A few weeks ago, I did a video talking about how the Cubicle 7 roleplaying games were a great way to learn about the lore of Warhammer 40k, Age of Sigmar, and the Old World. Understanding the lore better is a great way to level up your gaming experience. It can provide great hobby inspiration and really help turn those games into a narrative experience.
In this video, we’re going to look at the Gnarlwood, a mysterious forest located in the Realm of Ghur in the Age of Sigmar setting. We’ll explore the background of the Gnarlwood, including its history and inhabitants, and we’ll talk about the locations near the Gnarlwood that your warband might come from or may have traveled through to get here.
Much of that will come from the Soulbound Era of the Beast book. Then we’ll get into the Gnarlwood itself, picking apart all the info we have for the numerous locations within the Gnarlwood. A lot of this will come from the various Warcry background books that come with the boxes.
Before we dive into the Gnarlwood, let’s first look at the Realms. Age of Sigmar released in 2015 as GW’s new fantasy setting. The core idea around this setting is that it exists within a multiverse. You’ve probably heard the term from Marvel. If you’re a fan of D&D, you might be familiar with Planescape, but if we go a little deeper, we get to Michael Moorcock, a writer who is credited with first using it in the sense we do today. He is also the inspiration for the classic battle between Order and Chaos that features across so many of Games Workshop’s work, so we’re into some good stuff. The planes, or realms are result of the battle between Chaos which presents infinite possibilities and Order which takes possibilities and makes them a reality.
In the Age of Sigmar setting, we have eight Mortal Realms, each of which is colossal in scale and would take ten lifetimes to travel from the centre to the edge. At the edges of these realms, reality starts to break down, so inhabitants tend to stick to the centre, which is where the maps we normally see are located. Although some realms may favour certain races, you can usually find a mix of races throughout any of the realms. These realms are colloquially known as the Realms of Heaven, Fire, Death, Life, Light, Darkness, Metal, and the one we’ll be looking at today: the Realm of Beasts.
The Realm of Beasts, also known as Ghur, is a wild and untamed land full of dangerous creatures. The realm is known for its sprawling wilderness, vast mountain ranges, and treacherous jungles. In this land, everything is hunter or prey, and there is always something bigger in the food chain. The majority of the inhabitants of Ghur live in tribes with hunting cultures. This includes feral human tribes, ones dedicated to the ruinous powers, Orruks, and Ogors.
There are, however, some civilized parts of this realm, as the mortals of Free Cities struggle to find a home in the realms. The greatest of these is the city Excelsis, which has withstood numerous attacks. To aid in its defence, it has Stormcast from the Knights Excelsior, Sons of Mallus, and Knights of the Aurora, along with numerous Freeguild regiments. They are needed as it sometimes seems the land itself is trying to fight off these settlements. It is not surprising when you realize the continent Thondia is attempting to eat Rondhol, having already partially digested the southern continent.
The scale of this continent is immense; to get from Excelsis to the Glossom Crevasse to its west is said to take several hard weeks of travel. I have not seen the scale actually detailed anywhere, but I think we’re looking at fitting North America in Thondia alone 4 or 5 times. Luckily, we still have Realm gates, magic, and Kharadron sky ships to help us get around.
The Gnarlwood is a dense forest located in the heart of the Realm of Ghur. The forest is known for its twisted trees, thorny underbrush, and dangerous wildlife. Most notable of these are the Gnarloaks which you will see in the scenery in the Warcry boxes. These predatory trees more resemble bundles of muscle than tree trunks and have sharpened branches that can impale and barbed vines that ensnare. Although slow and relatively easy to avoid, they prey on any creatures that might slumber nearby, going as far as to uproot themselves to stalk their prey and feast upon their blood. The Gnarloak is but one of the many plant-based predators within the forest. There are shrubs that hunt like wolf packs, vines which will drain blood, and flowers whose pollen are deadly poisons.
The Gnarlwood contains some of the largest and most aggressive of these Gnarloaks, along with multiple other predatory plants. This has been made worse by a Seraphon Void-Ship known as the Eye of Chotec, which crashed into the eastern area of the Gnarlwood. This crash caused the ship’s realm engines to malfunction, creating a surge in growth in the surrounding forest. In this video, we’ll mostly be focusing on the above ground, but the roots of the Gnarlwood do create a warren of tunnels beneath it all, which is where the Underworlds warbands fight.
To the east is the Bloodgullet Mawpath. A mawpath describes the path of destruction the Ogors take during their hunts. The middle is the tribe’s home, and as they ravage the nearby areas, the circle ranges further and further out.
To the west of the Gnarlwood is The Craw, the city many seek adventure in the Gnarlwood will end up. It is a coastal town built into the cliff walls of the Mawblight coast. It is protected by the Astral Templars stormcast who are based out of Templia Beasthall just south of the Gnarlwood.
Unlike the typical image of Stormcast, these are the heroes of savage hunter tribes and continue their tradition of mounting the heads of fearsome monsters they have slain.
To the north of the Gnarlwood is Urscht’s Kill mountain range. Ursricht, also known as the White Bear, was a godbeast who could take the form of a white-bearded human. He is said to stalk these mountains every three hundred and thirty-three years and is revered by the Astral Templars who often wear white bear fur in his honour.
The tallest of the mountains in this range is Twinhorn Peak, which once was a powerful Seraphon prison that held the god Kragnos but now bears a huge hole in its side where Kragnos burst free. The area is now considered a holy place to the followers of Kragnos and is teeming with Maw-krushas, Ghorgons, and herds of Beastmen.
Further to the east is Vexothskol, once a beautiful mountain city of the Draconith empire. It was destroyed by the god Kragnos and his centaur armies. It now plays host to the Jade Obelisk who have been destroying the remaining statues of the Dracolith. The battle against the Spider-fang Gloomspite Gitz and their giant spiders.
Alright, let’s get into the Gnarlwood itself.
In addition to the flesh-eating plants, the Gnarlwoods does have tribes that live within the forest. Terrifying as it might be, if you can work out how to survive in there, then you’re safe from the beasts that roam on the great continent. It is a vast and perilous carnivorous woodland, inhabited by countless bands of vile Gor-kin and warped Sylvaneth who delight in slaughter. Perverse rites echo through the boughs on ill-omened nights, and dark things shamble through the shadows.
This is the map from the Bloodhunt box set. We can see lots of different locations marked across the Gnarlwood.
To start making sense of this, the first thing we need to know about is Anorio ven Talax, who was a human explorer who discovered the ruins of the crashed Seraphon ship. There he found caverns of polished gold, giant jewels, and magical artifacts of incredible power. He didn’t have long there, however, and was quickly driven off by the Seraphon defenders. He popularized the ‘Legend of Talaxis’ and named the ruins after himself, urging others to recover the remaining treasures. In Excelsis, he managed to organize a second expedition, which was lost. So on this map, Ven Talax’s path is the original route he took, and Camp Fortune is the remnants of his second expedition.
To the south of that is the Tainted Wood. That is a region within the forest marked by totems and shrines of bone where heathen warriors perform gruesome rituals, sacrificing prisoners to the corrupted trees. The Gnarloaks have been corrupted by a strange affliction, resulting in gnarled trees with tentacles and the appearance of rotting flesh. The borders of the Tainted Wound are marked by monstrous, half-living totems and shrines of sinew-lashed bone that radiate the warping energies of Chaos.
Count Moltaire is a Soulblight noble who has created a hunting lodge within the Gnarlwood. Frok here he ventures out on hunts with evenings spend toasting with goblets of blood. Those of his retinue less interested in hunting have found sport sending waves of undead to attack the nearby Tolemar.
Slayers Cliff and Strongpoint Tolemar are both Sigmarite strongholds. The Astral Templars established Slayer’s Cliff, a lodge-keep around the perimeter of the Gnarlwood, to prevent the forest’s horrors from spreading. The lodge-keep was raised on the site where Lord-Celestant Rarjaf the Slayer defeated an Orruk warlord. It has served as a fortress against the threat of the Gnarlwood, but the strength of the Templars has eroded, and without substantial reinforcement, the God-King’s influence in the region may collapse entirely.
Grozzik’s Gouge is an unknown currently, the symbol is for the Kruleboyz but we have no other info on it. The next big box is for Stormcast versus Flesh-Eater Courts, so we’re not expecting to see a Kruleboyz warband but the Chaos Legionnaires didn’t come in a big box, so there’s always a chance we might see some warband boxes to round out the factions.
Over to the West, the Bloodmad Ravage is the setting of the most recent box set which has the Chaos warband the Claws of Karanak facing off against Vampire Askurgan Trueblades. The region known as the Bloodmad Ravage is a gruesome sight with red-stained ground and trees adorned with headless and mutilated bodies. The Khorne warriors are responsible for the destruction looking to bring war and carnage to the Gnarlwood.
The Askurgan Vampires style themselves as noble hunters who sake their thirst on the blood of powerful beast they hunt rather than innocent victims. The map here does have a section for the Bone Monasteries, this is a camp the Askurgan have created using the remains of monsters they have slain, the bones raised as structures to hold back the Gnarlwood. Ultimately, both the Claws of Karanak and the Askurgan Trueblades despite their very different philosophies are here for the same thing, carnage and blood.
Going North, the Great Stinkhorn is a mountain sized mushroom that sticks the forest for miles around. Underneath its cap dwell hosts of Gloomspite Gitz.
The Spinecrawler Webs are a deadly place where the corpses of garloaks are wound with thin threads to create a cat’s cradle of webs. This area is inhabited by Spinecrawlers, arthropods with a thousand legs that attach themselves to their victims’ backs, burrow through their armour and flesh, and extract the marrow from their bones. Those who enter the Spinecrawler Webs rarely ever return.
Over to the west, we have Deadfang’s Tower. In the Underworlds Gnarlwood box, we are introduced to King Velmorn, who was the king of the fortress-city Sentarion, which at one point lay on the edge of the Gnarlwood. This ancient kingdom kept the Gnarlwood at bay with fire and sword. But during the Age of Chaos, King Velmorn made a desperate gamble to save his people. It was in Deadfang Tower that he found the Tyrant’s Crown, said to grant the wearer power over life and death. However, it was cursed, turning him into a Wight King and slaying his sons, to rise them again as undead. So these ruins have been around for several ages; who knows who created them or what might still be there.
I’ve got nothing on Kraktoof Gulch, which is a shame as we haven’t seen any destruction warbands in the Gnarlwood yet, despite being in Ghur. The Bonesplitterz are briefly mentioned in the Rot and Ruin book from the first box, so this might be where they are based.
Moving over to Skinslough Fen, the Rotmire Creed was in the first box, and the Fen is a settlement of several warbands from the Creed. They have erected gruesome corpse-totems here to incubate horrible diseases and have them infect the surrounding waters. The Rotmire Creed was originally alchemists from Excelsis, but their terrible experiments had them banished into the wilderness where they found Nurgle waiting for them.
Drake’s Rest, again, is a bit of a mystery. The Runemark is Stormcast, for the Vanguard chamber who are the hunters. The Astral Templars seem to be based on the south and east side of the Gnarlwood, so this might be a new set of Stormcast. We do know we’re going to see more Stormcast for the final box in the series, so it’s possible they could be from here.
The Ogors of the Mawtribes have thrived in the Gnarlwood due to their unquenchable appetite and ability to digest gnarled oak bark. The Butchers have dug pits in select glades to honour the Gulping God, which have sprouted grasping tongues and rows of teeth, seemingly given life by the Ogors’ faith. They take great delight in throwing prisoners into the Eater-Pits.
The main point of interest in this forest of course are the Ruins of the Talaxis. This void ship was huge even by Seraphon standards and was tasked with keeping the powerful artefacts it contained out of the hands of mortals. The exact event that doomed this ship is unknown, but everything points towards the interference of the minions ofTzeentch.
Going over to the east, we get closer to the centre of things. The Wyrdlights are not a specific location, but rather an area where weird arcane lights are seen. The orbs appear to be some sort of manifestation of the changer of ways as the orbs spark mutations. Predators in the area are warped, and time is distorted beyond sense. Tribes of Tzaangors and the Jade Obelisk have settled in the area, attracted by the orbs’ magical emanations.
The Seraphon survivors of the Talaxis void-ship refer to the scattered wreckage around it as the Sundered Scales, and these ruins are often booby-trapped and defended by skinks. The ruins serve as a warning to anyone who might try to enter the core of the mega-structure, and those who do so risk being attacked by the ever-vigilant Seraphon guardians of the Gnarlwood.
Motzlpota was a Slann Starmaster who died when the void-ship crashed. A golden statue, created by Skink Priests, now stands in his place, overlooking the Sundered Scales. The statue has glittering eyes made of star-crystals that can blast the life out of impure creatures.
In the centre of the Gnarlwood are the Ravening Ruins, also known as Talaxis, the remains of the Eye of Chotec, with broken ziggurats and crystals that have not been overtaken by the forest. The outer ruins have enough magic to provide some protection, and explorers have built a settlement in the treetops called the Canopy of Starlight. The settlement is made of stone pillars and obsidian, strung together by vines and rope ladders. The ship was not meant for warfare but instead held precious archaeological relics recovered by the Slann and Skink acolytes. It was heavily defended by Saurus sentinels and glyph-wards. The cause of the crash is unknown, but there are indications of Tzeentch sorcery, the flames of which still linger.
While the precious gems and metals are no doubt worth a fortune, the real value of this ruin lies in the technology and artefacts contained. Tales tell of items that can forge objects from light, crystal-lined pools that can restore the dead to life, and vaults that can transport those who enter them to distant sections of the ruin in the blink of an eye.
We’ve yet to see if Games Workshop will let us peek inside the ruins, but even if they don’t, you could do your own temple complex. As this is a spaceship, you could even pull out the Kill Team Gallowdark scenery. Hopefully, we’ll see some Seraphon scenery with their upcoming releases. The Gnarlwood started as a cute way to sell some jungle scenery, but like the overall Age of Sigmar setting, this has really developed and turned into a pretty rich narrative. It’s up to you to work out how deep into the story you want to go. I’ve had a lot of fun playing campaign games without thinking about the story, but taking the time to get more into this has been a lot of fun.
Given the similarity between the crash of the Seraphon ship and Mordheim’s comet, I think the goal was to recreate that gem, and you know what, I think they did. The style is totally different, but it’s a pretty interesting setting. We’ve probably got only a few more releases before we get into a new season. Fingers crossed GW managed to stick the landing, and I look forward to what they do with the next setting.
If you have any comments or feedback please post them in the comments section below. Check us out on the Optimal Game State website, Mastodon, and YouTube channel for more discussion about the Games Workshop Specialist Games.