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
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.