[WFB] Battle Report – The Maven & The Witch, Chapter IV – Season Of The Witch

Rearguard scenario. 1200 points of Wood Elves vs. 600 points of Vampire Counts.

My original plan for this one was to stage a nice big climactic Ambush scenario, but then I actually bothered to read the rules for that one and realised it was built for a 6′ by 4′ table; I could only get away with it by so compressing the Undead deployment zone into a straight line, and we already played that one last week…

So I went back to basics: look at the board, think about the story, choose something that works. I’d been hacking at the scenario trying to encourage the Undead into moving for one specific table quarter, containing the Heart of the Forest; what I needed was a scenario that turned on one specific table quarter, and cast one army in a position of desperation (after the stonking the Undead had taken so far).

Rear Guard it was.

The Premise

This was the end.

The Heart of the Forest heaved and strained in the clutches of dark magic, and Thaniel knew without knowing that when the sun failed the rite would be done. It could not stand. It must not stand.

He would not fail again. This was punishment, but this was also redemption, for his kinband would press the last attack, the final reclamation of Deadwood from the dead. The Brotherhood of the Pact would deliver them; the Maven, reborn, would not let them fail.

Behind the walls the Witch was waiting. So little time; an hour, maybe less. With the sun’s last rays she would be flesh and blood once more, and she could quit this awful place. The last of her risen dead, her carrion children, and the beasts of the dark wood who’d flocked to her call; all of them could perish for all she cared. All that mattered was the Heart. The power. The light.

The Hacks

Tree Singing may not move any of the trees (it’s winter, and their spirits are slumbering).

Rules from Warhammer: Lustria apply to movement. Flyers move 15″ if their Unit Strength is 1, or 10″ if it is greater than 1. Infantry of Unit Strength 1, if not fleeing or in close combat, may adopt or abandon Loose Formation as a reform move (unless they have a musician, in which case they simply do it without penalty).

Models adopting Loose Formation move up to their normal M characteristic, ending 1″ apart. Models in Loose Formation are treated as Skirmishers, except that they may only be 1″ apart, may not march within 8″ of an enemy, and may not shoot; enemies shooting at them do not suffer the -1 to hit penalty. Units in Loose Formation should be set up all facing the same way. They are not true Skirmishers; they have just broken ranks in order to navigate the terrain more easily.

Designer’s Note: this isn’t something I’d suggest for everyone playing this scenario. It’s an attempt to get around how cramped and crowded my paper scenery is, allowing the Undead some freedom of movement, and to evoke the feel of a desperate battle for the deep woods. I didn’t go Full Lustria with this, adding Events and Encounters, because I’m doing all this by myself and didn’t want to add too much cognitive load in one go.

The Field

Paper scenery is Ravenswild Forest by Heroic Maps – £10 of store credit well enough spent, although best for skirmish play.

The rocky ridges are very difficult ground. The frozen river is difficult ground. (If I wasn’t still learning how the Wood Elf models work, I’d have broken out the General’s Compendium for additional frozen river rules.)

There are three layers of relative high ground on the board: the frozen river is the lowest, the Heart and the clifftops facing it are the highest, and everything else is on the middle layer.

All wooded areas are treated as light forest, per Warhammer: Lustria (i.e. difficult ground, blocking line of sight after 2″), although individual trees do not block line of sight to whole regiments (use some discretion). The shrine of the Heart is a ruin, per Warhammer: Lustria (i.e. difficult ground, hard cover, defended obstacle).

The Forces

Wood Elves

The Maven of Deadwood
Branchwraith (magic level 1) with an Annoyance of Netlings and a Cluster of Radiants: 165

Spellsinger (magic level 2) with the Deepwood Sphere and a Dispel Scroll: 175

Black-Briar Kinbands
16 Glade Guard with standard bearer (Aech: Banner of Springtide): 237
5 Glade Guard Scouts with Champion: 95

Cildraeth Celyn
8 Dryads: 96

Cildraeth Eiddew
8 Dryads: 96

Brawdoliaeth Pren Mawr
5 Tree Kin with Elder: 345

There was no question of not using my freshly painted Tree Kin for this one, and I wanted to have my Spellsinger hit the table sooner rather than later (and also spread my magic levels around a bit so I’d have plenty of Dispel dice).

The scenario demands absolute aggression across unfavourable terrain: I can’t afford to hold back. The Tree Kin will be going front and centre, straight up the path, with the Dryads and Scouts scaling the cliff faces to outflank.

Since Tree Singing wasn’t going to be hugely useful I actually bothered to roll the Maven’s spell and got The Hidden Path, which I swapped for Tree Singing as it was going to be knack all use (everything was already moving at a goodly rate through everything anyway). Bloddeuwydd got Tree Singing anyway and also Call of the Hunt, which could be huge if I actually managed to cast it!

Vampire Counts

The Witch
Necromancer (magic level 2) with Cloak of Mists and Shadows: 145

25 Zombies with musician and standard bearer: 165
5 Ghouls with Ghast: 50
5 Ghouls with Ghast: 50
Bat Swarm: 60

2 Spirit Hosts: 130

The Witch has a simple job here: hold out until she’s consumed the Heart and recovered her full strength, at which point she’ll quit the field. As a result, she’s loaded up on sacrificial and delaying troops: everything but the woman herself is disposable, with the Bats and Ghouls fast enough to rush out and interdict specific units, the Spirit Hosts able to move down the cliff faces without penalty, and a big block of Zombies to hold the path leading to the Heart itself.

Spell rolls were not kind. The Maven ended up with the worst possible outcome: Invocation actually rolled up, and Hand of Dust as the other spell. Hand of You Will Not Be Casting This Until It’s Too Late To Matter And It Never Does Anything Anyway Because You Still Need To Hit And Wound With A Sodding Necromancer’s Single Rubbish Attack Dust.

The Fight

The defenders, i.e. the Witch, set up first, and I admit it: I went full nobber this time. For verily, when the scenario allows a full quarter in which to deploy, and the enemy must deploy a great distance away from all our troops, who among us does not put our cheapest fastest chaffiest things right up the front and force our opponent back unto the very board edge, while chortling and caressing our beard? Only a yoghurt, and I was determined to give the Wood Elves a run for their money this time. So the Bat Swarm went front and centre and some Ghouls locked down both flanks in the same style; there were only a few tiny bubbles where Wood Elf units could ackshuwally be deployed at all. Quinlank be praised! The Spirit Host deployed where it could see and thus charge through the walls of the Heart’s shrine, and the Witch deployed out of sight and well away from any trees.

As the attacker I naturally cursed the beardy sod who’d deployed in the manner of a tossbag, no fun allowed, game for two players you know mate, we’ll be having words outside afterwards. My entire army was corralled into the bottom right corner except for Thaniel and his scouts (I was suddenly very glad I’d taken Scouts) who could at least have a pop at some cheeky flanking.

Wood Elves Turn 1

Everyone marched. Everyone had to march, even the Glade Guard who were successfully blocked in by the Tree-Kin, except for Thaniel, who led his Scouts on a more cautious advance into short range of the Ghouls. Bloddeuwydd could not cast Call of the Hunt, Tree-Singing on the Ghouls who’d carelessly stood in a wood was dispelled, and Thaniel and co opened hostilities by shooting three Ghouls through the ghoulie bits.

Vampire Counts Turn 1

The Bats went full nobber again, flying up and angling themselves right in the way of the Tree-Kin; all the Ghoul units went double-time, avoiding trees and staying out of line of sight of the elven archers. Invocation of Nehek was dispelled on a straight match, ten for ten.

Wood Elves Turn 2

The Tree-Kin charged the Bat Swarm (they might as well, no point going around); everyone else, once again, had to march. Even Thaniel, this time, as he couldn’t see anything to shoot. One Ghoul was still carelessly trailing into a tree (the Wood Elf half of my brain decided that if the Vampire Counts half of my brain was going to play the rules and not the game, no quarter would be given on that front) and so Tree-Singing whomped him and one of his mates. (It would have been four if they were T3 – no kidding, Wood Elves really struggle with tougher than average targets, and I once again see that all those formative games against Skaven and Empire have made me overestimate ranged attacks.)

The Call went off, and the Witch showed a double 1 on her Dispel roll, so the Maven was able to surge 7″ forward, suddenly into the game! I should probably have cast it on the Tree-Kin though, since eleven attacks showed eight ones and twos, and the Bat Swarm was left alive on one wound.

Vampire Counts Turn 2

No point in charging anything, said the nasty little voice in my head. Don’t give them overruns. Make them waste their moves. So the Spirit Host did a 3″ shuffle, and that was all she wrote. The Witch even managed to miscast her Invocation and end the magic phase, while the Bats were cheerfully obliterated by the Tree-Kin elder.

Wood Elves Turn 3

The Maven and the Eiddew Dryads charged the Ghouls right in front of them, the rest of the Forest Spirits marched forward unfettered. I’d hoped to get the Tree-Kin forward through the lane I left, but the Witch showed a mighty fifteen on her dispel roll and that was the end of that plan. Thaniel and the boys climbed up the rock face and took aim at those cowardly Ghouls again, wiping them out in the subsequent flurry of arrows. The Glade Guard were finally able to nock arrows and loose too, killing three Zombies. In combat the Dryads whiffed spectacularly, only the Maven managing to kill her opponent in the challenge; fortunately the Ghouls failed to hurt anyone either and legged it, outpacing the wrath of the woods by a good three inches.

Vampire Counts Turn 3

The Ghouls rallied, the Spirits moved up to block the Maven (yesss, yesss, play like a jeb end), and the Witch backed up as there were some trees a little bit closer to her than she liked them. Invocation was dispelled on a double six, and that was another “no, you play the game” turn done with.

Wood Elves Turn 4

Both Dryad units charged headlong, with the Tree-Kin moving up in support; Thaniel and his Scouts danced around to get line of sight on the Ghouls. Call of the Wild Hunt was just not quite cast, Thaniel shot a Ghoul, and then it was on to the fun bit.

The Maven and Eiddew Dryads absolutely wrecked the Spirit Host, and overran into the Ghouls; the Celyn Dryads tore apart every Zombie who could hit them back and began the long process of expanding, lapping, killing, grinding…

Vampire Counts Turn 4

The Witch pulled back further, into the round tower; this time it wasn’t even worth Invoking, as it got the Wood Elves’ Dispel Scroll quick sharp. The Maven tore the Ghouls apart all by herself, and was now free to move, while the Celyn Dryads repeated their exact performance from the previous turn.

Wood Elves Turn 5

There are no penalties for Skirmishers to cross obstacles, and so the Maven was off, finally within lunging distance of the Witch! One good solid Call of the Hunt would see this nonsense over and done with, and of course Bloddeuwydd failed to cast it. Thaniel darted for the board edge, since he couldn’t harm the Witch, and you may already be sensing the game-terms conclusion to this engagement already…

Vampire Counts Turn 5

“I’m ethereal,” says the Witch, and possibly “bitch” as well, and simply walks back through the wall to where the Maven can’t see her. And then the game ends on the roll of a 2.

The Result

Not a single casualty taken by the Wood Elves. One Vampire Counts model left on the board. A win for the Vampire Counts nonetheless…

The Learnings

I realised as soon as I set this one up that the Vampire Counts would have to go hard to win this one: play cagey, noncommittal keepie-uppie-hammer and hope they could run out the clock. This is how I used to play 40K a lot of the time, since it was sufficiently blighted with Random Game Length that it was a commonplace special rule, and I’ve won games on this kind of technicality enough times – but I’m unnerved at how naturally this playstyle came back to me.

On the same “play the rules not the game” level, I can spot an actual mistake I made as the Wood Elf player, something that could have kept me in the game, and ironically it’s what I did with poor Thaniel (who otherwise redeemed himself so well!). Going after the Ghouls was a greedy move that didn’t pay off, I didn’t even have line of sight with the whole unit. If I’d played smart I’d have zigged instead of zagged, had the Scouts in position to move off table, and been able to stay in the game for another turn.

I have learned a few things about Wood Elves, too. Granted, this table with its immobile scenery was not the best suited to how Tree Singing works, but they really do need to spam out the Tree Singing and draw dice in order to get any of their buffs out. On the turns where I could do that, things worked; on the turns when I couldn’t, they didn’t. I also appreciate the role of the aggressive Spites – the Lamentation of Despairs and Pageant of Shrikes – in landing hits on hard to reach models, like the Witch in this battle.

The Solo Wargame Experience

This was definitely the right way to end. I think about the complexity of my original 1500 point army list for the Vampire Counts, and about the 2000 points I was originally aiming for, and heavens to Betsy do I not want to wrangle all that by myself. However, the games have ticked along nicely at around the 1000 point mark as long as one army’s been easier to play – the Undead have more or less played themselves as they’ve had clear objectives related to the taking or holding of ground.

Such win conditions allow the solo gameplay to be targeted, and simplify the decision process away from the more emergent and abstract tactics often required in a points match. Warhammer Warbands was particularly good for this, as it’s a single scenario with a lot of possible variation in the random objectives and deployment areas.

On the whole I think the experience has been a good enough one. By committing to “what the characters would do” and playing some slightly eccentric lists, I’ve avoided the games feeling like a total stitch-up. I’ve had the opportunity to play my Wood Elves and try to get some stats down in my head before inflicting myself on other human opponents, and I’ve been able to play some scenarios that I haven’t before and figure out a bit about how they work so I can shill them to other players and get away from the Borehammer. Of course I’d rather play with other people, but I would do something like this again, in similar circumstances.

The Narrative

“Leave them!” the Maven shrieked. “Leave the carrion! Make for the Heart! Kill the witch!”

Thaniel sprang, swung from branch to branch, racing past the battle-lines. He would not fail. Not this time. He could see the hovering, spectral figure, a gleam of purple light in the twilight, and he had the eye. He nocked an arrow. He took aim. He fired – and the arrow passed through her like she wasn’t even there.

The Witch took a deep breath. A breath. Air. Lungs. Unapologetic life! And not a moment to spare, as the sun dipped and the light died around her. The woods were alive; they were well and truly alive, furious dryads clambering over the walls, leaping and bounding across the wintry ground. Too late. Much too late. She was alone, but she was undefeated. Her work here was done. Even as their leader caught her gaze, swung back her crook, the Witch touched two fingers to her lips and let the shadows rise around her, bearing her into Shyish.

Thaniel cast down his bow; the circle of dryads wailed and moaned, raking the air with their claws. It was dark; pitch dark. The light of the Heart had gone out; shattered, snuffed. The Maven knelt, shuddered, and as Thaniel approached, he heard and saw and knew that she was weeping. They had slaughtered. They had triumphed. They had failed. And spring would never come to Deadwood.

[Been Painting] The Court of the Crag (2/2)

Told you there’d be more down the line.

First up, baby’s first Special choice: some Tree-Kin, formerly known as Spite-Revenants.

I’m not entirely sure about these. They’re a little bit too blue, I think, and I don’t particularly trust the only white paint I have to hand as a highlight or next layer. But anything else I do with them has come out looking a bit naff, so I’m going to call them done until an idea presents itself.

Their completion gives me the full 1000 points I need to finish The Maven & The Witch, so all being well expect a wrap up on that this time next week.

I am pretty sure of Prince Hywel of the Crag. Even if each successive photo highlighted another thing that needed tweaking, after the fourth I am very satisfied indeed. Made a bit more of an effort on him, introducing a little bone and a platinum highlight here and there. Nothing that breaks the palette, just… nudging it a little.

In game terms, he’s an Alter Noble or Highborn; great weapon, “light armour and shield” (half-oaken body and a parrying stance), Glamourweave and the Helm of the Hunt.

I hadn’t planned on a Lord choice, but  I want to give myself the option. Having signed up for Warhammer: Resurrection (two day event to be held in the summer, lockdowns permitting), and pledged the Wood Elves to the cause, I shall have to get some test games in and see how the No Lords policy holds up.

[WFB] Battle Report: The Maven & The Witch, Chapter III – A Maven’s Folly

Woodland Ambush scenario (Warhammer Armies: Wood Elves): 600 points Wood Elves vs. 1200 points Tomb Kings

The Premise

The woods were waking up. Slow, sluggish, breathing deep and laboured in the perpetual cold, but clawing their way to life and fury, answering the Maven’s call.

Her allies had answered, better late than never; the kinbands of the Black-Briar crept at her side, arrows nocked. Her sisters strode at her back, and in the whisper of leaves she heard that others were on their way, drifting down from the high vale beyond the river.

And the dead were coming. Score by score, bony feet shuffling through the snow. One clutched an old bronze blade to its chest; one had its head thrown back, its hollow throat raised in a dreadful monotone chant.

There was no time to wake her brothers, no time to wait for the Court. The Heart was in peril and the time to act was now.

The Forces

Wood Elves

The Maven of Deadwood: Branchwraith, magic level 1, an Annoyance of Netlings, a Cluster of Radiants

Cildraeth Celyn: 8 Dryads
Cildraeth Eiddew: 8 Dryads

Black-Briar Kinbands
10 Glade Guard
10 Glade Guard

Tomb Kings

As discussed previously, the role of the Tomb Kings will here be played by my Vampire Counts army. I don’t actually intend to flog my existing collection any more, as I have fallen for them again in the act of putting the TTCombat ones together, but I said I’d do the thing this way and this way is how I shall do it.

Prince Drognar Nar Janath: Tomb Prince: light armour, shield, Blade of Mourning (Banshee with sword)
Prince Jadan Nar Garoth: Liche Priest and Hierophant: Neferra’s Plaque of Mighty Incantations, Cloak of the Dunes (Banshee without sword)

24 Skeletons: spears and shields (themselves)
24 Skeletons: swords and shields (likewise)
20 Skeletons: swords and bows (crossbowmen)

20 Tomb Guard: Champion, musician and standard bearer (Icon of Rakaph) (Drakenhof Guard)

The Field

I had been intending to play this one down the length of the dining table and save the full scenery reveal for Chapter IV, but the way I’d put the paper ‘scenery’ together meant it would be a right old bugger to keep together. In the end, ease of operation won out over contrivance for contents’ sake. So: here’s Ravenswild Forest, in all its extremely budget glory.

Darkness, and voices. Prince Drognar knew not who, nor why, but where; where was clear. He was being called south. South, to harry the Bretonni, to ravage the soft lowlands, to serve… to serve…

He trudged on. Whatever will was left to him knew this was the way to go. Four score of his houseguard walked at his back. Jadan was with them, wailing and canting, drawing the eye of the Ancients to the clan.

I would have to be a bit generous with regards to the scenery here, as what’s printed on the board isn’t entirely right for the scenario or optimised for wargaming (which is fair enough, it was designed for RPG use and it’s done very well for skirmish games). Tree Singing wouldn’t be moving any trees about, but could lash out at Undead units touching trees as they moved. The Tomb Kings would be able to move at normal rate even if they clipped the odd tree along the way, but would move at half rate through any decent sized copses.

In terms of deployment I erred on the side of narrative, with the Kings marching in column along the forest road.

The Fight

The Wood Elves, as ambushers, automatically get the first turn here.

Wood Elves Turn 1

A cautious 5″ advance from everyone except the Glade Guard on the right flank; if they closed in some of them would lose line of sight on the Tomb Guard. The Maven failed to cast Tree Singing (3 on two dice, you do hate to see it), but the Elves felled three with bowfire.

Tomb Kings Turn 1

A 4″ trundle down the line, and the Incantation of Urgency easily dispelled. Boring non-turn.

Wood Elves Turn 2

The Maven and her coven advanced another 5″, attempting to stay outside the Tomb Guards’ charge range and get the drop on them next turn; the flanking Eiddew Dryads, seeing how much ground they had to cover, ran 10″ forward in an effort to close the distance. This time the Maven did manage to force Tree Singing through (nothing to do with Prince Jadan dropping a double one on the Dispel roll), but it killed one lousy Tomb Guard. Single die “magic missiles” strike again! Lacking a clear line of sight to the Tomb Guard, the Glade Guard switched targets and shot a couple of Skeletons out of Prince Drognar’s unit.

Tomb Kings Turn 2

Another 4″ trundle for most of the team, although the Archers opted to turn sideways to face the oncoming Dryads (one of whom they managed to drop in the Shooting phase). A lot was banking on the Incantation of Urgency going through on the Tomb Guard, and it did, propelling the Tomb Guard into combat with the Maven and the Celyn Dryads!

Their Champion issued a challenge – striking first, Killing Blow, Grimgroth managed it, you never know! Sadly, her newfound Annoyance of Netlings put a stop to any optimism on that front, and the Maven proceeded to pulverise the poor skellie (but no overkill in sight). The Tomb Guard managed to strike down one Dryad, losing three of their number in return, but all those ranks and flags meant the undead still (barely) won. The Maven held, and the Tomb Guard extended their frontage (since any dead Dryad would mean two fewer attacks coming in).

It had seemed so simple, so natural, as winter following autumn. The Maven had keened, drowning out the dirge; the arrows had flown; they would fall on the walking dead as the rage of the wild wood, and their bones would lie here on the old road to the Vale. And then she had faltered. The chant had broken through. The relentless, mindless will of the risen had driven them into the trees, and her spites had swarmed about her as she stepped up to meet them.

Wood Elves Turn 3

The Glade Guard on the right flank reformed into a conveniently trayable formation and advanced a little, aiming to get into short range and deliver some higher Strength hits, while the Eiddew Dryads moved up to hedge their charge range in the same way the Maven and the Celyn hadn’t quite managed. Tree Singing was easily dispelled again, Prince Drognar’s Skeletons saved all the hits they took, and in combat the Tomb Guard managed to win by one again; the Maven, bless her, still held.

Tomb Kings Turn 3

Both Skeleton units advanced, Prince Drognar leading his to follow up the Tomb Guard and Prince Jadan wheeling to gain line of sight on the Glade Guard. The Skeleton Archers, meanwhile, expanded their frontage and prepared to open fire, with every intent of a double-tap from the Incantation of Righteous Smiting!

Sadly, even with the Plaque of Mighty Incantations going into it, the Maven dropped a double six on her Dispel roll and that was the end of that. The Archers didn’t even kill any Eiddew Dryads in their shooting phase, and if they were capable of regretting their choices, I imagine they would be.

In close combat the Dryads only managed two kills, for another loss of their own, and this time the Maven’s nerve broke! They just outpaced the Tomb Guard, by an inch, and what had been looking like a cakewalk for the Wood Elves suddenly felt a bit sticky.

Despair. Despair! The spites hissed and spat and slithered. Bronze axes rose and fell. Though her sisters were valiant, the dead pressed and pressed, and no root nor branch could shatter all their bones. Step by step, they were being pushed back; the Maven’s scythe swung but the dead kept coming. Nimbly they stepped and slid between the sleeping trees; they could not hold, they could not hold, yet hold they must. The Maven spun her scythe, turned on her heel. This would not be how it ended.

Wood Elves Turn 4

Fortunately, the Maven’s minor attack of the jitters was soon settled, and she rallied the Celyn Dryads, turning to face the impenetrable Tomb Guard once again. The Eiddew Dryads charged the Skeleton Archers, and both Black-Briar kinbands moved into short range of the Tomb Guard. Tree-Singing was of course dispelled, and the combined fire of the Black-Briars only dropped one Tomb Guard, but at least the Eiddew Dryads performed to expectations; seven casualties for no losses in return.

Tomb Kings Turn 4

Once again, the Tomb Guard charged the Maven and the Celyn Dryads. Prince Drognar’s Skeletons detoured around the woods rather than trudge through them, and Prince Jadan advanced the Spearmen to take a potshot at the nearest Glade Guard with the ol’ Incantation of Vengeance… which was dispelled.

In melee, the Tomb Guard lost two of their number for one Dryad, losing a round of combat for the first time; the Eiddew Dryads ripped all but one Skeleton apart, and the lone remainder couldn’t even land a blow before crumbling.

Wood Elves Turn 5

The Eiddew Dryads would dearly have loved to charge Prince Jadan’s unit in the rear, but alas, they fell firmly in the flank arc, and only four of them could make it into contact. Still, a flank is a flank! Meanwhile, the Black-Briars closed in on Prince Drognar’s unit since every other threat was now tied up, and between them felled an entire rank of Skeletons.

The Maven and the Celyn Dryads killed one Tomb Guard. One. They took no losses in return, but thanks to the Tomb Guards’ standard and musician, still lost the combat and (barely) held. The other combat went much more favourably, with five Skeletons dismantled and the victorious Eiddew Dryads able to lap round.

And, by the way, Tree-Singing was dispelled, with a gratuitous and unnecessary double six.

Jadan raged. All around him, these woodland sprites shrieked and rent and tore. Arrows flew and flickered. Some radiance shone in the darkness of his mind’s eye, words of vengeance and urgency stilled in his throat. His brother raged against the dying light, but the snow was falling hard and fast, and the men could not march another step.

Tomb Kings Turn 5

Increasingly bereft of options, Prince Drognar’s unit wheeled toward the nearest Glade Guard, with their rear protected in the other direction. Best efforts at the Incantation of Urgency were triumphantly dispelled (a fifteen on three dice will do that), and the only good news was the Tomb Guard trading kills with the Dryads and managing to win by virtue of having a musician again. Not enough to break the Maven, but still.

Alone, then. Alone, his huscarls finally broken on the woodlands’ wrath; alone, as the arrows flew and his brother’s voice grew fainter. Drognar screamed a silent scream, defiant and proud and hateful. “Face me! Face me, you feckless things!”

Wood Elves Turn 6

The Black-Briars on the left flank turned, moved and turned to edge out of charge range, and then… something odd happened. With the exception of the Eiddew Dryads, who continued to motor through seven Skeletons at a time like they were being paid for it, and the Maven who finally killed that troublesome Tomb Guard musician, every single shot or blow the Wood Elves attempted whiffed by a country mile.

Tomb Kings Turn 6

It was, nonetheless, all over bar the shouting. The Incantation of Urgency was dispelled, the last Tomb Guard caught the wrong end of the Maven’s scythe, all of Prince Jadan’s Skeletons perished and the Hierophant was dragged down by combat resolution.

The Result

An absolute trouncing: Wood Elves 854, Tomb Kings 48.

And then, as I was packing up, I remembered two things. Firstly, the Maven had a Cluster of Radiants that she’d never used; secondly, Prince Drognar had My Will Be Done that had similarly gathered dust.


The Learnings

I’m choosing to believe that a single die Invocation and a single Dispel die cancelled each other out for the duration, but it really does show how badly I served the Tomb Kings here. The list was something I’d knocked together to test, suspecting it wouldn’t be up to snuff, and it really wasn’t; I dramatically misplayed Prince Drognar, who should have been in with the Tomb Guard from the start, and I could have gotten away with moving Prince Jadan out of the bunker and behind the Archers instead of trying for that pointless Incantation of Vengeance.

That said, I was impressed with the Tomb Guard. Bearing in mind they were undersupported in the magic department, they ate a surprising amount of attacks; that extra point of Strength and Toughness really makes a difference, keeping them on their feet against the fearsome Dryads for a lot longer than any of the regular Skeletons managed. If they’d had Prince Drognar with them I think they’d have gone through the Maven quick sharp and I might have been able to do some work with their Icon of Rakaph and clear up some Glade Guard.

From a learning-to-play-Wood-Elves perspective, which is allegedly the point of the whole affair, the Maven and co. did their best but struggled against a fully ranked up unit of even middling troops. I think they were fortunate to hang on for as long as they did, and it might have been a better idea to concentrate both Dryad units at the front of the army and rip through the Tomb Guard a little faster. I really like the Maven’s kit; four Dispel dice in a 600 point army is pretty effective and she didn’t take a scratch in the challenge this time. As a sole spellcaster she’s obviously going to struggle with only two casting dice to her name, but with a proper Spellsinger to back her up and double-cast that ceases to be an issue.

If I was playing this matchup against another person, and if I was using my actual Tomb Kings collection and not proxying a set of figures I’m now unlikely to buy, I would take a very different Tomb Kings army. Chariots wouldn’t be any good with all these woods around, but I think a nice big unit of Carrion could interfere with the Glade Guard, and a few hundred points of Wood Elves may struggle to stop Ushabti unless they got very lucky with the old bowfire.

As far as the campaign goes, the outcome is is probably for the best. If the Undead won this one I’d have to solo play a finale involving 2000 points of Vampire Counts, and this battlefield is much too fussy to wrangle that many blocks and blobs.

The End Is In Sight…

Silence was falling, by the time Bloddeuwydd arrived. The mageling of the Court of the Crag; half-flesh still, a pact-wracked thing like all the others. Yet the way she met the Maven’s eye said something. “I know,” it said. “I choose,” it said. And the Maven was by no means fond of being seen, being known, being chosen.

A handful of her sisters were fallen. Three score of the walking dead were slain. And yet the mageling presumed to finish the work; to reach out her hand and sing the forest into fury, and not even to smile as the roots tore the ground and the branches rent the air and the last of the droning, shuffling things were cast down to the frost beneath.

“Hail, to the Maven, in the name of the Covenant,” the mageling said; the proper words, the proper rites, but where was the faith? the trust?

“Hail, the Court, in the name of the Covenant,” the Maven said, and she added; “You fell behind.”

“I roamed ahead,” said Bloddeuwydd. “These were answering a call, and I have found the voice that issued it. Would you have me lead you there?”

The Maven stared, unblinking. Now the dirge was silent, she could hear something else; the groan and creak of the heartwood, the bite of the frost, the shudder as what beat and beat and forced the Deadwood into what life it had… skipped, and struggled, and strained.

The dead had been making for the Heart, and the Heart was in peril. The Maven shrieked its pain to the uncaring sky, and there was no other sound, and the Deadwood heard her now. Creak and groan and thunder, step by step, bones crunched and metal mangled underfoot. Her brothers stepped forth, at last.

You may guide, with your spell-song joined in mine; but I will lead us, always.

[WFB] The Platonic Ideal

I have, in the past, had some things to say about pick-up gaming, tournament practice, Pitched Battle and the unsatisfactory takeaway of the soul that this kind of setup tends to result in. Of course, it’s very easy to thump one’s tub on the dot-coms and tell people they’re doing Warhammer wrong, which is why I’ve decided to “share best practice” like what my teacher training taught me to do.

What follows is an attempt to lead by example: a wargaming day myself and Mr. Ben staged in the summer of 2019 before the borders were closed and Trafnidiaeth Cymru nerfed into the ground. As hosting player, I had a look through the available resources and picked some scenarios appropriate to the participants, the terrain, and the timeframe we had available.

The forces in these little engagements are my Tomb Kings, in their embryonic “first attempt at a paint job” state, and Ben’s Skaven, in their “what do you mean you’re doing another new army” launch condition. The terrain selection is the Age of Sigmar stuff I acquired in a good-faith attempt to give Soul Wars a go during my year off blogging. The timeframe was a long afternoon, kicking off about noon and ending about six with late lunch at the local hostelry. (We’d reserved the evening for a round of Drunkhammer featuring our “main” armies, and that may see the light of day at some point too.)

I – The Border Patrol

(Rules for which can be found in Warhammer Chronicles 2004, if you’re interested. A Border Patrol usually takes sixty minutes or less to play, if you’re on form and keep your bustle hustled.)

This little encounter represented a Skaven incursion into the outer reaches of the necropolis of Rasetra. The scenery was set up to suggest the outer edge of a poorly fortified settlement; we had a house rule that attacking Skaven units could charge the fences and spend a combat phase knocking them down, as they weren’t terribly robust. The forces were deployed in opposite corners because that made most sense with the orientation of the buildings (and corner deployment always makes a nice change).

Ben lost this one. This is mostly because the Screaming Skull Catapult is very, very good at panicking Skaven units and the compulsory Liche Priest did nothing but ensure it could shoot twice every turn. Some Clanrats did make it some way into the Necropolis and regained a little glory by beating up my Skeleton Archers, but it wasn’t to last. All of this meant I would be setting up second and going first in the final game, as the Tomb Kings seized the initiative above ground.

II – The Skirmish

For our second game we played the Lost Tomb of Hamon Ra scenario from Warhammer Skirmish (the book of scenarios which expands on the Skirmish rules in the core manual; I believe most of it’s available in other forms online).

Some jimmying of the forces to suit available models was required – I had an Ushabti instead of the two Tomb Swarm bases – and we house ruled a little regarding the “crumble” moment, allowing my Tomb Prince a small radius of Leadership to keep some of his associates on their feet after my Liche Priest was destroyed.

Victory for the Skaven would deny the Tomb Kings 10% of their forces in the final battle (and if we’d been playing 2000 points as we originally hoped to, would also deny me the Crown of Kings).

The scenery here is set up to denote the outer walls of the Tomb and provide some internal decoration. There’s not a great deal of cover, although we were generous regarding figures stood immediately behind a sarcophagus or gravestone.

We were at this one for something like two hours as models fluffed hit rolls, wound rolls, injury rolls, and the endless loop of “can’t disengage from melee, can’t roll fives or sixes” set in. In retrospect I now know that Mordheim has a workaround for this (knocked down or stunned models are automatically taken out if wounded) and if Skirmish doesn’t have that I advise bringing it in. The other option is playing Warbands instead: Warbands has the traditional “fail save, lose last wound, you’re dead” resolution and tends to result in faster, more decisive games.

On the flipside, Skirmish also generates moments of real excitement, as even the disposable single-wound trooper can roll over, dust themself down and stage a comeback.

In our game the Skaven Assassin gave his all to destroy the Liche Priest, only to be cut down by a Tomb Prince moments later, and it was a mere Clanrat who retrieved the prize and dodged past an enraged Ushabti to make his final break for the surface, a lone survivor carrying the treasure of the Tomb.

(Ben won, that’s what I’m trying to say here.)

III – The Battle

With the Crown in the hands of the Skaven, we opted for a Breakthrough scenario, in which the Rodents of Unusual Size attempted to make their escape with their ill-gotten gains. I only had 1500 points of Tomb Kings so 1500 points is what we played, or rather 1500 vs 1350 as I’d lost the second game. I think I left out two Ushabti and my Icon Bearer’s magic flag. The terrain was essentially a flip of the first encounter; this time the Skaven would have the open space and the Tomb Kings holding the line on the fenced side of the battlefield.

I don’t really remember much about this game other than struggling to get anything done magically (turns out one Liche Priest isn’t enough at 1500 points, especially against two Warlock Engineers) and my Catapult not putting in the same sterling performance (only one shot per turn and an early misfire). It only went to about four turns – once my Ushabti had folded I didn’t have the speed to close off every avenue of assault and most of Ben’s army had free reign to move off the board.

What I do remember is the context of it. Because we’d set it up with the distraction raid and the temple pillaging, there were mechanical twists to an otherwise routine engagement, rewards for having done well in the early stages. Continuity was furthered by the terrain we used for the first and third battles.

Beyond that, because Ben won (again), my Tomb Kings now have something to do with themselves in future encounters, to whit going out to recover the Crown or maybe fighting their way home after having done so. All my future games with Ben, and maybe the entire backstory of my new army, can be shaped by the outcome of this only-slightly-curated day of play.

All of this was done with by-the-book armies, published scenarios, and terrain I already owned. I don’t think I’d even named my characters at the time! No extraordinary or even especial effort on our part was called for – we were just curious and selective about the wealth of additional material on offer in sixth edition WFB.

We could have simply played a Breakthrough scenario at 1500 points, and when we might have three people wanting a game each on neutral ground with strict departure times hanging over our head, that’s the sort of thing we settle for. But if you have the opportunity to do even a little prelude or aftermath for a game, to make a day of it and weave a little context and set the scenario up as something more than yet another points matched game of Borehammer, I heartily recommend you do so.

[Actual Build Review] Troll Trader (TTCombat) Desert of the Dead Kickstarter

What with one thing and another, these models took their sweet time arriving. As a late backer I expected to be at the end of the queue anyway, but there’s an unhappy middle ground between “GIEF THINGS NOW” and “dang, forgot I backed that” in which the ole buyer’s remorse sets in and I start looking up how to chargeback. Big love to Troll Trader as a company though, they’ve been swift and honest in their communications and while my expectations were not perfectly managed, I am perhaps more neurotic than the average customer and this must be borne in mind.

After two half days on the assembly line the bulk of my stuff is ready to show off and talk about. The Chariots aren’t done yet as I shall need to paint them before full assembly, lots of reaching past painted bits will ensue if I don’t.

Usual rigmarole: product starts off with a 5/5 and I knock off a point for everything that disgruntles me. I’ll say up front that I don’t like resin kits as a rule, and some of these make me see what all the fuss was about over Finecast. Nothing is getting points docked just for being made of this stuff but when the material has let down the sculpt you will be hearing about it.

Character models: two Kings, two Liches (one off the limited edition Chariot, which I promptly split up into more game-ready dispositions). These are more than adequate; the staves are a little bendy and the pieces dance in my clumsy fingers, and a few feet and fingers snapped during the shipping and prep. I’m not sure if that’s the brittleness of the material or flaws in the casts; nothing insurmountable, in any case. 4/5.

Carrion: these were clearly designed for form over function. The poses are nice, the detail pretty crisp, but they are attached to their bases by tiny and often singular ankle joints. Two of them have wings that will come off the moment they’re put in a case. 3/5 for being a ballache. They look good though.

Scorpions: I rate these, they’re cute as buttons and easy to assemble. I could whinge about the overhang on the bases (how is this supposed to stand in base to base contact, mm?) but GW did worse so it really would be petty of me. 5/5, they’re neat.

Catapult: Head on it looks fine, but turn it sideways and… oof. The framework and arm are cast in some sort of rubber that can’t support its own weight and sags distressingly even when it’s sat in my display case. Unfit for purpose. Such a shame as it’s otherwise a really nice sculpt; the base block and crew are lovely. I’ve emailed TrollTrader about this as I’m not convinced it isn’t a dud cast that got rushed out in the hurry to finish shipping. Nothing else in the pack was floppy! 0/5, pending a response.

UPDATE: well, TrollTrader got their asses in gear and sent out replacement parts, so that’s brownie points for them! 5/5 for the Catapult, you don’t have to base it so I’m not taking points off for it being too big for the chariot base.

Casket: a nice conceit but honestly a bit silly, with the Keeper perched in top like that, and did not warrant the huge base it came with. I’ve rebased mine and will be parking a Priest in front of it on the table. Goes together very well though and I like what they’re trying to do with a difficult concept, it just looks a bit weedy for a 0-1 army-wrecking Rare choice. 3/5.

Giant: 5/5. Good sculpt, sensibly cut, fits together very tidily and has some great presence on the table. I’m looking forward to painting this, and I don’t say that very often.

All of this, plus other deliveries and a crisis at work, has meant the next instalment of The Maven & The Witch is postponed for another week – but it is coming! In the last month I have done 600 points of Wood Elves, plenty for a Woodland Attack; the Maven will thus be bringing some archers along to see how they perform on a deeper table. Her adversaries will be drawn from the Vampire Counts list, as I don’t think these Tomb Kings will be traded out. I like them too much.

[Game Dev] Notes toward Untitled Ghost Game

I keep thinking about a hypothetical new Wraith edition that goes back to a bedrock of ghost stories, i.e. stories about ghosts haunting people, and burns down “the lore”, or rather leaves it burned down as it was when the product line was cancelled. There was a huge explosion, the afterlife collapsed, everyone got kicked back into the barrier between life and death, and it’s presumably EXTREMELY dangerous to go anywhere else. That’s cool. Wraith doesn’t have to rebuild the old edifices. It has potential to move forward and become a post-mortem post-apocalypse: a storytelling game of survival and psychological horror.

The idea met with hostility from the Wraith people with whomst I discussed it, but I think it has legs and I want it to exist even if W:tO comes not in that form. (It probably won’t, because the White Wolf brand’s profitability rests on appealing to a fanbase which cannot allow anything to be thrown out, so we’re likely to get a soft reboot, like with the Week of Nightmares: details obscured, impact and “canonicity” maintained.)

Mechanically, I know V5’s Hunger mechanic making dice pools bigger or smaller and more or less dangerous in certain circumstances has really stuck with me as a system for horror play, but they need a twist away from how V5 uses them, because ghosts, surprisingly, aren’t vampires.

Ghosts are a located phenomenon: there’s never just a random ghost, there’s a haunted house or family or video tape. So, in this context of survival horror, ghosts need to be encouraged to be near people, places and things that make them more powerful, more able to resist that which threatens them. Wraith lands the concept with Fetters, but as with everything about Wraith it’s overwritten and blended in with a lot of other baggage from the V:tM engine it’s built on. There’s so much else there that the strength and clarity of the concept is lost.

Enter Walker, Twitter’s @ProfessorJust. I paraphrase their contributions thus:

The real question with any engine that maintains the conceit the players are the ghostly protagonists is: how does that narrative resemble a ghost story?

The best ghost stories don’t bring us closer to the nature of a ghost, as adversary or as agent. They are about the feeling of being haunted. So Wraith defines being a ghost as being haunted all the time. If you want to centre the ghost, you end up, I suspect, with the vengeful or protective dead, because that’s the actionable ghost, right? But that’s worlds away from Haunting of Hill House stuff.

I don’t think that’s a bad thing as long as it’s explicit.

V:tM isn’t Dracula, for all that it namechecks him straight from the get-go. Bloodspell isn’t quite La Morte Amoureuse, even though Clarimonde crops up in the Extended Edition, because Clarimonde is a rescued antagonist, a showing of how the script’s been flipped.

Likewise, Untitled Ghost Game isn’t gonna be The Woman In Black because that story isn’t about her, it’s about Mister Kipps discovering her. The literary touchstone, if there is one, is Fell — a piece of domestic haunting by Jenn Ashcroft which pushes the boundaries of ghost story into ghost POV.

I find myself thinking less and less in terms of literature when I’m working on WoD or post-WoD gameplay. The classics position the supernatural agent as antagonist, which is only playable if you’re really into RPGs as douchebag simulator and find victimising the living to be enjoyable play in its own right. Modern script-flippings generally focus on the state of being a supernatural entity — the horrid little shits in Lost Souls or the superpowered mopes of The Vampire Chronicles are deuteragonists at least, but they don’t do anything other than be what they are (because the stories are still about their impact on humanity). This is why Vampire always has to reach outside the vampire genre for its momentum — why it’s always vampire-as-gangster, vampire-as-conspiracy, vampire-as-medieval-warlord.

Wraith positions its protagonists as victims of ghostly oppression, which is fair enough, but reads as inert to me, it doesn’t achieve that momentum I was on about. This is why blowing up the underworld is a good decision, because movement away from something that’ll kill you. OR: I suppose the “goal” of Wraith is to transcend, to free your character from all this awful world-built bollocks by resolving their own living-person baggage, and all the Guilds and Legions and lore are sheer inertia, obstacles in the path of you doing that — but nerds being nerds, the world building becomes the point of the exercise, and character-focused “adventure design” takes a back seat.

Aside: Naked Metal, a very good blog which I wish I’d stumbled upon years ago, has a very good post about metaplots and why they need to die in a fire. Among the many true words spoken here is a quote from Dean Shomshak, former White Wolf staffer who seems to Get It.

Gods, I wanted to smack some of my fellow writers upside the head on some Vampire projects when they burbled on about the cool things they’d have Hardestadt do, or whoever. What were the PCs supposed to do?

Wraith has yet to present a clear, defined, satisfactory answer to that question. V5 does, but it’s buried midway through the book. Seriously, “what do we do in this game” is a sidebar about forty pages in. I’d go and look but I don’t want to stare that layout in the face when I’ve only had my breakfast half an hour ago. I need to do better than that. Front and centre, “this is what your characters are trying to achieve.”

Ghosts want to escape a fate worse than death, by punishing/protecting the living.

This is something I thought about when I did the Drives mechanic for Bloodspell. Wolfspell has a similar problem in that it presents a mechanic for being wolves, but there’s no thrust to it behind “solve an implied problem that somehow requires you to be a wolf, what am I, your dad?” and I wanted to get more oomph, more momentum in there. (I talk about “flow” and “momentum” a lot when I’m talking about rules, don’t I? That’ll need a post in its own right.)

Anyway, “What does your character want to do with forever?” was the big question in Bloodspell, the source of momentum in the play, and it’s relevant here too. I interpret post-Wraith, Untitled Ghost Game as it remains for now, through the “fate worse than death” angle, that staying out of not-Stygia and not-Oblivion is the goal.

This means I can’t just port Drives over. Drives are more character focused and about personal agenda, whereas the target genres here — psychological and survival horror — set the agenda and the player choice is located in tools and strategies to survive.

I may be able to hang the whole thing on pools to Punish and Protect, in classic “You have two stats” indie-game style. That works best as a pure game, but I’m not sure it has the right “stat your OC!” hook that actually makes people play games. People like to make Their Dude and that needs a little more detail than the bare minimum to hit the game’s concept. The answer may lie in types of ghostly activity – poltergeist, siren, possession. Which gives a WoD-style pool: add your “Objective” dice to your “Activity” dice. That’s your choosing tools and strategies of which you like the concept.

I definitely want the word “Haunt” on players’ lips a lot and I don’t think attaching it to “what you need to show on the dice” is the right way to go (people will just say “difficulty” or “target”). I also don’t want fussing about adding and subtracting from rolls or targets. One thing I’m very clear on is that players should be able to look at their dice and know how well they’ve done: none of that convoluted “I rolled a sixteen, plus this, minus that, did I remember all my modifiers, is that good enough mister dungeon master u_w_u?” toss on my watch.

So I think I need to introduce Haunt Dice too. You get to roll more dice if you’re somewhere you’re haunting. Not sure about swapping dice yet (I still think that’s cumbersome, and gets in the way of players learning their dice pools – because they have to factor in something different every time, there’s less room for familiarity to develop). If everything’s on a 1-5 scale that should keep the probability curve fairly sensible.

Time to sit on this for a while and see what boils away.

[WFB] Battle Report: The Maven & The Witch, Chapter II – Grave Disorder

Warhammer Skirmish; Vampire Hunt scenario, hacked for speed running.

The Hacks

I compressed the battlefield down to 2 feet square, as before; removed the attackers’ supporting troops, as injury rolls have a tendency to bloat and delay the Skirmish experience; and I gave the Vampire a set location and set her victory condition to “escape” rather than “kill they heroes.”

The Premise

Thaniel had told his story three times in two days. Once to himself, as he hurried through the deep pathways of Deadwood, so fast and so far that even his sure elven feet had betrayed him here and there. Once to Rychell, and the veteran had nodded gravely and led him up here…

He knew the Court. He knew what to expect. But it was still a strange feeling, to see four gnarled and blasted stumps and to stand at the point between them, to address them by name and to watch as flesh flickered out of splinter and shadow, as the lords and ladies of Deadwood came back to hear the tale.

Mostly. Prince Hwel had not come, and Thaniel was grateful for that small mercy.

“It happens to us all,” Lord Gwydion said, and “not to me” Lord Gilfaethwy said, and that had been an end to Thaniel’s apologies. The Lady Bloddeuwydd had said nothing at all, until Thaniel’s tale was told, and then:

“Grimgroth did not raise himself from the dead. His crown was taken. His will was broken. Someone broke those seals; someone stirred him up and set him loose.”

Some interloper,” said the Lord Gilfaethwy, and “some necromancer,” said the Lord Gwydion.

Someone who has roused the Maven’s wrath. We must honour the covenant. But we must know how deep the rot goes; if we are beset from within. Brothers; will you go to the Tombs?”

And you to the Heart?” said the Lord Gwydion, “with all haste and all our strength?” said the Lord Gilfaethwy.

The Lady Bloddeuwydd bowed her head, and rose in a rustle of roots, a shiver of snowfall. “Ahead of the Maven, if I can,” she said, “and with Thaniel.”

The Forces

Wood Elves

Gwydion, a Noble: Alter Kindred, longbow, light armour and shield
Gilfaethwy, a Noble: Alter Kindred, greataxe, light armour and shield

Vampire Counts

Clarimonde, a Vampire Thrall: Von Carstein, with heavy armour, Summon Wolves and the Gem of Blood,
and a Bat Swarm

The Field

Ravenswild Forest, from Heroic Maps. Well. About a quarter of it.

This is where things become unusual. Normally I abhor 2D terrain; it is the mark of my own personal End Times, the herald of the millimetre counters and precision junkies who turned Warmahordes into a crude attempt at tt-sports and robbed it of all spectacle and charm. But needs must when the devil vomits into your kettle; storage space is limited, funds are short, AoS scenery has a resale value and I had just enough DriveThruRPG store credit to give this a try.

Further house rules were implemented. The cliff faces were treated as impassable; shooting from the paths up into the ruins was not permitted.

Clarimonde would start the game in the tower at the heart of the ruins, about her nefarious business with the Heart of the Forest; the Bats would be roosting in the nearby tree. Gilfaethwy and Gwydion would deploy in the opposite corner.

The Fight

I randomised who’d get the first turn; it went to Clarimonde and her associates. Since she didn’t know there was danger yet, but I didn’t want to pass the turn completely, I had her Summon the Dire Wolves from a random board edge, which turned out to be the top one.

I’d made a minor deployment whoopsie, placing Gwydion up front, meaning if I wanted to charge in with Gilfaethwy, they’d both have to get stuck in. No great hardship. Gwydion scored two critical hits, but all his injury rolls were ones or twos; he really knocked that Wolf down. Gilfaethwy, being more accustomed to melee combat, flattened his Wolf with a similar double-crit display.

The Bats, alerted to the sound of violence, fluttered out of the ruins and circled around behind the elven interlopers. Meanwhile, the last Wolf counter-charged Gilfaethwy, but didn’t manage to land a blow. For their part, the twins mustered a stun and a kill.

Gwydion, sure he could trust his brother to handle a few flying rodents, moved around toward the north entrance of the tomb, intent on establishing what was going on in there, although he did take a potshot or two at the Bats (dealing a wound). His faith may have been somewhat misplaced, since Gilfaethwy proved unable to eliminate one stunned Dire Wolf…

Clarimonde was still about her mysterious business (I didn’t roll a 6), so the Bat Swarm swept in to protect her, charging Gilfaethwy and scoring a critical! Counting as two hits (and, I presume, two wounds), they managed to stun the Alter Noble, and suddenly things were looking a lot less one-sided than they had been a moment ago.

Gwydion didn’t even have a charge lane to the bats (I think I flubbed the rule here, too much Warmahordes baggage still) but successfully stunned the Dire Wolf that would otherwise be gnawing on his brother’s tender bits.

Clarimonde completed her task (“awoke”, in the scenario’s original terms) and made a cautious move out of the ruined tower. Her Bats, regrettably, didn’t follow up their previous exemplary performance, fluffing their attacks on downed Gilfaethwy for the second round on the trot.

Said Gilfaethwy took to his feet and proceeded to absolutely ruin the Bat Swarm; inspired by this performance, Gwydion landed two critical hits on the Dire Wolf and killed it three times over, poor thing.

Now aware that she was alone and had to make good her escape, Clarimonde bolted for the board edge, opting for the path on the bottom left as the one farthest from whatever was going on so messily down at the foot of the crag. The twins set off in hot pursuit, but crucially lacked the Line of Sight to declare charges. They were reduced to a potshot with a longbow, praying for a lucky crit, and Gwydion managed to definitively miss that one, allowing Clarimonde to make good her escape!

The Result

A win for the Vampire Counts!

The Learnings

I’m not convinced I adapted this one as well for the solo experience. In particular, Clarimonde’s Summon Wolves at the top of the game was an impulse choice, trying to avoid a churned turn – I don’t think she should have done it until she knew there was something worth summoning to avoid. To be honest, Clarimonde’s whole kit was a bit of an impulse choice: I’d forgotten this scenario originally included a Strigoi with the usual 60 points of free kit (thanks, Alessio!) and Bloodline powers on top of that, and had to retune on the fly.

With the benefit of hindsight, I could have very easily taken Sylvanian rules into this, setting up a couple of grave markers (dispellable on the standard 4+) that were spawning Zombies for the boys to whack down, and maybe cheated a bit with Clarimonde’s powers, setting her up with a Countess spread of Summon Wolves and Summon Bats. That would make a better use of the title too, really hammer home the feeling that zombies are pouring out of the grave for some reason.

I also wasn’t quite sure about losing the troops for the attackers. Things would have been a lot slower with more models – Skirmish, in my experience, tends to derail fast if you start whiffing attacks or can’t make satisfactory injury rolls, and really needs a bypass to make stunned enemies easier to take out or something. Bringing the brothers on together felt right, but the two of them couldn’t really cover all three routes off the map. If they’d been able to move more decisively for the ruins (i.e. if the Wolves hadn’t been there) things might have gone perversely better for them and we might have had some head on conflict.

It worked well enough for something I could play in half an hour before work, and the result stands, but I think I’d like to play this one again with the premise and forces adjusted.

The Witch…

“Is it done?”

“You asked for the Heart of the Forest,” said Clarimonde, “and you’re all but on top of it. You asked for the Tombs to be opened, and I’ve done it, and survived. All the dead of High Tiernmas follow in my wake.

Her – what was the word? Employer was too crass, too mundane. Mistress was too permanent, and had some unlovely connotations. Cohort? Collaborator? Those suggested a partnership of equals, which this was certainly not, in either of their minds.

Whatever she was, the Witch was apparently unpleasable. Her eyeless gaze roamed over Clarimonde, over the paths out of the clearing, over the distant ice-topped river.

“It’s not enough. The Heart eludes. It resists. Resists me, Clarimonde! I won’t have it. I need the army at my back. I need you at my side.”

You will have your army. But you will not have my sword. I wish you good fortune, madame, in your quest. I am weary of this wretched forest. I must feed, and the Heart will not bleed for both of us. You’ll need all that it can give.”

The Witch’s skull turned to face her; the trailing shadows about it stirred and shifted, unseen currents drawing them this way and that.

If I am to be whole again.”

I’ve nearly finished all my Dryads (and two thirds of the Glade Guard), the last sprues are queued up for painting this week. That means next week I’mma paint some Tree-Kin and the week after that I can stage Chapter III – A Maven’s Folly.

[WFB] The Court of the Crag (1 of 2)

A much needed “weekend off” after the actual weekend burned my brains out; I still feel like parts of my head have been put in a vice and squeezed. Time for a day or two of long films I’ve seen before and painting, I think! I’ve now done three out of four Ylthari’s Guardians Alter Kindred Heroes and I have names for all of them.

First up, Gilfaethwy. You’ve seen them before, but I wanted to post another, unflattering photo so that everyone got one.

Gilfaethwy is armed with an extremely great weapon and probably the Stone of the Crystal Mere or something. I vaguely want to give them the Fimbulwinter Shard but it’s at its best on a mounted character in an army that isn’t mostly Dryads. I must find some way to sneak that into the army, though.

Next, Gwydion.

Gwydion is waving the Bow of Loren around, as the Alter Kindred’s additional attacks and single-model line of sight make them an excellent carrier for this traditional weapon. I may yet add some snow to Gwydion’s tactical rock.; I’ve not decided.

Finally, there’s Blodeuwedd. Not an amazingly photogenic figure, but she looks better in person. There’s quite a subtle merge-and-yet-distinction between the leaf skirt, the vine corset/basque arrangement and parts of her skin that led me to basically wet blend a few layers around Nighthaunt Gloom to ease the transition, and I think it’s worked quite nicely.

She will generally be carrying either Calaingor’s Stave or the Deepwood Sphere (subject to testing) plusa Dispel Scroll (I refuse to indulge the photocopy special, but I’m allowing myself one in the interests of furthering this magic-light approach. She can’t be Alter Kindred like the others on account of being a Spellweaver, nor can she be Glamourweave Kindred without saddling up on a steed or unicorn for some reason (although Mat Ward seemed to get away with it in the inaugral battle report for the army book, and I don’t think it does lasting harm, it’s basically a cheap 5+ ward, worse things happen for 20 points).

The fourth figure isn’t painted yet. These are merely his offspring and retainers. I’m saving him for the next milestone, as I intend to save him for larger games. But he’s primed, and he’s named, and the world will be hearing from Prince Hwel of the Crag at some point.

Talking of which: The Maven & The Witch. I must beg your indulgence for another week. The aforementioned brain rot has really slowed me down, and I have now successfully flogged off the last of my Age of Sigmar scenery. A substitute has been identified, and purchased, but needs to be prepared, and I need to do that once I’m back in work. I’ll probably get the second game played next “weekend”, now that both the heroes I need are painted.

[WFB] The heroes we deserve…

Progress continues apace: I am still able to put in a couple of painting sprints a week before work, and having cleared my OWAC commitments for the month, I now have many damned things to show you.

The first Damned Thing is this Alter Noble, for such they are. Honest.

Hark says they looks like they’re in a power metal band: “like Lordi but arboreal”. i think they play bass.

I know the Alter Kindred are supposed to represent the weres and shifters of yesteryear, thus sating the grogs who’d doubtless been groggin’ about them vanishing from the list since the week after fourth edition WFB came out. I don’t own any of those figures. I do know a bargain when I see it, and four freaky-looking half-tree monsters for £15 is definitely a bargain by GW standards. They even have good approximations for the appropriate kit: this specimen is sporting a great weapon and the Stone of the Crystal Mere knotted up in their branches, along with a 5+ save ably represented by their generally robust tree bits and some sort of spite (it’s a pity the spites start at 25 points, but you can’t have everything).

Emboldened by the use of Drakenhof Nightshade on the skin here, I tried it out on the faces of my next rank of Glade Guard. They have also had a new spot colour introduced, as a way of identifying regiments at a glance when they go all MSU.

i already did one “da ba dee da ba di” this week and i’m not doing another.

I think it works well enough that I can skip the temperamental “thinned down red then thinned down green” stage inherited from my Retribution of Scyrah models. I’m not so convinced by the brown boot trims and gloves. The thing with these Oathmark figures is they don’t have the extra layer of garments the Citadel figures do, so it’s harder to bring in a spot colour or break up the bodies. You gets what you pays for, and I am still content with them for the price, but as I work on these I am more appreciative of how GW’s plastic kits at their best stand apart from the pack.

With fifteen elves done it was high time to finish an 8×2 line with something a bit different: a metal Oathmark champion.

if heroes get a tactical rock, champions can have a tactical snowdrift

I’m well pleased with this one. It’s a simple enough figure, but with just a little extra complexity compared to the rank and file, with the chainmail and the studs on the hood and the hair. It’s also brought home to me how different metal really is to plastic, with a painting style like mine. When I’m literally working on the metals and plastics side by side, doing the same stages on each one, the comparative crispness and texture of the metal is apparent around the time the first wash goes on. I’m not saying I’m gonna chuck all my figures RIGHT NOW and join the all-metal all-the-time brigade (I’m not made of money!) but I do appreciate their argument in a new light.

Of course, if we’re going for a metal champion and a classic regimental lineout, we have a spare figure flying around from the ten man unit, and an opportunity is knocking.

not certified for use in Albion; not Lore of Heavens safe

Young Thaniel – the former unit leader who disgraced himself so in Ghosts in the Fog – has had his sword of bossdom-denoting confiscated and been given a Responsibility, in the hope that it’ll help him hold his nerve and set a better example. It’s not done, but papercrafting banners is definitely on the “later” end of my priorities.

why has the colour blue forsaken me after all these years of loyalty?
blue Chaos, blue Mercs, blue Trollbloods…

Finally, there are the latest harvest of Dryads. These have come out a bit funny, and I know exactly why. I gave the Nighthaunt Gloom a good shake before adding it and it came out super globby, drowning the lower layers in technical blue. It’s not a wash, even if I’m using it like one, and less is more when I get to that stage on the Spirits. I might skip it entirely on the next few and see how much of a difference it makes. These were rescued with another pass of Drakenhof Nightshade, which has at least given the unit a nice bit of variation when it’s all formed up together.

Speaking of which, since we now have some bigger-than-minimum-sized units, shall we enjoy some beauty shots?

With another week of this, I’ll have done all the Dryads, and two thirds of the Glade Guard. High time to move on into Special units, at that stage, and pop some Tree-Kin together ready for Chapter III of the solo campaign. Chapter II will be forthcoming Soon (TM). I need to paint up the second Alter Noble for that one, and also sort out some new scenery as I’m successfully shot of the plastic tombs. I also need to put some hustle under my bustle, as there may be only a few weeks until the bookshop can re-open properly and I may be in line for more hours at work, moving hobby activity back to a “days off, either paint or play” endeavour. In the interest of cracking on with the campaign, I may be about to make… a compromise. We’ll talk about that later, once I’ve figured out if it’s worth doing.

[WFB] Battle Report: The Maven & The Witch Chapter I – Ghosts in the Fog

Warhammer Warbands (200 points); A Little War scenario; objectives were Hold Territory (Wood Elves) and Invade! (Vampire Counts)

The Premise

Grimgroth opened his eyes.

Was it time? Had the bell been rung, its doleful peal sounding the Time of Ending? He swung slowly off his graven slab and took up his axe and followed the breeze out of his tumulus. His huscarls were stirring, skinless hands closing on sword-hilt and shield-grip, as they followed him into the twilight of the gods, and also of the sky.

Grimgroth closed his eyes, then opened them again, dessicated lids flapping in ponderous amazement, then closed them again to have a good hard think.

Who had put those bloody trees there? When he had been laid down to rest, all this had been fields; the fields of High Tiernmas of old.

Now he was starting to remember. There had been… others. In the long winter that had never seemed to end. The elves had come. They had put Tiernmas to flight. They had relieved Grimgroth of his kingdom, his crown and his life, in that approximate order, almost in the one day. They had sealed him into the tomb dug for him long ago.

Grimgroth opened his eyes. He kicked away the carrion-eater who was reaching out a filthy calloused paw for one of his favourite toes; the ghoul fled, yelping, into the woods. Yes. The woods. Through the woods and out, out into the world. Out to glory, for the Old Kingdom. And they’d put a stop to any Time of Ending that happened to be going on, and all.

The Forces

Wood Elves

The Maven of Deadwood, a Branchwraith
Cildraeth Celyn, 4 Dryads
Black-Briar Kinband, 5 Glade Guard Scouts

Vampire Counts

Grimgroth, a Wight Lord
The Tomb-Born, 10 Skeletons
The Bone Gnawers, 5 Ghouls

The Field

In the woods, the howl of a kicked ghoul and the whisper of bony feet on snow fell on interested elven ears. Thaniel nodded to his troop, hooted once like a barn owl and twice like a screech owl, and motioned them to keep their heads down. The Maven was haunting these woods tonight, and she would want these draugr for her prey.

Somewhat less than inspiring stuff, I think you’ll agree. I had every intention of playing this out over a battlemat, but then I took the battlemat out, realised it was obnoxiously busy with implied scatter terrain and my models would simply disappear on top of it, and promptly chucked the thing on eBay because I’ve never liked it anyway. I don’t actually remember how it ended up here in the first place.

Anyway. I played this over a 2′ by 2′ board to give the undead a fighting chance (four square is much too big for an engagement this size anyway, SAGA has the right idea with its standard 3′ x 3′ and even that uses more models than this).

I used a scatter die to determine where Grimgroth and co. arrived, then set up the Maven and her associates in the opposite quarter. Units would have to have their back corner touching the board edge, unless they were Scouts in which case they could set up out of sight of and around 10″ away from the enemy. Grimgroth would count as an Undead General, allowing his units to march, and neither character could start the battle in a unit.

When it came to actually making the moves and choices I did more or less what I thought the troops would do, given their objectives.

Grimgroth’s mind was bent on securing his escape, so he wouldn’t stop and fight until he was in the Wood Elves’ starting quarter; the Ghouls, being cowardy cowardy cutlets at heart, would attempt to not get shot at while protecting their new master as best they could.

The Maven would hold her starting quarter unless she had an opportunity to engage and destroy Grimgroth; the rest of her army would attempt to envelop and exterminate the undead nuisance, sweeping as much of the grove (i.e. as many table quarters) as they could occupy.

The Fight

Only a dozen or so, Thaniel said to himself. Easy pickings for the Maven and her sisters; but it wouldn’t hurt to even the odds just a little, as the draugr marched by. There was something else stirring further in the woods, but it was hard to make out what. The mist was rising. She was coming.

Grimgroth shelters from the Glade Guard behind the Skeletons; the Ghouls scurry around to check for any nasty surprises behind the tree. Glade Guard shooting plinks one Skeleton (I didn’t fancy their chances hitting skirmishers, in cover, at long range).

As they came upon the clearing, three paths winding out between three vast gnarled trees, Grimgroth slowed his pace. Something was wrong, beside the tearing up of good honest roads and the planting of a forest where his serfs had once been toiling. The snow was fluttering and stirring about them, the freezing clouds shifting as if the forest breathed out a warning. Which way was out? Which way led down to the lowlands? And as Grimgroth considered, an arrow shot past him into the dark, and another, and yet another took brave Darven in the empty eye and sent him off to a second death. Elves.

The Wood Elves spread out. In response, the Ghouls swing back around to threaten the Glade Guard and cover the Undead rear (oo-er). Grimgroth takes up the missing space in the Skeleton unit; another two Skeletons get shot.

They bobbed and weaved around the old oak tree, arrows nocked and flying at the slow-shambling draugr. Thaniel could hear the song of the woods now, keening high and fierce through the mists; he knew without knowing that the hunt was almost on him. Another volley, more draugr fell; the carrion eaters snarled and hissed at the stone where Thaniel had stood whole seconds ago.

The Undead are successfully march-blocked, and Grimgroth begins a slow shuffle toward freedom. The Ghouls realise they have to do the business or get off the pot, and place themselves between the Skeletons and the Dryads. I also buffeted the tree on the right, moving the surrounding miniatures whole centimetres out of place and rendering the result of the game NULL AND VOID in the eyes of all the millmetre-counting why-in-goodness’-name-don’t-you-stick-to-video-games turbo-spods out there. Of course, I am now five years free of Warmahordes and consequently put things back more or less right and decided to be generous with the matter of measurements in the next turn.

Grimgroth hefted his axe and plodded on; no sense in chasing ghosts in the fog. Let the ghouls taste elf-flesh instead of breaking teeth on his old bones – and then he heard their yammering and yelping cut short by an eerie whistle, piercing and clear, on the upper edge of hearing yet echoing through the trees. The trees were screaming. The trees were moving! Something came shrieking and wailing out of the fog, right at him; some fiend in woman’s shape, a long plait whipping behind her, a scythe in her hands. A peasant’s weapon. Slow. Clumsy. Grimgroth braced himself to take the charge.

The trap is sprung! Kind of. Boxcars on the Glade Guards’ fear test leaves the Maven going it alone. It doesn’t go well; while she lands a wound on Grimgroth in the challenge (of course he challenged, he wasn’t going to let her whack his honour guard to death!), he lands a Killing Blow with a magical Wight Blade on her. The Dryads only kill one Ghoul, and a flurry of outrageous rolls (four sixes!) see one Dryad poisoned to death in return and a break test only just passed. I’ve had better trap-springings, put it like that.

She. She! Thaniel held his hand down, holding the troop back, watching the cold and hateful heart of the forest beat once, twice, and launch the Maven into life. She ran for the dead with scythe upraised, rallied to reap, ready to kill! Cyfamod Pren Mawr demanded his troop join her… but the sound, the awful sound of the Dryads in full fury, and would they keep the pact? And then the draugr’s leader stepped forward, and turned his face to Thaniel, and winked with his dead eye as he caught the scythe in one hand, its weight ripping his arm from its socket, but he moved with it and brought his iron adze sweeping across the Maven’s throat, pulling her onto the deathblow. Perhaps he imagined it, but Thaniel swore he heard a taunt in broken Asrai fall from the dead man’s lips.

“You’re next, chum.”

I had Grimgroth overrun, so he could get into position to achieve his objective, and then turn to face the Glade Guard, the only unengaged foes. Might not have been tactically sound, but I feel it’s what a Wight Lord running on autopilot would do.

The Glade Guard don’t fancy their chances against said Wight Lord. Fortunately, the Dryads absolutely butchered the Ghouls on the Undead turn, and are now free to avenge the Maven. They underperform, allowing Grimgroth to barge his way into combat and kill one of them, but in the next round a Dryad gets another set of boxcars and that’s it for Grimgroth.

There they were. Grimgroth had them now. The she-daemon was dead, cut down, and the woodland fools had shown their hands. He knew the way now; these elves would be guarding the safe path, driving him onto a wrong turn. Past them and down, into the lowlands, into the light. And now he knew the way… he could afford to take his leisure. His guard fell into rank beside him as he turned to face the elven scouts. Their leader was still quailing with his sword half out of its sheath. As their gazes locked… as their gazes locked, Vandam and Erl flew across his vision, torn to pieces. More of these cursed, screaming sprites! Grimgroth turned, pushed his way through the ranks; one would die like any other. He struck one across the back as it lunged past him, but as he turned he saw the branch swinging straight for his helm.

Grimgroth closed his eyes.

The Result

Victory to the Wood Elves by default; a tabling for the Undead, although they preserve some honour by dispatching the Maven.

In reflection on the armies: the Dryads are every bit as brutal as I remember, Initiative 6 (and 8 on the Maven!) putting them well ahead in later rounds of combat. They weren’t too well suited to fighting the Toughness 4 Ghouls, though. I was less impressed with the Glade Guard, and I ended up holding them back from a charge once Grimgroth had his front presented to them as I didn’t fancy feeding him kills. The Maven… well, these things happen, you can’t account for Wight Blades, and she did have to leave her defensive kit at home. If nothing else it’s a good excuse for her having the Annoyance later on; she won’t be fooled again. On the whole, the Wood Elves seem good at landing the hits, but maybe struggle to convert.

In reflections on the game: there were a few things I had to look up besides stats, including what the shooting maluses actually are (look, I play with Banshee screams and Asp Arrows against magic missiles and wonder weapons: modifiers don’t really come up!) and how the hell skirmishers charge when their way is blocked by other skirmishers but not completely… in the end I opted for the least gamey, smoothest flowing option of having the Dryads charge the Ghouls instead of a dodgy two-in-one-looping-around move that would have barely had them in contact anyway.

In reflections on solo play: it seems to work! I think this scenario did me a lot of favours as it set clear objectives for each side, so I could lean into those whenever I needed to make a characterful decision.

The Maven…

Thaniel rose from his furrow behind the old oak tree. He was, he suspected, a dead elf walking; the forest spirits would surely be furious, his inaction had surely led to the Maven’s downfall. He dropped his sword, handed his bow to Ithain, walked toward the trio of surviving dryads with his head held down; they parted, to let him pass. Surely they were the Despairs, come to claim him. Surely the forest itself whispered his name…


Fresh snow was falling, on the bones and the blades and the body of the Maven. Thaniel dropped to his knees, cradled her head, heedless of splinters. It was all his fault. Failure. Traitor. It would be the Waywatchers for him, if they’d have him at all.

“I am sorry. I am so, so sorry. I…”

Help me.”

He looked down. A purple light was shining, crashing out of her open throat; he took the head more firmly, settled it onto her neck, felt the wood grind and gristle back together.

A dryad held out her scythe, and she took it, rising slowly, crone-bent and weary, her voice a hiss from somewhere deeper than her wound. Thaniel stayed on his knees; surely, surely the blade would fall, the forest would reclaim him for what he’d done?

You will restore amends. Rouse the kinbands. Honour the Covenant. I go to wake my sisters, stir my brothers. This will not stand. This will not stand…”

By the time he dared look up, the dryads were gone, into the fog.

Coming soon: Chapter II, Grave Disorder. Once I have some Alter Kindred painted. I’m not sure about the tomb scenery, which I fall into and out of love with every time I get it out of the box. I think I’ll use it for the time being, but leave it up on the Bay of E and see if I can’t get shot of it too in the long term.