Retro-Hammer: Dark Shadows

Welcome to Retro-Hammer, the series here at Master of Magic that has a look at the long and varied history of Games Workshops product line to find some hidden gems. Since the worlds of Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 have been around for quite a while (and Games Workshop itself has been producing games even before these were a thing) it is unsurprising that there are a decent number of weird and wonderful things that have been produced by our favourite miniatures company.

With Age of Sigmar 3rd edition on the horizon, it seemed only right to look at something related to the more fantasy elements of the Warhammer hobby. But since the Mortal Realms are less than a decade old, it makes sense to instead look at the world that was and examine something from the long history of Warhammer Fantasy Battles.

Now it is no secret that I was always more of a fan of Warhammer 40,000 in my youth, but I did on occasion venture into the Old World from time to time for an adventure or two when the mood took me. One such occasion was the subject of todays Retro-Hammer, and an event that saw us all travel to a new and exciting land to explore what treasures it had to offer. No, we are not talking about jungles of Lustria, but rather the cold and very damp land of Albion and the worldwide event known as Dark Shadows.

The cover of Dark Shadows, featuring a Dark Emissary and his Fenbeast. 

Dark Shadows was one of those global campaigns that Games Workshop would do from time to time, where players would be invited to play games with their friends and at local stores, with the results been complied together at the end to decide on a canonical outcome that would have lasting effects on the world and its lore. Most players will remember the 40k version of these events like Armageddon and the Eye of Terror, but Warhammer Fantasy Battles also had its fair share of global campaigns.

The events of Dark Shadows saw the previously mist covered island of Albion become accessible for the first time since the age of the Old Ones, with all manner of forces descending on the land to discovers its secrets and stake their claim to it. Albion was portrayed as a land of bogs and marshes, where it was said to rain every single day (yes, Albion was supposed to represent the good old British Isles in this setting – mood). The land was also home to woad covered giants and humans that were led by a cast of warrior wizards who defended mighty Ogham Stones that bound the forces of Chaos to the northern pole of the world.

However, a being know as the Dark Master had risen in power and sought to destroy these stones to allow Chaos to again threaten the world. Aided by foul beings known as Dark Emissaries, the Dark Master (who spoiler alert was Be’lakor, because its always Be’lakor) drew many armies to Albion to disrupt the Ogham Stones and spread the influence of Chaos. But all was not lost, as the warrior wizards of Albion, known as Truthsayers, brought their own forces to the land in an attempt to halt the Dark Masters plan.

One of my personal favourite scenarios for the campaign was the first one you played. 

The campaign itself saw players play either regular games of Warhammer, or go through a six part campaign that saw them battle across the island in specialized scenarios that told the tale of their armies conquest of Albion. Battles would see you breaking through coastal defences with a beach landing against enemy artillery, fighting for control of Ogham Stones and Old One fortress, and even fighting off attacks from giants and other monsters if Albion. All this culminating in an epic battle for dominance on the Plains of Battles. Players would then register these results and the battles would then be totalled to find out the fate of the island.

Players would also have to contend with the bad weather of Albion, that would hamper their progress across the island during their games. This could be as small an effect as affecting your ballistic units, to grounding your flyers and even striking your forces with lightning. Players would also be able to add the evil Dark Emissaries and noble Truthsayers to their forces, as well as the enchanted creatures known as Fenbeasts to aid them in their conquests. These powerful mages were added to your army for free, and would not go against your hero total as the idea was to have them balance each other out (you would still have to pay to use Fenbeasts though).

The back cover of the campaign book, featuring the miniatures for the Dark Emissary, Truthsayer and Fenbeast.

I fondly remember playing in this campaign way back in 2001 with my then meagre Empire force, aided by a Truthsayer and his loyal Fenbeast. While I’m sure my dismal performance didn’t hamper the forces of evil too much, I still had a blast playing in this campaign with my friends and playing through the specialised scenarios together. In fact, I still think I have those miniatures somewhere, although I dread to think the condition they might be in. Maybe I have to dig them out and see if I can salvage them for my collection.

So that was the 2001 summer campaign, Dark Shadows. A fun and interesting time for the Warhammer Fantasy Battles setting a story. But what was the results of this epic battle for the fate of Albion I hear you cry? Well like most of these events, the ending was somewhat of a let-down. The forces of good triumphed, but only just. This meant that nothing really changed, as the status quo was upheld with no real change for the lore or the world at large, which was the standard for these kind of campaigns I’m afraid. GW would get better at implementing lasting consequences for its games in the years to come, but for now it would be a pretty lacklustre result for the narrative as a whole.

There was one good thing that came out of all this however, as the Dark Emissaries, Truthsayers and Fenbeasts would become Dogs of War units that you could include in your armies with point values and allegiances depending on whether you were seen as a force of good or evil. They would even get miniatures for the Warhammer epic scale game Warmaster, which were all kinds of cute. Seriously, look at the little Truesayer. He’s adorable. Overall, Dark Shadows was a fun and interesting little event that 17 year old James had a blast playing. Here’s hoping that we see the like of it again someday. Maybe as a part of the up coming Old World game? Fingers crossed for that.

He so small!

We hope you have enjoyed this dive into the retro past of Games Workshop’s product line. What would you like us to talk about next? Let us know in the comments below or find me on twitter @TenguPlaysGames and maybe we will talk about it next time.

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