Architects of Fate
Gather now about the fire. Huddle close to its light, for this is a dark and terrible tale. A tale of how the Silver Tower was created. Here we chat to the miniatures designers, illustrators, playtesters and writers behind this exceptional game.
Veteran fans of Warhammer will know of John Blanche, whose atmospheric artwork has helped define the universes of Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 for decades. When it came to designing the characters and monsters for Silver Tower, John couldn’t resist drawing a few concept sketches for them. You can see his concept drawing for the Darkoath Chieftain below, with more over the page.
Heroes and villains
The first stop on our journey of discovery was the secret dungeon where the miniatures designers reside. There, lost in the gloom of ages, we sat down to chat with the sculptors who created the models for Silver Tower, among them Mark Harrison, Colin Grayson, Steve Buddle and David Waeselynck.
Ben Jefferson, one of the Citadel Miniatures Design Managers, set the scene and explains how his team created the heroes and villains of the Silver Tower.
Ben Jefferson: When we started getting ideas together for the Silver Tower project, the notion of a dungeon-bash style game, but given new life with distinctive Age of Sigmar elements, was easily the most popular. We’re all fans of Warhammer Quest here and a game with dungeons to be explored, monsters to be defeated and quests to be completed was just what we were after. This is the sort of project our designers love, too, because they get to work on loads of different miniatures, creating new characters and monsters you’ll never have seen before, like the Tenebrael Shard and the Ogroid Thaumaturge. Many of these characters required a lot of concept work to nail down while others, like the Stormcast Eternal and Fyreslayer Doomseeker, were based on imagery from their respective ranges.
Mark Harrison: I sculpted the Doomseeker soon after finishing the Magmadroth, so I was totally immersed in the background of the Fyreslayers at the time. I wanted him to be the epitome of his race, a mighty hero, which is why his body is covered in ur-gold runes. Rather than pose him in a traditional battle stance, I sculpted him striding cautiously forward, his pick raised as if lighting the way. That’s actually what the face on the pick is for – I imagine it glowing when the path gets dark. I also wanted him to look like he was away on campaign, hence his drinking horn and pipe. They’re little details that suggest he’s an adventurer, not a frontline warrior.
David Waeselynck: One of the characters I sculpted was the Knight-Questor. I was keen to emphasise was that he wasn’t fighting as part of his Stormhost any more, which is why he holds his blade in his left hand, not his right like every other Stormcast Eternal. He’s a loner now, a questing knight, and he no longer needs to protect the warrior to his right in a shieldwall, so he’s adapted his way of fighting. That’s what really carries the model, and explains him, his pose: it’s combative, ready to strike or move into a guard stance, which actually became a rule in the game.
Colin Grayson: I worked on the other devotee of Sigmar, the Excelsior Warpriest. He’s the religious counterpart to the Stormcast Eternal, which is why he wears more cloth than armour. He’s also not in a warrior pose, but standing with his hammer raised high as if he’s bellowing out a prayer. The Excelsior Warpriest was also a call back to the world-that-was and the Warrior Priests of Sigmar. He definitely shares some of the same imagery, such as the robes, the gavel-like hammer on his belt and the circlet around his head. He’s also an absolute giant for a normal human – easily seven feet tall – though, in the madness of the Mortal Realms, who’s to say what’s a normal height any more! He certainly towers over the Kairic Acolytes, who are regular-sized men.
David: The Darkoath Chieftain is also huge, though you’d expect that from a follower of Chaos. He’s the barbarian of the group and, just like the character in the original Warhammer Quest, he’s armed with a sword and an axe and doesn’t wear many clothes. I originally planned to sculpt him running forward, hacking and slashing at the enemy, but when I made the mock-up to get his size and musculature right, I liked the stoic pose more. It also matched John’s concept artwork (left) more closely and just felt right for the character.
Ben: It’s that sneer you sculpted on his face, it’s really menacing and arrogant. I imagine him standing in the entrance to a room, weapons ready, waiting for someone to come and fight him, like “Who’s first?”.
David: He’s not someone to mess with, no. You can see he’s covered in trophies already – an ogor shoulder pad, the skull of a Tzeentch creature, a Khorne rune on his belt. His armour isn’t consistent either, like he’s taken it from lots of defeated foes. He’s a really different miniature to the Mistweaver Saih, which I also sculpted. For her, I stuck pretty close to the concept sketch (above), but made a few changes to help establish her character. Firstly, I made her female, which isn’t immediately obvious in John’s drawing, and I also gave her a staff. In Warhammer, wizards need a staff or a wand, a magical locus, so that’s what she got. I also gave her a mirrored mask to give her a more enigmatic quality. You hope she’s beautiful behind that mask, but you really don’t know…
Ben: That’s part of the mystery of the two aelf characters. The Tenebrael Shard is unlike anything we’ve ever created. Feral isn’t quite the right word to describe him – ritualistic, maybe, or savage. He leads a very dark life. He’s certainly nothing like the elves of the past. Edgar Ramos sculpted him to look really lithe and arabesque, like a Wardancer, but juxtaposed that with loads of blades, chains, razors and barbs – his whole body is a weapon. When he kills you it won’t be painless, but it might be mercifully quick.
Steve Buddle: I didn’t sculpt any of the heroes, but I did get to do a lot of work on the villains. My first challenge was creating the Blue Horrors, which we wanted to look really grumpy and aggressive, flinging spells and fireballs all over the place. I also wanted to convey the impression that they’re transient beings, constantly changing their form, like magical blue fireballs with teeth. The Brimstone Horrors were spawned from their design, and they’re even more malevolent.
Mark: I sculpted the Pink Horrors. I envisaged them as Heralds, which is why they’re really fancy, like anti-heroes. I see them as the epitome of their kind, which is why I crammed every bit of Tzeentchian imagery I could onto them: multiple limbs, asymmetrical body, tentacles, bangles, rings, ritualistic dagger, feathers, nozzle-like flame fingers. It was quite a challenge!
Children of Chaos
Ben: Beastmen are the classic children of Chaos, so it seemed only right to include some of them in the Silver Tower. One thing we wanted to get across was that Tzeentch probably gives his minions a lot more attention than his brother gods, which is why the Tzaangors look a lot more opulent and sophisticated than regular Beastmen. It also gave rise to the question of whether they’re born as Tzaangors or whether they mutate into them. Knowing Tzeentch, it’s likely to be a combination of both, their bodies mutating until he’s pleased with their form. Edgar did a stunning job combining several feral creatures into each model, giving them weird, goat-like faces with beaks and human-ish bodies with extra-jointed limbs and talons for feet. They truly are made of Chaos.
Steve: The Kairic Acolytes were a joint project between myself and David. They are wizards in training, but still muscular, powerful warriors and it was a challenge combining those two elements. The unsettling mask was a key element in John’s illustration and the khopesh-style ritual blade was also a must-have. Their shields were based on the Tzeentch symbol, which is shaped like a flame (or a fish, depending on who you ask…).
David: I wanted the Acolytes to convey a lot of movement, like they’re twisting and turning into every attack. There was a debate as to how mutated they should be, but they’re the lowest minions in Tzeentch’s army so I settled for one small mutation: avian talons instead of feet, a classic Tzeentch mutation.
Colin: Don’t forget the Scuttlings! Those little critters were really fun to make. Goblins are a classic dungeon minion, as are spiders, so we decided to combine them together. The story goes that these grots started eating a weird fungus that grew on giant spiders, which, over time, caused them to mutate. It just goes to show that you are what you eat!
Ben: Then there’s the Gaunt Summoner and the Ogroid Thaumaturge, both designed by Brian Nelson. The Gaunt Summoner was an opportunity to define the look of Tzeentch on a mortal-ish creature. The Chaos Sorcerer Lord (also designed by Brian) was instrumental in the design, as was Vilitch the Curseling. We also like how this Gaunt Summoner is similar, but distinct from the one riding the disc. We want their silhouettes to be instantly recognisable, but you won’t necessarily know which of them you’ve encountered. The Ogroid Thaumaturge is the classic dungeon henchman, but with a twist. Not only is he a monster, he’s also a wizard. The tattoos on his body are riffs on the symbol of Tzeentch that shift and move as he casts his spells. His menacing pose is a real winner in my opinion. It’s like he was busy scrying when he heard the door creak behind him and the adventurers stumbled in…
Making of the Silver Tower
The second stop on our adventure through the Silver Tower was the glittering spires where the game’s creators dwell. There, amidst dusty scrolls and books with legs, we talked with James Hewitt, Tim Molloy and John Michelbach about bringing the game to life.
art The box cover for Silver Tower was created by Paul Dainton, whose work has appeared in scores of books over the years. The cover features elements that nod to the original Warhammer Quest box cover, but brought up-to-date with modern imagery and characters. The Gaunt Summoner, as lord of the Silver Tower, can be seen looming over the heroes as they battle through the Silver Tower. There was, of course, a decision to be made on who would take centre stage on the cover. The barbarian was the central character of the original game, but Stormcast Eternals are the main protagonists in the Age of Sigmar. In the end, they agreed to share the cover. Also note the mohawk contest taking place between the Ogroid Thaumaturge and the Fyreslayer Doomseeker on the right of the image!
James Hewitt: The Silver Tower project all began last year when a group of us got together to discuss the possibility of creating a new version of Warhammer Quest. There were nine of us in the meeting – auspicious, much? – and sitting on the table in front of us were the models that would be in the game. To say we were blown away would be an understatement. So we knew what we were working with, but the challenge was putting everything into context. It was like having a jigsaw but with no picture to show the end result. The Familiars are a great example of this – they’re incredible miniatures but we had no idea how they would become part of the game. It really was one giant puzzle. It was clear from the miniatures that Tzeentch was very much the architect behind the game, so we started coming up with loads of ideas about the setting and the story. Andy Clark (who is sadly on a quest killing Scuttlings this week) wrote the background for the game, and we quickly decided that the Silver Tower was not a traditional dungeon with dank corridors and mouldy crypts, but more of a fairground hall of mirrors where nothing is obvious, everything is weird and madness is all around. What could be more fitting for the Age of Sigmar?
Tim Molloy: We wanted the game to retain the classic feel of Warhammer Quest, with each player controlling a hero, fighting myriad enemies, picking up treasure, gaining experience and, ultimately, defeating the bad guy at the end of each quest. It was a fine balance keeping the classic feel but putting it in a new setting in the Mortal Realms and the Age of Sigmar. I did a lot of the book design, so it was fun mixing imagery from the old Realm of Chaos books with more modern artwork.
James: Before I started work on the game, I did a lot of research online to find out what people loved about Warhammer Quest and why so many people still play it 20 years after it came out. Interestingly, almost no one mentioned the rules – their posts were all about the epic adventures they’d been on, the stories they’d created while playing, amusing anecdotes such as how their all-powerful character had been killed by a Snotling, and so on. It was really heartening, actually, because it meant I could strip the rules right back and create a whole new game. The skeleton of Warhammer Quest is still there, but its body is the Silver Tower.
Warhammer Quest had two main modes of play. In one you had a deck of dungeon cards that you and your mates teamed up to explore, killing enemies as you went and stealing their treasure. Alternatively, you could play with a gamesmaster, who would create a story for the quest, plan out the dungeon and control all the minions. I wanted Silver Tower to be a combination of the two, where everyone could take part, but there was still an air of mystery to the game, where none of the players would know what was coming next. That was where the Adventure Book came in…
Tim: Ah yes, the Adventure Book… James couldn’t possibly have conceived a more complicated tome! It’s like a choose-your-own-adventure book where all the events are jumbled up – how very Tzeentch! We know people will want to skip ahead to see what’s going to happen next, but this way you can’t. The way the game cards, rooms and Adventure Book interact is very clever and you’ll genuinely not know what’s in the next room until you roll the dice. There could be blades coming out of the walls, exploding fungus, a gaggle of Blue Horrors or all of the above!
Treasure & Skills
James: Something we wanted to tweak from Warhammer Quest was what you did between dungeons – getting new weapons and equipment, for example. You rolled a few dice, maybe got a new sword, and your Barbarian got thrown out of a tavern, but the cool stories were the ones that happened in the dungeon, not outside it. That’s why we have all the treasures and skills appear as you play – it’s instant gratification and you can put them to good use immediately. John: It’s not like the characters can leave the Silver Tower after each quest anyway – they can’t just pop down the shops or nip out for a beer. They’re trapped, they’re not getting out, so we needed to have them gain experience during the quests and find new treasures along the way. The treasures are all pretty special, too, not something dull like the +1 Blade, or the -1 Shield. They’ve all got fun names and crazy rules. (A favourite here in the White Dwarf bunker is the Warpstone Bomb. – Ed)
John Michelbach: As the artist for the game, one of my first challenges was figuring out what the ‘board’ would look like. I say ‘board’ (with air quotes), because, like Warhammer Quest, we wanted Silver Tower to change every time you played, with new rooms appearing and disappearing all the time. Figuring out what the inside of a Silver Tower would look like took us to some very strange places and Dave Gallagher (another of the Studio artists) and John Blanche created some very surreal concepts. I then had to render them down into the designs for the tiles while still considering how the game would be played on them. We did a lot of playtesting as a group, constantly changing the designs of the boards and how the models interacted with them. We also had to consider the different quests and how the rooms would appear in each of them. Inevitably some rooms would appear in multiple scenarios, but we weren’t too worried about that. The Silver Tower is a really strange place and it seemed wholly appropriate that our heroes could step through a portal and find themselves in a room they’d already been in before on a previous quest.
James: We even joked about the heroes seeing another group in the distance, then realising it was them on another quest that was taking place at the same time.
John: Yeah, but that one of the group was missing! I made sure to include a few classic rooms from Warhammer Quest, too, such as the Fighting Pit. The twist is that this room does actually fight, slicing you up with jagged blades. The trick was to make the inner workings of a Silver Tower actually feel real and tangible, despite being a madman’s worst nightmare. I even snuck a little anarchy into the grid (the squares the characters stand in) so that it isn’t always neat and tidy. The intestines room is designed that way – it’s wonderfully confusing and awfully disgusting to boot.
Tim: What I love is that, despite how complicated the game was to create, it’s actually really intuitive to play. We endeavoured to make the rules as easy to understand and as quick to absorb as possible and the Guidebook is written in such a way that it feels like you’re being guided through each stage, like you’re being helped along by an unseen hand.
James: Yeah, a blue one with a dagger in it. We wanted the Guidebook to be read as a group, not that one person reads it cover to cover, then teaches everyone else. The book talks to you as well. Not literally, of course, but it addresses you as the adventurers, saying “You must roll these dice…” or “When you set up the room…”. It’s a lot more personal than our other games and it matches the tone Andy set for the background sections of the book. This isn’t just a game, it’s your adventure.
Tim: I really like how you’re dropped in right at the deep end, just like the heroes. At the start you’re not told what the aim of the game is, but you have to work it out as you go along. The funny thing is, the heroes think they have autonomy, that their actions are their own, but in the story they’re all being manipulated by the Gaunt Summoner. When you read the unexpected events in the Adventure Book you’ll notice they’re all written in the past tense, as if they’ve already happened. Which they have, in a way, because the book is recounting a tale, an adventure that has happened in the past and will happen again in the future and is probably happening right now. That’s the reason Andy was keen not to give the characters names, as there are many legends of the Silver Tower, not just one. The idea is that you create your own legend and that your hero develops as you play. That’s what the renown tracker’s for – enabling players to develop their characters.
James: The renown tracker also encourages you to play the way your character would act – you gain more renown if you play the part, essentially. We found it creates competition in the group, which is brilliant, because though you need to work together to win, you’re each secretly trying to become the most powerful. It’s not like the heroes are friends, anyway – there’s no love lost between the Knight-Questor and the Darkoath Chieftain. Interestingly, it was this competitive edge to the game that led to the rule that stops one player using all the destiny dice, wasn’t it, Tim?
Tim: Yes, that was me! I was playing as the Mistweaver Saih and I used all the dice in one of the playtest games. James soon put a stop to that.
James: Overall, I think we’ve had a blast creating Silver Tower. It’s been one of my favourite projects to date and we all put way more hours into it than was expected. I reckon the end result was worth it and I really look forward to hearing about the adventures people have playing it.