Narrative Worldbuilding in Age of Sigmar's Realm of Shyish

The Mortal Realms in Age of Sigmar provide an opportunity for your narrative forces. While the galaxy of 40K is vast, there are only eight Mortal Realms. Everyone had to come from somewhere and that’s an idea we can develop into a fun and unique origin story.

Let’s take a look at the Realm of Shyish, Age of Sigmar’s underworld. First, I’ll give a brief overview of the realm. Then, five steps you can use to develop an afterlife for your Shyishan narrative force.

Welcome to the Realm of Shyish

Imagine a dark whirlpool. New afterlives are born at the edges and then spiral in until they’re consumed by the Shyish Nadir. Dreamt up by living mortals, each afterlife is unique. Whatever a civilization imagines their afterlife to be like, it exists. As mortal belief in an afterlife wanes, it moves closer to the Nadir.

Not all is doom and gloom. Afterlives in Shyish are as varied as those that imagined them. An afterlife of eternal rest in an idyllic paradise? Check. An afterlife of eternal battle? Also check. Valhalla and Hades could be next door neighbors. The denizens of Hades are always trying to borrow a cup of sugar. Those rapscallions.

Many of these afterlives are habitable to mortals, and several Free Cities exist. There are afterlives where mortals live and work in harmony with their ancestors. There are also afterlives where mortals are cattle for an elite undead aristocracy. This is a Warhammer setting after all.

The Prime Innerlands are the habitable region of Shyish. They’re the middley-bits of the roughly disc-shaped land mass. Anything too close to the Shyish Nadir is awash in death magic. The far edges are being formed new by civilizations in their early days. Too unstable for colonization. The Prime Innerlands are baby bear’s porridge: “just right.”

Lethis is the largest free city in Shyish and trades in death and death accessories. Official lore describes it as a “graveyard with a city attached.” My mental image is an entire city of the Addams Family. If that doesn’t sell you on the concept I don’t know what would. Every day that I am not literally Gomez Addams is a day of suffering.

Games Workshop loves to put locations on their maps that don’t really exist yet. They’re names meant to evoke ideas in the players that read them. Looking at the map of Shyish I picked two, the “Screaming Wastes” and “Coast of Bliss.” Later on I’ll show you my sample afterlives I developed based on those names.

Building an Afterlife

Step 1: Describe the People

Usually I’d start with the place. Sometimes it’s easier to imagine a place, and then work toward the people who would live there. But the afterlives of Shyish are formed from the beliefs of people. So in this case it makes sense to start with the people. But if you have an awesome idea for a place and want to go the other way, I won’t tell anyone. Do step three first, then circle back to step one.

Imagine a warrior tribe hunting beasts on the plains of Ghur. What would they imagine their afterlife to be like? Hunting the greatest of game with their ancestors? Hard-earned rest? What about something sinister? Do disgraced warriors become the prey?

Compare that to an agrarian civilization farming the same plains? Would the grain they grow become a core part of their afterlife? The Elysian fields of Greek myth? After a life of endless toil tilling the earth, would they dream of rest or adventure?

Your imagination is the limit here. Whatever civilization you dream up could exist in the Mortal Realms. The real world is fair game for inspiration. So are your favorite fiction and fantasy settings.

Write a list of three key features of the people. This could be a bulleted list, or it could be a paragraph. Whichever works better for you. The key is to identify three big things that make this civilization unique.

Step 2: Describe the Beliefs

Once you know who resides in your afterlife, it helps to know what they believe. All manner of afterlives are possible in Shyish, which means all manner of beliefs as well.

Do they believe their afterlife is a reward? Is everyone entitled to it? Is their civilization divided into a caste of “haves” and one of “have nots?” Is there a distinct afterlife for the wealthy? Is it better or worse than the one for the poor?

How often, if ever, do people interact with their honored dead? Do they maintain shrines to their ancestors? Do their ancestors ever pay a visit? If the ancestors return, is that an event of jubliation or terror? Not every family needs to look forward to the yearly reunion.

Distill the three highlights of their beliefs and create another list.

Step 3: Describe the Place

The lands of your afterlife flow naturally from the people who live there and what they believe. You may have thoughts about the place based on work you did in step 1 or step 2. If so, great! Use those. If not, now is the time to think about it.

Think about terrain in the real world. Would anything you thought of make sense in this afterlife? If so, do they have the same form?

Is the land flat? Mountainous? Something between? Does it rain? …water?

Is the ground made of gemstones? Are the trees? Are the animals?

Are the lands vast beyond what the eye can see? A valley? A city? A town?

Then, you guessed it, make a list of the three key features of the place. Pick the three things that stand out the most, that a tourism board would put on the flyer.

Step 4: The Army

If building out the afterlife was laying the foundation, now we get to build the house.

What is your army’s relationship to this afterlife? Do they live in harmony with the deceased, or are they a witting or unwitting invader? Have mortals settled there? Is it the site of a Free City? Is it a refuge that harbored survivors through the Age of Chaos?

Shyish is filled with opportunity for those bold, brave, or foolish enough to try to claim it. Is your army there to stake a claim? Is it defending a long-settled place?

The Grand Alliance of your army may inform this relationship. If it’s a Grand Alliance Order force, then it’s quite likely attempting to establish or defend a Free City. If it’s Grand Alliance Chaos, it’s probably trying to do the opposite. Grand Alliance Death is everywhere, it’s Shyish after all.

Now, in one sentence, describe who your army is, relative to the afterlife you’ve developed. It doesn’t need to be a long sentence. It should be a simple statement that clearly defines their relation to each other. Think of it like the “mission statement” of your army’s backstory. It’s the premise, the hook, that ties them to their Shyishan origins.

Step 5: Painting and Basing

I love to figure out how an army’s home would impact its paint scheme and base. It’s a great way to show off your narrative work “on the table.” It can also provide fun conversation between games.

Review the lists you just made and take note of anything that you could paint on your miniatures or add to the base. Consider how the key features of your afterlife would show up in the trinkets of the people who lived there. Those trinkets may have been bestowed on protectors, or pillaged by invaders.

Look for key themes that might lend themselves to color choices. An afterlife in fields of grain might lend to symbols of grain, or warm earth-toned armor. The cold tundra might show up in blues, greens, symbols of ice, or warm furs.

Think about the earth beneath their feet. Is it dirt? Sand? Stone? All these basing materials are available. There’s no reason to limit yourself to a coat of Stirland Mud if your afterlife is a desert. Even if it is mud, what tones might show up in the highlights after a quick drybrush? Painting and basing are an opportunity to tell the story of your army at a glance.


For each of the following examples I picked the name of a place from the map of Shyish in the Age of Sigmar 3.0 core rulebook. I then went step-by-step creating lists of ideas. The final result are two very different afterlives, with two very different armies.

Example 1 - The Screaming Wastes

Step 1: Describe the People

Step 2: Describe Beliefs

Step 3: Describe the Place

Step 4: The Army

“One of Nagash’s prime recruitment area for the Nighthaunt.”

Step 5: Painting and Basing

Example 2 - The Coast of Bliss

Step 1: Describe the People

Step 2: Describe Beliefs

Step 3: Describe the Place

Step 4: The Army

“This army protects the Free City of Parbiens Landing.”

Step 5: Painting and Basing


And just like that you’ve got a narrative force from the Mortal Realm of Shyish! Easy, right?

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