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

Warhammer Warbands (200 points) | A Little War | Wood Elves (Hold Territory) vs. Vampire Counts (Invade!)

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…

“Thaniel…”

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.

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

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