Once, perhaps, this had been a Good Place. There had been grand towers and a safe harbour; a shining light of civilisation in the grim darkness of what the inhabitants, in their folly, called the Old World.
Then the elves had left. And then others had come. Columns of them, marching in perfect step, their ragged uniforms hanging loose on old bones and mouldering grave-meat, the howls of wolves in their vanguard and the shriek of a thousand bats in their train.
Lord Ruthven spurred his horse, more out of habit than anything – the beast would do as it was bade by an effort of will, but he wanted to put the boot into something today and by all the Powers, the horse was right there. Trotting up the wide old steps of the curtain wall, it bore him to a vantage point, and came to a halt without a hand on the rein.
He had not been wrong. To the north, a trail of destruction marked the ride of the Chaos hordes – trees felled for crude bridges, buildings toppled purely because they were in the way. Their wake offended his eyes – it was like a void in the world, the Winds of Magic deformed around one almighty Presence at their head.
Yet as his eyes turned to the west, he saw the dragonship riding at anchor. Ulthuan had come to punish the previous year’s raids; Ulthuan had come to reclaim its own. The High Elves were striking their camp by the shore already; they would be at the Shrine of the Old Ones well before dawn.
Lord Ruthven kicked his horse again, this time out of sheer frustration, and drove it into a canter, riding back along the column. Where was the degenerate when he was needed…
“Varney! Take your knights and ride north! Hold the hill forts until sunrise, no matter what comes your way. I ride for the Shrine!”
There were interlopers in his domain.
This would not do.
They have come, as the prophecy hath foretold. They have arrived in a land of permanent gloom, of mist-shrouded valleys and muttering suspicious yokels, where a castle looms ominous from every craggen hilltop. Am I talking about Wales or Sylvania? Does it really matter?
By the time I had risen from the crypt and invoked the black arts of Trafnidiaeth Cymru to deliver me, Daemon Dan Wilson’s Hordes of Chaos were already ready to Breakthrough. A third of the Chaos host would have to get them behind me in order to break the line and win the day (and as luck would have it, that’s 666 points’ worth, an ill omen if there ever was one).
Daemon Prince: Mark of Khorne, Soul Hunger, Aether Blade, Master of Mortals Exalted Hero: Mark of Khorne, shield, barded Chaos horsey, Sword of Might Aspiring Hero: Mark of Khorne, shield 16 Warriors of Chaos: Mark of Khorne, full command 12 Chosen Warriors of Chaos: Mark of Khorne, full command 5 Knights of Chaos: Mark of Khorne, full command 5 Chosen Knights of Chaos: Mark of Khorne, full command, Banner of Rage
Subtlety , as you can see, is not a priority here.
Sir Francis Varney: Blood Dragon Vampire Count with extra magic level, Cursed Shield of Mousillon, Ring of the Night, Black Periapt and Blademaster (Necromancy: Invocation of Nehek, Hand of Dust) Emmanuelle: Wraith with Cursed Book Rosenkratz: Necromancer with extra magic level and Book of Arkhan (Necromancy: Invocation of Nehek, Curse of Years) Guildenstern: Necromancer with extra magic level and Staff of Damnation (Necromancy: Vanhel’s Danse Macabre, Curse of Years) First of Foot: 18 Skeletons with spears, light armour, flag waggler, drum bonker Templehof Militia: 15 Zombies Templehof Levy: 15 Zombies Black Monks of St. Herod: 5 Spirit Host bases Old Knights of the Black Cross: 8 Black Knights with barding, full command group, and Banner of the Dead Legion New Knights of the Black Cross: 8 Black Knights with barding, full command group, and War Banner
This game turned on a handful of dice rolls, but it didn’t feel like that – not at all. It felt tense as hell, largely because Dan had a good dozen dice to throw at every combat, and I had similar numbers for every spell. But mechanically, it came down to:
Me rolling two Curse of Years spells at the start.
Me casting one Curse of Years with Irresistible Force, and the other with a Miscast that cast the spell with Irresistible Force, in turn one of all things. Dan spent most of the game trying to Dispel these but couldn’t show a ten to save his life, so they stayed in play and whittled down his infantry until he removed the Necromancers the old-fashioned way – by ramming Chaos Knights into them.
Dan failing one crucial Instability check with his Daemon Prince right when backup was on the way, his Chosen Knights having spent slightly too long chewing through Spirit Hosts, raised Zombies, and not-raised Zombies.
Meanwhile, within the ruined city proper, Lord Ruthven prepares to contest with the High Elves for the ruined Shrine of the Cytherai in a Capture scenario. Intrigue at court meant the People’s Prince Ben Panting would have to leave after the minimum four turns… and that wasn’t the only intrigue that held him back.
Prince Thanadin: Elf… Prince… on a barded Steed, with Armour of Protection and the Amulet of the Purifying Flame Cerith: Elf Mage, with extra magic level, a barded Elven Steed, the Seer honour, and a Dispel Scroll (High Magic: Flames of the Phoenix, Vaul’s Unmaking, Drain Magic.) Daveorn: Elf Mage, with extra magic level, the Pure of Heart honour, and the Ring of Fury (Light Magic: I’d like to say I could remember but he never got to cast anything.) 10 Archers 10 Archers 20 Spearmen with full command group 10 Silver Helms with shields, heavy armour, full command group and the Lion Standard 20 Swordmasters with full command group and the Banner of Ellryian 8 Shadow Warriors 2 Repeater Bolt Throwers
Lord Ruthven: Von Carstein Vampire Lord with extra magic level, barded Nightmare, additional hand weapon and the Carstein Ring (Necromancy: Invocation of Nehek, Vanhel’s Danse Macabre, Curse of Years) Romuald: Von Carstein Vampire Thrall with heavy armour, Battle Standard and Walking Death Mama Haeckel: Necromancer with extra magic level and a Power Familiar (Necromancy: Invocation of Nehek, Hellish Vigour) First of Foot: 30 Skeletons: light armour, spears, full command group Local Yokels: 10 Ghouls with Ghast Children of the Night (assorted): 2 units of 5 Dire Wolves 1 Bat Swarm base 1 Spirit Hose base Old Knights of the Black Cross: 6 Black Knights with barding, full command, and Banner of the Barrows New Knights of the Black Cross: 6 Black Knights with barding, full command, and War Banner Wailing Nell: Banshee Wuthering Nancy: Banshee
Sadly, we didn’t have as much photographic evidence for this one, so you’re just going to have to trust me when I say that Ben… did his best.
Intrigue at Court shafted him by putting Cerith in charge of the army, which left the Silver Helms vulnerable to a stereo performance from my Banshees that ripped a rank off them. That rank would be crucial, because it meant he couldn’t quite amass the combat resolution to get past my Ethereal units (who were supported by the nearby Battle Standard), and his Silver Helms spent the rest of the battle pinned in place by wailing tarts.
Things started to turn around when he cast Flames of the Phoenix and barbecued my Ghouls, and Vaul’s Unmaking to make the Power Familiar go away, but rapidly turned back around when both the Archer units broke in the face of Black Knights and a Curse of Years killed half the Swordmasters off. Daveorn helped by Miscasting his second spell, killing a Swordmaster and injuring his daft self into the bargain, which meant the Curse got him too.
A charge from the First of Foot routed the rest of the Swordmasters, and left the Skeletons and Lord Ruthven parked squarely in the middle of the Shrine while everyone else was fighting ghosts. Had the game gone on a little longer, the surviving Black Knights would have been lined up for some rear charges and, one would hope, thus turned the tide.
I actually felt a bit bad about this one. The Power Familiar in my army was a bit much, and I failed to notice Ben’s utter lack of magic weapons when putting Ethereal units into my army. (In my defence, I expected more magic missiles than what he could bring to bear – the Ring of Fury in particular was a letdown, only doing one wound on one Banshee during the entire battle.)
However! Both the lads seemed to have a nice time, and both remarked on the comparative cleanliness of sixth edition and how it’d be nice to play a 3000 point game of this thing at some stage. I’m down if you are, gentlemen. I may even bring the Dragon.
“I see from your frowns that you do not recognise me – truth be told I would not recognise myself, tied upside down to a tree in this gloomy wilderness so far from my humble home. Yet I assure you, it is I – honest Akbar! Yes, yes, that Akbar! Honest Akbar of Honest Akbar’s Discount Machineries and Magics! You have heard of me perhaps? You have heard my claim of over one thousand generals satisfied with the performance of Akbar produce?
“No doubt you are wondering how your old friend and comrade Akbar ended up in this mess, mm? Do not worry. I remember it all. Well, bits of it. The violent bits.
“It all started the day I sold the Wand of Jet. I knew the customer was not to be trusted. The foul texture of his skin – the crack and grumble of his bones – that wild, unkempt beard – I knew him for a student of the dark arts the moment I laid eyes on him. But his gold was good, you see, and Akbar, Honest Akbar… he does not discriminate.
“Yes, yes. Perhaps I should explain.
“As I say, it started the day I sold the Wand of Jet…”
This is a repost. The original article has bounced around two forums, three blogs and several content purges. Hopefully it will survive and thrive here.
The year is 2008, and for the three months before my MA course is due to start, I am home, playing games with my formative opponents. The local GW, locus of our lives back in the sixth form days, is running a campaign. Four weeks of Mordheim games. One big map showing our warbands’ progression into the ruined city (and governing what sort of terrain will appear when two warbands meet, although the scenarios themselves would be played by-the-book). ‘Victory’ is a tenuous sort of thing really, but for the sake of people who need to know who ‘won’ a wargames campaign, whoever’s warband came out with the highest rating at the end of the month would be lauded, applauded, and relieved of the sandwich run.
I decided to treat the campaign as a prequel of sorts. During the 2004 Storm of Chaos campaign I built a heavily kitbashed Army of Sylvania (which actually grew out of a Mordheim warband box) led by that Mordheim vampire with the swooshy cloak and later, after I lost him in a house move, by a swashbuckling undead Imperial Noble from the Warhammer Quest range. I didn’t do any conversion work at all on him – merely painted on an eyepatch after he caught the wrong end of a Dwarf rune axe in his first outing.
Since Mordheim is set some five hundred years prior to the Storm of Chaos, during the slow rise to power of the Von Carsteins, I thought this would be a good chance to see how my newly-turned Vampire started out his career and made himself noticeable to his antecedents.
Lists-n-shit are in the previous post; let’s crack along!
We made a couple of changes for the second scenario.
Firstly; angling those walls. It’s an old secret from the Warmachine days. Walls running parallel to deployment zones become things behind which forces cower. Walls running diagonally to deployment zones are interesting – they defend a flank or a front but not both, and to make the most of them demands turning off the ‘march straight forwards’ route and presenting an angle to the enemy.
Secondly: this time, I took a DARK MAGIC spell. I’d found myself wanting for Power cards last time, and poor Margharita had spent most of the game lurking in my lines, from whence she could have been casting a nasty DARK MAGIC spell.
I drew Blade Wind – not the best against such a high WS army, but I’ll take it – and otherwise stuck with the same Necromancies as before (that’s Summon Skeletons, Vanhel’s Danse Macabre and Gaze of Nagash on Walravius; Summon Undead Horde on the Master). Ben drew Banishment, Fiery Convocation and something else mildly unpleasant. (I actually forgot to ask at the end, but given how cagey he was about not having Assault of Stone, I have suspicions.)
(Key note: several of these units are illegally deployed, according to the Tournament Battle scenario. My Wight Cavalry certainly are and I’m not sure about Ben’s Bolt Throwers either.)
(Further key note: this was before Ben double-checked his Bolt Thrower rules and discovered they’d shear through the Wight Cavalry’s 1+ saves no problem. Obviously I would never have put them there had we known, but since I’d benefitted so much from this misunderstanding in the first game, we agreed it was only fair to give the Bolt Throwers their head.)
As before, Ben finished deploying first and so got the first turn. My plan was a bit different this time – pin the Princes in the open centre and set up my Skeleton blocks behind the walls, from which defended obstacle they’d stand a chance against the White Lions. The Wights would simply swoosh around and roll up the flank, possibly Summoning some Zombies to help them out and catch fleeing Elves on the run.
High Elf Turn One
Ben also had a new plan. It was a highly aggressive GO FOR IT kind of plan in which he marched the White Lions through that gap in the walls and the Dragon Princes 8″ into my grille.
The Archers – now far more central and relevant – did a little two inch shuffle to the side to open their field of fire, and went for it, killing off a whole base of Bats while the Bolt Throwers messed up four of my Wights.
At least the Winds of Magic were a fart in a tin can.
Vampire Counts Turn One
I moved the Bats moved up to aggressively block the Dragon Princes – but not into combat with them. They’d be charging on Ben’s turn, or going around. Emmanuelle pared herself between the units, ready to wail at whoever needed the most wails, while I pressed the surviving Wight and the Master forward, desperate to close in and not eat any more Bolts than they needed to. Finally, I sent Margharita up to point blank range of the White Lions, attempting to get them before they got me.
Cometh the Magic phase, cometh the man, and fortunately I was well off for Power cards (with only one Dispel, that I could convert into Dark Magic power). First off: the Staff of Damnation, propelling the Wight Cavalry and the Master upfield and into point blank range of the Bolt Throwers. One more round, and then they’d be gone – since they were in a battery, I could break them both in one charge.
Blade Wind went off, despite Ben’s effort to Destroy it, but only killed one White Lion. (We decided they’d get their close combat save, since the spell does go after them with, you know, blades). Ben dispelled the first Summon Skeletons, but the second added three models to Margharita’s unit, and then he didn’t Scroll Vanhel’s Danse Macabre, so I propelled the Spearmen into the White Lions on the grounds that I’d rather get to fight them than not.
(We shouldn’t have fought this combat, but we did; the White Lions passed their Fear test and though I killed three of them, they nailed five Skeletons and won the combat by one.)
Here’s the bottom of turn one. Bloody hell, this one’s moving faster!
High Elves Turn Two
As predicted, Ben sent the Dragon Princes headlong into what remained of the Bat Swarm – he’d considered charging his general out and into the Skeletons, but thought better of it – while the Archers wheeled and unloaded into the Master and his last Wight. Fortunately, between the range and the 1+ save, nothing happened. Phew. Sadly, the Bolt Throwers finished off the last Wight, but were totally unable to put a wound on the Master. Toughness 6 is… higher than I remembered.
Unsurprisingly, the Dragon Princes wiped the Bat Swarm out and successfully prevented themselves from charging off like loonies. In the other combat, each side chopped four wounds off the other for a complete draw.
Then… then Ben cast Banishment with Total Power.
Fortunately, Margharita was just out of range, but one Skeleton from her unit and six from Walravius’ bunker were blown to kingdom come. Adding insult to injury, Ben dropped Fiery Convocation on Walravius and company and killed another two, which meant he’d be taking at least one S5 hit next turn, if not more.
Vampire Counts Turn Two
I really wanted to save Walravius. I really wanted to rules lawyer it so that he could charge out of his unit, away from the last Skeleton, and leave Fiery Convocation behind. Sadly, in fifth edition you can’t do that. Characters in units are still in units at the time charges are declared, therefore they must charge along with their friends. Leaving units happens in the Remaining Moves step. At least we took the time to get that right.
Anyway, instead of charging he advanced to get out of the Dragon Princes’ line of sight (blowed if he’d give them the satisfaction), while the Master charged the Repeater Bolt Throwers. Failing their fear test, the crew legged it off the board, and his failed charge put him behind the hill – probably the safest place for him!
Emmanuelle whiffed her wail on the White Lions. In combat, Margharita finally flexed her muscles and killed three White Lions, enough to win the combat – but since the Skeletons no longer outnumbered them, they got to take their Break Test, and the buggers held.
Unbelievably, Walravius survived the Fiery Convocation (which I could not Dispel without any Dispel cards) with one wound remaining. He cast Summon Skeletons twice, raising a total of nine Skeletons into the Spearmen unit, but Ben dispelled the Staff of Damnation and its attempt at getting another round of combat in.
High Elves Turn Three
The Princes wheeled to face what remained of the Vampire Counts army, while the Archers reversed two and a half inches (turn, move and turn, at a quarter of their movement for each turn) and unloaded into the Master, who laughed it off. Toughness 6, man!
In melee, Margharita killed two White Lions and the Skeletons nailed another, finally enough to break them and run them down.
Fiery Convocation finished off Walravius, unsurprisingly, and then… another Banishment. I tried to stop it, I really did, but it was my turn to roll a 1 on a 2+ Dispel attempt. Once again, Margharita was just out of range, thanks to that overrun, but the Banshee was atomised and so were three Skeleton spearmen.
Vampire Counts Turn Three
The Master turned his horse about and cantered gently toward the centre, while Margharita abandoned her unit. This was the wrong call. I got her out of there so she wouldn’t be poofed by the Dragon Princes, but the thing is – if she had been, she’d have exploded, killed a bunch of them, resurrected herself in the building, and been safe from any further charging because it’s a four turn game and I was going second. Instead, I… well, you’ll see. Anyway, the Spearmen turned to face the inevitable, and Ben saved me any further Staff of Damnation cheating by using Drain Magic straight out.
High Elf Turn Four
The Dragon Princes charged and, unsurprisingly, pulverised the Skeleton Spearmen, while the Archers totally failed to put any hurt on the Master again. The Winds of Magic were generous, and gave Ben enough to cast Fiery Convocation on Margharita. I wasn’t having that though – I dropped Rebound and this time got away with it. Sadly, the High Elf affinity for dispelling meant Ben easily shut down my spiteful Blade Wind on his Archers with a Mental Duel. On top of everything, he plonked a wound on Margharita for her trouble. Grr.
Vampire Counts Turn Four
With only two models on the table my options were a bit… limited. I charged Margharita into the Dragon Princes, challenging the High Elf General – who failed his Fear test and, as Ben pointed out, actually did him a favour, since now it was much less likely he’d kill the Vampire. Margharita did two wounds to him, which made the combat… a draw. Blech.
(We counted and recounted the combat results, and this is where we spotted the other big thing Ben had bee doing wrong all day. In fifth edition, you do not get +1 combat resolution for charging; you get to strike first and that’s your lot. I don’t think it would have made a huge difference, since generally I was charging him or he was charging units which don’t care about combat resolution, but it’s still something that came up and which I didn’t catch until it became Crucial.)
But wait! It was not over! In my final desperate scrabble to retrieve some dignity from this game, I sacrificed all my dignity in doing a whole bunch of what I now know to be inadvertent cheating.
First, I tried to cast Summon Undead Horde so I could charge something into the Archers, still under the impression that a Vanhel’s charge allowed you to fight afterwards. Nope. Destroy Spell. Dispelled and then destroyed.
Then, I tried to Blade Wind the Archers. This time, Ben remembered he had a Dispel Scroll, and used it.
Finally, I used the Staff of Damnation to fight another round of combat against the Elf General. This is cheating because you can’t use Vanhel’s Danse Macabre on a lone Vampire. She killed the Elf General, but still died to combat resolution. This is cheating because you don’t count combat resolution in bonus rounds from Vanhel’s Danse Macabre – you carry it over to the next turn. Anyway, Margharita exploded, killing five Dragon Princes but, crucially, not the Mage, and everyone passed their Panic tests for the dead general, not that they should have taken them anyway.
Things would probably have turned out more or less the same way if I’d just left her in her unit and challenged Ben’s General on his fourth turn like a sensible person, but even if I include those three Victory Points, two Vampires can’t contest any table quarters, so Ben’s still sitting on the win he deserves.
Final Score: Vampire Counts 8 – High Elves 9
Well, Ben certainly took my remarks about needing to come and fight me to heart! This time his Archers were set up to dominate the centre ground while his Bolt Throwers, who can afford to sit on hills in the corner, were sat on a hill in the corner. My Wights took the beating they actually deserved from the Bolt Throwers, and while the two Vampires closed the distance in terms of raw killing power, I was scrambling to catch up from the start.
With one win each under our belts a deciding game is called for. Ben, being a madman, suggested 2000 points and no limits (so he’d take the Executioner’s Axe, hopefully on a footslogging general in a White Lion unit this time, hint hint, and I’d take the Forbidden Rod/Amber Amulet power-combo) – but by the time I was waiting for the train, he’d messaged me to say “how about 3000?” So that’s something to look forward to. In the meantime, here are some thoughts on Fifth Edition and my list.
Talking points: Fifth Edition
It’s not sixth!
This is the big one. Everything that we got wrong – Vanhel’s Danse fiddliness, +1 combat resolution on the charge, Bolt Throwers only being regular S4 shots when they multi-fire – was a product of thinking back from later editions and underestimating the streamlining work that went on between the Herohammer and Borehammer years. In particular, Vanhel’s Danse Macabre really needs some… sigh… ‘dojoing’ so I know exactly what it can and can’t do for next time.
I both enjoyed and did not enjoy the fifth edition Magic phase. The ‘card fencing’ aspect, where a key Dispel attempt can be reinforced with power cards and then the spell itself can also be reinforced, led to some fun back-n-forth over crucial Banishments or Danses. That was fun.
It was… less fun… not knowing what casting power I could count on turn for turn. Back when I played Chaos in the actual mid-Nineties it didn’t stress me so much, but I learned my Vampire Counts trade in sixth edition when my Tower of Power and Pile of Denial dice were a constant, affected only by careless Necromancer immolations. We’ll get into that more when we hit the list review.
Tournament Battle lists at 1500
Both of us had two units which really did the business, and I think at 1500 points we can expect to see similar compositions from others. Both of us took the level 3 wizard we were allowed to, and both of us had empty magic item slots in favour of getting some support units in.
I gave Ben’s a once-over last time – now it’s my turn. Having direct access to my own thoughts, I can actually go through mine almost blow by blow.
She did… all right. Although neither of my Heart of Woe explosions were entirely legitimate, the basic principle holds up. Buried as she is among the infantry it took Ben three turns to get near her, just enough time for her to blow up and reincarnate safe and sound on turn four. It’d be nice if she hit a bit harder, and I rather miss Summon Wolves as a means of deterring Bolt Throwers and the like without putting more strain on the magic phase.
I really like the “two Vampire Counts” approach, and even when the Master ended up on his own, his high Toughness and tendency to have carved up war machine crews personally meant he could weather the storm of lesser firepower. The problem is that Counts still only have three attacks. They’re very good attacks, but only rolling three dice means they whiff a bit too easily, and they don’t have an additional hand weapon option in this edition.
I’m also in doubts about their spellcasting prowess. Three Wizards gave me good card storage capabilities but I was still often hurting for power cards, and it might be wiser to have some tech to help me get more spells off with the cards I have. Dark Magic helped with that but it’s unpredictable, and if I’m dropping one wizard then there’s no way I’m coming in without two Summons (on different casters) and ideally two Danses (again, the Staff of Damnation on a Vampire and the spell itself on a Necromancer).
An absolute must. In order to force through a Vanhel’s Danse I generally had to cast it two or three times (including the Staff of Damnation), and to do that I needed the reliability of the Master Necromancer. Gaze of Nagash was also my most effective attack spell by a long shot. The one thing I’d say he needs is a nice cheeky Wand of Jet to help him get those first cheap-as-chips spells out. To find points for it, though, I’d have to drop a Count down to Thrall status…
… possibly by replacing this guy. He’s only there in case Margharita needs someone to eat a challenge, or to provide theoretical leadership in the event of her destruction, but in both cases her unit was wiped out before she died. Perhaps a footslogging Thrall and Walravius could do a good enough job of commanding the Skeleton infantry? Especially if that Thrall had something fun like that ring that stores a Battle Magic spell?
Ben thinks a bigger unit of these is in order. I agree, but I’m unsure where the points should come from in a game of this size. Seven or so plus a Vampire Count or Wight Champion would do the business but goodness knows how I’d afford that. I do like the 1+ save on them – even accounting for the bolt thrower snafu they laughed off a lot of arrow fire and it made them tough as balls against the White Lions in the first game.
OK, so there are a few problems with these, only two of which I can fix.
Firstly: two units. I’m in the habit of taking a small ‘bunker’ for my Necromancers thanks to sixth edition, but it’s a luxury I can ill afford here.
Secondly: small units. It was an experiment, and it failed; I couldn’t get Summon Undead Horde off to boost them. In other editions I’ve found it’s best to buy the undead you need and raise the ones you’d like; this one, it turns out, is no different.
Thirdly: equipment. Spears and armour are suboptimal. I know it. Keep ’em cheap, stack ’em deep. BUT: I built this army to be an Army of Sylvania where spears or crossbows and light armour were the only kit options going. BUT: What You See Is What You Get. BUT: I’m not replacing them, all right?
SO: I think one deeper block of eighteen Skeletons with spears, and I avoid the all-eggs-in-one-basket problem that creates by moving my Undead general out of the infantry.
Didn’t do much but she’s more of a deflector piece that can do damage. She can engage units like Ben’s Dragon Princes without getting into actual contact with them, and whittle down those heavily armoured highly protected dudes over time. I think I have to pick a target unit for her and stick to it like glue, though; against high-Ld targets she’s often pinging off one or two guys per turn if she’s lucky and those have to add up over time.
Gold. They’re fast, they’re Unbreakable, but they’re not Undead, and that makes all the difference in an edition where specific Undead-killing tech is so abundant. Being able to pin down units without fear of the crumble nor the Banishment nor the Banner of Undead Incineration was crucial to my tactical approach in both these games. These are definitely staying and I’m definitely keeping two Vampires so that the whole Swarm is only worth 1 VP.
First of all – big thanks to Ben for coming out, tolerating my occasional foray into complete Rimmerdom, and providing a couple of stand-up games.
Second of all – big ups to Stroud’s Atlantic Games (HI SEB!) for providing such convenient gaming space within sneezing distance of the station.
Third of all – no thanks at all to the cocksack CrossCountry conductor who pulled away from the platform at Gloucester right as I was high-tailing it towards him, and then gave me the most aggro “sucks to be you” face on the way out.
Finally – thanks to you, dear reader. These have been a long-ass couple of posts, but I hope you’ve enjoyed them despite that. There’ll doubtless be more of these to come, what with Ben and I fighting our decider and every possibility of a tournament happening next year.
So it came to pass that on a sopping wet Saturday afternoon, in a small town at the top end of the West Country, two armies were dragged from their cases and shoved around a large table in pursuit of that holy grail – the kind of fun we used to have in the Nineties.
Ben and I put together a bunch of lists, including some no-holds-barred ones with some heavily revised or banned items (Ben had the Executioner’s Axe, I had the Forbidden Rod…) but in the end we decided to test the format we had in mind for the Wales and South West Middlehammer Meetup or whatever it ends up being called.
We’d be playing more or less by-the-book Tournament Battles (no allies, named characters, unridden monsters, war machines without an attendant regiment, magic items costing more than 50 points or level 4 wizards, games end after four rounds or two hours, whichever comes first), with only three changes.
Firstly: 1500 point lists, rather than 2000, to keep a tin lid on some of the most extreme Middlehammer shenanigans and ensure rusty players could check rules and still finish on time.
Secondly: we’d be working through the Winds of Magic deck with a discard pile rather than reshuffling our hands back in every turn, because we didn’t want to see three Total Powers or Drain Magics on the trot.
Thirdly: technically you’re supposed to have one hill and one wood or two buildings each for the Tournament Battle, but we play not Borehammer in these parts.
The thing about playing a game you’ve not really thought about since before the millennium turned is… you get things wrong. I count at least four things we stuffed up on the day and another three or four which I didn’t spot until I assessed the evidence this morning. These will be pointed out in lengthy italicised parentheses throughout the report, as cautions to fellow travellers.
Alarming Lists To Starboard
Ben was kind enough to supply a small stack of authentic Middlehammer-period roster sheets: mine will be transcribed in the next report.
The list walkthrough revealed a few things. One: Ben had made the dubious-in-my-opinion choice to not put his general in the White Lions unit, mostly because he was after that sweet 1+ save and getting his best statline into combat where it belonged. Two: I was vindicated in my decision to fit a Master Necromancer into the army somewhere; “no level four wizards” just means everyone’ll take a level three. Three: those Dragon Princes would chew through anything in my army if I got near them, so the order of business would be delaying, diverting and derailing that pain train so I could go after the units I could actually fight.
My signature weapons here would be the Banshee, who doesn’t use spells to trash things, and the Bat Swarm, who are of course Not Dead. They would go after the horrible, horrible Dragon Princes and try to get them facing the wrong way. If we were only playing a four turn game, I should be able to keep them under control for three, maybe all four if the terrain was favourable. I was confident that the rest of my army could take the rest of his.
For his part, Ben expressed mild concern about two Vampire Counts, mild indifference for smallish Skeleton units, and genuine surprise that I didn’t have any sort of Dispel Scroll. The thing with me and Scrolls is… I either forget them, and don’t use them, or I remember them and spend the whole game fretting over when to use them. I’d rather spend points on aggressive casting kit that supplements my ability to Get Shit Done than on defensive items that only stress me out anyway. We’ll see all these observations made manifest as we proceed.
First up: drawing spells! From card decks! The good old days are here again! Ben’s Master Mage drew Fiery Convocation (blech), Drain Magic (uh-oh) and Apotheosis (phew! no Banishment!).
I picked my Necromancy spells, because I could. Summon Undead Horde on Margharita, Drain Life on the Master, and Summon Skeletons,Vanhel’s Danse Macabre and Gaze of Nagash on Walravius.
Ben had set the terrain up, I picked a board edge, and we set to with the orders of march. My mountains of chaff had an upside in the Tournament Battle scenario (you can set up at least 6″ from the centre line, but at least 18″ away from enemy troops and 12″ from the side, so grabbing the centre with the chaff gave me a chance to burrow in behind those walls and embed properly). They also had a distinct downside; Ben was guaranteed to finish deploying first and thus grab himself the first turn.
High Elves Turn One
An elegant saunter forwards for the citizens of Ulthuan, with the Princes and Lions moving up to survey the centre while the Archers stood and waited. The Wights laughed off one Repeater Bolt Thrower thanks to being in hard cover; the other pinged a wound off a Bat Swarm. The Winds of Magic didn’t so much blow as splutter – three cards each, and look what we drew!
I don’t know what I’m doing with my face. Possibly expressing my befuddlement.
Vampire Counts Turn One
Emannuelle and the Bat Swarm advanced at full tilt, with the Bats taking up position behind the wall, but everyone else sort of… waited. This might seem like an unusual choice, but I’ve learned from many years of fighting Dwarfs, Empire and Wood Elves that there’s no point trudging into superior firepower unless you have to. I wasn’t about to close the distance and make Ben’s tactical choices easier, not when I could hold off, soften him up with some authentic grade one Doom Spells (TM), and not get shot at so hard.
Emmanuelle’s wailing failed to impress the White Lions, and while the Winds of Magic decided to grace us with a puff of Power this turn, all it did was get my Summon Skeletons Dispelled and then Destroyed by that Destroy Spell card Ben had been hanging onto.
At the top of turn two, therefore, things looked a bit like this…
High Elves Turn Two
Realising that I was never going to come out and fight like a man, Ben took the initiative and charged his Dragon Princes into the Bat Swarms, while the White Lions wheeled and advanced into the Undead infantry and the Archers marched down off their hill.
The Repeater Bolt Throwers did their thing to the Skeletons, who amazingly managed to save both the inflicted wounds, and to the Wight Cavalry, who – whether by virtue of their cover or their 1+ armour save – laughed it off.
(Trained observers will of course know that fifth edition Repeater Bolt Thrower volleys do not, in point of fact, allow armour saves – in this edition they drop a point of strength and their multiple wounds but still go through armour like vindaloo through my grandma. We spotted this at the start of the second game, but this one was played out under the impression that they were S4 with a standard -1 saving throw modifier.)
On to kumquat! Glorious kumquat! Fighting over a wall gave the Dragon Princes pause for thought, as they couldn’t actually hit the Bats, while the Bats couldn’t actually hurt the heavily armoured Elven cavalry, so it was a big old whiff all round. Just as planned!
Finally, despite a lacklustre five cards from the Winds, Ben had enough Power to cast Fiery Convocation and my unsupplemented Rebound glanced off High Magic Superiority (non-High-Mages need a basic 5+ to dispel High Magic, because it’s so privileged). That’s three wounds off the Bat Swarm then. I could have played Drain Magicand arguably should, but I was holding onto Escape and really wanted to pull a triple-dip with my Vampire Count at some stage.
Vampire Counts Turn Two
Well, the High Elves weren’t hanging about and I wanted to get out of those Dragon Princes’ way, so the First and Second of Foot did a slight shuffle about, the one aligning itself towards the White Lions and making space for the other to wheel, move and wheel out of place.
Emmanuelle had now warmed up her vocal cords a bit and managed to scream two White Lions into the next world, while the combat between Princes and Bats was another inconclusive dust-up.
Less so the Magic phase. I wasn’t about to use Drain Magic when I had just been dealt Total Power and four Power cards, so I let Fiery Convocation sizzle the Bat Swarms away. Predictably, they were toasted, but they’d done their job; it would be turn four before the Dragon Princes got to charge anything again.
My Gaze of Nagash attempt was subject to a steward’s inquiry – do I have to declare where the line is going before a Dispel is attempted or afterwards? This was important for Ben since his Dragon Princes have a 4+ Dispel attempt on any hostile enchantments bunged toward them and I wasn’t about to give him two goes. In the end we agreed that yes, I did have to declare a target and yes, it was going into the White Lions. Ben triple-reinforced his Dispel attempt and managed to drop a one, so off it went and six White Lions were annihilated.
(They really should have taken a panic test, but I was thinking of later editions in which the Panic tests are taken at the end of the phase. Fifth, of course, has you take the test when the triggering event occurs, and if you pass you’re fine for the rest of the phase. We didn’t realise until two other spells had been cast and we had cause to look at the psychology rules, by which time it was too late and we agreed the White Lions had retroactively decided to stick around.)
My next effort was a Total Powered Summon Undead Horde, which I’d been waiting to do for years. It raised a grand total of six Zombies and they formed an oblique line in front of the Dragon Princes, angled to take them further out of the fight if charged.
My first attempt at Vanhel’s Danse Macabre was dispelled, with that thing High Elves do where they use Power cards as Dispels, but the second one went off (thank goodness for Necromantic recasting, that’s what I say) and the Wight Cavalry got stuck into those White Lions.
(Now, the combat round we fought was a draw, which is fine and led to the proper outcome of the two units just standing there, but in the cold light of dawn I know realise it shouldn’t actually have been fought at all. Vanhel’s Danse Macabre can either propel a unit into combat or make it fight another round once it’s in there, but not both, and of course each unit can only be compelled to tango like it’s 1111 IC once per turn.
While I’m on the subject, it only allows characters to move with their units, not do anything else with them, and it can only be cast on units of Skeletons, Zombies, Wights and Wraiths – not on Banshees, nor independent Vampires! There is a whole column-and-a-bit of text in the Vampire Counts army book devoted to clarifying how this overcrowded spell works, and I really should have boned up on its fiddly ins and outs instead of assuming it was as sleek and streamlined as the sixth edition incarnation.)
Finally, I used the Staff of Damnation to make the Banshee scream for White Lion meat again, but a) Ben dispelled it and b) it ran out and c) it can’t actually do that in the first place. Good work all round.
Here’s a bottom-of-the-round reliable image.
High Elves Turn Three
The Dragon Princes, predictably, charged over the wall, and I don’t mind telling you that all those Zombies were dead before the Banner of Undead Incineration was even a factor. The Repeater Bolt Throwers pointed themselves at Skeletons and this time killed three from the big unit and two from the little one, while the Wight Cavalry and attendant Vampire chopped up all but one White Lion for two losses in return. Outnumbered by a fear-causing enemy, he legged it, outrunning the plated-up undead horsemen.
(I may have been a tiny bit smug about this – too smug. I occasionally forget that not everyone I play against is an old mate of years’ standing, inured to my self-important battle banter and in on the tone. I bring all this up to remind myself and you, dear reader: read the room. If your opponent is making the frowny face, you are probably being a helmet. Query it; own it; stop it.)
Anxious to prevent any further Fiery Convocation incidents, I dropped Drain Magic and ended the turn.
Vampire Counts Turn Three
My Wight cavalry charged the last White Lion, running him down and capturing the unit standard. This was fine, but it left them in a bit of a dubious position for next turn…
Meanwhile, the Banshee advanced toward the Dragon Princes, being the only thing in my army that had a real shot at hurting them (I had no faith in getting a Gaze of Nagash past that banner of theirs.) As a bonus, her wailing and howling killed one!
The Winds of Magic were not generous. I cast Vanhel’s Danse Macabre on the Knights with the only Power card I had, and Ben dispelled it. Bad Times could be on the horizon.
High Elves Turn Four
The Dragon Princes wheeled around to point themselves back at the fight, but too late, too late.
The first Bolt Thrower killed another couple of Skeletons from the ‘big’ spearmen unit, and then the Archers unloaded their first, last and only volley. It was all they needed; everyone but the Vampire and Champion was pincushioned, and the second Bolt Thrower finished off the unit and put a wound on Margharita herself.
Ben tried to cast Fiery Convocation on Margharita, but I was having none of it and Destroyed the spell with two power cards thrown in to reinforce. In retrospect, she could have taken it – Carstein Ring and all – and those Power cards could have been stashed for the final, crucial turn. You live and learn.
Vampire Counts Turn Four
First order of business; the Wight Cavalry, unexpectedly spared a good skewering, charged the Bolt Thrower, which fled off the table, and their failed charge left them cantering uselessly around the flank. The Skeleton swordsmen wheeled around to face the Dragon Princes – one shot at a Gaze on the last turn couldn’t hurt, right? – and my Vampire…
… well, I was going to have her cower in the graveyard, but then I realised I’d not gotten to use the Carstein Ring and Heart of Woe power combo, and it was the last turn, and there was nothing to lose by it, so she moved inside the Archers’ stand-and-shoot range.
Come the magic phase, Vanhel’s Danse Macabre went off, so Margharita charged the Archers, killed one, took a wound from another, died to combat resolution, and promptly exploded in a S9 death-bomb that killed thirteen of the meddling Elves and popped her back to life in the graveyard.
(Of course, this was a blatantly illegal move, since Vanhel’s Danse Macabre cannot be cast on Vampires. See above. It’s a good job those Archers weren’t worth any Victory Points, really.)
Final Score: Vampire Counts 6, High Elves 3
(We did go on to play a fifth, off-the-record, let’s-see-what-happens turn, in which the Dragon Princes predictably chewed up the Banshee, but the High Elf shooting was appallingly inaccurate, and Drain Magic was cast with Total Power. Honestly, if I’d been Ben I’d have been cranking that spell out every turn I could to gut the all-important Necromantic base, but maybe he only had two power cards most of the time. My bonus turn was uneventful as everyone either ran away or wheeled and Ben just did Drain Magic – the card, not the spell.)
Well – that went to plan, and even though I tried to do a few things that were blatantly illegal, they mostly failed to come off. I’m annoyed about the Bolt Thrower thing (which we spotted when setting up our second game, of which more later) and that last turn Vanhel’s charge. It shouldn’t have been allowed, the Vampire shouldn’t have fought a round of combat – but I only did it to be spicy and blow up the Heart of Woe, and that happened and it amused us both greatly, so I’m not super peeved.
Ben figured his greatest mistake was leaving the Archers on the hill, expecting me to advance. The thing is, a lot of Vampire Counts players, including my younger self, would have pushed on into the teeth of Ben’s firepower, rather than holding back and breaking up the oncoming assault, so nine times out of ten this wouldn’t have been a dealbreaker.
A far greater error, from my point of view, was failing to embed his General in the White Lions unit. I can see the logic in putting the General on the horse, but as it is, Ben’s army is all hammer and no anvil. The general, in that White Lion unit, would provide a four-square block of Immune to Psychology Victory Points denying full static combat resolution fun. Slap the Amulet of Fire on him and that’s two units with a built in 4+ Dispel, one of which is Immune to Psychology and both of which swing hard enough to give even my Vampires pause. As it was, I was able to break the White Lions with psychology and clean up Ben’s back field.
The game rattled along at a fair clip – we were done inside ninety minutes, and so we had time to squeeze another one in, after lunch. That said, this post has passed the 3000 word mark, so I’ll let you do as we did, have a breather and a brew and a bite to eat, and then get stuck in to the second. I’ll do a full teardown on my list after that game, in which – spoiler warning – things did not go so well.
The following is a repost brought to you by me remembering I used to post on forums and finding some matter on Carpe Noctem that may be of interest…
The First Battle: Vampire Counts vs. Empire, 1500 points, Battleline
Edd and I are old foes from back home. It was his Dark Elf army that I’d recently purchased when I started blogging back in 2009, swapping it for the core infantry in the Empire army he’s using today.
Neither of us have played much Eighth Edition. Edd hates it because he hates changing his army list, but his old one doesn’t work too well any more; I like it [Future Jon laughs bitterly] but have yet to fully come to terms with the changes [Future Jon: and you never will]; we’re both relearning how to play competently. Since this is a learning experience, I’ll be pointing out the mistakes I made as I go along…
Vampire Counts: The Order of the Black Cross
Lord Ruthven – Vampire Lord – additional hand weapon, heavy armour – Nightshroud, Talisman of Endurance, Potion of Strength – Aura of Dark Majesty, Beguile, Dread Knight
Carmilla – Vampire – extra magic level, heavy armour, shield – Talisman of Preservation – Dark Acolyte
Guildenstern – Necromancer – extra magic level, Master of the Dead – Staff of Sorcery
Templehof First of Foot – 24 Skeletons – flag waggler, bongo beater, Skeleton with bigger hat – Lichebone Pennant
Templehof Levy – 20 Zombies – pole and clanky thing
Templehof Militia – 20 Zombies – big stick and musical leg
Children of the Night 10 Ghouls 5 Dire Wolves 5 Dire Wolves
Templars of the Black Cross – 20 Grave Guard – great weapons – all the trimmings – Banner of Eternal Flame
Black Monks of St. Herod Spirit Host Spirit Host
Fairly straightforward, I think. Ruthven hangs out with the First of Foot, protected from spell-sniping by their Lichebone Pennant and from everything else by twenty-four bony bodies to catch bullets for him, and should ideally be fighting enemy characters as often as possible given that he’s built to rock the challenge. Carmilla and Guildenstern hang with the Zombies, bailing out if the poor blighters end up on tarpit/screening duty, while the Grave Guard grind upfield behind a Zombie and Dire Wolf screen, hammering one enemy unit at a time. The Wolves and Spirits also get up in the enemy grill and force awkward charges and overruns.
Empire: The Reikland Intervention Force
Reiksmarshal Josef Albrecht – Grand Master – cavalry kit, Sword of Justice
Magister Zaphazra – Battle Wizard – Lore of Light – Rod of Power – compensating for something
Reigar, Captain of the Empire – plate armour, pistol – Battle Standard – Gryphon Standard – dual standards
20 Swordsmen – all apparatus of leadership – 10 Halberdiers – 10 Halberdiers
5 Reiksgard Knights – full kit, the wankers – Magic Resistance 2 on a stick
18 Greatswords – full command and armour polish – 10 Handgunners – 10 Handgunners
5 Pistoliers – invisible musician, token good shot
Edd learned his trade in sixth edition, and I don’t think he’s changed his army since he bought half of it off me in seventh ed. days. It stands still, waits until it can get the drop on you, and then the Greatswords charge forward and annihilate everything. It’s even scarier now that their charge range is extended and the Light Wizard can correct their small Always Strikes Last problem. The Pistoliers and Knights tend to run interference, getting around the side of you and being JUST troublesome enough to be worth bothering with…
Preamble and Deployment
Zarathustra scores Birona’s Timewarp and swapped the other ‘un for Shem’s Burning Gaze (or Shem’s Burning Fudge, as Edd likes to call it, for reasons I don’t dare explore). Meanwhile, after rolling and swapping, I ended up with:
Curse of Years on Ruthven, which I decide I don’t like and swap for Invocation. Fair enough. Double twos on Carmilla mean I could pick a spell, but for some reason, instead of picking a Danse and swapping the other Vigour for Invocation, I just… swap a Vigour for Invocation. Gaze of Nagash and Raise Dead on Guildenstern, neither of which I bother swapping for Invocation… which means twenty points on Master of the Dead just went down the plug’ole.
Deployment and Vanguarding look a bit like this.
Zappadee and Reigar are in the Greatswords, Carmilla’s in the Zombies on the left, Guildenstern’s in the Zombies on the right, Albrecht’s in the Knights, Ruthven’s in the Skeletons, the Vicar’s in the shrubs again and I’ve proper stuffed this up.
Accustomed as I am to Vampire Lords who are more competent at slinging spells around and less vital to the army’s survival, I decide to place Ruthven slightly back from the front lines, and to point him away from Edd’s Greatswords. This is a fatal mistake. Ruthven is designed to take on tough targets, but can’t make much of a contribution until he’s doing so. Lagging behind his zombies is not strictly tactical. In my defence, they wouldn’t have balanced on the front of the hill…
Anyway, Edd gets to go first.
Empire Turn 1
The Imperial movement is as dynamic and exciting as ever (Pistoliers move up, Knights move up, the Swordsmen and friends nudge forward toward the village on the right), probably because most of Edd’s guns are of the move-or-shoot variety. An eleven on the Winds of Magic lands Edd with more dice than he knows what to do with: Shem’s Burning Gaze goes off and blasts half a dozen skelegogs, while Birona’s Timewarp is dispelled because I don’t want an Empire army running double-tilt into my half of the board. He stores two in the Rod of Power and moves on to ineffectively shoot some Dire Wolves (a couple from each unit, I believe), while his cannon crew overdo it a bit on the black powder and send a ball flying clean over my lines, bashing the head off one Skeleton at the back of Ruthven’s unit.
Vampire Counts Turn 1
On my turn, I send the Ghouls off on an optimistic charge against Edd’s Pistoliers – eleven inches away, so I’ll hit them on an average roll – and the last Dire Wolf on my right into the Halberdiers, thinking that if I Invoked some more into play, they might actually accomplish something. The Pistoliers, naturally, flee and outpace the poor Ghouls, who stumble downhill scratching their thinking parts, while the Halberdiers giggle and stand their ground, laughing with ill-deserved confidence as I set up for the Magic phase.
Guildenstern was the only wizard who could reach the Dire Wolves with an Invocation without needing an 18 to cast it at maximum range. Guildenstern was also the only wizard without an Invocation. Bother.
Perhaps fortunately, a bum roll on the Winds of Magic (a six and a one, perfect for a boring phase) sees Ruthven’s attempt at long-distance Invoking dispelled, and that’s the end of that. The lone Wolf, who I had every expectation would just bounce off… actually nobbles a Halberdier (I love Slavering Charge!) whose mates are sufficiently shocked to not hit the ravening devil-doggie back. Coupled with the bonus from charging, I win the combat by two, although fie and alas, the Halberdiers pass their Break test.
Empire Turn 2
Edd rallies the Pistoliers and, after a brief rulebook consultation, realises he can ram them back into my grille and shoot… wait for it… a Ghoul. One. Everything else shudders forward, lining up a few shots at the Dire Wolves (killing two) and Ruthven’s Skeletons (damned if I know). As far as magic goes, Guildenstern earns his continued survival by waving the Staff of Sorcery about and dispelling everything Edd tries to cast. Once again, the cannon crew overdo it a bit, and an overlong initial shot kills all of one Zombie. Unsurprisingly, the lone Dire Wolf is unable to repeat his previous performance, and gets deaded. Aww.
Vampire Counts Turn 2
At the top of my turn, we have what might be called an Interesting Situation.
The Pistoliers are now so close to the Ghouls that they might actually be caught if they run away, while Carmilla and her super-duper-Invoky-ness are in position to bolster the Dire Wolves should they fancy a run on Edd’s Knights. The hell with it, say I, and unleash the charges.
The Pistoliers flee, there is a brief consultation of the rulebook, we move, we measure, and thanks to those cavalry bases, the Ghouls catch up and invite the cream of the Empire’s young nobility home for tea and crumpets with a most unusual topping. The Knights, jeering and booing, accept the charge from the Wolf. On the other flank, Guildenstern develops a mild crisis of faith and decides that he’d rather cower behind a wall than in a Zombie unit, while the two units shamble on through the wood.
The Magic phase goes well – Dark Acolyte takes Carmilla’s Invocation to the “I can’t dispel that” level, which sees Ruthven’s bodyguards gaining a rank back and the Ghouls losing their lost model. However, and I didn’t realise this until this morning, I make…
My Fourth Mistake!
While correctly noting that you don’t roll a d6 for restoring wounds to non-Infantry units, I totally forget that you still add your magic level, cheating myself out of two Skeletons and, more importantly, two Wolves! This will come back to haunt me later…
Guildenstern flings an opportunistic Gaze of Nagash at the Greatswords, but doesn’t kill any. A mighty THREE HITS, you see. Obviously he was tired out from all that energetic Dispelling. In combat, my two Wolves do disconcertingly well – or does Edd save dismally, rolling two ones for his 2+ modified saves? The answer is both, as it happens, but the Knights kill one and annoyingly stand their ground. Even more annoyingly, this means he’ll auto-gib the survivor in his turn and be able to reform, so the Ghouls won’t be flanking the tin-heads any time soon.
Empire Turn 3
Another boring Imperial turn, in which the only things of real note to occur are another overloaded Cannon shot failing to put a dent in Guildenstern but doing a number on a baby bird two hundred yards behind him, and a successful Timewarp going up on the Greatswords. Oh, and the Knights don’t even need their musician to gib the Dire Wolf, as Albrecht gets stuck in and introduces him to Justice. I wonder if he has two others called Truth and The Imperial Way? Anyway, they Combat Reform to face the Ghouls, and away we go.
Vampire Counts Turn 3
I cross my fingers and start rolling for charges. To help the Ghouls out, I figure Carmilla and her Movement 6 charge might be able to cross the woods and spank the Knights in the side; I’ve gotten away with it once, on that Dire Wolf at the start! The Ghouls make it, but Carmilla doesn’t.
On the other flank, I lose patience with the woods and the waiting game; banging their gongs and blowing their trumpets, the Undead infantry reform, advance, and generally make themselves ready for war, thusly.
Note that Guildenstern has decided that a wall is not enough, and that he’d rather cower in the tower. He tries and fails to Raise a unit of Dead in the path of Team Timewarp in the middle, while Carmilla does her best Nina Simone impression at the Ghouls.
Alas, it turns out more Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, and the Ghouls whiff off a handful of fours and fives for Edd’s armour saves. The Knights kill five, and that’s enough combat resolution to see off the rest.
The nasty gits then Combat Reform to face Carmilla. Plops.
Empire Turn 4
I’ll show, rather than telling.
Guildenstern continues to brandish the Staff of Sorcery out the window, shutting down an attempt to re-Timewarp the Greatswords – in a fit of pique, Edd turns the cannon toward him, and we decide that, while Edd’s not technically allowed to put the ball anywhere where it could hit his own guys or any of mine who are in combat, Guildenstern IS in a tower and so all they actually have to do is angle up slightly, so he gets the shot. Yet another ten on the Artillery die (he never bloody stops!) but this one is dead on – alas, the 4+ Look Out Sir! save from being close to friendly units saves Guildenstern from certain death.
In combat, Carmilla decides what the hell, fighting one’s better than fighting two, and challenges the Grand Master. There is some brief tension, but – just as she did in all those sixth edition games – she whiffs her To Wound rolls and her Ward Saves in short order, and down she goes to the dead pile. The Knights overrun behind my army, to join Team Timewarp, who have done quite nicely without their bonus attacks and chewed through every single last Zombie for no losses to themselves.
Insult to injury mode, this is where I realise…
My Fifth Mistake!
You’ll love this one. In every prior edition of Warhammer that I have actually played, Fear tests are taken when you’re charged by or wish to charge something scary, in the Movement phase. In eighth, they are taken at the start of EVERY combat phase in which you’re engaging such a creature. Since neither of us have successfully taken this in, Edd has taken no Fear tests in this game. None. Nada. Zip. Zilch. No wonder he’s been having such an easy time of it. We agree that the combats are done and there’s no point in time travelling now, it’ll just complicate things, and besides, if we remember this game – and I will – we won’t forget again – and… well, you’ll see.
On the other side of the field, the Empire troops who’ve remembered that Undead are scary do not have such a great time of it. The Grave Guard mulch the ten Halberdiers and overrun toward the Handgunners on the hill, while the best efforts of thirty Soldiers of the Empire don’t quite remove all twenty Zombies. They get seventeen.
This might look bad, but I play Undead; they’ll be back, and the coward in the tower is the ‘mancer with the answe… No, wait, he doesn’t have an Invocation, does he? I refer you to my First Mistake, and then… well, let’s get on with the report.
Vampire Counts Turn 4
My turn is quite short and un-photogenic. The Grave Guard charge the Handgunners, who kill three with a Stand and Shoot but are still trodden into a fine paste under my purple armoured greaves, while Ruthven edges his bodyguard forward and tries for an Invocation, which he of course fails to cast. Guildenstern Gazes the Knights but discovers they have some banner that gives them Magic Resistance. The Zombies… well, let’s not speculate too much, shall we?
Empire Turn 5
This will be the last turn as Edd has some sort of highly competitive pub quiz league thing to rush off to (but he’s winning, why is he making his excuses and leaving?). His assorted troops mostly mill around, although…
… the surviving Halberdiers do try for a charge on Guildenstern in his little wizard house. Edd’s magic phase is another dice bonanza, with ten or so available, and so he goes to cast a big fat Burning Gaze on Ruthven’s Skeletons and…
Alas, he doesn’t roll up a unit-gobbling Dimensional Cascade or anything that might give me the game back; instead he notches up a pitiful little farty thing that doesn’t even hurt Zappacrappadingdong but at least kills three Greatswords.
The Cannon crew continue to overstuff their metal death tube with sheer, wilful abandon, and its expulsion flies clean over the Grave Guards’ heads.
Out of sheer spite, Ruthven chugs down his Potion of Strength and orders a charge on the Swordsmen. In the ensuing (mandatory) challenge, 370 points of killing power are brought to bear on a 15 point Empire Champion, who doesn’t even know what hit him apart from a failed Fear Test (thanks, Aura of Dark Majesty!). The Skeletons marmalise a few more and the Swordsmen run away, only to be pulled down and handed recruitment letters for the Army of Sylvania. The Halberdiers successfully pull Guildenstern out of his tower and take his Staff of Sorcery away – broken-hearted, he slopes off into the night and leaves the game to end.
So, we count up the Victory Points, and that’s when I realise…
My Sixth Mistake!
It helps, all things being equal, if you don’t leave 90 points of prime Ethereal chaff in your figure case for the whole game. I only noticed the Spirit Hosts’ absence without leave when I picked up my roster to count the points left on the board.
In The End…
Edd has scored 685 points (we decided to give him the VPs for the Spirit Host – if anything counts as “losing at Warhammer”, being a numpty and not using your whole army does), I’ve baggsied 400 on the nut. 335 points in it. Less than half my army, so it’s a DRAW.
In the final analysis, that’s probably more than I deserved. Lessons learned? Well, if you’ve been paying attention you’ll know already, but let’s sum up, shall we?
When you get to choose or swap spells, actually think about which characters will get the most out of them, and make your choices accordingly. Especially if you’ve spent points on an upgrade for one spell.
If you’ve spent 370 points on a challenge-winning armour-piercing killing machine that’s lousy at anything but fighting, point it at the enemy’s expensive characters, and don’t make it walk any further than it has to.
If you have been a numpty and picked the wrong spells for your wizards, don’t play as if you’d picked the right ones.
Make sure you read your entire spell card.
If your entire army runs on Psychology tests, you should probably be reminding your opponent to take them.
Make sure you put your entire army on the board.
Oh, and a special bonus: never put every Zombie you own in the army list at the start, you’ll need some for Invoking with.
The only other cock-up in my army selection, really, was the Vampire Lord himself – he was kitted out for a role which doesn’t come naturally to me and really needed him on something that moved fast and kicked ass. My ideal Vampire Lord buries himself in the lines, casts spells, and charges in to help mop up in the final few turns. A level 1 wizard with all his available points spent on challenge trickery isn’t really suited to that. The only one of his upgrades that actually mattered was Aura of Dark Majesty, which was definitely worth a punt, but beyond that he was utterly useless. Everything else that went wrong was, frankly, my own fault.
The Second Battle: Vampire Counts vs. Skaven, 1000 points, Battleline
This is Simon. Simon is my loyal rules monkey for the Pathfinder RPG, and a competent tactical-combat GM for anything d20 based. He is also one of the nicest, most generous blokes I know, and genuinely tolerant of little incidents like booking a game two weeks in advance, then forgetting and turning up with some other fellow and an Empire army.
By the time I’d finished ineffectively mauling Edd’s Imperials, we didn’t have time for anything other than a 1000 pointer, and that was going to be bit tight. Fortunately, I’d already written a 1000 point list, and Simon’s scales down simply by removing his Plague Monks and their associated toxin-belching artillery piece. If we didn’t stop for photos, we might just be able to get away with this…
Vampire Counts: Sylvanians Playing Sewerjack
Mannfred the Acolyte – barded Nightmare
30 Skeletons – sword, board, full command 5 Dire Wolves – claws and paws 5 Dire Wolves – inferiority complex
7 Black Knights – barding, lances, full command, willing to die for Sylvania
5 Cairn Wraiths – creepiness, kookiness, mystery and spookiness
Rodents Of Unusual Size? I don’t think they even exist!
Warlord – Dwarf-Gouger, heavy armour, shield, tail spike, ploughman’s lunch Warlock Engineer – extra magic level, warp-energy condenser, warplock pistol, some sort of magic sword, death-wish
30 Clanrats – spears, shields, full command 30 Clanrats – spears, shields, full command
7 Jezzails – smugness
Doomwheel – spare hamster
I didn’t need to roll for spells, as Mannfred knows the entire Lore of the Vampires off by heart, having stayed in memorising it while his brothers were playing at Wild Beasts in the castle cellars. Simon got Crack’s Call (buggerbuggerbuggerbugger) and Warp Lightning (bzaaaat!).
I set up my stuff in a long line, with Mannfred outside the Black Knights (the idea was, they’d ride through the woods, since they ignore them, and then he could join up with them in turn one, without slowing them down on his stupid non-ethereal horse), and the Wraiths behind the Black Knights, because they’re scared of Jezzails.
Simon got to go first. The Dire Wolves rushed forward, one unit in the general direction of his Doomwheel, the other straight for the Jezzails. Wouldn’t be able to charge them straight away, might just be able to hold them back.
Simon advanced both his infantry units, cast Crack’s Call on the Skeletons (I laughed and let him kill the ONE SKELETON the spell reached), and Mannfred said no to any Warp Lightning that happened to be going on. The Doomwheel zapped a lone Dire Wolf (you go, Doomwheel!) and the Jezzails bagged a couple from the middle unit.
After working out exactly where I wanted the Doomwheel to go (not ‘straight into the flank of my Black Knights’ for starters), I moved the rightmost Dire Wolves over to herd it around the wall and wood before it got to do anything – or Simon could take his chances and drive it over terrain. The Skeletons and Knights advanced, Mannfred joined up with them as planned, the Wraiths ran into the woods behind them, and I sent the other Dire Wolves up the Jezzails’ noses. They wouldn’t be shooting anything else next turn, not unless Simon wanted to waste his magic on killing a few zombified puppies. My magic phase was a damp squib – when I told Simon what Wind of Death did (d6 S3 hits per rank in the unit contacted, ignoring armour saves) he threw all his dice at dispelling it, and Mannfred actually failed to cast Invocation, so no extra Wolves for me.
The Skaven advanced cautiously, uncharacteristically cautiously, with the Warlord’s unit taking point and the Warlock’s lagging behind them a bit (I see what you’re up to, Mr. I-can-cast-my-doom-spells-into-combat). Simon decided a living Doomwheel trumped a dead one and drove around the wall, zapping two Dire Wolves along the way. Mannfred couldn’t quite stop Crack’s Call, but since I’m a jammy git, I passed all the Initiative tests for the Dire Wolves, and they avoided falling down a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it crevasse. Warp Lightning hit the Black Knights too, killing one.
Now, if I were a sensible man, I’d have tried to charge my Skeletons into the Warlord’s unit, and sent the Black Knights into the Warlock’s, or possibly reformed the Knights and booted Mannfred out altogether.
I did not do this. Instead I charged the Black Knights into the Warlord’s unit, penned the Skeletons in, and, hoping for a repeat performance, sent the lone Wolf into the Jezzails. Mannfred managed to cast Raise Dead and put some convenient Zombies in front of the Warlock’s unit to deter flank charges, but he was at the wrong end of the Black Knight unit to Invoke more Dire Wolves without needing more dice than I had to cast it, and like a bloody fool I’d lined him up on the flank of Simon’s Clanrats rather than using Make Way to shimmy him up to the other end where a piddly six-to-cast version would do the job.
The Black Knight champion issued a challenge, hoping to keep the Warlord honest, but he couldn’t quite get a Killing Blow or indeed a normal wound on the Skaven, and got smashed into tinfoil for his trouble. Worse, Mannfred only killed one Clanrat with four attacks, and the Knights only managed a couple more. Although only one Knight was pulled down, the combat was overall a draw. Oh, and the lone Wolf didn’t wound anything, but he didn’t take anything either.
Simon’s Warlock and friends obligingly charged the Zombies in front of them, and the Doomwheel continue to roam around the back end of my army, only having range to blast a couple of Skellies. Mannfred’s lacklustre performance continued as he failed to stop Crack’s Call from ripping across my army, pulling down two Zombies and a Wraith. Unsurprisingly, his Warlock followed up by carving through the Zombies on combat resolution alone, but the worst was yet to come…
… in combat, the Skaven Warlord issued a challenge and Mannfred, lacking a rear rank to hide in, had to accept. The Acolyte’s lack of armour, ward saves or indeed any protection beyond “I’m on a horse” came back to bite him as the Warlord scored two wounds at Strength 5 and, well, that was the end of that. The Knights had to take three Unstable tests – one for losing the combat, one for losing the General, and one for the start of the next turn since there were no other Wizards to take over. They did not like taking three Unstable tests, and decided to go on strike. Everything else had to eat two, and I was left with about fifteen Skeletons and three Wraiths with which to do my worst.
The Wraiths charged the Skaven Warlock and his block (no point in going for the Jezzails, they’d Stand and Shoot and that’d be bye-bye ghostie-men… although now that I think of it, they would have had to pass a Terror test on less-than-brilliant odds before doing so), while the Skeletons went for the Warlord. The Wraiths didn’t embarrass themselves too badly, at least putting a wound on the Warlock and chopping up a rodent or two, but the Skeletons whiffed badly and were battered into their component parts by an angry Warlord.
Well, this just involved me removing three Wraiths at the end of Simon’s combat phase. It doesn’t really warrant a whole paragraph.
At The End…
Well, that tabling’s taught me a valuable lesson. It doesn’t matter how small the game is; Undead Generals need a Ward save. To be honest I was sort of expecting it, but I wanted to try out a) this list and b) a Loremaster, just because there were still some new Necromancy spells I hadn’t used. Probably threw the game away with that charge on the Warlord’s unit – moving Mannfred about and Invoking might have been a damn sight more sensible, but I suppose if he hadn’t gotten Raise Dead off, he’d have been charged and eaten by the Warlock’s unit, and I couldn’t be sure that was going to happen. Still, we live and learn, or in Mannfred’s case we don’t live at all. He’ll be back though. He always comes back.
There are two ways to learn a new edition of a wargame.
There is the sensible way, where you wait for an appropriately-priced rulebook to be released, read through it several times – once for squee, once for confusion, once for slow parsing and then once more for actual tactical application – and play a series of smallish games using forces you’re comfortable with, concentrating on the interaction of new mechanics, in a safe and quiet environment free of pressures, with time to look up and discuss complex interactions as they emerge.
Then there’s the stupid way where you play a five-player team game in a Games Workshop branch with a rowdy, rambunctions bunch of old mates, only two of whom have seriously read the new rules, and a high chance of backseat gamers, self-appointed Sun Tzu, hobby elitists and all the other nuisances of the shop environment.
I am stupid. THEREFORE:
Dark Elves 8th Ed Test Run – 2498/2500 Lords – 470
Dreadlord is in to snipe at things like Fanatics should any be present, and to provide an Ld10 bubble from the heart of the army. Was tempted to merge Crossbows into one big unit and give him the reroll-misses-when-shooting talisman. He gets a cheap magic sword in case of Wraiths – he can join the Spearmen and at least try to slap some wounds on them.
Sorceress goes in the Warrior horde and uses them as ablative wounds and power dice on legs (which should hopefully compensate for her lower level).
Master on Manticore dive-bombs whatever needs dive-bombing – trashes something big and scary like a War Altar and annoys people with his miscasty doom aura.
Death Hag does what Death Hags do – follow the army, being a very tough BSB that also hands out Stubborn to my signature units and buffs like they’re going out of fashion.
Spearmen horde take point. Deliver Sorceress into range and move up, daring charges – Sorceress will have something that still works in combat, be it a Soul Stealer, a Word of Pain or a Black Horror. If she rolls three missiles I’m entertainingly buggered.
Crossbows and Bolt Throwers are flank and rear guards for the army, chucking out volume of fire until they die.
Dark Riders are bait and blockers, as are Shades. Any casualties inflicted by them are a bonus.
Executioners are crap in the new rules but I’m taking them anyway so I can see how crap they are and whether the Cauldron helps them be not crap. Will probably use them to outflank anything fighting the Warriors.
Witch Elves move forward apace, charge in, chop up what they can and keep going until something dies. Switched their configuration around a bit. Suspect will miss Manbane/Armour Piercing combo after a while. Can’t be helped though.
Entry increasingly terse due to exciting sixteen hour day of restoring formatted computer to ordinary functioning, and being placed on hold by Department for Work and Pensions.
Has just occurred to me – members of Dark Elf team have not discussed who will take which items and spell lores to avoid duplication. Pre-game pre-amble could be VERY interesting…