It was the height of summer. An oppressive heat rested on the Badlands. Birds abandoned the wing and took to their sheltered nests; beasts lay spread upon the ground, all lolling tongues and fur matted with sweat. Langorous the breeze stirred the canopy, a hot dry wind from the south. Dust, and salt, and blood, and the sound of drums and the echoes of war rode on the back of the wind, and they fell on the rich dark summer leaves of the Forest of Gloom.
If war was coming it mattered not why, nor who; they would come with fire and iron. They would cut wood, burn brush, tear stone and dam rivers. The Forest stirred from leaf to root, and from root to world-root, and so the echoes of war came to maddened ears – half elven, half other, all wrong.
The Forest of Gloom was calling, and the Deadwood of Tiernmas was answering.
It was the height of summer, but for the briefest handful of moments, something moved in the heavy hot dark of the woods; the shortest flurry of snow, melting in the air, gone before it touched the ground.
The Flight from Karak Dron
Of course, there were other things going on in the wider world, but do you think the Court of the Crag give a tinker’s hoot? Two generations of mad elves slowly turning into trees, a psychotic woodland sprite who is perfectly happy with a slow death as long as she gets to be in charge of it, and a hippy wizard who has better things to do than troop across the Old World and take on another lost cause – this lot can barely keep their own bonsai trimmed, never mind anyone else’s. Frankly, it’s a miracle they turned up at all.
Nevertheless, we should note for posterity’s sake that the dwarf hold of Karak Dron, far to the south, has been stockpiling precious mineral ores as well as other supplies in preparation for evacuation. Wagon trains have set out across the Badlands roads; some toward Barak Varr and the sea, others to the Grey Mountains and their more defensible holds. Word has gotten out, as it does (you can’t hide anything from superior Skaven technology), and so the canny dwarfs have concocted a plan. Mercenaries have been hired to protect some of the wagons; others have been emptied of valuables and filled with sweet-knack all or worse; others sent north alone through the Forest of Gloom to Zhufbar. After all, if enemies come and rouse the Asrai, what are the elves more likely to do? Attack a lone wagon, or fall upon a marauding army?
The Deadwood Covenant
Since day two was going to be a story-driven affair, I decided I’d walk back from the compromise cast and bring my original band of named characters along for an outing. Here’s the army list I put together in the bath the night before.
Prince Hywel of the Crag Highborn: Alter Kindred: light armour, shield, Sword of Might, Helm of the Hunt, Glamourweave, Hail of Doom Arrow Gilfaethwy Noble: Alter Kindred: additional hand weapon, shield, Bow of Loren, Briarsheath Bloddeuwydd Spellsinger: level 2 wizard: Deepwood Sphere, Dispel Scroll The Maven Branchwraith: level 1 wizard: Annoyance of Netlings, Cluster of Radiants: Army General Kinbands of the Black Briar 10 Glade Guard 10 Glade Guard 10 Glade Guard: standard bearer: War Banner Celyn y Eiddew 16 Dryads Brawdolieath Pryn Mawr 5 Tree-Kin: champion Uchelwydd Treeman
I wanted to try the big Dryad swarm at least once, just to see if it out-performed the smaller units somehow. I also decided to lose the Scouts, as they’ve been a bit of a let down in the past: most boards simply haven’t had a good place in which to Scout them and they end up as a third, less efficient unit of Glade Guard. Instead, I thought “why not take a unit of Glade Guard that brings a +3 to combat resolution and see if that does any good?” Rolling out one big unit of Tree-Kin was a last chance saloon job and also made the mathematics easier if I needed to drop down for an Ambush scenario, as I was warned I might: lose them, lose Hwel, lose the War Banner, that’s under 1300 and basically good enough for jazz.
The main event is of course the Alter tag-team. Prince Hywel has been patiently waiting for his first outing and I had quite high hopes for him: an 18″ charge, followed up by six S5 attacks at very good Weapon Skill, and of course the Hail of Doom, but a massive opportunity cost in giving up Leadership 10 generalship and not being able to take a decent wizard, hence his relegation to the story day. Gilfaethwy is an experiment that I wanted to get out of my system: four shots out of the Bow of Loren at very solid Ballistic Skill, and the Briarsheath to help him not be shot back. I still think it’s got legs, but these games weren’t the best test bed, as you’ll see.
Act One: “Careful, It’s Soup”
Scarcely had the spirits woken, barely had the elves nocked their bows, when the brayherd was upon them. The air was rank – not merely with the reek of blood and dung and spittle but the sweat of horses, the tang of steel in summer, and everywhere the rich drifting spice on the edge of smelling. Foul magic. The Changer of Ways at work.
In the dark of the woods, Ursakah had been waiting. He knew. He’d followed the colours only he could see. The Knights couldn’t see them; that’s why they needed him, for all that they rode around acting the big chief. Joekle couldn’t see them; it was all brown to him. Tchar had given Ursakah the lead and Tchar had said to him: the Usurper’s on the way. Clear the path. Don’t be here when he is. Let him take the prize. He’ll regret it.
And now the elves had fallen into his trap too. Pretty magic – but spent now, by bringing them here. Easy prey, now. Ursakah smiled a goaty smile and unslung his horn from his side. Time to go.
When I saw Joseph’s army I wondered if he’d unpacked his competition list by mistake. Fourteen power dice Tzeentch Chaos soup? In a narrative event? What kind of swine, why didn’t I pack the Sylvanians, et cetera ad nauseam. In other words, I came into this one tilted, bitchy and not in the best mindset. Joseph knows me well enough to forgive and forget, but the game was certainly more bitter than it needed to be and that’s because of me. (I still think the list is legitimate filth, but it serves me right for thinking “narrative” meant “soft list” – lesson learned, Stormwind Fallacy acknowledged, improvement striven for.)
It didn’t help that we started late and, with two skirmisher-heavy armies, took forever to set up. It also didn’t help that I deployed very badly, blocking the Tree-Kin in and arguably putting Uchelwydd on the wrong side (I didn’t have enough units to set up, really: Joseph could dummy out my entire deployment and then align his big beefy units with preferential targets).
Besides the Beastlord and an Aspiring Champion Battle Standard Bearer with the Mark of Tzeentch, he’d brought two Bray Shamans (Lore of Beasts, Staff of Darkoth on one of them), two Beast Herds, four Warhound packs, four Minotaurs with the Mark of Tzeentch, five Knights with the Mark of Tzeentch, two Chariots (who mercifully didn’t have the Mark of Tzeentch) and seven Chaos Ogres.
The good news is, we were playing Breakthrough and, as the valiant defender of the forest attempting to secure its borders (and, incidentally, keep the Beastmen from reaching the road along which the convoy would pass), I could afford to lose an awful lot of elves as long as the big expensive units were kept at bay. Ogres, Knights, Minotaurs: Joseph would have to get two out of three across the field to win through.
Spurred on by Paul’s tale of woe from the day before, I had Bloddeuwydd unleash the Fury of the Forest and Hwel loose the Hail of Doom into the Beast Herd containing the Beastlord and a Bray-Shaman: in other words, the magic horn of ambush-signalling and six out of ten magic levels. If I could get those off the board in turn one, I’d have breathing room to deal with the things that actually mattered. (We had some tension over my communication of how the spell worked and shooting modifiers and how to clean up after mistakes: the same not-excuse-but-explanation as yesterday applies, Joseph took it on the chin but he didn’t seem very happy about things. Opponent makes the frowny face: that’s a learning moment. Don’t do whatever it was you did again.)
Anyway, it nearly but not quite paid off and after that I was on the back foot a little. I’d pushed Uchelwydd up to meet the Minotaurs and the big Dryad swarm up to a point where they could reach either the Ogres or the big Beast Herd. Some good rolls on Strangleroots thinned out the Minotaurs well enough and at least one of the chariots got its comeuppance too; a solid performance from the Asrai shooting gallery.
Joseph’s counter-attack wasn’t too bad at first. Like a lot of players who are spoiled for choice with power dice and spell availability, he went wide and ended up not casting enough to overwhelm the defences. I did have to use my one permitted Boring Scroll to stop the Maven and her mates being turned into Horrors, though.
At this point, I made a series of questionable decisions which ensured we wouldn’t be playing out the full six turns. Firstly, Hwel declared a charge into the Chaos Knights, who fled: this left me with very high hopes of them not coming back, and maybe rolling some panic through the back line. Secondly, the Maven and the holly and the ivy and all that charged the much-depleted Beast Herd hiding the two Beasts o’ Tzeentch, instead of the Ogres who were going to flank them if the Beastmen didn’t break. Thirdly, my Treeman made a conservative advance to throw some Strangleroots at the Minotaurs and keep himself open to move back into the middle, if he was needed.
Shooting went well-ish, I think this is where Uchelwydd started showing misfires on his Strangleroots rolls, but when we came into the close combat stage disaster struck. With the Beastlord out of the picture, locked into a challenge with the Maven, I had something like fourteen attacks with which to kill three Beastmen and maybe put a wound on the Shaman if I was lucky. Not one single Beastman fell. They didn’t kill any Dryads either, but because they had a flag all I could muster was “er, outnumber?” for a drawn combat.
Next turn, the Ogres turned around and messily devoured the Dryads, the rest of the Beastmen turned up and forced my Glade Guard to spin around and cover their backsides (devouring one unit wholesale with a Staff of Darkoth charge) and, with my wheels well and truly off, for some reason I charged Hwel into the Ogres and just let him die. Oh, and the Chaos Knights rallied, because of course they did. Bloddeuwydd panicked and fled out of her forest hidey-hole so I had no dispelling power left to stop the magical bombardment either.
And that’s all she wrote. I simply didn’t have enough hard-hitting stuff left to stop more than one of the big beefy units from being where they needed to be in another two turns’ time. Breakthrough is a funny old scenario: if you don’t pay attention you can lose it by throwing away the high-value units (it’s only units, not characters or monsters, that score) you need to win, if you do pay attention you generally know who’s won by turn two.
What I should have done (see, I was awake enough to at least read my losses with this one) was a) deploy better, with my Tree-kin out on a flank, either one would have done it, this “back field” business doesn’t work for them and b) go after the Ogres with my Dryads, they’re hard to wound but easy to hit and their Leadership isn’t great.
The Maven rose. At least, she tried to.
It was not at all easy. The beasts’ chief had stuck her and struck her with a saw-tooth from a dragon’s head, and it felt as if the very dragon had gnawed her down to heartwood.
Hand over hand, length by length, she dragged herself into the trees, through the filth and the dust and the splinters of the ogres’ charge. They had trampled her sisters and torn up the roots; broken the bodies and beaten the branches. Her brothers lumbered down the track; Uchelwydd strode behind them, his great eyes dark and hollow with shame. Somehow, she knew the mageling at least had lived; and poor Hwel, he’d come to avenge her, screaming his vengeance. They hadn’t even broken their stride.
At least some of them had made it out of the ambush alive. They had come to hold the line; they had been tricked and trapped. The Changer of Ways had reached into the worldroots and filled the Maven’s head with lies! Man becomes beast; beast becomes man. Prey becomes predator; predator becomes prey.
There would be vengeance. There were elves here, too. Other kinbands, deeper in the wood; cowards! The Maven had been broken and the Court had been bled to do their duty; now they would answer to her call. There would be vengeance, oh yes. Just as soon as she could stand up again.
Defeat for the Wood Elves: The Maven gains “Hardened”.
(Losing a character in this one meant you had to roll on the Mordheim injury chart to see what happened. The Maven picked up a trait that rendered her immune to fear, utterly useless on a Forest Spirit; Alex was kind enough to convert that into a +1 Leadership as she swore her oath of revenge on, oh, anyone really. Whoever’s about.)
This post is already running a bit long, so I’ll break here. I’d like to introduce a little more personal narrative into the affair, since I was basically a side player for the event overall; I’d also like to give the last game its due as it was among the best and certainly the bloodiest I’ve played with this army. So here are a few more pictures of events on the roads away from Karak Dron, just to tide you over…
Word had spread, all right, far beyond the Forest of Gloom. At the very gates of Karak Dron the throng stood proud, axe and hammer stained with green blood. In the high passes to the Dark Lands, Ogre tribes bellowed their warcries, lumbering down to the lowlands to fill their guts with meat and gold. In Sylvania, the Von Carsteins raised their levies living and dead, and sent them south through the Black Fire Pass, intent on plundering the precious gromril ore. Along the Black Gulf, Skaven scuttled from their underways to swarm the ports, waiting until the dwarf-things thought they were safe. But everywhere, the tide of darkness rose; the woods were alive with beastmen, and from the far north, from the Great Skull Land, the Warriors of Chaos were coming…