The release of Grand Alliance: Death is just around the corner, and we've seen a flurry of concern over which units from the two original undead armies will make it into the book. No-one knows for sure, but one thing that seems all but certain is that the Tomb Kings are not going to have much of a presence in the book, if indeed they are present at all. This has Tomb Kings collectors rattled, or 'deathrattled' if we're playing along with the amusingly hokey new naming conventions.
As someone who has followed the exploits of Games Workshop and its wider community for 20 years, often from the outside looking in, I can understand the concern. Ever since Warhammer 40,000's Squat army was unexpectedly erased from existence in the 1990s, the community has lived with the ever-present threat that something similar may happen again. This sudden cull created such discontent and anxiety that even today the term 'squatted' is used to describe an army, unit or concept being abandoned or discontinued by Games Workshop at a stroke.
While whole armies being dropped is thankfully a rarity, the constant cycle of replacement and renewal at the heart of the company's business model has meant that the loss of treasured units or special characters is relatively common, and speculation runs rampant with the leaking of every new army book or codex. Last year, with the destruction of the old Warhammer World and abandoning of the Fantasy Battles rules system that had been changed only incrementally since 1983, Games Workshop once again proved its willingness to employ a slash and burn methodology in order to give new ideas room to grow. Future generations of wargamers may well come to refer to the discontinuation of their favourite army or game as being 'End Timesed'.
Now, with the consolidation of Warhammer Fantasy's original undead armies into Age of Sigmar's Grand Alliance: Death, the same old fears are surfacing once again, like a horde of deadwalkers clawing their way out of the clammy soil of Shyish. The Tomb Kings have been squatted - End Timesed into oblivion. But have they really? What does it really mean to be squatted in the Age of Sigmar?
We know so little of Games Workshop's plans for the future of its new flagship fantasy game, but one thing that's becoming increasingly evident is that its strategy for keeping the system fresh has been completely overhauled. Unlike the system that preceded it, and its hoary old sibling Warhammer 40,000, Age of Sigmar looks to be doing away with many of the old conventions. The handful of rigidly defined 'armies' has been replaced with an endless parade of smaller factions, all capable of being intermingled according to the collector's whim. Obligatory 'army books' have been replaced with optional faction-specific battletomes.
With a streamlined set of core rules that are artfully separated from the rules that govern individual units, the necessity of updating or replacing these battletomes is significantly diminished. It would take a seismic shift in the core rules to invalidate existing warscrolls and (one could argue) the very simplicity of these rules makes such a shift far less likely. Every warscroll that exists today will always be playable. Isn't that a liberating thought? Finally, we can step off the army book treadmill, and renewal no longer automatically implies replacement.
So, how does this pertain to the current situation with Tomb Kings? Well, it illustrates that the situation today is very different to what it was in the 1990s (and indeed to what it was just one year ago). Squats stopped being a viable army because Games Workshop chose not to publish updated versions of their individual unit rules when the core rules changed for 3rd Edition 40K. It was literally impossible to play the current incarnation of the game with a Squat army. The Squat army was dead, and Games Workshop had wielded the axe.
As of right now, Tomb Kings have published warscrolls that are perfectly compatible with the core rules system. Neither the rules system nor the warscrolls are likely to be replaced any time soon. So what has changed? Why is there a feeling in the air that the Tomb Kings are being squatted? Quite simply, the thing that's changed is the arrival of something that looks very much like an army book, and the feeling in the air is the result of indoctrination. We have been conditioned over many decades of 'replacement and renewal' to automatically accept that something new invalidates something old. 'Grand Alliance: Death is an official Games Workshop publication featuring rules for undead units in Age of Sigmar; therefore, all previous publications featuring rules for undead units are invalid'. They are trash. They are history. They are the outdated army book on eBay that you can't even give away.
Amongst all of the speculation and the anxiety, it's worth remembering one thing; if the Tomb Kings are squatted, this time around it will be the community that does the squatting. It won't be due to the lack of warscrolls in Grand Alliance: Death, and we'll have no right to lay any blame or recrimination at Games Workshop's door. It will be due to the collective decision of the community that a newer publication automatically invalidates everything contained in a previous publication. This is not a self-evident truth. It's a choice.
Even if the Tomb Kings are written out of Age of Sigmar lore, and even if the model range is discontinued, I hope the community can shed the pre-Sigmar mentality that a unit which is no longer represented in the latest book is now 'invalid' and unusable. Even the widely used term 'legacy warscrolls' smacks of a certain dismissiveness, a sense that these rules were outdated before they were even published - dead on arrival. That they're a compromise to be tolerated until Games Workshop deigns to reveal the 'true' form that the army is 'supposed' to take in a glossy new book with a price tag to match. It's not really official if you're not being charged money for it, right? Wrong. Not even Games Workshop claims this. They never have. It's always been us.
The Tomb Kings scrolls are out there. They're valid. They're not going anywhere. This is our game, and Games Workshop has said as much - it's up to us to decide whether Tomb Kings continue to have a presence in our gaming clubs and tournaments, or disappear into the sands for the last time. I hope that the community, and more importantly tournament organisers, appreciate the responsibility they have - that we all have - to define what Age of Sigmar can be at this important crossroads. Do we stay stuck in the mentality of the past, or embrace the freedom and the future of Age of Sigmar?
This time, for the first time, the fate of a whole army is truly in our hands.