[WFB] On a cold and frosty mourning…

LOOK MA, GAME LEGAL UNITS

I’ve really hit my stride with these now. Thanks to the combination of no kids, six hour shifts and morning insomnia I can crack out a sprue each of Dryads and Glade Guard each week and get them done in three days before work. They aren’t particularly sophisticated paint jobs, of course, but they are entirely fit for purpose. Except that row of archers whose faces are still a bit green. The flesh recipe isn’t always forgiving.

I’m quite pleased with the Maven, though.

I’m still getting the hang of the regiment bases and putting things on at the right angle so they’re not stabbing their mates in the back of the head. Mostly I have to remember nocked arrows stand further back.

Arboreal GOBSHITE

These damn things look pretty nice once they’re together, and will be ideal for the rules-standardised “free wood,”*, but lore do I regret not painting them on the sprue. Sometimes my old-fashioned insistence that Build comes before Paint is at odds with the best way to approach a kit. Hand priming this was knackering and I’m gonna need a bigger brush to tackle the other two.

* – despite my prior kvetching about this rule – do Dwarfs get a hill in every game? can Tomb Kings elect to erase all foliage from the table on principle? – it still serves a grand purpose. If you want to deny me favourable terrain, you’ll just have to play something other than Pitched Battle. What a shame. I don’t have an agenda at all.

Not shown: Dr. Nurke’s Hair Restorative Tonic, one pint bottle

Forgive the janky photo. This is a WIP, a sneak peek, before I get the putty out and ruin everything. One Nomad Prince, with the rather spiffy flag from the Tree-Revenants (shaved down to remove the fingers and tuck neatly into his cloak) and a head from the Oathmark kit. I don’t especially care for the big pointy helmet he comes with, and the damn thing’s lost anyway. It flew off the sprue and hit me in the eye en route to Parts Unknown, and I was too busy cussing and blinking to see where it landed. No great loss. Bare heads are more Asrai anyway: helmets are for Ulthuan ponces.

Having bashed these out during the week, I can now spend my “weekend” (Monday and Tuesday, because people want to buy books at their weekend, apparently) setting up the table for the first instalment of that solo campaign. No promises about finished terrain, but I will try to get it all done by the time I hit the last instalment.

[WFB] The Twin Princes of Tiernmas

Barrow Kings.

That’s the lede, lest it not be buried. Now, the explanation.

I love the idea of the Tomb Kings: the ancient and eternal watchers over dead kingdoms, enacting timeless rituals over resting bones, rising and slaying when the living transgress on their domains.

I quite like the gameplay of the Tomb Kings: the distinction between Hierophant and General allows me to take risks with the army’s best fighter while keeping the army’s best wizard safe, and the magic, although subtle, is satisfying in its sheer reliability. As with my Vampires I find them a bit lacking in mid-sized games when I have to bring a narratively superfluous caster along just to keep my magical heft up, but that’s not their fault.

What I don’t like is the Tomb Kings models that I own. Most of my line troops are brittle mixed-medium Mantic kits that fall apart as soon as I look at them (yes I have heard of pinning; no I am not doing it for forty sodding Skeleton Archers); the “prime Zandri Dust and paint the details” approach hasn’t worked out as well as I’d like either, and they’re so samey, the worst thing for a reluctant painted like me.

What I also don’t like is that I have a huge bag of Gripping Beast Revenants (technically they are Mindless now, but I bought them as Revenants and Revenants they shall always be) which I don’t use because I live many miles away from any kind of SAGA scene.

But if you squint, those are solid single piece undead miniatures, off of which bits do not fall. And if you happen to go peeking online, you’ll know that Gripping Beast now do a wider range of undead infantry. And if you happen to be me, permanently frustrated in the search for third party cavalry and chariot figures that look remotely modern, the whole issue can be sidestepped if you go old-school and load up on whatever chunky single piece cavalry take your fancy.

The Twin Princes resolve all of this. Selling off my Mantic and TTCombat Tomb Kings should generate enough currency for additional Gripping Beast figures: an armoured warlord, a crowned and spectral sorcerer, a goodly number of armoured sword and board skeletons and some skeletons with bows. Put these alongside my existing big wizard and zombie horde, and that might be a credible (if slow) undead army. I can play that lot as about 1000-1500 points of…

Tomb Kings, with the new characters playing the part of Tomb Prince and Liche Priest respectively, and the Mindless Revenants serving as Skeleton infantry.

Army of Sylvania, since the Revenants also came with two big plague pits that make ideal Grave Markers and a suitably nefarious looking not-Vampire (probably going to brandish the Rod of Flaming Death so I get a third Bound Spell in there somewhere).

Undead, going all the way back to fourth edition: plenty of Wight Champions among the Gripping Beast Hearthguard figures, a unit of archers to provide covering fire, and a suitably vast blobule of Zombies for raising and disposing. And a Liche as my general!

The Revenants are already primed and inked, and they will set the tone for the proceedings nicely; all they’ll need is a coat of paint on their dead skin and some suitably incoherent, desaturated colours on their clothes.

Of course, the whole thing needs background, and this is where we turn to the narrative I worked up for The Maven & The Witch. We know that there are cairns of ancient civilisations dotted all over Bretonnia and Athel Loren, from the dark times between the fall of Nagash and the rise of Giles le Breton. We know also that such a collection of tombs lies within the region of High Tessonfroid, the chill high place overlooking La Vallee des Manchots Frenetique and the domain of Hiver le Sable, because my Wood Elves have been hard at work on ensuring that said tombs’ occupants remain firmly indoors.

And so we have it. Twin princes, from the ancient kingdom of Tiernmas that was before Tessonfroid. A warrior and a warlock, unalike in dignity, united in their goal: to take back what was theirs, to see the cursed winter never end, to drive out the living and reign as two kings!

Being no fool, and having struggled with Tomb Kings in my handful of games so far, I intend to try before I buy, taking “the build” in sixth edition, sneaking them in as the third-round opponents for The Maven & The Witch and nudging the points value of that engagement up to compensate. I am so in love with the concept and the painting possibilities here that I’ll probably do it anyway, but it doesn’t hurt to try. “The build”, incidentally, looks a bit like this:

Tomb Prince                154
Blade of Mourning, light armour, shield
Liche Priest               165
Cloak of the Dunes, Neferra's Plaque of Mighty Incantations

24 Skeletons (shields)     192
24 Skeletons (shields)     192
16 Skeletons (bows)        128

24 Tomb Guard              368
Champion, musician, standard (Icon of Rakaph)

1200 points: eggs, meet basket. I wouldn’t take an army like this to a pick-up game, but it’ll do to test the basic principle. They’ll be up against the Maven and her forest friends, not a force with a great deal of spell denial under their belt, so I’m hoping two Incantations will do the job, especially with a reroll to any embarrassing snake eyes from the Hierophant. The Blade of Mourning is in purely because I like its name, and it will help with shooing away the Dryads in the absence of auto-breaking.

The figures will be proxied by elements of my Sylvanian family: Skeletons will be acting as Skeletons, albeit with some spears and crossbows that aren’t really there. A Wraith and a Necromancer will do for the Prince and the Priest. My Drakenhof Guard have consented to lower themselves to pretending they’re ordinary sword and board boys for the outing. You are welcome to imagine members of this range hanging about the battlefield instead, or to picture my “they’re playing pieces so let’s ‘paint’ them as such” Revenants, from the featured image.

I shall be in touch. But right now, it’s back to painting trees.

[WFB] The Maven and the Witch

The Moon, she hangs like a cruel portrait,
Soft winds whisper the bidding of trees
As this tragedy starts with a shattered glass heart
And the midnightmare trampling of dreams
But oh, no tears please;
Fear and pain may accompany death
But it is desire that shepherds its certainty
As we shall see…”

Danièl de la Saleté, bard of the Forest of Chalons

I have had an Idea. The Idea is loosely inspired by several things: the old campaign packs for fifth edition WFB; the “Patrol, Skirmish, Battle” structure for gameplay that myself and Ben P. tried out in the summer before Nineteen Crows; and my own conviction that a game in hand is a boot up the arse as far as painting is concerned.

To be fair I’ve maintained my momentum rather well with the Deadwood Covenant, as the featured image should show – it’s been nice having some Dryads as messy figures to paint up in between stages on my more fussy OWAC Ork commitments – but will I feel the same way when I’m on my twenty-seventh Glade Guard?

I shall probably end up playing these with myself (stop that sniggering at the back!) rather than deferring into the never-never of “when we’re out of lockdown” – it’ll be nice to have some scenarios tested out, in any case, before inflicting them properly on other people.

Click the headings for the individual reports!

Chapter I: Ghosts in the Fog

A 200 point Warbands encounter, played on a very small board (two feet by two?).

The Maven (a Branchwraith) commanding 4 Dryads and 5 Glade Guard Scouts, vs. Grimgroth (a Wight Lord) commanding 10 Skeletons and 5 Ghouls.

“Something has stirred unfortunate Grimgroth from his tomb… we must discern what has roused these mindless, vengeful dead.”

The Maven of Deadwood

Chapter II: Grave Disorder

A Warhammer Skirmish scenario: the Vampire Hunt, adapted away from “Johann and Wilhelm vehicle” as follows.

Two Alter Nobles (one with greatsword, one with longbow) hunt a Vampire Thrall with attendant Bat Swarm amongst the tombs of High Tessingfroid.

“Does this seem like a trap to you, brother?”

“Absolutely.”

Gwydion and Gilfaethwy

Chapter III: A Maven’s Folly

A Woodland Ambush from the Wood Elf book. Given that Undead don’t panic, this is likely to be a difficult one for the Wood Elves to win on points…

A storm is rising. I go, to rouse my sisters before it breaks.

The Maven of Deadwood

Chapter IV: Season of the Witch

An asymmetric battle: exactly how asymmetric will be determined by the previous games, on a best-of-three basis.

If the Wood Elves have the best of three, the final battle is an Ambush: 1000 points of Wood Elves face 1500 points of Vampire Counts, led by the Witch: a spectral terror represented here by a Necromancer with the Cloak of Mists and Shadows. The Maven has been able to strike fast and first, disrupting the VVitch’s attempt to shatter the Heart of the Forest and consume it.

If the Vampire Counts have the best of three, the final battle is a Last Stand, with 1000 points of Wood Elves defending against 2000 points of Vampire Counts, led by the empowered VVitch: a Master Necromancer with all the trimmings! The Deadwood Covenant must sell their lives dearly: perhaps dawn will break the VVitch’s spell?

By the time all this is done and prepped and played and photographed I should have 1000 points of Wood Elves painted, not to mention a wood and some tombs finished at long last. It’ll also serve to introduce the key players in my Wood Elf army’s background, get some characters named and some emergent story rolling for when I start playing them against other people.

I shall be reporting on the games as and when they occur but wanted to have a masterpost here just to put everything into context.

[WFB] In the bleak midwinter…

I have returned to my grubby hand priming roots with these figures. It’s far too cold to apply spray primer, and my cottage is far too cramped for the resulting fumes, and by the time I’ve got a box and taped figures to a stick and gone back over to catch all the bits I missed there has been no time saved at all. So it’s a layer of grey gesso to start and then on with the glazes and layers to proceed.

brown trees on their brown bases

These are test models, so nowhere near finished yet – just basecoated so I can play around with colour placements and stages, see what does best where and in what order. I liked the cold tone on the Dryads but they’re very dark and boring. They needed… texture.

grün

This is after a drybrush of Nurgling Green, a heavy going over with Nighthaunt Gloom, and another drybrush of Nurgling Green, working back from the claws and faces. They might need a coat of actual paint on those fingers to add some pop.

are you hitting me with your sister?

I’m leaving the Maven well alone for the time being, until I work out how to keep the Dryads lively, but I had to test out the Nighthaunt Gloom by itself on her scythe. Couldn’t resist.

this one’s my favourite so far

The Archers are looking better. Still feeling out the right order to paint all the bits in, but the drab grey cloaks with paler greys and greens underneath are working for me.

bases, faces and… boots? back to the drawing board!

The next issue: bases, faces and blades! The bows were far too plain so I went back and redid those in the pale green. Much more better. Part of me wants to push things further, into a colour range with some whites in. Something a bit like Joe Sturge’s army from White Dwarf 321. Not a period of Dwarf history I normally venture into, falling as it does months after the Bigger Giant fiasco and the emergence of Owen “magazine for people who don’t read” Rees’ web-crazed half-text noodlings as editor, but not without its gems.

less qq, more pew pew

The subsequent models are probably going to go on regimental bases – the old four-in-a-line jobs. I have quite a few of these lying around and for an army that’ll probably change its formation more often than its trousers they should be easier to wrangle than movement trays. I have ten 80x20mm ones, which is plenty, and twelve of the 100x25mm ones, which make me think unwholesome thoughts like “eighth edition” and “Dryad horde.”

I’ve also started work on the next batch, mostly because Ylthari’s Grauniads arrived and I wanted to play around with the newest kit. These are some flimsy, springy models, but they DO all go together without glue as long as you look, think, and take note of where all the pegs are.

I glued Gallanghan’s body into place because I had trouble finding a peg, and I cut off Ylthari’s weird-looking worm sprite – unfortunately, it turned out to be load bearing and her head pinged off too, so that was another dob of poly cement called for. And they needed gluing to their “new” old bases too, natch.

alter images

While sixth edition technically callls for 20mm square bases, these models are far too big for that. They do fit nicely enough on 25mm though. I don’t think it makes that much difference. Most of them will be Alter Kindred and unable to join units, or rolling alone by choice as sixth edition is kinder to independent characters on foot than I remembered. It does mean none of them can chill with the Eternal Guard, so I might be in the market for a footslogging Noble if a unit of those becomes appealing.

reduce, reuse, regenerate

Their newfangled fully modelled round bases will not go to waste. The various sprites, twiggy bits and other sundry additionals I leave off my models will fill those gaps nicely and bingo bongo, I have spell tokens or encounter markers or something.

That’s as far as I can go for now, with the Dwarf Bronze I wanted to use for arrows out of commission. It’s back on the Oldhammer 40K Orks for me tomorrow. OWAC won’t O-WA-A-AC itself, after all.

[WFB] Of Angharad the Aghol and the Trouble with Chaos Lists

Ever since I acquired a Middlehammer Giant (the rather feral looking metal one who arrived with the sixth edition Greenskins book) I’ve had this fantasy of doing a Marauder tribe, led by that new female chieftain they’ve done for Age of Sigmar and with perhaps a lone Exalted Daemon fluttering around as her patron spirit. The Giant, of course, is her overgrown and perpetually drunk “big brother”, the heart and soul of the clan even if he was at the back when the brain cells were being handed out.

Angharad the Aghol begins her career as an Aspiring Champion, lowest of the low pointed, Unmarked and barely equipped. She remains as such in Warbands and Border Patrol games, acquiring either a Sorcerer pal or an Exalted Daemon patron and maybe a magic item or two during the move into 1000 pointers. At 1500 she levels up to Exalted Champion, at 2000 to Chaos Lord: perhaps a Daemon Prince beyond, or perhaps that fate will be reserved for her pal (actually, yes, he can reveal his true colours as the army grows, shucking off his mortal shell, or perhaps the Familiar is a possessing spirit that finally takes over: that works for me).

It’s very compelling and yet for some reason I can’t settle into an army list for it. I think it keeps getting tangled up with all the other thoughts I have on Chaos – that “Knights of Ashteth” concept I have knocking around that I originally came up with for some fanfiction I wrote when I was about fourteen a Black Legion force for Rogue Trader, and my longing to get a Greater Daemon onto the battlefield and “flip the script” by having the object of worship turn up to lead its followers. That might actually work better in a Beastman context, with a tribe worshipping Ashteth the Keeper of Secrets as the ultimate expression of the Gor form, and the Knights joining up alongside the Daemon itself as additional troop types. (And that’s a 2000 point army to sit alongside this now apparently discrete 3000 points of Marauders… to which I could add those Dragon Ogres I am apparently half crazed with.)

The thing is, Chaos lists are quite hard to build even if you’re sticking to one troop type. I find myself flirting and fiddling with Chaos armies and I can never quite get the sense of scale I want for them: there’s no redundancy. Everything has to be corners-and-costs-cut to fit into 2000 points and I end up with no extra units, no redundancy, no feeling of horde.

To be clear, I’d only do this if I were suddenly taken wealthy, and I’d be painting it forever and a day. BUT.

SMALL WARBAND                           188/200

Angharad the Aghol                      92
Aspiring Champion with shield

Men of the Aghol Tribe                  96        
4x4 Chaos Marauders with flails
LARGE WARBAND/BORDER PATROL                             492/500

Angharad the Aghol                                      120
Aspiring Champion with Mark of Slaanesh
> Biting Blade, Enchanted Shield

Men of the Aghol Tribe                                  90 
10 Marauders with flails
Champion, musician and standard

Men of the Aghol Tribe                                  90 
10 Marauders with flails
Champion, musician and standard

Aghol Outriders                                         96
5 Marauder Horsemen with spears and throwing spears
> musician

Aghol Outriders                                         96
5 Marauder Horsemen with spears and throwing spears
> musician
SMALL ARMY                                                  997/1000

Angharad the Aghol                                          140
Exalted Champion with Mark of Slaanesh
> Biting Blade, Enchanted Shield

Aesmar the Pale                                             145
Sorcerer
> magic level 2
> Spell Familiar
> Dispel Scroll

Men of the Aghol Tribe                                      150 
20 Marauders with flails
Champion, musician and standard

Men of the Aghol Tribe                                      150 
20 Marauders with flails
Champion, musician and standard

Aghol Outriders                                             96
5 Marauder Horsemen with spears and throwing spears
> musician

Aghol Outriders                                             96
5 Marauder Horsemen with spears and throwing spears
> musician

Oglaf the Giant                                             205
GROWING ARMY                                                1497/1500

Angharad the Aghol                                          170
Exalted Champion with Mark of Slaanesh
> Biting Blade, Enchanted Shield, Gaze of the Gods

Aesmar the Pale                                             165
Sorcerer with Mark of Slaanesh
> magic level 2
> Spell Familiar
> Dispel Scroll

Men of the Aghol Tribe                                      150 
20 Marauders with flails
Champion, musician and standard

Men of the Aghol Tribe                                      150 
20 Marauders with flails
Champion, musician and standard

Aghol Outriders                                             96
5 Marauder Horsemen with spears and throwing spears
> musician

Aghol Outriders                                             96
5 Marauder Horsemen with spears and throwing spears
> musician

Hounds of Aesmar                                            30
5 Warhounds

Knights of Aesmar                                           285
5 Chaos Knights with Mark of Slaanesh
> Champion, musician and standard
> Rapturous Standard

Fiends of Aesmar                                            150
10 Furies

Oglaf the Giant                                             205
ARMY                                                             1997/2000

Angharad the Aghol                                                     285
Chaos Lord with Mark of Slaanesh
> Biting Blade, Enchanted Shield, Gaze of the Gods

Aesmar the Pale                                                        370
Exalted Daemon of Slaanesh
> magic level 2
> Spell Breaker, Diabolic Splendour

Men of the Aghol Tribe                                                 150 
20 Marauders with flails
Champion, musician and standard

Men of the Aghol Tribe                                                 150 
20 Marauders with flails
Champion, musician and standard

Aghol Outriders                                                         96
5 Marauder Horsemen with spears and throwing spears
> musician

Aghol Outriders                                                         96
5 Marauder Horsemen with spears and throwing spears
> musician

Hounds of Aghol                                                         60
10 Warhounds

Knights of Aesmar                                                      285
5 Chaos Knights with Mark of Slaanesh
> Champion, musician and standard
> Rapturous Standard

Fiends of Aesmar                                                       300
20 Furies

Oglaf the Giant                                                        205
HORDE                                                            3000/3000

Angharad the Aghol                                                     335
Chaos Lord with Mark of Slaanesh
> Biting Blade, Armour of Damnation, Enchanted Shield, Gaze of the Gods, Pendant of Slaanesh

Baalmung                                                               346
Shaggoth Champion with Mark of Slaanesh
> great weapon, light armour

Grishnov the Pale                                                      370
Exalted Daemon of Slaanesh
> magic level 2
> Spell Breaker, Diabolic Splendour

Men of the Aghol Tribe                                                 150 
20 Marauders with flails
Champion, musician and standard

Men of the Aghol Tribe                                                 150 
20 Marauders with flails
Champion, musician and standard

Champions of the Aghol Tribe                                           250
10 Chosen Warriors with Mark of Slaanesh
Champion, musiican and standard

Aghol Outriders                                                         96
5 Marauder Horsemen with spears and throwing spears
> musician

Aghol Outriders                                                         96
5 Marauder Horsemen with spears and throwing spears
> musician

Hounds of Aesmar                                                        60
10 Warhounds

Hounds of Baalmung                                                      60
10 Warhounds

Knights of Aesmar                                                      345
5 Chosen Knights with Mark of Slaanesh
Champion, musician and standard
> Rapturous Standard

Fiends of Aesmar                                                       300
20 Furies

Oglaf the Giant                                                        205

Sons of Baalmung                                                       237
3 Dragon Ogres with great weapons and light armour

There it is. Very magic light, and will approach this deficiency by attempting to brutally murder enemy wizards as early as possible. Probably not very good, but it nails the sense of development, the path to glory that’s crucial to a Chaos warband. If the formatting’s a bit busted I can only apologise, it was three in the morning and I just wanted to get the lists written. I’ll fix it later. In the meantime, what do you think?

[WFB] From Little Acorns

I missed out on Warhammer Warbands at the time. Third year of uni was a time and a half, lots of not sleeping for a week and then working on two dissertations side by side like a nutter, and what gaming time I had was increasingly devoted to Warmachine and Hordes and the original d20-based Iron Kingdoms RPG. By the time I was playing again, in Manchester, the blip had either been and gone or never happened in amongst the standard-issue 2000 point tourney practice pitched battle Borehammer of early seventh edition.

Which is a shame, because I love a good slow-grow way into a new army. I don’t think I’d have ridden the wave with my Vampires if I hadn’t come in with a Mordheim warband, and then Border Patrol, and instead been confronted with the hump of 1000 points just to get off the ground.

Hence this: my attempt at putting together one sprue each of my new models and getting a playable force for my trouble. The Small Warband is pretty restrictive but even within those restrictions, the sprues go so far and no further and I’ve had to take Champions to make up the numbers for now. (I’d have been very happy to take an Annoyance of Netlings instead, but I’m choosing to believe that counts as a magic item and is bad form for Warbands.)

The Maven of Deadwood
Branchwraith - 65

Black-Briar Kindred
5 Glade Guard - 60
Champion - 10

Helyg Coven
4 Dryads - 48
Champion - 12

Enough LISTS, I hear you cry. Enough THEORYHAMMER. Show us the PRAXISHAMMER. Show us the MODELS!

I know there are still mould lines on the archers; I just wanted to do a blog post before work, m’kay?

Now they’re stood next to the Citadel Dryads, those Oathmark plastic elves look even smaller and softer than they did on the sprue. I also need to have a little whinge about that bloke in the middle who’s just standing there demurely with his feet together like a schoolboy waiting for a first class bollocking. Every third party figure kit I buy seems to have a pose like this. I don’t know why manufacturers produce these nonentities: I suppose they’re meant to be leaders and standard bearers, but they’re just a weird looking waste of sprue if you’re not taking those options.

I really don’t like Champions in archer units – that extra point of Ballistic Skill makes the rolling untidy and I’d rather have an extra body in a unit somewhere – and they have more chance of teaching a Cold One calculus than they do of getting a flag and throwing Victory Points up the chutney, but I might try and make some little horns for them and put musicians in there. Those would actually be useful. I still don’t regret going Oathmark though – you get what you pay for and these were dirt cheap back line troops. They fit together nicely enough, they have the same sort of pretend-posability as the old Warhammer Regiments figures from the Nineties, they do the job: but they are definitely up for replacement if I score some second-hand Citadel figures or find a better kit somewhere else.

The Maven is a fine figure, bit fussy to put together but I like her now she’s done. I left off the weird snake-grub-worm-thing she comes with because frankly it makes me feel sullied and unusual. I also left off the twiggy back bits from most of the Dryads as they’re already quite tall and busy enough, although I did give the Champion some extra shrubbery so I can find her in the unit. Next job is to paint them, which will probably happen next “weekend”.

I might even do something uncharacteristic, once I have the trees built and painted up too. I might set up a little battlefield in the living room and try a little solo game. Always feels a bit weird, but then – I play computer games single player, all the time, and I play Scythe, which has a single player variant even if setting it up is such a faff that I invariably end up playing computer games instead. I bet I could knock together something like the old Kill Team with adversaries that drift randomly, charge if they can and so on, and I know exactly what I’ll use for them. Ghouls vs. Trees in the crypts of Crug Hywel. Bangin’ stuff. I’ll need to finish the mausoleum terrain but I’ve been stalling on doing that for ages anyway.

My scenery has been in that exact “drybrushed basecoat” stage since the summer of 2019, when this photo was taken. In my defence, I was very, very depressed.

[Game Dev] On Wraith: the Oblivion and an Untitled Ghost Game

These thoughts are brought to you by a spirited attempt to play Wraith: the Oblivion last year. Not even run it – one of the Chrises who’s married into my old V:tM squad was kind enough to step up and give it the old college try, so I got to stat up the ghost of Bill Hall and Private Walker and sit on the other side of the screen for a change. Started well enough, but the sheer unrelenting misery of Stygia was not what any of us needed in times of pandemic and isolation, and we rapidly degenerated into what the other Chris insists on (accurately) calling Carry On Haunting. But it did leave me thinking: what would it take to make a Wraith game work for me?

A vampire is a dead person walking around being a predator, it eats blood so it can stay alive, that matters because eating blood is tricky in a society that frowns on that sort of behaviour and you have to do morally questionable things to stay alive, and that hooks you into the core “a beast I am lest a Beast I become” aspect. And almost every time you roll dice, the game reminds you of that by forcing in the Hunger dice and altering the consequences of the roll.

Wraith, as it currently exists, is an overdeveloped mess of guilds and legions and powers and conflicts and PvP gameplay without a core sense of what a session looks like, what the little characters we play do and why they do it and how the rules make sure it’s done. I’m sure everything it needs is in there but no edition of Wraith has successfully put that core loop explicitly front and centre; it always feels like a Vampire hack that hasn’t quite been thought through and pulled tight.

To me, a person who tried to learn Wraith by reading the books, there’s a huge amount of ink spilled on top down stuff – but apart from “join guild, get powers” it’s not immediately clear how this impacts at session level. Wraith seems more interested in its worldbuilding than in being played.

They got “what is a ghost” but didn’t follow it through. There isn’t the same almost… autonomic start-up process for a session there. Vampire, when in doubt, starts with feeding, because someone will be hungry, and feeding has consequences or is a platform for exposition, and “eat blood” is the central fact of vampire existence. I don’t see anything that concrete in Wraith – any such confident answer to “what shall we do tonight, Brain?” Something about “resist the Shadow” doesn’t click – it’s too passive, I think, or perhaps that “fuck with each other” gameplay loop doesn’t make for a functional table when the default for RPGs is that we play together. Maybe Spectres should actively wander through sessions more, make Oblivion a tactile threat that always needs to be worked around? Maybe Wraith should be run as, I don’t know, a storytelling game of survival and psychological horror?

I really like the guilds and if I had my druthers I’d lean more heavily on them as splats. What KIND of ghost you learn to be really matters and says a lot about your character and your goals in play, and it could be a choice. I feel the moral centre of Wraith is “you can choose to save yourself”, the work of resolving fetters and getting out of this awful existence should be the arc, and the act of choosing what kind of ghost you want to be feels like a good start to that.

I could see how a V5 hack might work, with dice swapping pools, but what to hook them off? Better pools near your Fetters, maybe – hammer home that sense of being tethered to a place, an object, a moment in time… Haunt Dice.

So yeah, I’m really hoping for Wraith 5 or whatever it gets called. But it has to be at least as iconoclastic as V5 is in terms of mechanics, and a lot more direct about how it plays and what makes it worth playing. In the meantime, I’m half tempted to knock up something that explores this same turf, because I very much doubt I’m going to get the Wraith I want. I won’t be able to use the cosmology, but the idea of an unstable and hostile underworld between Haunts might give me enough peril to hang the whole concept on. I don’t have a good name for this yet, so Untitled Ghost Game it is.

[WFB] In Which Mr. E Contemplates a Sylvan Future

Every so often I get really into a faction on the Total War: Warhammer and come over all “what if I did them on the tabletop?” Normally this wears off after a weekend or two, but sometimes it sticks, and the last time it stuck I ended up with a Tomb Kings army.

This time around it’s Wood Elves. Now, I have many memories of being kicked around the table by armies that only have three actual Wood Elves in them (all Spellsingers) and no desire to lose friends and alienate people – but I have rather fallen for the Drycha army and the Forest Spirit models are the easiest to lay hands on in this day and age.

Further commentary to follow the units themselves, but first, the list!

HEROES
The Maven of Deadwood          165
Branchwraith                    65
Level 1 wizard                  50
Cluster of Radiants             25
Annoyance of Netlings           25
                                160
Spellsinger                     90
Glamourweave Kindred            20
Dispel Magic Scroll             25
Divination Orb                  25
                                158
Noble                           75
Alter Kindred                   25
Helm of the Hunt                20
Glamourweave                    30
light armour, shield            4
great weapon                    4
                                150
Noble                           75
Battle Standard                 25
Moonstone of the Hidden Ways    35
Briarsheath                     15
CORE
10 Glade Guard                  120
10 Glade Guard                  120
10 Glade Guard                  120
8 Dryads                        96
8 Dryads                        96
SPECIAL
5 Tree Kin                      325
5 Wild Riders                   130
musician
RARE
Treeman                         285
Great Eagle                      50

The rough (and at this stage still hypothetical) plan is to pick up the post-Wood-Elf warband for that Warhammer Underworlds thing to make my characters, the Start Collecting box for the angry tree faction to… start collecting, boxes of Tree-Revenants and Wild Riders to round things out and then use third party ranges for the archers and eagle. The specific ranges and sets I have in mind will make it very easy to build bigger units if I decide this “MSU” malarkey is a bridge too far. Regiments of 16 Glade Guard and Dryads would take the edge off.

The Trees? Well, it’s not a proper Wood Elf army without a Treeman in my ever-humbles, and while the current miniature is very much a Bigger Giant it’ll go nicely with the Bigger Giants occasionally adorning my opponents’ armies. The Tree-Kin are there partly because I like the newer models and partly because all my armies have a big wedge of 40mm bases to take point or hold a flank and worry people.

I’m not entirely sure about the odd 180 points. The Great Eagle is there because the giant budgies are such classic pestering units, while the Wild Riders are a frivolous “whyever not?” choice largely motivated by my wanting at least some cavalry and them being still in production.

I want to go fairly light on magic and not bother with a Lord choice, just to provide a firm contrast to my top-heavy Vampire Counts army. I’m hoping that five Dispel dice, a bonus from the Divination Orb on any big casts and an emergency Scroll will be enough to nurse me through most magical nonsense, while my own magic phases will be two (three?) casts of Tree Singing to see what happens.

The Alter Noble is there largely because I know Dr. Shiny has some bad memories with them and I delight in causing him the conniptions. Certainly seems to throw out a lot of attacks, and I opted for mixed weaponry to keep my options open. Finally, there’s a Battle Standard Bearer whose job is to teleport key units out of peril and stay close to the Treeman to ensure the big lug remains in the fight. (I am tempted by the Bow of Loren and Alter Kindred on this fellow instead of the Big Flag, and would appreciate insight on this front from people who know what they’re talking about).

There is also the matter of colourscheme. While I flirted with the idea of an autumnal army, all reds and oranges, and while autumn is my favourite time of year, there are many pressing influences in another direction. I have a winter-styled board at home – it may not be at ease with my old-fashioned DIY approach to terrain, but the battlemat and the mausoleum pieces I have somehow ended up with are already snow-encrusted and I am likely to buy the plastic Citadel wood simply because… the free wood for being Wood Elves is part of your army, it should be models, and these are of a good standard size with the hole in the middle for moving your units about in.

Beyond this, I must think of my opponents. Dr. Shiny’s Bretonnian army hails from a realm of eternal and unnatural snow because he’s a big old goth like that. Discussion with my learned colleague reveals he was thinking of doing a companion force of Wood Elves, and is rather glad that one of us has finally acted on the impulse. Basing my army to match his (dark earth and piled snow) would create two armies that look like they’re from the same place, and we can synergise our backgrounds around the Curse of Tessingfroid to justify a sort of on-and-off alliance between our forces, turning nasty on each other but uniting against outside interference.

Ruminating on the concept suggests an isolated, deep-frozen and withered heathland of Athel Loren, bereft of leadership and long neglected. Its inhabitants have become more spectral and quixotic than even the average elf, and their leadership is doing the best it can with gnawing cold robbing them of what sense they had. Occasional friendly contact with the local Bretonnians does occur – at least, when Amaranth the Damsel of the Lady speaks, the Maven stares intently and does not kill her, for reasons that don’t bear too much analysis – but when the seasons of the world should turn the Deadwood Conclave have a habit of forgetting pacts once signed and sealed. The Deadwood Conclave, or something like that.

A strong argument for the pale kin of bleak midwinter, then. Dryad Bark and Drakenhof Nightshade on the two-tone Tree-Kin of modern times, with red and yellow leaves clinging on here and there to denote the units; some blue-greys and smoother mid browns on the archers’ clothes to create variety. I like the idea of doing everyone with blue-tinged skin though, really ham up that magical curse aesthetic. I may even break out the Polished Blue for trinkets and things: it’s a very rich colour for Wood Elves but they don’t have much metal so it should be allowed to pop.

This is all assuming the enthusiasm doesn’t wear off in a week or two, anyway. I might end up spending the money on more Ghouls or something equally mundane.

UPDATE: it looks like the enthusiasm has not, in fact, worn off, and we are, in fact, doing this.

[WFB] In Which Mr. E Contemplates a Slaaneshi Past

The other day, a conversation on classichammer.com got me thinking about the army I don’t constantly bang on about on this blog. Before I was a Vampire Counts player, I was a Chaos Warriors player: for all that the Undead were my gateway drug, Chaos was my actual point of entry, largely because I had to get as many points per pound sterling as possible in those days of pocket money budgets.

I had one of those “£50 gets you 2000 points” Chaos armies back in fifth edition: two boxes of Warriors, one of Knights, a Chariot and a couple of characters. All that and a Lord of Change for my birthday. Spray ’em black, drybrush ’em silver, make a complete pig’s ear of the Greater Daemon and job was a good ‘un.

The games were a drudge. I remember six sorry weekends of trudging across a table into the teeth of my friend Mike’s fourth edition box set High Elves. My Chariots were immobilised by an ocean of S3 shots pinging the horses off, my units were kicked in the ‘nards and left for dead by High Magic and I was punished in the afterlife by my complete inability to get my Chaos Lord out of the Black Gem of Gnar, or not turned into a Spawn, or into combat at all after his Daemonic Steed suffered spontaneous existence failure.

Roll around sixth edition and after a disastrous foray into Orc and Goblin land I was determined never to take another terror or panic test again if I could help it. I broke out the purple paint, bought a job lot of Daemonettes and a Warhammer Quest Chaos Warrior (I’d lost the mounted General somewhere), and went to work. Result thus.

Sorcerer Lord: Mark of Slaanesh, Chaos Daemon Sword, Talisman of Protection: 390
Exalted Champion: Mark of Slaanesh, greataxe, Crown of Everlasting Conquest: 174

12 Warriors: Mark of Slaanesh, halberds, Champion, musician and standard: 242
12 Warriors: Mark of Slaanesh, shields, Champion, musician and standard: 230
5 Knights: Mark of Slaanesh, Champion, musician and standard (War Banner): 260
Chariot: Mark of Slaanesh: 130
Chariot: Mark of Slaanesh: 130

12 Daemonettes: 180
12 Daemonettes: 180
5 Furies: 75

On paper it’s certainly a very elite army, and mass Immunity to Panic is certainly a big deal, but even typing it all out and checking the sums has me thinking it could have been tuned up and turned over (especially if I’d found that infernal mounted Lord model).

It has no units with a full rank bonus, bad weapons on at least one Warrior unit, no Chosen at all, mostly middling armour saves, only six Power Dice to insult the intelligence and quite a lot of the models are feeble, Unstable Daemonettes who vanish in a whoosh of lavender if anyone looks at them funny. I don’t even have the Rapturous Standard!

If I had my time over again I’d probably do a 1000 point mostly-Marauder army (as an excuse to use my beloved sixth edition Giant and pick up the rather spiffy female Marauder-esque character from the Age of Sigmar range) and then summon in a Keeper or Prince and his little friends for 2000 point games. There’d probably be one unit of actual Chaos Warriors or Knights along for the ride (although they might be carrying the Rapturous Standard, because I’m only human and it’s very good). Something like this:

Angharad the Aghol: 176
Exalted Champion, Mark of Slaanesh, great weapon, shield, Bindings of Slaanesh

Grishenkov: 156
Sorcerer, extra magic level, Mark of Slaanesh, barded Chaos Steed, Sceptre of Domination

Men of the Aghol Tribe: 145
20 Marauders with flails
Champion, musician, standard

Knights of Ashteth: 285
5 Knights with Mark of Slaanesh
Champion, musician, standard bearer with Rapturous Standard

Oglaf the Giant: 205

992 points

Ashteth
Keeper of Secrets 625

10 Daemonettes 150

10 Daemonettes 150

5 Furies 75

+ 1000 points

Still pretty terrible, to be honest, but it has a lot of the things I think are fun about Slaanesh armies, and takes advantage of the Hordes book’s excessive flexibility to flip the script in bigger games. It’s either this or a delivery system for the Shaggoth, possibly my favourite Chaos model, and the plastic Dragon Ogres which eventually emerged to match him.

[WFB] List Maintenance: Lord Ruthven Restored

Because I’m a whocking great nerd, I keep a battlefield journal. Not exhaustive “and then I rolled a three and a two and he rolled a four and a six” level stuff because life is much too short, but a “no more than one A5 spread per thing” record of the games I’ve played and the army lists I’ve used (or considered using).

Despite my respect for the Stillmanic principle in some regards (I am still using the same army I started on my eighteenth birthday and have barely touched some of it with a paintbrush since), I’m an inveterate tinkerer and fine tuner and consider this a pleasure I shall not forgo just because ol’ Nigel doesn’t think it proper.

Here are the post mortem notes on the list I took to that London back in March, straight from the Book.

Rod of Flaming Death works – it worries people just enough that they always Dispel it.

Pretty clear there, past me. I used to look down on the Rod and not bother with it, now I understand that opponents don’t want to risk an automatic Panic test for having one model get fried. The Rod is one of those items which can subtly turn a game even if it never actually works – and, as a bonus, it doesn’t run out of juice!

Use the Stone early to draw out scrolls – don’t save it!

The more spells I can push through in the early game the more Dispel Scrolls I can dummy out, giving me more freedom to cast in the middling turns where it matters more. Necromancy spells turn the game by tipping combats in my favour and that makes them most impactful when the battle-lines are either about to hit or have just done so. The Stone also allows me to slam five dice down on a key spell from Rosenkratz the Necromancer, cutting through the three-dice casting cap he normally has to labour under. I find this sort of thing far more decisive than bringing a single Dispel Scroll and fretting about what’s important enough to use it on.

Swap in the Aura.

Aura of Dark Majesty has returned to must-take status now that I’ve started playing on 6′ x 4′ boards more. I’d hoped that I could wean myself off it and get used to a mere 12″ bubble but the stage of the game where my fast units need to turn around and get stuck back in really needs them to keep marching, and sometimes the tide of battle draws my Lord away from them in the horizontal plane.

Stick to a Wight Lord BSB for Leadership 9.

What it says on the tin. I love Vampire Thralls, don’t get me wrong: mine is a cheap source of fast-moving chariot-wrecking arrow-scoffing extra hits right where they’re needed, and I’ve gained a new respect for the Necrarch and Strigoi variants as I help out putting tactical together for the Online. But a Thrall does not take hits well, nor lead units, and the high Leadership is excellent for keeping a combat unit where it should be after my General bites it, or when pursuit needs to be deterred in favour of good positioning.

Skeleton spears. In both games they got charged and having spears paid off. I CURSE THE VULGAR FASHION!

For years and years I misplayed the hand weapon and shield rule in sixth edition and never understood why the hardcore said sword and board was better than spear. Now I finally have a unit of Skeleton Swordsmen and am using them with a vigour, so I think my past self wants talking to here. As I go forward I find myself bringing two Skeleton units: spearmen to take point and get charged, swordsmen to deliver a flanking hit. My Zombies are reserved for filling a spare Core slot with the most minimal of caster bunkers, or raising.

Consider a steady list with swappable Counts?

I worked out a range of similarly-coster Vampire Counts a while back and considered trading them in and out of the army to see what difference it made. The drawback to this plan? My aesthetic is very much a Von Carstein army: I can get away with a Lahmian or Blood Dragon as I have appropriate Generals on foot for that, but Strigoi or Necrarchs, the most different and powerful Bloodlines, are closed to me because the rest of the army doesn’t match. (If I ever did a second Vampire Counts army, it would be mostly Ghouls and more bronze age style Skeletons, deliberately geared toward playing with these two Bloodlines.)

What do you need: Wraith or Wight? Both games had the BSB pay off but also Terror made a big impact.

This is a recurring problem for me. Both these heroes have been excellent additions to my collection and I’m a tad flummoxed about which one to leave at home when slots are at a premium. Since the Wight Lord doesn’t have quite such an established character or set of kit (he was swapped into the army at the last moment) I’m going to stick with the Wraith for the time being.

Periapt ain’t always so hot: consider another Stone.

Don’t get me wrong, the Black Periapt is fine; it’s just a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul every other turn because this phase often has to get by on seven dice so I can have nine later, and there’s a level of cognitive load involved in planning around the dice-storage gimmick that can slow me down and stop me playing decisively. I’m still umming and ahhing about the Periapt, which I think is only essential in 2000 point games where a fella only has three level 2 wizards to play with. Up here I can probably get away without it by ensuring I have enough dice in the first place, and enough powerful wizards to make good use of them.

 

To these vestiges I’d add a few more observations that came out of the report-writing process. I really like Death Magic on my Vampires and am close to considering it the default as I go forward, outside the Army of Sylvania of course (there I don’t have the luxury of faffing about without Necromancy).

The big unit of Knights is a necessary evil in a Sylvanian list but otherwise I think I need the flexibility of two units operating on opposite flanks or sweeping one together.

Finally there’s the small matter of casting power. At present the 3000 point army is too dependent on the Master and once he’s copped it, I am knocked back to 2000 point levels of casting power: not good enough. This “Master and Margarita” list archetype is therefore reserved for fifth edition from here on out, and Lord Ruthven will be making a return to wrangle the army. I also plan to shout FIE to the high heavens, bust the shield off my Imperial Noble model, and simply use the figure who matches the army’s aesthetic as Lord Ruthven. If anyone gives me grief about his breastplate I shall say it’s got warpstone in it or something. Life’s too short.

A few additional cuts have been made in terms of magic banners, unit champions and so on and so forth. Magic banners may yet be restored to the Knight units at the cost of some Dire Wolves.

 

Lord Ruthven: Von Carstein Vampire Lord: extra magic level (Lore of Death), Biting Blade, Ring of the Night, Walking Death, Aura of Dark Majesty435 points

Walravius: Master Necromancer: extra magic level (Necromancy), Cloak of Mists and Shadows, Power Stone: 290 points

Rosenkratz: Necromancer: extra magic level (Necromancy), Book of Arkhan, Power Stone: 150 points

Guildenstern: Necromancer: extra magic level (Necromancy), Rod of Flaming Death: 150 points

Whispering Nell: Wraith: Cursed Book: 140 points

Lord Ruthven’s First of Foot: 20 Skeletons: spears, light armour, champion, musician and standard bearer: 245 points

Lord Ruthven’s Second of Foot: 20 Skeletons: light armour, champion, musician and standard bearer: 225 points

Templehof Pals: 10 Zombies: musician and standard bearer: 75 points

Verhungernhund Claw: 5 Dire Wolves: 50 points

Verhungernhund Fang: 5 Dire Wolves: 50 points

Order of the Black Cross: 8 Black Knights: barding, champion, musician and standard bearer: 240 points

Order of the Crimson Wing: 8 Black Knights: barding, champion, musician and standard bearer: 240 points

Black Monks of St. Herod: 5 Spirit Hosts: 325 points

Cora: Banshee: 90 points

Clarice: Banshee: 90 points

Emmanuelle’s Hearse: Black Coach: 200 points

TOTAL: 2995 points
Tower of Power: 13 dice
Pile of Denial: 8 dice