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

1200 / 600 points | Rear Guard | Wood Elves vs. Vampire Counts

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

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

Rear Guard it was.

The Premise

This was the end.

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

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

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

The Hacks

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

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

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

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

The Field

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

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

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

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

The Forces

Wood Elves

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

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

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

Cildraeth Celyn
8 Dryads: 96

Cildraeth Eiddew
8 Dryads: 96

Brawdoliaeth Pren Mawr
5 Tree Kin with Elder: 345

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

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

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

Vampire Counts

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

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

2 Spirit Hosts: 130

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

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

The Fight

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

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

Wood Elves Turn 1

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

Vampire Counts Turn 1

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

Wood Elves Turn 2

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

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

Vampire Counts Turn 2

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

Wood Elves Turn 3

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

Vampire Counts Turn 3

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

Wood Elves Turn 4

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

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

Vampire Counts Turn 4

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

Wood Elves Turn 5

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

Vampire Counts Turn 5

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

The Result

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

The Learnings

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

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

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

The Solo Wargame Experience

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

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

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

The Narrative

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

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

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

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

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