies new rules or subfactions. These books also often came with generic centerpiece models, or the introduction of new factions, from Kragnos, to Teclis (and Lumineth Realmlords as a whole). Despite this, Broken Realms failed to alter the strategies & lists employed by factions not mentioned in their respective book, meaning many had a ‘before-and-after’ effect, a single swap of a few units here, or a new subfaction there. For the game to drastically change season to season, we would need to wait for Thondia, and the advent of Age of Sigmar - 3rd Edition.
Our introduction to Thondia was a change of pace in Age of Sigmar: We went from narratives focused on a godly, or deified character, to that of a warring region & its shifting status quo. Season of War: Thondia, while not named ‘General’s Handbook’, would set the tone for future books in that series, greatly affecting Matched Play, with the knowledge it would go away after a few months’ time. Thondia brought us into the world of Monsters, introducing Monstrous Rampages into 3.0, and incentivizing players to bring them in droves, while those seeking to conquer such beasts might instead rely on Hunters of the Heartland, an all-too-common battalion that shrugged off Rampages without issue. This changed the course of 3.0’s early life, with cheap monsters like the Cockatrice & Mindstealer Sphiranx becoming instant staples, and factions relying on their unique terrain at an all-time low in power. Notably, the rampages associated with Thondia did not go away with the season, and counterplay for things like the Charnel Throne, or Herdstone, became a necessary piece of the puzzle.
After Thondia came General’s Handbook - Pitched Battles 2022-23-S1, or more commonly, GHB - Gallet. This was the second season, and now the book honed in on the opposite of massive, centerpiece monsters, in the form of low-wound Battleline. This season proved to be more divisive: The Bounty Hunter battalion was similar to Hunters of the Heartland, but instead of ignoring rampages, it gave the unit +1 Damage against Veterans. This unfortunately ended up being far more potent than any benefit the Veterans themselves might accrue, so this season became known for Battleline that weren’t low-wound, from Gore-Gruntaz, to Pusgoyle Blightlords, to Dragon Ogors. The game became a contest to see who might play the fewest possible Veterans, meaning factions who could literally not avoid having them (Fyreslayers, Daughters of Khaine) tended to fall by the wayside. In truth, this was a mistake Games Workshop was going to make eventually, insofar as the counter to the season’s ‘theme’ was much stronger than the theme itself, so there’s a silver lining to it being done early.
Finally, that brings us to the current General’s Handbook, 2022-23-S2, or GHB - Champions. Having played quite a few tournaments with this ruleset (albeit less than in S1) I’ve enjoyed this season, with its theme of small, on-foot heroes. By virtue of how AoS tends to support its armies, most factions have a ‘pity hero’ from a small release, and these heroes happen to be…on-foot, low-wound gamepieces. The counterplay battalion, as well, is less potent, being Galletian Sharpshooters, and while they’re ubiquitous it’s not so much a bonus to damage, as it is the very ability to shoot these small heroes in the first place. This has been a fun, engaging middle-ground, and frankly I’m impressed at the turnaround from S1.
That brings us to the upcoming season, which of course will have a ‘theme’, likely not repeated from a prior season. We’ve seen heroes, battleline, and behemoths touched upon, so I have two bets as to what they might tackle next: Cavalry, or Endless Spells/Invocations. Cavalry would be a tricky one, as many factions lack options in this unit type, although if the bonuses were reasonable enough, it could still work. In fact, a leak many months ago posited the current season, S2, would be Cavalry-focused, although that proved to be untrue. Who knows, though: There’s a chance they were merely late, rather than lying.
But my pick for the next season’s most likely theme is that of Endless Spells: They’re exciting, universal, and crucially, core to Age of Sigmar’s very identity. Introduced in 2nd Edition, Endless Spells are potent magicks that can be purchased during list building, and exist on the tabletop as faux-units, also coming as ‘Invocations’, for armies without wizards. Due to the fact that everyone can take them, and they represent much of AoS’s allure, I’m of the opinion that Endless Spells would be a perfect choice to focus on. Perhaps the counter-battalion could dispel them like a wizard? Maybe wizards who cast them get protection while they’re alive, or vice versa? There’s endless possibilities, and now that we’ve long since left the age of Bounty Hunters, I have faith Games Workshop will knock next season out of the park.
That’s our overview of Age of Sigmar’s past GHBs! What do you want to see the next season focus on? Would you want to see a return to the style of Broken Realms, or is the current way of doing things your favorite? I’d love to hear your thoughts, so go ahead and leave a comment below!