This is a repost. The original article has bounced around two forums, three blogs and several content purges. Hopefully it will survive and thrive here.
The year is 2008, and for the three months before my MA course is due to start, I am home, playing games with my formative opponents. The local GW, locus of our lives back in the sixth form days, is running a campaign. Four weeks of Mordheim games. One big map showing our warbands’ progression into the ruined city (and governing what sort of terrain will appear when two warbands meet, although the scenarios themselves would be played by-the-book). ‘Victory’ is a tenuous sort of thing really, but for the sake of people who need to know who ‘won’ a wargames campaign, whoever’s warband came out with the highest rating at the end of the month would be lauded, applauded, and relieved of the sandwich run.
I decided to treat the campaign as a prequel of sorts. During the 2004 Storm of Chaos campaign I built a heavily kitbashed Army of Sylvania (which actually grew out of a Mordheim warband box) led by that Mordheim vampire with the swooshy cloak and later, after I lost him in a house move, by a swashbuckling undead Imperial Noble from the Warhammer Quest range. I didn’t do any conversion work at all on him – merely painted on an eyepatch after he caught the wrong end of a Dwarf rune axe in his first outing.
Since Mordheim is set some five hundred years prior to the Storm of Chaos, during the slow rise to power of the Von Carsteins, I thought this would be a good chance to see how my newly-turned Vampire started out his career and made himself noticeable to his antecedents.
The Starting Lineup
Kaptain von Ruthven – Vampire with sword and dagger – 120
Doktor Polidori – Necromancer with sword and Call of Vanhel – 45
Igor – Dreg – bow and dagger – 30
Boris – Dreg – bow and dagger – 30
Rupert – Dreg – bow and dagger – 30
3 Zombies – 45
3 Zombies – 45
3 Dire Wolves – 150
500 crowns spent, warband rating 98
I had two things in mind here.
Firstly: Mordheim is won or lost by Heroes. More Heroes in a warband means more Exploration dice, more fun Skills and more personality. Secondly, shooting is key, even for a warband like the Undead. Slapping a bow on a Hero, even a Hero with abysmal Ballistic Skill like a Dreg, allows them to stay safe during the game (earning experience for surviving) and gives them two or three chances to make an attack, take out a target, and gain more experience points. Without the bows, they’d have to run forward and risk not being able to make any attacks at all, probably being shot at while they’re doing it. As the Dregs earned experience and advances, I could buy them some more interesting equipment and turn them into actual characters.
That said, three lads with perfectly ordinary bows isn’t exactly a fearsome array of shooting, so I’d need to play to my warband’s strengths elsewhere. Ruthven is a lot faster and tougher than the other Heroes and likely to actually reach combat at some point, so he was given a sword (for the parry) on top of his standard-issue dagger (for the extra attack). Polidori the Necromancer would have liked a bow but I didn’t want to cut up the model and stick one on, so he was stuck with a sword. Besides, he’d need to be near the front lines in order to get the most out of his Call of Vanhel spell, and a parrying weapon might just save his life.
My Henchmen were a mix of the disposable (two groups of three Zombies, one to look after the Dregs and one to look after the Necromancer) and the deadly (Dire Wolves, with the super-hard profile from fifth edition that makes them the fastest things in Mordheim and one of the scariest Henchmen). All of them were quite hard to stop thanks to the Undead immunity to stuns – hopefully that’d keep me in the fight, giving me a chance to wear down the enemy and break their morale).
As the players started filing in for the first night and I saw the other warbands, I felt pretty confident. My Dire Wolves could outrun everything except the Skaven, and outfight everything except the Dwarfs. The lineup was completed by a Shadow Warrior band, some inexplicable Dark Elf scallywags, Witch Hunters, and a couple of Mercenary players of varying flavours.
Game One: Cruise Control
Mike (normally a Dwarf player, but he’d found some Night Runners under the bed and thought “what the hell”) had brought a lucky 13 models to the fight – three Giant Rats, five Heroes (including two flail-toting Black Skaven and an Assassin with a bit of everything) and the token Verminkin to make up the numbers. So… they outnumbered me, they were faster than me on any turn when I wasn’t charging, and they had three heroes who might actually be able to put a dent in Ruthven. In at the deep end, obviously…
The board involved a large ruined temple at my end, with a long street running right up to the Skaven deployment zone and a couple of walls bordering an open area off to the left.
I deployed three Zombies and the Doktor behind my wall, the three Wolves on one side of the temple, the Dregs within the temple itself (hunkered down and ready for sniping) and the other three zombies screening Ruthven at my end of the street. The Skaven massed behind their wall, obviously planning on rushing my Necromancer and then going for the squashy Dreg-meats in the temple.
Ruthven sprinted across the front line to follow up my Wolves’ relentless advance up the street, catching up with them in time to pick off a couple of Verminkin in melee. Polidori and the Zombies skulked behind the wall and waited… and waited… and waited.
I’ve never seen anyone fail so many Fear tests as Mike did in this game. Evidently used to his Dwarfs, he threw nine after nine after nine, which meant the Skaven cowered in their toe-rags (they don’t wear boots) long enough for my Wolves to get behind them and start wreaking havoc. Even the Assassin, going for the throat rather than be bogged down by my minions, fluffed his Fear test to charge Ruthven. My counter-charge took him out of action, and Mike’s impending bottle roll did not go too well.
Post-game, the few Zombies who’d been deactivated made full recoveries. My Dregs and Necromancer hadn’t achieved anything much, but Ruthven earned himself a +1 Toughness advance, and found himself a jewelled sword and dagger amongst the ruins. I think you’re supposed to sell these (they are worth twice as much on the black market) but I thought them quite fancy and flouncily appropriate for a Von Carstein Vampire, so he kept them. I also bought another Dire Wolf, having been very impressed with their performance to date. (This would later prove to be a mistake.)
Game Two: This Is The Pitts
I normally draw up little maps for any game that I want to report, but there’s no trace of one here. I distinctly remember a lot of Lord of the Rings scenery, including half of Weathertop in my deployment zone, and a few cottages for the Hunters to hide behind, but the rest is a victory-coloured blur, including my opponent’s name. I know I set up the bulk of my warband in and around the Weathertop ruin, while the Hunters themselves spread out, perhaps attempting to keep their distance and thin out the Zombies with crossbows. The two Flagellants, the Captain and the Warrior Priest with Hammerhand, though, were coming right for me.
My Dregs and Zombies spent most of the game clambering over Weathertop trying to form something resembling a battle-line – and when I say “clambering”, I mean “falling”. Initiative scores of 1 or 2 do not an agile warrior make.
On the ground, I set up a mass Dire Wolf charge on the second turn, criss-crossing in front of the Witch Hunters’ lines to block off the Priest from getting a charge on Ruthven. That dealt with the Flagellants and a Witch Hunter, and furthermore kept the mad Priest busy fighting things that weren’t my squashy Heroes. The Witch Hunter Captain, overcome with a sudden desire to Burn the Witch, legged it straight for Polidori and promptly got mobbed by three Zombies who fell over on him as he passed by Weathertop.
Having finally extricated himself from Weathertop, Boris pointed his bow at the recently-disengaged Warrior Priest, scored a Critical Hit and took the frothing loony right off his feet. That was that. Bye-bye Witch Hunters. That was the last we saw of our Witch Hunter player, and the Dark Elves disbanded the same night after Mike gave them a merciless stonking.
In the post-game finagle, all my Dregs earned an advance: Rupert gained a point of Toughness, Igor a point of Initative, and Boris a skill. I picked Pit Fighter without a second thought, since he would be spending a lot of time hanging around in ruins and it’d elevate his combat characteristics into the realms of the vaguely relevant, and bought him a spear so he’d strike first when receiving charges. I also had another advance to roll for Von, and… strewth. Toughness 6. He’d arrived at the racial maximum for a Vampire in his second outing. On top of that, he was fast becoming the campaign’s most feared leader: almost every blow he’d struck had been a critical, and he hadn’t taken a scratch in return. Very chuffed with this case of affairs, I spent the rest of my ill-gotten gains on a bow for Polidori, who hadn’t ever needed to cast Call of Vanhel and would be better served standing back, doing some shooting, and trying to earn himself the experience points for a new spell.
Game Three: Down in the Dunst
I hate Dwarfs.
I really, really hate them.
Okay, so this is Mordheim. They’re can’t simply line up three Dispel dice and inform me that I might as well take my Grave Markers off the board, or have a static +9 combat resolution on the unit that’s hiding all their tastiest Victory Points, and at least there’s only half a dozen of them because they’re all wearing at least heavy armour and carrying a golf bag full of weaponry, but they’re Dwarfs. They’re tough, heavily equipped, tough, possessed of brilliant Leadership that makes them practically fearproof, tough, skilful and tough.
And the scenario was a Wyrdstone Hunt. I’d have to close the distance and grab the stones to win – no flinging arrows at them from a safe distance and hoping. On the plus side, the campaign map we were using informed me that we’d be playing in the City Graveyard, so we dug out every single one of our resin cemetery terrain pieces and lined them up as best we could, with a long path running through the middle and a lot of walls for me to cower behind. A row of houses in the Dwarf deployment zone and my trusty ruined temple in mine, and we were all set to go. No – wait – wyrdstone shards! One ended up in the far left of the graveyard, one right outside the Dwarf deployment zone, and one more or less in the middle.
The Dwarfs set up behind the houses, while I went for a two-pronged approach, sending my fast stuff (Dire Wolves and Ruthven) into the left-hand side of the graveyard and the Dregs and Polidori to take up shooting positions among the headstones. The Zombies… well, they’d just have to lumber straight for the gaps in the walls and hope there was something relevant to do by the time they got there.
The foe broke left and right, a Slayer and Engineer making for the Dire Wolves while the leader and his Beardlings entered the graveyard on my far left. The Slayer cut his way through two of my beloved Dire Wolves, while the Engineer shot down a Zombie and seized the conveniently close wyrdstone shard, but then disaster struck for the Dwarfs. Doktor Polidori, perched atop an oversized grave-marker, took careful aim and put the Engineer’s eye out, while the Slayer rampaged into a pair of Zombies who somehow managed to take him out of action too.
Ruthven picked his way through the middle of the ruins, picking up the wyrdstone the Engineer had carried before ploughing across the board for the third. Unfortunately for him, it was being squatted upon by the Dwarf leader, a gromril-armoured headcase who was pushing Ruthven’s record for sheer indestructibility. Between Ruthven’s undead resilience (T6 and being able to ignore Stuns on the injury chart is useful to say the least) and inability to do anything other than knock the blasted Dwarf down, they were stuck there for four rounds. While our leaders traded ineffectual blows and witty remarks, Polidori picked up the last stray wyrdstone shart, and Boris kicked the two Beardlings in the head as they sought to outflank his master.
Post-game, I replaced the Dire Wolves I’d lost and bought myself a fifth. This was definitely a mistake. You’ll see why at the end. Rolling for my advances, I was amazed as Polidori picked up +1 BS – clearly he’d found his natural role in life. Boris the Wonder Dreg, as he would henceforth be known, got Mighty Blow and Fearsome, and I contemplated finding a bigger model: he’d evidently been at the wyrdstone on the way back to the crypt.
Game Four – Warbanderas
I’d heard bad things about Brook’s Shadow Warrior warband. I kept hearing these torrents of swearing, punctuated by the word “infiltrate”. Apparently everyone on Team Brook had two swords and nobody had yet penetrated the wall of parries. The good news was there were only five of them. I had them outnumbered, outgunned (an unusual state of affairs for an Undead warband), and (since we were playing Defend the Find), I even had them surrounded!
We set up a ring of houses surrounding a huge ruin (Weathertop again…). Ruthven and the Wolves lurked on the far left flank, while I kept the Zombie screen between the three houses in my deployment zone, with Polidori and the Dregs split between the buildings. Four of the Elves appeared at the windows of ‘Weathertop’, on the same side as my Dire Wolves (heh, heh, heh…), and the fifth… oh my.
The fifth popped up behind the building on my right. Brook’s dual-sword-wielding leader had Infiltrate. And Combat Master. Suddenly I understood where all the swearing had been coming from.
This was both the shortest and longest game of the campaign. Ruthven and the Wolves were all over the Elves in two turns, bowfire be damned, spurred on by the Call of Vanhel and the knowledge that they’d be turned into fancy fur coats if they went near Brook’s leader.
Unfortunately, the Elf leader was chewing his way through my Zombie screen, group by group. Despite their best efforts, Igor and Rupert couldn’t bring the Elf down with arrows, and he responded by giving all three Dregs a good kicking – even Boris!
There was nothing else for it: time for a final showdown between the campaign’s mightiest leaders. Try as he might, Ruthven couldn’t land a blow against the Parrying Nightmare from Ulthuan, but the Elf couldn’t crack the Vampire’s Toughness either. Both of us were taking Rout tests and passing; round after round, it went on. Closing time fell on my turn and, reluctantly, I bottled out.
Post-game, every single Zombie shrugged off its injuries. Boris the Wonder Dreg copped a head wound, adding Frenzy to his list of talents, while Igor lost an eye and his bow in short order (because BS 1 is just laughable, really) and Rupert picked up a set of Impressive Scars. Ruthven’s continued survival secured him a skill, and I picked Sprint. Not that I’d ever get to use it, but a 9″ move on a Vampire (keeping pace with the Dire Wolves!) is not something anyone should turn down.
So, at the end of the campaign, it was time to tot up the old warband ratings. Mike had secured a clear win: a full-strength Skaven warband came in at 100 purely on weight of numbers, before we even considered the bevy of skills his Night Runners and Assassin had collected. Brook would have come in second, but the injury rolls after our game weren’t kind to him and he lost enough models for me to neatly leapfrog him. I couldn’t help but wonder if I might have won, had I been a smart cookie and taken some Henchmen who could actually gain experience. Dire Wolves are great, but they never get any better, and they ultimately keep a tin lid on your warband rating. Zombies are useful, but six of them was too many and again, they never improve from their initial status as gormless arrow catchers.
As was said at the start, though, ‘winning’ is something of an illusion here. It sounds trite, but it really is the taking part that counts. All the games were fun (even the one involving the ruddy Dwarfs), and I got my origin story sorted. Obviously Ruthven just kept on surviving, kept on duelling, kept that trickle of wyrdstone coming back to Sylvania. If his progress in these games is anything to go by, he must have been a proper Count by the time Vlad declared war on the Empire at large. Maybe I should twist Edd’s arm into fighting some ‘historical’ scenarios with his Reikland army and fill in some more of the blanks?