[WFB] Seeing the Wood for the Trees

The background for the Deadwood Covenant has become… convoluted. This is why I don’t normally do backstories; the moment one starts playing, new contexts emerge, options become clarified through experience, and sooner or later much of what you devised at the start is being jostled out by newer ideas. Not necessarily better ones – just newer. This is especially true with wargames, where you might come out of the gate with An Idea and then discover that it don’t work like that in The Rules and suddenly you’re in the jaws of the Stormwind Fallacy again because making stories and doing well are not aligned in productive harmony.

What follows will not be deliciously tuned and well crafted prose: this is another of those posts in which I dump my thoughts out on the table and poke them about with a fork in public, thinking aloud rather than presenting fully formed and concrete ideas, freeing up brain tape so I can move on to the next step of refining and reorganising the raw ideas. Thus, straight from the notes folder:

Original Concept

TESSONFROID in BRETONNIA: a realm afflicted by permanent winter
Uneasy alliance between Wood Elf and Bretonnian courts
Wood Elves keep forgetting there’s a truce — why?
Family curse; the ruling aristocracy made a deal with the Forest Spirits, trading their life force to keep the forest alive
they are now Alter Kindred; no Wood Elves can be in charge; general has to be a Forest Spirit
Thus: the Maven.

ISSUE ENCOUNTERED: one Branchwraith isn’t enough to keep a whole army together, turning down Leadership 9 or 10 is a Folly; the concept does not work in The Rules at 2000 points.
I introduced the Druid (a Spellweaver) to give me a Leadership 9 Level 4 wizard as general, a comfort zone thing, and Gwydion the Battle Standard Bearer. Why are they called Gwydion and the Druid? Because of a Bill Bailey skit I doubt anyone but myself or Shiny will laugh at.

ISSUE ENCOUNTERED: Resurrection created the need for a divergent storyline as it locks the army into a different location (the Badlands)…

Solo Campaign

The Maven & The Witch opened the tin lid on a lot of backstory:

Introduced the full Court of the Crag — Prince Hywel, Gwydion and Gilfaethwy, Bloddeuwydd the Spellsinger.
Introduced High Tiernmas, an ancient kingdom of barbarians. Pre-Bretonni. Clearly a bit necromantic as they ended up being Tomb Kings… well, Barrow Kings. Last king, name of Grimgroth, personally put down by the Wood Elves when they arrived. Twin Princes also: Drognar Nar Janath and Jadan Nar Garoth.
Introduced the Heart of the Forest, a magical location which the Maven was counting on to sort itself out and end the winter one day.

Reflecting on this Grimgroth character and on the rules possibilities of fourth/fifth edition Warhammer, I also introduced the Crown of Sorcery! Dragged up here by Orcs migrating back from the Badlands after the sack of Mourkain, it became the heirloom crown of the kingdom of Tiernmas.
One presumes the Wood Elves came out of Athel Loren to put a stop to all that necromancy going on in said barbarian kingdom, couldn’t destroy the Crown but could seal it away, and settled down there to keep an eye on it.
THEN SOMETHING HAPPENED — against some existential threat (the adversary in a fifth edition game), a Highborn of the Asrai put on the Crown of Sorcery (against the advice of his druidic advisor). WHATEVER THE OUTCOME, the Crown had to go, and the Druid went away to get rid of it (taking it all the way to Troll Country to be sure and returning it to its place in the true canon lore TM).

CAVEAT: none of this can be anything to do with the eternal winter, because that’s not my story element to interfere with; that’s Shiny’s thing.

Resurrection Campaign

So the Deadwood Covenant did a Worldroots walk to protect the Forest of Gloom during all this upheaval in the main campaign storyline.
They didn’t do well: the Maven died a death, Prince Hywel is an Alter Kindred so he can’t be in charge even if he is thinking more clearly now the curse is loosened, so he made a new bargain with the Forest of Gloom, getting his daughter Bloddeuwydd back as a new Maven.
All this has been sent to the campaign organiser so it’s LOCKED AND CANON now! I can’t do my usual “malleable backstory to justify the list I want to take this time” tricks.

Bloddeuwydd is a mage with the Glamourweave upgrade (making her a Forest Spirit so she can lead an army) but she has to ride a Unicorn (I’ve got the model, this is fine). She doesn’t have to be the Lord though — I could take a Treeman Ancient, and since my Treeman has been the absolute star of my games so far I’m not entirely opposed to this.

Asrai Forge

While thinking about the army’s characters and story I’ve also been thinking about army lists, magic items and so on. I’ve reached a point where my units have names – the Black-Briar are my Glade Guard, the Pale Rose my Eternal Guard, and I’ve decided Celyn and Eiddew will be my newly subordinate Branchwraiths. Now I’m thinking about magic items – building a continuity between games is a lot easier when your characters feel like the same people because they do the same things on the battlefield. I went through the Wood Elf army book and made a couple of lists:

Theme Items I Should Use

  • Callach’s Claw
  • Sword of a Thousand Winters
  • Briarsheath (I named my Glade Guard the Black-Briars, so…)
  • Glamourweave
  • Amaranthine Brooch (Shiny’s Damsel is named Amaranthe, and also, this is a thing and so is this)
  • Fimbulwinter Shard
  • Hagbane Tips (Thank you MilitantKakapo for the suggestion of harvesting the Maven’s body for arrows! It’s probably going in the Resurrection list at least…)
  • Banner of Midwinter

Good Items I Like Using

  • Bow of Loren
  • Helm of the Hunt
  • Hail of Doom (and Asyendi’s Bane as a delivery system, off the Battle Standard Bearer; I don’t like dodging the “no longbow” restriction, but I do like that this one stings back if it misses, and I think I can accept it as a one shot “spell-like ability”, reminiscent of Total War’s Talon of Kurnous)
  • Arcane Bodkins
  • Elyneth’s Brooch
  • Gwytherc’s Horn
  • Calingoir’s Stave
  • Banner of Springtide

I haven’t bothered to list Common Magic Items: these are the old standbys to which I always turn when I have space and time, and I’ll always have room in my heart for a Sword of Might, a War Banner or one Dispel Scroll for the bread and butter effects.

I also haven’t gone deep on Spites. I like the Annoyance of Netlings and Cluster of Radiants a lot, and credit is once again due to comrade Kakapo for pointing out that the Resplendence of Luminescents goes a long way on, say, the Druid and a Glade Guard bunker, giving me options that aren’t the Hail of Doom for dealing with Daemons / Spirit Hosts / other Forest Spirit friends. I tend to forget about Spites when not equipping a Branchwraith and that’s something I want to work on as I tune the characters further in the future.

My hope is that they’ll settle, eventually, into the kind of setup Lord Ruthven and his coterie have achieved – minor adjustments as they drift back and forth between editions and list variants, but not losing their fundamental identities.

Prince Hywel is the cursed founder of a dynasty he can never lead; a warrior par excellence but nothing but a warrior. Gilfaethwy and Gwydion are of a pair; arrogant and dangerous hunters of the deep wood. Bloddeuwydd is the voice of reason, but deepest in the forest’s clutches since her death and resurrection.

My poor Battle Standard Bearer – well, he’s where I start making sacrifices for the sake of actually winning a battle now and then, because I find it hard to get a decent story out of “being whooped so hard we really should all be dead by now”. The photocopy special here is Asyendi’s Bane and the Hail of Doom but I think I like the Hail more on Prince Hywel and I want the Banner of Midwinter as my Army Standard, dammit. (From a strict optimisation perspective it should go on the regiment of Eternal Guard, but I think I can argue for wanting the War Banner there or on the Glade Guard and since both of my War Banner candidates look the same… aesthetics and WYSIWYG are a compelling case. Means I can’t take the War Banner on the Wild Riders, but they’re better off cheap I think.) He needs a new name as well as there are just too many Gwydions flying around here (and I want to keep the “Gwydion and the Druid” reference for my Lord and Archmage in the fifth edition “history” list).

And there’s a vacancy for a new Lord, since the siren song of Leadership 10 can only be ignored for so long. The idea here is that the new Lord – hello Nivienne – isn’t cursed, and may actually be able to liberate the Deadwood, given time and good advice, and can at least keep the scheming forest spirits under control. Bow of Loren, Briarsheath, Fimbulwinter Shard and Arcane Bodkins should make for a very hard-to-hit sniper with some “forest spirits stay away” flavour; the alternative is really leaning into having taken what’s left of the Maven and turned her into weaponry, with the Callach’s Claw, Hagbane Arrows, Fimbulwinter Shard again and Gwythec’s Horn to keep any unit she joins robust in the face of terror. Maybe I’ll try that second build at Resurrection 3 and 4, since that’s a much more themey event and I’m on a hiding to nothing in the campaign anyway.

Muster The Kindred

Finally there’s the matter of models. I have a fair amount of stuff in the painting queue already, as discussed in the roundup post:

  • 12 Eternal Guard (primed)
  • Branchwraith (primed)
  • archer Highborn/Noble (primed)
  • 2 Great Eagles (assembled)
  • 5 Wild Riders (assembled, but break every time the cat farts in the next room)
  • 16 Dryads (on sprue)
  • Treeman (on sprue)

You may have gathered that I do not fully respect the Wild Rider models, which are firmly from the new “designed for the Studio, failing at life” tradition of casting and assembly. Lovely display pieces, but in a foam case on public transport they’re not up to code.

I am also having second thoughts about the big Treeman; the first was enormous fun to assemble but again, case and space are iron laws and he’s a bit spindly around the twiggy bits. Can I transport two without a second box that takes me into the realm of “games for the motorised” – which I am not.

Help, however, is at hand. Dead Earth’s cavalry have been repackaged into a “Beastrider Wars” range and made available for 3D printing; I have also been directed to a 3D printing firm who are said to do one-off runs to the acceptable standard.

My current wheeze is to pick up the Stag Riders I’ve had my eye on for a while, as well as their rather spiffy Raven Riders (they do Warhawks, but given the option of a giant corvid I’ll take the giant corvid), and liquidate the Citadel Wild Riders (dreadful spindly things) and Eagles (fine models but a little oversized and intimidating to paint; I’ve had them for a year and don’t feel like taking them on; besides, I could just use MORE TREEMAN).

As for the Treeman, Raging Heroes do a set of three more modestly proportioned lads who might do nicely on 50mm squares. They’re taller than the Tree-Kin anyway, although maybe not large enough to be Large Targets. I shall contemplate them on the Tree of Woe, but as I type I feel more inclined to either build another big bugger OR keep my eye out for some decent Waywatcher proxies.

[Meta Gaming] A Battlefield Is Love

The starting point for this was a question on Classichammer.com about how many terrain pieces people use and how they’re generated.

I don’t actually have a say in my terrain setup very often. I’m usually booking tables at one of those large wargaming venues that have sprung up on industrial estates around the UK within the last decade, and the boards are set up by staff members in the morning before either player arrives.

We generally tweak positions (to create lanes through which units can actually move) or angles (to create opportunities for dynamic play, or rather to eliminate borehammer by forcing choices).
For example:

The first Battle of Point Lestroud. This table was set up for us by the boys at Atlantic Games in Stroud, before I’d figured out how to hide the venue names in the report titles quite so well or learned that horizontal photos are best for blogs.

For the second Battle of Point Lestroud we nudged all the walls to 45 degree angles instead of parallel with the deployment zone.

This is something I picked up from Warmachine, where there are game-changing defensive bonuses to be achieved from being on hills and behind walls (as in “you may literally not be able to hit or hurt certain models if they stack DEF or ARM bonuses high enough, good luck if that’s their ‘caster or they’re on an objective!”).

A wall parallel to the deployment area creates a safe zone for whatever’s behind it, discouraging dynamic play, a wall at 45 degrees to it is more interesting as units can take cover in one direction but have to expose a flank in another. It’s really apparent in rank and flank games where the angle of approach matters so much, and the second game was so much spicier as a consequence.

This isn’t to say that weird “fight at an angle across the field” battles are always Good and solid defences are always Bad. This one’s the grand battle at Caerwysg, the big 6000 point game I played back in 2019. I got to set this one up but it had to be with the limited collection of fantasy/historical scenery that had been brought to the venue by attendees.

Here, the terrain has been deliberately arranged so that the Dogs of War army has something to stand behind – defended obstacles across almost the whole zone. We did this on purpose so that they wouldn’t be swept away by 6000 points of oncoming vampire filth before their Bretonnian reinforcements arrived (it was a mashup Flank Attack/Capture scenario because neither of us wanted to count Victory Points in a game this big).

Those obstacles were a huge factor in the Dogs holding out for as long as they did (although we did misplay the extended rounds of combat across them). It took me five turns to get my elite units across them and I lost most of said units doing it. That led to a wonderfully tense end turn where the Bretonnians could sweep the field but only the Green Knight could actually reach the Capture objective and kill Mannfred von Carstein – with Mannfred dead there’d be more Bretonnian than Vampire points on the mark and it’d be game for the good guys.

This is what I want out of my Warhammer – a game that goes the distance and is worth playing right to the end – and where possible I tweak the terrain I’m given to enable it.

Sometimes opportunities are missed due to a lack of communication. This table was set for me at Firestorm Games in Cardiff for the battles at Tor Caerdydd: I came up with the “ruined city” narrative entirely based on walking in and finding this monstrosity already set up.

If I’d know about this in advance I’d have advocated for a scenario from the General’s Compendium – the one that’s basically about fighting in the Emyn Muil from Middle Earth – because you don’t often get a battlefield that’s this busy with one feature type without setting it up on purpose.

In theory we could ask for something specific from the venues but a) most of them have way, way more 40K terrain than anything suitable for WFB and b) I’m still getting other players on board with my “curate as much of the experience as possible” shtick.

It’s one of the reasons I like the Warhammer: Resurrection events so much, because Alex is on my wavelength and sets up tables that represent areas of the campaign map and puts thought into the kind of engagement that should happen there.

One day I will get back onto the deep forest table…

Is there a “takehome” from all this? I think it’s that “how many pieces?” is less important than “what kind of game experience are you trying to create here?” – answering that question will give you an idea of what to do with what’s available. If it’s just a pick-up game between pals then “what the venue’s left us with” is fine, but as ever I aspire to something a bit more shared and controlled.

[Meta Gaming] Winterborn: 2021 Hobby Retrospective

Around this time last year (just before my birthday, in fact), The Twisted & The Twilight released for Total War: Warhammer 2. It was something of a shot in the arm for me, coming along after the six months in which I didn’t do much other than play Total War (I don’t know if I mentioned it, but I had the depression), and before the “circuit breaker” lockdown put me back in my cupboard for four months.

I enjoyed playing the Sisters of Twilight (incidentally, I’d like to issue a correction for my previous post. I’ve just completed a Hard/Hard campaign with them and I think I lost… two battles. I haven’t had to lift a finger to fight off the Ritual armies. I can confirm the Sisters are Pay To Win, as I have Paid for them, and Won). I really enjoyed playing Drycha, and tearing up the very familiar borderlands of Sylvania with my screaming purple trees, then turning on the Asrai that I might attack and dethrone (demi)god. And I had an indefinite period of short working days ahead of me. So… I started a Wood Elf army.

I’ve always enjoyed building miniatures and playing games, but the bit in between often loses me, so I was determined to build, paint, build, paint and so on. My most successful army-collecting efforts have always been punctuated by small games, but of course I was trapped in my quiet little mountain town and not really able to go anywhere. So… I had to improvise.

Inspired by the four-part Campaign Packs of yesteryear, the titles of those TWW2 packs and the rough background I’d thrashed out with Dr. Shiny over Christmas, I set up The Maven & The Witch – a four episode jaunt into warband, skirmish and asymmetric play that I could generally tackle of a morning before work.

Later, I took the first 2000 points Covenant to Warhammer Resurrection in the summer of 2021, to unspectacular results. After some brief hobby wobble I resolved to stick with them into the 2022 events. I like the army aesthetically, but tactically it needed some different bits; a second Treeman and Branchwraith, some Wild Riders to open up additional threat vectors, and I’ve also taken the opportunity to add a new general.

A heroine has arisen in the faraway Forest of Gloom – a Highborn whose elegant solution to the Covenant is to not be part of it, thus free of the curse and able to think clearly. This gives me a) an excuse to paint up the dramatically action posed wood elf archer lady from Cursed City and b) an opportunity to port my long-suffering CRPG character Nivienne into yet another fantasy universe. Murderous Forest Gremlin Nivi didn’t ask to be in charge of an army, but since they’re crap at being in charge of themselves she didn’t think she had a choice.

While confined to barracks and not in a fit state to paint I have also put some research into the names I was using for background (I’d like to pretend I didn’t steal “the Twin Princes of Tiernmas” from a Vampire: the Masquerade supplement, but I never got anywhere by lying), and found them surprisingly correspondent with what I’d come up with! Tiernmas was mythic Ireland’s first idolater king, warned by his sage advisor Celann to defer his descent and punished for his transgressions by divine wrath.

Now, I’d spent a good chunk of the year idly scheming about some fifth edition games covering the fall of Deadwood. In the face of a winter that never ended came a desperate or hubristic turn to ancient powers best forgotten about, that had already claimed one kingdom and reached out insidious talons for another. The details are still simmering down, but I’ll tell you this much; it involves the Crown of Sorcery.

I think what’s stitching together in my head is that the Crown was brought out of the Badlands by Orcs, returning from the sack of Mourkain; was seized by the human tribes that founded High Tiernmas, a kingdom of black magic and stolen power; and was sealed away beneath the Heart of the Forest by the first elves who came out of Athel Loren and settled there.

(I should add that, because I’m fitting in with Shiny’s Bretonnian backstory, the location has already been set outside Athel Loren; we’re in the forest of Chalons. I’m also not in a position to explain exactly what’s behind the endless magical winter that blights the region, although I am choosing to believe that all the necromancy made it worse.)

Of course, under great and terrible pressure, the Asrai aristocracy might have turned to the Crown and its forbidden power – and this is where I actually came in. All I wanted to do was play one of those “High Magic and Dark Magic” Wood Elf armies in a non-eighth edition of Warhammer, because eighth gives me the conniptions. Fifth had the Crown of Sorcery, which turns a character into a Level 3 Necromancer, able to cast with Dark Magic (alongside the Wood Elf Archmage who can use High Magic), but having to take a Leadership test every time they do so; clearly the better elven nature of the wearer reasserting itself over the malign influence of the Crown’s occupant.

And incidentally, this has given me a backstory for the Druid as well: a elven mage from the long-long-ago, returning to the site of his greatest failure in a noble effort to make good. Perhaps he’s the one who took the Crown far, far away, leaving it in the Chaos Wastes in the hope it wouldn’t bloody well show up again and co-incidentally returning it to THE LOAR in time for Jervis Johnson to use it in a battle report c. 1994? Or maybe I’ll just admit that I’m setting all my games in a weird parallel version of the World that touches THE LOAR here and there but is often off playing at Wild Beasts under the table.

So! All that top-of-the-noggin rambling aside, here’s what I have in the build-paint-build-paint cycle queue for next year.

  • 10 Eternal Guard
  • 2 Glade Guard champions / Waywatchers
  • 5 Wild Riders
  • 5 Wardancers (these are older metal figures, who might well end up based as a Mordheim warband, a “counts as Shadow Warriors” sort of deal)
  • 2 Great Eagles
  • 16 Dryads
  • Treeman
  • Branchwraith
  • Highborn

This army’s definitely going to the 2022 Resurrection campaigns (May and September). If I can find an opportunity to play some fifth edition games I would very much like to do so. I have also thrown down the gauntlet to Herr Doktor – we’ve been threatening to ram our new armies into each other for a good couple of years now (since before the debacle at Isca, if you credit it), and have settled on a 1500 point engagement (to be fought in Tor Caerdydd or Brycgstow) so neither of us has anything to paint. All of this merely impends, of course; first, there is the winter season, in which I sincerely hope my hands will behave themselves and I’ll be able to get some blasted figures done.

Concurrently with my Wood Elves, I was also taking my first/last/only attempt at the Old World Army Challenge. I won’t be doing this again, mostly because I don’t have any more old-school figures and I’m a forward looking “pay the wages of people who make things today, not the mortgages of people who bought things twenty years ago” kind of hobbyist, but I am… proud isn’t exactly the word? I’m glad I did it. It cleared a bottleneck and made good on a promise and I learned something about myself along the way.

My mission, should I have chosen to accept it (and I did) was to produce a 1000 point army for second edition Warhammer 40,000. Beneath this, there were personal challenges: “finally paint up that Land Raider I’d had on the shelves since 2015”, “beat the standard established by the Orks’ previous owner” and “perchance give a damn about painting again” as I was in a real goddamn slump when I first signed up.

This is in fact a 1300 point army of Rogue Trader Space Orks (plastic) with a Rogue Trader Land Raider and a metal Warboss, who was the figure I actually enjoyed painting. (All right: I suppose the tank was OK too.)

What I mainly learned from this is that the crisp and bold 1990s paintwork, beloved of many of my peers, isn’t really my thing. I had quite a miserable time figuring out where to place the blacks and reds on these, and the Ork Flesh Wash has left them looking a lot glossier than I remember my originals being, and the less said about those Goblin Green bases the better! I gave it a good college try and I don’t regret making the effort, but I don’t think I can fake-it-till-I-make-it my way back into Herohammer. But here’s the thing: I have given a damn about painting again. Having an opinion, even an unpopular opinion, is a perspective and a motive and even if I’m a scruffy painted who just slaps layers of cold glazes on things forever, I know that’s what I am.

As if spurred on by this dislike for the Old School, for the pre-history I am slightly too young to have experienced, I turned my gaze upon the Middle School, that for which I was there, and painted up a bunch of early-to-mid 2000s figures contemporary with my old Word Bearers army (RIP).

My Chaos Space Marines have settled into the status of a passion project. Since there isn’t a King of Editions, Edition of Kings with an active retro-playing scene to spur me along, I only pick up a Night Lord when I feel like it, which probably explains the four years between build and paint, and the four months between the first and second squadlets. Here’s what I still have (and the state it’s in):

  • 1 Terminator Sorcerer (painted, but I’m not happy with him)
  • 5 Possessed (primed)
  • 2 Chaos Spawn (primed)
  • 5 “display” Cultists (primed) (I don’t think Chaos Cultists should hang out in nice neat Power Level brackets divisible by ten, so I bought another box to paint up just for the look of the thing)
  • 15 Raptors (various states of “just bought”, need rebasing and sorting into proper squads)
  • 5 Warp Talons (half-painted with a different method to mine)
  • 12 contemporary Chaos Space Marines (on sprue)
  • 1 Chaos Lord (on sprue)

Unless someone decides to organise a third edition meetup I very much doubt these are getting done any time soon, but the good news is that I’ve bought more or less everything I really want for this army. (I’ve also bought a small Battlefleet Gothic fleet, on a whim, which I might sell on in the New Year as I am extremely unlikely to play any Battlefleet Gothic.) This is simply something for me to tinker with and keep on the shelf, while my WFB armies are more of a playing concern. At the rate of one squad a year they will probably be done by 2030.

What else does the future hold? Well, I still own about 3000 points of TTCombat Tomb Kings (I consolidated the collection into one range earlier this year and regret nothing; good riddance to Mantic rubbish, hello sturdy single piece figures), but someone else will be painting those for me, as i have no enthusiasm to take on another huge batch painting job. (I’m only going to get the Wood Elves done if I approach them sprue by sprue, almost.) There are the various RPG-ish figures – the Bad Squiddo Dracula range and Otherworld adventurers – languishing in a drawer waiting for the right moment. But the big thing, in a perfect world, is terrain.

Last year I moved out of my large three-bedroom house (with unused garage, lots of wargaming and hobby space but godawful heating bills and too far from work) into a cramped two-up two-down (handy for work and quite snug but I can’t even spray prime in here and it’s basically a corridor full of bookshelves and they’re all full and there aren’t enough shelves). This has put a bit of a crimp on my plans to build a battlefield of my very own, but IF I can sort out some bigger shelves and clear some floor space, I want to find room to set up my GameIn5D cubes and fill them with a few big set pieces around which to set up dioramas and play some basic games. I legitimately love building terrain and, much like the army painting, I want to get some done while I’m still physically capable of doing it.

And that, folks, is your lot. Thanks for joining me in the self-indulgence parade. Drop me some links to your retrospectives if you’re writing them – I do need to come out of my cave and talk to other bloggers more often but, like the Vampire, I’m happier with an invitation.

[TWW] Total War: Warhammer DLC Tier List

Why not? All the cool kids (where “kid” means “middle aged man”) on YouTube are doing it, why shouldn’t an old-schooler who writes words that you have to read get in on the fun?

I am using Legend of Total War’s Tiermaker list, which only covers the paid DLC (the FLC zone has some of my favourite stuff in it, like Isabella von Carstein and the entire Bretonnian faction, but since it’s free you might as well get it anyway and see if you like it or not). I am also using this as a kind of retrospective, through which you can squint at my thoughts on the two games (which have taken up a shocking amount of my spare time in the last four years).

If I’m going to do this, I might as well do it thoroughly, so I’m going to address the TWW1 DLC as if you’re just playing that game (where some of the packs are distinctly more valuable), the TWW2 DLC the same way (mostly thinking about the Vortex campaign) and then an all-in Mortal Empires list (because the five continent map and the sheer density of stuff on it rearranges the importance and effectiveness of some packs).

Let us, as the old saying goes, get ready to rumble.

Total War: Warhammer

Every so often I find myself going back to the first game and booting it up. I like the Old World map a lot, and sometimes I want to play a smaller and more controlled campaign on that, without worrying about four other continents full of stuff, the inevitable vermintide as the Skaven start burrowing in, Rakarth showing up and teabagging half the Empire and the sheer bloat and creep that’s set in as the second game gets bigger. Sometimes I just want to finish a game in a weekend, you know?

Anyway. GARBAGE is reserved for Blood For The Blood God and it’ll be there in every list. I have no problem with blood and gore being sold separately to keep the age rating down, that’s only marketing, but the extra CPU/GPU load on my decidedly mid-range machine is a killer. Paying money to make a game run worse? No. Piss off.

C TIER houses the two Chaos DLCs. Leaving aside any hard feelings about “day one DLC” and other things that make the gamers rise up, I just don’t like them much. Hordes always feel like they’re playing half the game, with none of the empire management stuff that I actually enjoy (more than the battles after a while). Neither of them really suit my playstyle either: Beastmen are too fragile and rushy, Warriors too clumsy and one-dimensional.

B TIER. Realm of the Wood Elves. It took a few years and a second title in the series to get the Wood Elves right, but their first appearance was a spirited effort and I have had fun with their mini-campaign on the more detailed Athel Loren and immediate borders map. Stamping on Bretonnians is always a giggle as well.

The Grim & The Grave has been rendered obsolete in the context of game two, but in strict TWW1 terms it’s still decent, adding solid alternative choices to the Vampire and Empire lineups. In particular, the Empire’s mid-tier lineup is pretty bland without Flagellants and Free Company to spice it up and I find myself making heavy use of them into the mid-game.

A TIER! The King & The Warlord changes up the Dwarf and Greenskin campaigns by adding the migration/race element of Skarsnik and Belegar’s chase across the Border Princes, and that makes those races interesting enough that I actually wanted to play them.

Norsca are what Warriors of Chaos should have been; an elite of armoured hardcases, a swarm of heavy metal barbarians, and big grobbly monstrous infantry in their wake, but with an actual realm to play with and limited presence on the mainland to keep them playing the same kind of game as everyone else, and actual mechanics for interacting with the mad desires of the Chaos Gods.

There’s no Pay To Win here because Creative Assembly hadn’t gone off the chain yet. That comes later.

Total War: Warhammer 2

Up front, I’ll say that I skipped The Silence & The Fury – I don’t like either Beastmen or Lizardmen enough to take a punt on it. I wish I’d been that firm, that clear on my own tastes, much earlier: I didn’t get my money’s worth out of Hunter & Beast or Prophet & Warlock either.

GARBAGE contains, as before, the “spend money to make game actively worse” option, and also The Hunter & The Beast. I wanted to put this in C but I had to be honest with myself: both of the campaigns are experimental designs which, a year or two down the track, I consider failures. Nakai’s “I’m a horde, my vassal runs the empire” setup is too dependent on the AI’s batshit approach to diplomacy to actually function; Wulfhart’s hostility function means you’re forever slapping away randomly spawned enemies instead of exerting your agency on the map.

I’m more let down by Wulfhart as I really wanted to engage with the “you have four special heroes and each has a story quest” mechanic here – I’d love to see that done in a campaign that wasn’t blighted by systemic failures. This one cries out for its own special mini-map like the Beastmen and Wood Elves had in game one – I know those weren’t hugely popular but sometimes the way gamers say they want things done isn’t the best way to do them.

B TIER‘s solitary entry is the Curse of the Vampire Coast. Now. I am proud of Creative Assembly for taking a one-and-done novelty army list from White Dwarf that only existed because Pirates of the Caribbean was big that summer and making a rounded, playable faction out of it. I am impressed that they managed to rehabilitate Dreadfleet. But this, for me, is the point where TWW2 jumped the proverbial shark. In an attempt to make the new faction stick, CA threw everything at it – loyalty! corruption! pseudo-horde gameplay! non-legendary special lords! undercities! not one but three alternative objectives that aren’t the Vortex! alternative unlocks for regiments of renown! mission system that throws you all over the world! – and the result is an incoherent, internally unbalanced mess. It’s a cool mess, because it’s vampire and zombie pirates and big crab monsters and all that other shit I like, but it’s just too much for me.

A TIER has my favourite faction in the game – Tomb Kings, whose alternative economy and elongated midgame mean I’m more likely to stick with their campaigns and almost never finish them. I do run them modded so their building tree is a little more player friendly and I do wish they had a Liche High Priest as a Lord option, but nothing’s perfect.

The Shadow & The Blade breathed new life into the Vortex campaign by introducing ways to play Dark Elves and Skaven that didn’t engage with what was, by then, a played-out experience, a solved game. Malus in particular is great fun, touring around the Southlands as more or less a one-man army, sending his bundles of scrolls home in return for the potions that allow him to function as an empire builder at all. Snikch has one absolutely broken feature but one is easy to ignore, and otherwise he’s running a micro heavy skirmishy type battleline that’s quite a challenge to wrangle on the field.

Finally, there’s The Twisted & The Twilight, the DLC that taught me it was OK to love Wood Elves. I nearly put this in Pay To Win. In my second run at the Sisters’ campaign finale, I took in a stack with something like twelve units of Warhawk Riders and three Dragons, plus the one the Sisters themselves were on. I had to go AFK for a few minutes to answer the phone and forgot to pause the game. When I came back, my army was winning the final battle by itself, keeping Throt’s forces at bay without me touching a single button. They were starting to fall apart when I stepped in, and it was my second attempt (my first army wasn’t up to the job at all), but they’re still just this side of broken. It’s basic Wood Elf fragility and their lack of allies in Vortex mode that keep them under control.

PAY TO WIN. I’ve already mentioned the feature creep in TWW2 a few times, and I think around and after the launch of the Vampire Coast, the urge to make new factions distinctive has introduced a lot of broken units and game-distorting campaign mechanics that cross the line into “not fun any more.”

The Queen & The Crone nearly made A tier instead, because I mostly played Dark Elves early on and they didn’t make out like bandits from this one. But now, you see, I’ve played Alarielle a little bit, and I get it now. Adding Treemen and Sisters of Avelorn to the High Elf roster took an already powerful faction into overdrive by giving them the best elements of the Wood Elf playstyle and none of the drawbacks. It’s not as if they didn’t already have amazing builds – Lothern Sea Guard and Dragon spam and so on – so this ends up pure bullshit. (I do have to admit that Alarielle is the only High Elf lord I enjoy playing, though.)

The Warden & The Paunch is in because of Grom’s cauldron effects and the new tech tree for Greenskins. By itself, Goblins benefitting more from tech upgrades would be, you know. Fine. There needs to be something to keep the little shits relevant, I suppose. But when you layer on some of the insane buffs from Grom’s (pretty fun) recipe minigame on top of the unit rebalancing and the tech bonuses, you have crap like Goblin Spearmen and Archers seeing off units tiers above them. Fun, but going back to regular Greenskins after that shows you the DLC faction’s bells and whistles are a bit much.

The chief offender, of course, is The Prophet & The Warlock. The Lizardmen can sit out for this one, their most bent shit is FLC, but you, Ikit Klaw – you want working on. Skaven weapon teams would have been acceptable as unit upgrades for Clanrats – just lurking in the ranks turning them into slightly volatile light artillery who could also hold a line. Introducing Ratling Guns and Jezzails as units turns the game into a shooting gallery, layering atop the Skaven’s existing very good destructive magic. And then those units get bullshit upgrades from the Workshop system, like infinite ammo – this sort of thing is normally a cheat in games, for the very good reason that it’s cheating, especially in RTS play where conserving ammunition feels, well, more strategic. Oh, and Ikit also rolls up with a goddamn tactical nuke in this pseudo-Renaissance fantasy setting. And he’s Skaven, so he gets all their usual nonsense like spamming food to insta-build high tier cities, and stalk stance so you have to creep through their turf at a snail’s pace setting ambush every fucking turn. Feature bloat and power creep at their most egregious and offensive. And you still have to put up with this shit in your campaigns even if you didn’t buy the DLC – there’s an evolving meta for a single player game? Rage! I am Rising Up! Bah, rah, grobble and froth!

This is why I often go back to Warhammer 1 – because a lot of what’s added to Warhammer 2, whether I bought it or not, makes the game less fun to play. I know there’s no accounting for taste, and I am probably more of a bare bones player than the average. I’m fine with a few features that work well and a stable internal experience, and I don’t need New Content every two months to stop me running off to the next new shiny thing; it takes me about two years to become bored with a game once I’m into it. But I don’t think I’m getting into Warhammer 3, if it’s going to start with this level of shenanigans, as it surely must to maintain the curve.

Mortal Empires: All The Total Warhammer DLC In One List

Context is everything, and some DLC ends up looking better or worse when considered in the context of the Mortal Empires campaign. Mostly, this means Warhammer 1 DLC ends up worse off, with some races having never had more than a token stat tweak since they first arrived in the game. Sometimes, it’s DLC from Warhammer 2 handling very differently in the big five continent sandbox with different starting locations and more threats to corral and control them.

For completeness’ sake I’ve added The Silence & The Fury in the place where the Let’s Plays make me think it belongs. I still don’t interact with Beastmen except to shoot them off the map – it’s slightly harder now that they have pseudosettlements with garrisons and areas around them that I can’t build in. They look like anti-Wood-Elves, which is what they should be.

GARBAGE – no change, Wulfhart and Nakai are if anything even sadder when there’s more stuff that’s more fun than them around. Wulfhart might be fun if auto-confederated with Karl Franz to give a second front, for Empire players who like a challenge. I suppose.

C TIER – all of the Chaos, by themselves, and most of the Lord packs. Norsca collapse into a solid C too, due to having been utterly neglected since the game launched and looking really inadequate next to the much bigger Tomb Kings and Vampire Coast packs that came after them.

Grim & Grave is reduced to near-irrelevance, although the new units are nice to have for two factions that need the variety. King & Warlord is still fun but both Skarsnik and Belegar will often end up banging their heads into a Skaven megaconfederation under Queek and Skaven ruin everything.

Warden & Paunch comes down here, because when Grom isn’t the only Greenskin option available one can simply not play him and enjoy the race in its more grounded vanilla state. Shadow & Blade also comes down, because Malus is no fun at all in Mortal Empires. Fighting Lizardmen at the start is a taller order and he has much stronger enemies on his doorstep, including having to fight Snickh almost straight away.

B TIER – Vampire Coast gonna Vampire Coast, no change here. One day I’ll actually be bothered to see through a Noctilus campaign and retake Drakenhof.

A TIER – Tomb Kings are still good, but here I’m going to jump the Wood Elves up to join the Sisters in A tier. Most of the Old World factions didn’t change that much with their Mortal Empires rework – a new start for so and so, unit rebalancing to put them more on par with the successors, a new mechanic. Wood Elves transformed. Suddenly they were teleporting all over the world, creating their own realms centred around heathlands rather than provinces, confederating each other by careful selection of enemies and defeating of spawns that aligns really well with their backstory. And they got Drycha, whose campaign came along at just the right time to revive my slightly flagging interest in Total War but convince me to start a whole new tabletop army. An army I had hated, back in the day.

That’s why I’m still playing Warhammer 2: because sometimes it manages to really surprise me.

[40K] Been Painting: Night Lords Kill Team (2/2)

I aten’t dead.

I’ve felt like it, particularly during mid-October when literary festival week caught me by the cobblers and dragged me round the back for a good seeing-to, but I have neither died nor abandoned the hobby. Even if I did have to cash out of Resurrection 2, to my chagrin and also that of my Wild Riders, who were quite looking forward to the outing.

After several fallow months I finally mustered the gusto to paint some moon men and, well, here are the results.

Four years to prime. Four months between batches. Four days to finish. They’re going to be Fourth Claw, and that’s an end on it. They are the 2002-ish plastic Chaos Space Marines I retrieved from Jess’ stash and rehabilitated with bits from all over the 40K range. While I have a lot to say in favour of solid single piece miniatures these days, I do appreciate the sheer range of interchangeable parts offered during this range. Their poses are not as infinite as all that – there’s not a great range of things you can do with them before they start looking a bit gormless, and we’ve all seen miniatures assembled with more enthusiasm than anatomical know-how in our time – but the variety of components I was able to use on these with minimal fine motor control involved makes those poses pop. Perhaps a close up or two to illustrate the point.

The relatively plain front and centre plasma gunner has parts from, let’s see now: Khorne Berserker legs, Iron Hands and Mark III arms, Mark III plasma gun, Possessed shoulderpads, Forge World head and vanilla Chaos Space Marine backpack. Not sure about the chest plate, it’s quite possibly off the Vehicle sprue. Not an outlandishly posed or painted figure but has a lot going on, in a quiet sort of way.

The Aspiring Champions, of course, are a bit more extravagant.

I personally subscribe to a “they may not believe in Chaos, but Chaos believes in them” approach to the Night Lords, which permits me to use some of the more grobbly nobbly daemon bits off the sprues and not feel like I’ve somehow betrayed my Legion. I try to walk back the more extreme “full Chaos” units like Possessed, blending in some more mundane bits to ground them a little more.

This squad, I think, have been around the block a few times. Marooned, perhaps, in some backwater warzone or derelict spaceship; the survivors have been reduced to augmetics to replace missing limbs, endured mutation over amputation, and generally done the best they can with a bad lot. They are probably travelling companions to Hexander, my Sorcerer from the aesthetically compatible 2008 plastic kit; I like to associate kits in my mind like this as it groups together models that don’t quite match up in scale or style and makes something productive out of the visual discord.

With these done I am free to assemble a few more at the front end of the queue. A reasonable person might start putting together plastic infantry from the contemporary range, which were purchased earlier this year. A person like me, with a birthday on the horizon, might instead acquire some new Raptors to round out their squads with the appropriate members of the Ablative Brotherhood (the previous owner of my squads went large on special weapons, apparently deciding that the Codex was for suckers). In any case, the Possessed are also primed and have been waiting longest, so it’s them next.

When, I cannot say. This will definitely be the last army I paint – with both arthritis and tendonitis working against me, I am simply no longer capable of painting in volume or at speed. Five models in two leisurely days is an accomplishment in the circumstances, but to someone who normally sits down after breakfast, paints till teatime, and gets the project done come what may, it’s a bit of a comedown. I am no longer the man who can crank out twenty Skeletons in a day and I just have to accept that.

All the more reason to take my time with these and make sure they look as good as I can manage. They don’t quite meet the heights of my best Warmachine-era paint jobs, but they are head and shoulders above the quick and dirty Wood Elves and experimental, “maybe not like this” Orks I did earlier this year, and that’ll do.