The Blackstone Fortresses are seven ancient space-based super weapons said to have been forged by the Eldar smith god Vaul (or perhaps the Old Ones) to destroy the Necron star gods, the C'tan. For this reason, they are sometimes called (especially by Eldar) the Talismans of Vaul. However, nobody truly knows where the Fortresses came from, who made them, or why, with the inner workings of a fully functioning Fortress a mystery even to the Eldar. Six of them were re-fitted as fortresses of Battlefleet Gothic but were eventually self-destructed, presumably by Abaddon along with one that was nearly re-taken leaving two to flee into the Eye of Terror.
Strangely, the Eldar don't seem to have a problem with the Imperium possessing the Fortresses. Probably because they'd rather people who utterly hate Chaos have them than trying to keep hold them since each is so massive that defending it would not only fail (due to the sheer power the major players can bring to bear) but would also basically cripple the Eldars' ability to defend themselves (soldiers and fleets tied up with the Fortresses and not easily mobile and not at all stealthy).
The Eldar Legend
Vaul was said to be equally skilled at creating both things of beauty and tools of war. He was able to forge the souls of the departed into his creations, and during the War in Heaven, he created the Talismans of Vaul controlled by the spirits of Eldar seers killed during the war against the Necrons and C'tan. The C'tan were basically all-powerful in the material realm, but they were extremely vulnerable to the warp, so the Blackstone Fortresses were given a massive warp cannon as their primary weapon. At the heart of each Talisman sat one of the Eyes of the Witch gifted to Vaul by Morai-heg, allowing the departed spirits to channel vast amounts of energy straight from the Immaterium.
It seems Vaul had a particular rival in the Void Dragon, a powerful C'Tan who possessed control over material machinery. The War between the armies of Vaul and the Void Dragon raged in the heavens, but in the end, the Void Dragons dreams of conquest were halted in their tracks. Seeing the possibility of defeat growing the Void Dragon would lead its minions directly on the battlefield. None could stand before a fully manifested god, and to ensure its powers were at its zenith it began draining the energies of a binary star, taking the form of a cloud of dark light it surrounded the stellar body leaching its energy from it until it was sated. Vaul knew the stars as well as he did his forge, so with these weapons, Vaul went to confront the Dragon, and although the outcome is unrecorded, the Dragon still lives (although sealed away) so we can guess Vaul suffered epic failure. Or it was actually an epic win because you don't just barge in on an overpowered god and gimp him to the point of a pokemon. It is also possible that the combined fire of these fortresses made the Void Dragon weak enough to retreat to an ancient earth and start eating virgins. Even though the Void Dragon was not destroyed Vauls efforts seem to have been instrumental in the weakening of the Dragon to the point that it was able to be imprisoned beneath Mars. If the Void Dragon was shattered like the other c'tan then it is possible that the Blackstones may have been, at least partially, responsible. It's conspiracy time: it might even be possible that during the War in Heaven there may have been "alliances" formed between the Necrons and the ancient Eldar, which may have been formed in order to battle the warp-spawned terrors that had been unintentionally released upon the galaxy during this time, such as the enslavers. Vaul and the Blackstone's may have actually played a role in the silent kings plan to shatter the C'tan into shards; the Necron lords and the ancient Eldar may have in theory worked together to bring an end to the War in Heaven by aiding each other in freeing themselves from their "masters". Or Vaul was a massive dick, because you know, eldar gods tend to be massive dicks and these black babies are something geneva convention would strongly prohibit.
Six of the Fortresses were left adrift in the Gothic sector, where they were found by the Imperial Navy. The Navy moved in and turned them into naval bastions for Battlefleet Gothic, despite being unable to activate most of its armament. However, Abaddon found some artifacts that allowed him to assume direct control of the fortresses and managed to swipe three of them, kicking off the twelfth Black Crusade (AKA the Gothic War). Before the Navy and the Eldar stopped Abaddon, one Fortress scoured a planet; three of them combining their beams destabilized a star, causing it to go supernova a month later and destroy the system. Afterwards the Imperial and Eldar navies then chased after the fortresses and managed to take one back, but then Abaddon caused it and the three still in Imperial control to self-destruct.
Interestingly, the fortresses SHATTERED like glasses instead of just exploding when they self-destructed.
One of the two remaining Blackstone Fortresses in Abaddon's control would later be destroyed in the Fall of Cadia. Sick and tired of Creed's awesome bullshit and panicking after the Necron anti-warp pylons are activated and threaten to close the Cadian Gate forever, he rams the planet with his Fortress as a last ditch gambit to destroy the pylons and kill the last Cadian garrison. Cadia is quickly overtaken by the Warp, but a substantial number of the Imperials manage to escape.
Rise of the Primarch reveals the whereabouts of Abaddon's last Blackstone Fortress. Apparently Abaddon had gifted the Fortress to Huron Blackheart, who used it as a prison for Roboute Guilliman during the Terran Crusade, at least before Cypher and a Harlequin Shadowseer broke him out. Since then, the Harlequins of the Masque of the Shattered Mirage along with a rogue faction from Craftworld Yme-Loc have launched at least one attack on Huron's Blackstone Fortress in an attempt to capture it.
Forgebane and current developments reveal that the Blackstone fortresses are made of a material named.. Blackstone. This material, exactly the same used in several Necron structures like the anti-Warp Pylons of Cadia holds a curious but worrying property. You see, Blackstone interacts naturally with the warp and depending on the polarization it can shrink Warp Rifts and negate all Warp-related activity in the area, which is what the pylons does; or amplify the Warp itself, causing all kind of nasty effects like the beams shot by the Fortress or spontaneous Warp Rifts. The funny thing is that there is a lot of stuff made from this material and caches hidden everywhere (the Shadowlight device from the Ciaphas Cain novels was very likely made from the stuff, and look how dangerous that thing was), maybe even undiscovered Fortresses. The vast majority of it is located on Necron Tomb Worlds, however, and they absolutely refuse to share it since they use it extensively in their own technology.
Recently, a newly emerged seventh Blackstone Fortress that has appeared in the galactic west. Unlike the others, this one appears to be fully active, with a highly advanced defense system and an uncanny ability to act on what seems to be its own volition. It also has a habit of catching ships in its gravity field and "consuming" them. The implications of this are uncertain but unsettling. The numerous ships the Fortress has consumed has made it a prime spot for archaeotech, attracting all sorts of treasure hunters to it. These adventurers congregate in a space-station called Precipice, where humans, xenos, and mutants live in uneasy peace as the powerful lords of the place don't like the idea of everyone killing each other. This den of scum would've probably been wiped out by the Imperium were it not for the bureaucratic deadlock where its numerous branches cannot agree which one of them has the legal right to claim the fortress for itself. Rumor has it that Roboute Guilliman is soon to make a decision to resolve the matter and thus Precipice's days are numbered.
The Blackstone Fortress novel has also raised a bit of doubt on the origins of the Fortresses, with the implications raised that the seventh Blackstone Fortress is not from the Milky Way galaxy at all, and the intelligence driving it is more alien than anything related to the Eldar. Granted, these implications came from a Daemon, who refers to the Fortress as "Old Unfathomable," and a Kroot who got his insights by eating bits of the fortress' drones. (The daemon could have meant "It is not of THIS AGE OF the Galaxy," since the warp has changed quite a bit over 65 MILLION years. Etheric beings of chaos didn't exist during the war in heaven).
TL;DR: Old Ones were neglectful morons.
Probably one of the few canonical Old Ones machine that is known other than the aforementioned Blackstone Fortress and the Webway. A Spindle Drone is a robotic war machine that defends Blackstone Fortresses from intruders and is an analogue of self defense system. Similar to the Sentinels from Halo, they are cheap, easy to produce and are there to maintain the gargantuan ship when in peace times and immediately switch to "FUCK EVERYTHING" mode when hostile forces are located.
Spindle Drones are armed only with a single weapon called a Drone Pulse which counts as a S3, D1, 18" pistol with zero AP. They are there to swarm the target until there is nothing left. Hence, they are a neutral force unaligned to either Imperial, Chaos or Xenos, with their loyalties only in serving the ship. Because of this, they are one of the most alien and ancient constructs, with a design aesthetic too smooth and biomechanical for even the ancient Eldar.
On the tabletop, these guys get shit done. For 60 points a pop, you get 4 W2, A2 MEQs with a somewhat disappointing 18" S3 pistol. Even if that weren't already a bargain, they have a special ability similar to the Chaos Beastmen also in the pack, but much easier to manage. This ability is aptly called Threat Level Rising - for every Spindle Drone that is wounded or dies, the remaining Spindle Drones gain +1 to their strength, damage, and AP. This may not sound amazing at first, but it adds up.
If you keep them just out of trouble, which shouldn't be too hard given their T4, S4 and 4+ save, these guys can become excellent monster and character killers, becoming the suicide bomb of your dreams. Also do remember that with their UNALIGNED keyword, these guys should be able to go into any army, but possibly only in a separate detachment.
Warhammer Quest: Blackstone Fortress is a dungeon crawler board game along the lines of Silver Tower and Shadows Under Hammerhal, albeit in the 40k setting as opposed to Age of Sigmar. The players control a party of four adventurers (chosen out of the eight in the box) on an expedition into the depths of the Blackstone Fortress. In between expeditions they stop at Precipice to trade archaeotech and utilize the various services of their ship. The ultimate goal is to conquer four Strongholds and find your way to the Hidden Vault, in order to claim the ultimate prize, hidden in a special envelope that you're probably going to tear open as soon as you open the box because you're too impatient to play ten sessions in order to legitimately find out.
The game consists of two kinds of events - challenges and combats, drawn from the deck of Exploration Cards (The Escalation Expansion uses a a book of pre-laid out chambers and passages). Challenges involve dice rolls - either of D6 (Activation/Destiny Dice) various Action Dice (D6, D8 and D12 laid out with options for failure, success and critical success) and the Blackstone Dice (D20), often involving the chance to end up either with a discovery card or a serious injury depending how lucky you are. Combat involves psykers fighting hostiles in a set area shown on the card set up using modular dungeon tiles marked with hexagonal movement squares. Players must usually reach another portal to escape, gathering discovery cards (archeotech and clues that can be traded for resources) and fight randomly generated hostiles (in some combats, and most vaults, set hostiles are laid out for the players to fight). Dead hostiles can be returned to the table via reinforcement roles - emerging through portals. All the dice mentioned above are also used in combat for various purposes. Explorers can take a number of wounds (which can be healed during the exploration) and greivous wounds (which generally cannot) before being taken out of action. Any explorer that is taken out of action risks dying permanently and not being available for future missions.
The Playable Characters
From the original Blackstone Fortress Box
- Janus Draik: A Rogue Trader and the closest thing to the main character of the games. He has a pistol but his real skill lies in his swordmanship - with his Flurry of attacks being excellent at close quarters. Also gets a free gambit at the start of each round of combat, increasing his chances of attacking ahead of the hostiles.
- Taddeus the Purifier: A mad priest who came to the fortress due to a vision from the Emperor. For a rather tubby looking zealot, he can pack a hit with his power maul and stubber - while his servo skull mounted gun allows him to put good quality fire power into medium range targets.
- Pious Vorne: A hive-ganger acolyte of Taddeus. Despite looking like she wears armor, she has terrible defense. She makes up for it with her heavy flamer, arguably the best weapon in the game.
- Espern Locarno: Imperial Navigator. Despite being rather poor in combat, he has a plethora of support abilities that make him incredibly useful, being able to save Destiny Dice, mind-control opponents, create psychic defense barriers, and owning a ship that is the only way to resurrect dead party members.
- UR-025: Imperial Robot working for the Adeptus Mechanicus, definitely not a Man of Iron, nope. Probably the most powerful character in the game, with his amazing defense and strong weapons. To compensate, he only gets three activation dice as opposed to the four everyone else gets. Capable of surviving, and dishing out, a good amount of firepower.
- Rein and Raus: Ratling twins who deserted from the Imperial Guard. Though individually weak, their gimmick lets them operate as two characters in one. One boasts one of the best sniper rifles in the game while the other has a grappling hook which grants him a lot of mobility (and can be used to move rapidly to seize/reach objectives). Both are also equipped with stub pistols should they find themselves lacking sufficiently high activation dice.
- Dahyak Grekh: Kroot tracker, and probably the individual who knows the most about the Fortress due to absorbing the memories of those he eats (even finding out a way to do this with the Spindle Drones). His field craft ability allows him to get the drop on hostiles early on, his booby traps can deal with most smaller hostiles and he can hold his own both at range and in close combat (although he is far from the best at either)
- Amallyn Shadowguide: Eldar Ranger from Biel-Tan, searching for archaeotech she believes might be able to rebuild her fractured Craftworld. A capable addition to any team of explorers with both good close combat abilities and a sniper rifle.
From the Escalation Expansion
- Neyam Shai Murad: New Rogue Trader from Escalation, here to smoke out terrorists. Is more of a gunslinger than Draik and has a sword for a leg. Despite having the sword for a limb, she doesn't seem to use it in combat - with both her attacks being based on her use of her negotiator pistols - not that she needs anything else as she can, with the right activation dice, lay down a considerable amount of shots capable of causing severe damage to large enemies or ripping apart grouped together hordes of weaker hostiles.
- Daedalosus: Technoarchaeologist from Escalation. Can handle himself in close combat but his Eradicator Pistol is relatively useless at short and medium range until he inspires. His designated target ability is useful (especially since he struggles to take down targets himself)
- Aradia Madellan: Primaris Psyker from Escalation. Comes armed with a laspistol, which delivers reasonable medium range attacks, and a force staff. Also has the powerful smite psychic ability.
- Gotfred de Montbard: Crusader from Escalation. As with the models in the Ministorum lists, he's big and tanky with a Storm Shield and Power Sword. Possesses no ranged attacks but more than makes up for it with excellent close combat skills, surprisingly mobility and a solid defence.
Solo Explorer (From the November edition of White Dwarf
- Harlequin Solitaire: A new explorer introduced for playing the game with just the one explorer. Has no spaceship and can't team up with others, purchase items at Precipice or generally do much beyond kick ass and take names. Incredibly powerful explorer capable of incredibly fast movement, formidable defence and the ability to one-shot kill even enemies like the Dreaded Ambull.
Retinue characters (one of these may accompany any four of the above explorers, controlled by the party leader)
- X-101: Strange Servitor from Escalation. Retinue character, so is not an actual playable character but it's shared by the whole team with the leader controlling him. Can only do two things a turn (three if Daedalosus is present - the only circumstance in which he can become inspired) but has close range and long range attacks. Realistically he is, at most, going to kill a few low level hostiles or put a few wounds on a large one during each combat. Since there are no penalties or costs for taking him though you may as well have him along. You never know when you might run into a traitor guardsman who needs a cheeky bit of cutter-beaming.
- Gren "Knuckles" and Dorg "The Wall" Broggan: A pair of Ogryn brothers, a Bodyguard and a Bullgryn, introduced in the September 2019 issue of White Dwarf. Retinue characters. Gren comes equipped with a ripper shotgun while Dorg is tooled up with a maul and shield. Since they are retinue characters, only one of the brothers may accompany your explorers on an expedition (this is vaguely explained away in the back story by the fact Xalleus, the data trader who brought the pair to Precipice, always likes having one of them with him to guard him). Gren, as a bodyguard, sticks close to his charge and becomes 'inspired' when they are grievously wounded (which, if he is any use doesn't happen). He is armed with a ripper shotgun and may wound or kill a few light hostiles in combat per expedition. Big brother Dorg is slightly more autonomous (possibly due to his BONE implant). He has no ranged attack but is happy, and capable of, crushing anyone who gets too close with his power maul and shield - easily the better of the two brothers crunchwise.
- Skarburn Zapdakka - An Ork Flashgitz retinue character with rules and a special mission set to appear in the October 2019 issue of White Dwarf. Not clear how many people are going to be prepared to fork out £32 for the Flashgitz box of five boyz for one retinue character. Increasingly solidifies fears, first considered with the Broggan brothers above, that retinue characters are a ploy by GW to get mugs buying expensive 40k units to field new characters...
- Penitent 707: Taddeus's Arco-flagellant, presumed lost in an earlier expedition to the Blackstone Fortress.
The Original Box set
- Obsidious Mallex- Chaos Lord and resident hardman commanding Black Legion forces present. Armed with a thunder hammer and plasma pistol (Chaos, obviously).
- Chaos Space Marines - Black Legion warriors armed with classic boltguns(Chaos).
- Rogue Psykers - Psykers who have, uh, gone rogue? Their disrupt ability can prove an irritant (Chaos)
- Beastmen - The ever lovable beastman - armed with melee weapons and laspistols (Chaos)
- Negavolt Cultists - Wire-headed mad lads whose attacks negate defence rolls. Best shot at range (Chaos)
- Traitor Guardsmen - Standard Imperium Troops who have fallen to Chaos, squads over 5 strong must include a Sgt with a melee weapon and pistol and a bloke with a flamer. A full seven-man squad has weapons including melee, grenades, a flamer and lasguns. Probably the best ranged general unit for hostiles (although they are easy enough to kill) (Chaos)
- Spindle Drones - see dedicated section above. Get more lethal as their comrades get killed (Unaligned)
- Ur-Ghuls - Transported from Commoragh to the fortress. Often under-estimated but, with a few lucky rolls on their part, can mess up your day in melee. (Unaligned).
The Dreaded Ambull expansion
- The Ambull - Giant muscular insect. Lots of wounds and has a separate 'enraged' profile in certain scenarios. Will attack, and be attacked by other hostiles - meaning there is a chance to keep your distance and let the hostiles weaken each other - a combat that can go either way but should leave the winner weakened and defeated side dead.(Unaligned)
- Borewyrm Infestations - Baby Ambulls, capable of delivering a nasty bite but nowhere near as lethal, or durable as big daddy Ambull. Like the Ambull, they are as happy ripping apart cultists and guardsmen as they are the explorers.(Unaligned)
Traitor Command Expansion'
- Traitor Commissars - from the Grendish 82nd regiment. He wields a power fist and a bolt pistol and can be dangerous in close combat. Only has two wounds but this is mitigated to an extent by his chaos Ogryn bodyguard (Chaos)
- Chaos Ogryn - High wound count and a nasty close combat attack (Chaos)
- Cultist Firebrand - An excellent model with some dangerous flame based attacks. At only five wounds quite easy to pick off before he can become the threat he is billed to be. Occasionally explodes with chaotic energy upon death with the potential to kill or injure anyone standing near him. (Chaos)
- Cultists - Appear in squads of up to seven. A full complement includes a champion with a pistol and chainsword, a grenade launcher, a heavy stubber and a number of grunts with autoguns. About as durable as traitor gurdsmen (which is to say, not very). (Chaos)
- Astroth Mythrak - A Master of Possession who's decided to start corrupting parts of the fortress. Has a spell that can rob a player of an Activation or Destiny die.
- Greater Possessed - Chaos Marines, but now super-possessed. Tasked with protecting Astroth with their freakishly powerful claws.
As yet unnamed future expansion(Announced at Las Vegas Open 2020).
- Zoat - like the Ambull, resurrected from the days of Rogue Trader
Other named characters (potential spoilers)
- The Council of Precipice - ruling body of Precipice, the space station/settlement that the explorers are based on between expeditins to the Blackstone Fortress. Ensure the uneasy truce is, somewhat, maintained
- Grey Duchess - a trader in rare creatures who is believed to have taken the first Ambull aboard the Blackstone Fortress (Dreaded Ambull)
- Gandar Sett - An Adeptus Mechanicus Genetor and 'the foremost authority' on Ambulls (Dreaded Ambull)
- Veth Rayden - A Drukhari priate. She is current captain of the Eye of Vect (Traitor Command)
- Xalleus - a data trader who brought the Broggan brothers to Precipice. Hires them out one at a time to groups launching expeditions into the Blackstone Fortress while keeping the other by his side (which also conveniently explains why you can't take both at the same time as you can only have one retinue character per party). Doesn't seem to bother to ask for any tangible fee for their services however as it costs nothing in terms of resources or archeotech to get them on board. (White Dwarf Broggan Twins Expansion)
- Fleshspoiler - Obsidious Mallex's torturer. (White Dwarf January 2020 Daring Rescue Quest)
- Adepts of Blood - The Fleshspoiler's understudies
Expansion Box Sets
- The Dreaded Ambull: An Ambull is infesting the Blackstone Fortress and the explorers have been hired to exterminate it.
- Traitor Command: Introduces two new enemies in the form of the Traitor Commissar and his Chaos Ogryn bodyguard, and a new quest revolving around preventing him from doing some nefarious Chaos ritual.
- Escalation: The biggest expansion pack yet, adding in four new playable characters and new chaos cultist enemies.
(Note these following two just contain additional miniatures previously released with earlier releases and have no additional rules/quests).
- Servants of the Abyss: One of the two boxes of minis released to support the Abominable Intellect Deck (see Card expansions), includes one sprue from the original Blackstone Fortress set that includes 7 traitor guardsmen (including a Sgt and a flamer), two ur-ghuls, two negavolt cultists, two spindle drones, two beastmen, a rogue psyker and a Chaos space marine.
- Cultists of the Abyss -All the cultist miniatures from the above Escalation Expansion to complement the Abominable Intellect card deck - namely a Cultist fireband and seven cultists (including a champion, auto stubber and grenade launcher).
Expansion Card Decks
- Endless Peril: 30 new exploration cards, 15 of them challenges and 15 of them combats.
- Advanced Arsenal: New 24 resource cards for the original six explorer ships from the main box set (for a total of four each).
- Abominable Intellect: Hard mode expansion. A deck of 44 new Encounter cards that have more enemies than usual (the expansion will be released with additional kits of the main game and Escalation hostiles, to complement the new encounter rates), plus additional rules that last for the remainder of a turn to make it more annoying.
Blackstone Fortress Annual 2019
Contains all the White Dwarf add-ons listed below from between December 2018 and December 2019 and includes a miniatures showcase and designer's notes on Abominable intellect, as well as the following:
- Strike Team: Rules for playing an expedition with two-three explorers as opposed to the full four
- Wrath of the Daemonkin - a brand-new quest that sees your explorers take on a Master of Possession and his minion.
White Dwarf add-ons
- Light in the Dark: December 2018 issue of White Dwarf. Prequel mission for two players (which must pick Thaddeus and Vorne), also coming with a bonus artifact as a reward
- A Deadly Lure: June-July 2019 issues of White Dwarf. Requires the Dreaded Ambull expansion. Set after the mission from the expansion, the explorers have to come back and lure out the Ambull so that it can breach through a sealed chamber.
- Precipice Awaits: August 2019 issue of White Dwarf. Features a list of additional things you can do between missions, making it feel more like old Warhammer Quest.
- The Broggan Brothers: September 2019 issue of White Dwarf. Adds a pair of Ogryns as retinue characters, with an additional sidequest that is required to do to "unlock" them in other quests. Requires Escalation to be played.
- Skarburn Zapdakka - October 2019 issue of White Dwarf, including an Ork Flash Gitz mercenary as a retinue character, as well as the obligatory mission to "unlock" him for future expeditions.
- Harlequin Solitaire - November 2019 issue of White Dwarf. Introduces a Harlequin Solitaire to be played as a solo explorer (as opposed to the usual four-person team of explorers.
- Penitent 707 - December 2019 issue of White Dwarf. Introduces a new retinue character and a mission to unlock them.
- A Daring Rescue - January 2020 issue of White Dwarf, a new six-part quest to rescue an explorer from Mallex's minions