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

600 / 1200 points | Woodland Ambush | Wood Elves vs. 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.

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

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