[Warhammer] Lord Ruthven… Regenerated?

Who is Lord Ruthven, anyway?

Obviously, he’s an homage: the first modern and recognisable vampire in English literature, the brooding Byronic antagonist of John Polidori’s The Vampyre, published two hundred years ago last month. “Byronic” is no accident; Polidori was Lord Byron’s physician, and a fellow traveller on that infamous summer jaunt to Lake Geneva that produced, among other things, Frankenstein, and he consciously modelled his character on his employer.

So that gives us a kind of ur-vampire, the originator of the tradition that gave rise to Sheridan LeFanu’s Carmilla, and James Malcolm Rymer’s Varney, and thence the big lad himself, your actual Count Dracula, and thence the twentieth century vampire tradition in which the Von Carsteins are sited. So obviously, when I was after a name for my Von Carstein general, Lord Ruthven sprang to mind.

But who the hell is he?

The Lord Original

Freshly painted!

The first Lord Ruthven; a Mordheim vampire with enthusiastically swooshy cloak. My original figure went AWOL roundabout the time I graduated, and goodness knows where he ended up. Thanks to Michael Churchill from the Middlehammer Trading Outpost, and to the last bit of a broken General of the Empire kit who provided his new sword, though; he’s back!

This version was a bugger and a half to fit in a unit. My original solution was to mount him at the very front of his base and the command group in his unit at the very back of theirs, creating a sort of frame for that enormous cloak. These days, I’d stick him on the corner with a gravestone next to him (probably that one I have that’s leaning at an extreme angle of its own), or even have him running around on his own, relying on the Wristbands of Black Gold to keep him going.

In any case, as the general of an Army of Sylvania he was invariably a third level wizard (I only had the one to play with most of the time, might as well make it a good ‘un). His equipment has come and gone, but I’ve eventually settled on this as fairly representative:

  • Sword of Striking, Black Periapt, Ring of the Night
  • Aura of Dark Majesty

Five attacks, hitting most things on twos, is pretty reasonable for a non-Strigoi. That sixth Power die, or eighth if the army also includes a Necromancer, is pretty reasonable for a non-Necrarch. The 5+ Ward Save is less than I’d like (and I’d be tempted by the Wristbands of Black Gold if I continue this tendency of not letting him get into combat in the first place). And the signature “actually my entire army can march” Bloodline power is a must.

What sketchy background existed suggested that he was an illegitimate scion of the Von Carstein lineage – a lowly captain who distinguished himself on the streets of Mordheim, proving tough as old boots and an accomplished duellist to boot, rising in the estimation of his seniors until, by the time the Wars of the Vampire Counts turned and the Sylvanian heartland was under siege, he was a Count in his own right, and a proudly independent Lord by the time Mannfred returned and staked his renewed claim to authority. He entered exile rather than bend the knee, abandoning his old holdings in Templehof and setting forth in search of a new domain to call his own… and that’s where we find him in this run of revival games.

The Lord Subsequent

This figure is better known, these days, as Sir Francis Varney (although he’s competing for the name with my other male Mordheim vampire, just to really mess things up). In the first instance, however, he was a deliberate replacement for the missing original, and a deliberate choice for seventh edition WFB, which allowed the great man to slip into something more comfortable; a suit of heavy armour and shield that didn’t interfere with casting spells!

(There was also a mounted version – a Rutgar, General of the Empire figure with a badly sculpted wig, mounted on a grunged-up Deathclaw figure with a rather nice exposed ribcage conversion. Goodness knows where that’s got to; it didn’t come back with the rest of the army, but may have been sold separately.)

He didn’t actually see that many battles before The Great Rulebook Mouldering and my subsequent foolish sale of the army. Here’s the one extant version of his seventh edition equipment I’ve been able to find:

  • Dark Acolyte, Infinite Hatred, Summon Creatures of the Night
  • Sword of Battle, Armour of Night, Wristbands of Black Gold

Once again, he’s built to run around on his own near but not in units. A level 3 wizard with the capacity to raise fresh Dire Wolves and Fell Bats into units and no slouch in combat with a bonus attack and rerolls to hit. I’m not sure I’d build him exactly like that now, but I’m also not sure how I’d build a seventh edition army – perusal of my forum activity suggests I was vocally and persistently wrong in my approach to that army book!

In his single eighth edition outing, the same Lord Ruthven looked a bit like this:

  • additional hand weapon, heavy armour
  • Nightshroud, Talisman of Endurance, Potion of Strength
  • Aura of Dark Majesty, Beguile, Dread Knight

This was an acknowledged failure at the time and history has not vindicated it. After careful perusal of the army book for the period, I’m actually thinking I’d rather… not build a conventional Vampire Lord at all. I’m rather fond of the Ghoul King, and it calls back to the Strigoi of yore, a Bloodline for whom I wish I’d had more time. That has me thinking about… some possibilities. Because as time passes and my old army starts to look a bit scabby, I’ve been going through my collection of Undead figures and wondering how easy it’d be to… do it all again.

The Lord Alternative

A while ago, I bought into Bad Squiddo’s Dracula Kicsktarter. This includes a rather dynamic figure in the same mould as the classically Gothic Lord Ruthven, but noticeably without weapons; appropriate, perhaps, for a better-dressed-than-average Strigoi Ghoul King? The characters around him – well, there’s a suggestion of a Necromancer in there, and a couple of Vampire Thralls, and three Banshees (the erstwhile Brides). That’s a reasonable suite of characters for an eighth edition army.

Digging these out has set me wondering about investing in some Fireforge plastic undead, and/or about dolling up my Gripping Beast Revenants and investing in some Iron Wind Skeletons to fight alongside them (that’d squint back to the Army of Sylvania and beyond to fourth edition Undead), and sticking the Avatars of War plastic harpies I have onto some 40mm square bases, and maybe picking up some Vargheists… there are some real possibilities here. There’s every chance I’d move Ruthven out of Sylvania at this stage, perhaps setting up a new domain in the Vaults where he can range down into Bretonnia and pick up some more generically-medieval-peasanty-looking minions.

But at the same time, it all feels a bit mad. A bit self-indulgent. A bit less than likely to be seen through, considering how much of my Warhammer experience is about using the models – the very same models – that I’ve had for so long. And do I really want to paint that many new Zombies? Honestly? When I already have a reasonable amount of square based lads lying around the place?

How about… instead…

The Lord Prospective

Hear me out.

I don’t hate Age of Sigmar. There are things I struggle with – the elevation to cosmic scale, the way a Balehewn Soiltraumatiser cannot be called a spade, the way the rules are an amorphous mass spread across too damn many books. But I do have a Soul Wars starter box and a Sigmarite Mausoleum and appropriate battlemat under the coffee table, waiting to find a purpose of some sort or ilk. And that’s when it hit me.

Who says Lord Ruthven died with his world?

Imagine it. The Necroquake sends souls pouring out into the world, and among them is this one ravenous spark, alight and confused and furious. It rises with the others, and becomes a glint in a mad god’s eye. Lord Ruthven has his come-to-Nagash moment and it’s Manfred on the mountainside, Faust and Mephistopheles, hell it’s Megatron and Unicron. Who are we kidding? I ain’t no class act, and that last one has a resonance with me all its own. “I belong to nobody!” he shrieks, defying the gaze of Nagash, and in the sky the dead god laughs and graces his wayward servant with an agonising resurrection. It’s all a bit cod-Moorcock, a bit bad-Eddison, and that presses certain buttons in my brain-pocket that I can’t entirely deny.

We’d have to do something about that stupid wing, but the basic idea of resurrecting the old monster for the brave new world has an appeal to me.

[WFB] The Army of Sylvania (WD291/Storm of Chaos, 2004)

This is it, folx. This is the big one. I’ve been after this article for ages, since none of the PDFs I’ve been able to find are complete; I actually cracked and bought a copy, with my own money and everything.

This came along at exactly the right time.

I was in the process of starting out again, after the GCSE interregnum when “all that bleddy Warhammer” had been sacrificed on the altar of familial dissatisfaction. I’d just rebuilt my Chaos Space Marines for the Eye of Terror campaign and I was after a new WFB army and there, a month after the campaign results, was this none-more-goth business.

It would be a few more months before the actual rules dropped and crystallised my vague ambitions. I reproduce those too, largely to keep them in circulation and lend some context to future doings. In the event that Games Workshop puts this fifteen year old material for a no longer supported game line back into circulation through legitimate means, all they have to do is ask and I will happily take it down.

Put all of this together and you have the shape of my first army; no Ghouls or Necromancers (although I had the figure for one, hanging around from my Mordheim box), overequipped Skeletons and Zombies with every polearm the box could offer, and a veritable swarm of Wolves and Bats. One unit of Black Knights ’cause that’s all I could take. And a lot of kitbashed Skeleton Crossbowmen, which involved cutting Tomb King Archer hands off and then cutting the shafts of Empire Militia crossbows to fit on either side of them and somehow lining up the four small jittery pieces of plastic… I must have been mad.

I wonder…

Lord Ruthven’s Resumption

Lord Ruthven: Vampire Lord with extra magic level, Sword of Striking, Wristbands of Black Gold, Black Periapt and Summon Wolves
Carmilla: Vampire Thrall with Spectral Attendants and Earthbind
Sir Francis Varney: Vampire Thrall with Army Standard, Walking Death and Earthbind

Sir Francis Varney’s First of Foot: 24 Sylvanian Militia with spears and full command group
Templehof Pals: 24 Sylvanian Levy with halberds, standard bearer and musician
Bat Swarm
Bat Swarm
3 Fell Bats
10 Dire Wolves: Scouts, Doom Wolf

Black Coach
Black Coach

Order of the Black Cross: 8 Drakenhof Templars with barded Nightmares and Drakenhof Banner

I could very easily go to 3000 points, too. It’d only take adding the Spirit Host, a couple of Banshees, and either slapping a Dragon under Ruthven and promoting Carmilla to Countess, or adding Mannfred von Carstein as the second permitted Lord.

(Incidentally, if you’re wondering why the Thralls don’t have armour; they’re all the lightly-clad Mordheim figures who are blatantly not wearing any, and I am reluctant to stick shields and things on figures who might find themselves further ennobled to spellcasting and unarmoured status at the drop of a hat.)

There are a few odds and sods I’d like to replace. The Fell Bats, with some nice Reaper ones. My old foot Reiksgard, with some plastic Greatswords, who may be about to vanish from the miniature range, so I’d better get a shift on if I’m going to do that. And I’d like some Crossbowmen and Archers for doing the other Von Carstein theme force… but I’m in several minds about exactly where those should come from. We’ll talk about why next time.

[WFB] The Narrative Approach (Paul Gayner, WD290)

Here’s another of those articles that inspired my Vampire Counts – one of those things that came out at precisely the right moment to kick me into collecting, building, painting and playing with the one army that I’ve ever been able to stick with.

For those who aren’t up to squinting at tiny text (reproduced as best I can from a PDF copy of WD 290), Paul’s article basically walks you through a few baseline notions in building a themed army. To synopsisise, you have:

1: an Idea,

derived this from literally anywhere you can plunder an idea from; you’re not looking to lift complete and complex notions so don’t be afraid to nick little bits from everywhere. (I never have been.) The alternative army lists in the back of the Armies books are there but, as Mr. Gayner explains and I reiterate, you don’t need them. You don’t need to deviate from the “proper” army list at all, or sit there wringing your hands because the specific troops you like are in the Blood Dragon list but you want to do Von Carsteins. You’re looking for the reason your Von Carsteins are like they are.

I was directly building into the Storm of Chaos variant list for the Army of Sylvania, which had a core of well-equipped Skeletons and Zombies surrounded by a swarm of bats, wolves and so on and so forth. No Ghouls, and only a limited supply of Knights, which is why I only had one unit for years and years.

2. an Army List,

built around those units that establish and maintain a theme and without which your commander would not be under any circumstances whatsoever. Thinking about your army in different tactical situations (i.e. different kinds of battle) is recommended – if they’re caught on the march, if they’re raided at home, if they’re much reduced in circumstances, which units never leave? Mine are my Black Knights and Skeletons, plus at least one Vampire.

3. some Models,

which are tailored to fit the particular aesthetic that goes along with your Idea.

This is why most of my models, barring the monsters, are kitbashed from Empire stuff – and even my Winged Nightmare, back in the day, was a gnarled-up Empire Griffon rather than the skinless horrors of the core Vampire Counts range. I really wanted to emphasise Sylvania as part of the Empire, a dark mirror held up to the neighbouring provinces, with uniformed Skeleton militiamen and a ragged Zombie levy and later, ghosts swarming out of the haunted Fort Oberstyre (because plastic Flagellants put the “make a Spirit Hose out of Flagellants” option within my price range at last).

4. some Characters,

of a sort who might logically lead the kind of army you’ve created. This is the bit where I go a bit off base, as my characters have been renamed and repurposed over the years and I’ve never quite settled down and defined which of them is which. I have a lot of names, derived from nineteenth-century vampire novels because I’m a pretentious arse literature graduate, but who exactly IS Lord Ruthven and which of these vampire models is him? It’s never been entirely clear.

5. some Other Stuff.

The original article recommends:

  • a baggage train (I never did this, because General’s Compendium style scenarios with extra modelling work that I wouldn’t be using week in week out were a bit too much fiddle and fart for me)
  • writing flash fiction or background to set your army’s personality (I’ve done an Amount of this but it’s all been for non-started attempts at reviving the army for eighth edition)
  • bespoke scenery (I did this once, but my old battle board was given to a gaming club when I moved to a tiny box room in London and had to reduce my hobby down to “fits in a backpack” kind of scale)

Now. This sort of thing is well and good but I don’t quite think it goes far enough. Like a great deal of the ink that’s been spilled over the hobby over the years (bad sentence, but shush, I’m not at work), it focuses too much on the army list. That’s not a reproach to Paul Gayner, who delivered an excellent article on collecting themed armies – more a commentary on how army lists are a quiet and personal process that takes place before games and are easier to discuss in isolation from the heat of the moment. Giving your characters names and converting half your models and putting thought into the colour schemes is only the start. The next step is making it have some kind of impact on the games you’re playing.

After all, this is what it’s all about…

See, I’m not a great believer in backstory, beyond the sort of sketch level that gives characters a name and a motivation and a rough personality. People tend to go too far with backstory, presenting something as tightly plotted as a novel, with no room for other players to stake a claim and have a say and help resolve and develop things.

I like collaborative, emergent narratives; stories that are generated out of actual play and that develop as a result of the experiences players have together. This is a bit tricky if you’re playing week in week out pick-up games and you’re fighting Skaven one week and Empire the next and Lizardmen the week after that only the Empire player’s borrowing some Daemons instead. Kind of hard to sort out a coherent narrative out of all that.

Back in the day, I managed it by keeping records of games and then much later sorting them into rough chronologies. My early games during the Storm of Chaos campaign were a given, and my handful of games against the Reikland Intervention Force were obviously roughly contemporary with Sigmar’s Blood, but my few seventh edition games took place around the time Mannfred von Carstein was first coming to power and the lesser Von Carsteins were fighting back, while the Mordheim campaign I played in 2008 shortly before selling the army was actually the prologue… basically, the army’s fictitious history was nowhere near aligned with its actual one. And games against anything really odd, like – let’s say a Southlands Lizardmen army, or even High Elves – would never make the cut at all because it’d be an odd game out which didn’t fit with anything already on the slate. That was a damned, damned shame.

Nowadays, of course, I tend to play chains of games against the same people with more or less the same armies (or at least the same figures, though they might walk back and forth between editions a little). This means… in theory… that we can actually string together short campaigns, narrative chains of games which let some stories emerge and build up. The People’s Panting and I have this WIP idea about playing through an Albion campaign together, and that’d be a test run for the sort of thing I’m on about.

I don’t want to go mad with it – there are some lovely campaign rules for sixth edition WFB but they absolutely depend on having regular, frequent games, week in week out, to keep momentum. It’s the same problem we have with RPGs: committing to regular weekly sessions around kids and shifts and our respective agonies just doesn’t work. With an added layer of “this is a dead game” and “we all live just far enough apart that it’s a big deal to get together and play.” So I’m looking to do what I did with RPGs: shift from the “weekly episode in an endless picaresque” to the “occasional feature length special” mode of storytelling.

Remember that platonic ideal of Warhammer I was on about, where games are heavily curated and teased up to with some skirmishes and given a bit of context? That’s part of it. Why are these two (or three) armies fighting? What happened in the run up? Does this need to be another Pitched Battle or can we plan ahead and do an Ambush or something?

Wanking away telling stories for myself is fine but I’d love to tell some with other people and really let them build up. So far we’ve been playing tester games, taster games and tournament games – not things that hang together super well – but the opportunity is now knocking to do my favourite thing.

Who ARE you fanged dorks, for goodness’ sake?

To this end, I’m actually thinking I might have to put some definite names to some definite faces, lining up my Vampires of all shapes and sizes and once and for all saying who the hell is whom. Whether Lord Ruthven sticks around or finds himself confined to the Black Coach remains to be seen. There are still plenty of Lord Ruthven’s R-Words left to name lists and reports after, after all, and it seems fitting to stick with the first and greatest of English literary vampires as my officer in charge. Even if his actual Bloodline status becomes a bit… fluid… thanks to a possible new model I have in mind (and me wanting to bugger about with different rules).

Obviously I’ll keep Clarimonde on hand as a backup Countess (a general for when I don’t fancy taking a Lord/second Lord for small games) and the malicious Sir Francis Varney as fighting Thrall and general for small forces. Goodness knows what I’m going to do with the new Battle Standard Bearer. Is he Romauld, or is that my shiny new Necromancer of variant levels? Or shall I take advantage of that loose standard, stick it in a hole on the back of a base, and have it there for anyone who wants it to lug around?

And I have to admit that I liked “The Master and Margharita” as a title/concept for my fifth edition list, hinging as it did around a Vampire Countess and a Master Necromancer. That’s another little vampire literature homage I’d like to keep going. It may be that I end up using the literary references as titles for list archetypes. I used to do the same thing with Cradle of Filth songs, which just shows how far we’ve come since 2004… in some respects, at least.

[WFB] The Black Art (a deep dive into Necromancy by Mike Walker: WD282)

As you can see, I have (thanks to Dominik from the sixth edition Facebook group) laid my hands on a definitive piece of tactical guidance from the man/myth/legend/holy terror of the chip shop the world knows as Mike Walker. His brief detour into the finer points of Necromancy was another of those well-timed moments: it occurred around the time I was first renewing my interest in the fang├ęd wossnames of the night.*

Looking back, it’s interesting to see how many of my current thoughts mirror things Mike told us all a long time ago. The Vampire Lord elevated to magic level three with the Carstein Ring stapled firmly to their finger and accompanied by a workmanlike Necromancer; the importance of the Black Periapt; the necessity to dismiss Hand of Dust in favour of a spell that doesn’t rob your Vampire of attacks or rely on your Necromancer’s mediocre finger-flapping actually landing a hit.

This isn’t to say that his approach was exhaustive. Today, spurred on by the reports that my fellow neck nibblers struggled a bit at the sixth edition tournament down Upminster way, I’m going to look at a few bits and bobs about the other Bloodlines, consider a handful of useful magic items, and weigh up the alternative to Necromancy, the often-unconsidered Lore of Death.

Blood Dragons

There are two things you need to know about Blood Dragons, as far as Necromancy is concerned.

First: Hand of Dust, for all its manifold flaws, may actually be worth sticking with on a Blood Dragon; their absurdly high Weapon Skill and access to rerolls from their Bloodline powers mean the attack is much more likely to hit, and because the highest-ranking Blood Dragon in a unit is obliged to challenge, they may end up in a situation where they need a good Hand of Dust to get the matter of honour over and done with so they can return to their real job of mulching infantry.

Second: the Black Periapt moves from “nice to have” into “must-have”; fifteen points to counteract the Bloodline’s slightly embarrassing Power Dice problem will ensure that the army remains ticking over despite its general’s lifestyle choices.

Lahmians

Honestly, there’s not a lot to report here, except that the Lahmians themselves suffer from mildly reduced Weapon Skill and an inability to swing anything double-handed around their heads. They also have an inbuilt tendency to strike first, with insane Initiative and a Bloodline power to seal the deal. I mention this purely because it might be worth setting a Hellish Vigour aside with these lasses. Other than that, play them like a slightly more fragile Von Carstein and you won’t go far wrong.

Necrarchs

Here, there are a few things to bear in mind.

Nehekhara’s Noble Blood is a linchpin power. On a Vampire Lord, it gives you a level four wizard who can, for another thirty points spent on Forbidden Lore and a Spell Familiar, secure the entire Lore of Necromancy. On a Vampire Count, it gives you that crucial level three caster who can reliably bung out a Curse of Years or a top-end Invocation of Nehek, without occupying a precious hero slot. On a Vampire Thrall, it gives you a mediocre combat hero with barely-above-average WS, no armour, no magic item allowance left, and no real chance of casting anything but the most mediocre of spells (a single die Invocation or a Dark Hand of Death if you’re feeling spicy). Try as I might, wish as hard as I can, I have never found a case where those hundred and twenty-five points are not better spent on anything else that lurks in the Heroes section.

As far as the remaining powers go, the absolute standout for me is the one that extends the range of all Necromancy spells by six inches. The chief limiting factor on Necromancy is the modest distance from which it can be cast, and the need to place your extremely important single point of failure model a little closer to the action than they might otherwise like to be – a double concern when you’re the squashiest Vampire around and all the good Ward saves are juuuust expensive enough that you’d give up your last spell to secure them.

A Necrarch Count, who’ll never be cornering the market on spells, may like to consider the one that adds d3 models to your Invocation of Nehek rolls instead of Forbidden Lore and the Spell Familiar. This is a deceptively nifty little power, as it ensures even a mid-tier Invocation is guaranteed to create a new Zombie unit and takes the risk out of the low-end casting. As a bonus, it leaves you with enough points to sneak a Ring of the Night in there as well.**

Strigoi

The overgrown ghoul-wranglers are the other Vampires on whom I’d consider Hand of Dust worth a go, simply because they hate absolutely everyone and can keep that hate going a lot longer. The problem is that a Strigoi Vampire very much builds itself, and there are few scenarios in which I wouldn’t prefer to chuck out the six Strength six attacks with rerolls.

One more thing it’s worth remembering: Strigoi can’t carry magic items. This means that any crucial Black Periapt or Book of Arkhan will have to be carried by a Necromancer. No great loss, but often it means you’ll have to stop a little short of your full casting potential. Hopefully ripping the face off anything that looks at you funny will compensate. Strigoi are great.

Magic Items

From left to right: Book of Arkhan, Black Periapt, Staff of Damnation.
And some people to carry them.

The Power Stone is an underrated little trinket, capable of wringing an unexpected extra spell out of a turn or elevating a lowly Necromancer to the point where a crucial Curse of Years might actually go off. I’m not the biggest fan of one-use-only magic items, but a generic Stone-and-Scroll supporting caster might have a lot of potential if you don’t have my tendency to vacillate and save them for a better moment that never comes.

The Black Periapt, as Mr. Walker opines, is a dirt cheap way to give yourself a little polish in every Magic phase, limited only by the wily opponent’s tendency to bung all their dice out there and deny you the option of hanging on to any. I suppose that’s why it’s so gosh-darn cheap. The Power Familiar is a more reliable version of the same thing and honestly a pretty decent use of your Necromancer’s magic item allowance if you’re stuck for better ideas.

The other important items are the Bound Spells. Bring too many of these and you’ll see your opponents develop this fascinating little tic under the eye as they contemplate reviving comp scores just for you. Rely on them too much and you’ll discover that the sodding bastard things run out right when you don’t need them to.

Of the four Bound Spells available my favourites are the Book of Arkhan and Staff of Damnation. A guaranteed, if easy to Dispel, Vanhel’s Danse Macabre is a wonderful thing to have. The Staff is flat-out better than rolling Hellish Vigour simply because it affects every Undead model within range, not just a single unit. If I’m bringing two Necromancers and a Vampire Count I like to bring both of these. Even in my Sylvanian army, where the allowance of Arcane Items is drastically reduced because my Lord has better things to do with a 100 point allowance and my Thralls don’t have the choice, I like to find space for one of them.

Of the other two, the Rod of Flaming Death is an expensive novelty that might occasionally pay off. The fact that it only takes one casualty to cause a Panic test means it’s great for shooing off things like Empire detachments, Gnoblar rank bonus on legs or skirmishers of any sort that don’t have big crests on their head and a tendency to hang around in ponds. The Talon of Death is not something I’ve hitherto investigated – it seems similar to Hand of Dust but arguably more likely to get anything done.

The best thing about these items is that, being Enchanted rather than Arcane, any old character can carry them. The worst thing about these items is that any non-wizard character in my army is likely to have their hands full with either a big flappy object on a long firm object, a spooky book of non-spellcasting nature, or a suite of Bloodline powers tailored for some niche function or other. In larger games when I can afford a spare hero to carry them I might consider them worth a go on a Wraith or something but in my usual 2000-or-below endeavours there are more important things to think about.

The Lore of Death

I’m not saying I’d take a Master Necromancer and load him up with the Lore of Death just to see what happened. But I’m not saying I wouldn’t do that, either.

I think two casters with Necromancy are probably essential. This guarantees you two attempts at the vital Invocation of Nehek and a spare caster who can do the work while the other maintains the Curse of Years. But if I were blessed with the opportunity of a third spellcasting Hero, I would definitely look twice at the other suite of maledictions the Vampire Counts have available.

Dark Hand of Death is an easy cast to draw out Dispel dice, but heavily dependent on that single d6 for hits – Mike is correct in that it’s all too often a damp squib. Wind of Death is exactly like Gaze of Nagash in every way and serves exactly the same purpose. The real gems in the list, though, are the spells that aren’t magic missiles.

Drain Life and Steal Soul are significant in having a mediocre range*** and that amazing little phrase “no armour save” about their person. On casters who like to get close to the enemy – your Blood Dragons and Strigoi – these spells are excellent. Try to save Steal Soul (the one that targets a single model) for unit Champions, who have a tendency to issue challenges that inconvenience your Vampires by forcing them to kill one model instead of wiping out a front rank and protecting your vulnerable infantry from those nasty attacks that tend to equalise combats.

Of course, another way to handle those attacks is with a low-cost spell of deceptive efficiency. Death Dealer is a bit of a gem for those occasions on which you’re expecting to lose models and need to claw back a combat, especially if you have units of Ghouls or Wights in combat with things that strike before them.

The top spell, of course, is the real moneymaker, particularly for Lahmian vampires who already corrode enemy Leadership just by being near them. Doom and Darkness is an essential cast if you’re up against enemies which are for whatever reason immune to the normal effects of fear but still take Break tests; a three (or four, if you’re Lahmian) point swing in your favour is usually enough to send those pesky Ogres running or beat the rage out of those Chaos Warriors.

It would also be remiss of me not to point out that your Rare units love this spell. With Doom and Darkness on their intended target Banshees move from a nuisance to a genuine threat, while the Black Coach has a very real chance of breaking a unit with terror or running it down after a Break test.

If you happen to have opted for a smaller and squashier Vampire general, and a couple of spell-flinging miscreants to support them, the house recommends keeping your Necromancers Necromantic but experimenting with the Lore of Death at the sharp and pointy end of your army.

I’ve got to go now. The first regulation day of Welsh summer (enjoy it, only four more to come) is finally winding to a close, and it’s finally cool and dark enough for me to venture outside. Black puddings don’t buy themselves, you know, and one only gets to call on Trafnidiaeth Cymru so often on a Bank Holiday.****
I hope all this has been helpful, or at least not entirely pointless; it’s a lot of words to squander on doing a bad impression of a niche contributor to a topic that hasn’t been relevant to anyone at all for fifteen years, but it’s kept me occupied through the long dark teatime of the soul. May it do the same for you.

*I did have a Vampire Counts army in fifth edition, but the limitations of pocket money and patience meant it amounted to little more than a buck-toothed Necrarch and a box of Zombies. The one was quite well painted, the others were… not. Previous efforts at an Undead army had similarly run face first into the sheer number of the bastards one needed to obtain: the first run stopped at eight Skeletons, three Horsemen, a Chariot, a Skull Chucker, and a dismounted Arkhan the Black who wasn’t feeling too great about his prospects.

**You may be considering the Crown of the Damned. Please stop considering the Crown of the Damned. Your Vampire general is far, far too important to risk having them be taken out of play by one failed Leadership test. Sooner or later, you will fail one Leadership test and find you’ve spent four hundred and fifty odd points on a general who has decided that dominating the world with mastery of the ole black magic is less important than standing in front of those Grail Knights flicking their fangs and going “brbrbrbrbrbrbrbrbrbr”. Even if they survive contact with the enemy, the embarrassment factor is simply too much to bear.

***To which, it must be noted, the Necrarchs’ extension also applies. An eighteen inch Drain Life radius is significantly better than a twelve inch one, while thirty inches on Dark Hand of Death makes it a real threat to war machine crews and other mid-deployment-zone loiterers.

****I have yet to discover any power, no matter how dire, quaint or curious, that will make a Welsh bus turn up in anything like a timely manner, particularly when Sunday services are involved. One waits for these things with all the patience of a Bretonnian player for a new army book, and generally with the same result.

[WFRP] “In The Year 2525…” From the journals of Ariette von Carstein. Extract 2.

Lalla Ward, Vampire Circus, 1972

The night before, my dears, was a night and a half. Imagine, if you will, my delight at discovering Middenheim’s soul not yet fully crushed by the siege, and the poor souls thronging the streets; imagine my joy that the Red Moon’s doors were still open and the enchanting voice of its hostess still set the night ablaze. Eva is every bit as lovely as I’d been led to believe, and her companion, Magistrix Eberhauer, an utter charmer.

But needs must, on mission and revenge, and I made my way back to the Untergardners’ enclave in Grunpark. My companions on the road had been busy; I could tell from the lightness of their purses and the burdens in their arms that something was afoot. Woe and alas, they greeted me with more suspicion than I feel I deserved; they pressed me for the rhyme and reason behind my wanting to trace an expatriate dwarf with every reason to hate me and all my kin.

In the end I bartered with them; gave them a little titbit or two from the Red Moon’s tables. The grimoire their old witch had carried with them? Genuine. A magician of the Amber College had been in hiding in Untergard for I don’t even know how long, for reasons I’d like to know but simply lack the time to plumb. The scrip tucked in the back? Also genuine. Dark Magic – the other kind – and apparently likely obtained through the old Wyndward Haulage, a front for a cult even my Lord remembers. In return, they let me know Stormwarden is alive and living in Middenheim, and agreed to represent him on my behalf – purely to recover an heirloom of my house. They can’t know how important this is; I’m sure they think I’ve given away too much, but a book I can learn from and a scrap of paper that could kill me are mere trifles compared to… it.

While I was changing, I bore witness to a scuffle outside; some local toughs throwing their weight around, demanding to see and no doubt put the fear into Captain Schiller, who I gather has been reinstated to the Watch and not before time. Leni, the Mootlander, took a whack to the head, but the others saw the ruffians off quite nicely, and when done… changing… I set out in pursuit. Can’t hurt to keep an eye on the Untergardners, and besides, after three days I was feeling a little peckish. I hadn’t dined, after all, since the caravan was attacked.

My little gaggle of mortal friends, I heard later, were off to see Stormwarden. I wonder if he told them?

Those of us not limited to Ariette’s perspective would probably like to know that he did not. Far from it. The phrase he used was something along the lines of “tell her if she comes near me I’ll split her pretty face in two and see if it grows back.”

I had a lot of fun with this one. The Racketeers who showed up were another Random Encounter from Warhammer City (and a Beggar also showed up on the way back from Stormwarden’s place, while the players were discussing what to do about Ariette, her ‘heirloom’, and their promise to Stormwarden that they’d keep the one very very far away from the other), but all the random encounters so far have led to some fun emergent subplotting with the Margraf, his specific choice of hostelry, his obviously-former-thief-bodyguard, and the Man who Comes Around and more or less runs the district they’ve ended up in. If this vampire deal runs dry, we have a run of other threads leading to the Man and the criminal underclass behind him, the Purple Hand, and now the Graf of Middenheim since the players are determined to out Ariette to him. Which will be interesting. So I have some statting to do for the next session, because it’s about time some of this stuff became concrete.

[WFB] The Inimitable Stylings of Mike Walker (with full WD article list)

The year, you see, was 1998. I had been in t’obby for almost two years and, after cutting my teeth on the Grim Darkness of the Far Future, was starting to sniff around something with swords, boards, and square bases.*

Mike Walker’s first article for White Dwarf was almost perfectly timed. To a lad who liked Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams and Spike Milligan, and also happened to be curious about Warhammer, this article was brain dynamite. It was funny**, it was apposite, and it was all paced and delivered in such a way that you couldn’t miss the point even if you were busy laughing at the bits about Kim Basinger and Goblins with silly names.

From brain dynamite to brain tape, Mike’s articles kept on coming out every now and then, petering out in the same month that I was off to university. Perhaps that accident of timing accounts for a lot; it’s the secondary school years that cement our sense of nostalgia out here in Middlehammer-land, and mine were, in a small way, guided by the irregular transmissions from a double garage somewhere in soggy Wiltshire. This was Warhammer the way I was playing it, on temporary boards laid over kitchen tables and double beds, and later the pub-in-the-club above the Hyde Park in Plymouth. Army lists may be quite cutthroat but characters had silly or at least referential names and it was the daft circumstantial moments rather than the brilliant tactics that made the longest impressions.

I’ve read and reread them over the years***, and a few years ago when I was writing for the now-defunct House of Paincakes Blog Network, I happened to mention Mike Walker in passing while talking up the relaunch of White Dwarf.

To my eternal delight, the man himself materialised in the comments. Not just to say thank you and gaze mournfully toward the garage door where, presumably, Dug Bugman and co. still languish in ancient toolboxes – ho no. Mike was courteous enough to provide a full list of his contributions to White Dwarf over the years, which I reproduce here (well, down there) along with some of my own hopefully-helpful notes on what’s in them****.

  • 224 (August 1998) – First Encounters of the Warhammer Kind – inc. The Battle of Newberry Pass scenario
  • 226 (October 1998) – The Battle of Iron Axe Ridge – a scenario for large armies on small tables
  • 230 (February 1999) – Thump & Grind – tactics for beating Skaven
  • 231 (March 1999) – Putting the Ploy in Deployment – a five step program for putting your models in the right place – before you fight, remember to SCRAP!
  • 232 (April 1999) – Fighting with Cold Blood – tactics for playing with and against Lizardmen
  • 233 (May 1999) – Like a Rat out of Hell – Battle Report, Mike’s Dwarfs vs. Gareth Hamilton’s tournament-tuned Skaven and some frankly dodgy rules calls. Mike wuz robbed!
  • 236 (August 1999) – Top Gear? – Chariot tactics and test drive
  • 241 (January 2000) – A Touching Dilemma – [not sure about this one, don’t have the issue any more]
  • 246 (June 2000) – The Gentle Art of Getting Fired – tactics for units that shoot things
  • 253 (January 2001) – Dicing with Magic – a walkthrough of the sixth edition WFB magic system
  • 254 (February 2001) – Unnatural Selection -approaches to army lists and setup for Mike’s league report
  • 256 (April 2001) – Dansing with Wolves – Mike’s league report, part one, and a kick in the eye for anyone who thinks Ravening Hordes was “balanced”.
  • 257 (May 2001) – It Ain’t Easy Being Green – Mike’s league report, part two, and a review of his Orc and Goblin army list
  • 258 (June 2001) – Fifteen Ways to Leave your Cover – how to ensure satisfactory terrain bunging
  • 260 (August 2001) – To Kill a Bloodthirster – if you need to be told what this is about, you are beyond help
  • 270 (June 2002) – The Strong, The Short and The Small – [Dwarf tactics, IIRC, but I don’t have a copy to check]
  • 273 (September 2002) – Pale Riders – Fast Cavalry tactics and comforting advice for Dwarf and Skaven players
  • 282 (June 2003) – The Black Art – [something about Mike’s brief dalliance with a Vampire Counts army, if anyone has this issue I want it]
  • 290 (January 2004) – Extreme Measures – on the perils and pitfalls of measuring, guessing and wrangling ranges
  • 297 (September 2004) – How to Lose at Warhammer – which I read right before I went off to university, and it might have been the same one that had the Army of Sylvania background in it, so in case you’re wondering how I turned out to be the way I am, blame this issue of WD.

So there you have it. If you’re looking for a series at least as opinionated as Stillmania, and just as influential on the minds of young hobbyists (or at least me), there it is. Dig ’em all out, there’s a fan archive that will get you started (look, they’re not available through legitimate means and I’m sure as hell not buying cranchity old mags at collector’s markup, I have some standards) and have a butchers.

I’ve got to go now. The clouds have temporarily lifted from South Wales, and since I haven’t the faintest idea how to make hay while the sun shines, I’m going to do the next best thing and paint a Liche Priest. Come back next time, when there’ll be much more late-Nineties White Dwarf nostalgia and a sudden attack of the challenges…

*Memo to self: Swords, Boards and Square Bases would be an ideal name for the other sort of Middlehammer blog, the sort where you go boss-eyed and froth every time someone even says “Age of Sigmar”.
**I think it still is, but in some key respects I have never stopped being twelve. If I stop and think about it all I am of course far too mature to find the names “Wobblebottom Rumblebelly” or “Bugman’s Ultimate Response Patrol” at all amusing, but if you start thinking like that you end up far too mature to be playing with toy soldiers at your age, so – I’d watch out for that sort of thing if I was you.
***The ones I can still find, anyway. My original White Dwarfs were practically given away at a car boot sale just before I went to university, along with my second edition 40K and fifth edition WFB stuff. I should regret this more than I do, but eighteen year old me was delighted to pass them on to a twelve year old newly-minted hobbyist and honestly, I hope he still has them somewhere.
****I took a lot of things from Mike, including my love of footnotes and deeply unhelpful titles. I know titles like WFB MIKE WALKER WARHAMMER MIDDLEHAMMER FULL ARTICLE LIST WHITE DWARF L@@K would be better for baiting the clicks and optimising the search engines, but gosh it would be so boring.

[WFB] Battle Reports: The March on Caerdydd

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?

Look at them. Look at their foolish, optimistic little faces.

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).

There’s rather a lot of them, aren’t there?

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.

We do not throw games to beginners.
We give beginners the stand-up fights for which their souls cry out.
We tailor and we’re proud of it.

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

The battle-lines are drawn up…
Rosenkratz has had a splitting headache ever since that Daemon-thing gave him the side-eye, and he has utterly forgotten how to cast spells. No… Khorne is here, Khorne is watching, and Khorne demands valour and strength at arms! And who is Rosenkrantz to argue, when he stands alone against a charge that has ripped his bodyguard out of the world?
Hounded by a curse that won’t seem to shift, these Warriors of Chaos meet the Undead counter-charge head-on. Though Varney cuts down their Hero before he can finish saying “I challenge you to a duel before the Blood God’s gaze!”, they are made of sterner stuff, and hold…
The Daemon descends, and Varney orders his skeletons to part their ranks. This one is for him. This was the battle he was reborn to fight. In a flurry of steel and claws, the air heavy with the Cursed Book’s foul aura, Varney fights the Prince of Daemons to a standstill; each can land a blow or two upon the other, but the killing stroke eludes them. Khorne is watching, and permits no Hand of Dust be raised – so Varney has to do this the hard way…
Carnage has ensued. The levies of the Black Cross lie devastated, the Black Monks banished, but the back of the Chaos invasion is broken as the Prince vanishes to realms best left unmentioned. While the Chosen Knights are still at large, victory belongs to the Undead!

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:

  1. Me rolling two Curse of Years spells at the start.
  2. 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.
  3. 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’s expedition advances in column, driving for the ruined Shrine, with skirmishers from Nagarythe covering the flanks…

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’s Redoubt prepare to contest the ground; such precious ground, saturated with Dark Magic, must not be given up without a fight!

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

Once more, unto the breach, dear friends…

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.