[WFB] Lockjaw Does Dogcon (building for power and theme: Lachlan MacWhirter, WD264)

Partial? Me? Far from it. As we continue our trawl through the Silver Age of White Dwarf*, I turn the ship toward the competitive end of the spectrum and go off about an article I never read at the time. It’s Australian, you see, and since I live literally half a world away from the land where beer does flow and men chunder, I never had the chance. But I do know who Lachlan MacWhirter is, if only because I avidly read Alex Kin-Wilde’s battle reports before the Warhammer Forum took its final nosedive. The point is he was quite good, and that he thinks about armies in a way that I think about armies.

You will notice that this army is not a photocopy special. There is thought put into what it will be like to play with and against, and how to ensure it does well, but there is also thought put into who leads it and why the force is the way it is.

I bring this up because there’s a nasty, pernicious tendency among certain elements of the wargaming community to pretend that certain things are anathema. Opposed. Mutually irreconcilable. Like a Venn diagram where the orbs remain utterly parted, lest their touching blast a hole in our tiny minds the size of Belgium.

You often hear “having fun” and “playing to win” pitched into these false dichotomies, along with “crunch” and “fluff”, and in role playing circles you hear “rollplaying” and “roleplaying.” My favourite one one is named the Stormwind Fallacy, after a Wizards of the Coast forumite who described and debunked it beautifully**.

The Stormwind Fallacy is the claim that one who optimises his character is, de facto, a bad roleplayer. The claim is wrong, false, and otherwise incorrect because number-crunching and make-believe are quite different skill sets and they can co-exist happily in the same brain tissue and the one does not in any way detract from the other. The fact that most people are more skilled in or inclined toward one direction than the other does not mean they are automatically exclusive.

And in wargaming-land, the same applies. It is not impossible to produce an army which is powerful, efficient, effective, and also entirely on-theme and fun to play with and against. People will claim otherwise. They will claim that “competitive” is anathema to some other nebulously defined concept. Often, they are talking about their own preference for leaning in one direction or another and elevating that to the status of universal truth – which it does not deserve.

Look at that! He’s written backstory, for pity’s sake (and just enough for it not to become weary, too)! True, he’s put a lot of thought into gearing and tricking out his Vampire, and to the roles that will be performed on table by his units, but you can’t pretend that there isn’t character there.

You may, if cynical, suspect that this is done because there are bonus points to be had at the tournament in question for turning up with a themed army in which the theme is transparent and illustrated with some associated text, and I say this is no bad thing. Let game mechanics make real the ideologies of the people what it is who make them. A system that rewards the desired behaviour is a good system.

I don’t have masses to say about the army itself, except that I’d probably have gone for the Vampire Lord and damned the consequences, but I do want to hover my digit over this notion of spending half your points on Core units (that the rest of the sections put together do not outnumber them). I don’t think I’ve ever done that, outside of fifth edition Chaos armies which, er, sort of had to work like that unless you were pulling something extremely niche with the summoning rules for Greater Daemons. There are eighty Skeletons in this army and that’s about twice as many Skeletons as I could ever be arsed painting without dramatically phoning it in. I suddenly understand the appeal in the totally bollock naked Skeletons of yesteryear or Warlord Games; at least those could be bashed out with relative haste, if you didn’t go full White Dwarf 211 and lovingly highlight their bony bonces.

I wonder what would happen if I tried to put together an army like this?

Characters

Clarimonde: Vampire Countess with extra magic level, Black Periapt and Ring of the Night: 285
Romuald: Vampire Thrall with Army Standard, Walking Death and Talisman of Protection: 155

Core

30 Skeleton Warriors with spears, light armour, and full command group: 355
30 Zombies with standard and musician: 195
10 Ghouls with Ghast: 90
11 Dire Wolves with Doom Wolf: 120
2 Bat Swarm bases: 120

Special

8 Black Knights with barded Nightmares and full command group: 240
8 Black Knights with barded Nightmares and full command group: 240

Rare

Banshee: 90
Banshee: 90

This is, of course, working with the models I own and my particular proclivities. I like to have a Battle Standard Bearer in my armies and prefer to bury my characters in the infantry units, using my Knights and Wolves as a flanking force. Also, I only have about 800 points of Core: everything I have gives me one of each unit and a handful of spares for raising. But it’s good enough for jazz and close enough for jam, or something like that. 20 points of spare change which will probably go on a Sword of Might for Clarimonde or something of the ilk.

This is just the list, because I’m still… working on… the backstory for these people. Everything’s still a bit fluid in that department.

It’s all making me realise a couple of things. Firstly, as much as I detest the Citadel Fell Bats, I’d quite like more fast chaff in the collection. Secondly, I really do need to do something about my Core situation; with so many Dire Wolves having gone for a burton while the army was out of my hands, I’m dangerously low on bread and butter troops, and it’s only going to get worse if I look towards playing eighth edition.

The longer I go on with this, the more I realise that my old army is deeply beloved and quite special but also surprisingly small and bitty. Adding more models is a bit of a tall order when the odds of picking up the “right” models in ready-to-kitbash-so-they-match condition are so high. Two options present themselves. Either I align with the Von Carstein theme force in the back of the book and pick up some living auxiliaries to bolster my lacklustre Troops selection, or I bite the bullet and accept that it’s time to slowly build up…

… oh God…

… a new Vampire Counts army.

*I call it this largely to avoid nonsense from any hardcore edition warriors who will come at me if I don’t give the number one spot to Paul Sawyer/Robin Dews/Jake Thornton/Ian Livingstone/Your Mum (delete as applicable). You are welcome to argue about which White Dwarf editor was the best ever on your own time, and ideally on your own planet.

**Potentially, there’s a contrived dig here at the crowd who hang around in the Alliance capital city on any World of Warcraft RP server, filling the air with arbitrary nonsense and imaginary rules about how to play magical fund pretend time… but even by my standards, that’s reaching a bit.

[WFB] Herohammer: An Experiment In Betrayal

You all know me. I’m a Vampire Counts man to the bone. I don’t entertain any of this twittering, wittering and doo-dah-de-lally about how ‘splitting the Undead was the worst decision GW ever made’. I like the Tomb Kings and I wish I’d had the money to buy into them during eighth edition when they had all those lovely kits, but that’s beside the point today.

The point is, I’m a loyalist. But…

… as I find myself putting together 3000 point lists for the purposes of chasing Mr. Ben Panting, Esq. back across the Border to whence he came, I find myself really wanting to use the fourth edition Warhammer Armies: Undead list.

OK, so I can’t cower behind Call Winds in a proper old-fashioned Undead army, and neither the Black Coach nor the Spirit Host will be making an appearance, but there are… rewards.

It’s the special characters, you see. Vlad and Isabella and Mannfred as they’re presented in the fifth edition book are good, but they’re not good enough. Their selections of powers and items are… OK, but there are essential support items and nice-to-have fun stuff that has to go onto a generic character if I want to include it.

Whereas in fourth edition, the special characters have some items set… but they also have free slots. They can be customised, integrated into the army build as a whole. They don’t need to be weighed against the flexibility of the generic options. And Isabella is still a proper Countess, i.e. a spellcaster.

Characters

Vlad von Carstein – 500
Sword of Unholy Power, Carstein Ring
(Summon Undead Horde, Wind of Death)

Isabella von Carstein – 290
Ruby Chalice, Staff of Damnation
(Dark Magic spell: to be drawn randomly)

Mannfred von Carstein – 587
Skeleton Steed
Skull Staff, Dragon Blade, Dispel Scroll
(Vanhel’s Danse Macabre, Raise the Dead, Gaze of Nagash, Hand of Dust)

Regiments

18 Skeletons – 196
Spears, shields, standard, musician

5 Skeletons – 55
Crossbows

5 Wights – 294
Skeleton Steeds, spears, shields, heavy armour, standard, musician

5 Wraiths – 375

Monsters

2 Bat Swarms – 200

Zombie Dragon – 500

2997 points

The army deploys in oblique line, with the Crossbows (never gonna move) at one end, and the rest escalating in increasing order of hastiness. Skeletons (led by Vlad and Isabella), then Wraiths, then Wights, then the Dragon, assuming he doesn’t have anything better to do like fly high and descend like the fist of ages. The Bat Swarm runs interference, racing across the line to deflect anything I don’t feel like fighting until it’s had a few doom spells shoved down it.

You could probably shit better lists than this but that’s not the point. The point is to walk my old collection back an edition and slap three special characters on the board without that nagging voice going “but generic characters support the army better” in the back of my head. I agree it’d be nice to have some Skull Chuckers. Buy me some and I’ll fit ’em in somehow. I’d like the Mantic ones please, they fit the aesthetic of this army better.

[WFB] Herohammer – Fun With Fifth Edition

There’s talk of a Wales and South West Middlehammer meetup, with a small no-stakes low-restrictions tournament at its heart. This is good.

Somehow I’ve ended up involved with organising it and doing test games to remember where the exploits and snags are. This is good.

It’s… fifth edition?

It would have to be the one for which I don’t already have an army list written up and ready, wouldn’t it?

A Shameful Confession

I never really played my Vampire Counts under fifth edition rules. Oh, I had a modest Undead army, or at least a bunch of plastic Skellies plus metal Liche, Vampire Count and Skull Chucker, but those were laid aside when I learned you could build a 2000 point Chaos Warrior army for about £75 and still have some birthday money left for the Lord of Change. Sure, I pre-ordered the first Vampire Counts book, but I got as far as painting a buck-toothed Necrarch and a handful of Zombies before sixth edition rolled out and Mordheim happened and everything sort of… went sideways.

The point is I’d be retro-engineering here, taking my collection of models for sober, sensible, troop-focused sixth edition and seeing how well they transferred to the age of BanishmentBlack Gems of Gnar, and flying Chaos Lords with sixteen attacks and a sword that stops all your magic items working.

I do more or less remember how fifth edition works, and how the Vampire Counts work within it – it involves being able to reliably cast and recast very cheap support spells like Vanhel’s Danse Macabre or Summon Skeletons, keep your General alive and a character in almost every unit, and focus your efforts into juuust tipping the balance in combat since most things you beat and outnumber will be running for the hills.

The terms of engagement are pretty simple – 1500 points (to keep a tin lid on some of the worst excesses) with no named characters (because enough of us still have hangups about them twenty years down the line) but no other restrictions (because restrictions emerge organically out of a living ‘meta’ and we don’t want to start banning stuff before we see how the community evolves).

First out, I toyed with the idea of a Lahmian Vampire as my general (since her essential 5+ unmodified save and always-strikes-first capacity come from Bloodline Powers and not magic items which can be Deadlocked, Plaque of Dominioned or Sword of Destructioned away) and a Necromancer Lord (automatically able to recast spells and powerful enough to get them through reliably).

Thing is, I’ve always played Von Carsteins. The other thing is, I wanted to try some more authentically Middlehammer wackiness, like being able to stick large monsters in your army without necessarily strapping your single-point-of-failure Vampire General on them, or taking multiple Vampire Counts in any size game I liked.

1500 points is not quite enough to take my Zombie Dragon (I could do it, but I’d have no other characters or decent defences for the Count on its back, and if a stray cannonball took him off his ride it’d be game over in one shot) and I don’t own a Winged Nightmare any more, so back to the drawing board again.

Two Counts. That had some potential. They could cast the big Necromancy spells, the ones that are too expensive to really bother with recasting and great for drawing out Dispel Scrolls, and then a relatively budget but still reliable Necromancer Champion could spam out the two spells that actually matter.

As a bonus, these three characters could scale; 1000 point games could feature a cheap Count, Thrall and level 1 Necromancer, while at 2000 or more I could roll out the same models as a power trio of Vampire Lord, Vampire Count and level 3 or 4 mage. All this was going around my head when…

Pseud’s Corner

I’m not an imaginative soul when it comes to naming characters, but when my army’s steeped in Gothic horror traditions I don’t have to be.

During its sixth and seventh edition heyday, my legion of the living-impaired was commanded by Lord Ruthven and his Thralls, Carmilla and Varney. Later efforts of course featured Clarimonde and Romauld, as chronicled elsewhere on ‘ere.

My Necromancers have always been supporting cast, with different naming conventions; I’m not proud of the brief “völkisch occultism is f a s c i n a t i n g” phase that led to Jörg Lanz von Liebenfels, but Rosenkratz and Guildenstern (they died a lot, you see) were okay.

When the moment of serendipity came this time, it was an alignment between conversations: proxying Mannfred as an ordinary Count just to get the model on the table in one window, and translating Russian classics as mock Big Bang Theory scripts in the other. Click. If my Mannfred would be acting incognito it only made sense that he wouldn’t have an actual title, and my suitable footslogging Count is female…

The Master and Margarita

I named the Necromancer after my favourite fifteenth-century demonologist (what, you don’t have one?) and was in business. Here’s the list I came up with for testing games.

Characters: 720/750

The Master: Von Carstein Vampire Count: barded Nightmare; Unbending WillpowerStaff of Damnation: 251

Margarita: Von Carstein Vampire Countess: Pure Blood, Carstein Ring: 240

Walravius: Necromancer Champion: Destroy Magic Scroll, Cloak of Mists and Shadows: 229

Regiments: 727 > 375

5 Wight Cavalry: lances, heavy armour, shields, barding, flag, trumpet: 252

19 Zombies: flag, alleged musician: 105

19 Zombies: pointed stick, blunderbuss: 105

5 Dire Wolves, including 1 Doom Wolf: 65

4 Vampire Bats: 100

1 Banshee: 100

Monsters: 50 / 375

1 Bat Swarm

A weird mix of troops because I honestly don’t remember what’s good in fifth edition. I want more Wight Cavalry but crikey they’re expensive, and I slightly regret two units of Zombies but I wanted two solid line infantry units and my full kit Skeletons (who come in at 12 points per head) just don’t fit in a game of this size.

The list is built around either Count working as the general. There’s definitely a default setting (Margarita in command, being harder to reach, better protected and less inclined to take risks, which is honestly a nice little riff on the novel too) but it’d be interesting to try and wrong-foot people by making the Master an expendable general (if he’s dead, the Wights are probably dead too, and the Zombie units can recover from d6 casualties well enough). In either case all the chaff will implode but again, I don’t bet on Wolves or Bats outliving their commander.

Now all I have to do is fix the models.

[WFB] House of Kerithion

Trying a new tack with the Dark Elves – away from the Khainite bias and into something that forces me to adjust my style away from RUN FORWARD SHOUTING.

Lord: Supreme Sorceress: 350
– level 4 wizard
– Pendant of Khaeleth
– Dark Pegasus

Hero: Master: 113
– heavy armour, Sea Dragon cloak
– Crimson Death
– Army General

Hero: Master: 329
– lance, heavy armour, shield, Sea Dragon Cloak
– Manticore
– Ring of Hotek

Core: 39 Warriors: 293
– shields
– standard, musician, champion
– Banner of Murder

Core: 10 Crossbowmen: 105
– musician

Core: 10 Crossbowmen: 105
– musician

Core: 5 Dark Riders: 131
– repeater crossbows
– musician, champion

Core: Assassin: 171
– additional hand weapon
– Rending Stars, Cloak of Twilight, Manbane

Special: 7 Shades: 130
– Bloodshade

Rare: 2 Reaper Bolt Throwers: 200

TOTALS:
Overall: 1955
Lords: 350/500
Heroes: 442/500
Core: 805
Special: 130/1000
Rare: 200/500

Another of those ‘the best you can with what you’ve got’ jobs, I’m afraid. I’m acutely conscious that it doesn’t include any of the best stuff (a problem I’ve often had: the financial cost of Rare units and their position at the end of the army list combine to push them out of my awareness when list building), but I feel it should play a decent denial/attrition game, especially with the Lore of Shadows around to drop some hexes and reduce the resilience of key targets.

The Manticore Master and Assassin are both counter-attack units, who can also be recast as artillery/wizard hunters should the need arise. At a pinch, I can also slingshot the Master with Crimson Death out of his unit with Shadow Magic, if there’s something out there that absolutely has to die. Shades and Dark Riders put pressure on the enemy, either by being upfield and chucking out some respectably reliable firepower or just serving as delivery systems for the aforementioned characters. Crossbowmen and Spearmen move up and hold the midfield…

… I’m still not convinced there’s enough hitty in this list. Maybe I need to squash some Chariots in there somehow? What would you drop to fit them in, Internets?

[WFB] Addendum: Shiny Says:

Hi,

Reading Game Over.  Nice.  HOWEVER, I thought you might like to edit in the details of my army, for completeness.  If not, meh, ’tis your blog, you can say I brought an army of gayness and penguins if you like.

Chieftain – Weeping Blade, heavy armour, Enchanted Shield

Warlock Engineer 1 – Warlock-Augmented Weapon, Warpstone armour, Warp-energy Condenser.

Warlock Engineer 2 – Warlock-Augmented Weapon, Pipes of Piebald, Dispel Scroll.

30 Clanrats – spears, shields, full command, Warpfire Thrower.

30 Clanrats – shields, full command, Ratling Gun.

30 Clanrats – shields, full command, Ratling Gun.

Rat Swarm – 5 bases.

25 Plague Monks – full command, Banner of the Under-Empire.

Do I get the Face too? I did not know that…

There you have it, folks.

Incidentally, Shiny, yes, you do get the Face.  You know that thing you do about where you spend whole minutes complaining about everything that’s rubbish about your army and what the others have that’s better/invincible, and greet every die roll with “as usual” and an eyeroll?  That is the Face.

Also incidentally, we’ve been talking about how to improve the Skaven army in the act of expanding to 2000 points.  Maybe Shiny would like to write up his take on that conversation?