Dwarves are a stalwart of many fantasy universes, and Age of Sigmar is no exception. Dwarves in the Age of Sigmar universe are known as duardin, and there are three main types of duardin in Age of Sigmar: the Fyreslayers, the Kharadron Overlords, and the Dispossessed (which these days are part of the Cities of Sigmar faction). I have an army of each of these, so I thought I’d say a bit about why I like them so much, and what makes duardin better than those pesky elves (or ‘aelves’ in Age of Sigmar) who tend to steal the limelight.
What makes a duardin a duardin?
I’ve always been drawn to dwarves in fantasy literature and games, and this is very much true of duardin in Age of Sigmar.
Duardin in Age of Sigmar place a lot of importance on oaths and loyalty. This comes out in different ways across the different duardin factions: Kharadron Overlords hold to the letter of their binding trade contracts; while the mercenary Fyreslayers will fight to the death to fulfil their oaths to those that hire them, as long as they are paid on time. Duardin tend to have strong family bonds, and bear bitter grudges against those that wrong them. I like the narrative hooks that this provides: it’s easy to come up with reasons why duardin might be involved on either side of a battle or campaign, so you can figure out your army’s motivations without feeling caged in by their lore. There’s also a lot of scope to consider what happens when duardin fail to fulfil their oaths, or are cut off from their families. One of the Fyreslayer concepts I particularly like is that of the Doomseeker, a fyreslayer who has become outcast from their lodge and is on a quest to die in as heroic and legendary a way as possible.
Probably the most stereotypical duardin trait is that they are short, and as a very short person, this endears them to me a lot. There’s no pressure to be tall and graceful among duardin, and I feel like I’d fit right in.
Varied and inspiring lore
The three AoS duardin factions each have very different lore. Fyreslayers are mercenaries who hammer magical flaming runes into their skin to enhance their battle prowess, and are on a mission to collect as much gold as possible because they believe that it contains pieces of their long dead god, Grimnir. The Dispossessed are duardin who lost their homes during the Age of Chaos and now live in cities alongside other races, whilst their Kharadron cousins escaped the Age of Chaos by taking to the skies, and now sail between their skyports in huge airships.
Each of these backgrounds is very open to different interpretations. My Kharadron Overlords army background is tied into the ‘official’ AoS lore, as they are attached to the city of Tempest’s Eye, which is stated to have a Kharadron sky port. Before I decided that would be their background, I considered theming them as a safari company who earn gold by taking rich customers on tours of the Mortal Realms and helping them hunt dangerous monsters. I might still paint that army one day.
I like that duardin lore can be epic – Kharadron sail the skies in fleets of giant airships, Fyreslayer lodges seek to redeem an unfulfilled oath for generation after generation – but can also be very down to earth or even comic, particularly if you focus your army theme on the very simple question of ‘how do they earn gold?’.
There’s also a lot of scope to decide whether your duardin army will be upstanding citizens of the Mortal Realms, fighting back the forces of chaos alongside the rest of the forces or Order; or whether they will be mercenaries who will fight for any cause and don’t care about the fate of any but their own. You could also very easily make a duardin army that has fallen to chaos: a Khorne Fyreslayer army is on my bucket list of armies I’d like to paint one day. My Dispossessed force is an army of ghost duardin, who died back in the Age of Myth after marching to war against a Sylvaneth grove. They’ve risen up as ghosts in order to defend the forest, where their bones lie, against the forces of Chaos, and now fight alongside the Sylvaneth they once waged war on.
To sum up this section: I think that all of the duardin factions have great lore that inspires me to think of fun army themes for them, and has a lot of flexibility in how you can interpret it to suit your personal taste.
Different ways to play
The different armies also play very differently on the tabletop: Fyreslayers are one of the strongest combat armies in Age of Sigmar at the moment, as their Hearthguard Berserkers can destroy pretty much anything you throw them at. However, they’re also very slow and lacking in mobility, so you need to get your deployment right and have a plan for how you’re going to get them onto objectives.
Kharadron Overlords are the opposite: their ships make them extremely mobile, and they have a lot of firepower which makes them adept at sniping key enemy characters, but they crumble very quickly once they get into melee. Playing with Kharadron is all about figuring out where on the table your guns will have the most impact each turn, and when you need to risk leaving some units within charge range of the enemy to grab some precious victory points on an objective.
I’ve yet to play a game with my Dispossessed army as I painted them during lockdown, but I’m looking forward to getting them on the table when I can. They have more of a mix of shooting and melee combat than either of the other armies do, so they’ll play differently again.
Kharadron Overlords are the shining stars of the duardin model range for me: their airships are some of my favourite models in the whole AoS range, and I love their steampunk aesthetic and the metal beards on their helmets. They’re something completely different from dwarves in other fantasy game systems, and I really enjoyed painting my Kharadron army. I learned a lot about painting metallics, and also tried out some varied weathering techniques on the airships. I converted one of my airships to be a Celestial Hurricanum for my Tempest’s Eye Cities of Sigmar army, as can be seen in the picture below.
The Fyreslayer model range is very different, with a lot of bare skin and mohawks to paint. I like their aesthetic, though some people are understandably put off by how similar the different units and heroes end up looking. Fyreslayers do get magmadroths though, huge lava drakes who carry Fyreslayer heroes into battle, and are a lot of fun to paint. My first magmadroth is still one of my favourite paintjobs, and I’d like to paint some more so that I can run a four magmadroth army one day.
The Dispossessed model range is very traditional ‘fantasy dwarf’ style, with a lot of armour, hammers and shields. The models are quite old so the poses aren’t particularly dynamic, but I think they still hold up, particularly when you have a whole army of them arrayed on the tabletop glaring at the opposition.
The one negative thing I would say about the model range is that at the time of writing, there are no female duardin models in the Games Workshop range, despite a number of female duardin characters having been mentioned in the lore and in Black Library books. I hope this will be remedied in future, though there are some excellent female dwarf models available from other suppliers, particularly Bad Squiddo Games.
Why are duardin better than aelves?
I couldn’t write an article about why I love duardin without covering the important question of what makes duardin better than their traditional fantasy rivals, aelves. This is obviously very subjective, and I hope that an aelf-loving contributor will cover the counterpoint in a future article, but for my money here are three reasons why duardin come out on top.
- Duardin are straightforward and tell it like it is. You know where you are with a duardin, they are blunt-spoken and true to their word. Aelves are tricksy and tend to have more fluid loyalties.
- Duardin are easier to paint, or at least I find them to be so. Aelves tend to have a lot of gems, flowing banners, trim and fancy quivers; all things that I find hard to paint. Duardin models usually have well-defined component parts, and don’t need to look super clean and neat in order to look good.
- The duardin gods are much less meddlesome than the aelven ones. Grimnir’s sole interaction with the mortal realms so far is having a cool fight with a godbeast, while Grungni has largely left his people to their own devices. On the other hand, the aelven gods are currently playing starring roles in a series of books called ‘Broken Realms’, which is a rather ominous sounding title.
Thus far, we’ve not seen duardin play a major role in any of the big plot arcs of the Age of Sigmar. I hope though that this will change in future, there have been some intriguing snippets in recent lore about duardin reunification, and hints that Grungni might return to the story, which I would like to see explored. I’d also love to see the Fyreslayers succeed in their quest to bring Grimnir back to life one day.
In short (see what I did there) duardin are a loyal, hardy and courageous race with a lot of different ways to model, paint and play with them in the Mortal Realms. I’m excited to get all three of my duardin armies on the tabletop again in the hopefully not too distant future.