[WFB] Warhammer: Resurrection I, Day 2: The Campaign (2/2)

“Seems to be going well so far,” said Rarbuik, from his side of the wagon.

“We’re a good four days from Kazad Urkbavak,” said Dougnec, from his, “and another half day to Karaz-a-Karak. Uphill, too, and probably in the snow.”

“It’s the middle of bloody summer,” said Rarbuik. “We’re going through the pass, not up the bloody mountain.”

“Stop your bloody swearin’,” said Fargon. He was the older member of the crew, and he’d not taken his sunhat off since they set out. “And watch the road.”

“Barely a road anyway,” said Rarbuik. He wasn’t entirely wrong. They were, more or less, following the course of the Skull River; though the shipments usually went by boat, the whole conceit of the operation depended on every wagon being a wagon, and easy to mix up, even if you were some halfwit goblin with mushrooms where his brain should be. Of course, the shipments usually went by boat because you had the Badlands on one side of the river, big nasty orcs down that way, and you had the Forest of Gloom on the other, and no bugger wanted to go in there if they could possibly avoid it. Even if it was a bit thin and scrubby this far south, it was still trees, wasn’t it?

“I told you to stop your bloody swearin’,” said Fargon, and Rarbuik realised he’d been thinking aloud for the last two hundred yards. Then he stopped, quite abruptly, because there was something on the road ahead of them, just peeping over the horizon.

It was a tall, black, pointy sort of something. On a stick. It looked a bit like a giant X-rune, with horns on and bits on the side. And it was bobbing up and down in a very threatening way, like… someone was carrying it. Upright. While they were marching.

Rarbuik thought he’d better mention it.

“Anyone else see that?” he asked.

“Anyone else see them?”

Dougnec was already scrambling onto the wagon. With his free hand, he pointed due west: sure enough, there was another banner pole (for such it was), borne in the armoured hand of a rider in black, who’d brought four of his friends along for a jolly gallop in the country by Rarbuik’s estimation. Rarbuik had a quick shufty off to the north, just to check, and it looked as if there was some kerfuffle going on up there too: lots of braying and bellowing that didn’t sit easily on his ears, and then there were the animal noises answering the Norscan voices, too.

“Get on the back of the cart, lad,” said Fargon. “We’re goin’ through.”

Rarbuik didn’t quite get on the cart. He would have, but something had settled on his hand, and was settling on the cart too, where it didn’t disappear quite so fast in the heat. It was snowing. It was bloody well snowing at midsummer, as if to prove Dougnec right.

And then, from the raggedy edge of the Forest of Gloom, the screaming started.

Act Two: “You call that soup? This is what I call soup…”

Back in the relatively chill side room for my last game of the weekend, against Brendan Sparrow and his jumbo tureen of Chaos Undecided. This was exactly the kind of game I enjoy. Brendan’s a lovely chap, quiet and contemplative and working things out aloud as he goes along so you can take the game as a conversation and smooth things along toward a nice refreshing conclusion. Also, his army was savage when I stopped and thought about it.

Chaos Lord, with the Mark of Chaos Undivided; Aspiring Champion with the Battle Standard and the Mark of Khorne; two Wargors, one with the Mark of Slaanesh and a Scroll, one with the Lore of Shadows and a Spell Familiar. Then a unit of Chaos Warriors (Mark of Khorne), a unit of Chosen Knights (Mark of Slaanesh), a Chariot (Chaos Undivided, nothing fancy) and screening Warhounds; a Beastherd, some Furies, three Minotaurs (Mark of Nurgle) and a big block of Dogs of War Norscans with flails.

When you break that down, that’s two blocks of Frenzied infantry, six casting and six dispel dice, a unit of 1+ save cavalry that cares not for psychology so you will have to kill all of them, some flying daemons and skirmishing bait and blockers with a 4+ save, and probably the two best spell lores Chaos can get. It’s an all round list with a lot of tech to it and, in a Breakthrough scenario, it has a lot of threats that can potentially add up to a win.

Despite this, I came out swinging. I was determined to even the odds by the end of the day. Whatever else happened, this one was going to go the distance. It did, and by all the gods of the bloody great wheel it was a cracker.

I don’t know if I want to write it up as a story or a conventional report, because so much happened. I’ll try and do both, and hope it all makes sense somehow.

Ahead of the Black-Briar, the spirits of the Deadwood made their stand; time was needed for the arrows of pact-pledged to reap their toll, and time they would have. Uchelwydd strode to the fore, the dry soil cracking under his every tread. The Brotherhood of the Pact turned to hold the flank against hoof and iron. And from the trees the Maven shrieked her war-song, hate and fury and wounded pride dragging the dying trees in her wake.

Although Strangleroots didn’t do them any damage, the Minotaurs advanced into short range of all the Black-Briar and rapidly learned why that wasn’t the best idea. Even the Mark of Nurgle can only soak so many hits.

Blood. Iron. Pain. Hunt. Kill.

There was more to Hywel’s thoughts, but the struggle was always there. The forest had taken him and sent him back; touched him and changed him. Always its simple will pressed back his own, inexorable as the seasons.

This was why he did not lead. This was why he dared not lead. The Maven was cruel, but she was sane. Saner than him. She had tricked him and he had no right to rule, not now. What folly would he lead them to next? What choice had he had?

No. These thoughts were poison. The forest had a simpler way. Pain? Hunt. Kill.

This was why he stood, now, with half an army before him; his bow took shape from his wooden flesh, and he nocked a single arrow from the empty air.

Two knights fell. It had begun.

I ummed and ahhed about this, but there was nobody I trusted to clean up this flank more than Hywel. The Hail of Doom might have been better used against a lighter unit, but I figured forcing through as many S4 hits on the Knights from the earliest possible moment was my best chance at bringing them down. Two kills from fifteen hits, against that armour save? I’ll take it.

Steady, steady, steady…

The beasts would come. The beasts would throw themselves upon her lines in disarray. The beasts would bring themselves to her…

Yet hatred stirred in the Maven’s heart, and she knew she must kill. Had she vowed vengeance and the breaking of bones to do nothing? Had she been trampled to sawdust to stand idle now?

I really shouldn’t have done this; I should have made the bait go around or keep the Norscans blocked. I think in my heart I’d chosen to roleplay the Maven as if she now hated Beastmen, after all the kickings she’d had from them lately; I also admit to wanting to win a round of combat, so badly. Charging the obvious bait might have been a good idea, chasing them down was absolutely not, but I had hatred in my heart even if it wasn’t on my character sheet.

Next would be the winged ones, the false-kin of the skies. They swept down on wings of spite and coward’s courage and fool’s hope – real enough to fly, real enough to fight, but Hywel could see them for what they were. But when your sword is the winter’s cold fury, the hard ground and the hoar frost, made every bit as real as these poison thoughts in flesh, they die soon enough, either way.

Mister Magic Weapon is introduced to the Furies. It goes as well as can be expected. I really wanted to give him the Sword of a Thousand Winters but I don’t want to load any more gimmicks into this army; it’s already struggling without the burden of nonsense.

This one led them! This one defiled! This one tore his skin from the bones of the earth! This one would pay!

But as the Maven’s scythe spun and danced in her hands, as his blows were caught by haft and crook, her sisters were dying again. Heavy iron met faerie flesh. Every blow that landed was execution.

I mean, what actually did for the Dryads was, as ever, static combat resolution. They really need a friend who isn’t a skirmisher like them, but I cannot get these units that all move five inches a turn to line up and fight nicely together for some reason. There’s a Minotaur in their flank, who killed two Dryads and wasn’t helping matters any, but at least they managed to kill him in return.

The little sister was dying again.

Uchelwydd sighed heavy, planted roots deep. Sometimes he regretted answering the call; why had he not slept the winter away like all his brothers? Eternity in a curse-bound slumber was starting to sound like a relief.

There were men, in steel skins. They had axes. Uchelwydd roared his rage, and still they came on; yet as they came the roots burst the ground beneath them, and one-two-three-four, four fewer axes to bite.

After a lacklustre show so far, Uchelwydd’s Strangleroots does ten hits to these oncoming Chaos Warriors. That would be a panickin’, in a less sensibly constructed list. They did their best to sink some wounds onto him, but I don’t think they even brought him halfway down. If I could back that big log up properly he’d be a superstar: as it is, he’s my best unit right up until he breaks, at which point the game has usually given way around him. I think I might want two of these.

Hold the line.
Save the wood.
Serve the Maven.

They had all made the Pact. They had all sworn the vow. They were brothers in endless service; ghost-flesh, dead-wood.

There was something coming. It struck the line. A spike of steel cut deep.

The Brotherhood of the Dead Wood closed ranks.

There wasn’t something coming any more.

Brendan was spectacularly unlucky with his Chariot charge; the impact hits didn’t really wound much, the crew missed, and the horses were struggling to make a dent on T5 Tree-Kin. They whomped it to matchwood, as you do, but were functionally out of the game at this point with nothing left to charge or hold the flank against.

Arrows had flown and the forest had sung. Many a beast had died, many a throat had been pierced. The Maven was trampled in dust, but she would rise as she always rose; curse as she’d always cursed; endure, as the bitch always did.

Bloddeuwydd didn’t know where that thought had come from. How had that malice, that murder-lust slipped into her mind? The Maven was not to be trusted – the Maven had done something, long ago – but what was done was done, and the Maven was their only hope, then as she was now, as it ever was.

Gilfaethwy stood beside her, arrow after arrow springing to his hand, nocked to his bow. He struck from the shadows, again and again – until the shadows struck back. In a whisper and a flicker and a flurry he was gone – just like that. Only darkness remained. Only darkness, and the Black-Briar trembled and knew fear in the dark, and they were gone.

I’ve been quiet about it so far, but after the initial “two dice three spells never works out” conversation, Brendan was dominating with his magic. Luxurious Torment is such a subtly nasty spell; it takes control of a unit away, it inflicts damage right through the game, it has to be dispelled up front or you’re stuck with it because it doesn’t Remain in Play, and… arse biscuits, I’ve just realised it also renders the unit immune to panic, so these Glade Guard should be standing proud and trying not to froth at the mouth too much. I know they’re immune to panic when they have frenzy, I just forgot about the frenzy in amongst the d6 hits every round. Still, man. Slaanesh/Shadow. The perfect combination.

There was little left. Still the arrows flew, from the quivers of the Black-Briar. Still steel shuddered, still men fell, but not enough, not enough. Still came on the men of the North, and still the shadows and whispers were all around. Blodeuwydd felt it welling up in her cold ensorcelled heart; the heat, the burning heat. She trembled where she stood, on the edge of this forest in a foreign land; her lips parted and she moaned, helpless, pinioned by the gaze of the One Who Thirsts.

There was only one thing to do, and she did it. She shut her eyes, flung back her arms, and hurled herself forward into the embrace.

She was dead before she fell from the Lord of Chaos’ outstretched sword.

Kharnak the Usurper didn’t even break his stride.

With the demise of Blodeuwydd, forced to charge the Chaos Lord by yet another casting of Luxurious Torment, things were looking very bleak. I did everything in my power; Standing, Shooting, praying for numbers, but I couldn’t quite kill the last of the Chaos Warriors or even one of the Knights. Unseen Lurker catapulted the Brayherd into the lines as well, and altogether that was just enough points to get Brendan the win. Barely.

He reckons if I’d had Hywel charge into his Chaos Hounds and overrun into the Knights I’d have got it, and it’s hard to disagree (although I think I threw the game a bit with that Dryad charge, too). I think there was a reason why I didn’t: maybe the overrun angle was bad. Nevertheless I had the movement to reach the Knights and should have encircled them rather than pulling my most powerful aggressive fighter back to the centre where there wasn’t much left to do.

Other than that, a delightfully tense game, never a grim word said or grumpy face seen. This sort of thing is what we pay the ticket money for.

Defeat for the Wood Elves once again, but we sold our lives dearly, almost to the last elf. Oh, and I lost my general again, so…

Death for the Maven! Death for the Maven for One Thousand Years! I’m fine with it; she’s had enough lucky escapes from being locked in challenges while her sisters get butchered around her, and her luck can’t realistically hold out forever. Killing her allows me to move the army’s story forward in exactly the way that this event was designed to do (and justifies a bit of redrawing in the list department as well).

It goes wthout saying that I enjoyed this side of the event immensely: this is the sort of Warhammer I want to get out of bed for, and the tournament day before was really a warm-up for me. I’d have liked to do better, but it’s a new army and one with a lot of unusual quirks compared to what I’ve spent the last eighteen years playing. When I came home Rob asked me if I’d had a good time, and I was all ambivalent and “event was good, opponents were nice, not sure I enjoyed the army.” As I wrote this game up the love came back. That’s not to say I won’t be making some changes, but that’s a matter for the next post. In the meantime, here’s the wrap up in character…

The three dwarfs watched as a tide of shrieking, yammering things poured out of the forest; in their wake, lines of ashen-faced elves in cowls, long bows of new wood in their hands.

For half a moment, Rarbuik thought they’d get away with it. The great lumbering mass of a Treeman planted himself right between the dark horde and the road; the horde of Dryads rushed forward, howling blue murder at the beastmen as they rushed in. On the road ahead, something tall and lean with sweeping horns and a mane of cloudy hair bounded toward the Knights of Chaos; was that a bastard long sword or a recurved bow in his hands, and did it really matter? Rarbuik and the lads weren’t sure it did.

Yet the wave broke, on the rock of Chaos. The Dryads disappeared beneath iron-headed flails and iron-capped boots. The Treeman wavered as they fell, and in his moment of weakness the dark warriors surged around him as he toppled. Still the elven archers stood their ground, but too late, too late.

Rarbuik saw the elf with the horns once more, before the end. He stood atop a little rocky outcrop, surveying the scene; he threw back his head and he howled with an anguish none of the dwarfs had heard come from any living throat.

It was Dougnec who’d seen why, though he wouldn’t live to put two and two together and say so. Dougnec was facing backwards, and he’d seen the elf maiden in her cloak of briars throw herself onto the Chaos champion’s sword with the sort of outcry a dwarf normally saved for a plate of curry and a cold pint.

The archers melted back, into the woods, a ragged handful giving ground before the last warriors of Chaos. The elf with the horns shook his head, leapt from his crag, and followed.

“Bloody perfidious elves,” said Raurbik, and then “sorry, Fargon.”

“Fuck it,” said Fargon. “Don’t think it really matters, now.”

They were coming closer. The old dwarf stood up in the driver’s seat. For the first time since they’d left Karak Dron, he tugged off his hat and threw it down in the dust. With his free hand he coaxed his line of thick, tufty orange hair back upright, or as close to upright as he could manage. And finally, Rarbuik understood what they were doing up here, and why Fargon hadn’t been in any hurry to reach Karaz-a-Karak at all.

“You lads had best be off,” he said. “No sense us all getting done in.”

“What, and shave my head myself for my trouble?” said Dougnec.

“Like you said,” said Raurbik. “Fuck it. Right?”

“Good lads,” said Fargon, and took the reins tight in his hands. “They’ll never take us alive. Ya mule!”

Prince Hywel never saw the explosion, but he heard it all right. He heard it from half a mile away, and gave a grim nod. Whatever else happened, the Forest of Gloom had been protected. No minion of the Usurper had made it past the old dwarf road, of that he was damn sure. And for the first time in a thousand years and change, he was thinking clearly. What had this wretched Pact ever done for them? His own mind, a prison; his son, his daughter; both dead. And if he ever set eyes on that treacherous spite of a Maven again, she’d regret not staying dead this time

[WFB] Warhammer: Resurrection I, Day 2: The Campaign (1/2)

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.

Deadwood marched.

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.

Ah yes, Armour of Damnation again. Because killing you was EVER going to happen.

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…

[WFB] The Platonic Ideal

I have, in the past, had some things to say about pick-up gaming, tournament practice, Pitched Battle and the unsatisfactory takeaway of the soul that this kind of setup tends to result in. Of course, it’s very easy to thump one’s tub on the dot-coms and tell people they’re doing Warhammer wrong, which is why I’ve decided to “share best practice” like what my teacher training taught me to do.

What follows is an attempt to lead by example: a wargaming day myself and Mr. Ben staged in the summer of 2019 before the borders were closed and Trafnidiaeth Cymru nerfed into the ground. As hosting player, I had a look through the available resources and picked some scenarios appropriate to the participants, the terrain, and the timeframe we had available.

The forces in these little engagements are my Tomb Kings, in their embryonic “first attempt at a paint job” state, and Ben’s Skaven, in their “what do you mean you’re doing another new army” launch condition. The terrain selection is the Age of Sigmar stuff I acquired in a good-faith attempt to give Soul Wars a go during my year off blogging. The timeframe was a long afternoon, kicking off about noon and ending about six with late lunch at the local hostelry. (We’d reserved the evening for a round of Drunkhammer featuring our “main” armies, and that may see the light of day at some point too.)

I – The Border Patrol

(Rules for which can be found in Warhammer Chronicles 2004, if you’re interested. A Border Patrol usually takes sixty minutes or less to play, if you’re on form and keep your bustle hustled.)

This little encounter represented a Skaven incursion into the outer reaches of the necropolis of Rasetra. The scenery was set up to suggest the outer edge of a poorly fortified settlement; we had a house rule that attacking Skaven units could charge the fences and spend a combat phase knocking them down, as they weren’t terribly robust. The forces were deployed in opposite corners because that made most sense with the orientation of the buildings (and corner deployment always makes a nice change).

Ben lost this one. This is mostly because the Screaming Skull Catapult is very, very good at panicking Skaven units and the compulsory Liche Priest did nothing but ensure it could shoot twice every turn. Some Clanrats did make it some way into the Necropolis and regained a little glory by beating up my Skeleton Archers, but it wasn’t to last. All of this meant I would be setting up second and going first in the final game, as the Tomb Kings seized the initiative above ground.

II – The Skirmish

For our second game we played the Lost Tomb of Hamon Ra scenario from Warhammer Skirmish (the book of scenarios which expands on the Skirmish rules in the core manual; I believe most of it’s available in other forms online).

Some jimmying of the forces to suit available models was required – I had an Ushabti instead of the two Tomb Swarm bases – and we house ruled a little regarding the “crumble” moment, allowing my Tomb Prince a small radius of Leadership to keep some of his associates on their feet after my Liche Priest was destroyed.

Victory for the Skaven would deny the Tomb Kings 10% of their forces in the final battle (and if we’d been playing 2000 points as we originally hoped to, would also deny me the Crown of Kings).

The scenery here is set up to denote the outer walls of the Tomb and provide some internal decoration. There’s not a great deal of cover, although we were generous regarding figures stood immediately behind a sarcophagus or gravestone.

We were at this one for something like two hours as models fluffed hit rolls, wound rolls, injury rolls, and the endless loop of “can’t disengage from melee, can’t roll fives or sixes” set in. In retrospect I now know that Mordheim has a workaround for this (knocked down or stunned models are automatically taken out if wounded) and if Skirmish doesn’t have that I advise bringing it in. The other option is playing Warbands instead: Warbands has the traditional “fail save, lose last wound, you’re dead” resolution and tends to result in faster, more decisive games.

On the flipside, Skirmish also generates moments of real excitement, as even the disposable single-wound trooper can roll over, dust themself down and stage a comeback.

In our game the Skaven Assassin gave his all to destroy the Liche Priest, only to be cut down by a Tomb Prince moments later, and it was a mere Clanrat who retrieved the prize and dodged past an enraged Ushabti to make his final break for the surface, a lone survivor carrying the treasure of the Tomb.

(Ben won, that’s what I’m trying to say here.)

III – The Battle

With the Crown in the hands of the Skaven, we opted for a Breakthrough scenario, in which the Rodents of Unusual Size attempted to make their escape with their ill-gotten gains. I only had 1500 points of Tomb Kings so 1500 points is what we played, or rather 1500 vs 1350 as I’d lost the second game. I think I left out two Ushabti and my Icon Bearer’s magic flag. The terrain was essentially a flip of the first encounter; this time the Skaven would have the open space and the Tomb Kings holding the line on the fenced side of the battlefield.

I don’t really remember much about this game other than struggling to get anything done magically (turns out one Liche Priest isn’t enough at 1500 points, especially against two Warlock Engineers) and my Catapult not putting in the same sterling performance (only one shot per turn and an early misfire). It only went to about four turns – once my Ushabti had folded I didn’t have the speed to close off every avenue of assault and most of Ben’s army had free reign to move off the board.

What I do remember is the context of it. Because we’d set it up with the distraction raid and the temple pillaging, there were mechanical twists to an otherwise routine engagement, rewards for having done well in the early stages. Continuity was furthered by the terrain we used for the first and third battles.

Beyond that, because Ben won (again), my Tomb Kings now have something to do with themselves in future encounters, to whit going out to recover the Crown or maybe fighting their way home after having done so. All my future games with Ben, and maybe the entire backstory of my new army, can be shaped by the outcome of this only-slightly-curated day of play.

All of this was done with by-the-book armies, published scenarios, and terrain I already owned. I don’t think I’d even named my characters at the time! No extraordinary or even especial effort on our part was called for – we were just curious and selective about the wealth of additional material on offer in sixth edition WFB.

We could have simply played a Breakthrough scenario at 1500 points, and when we might have three people wanting a game each on neutral ground with strict departure times hanging over our head, that’s the sort of thing we settle for. But if you have the opportunity to do even a little prelude or aftermath for a game, to make a day of it and weave a little context and set the scenario up as something more than yet another points matched game of Borehammer, I heartily recommend you do so.

[WFB] The Narrative Approach (Paul Gayner, WD290)

Here’s another of those articles that inspired my Vampire Counts – one of those things that came out at precisely the right moment to kick me into collecting, building, painting and playing with the one army that I’ve ever been able to stick with.

For those who aren’t up to squinting at tiny text (reproduced as best I can from a PDF copy of WD 290), Paul’s article basically walks you through a few baseline notions in building a themed army. To synopsisise, you have:

1: an Idea,

derived this from literally anywhere you can plunder an idea from; you’re not looking to lift complete and complex notions so don’t be afraid to nick little bits from everywhere. (I never have been.) The alternative army lists in the back of the Armies books are there but, as Mr. Gayner explains and I reiterate, you don’t need them. You don’t need to deviate from the “proper” army list at all, or sit there wringing your hands because the specific troops you like are in the Blood Dragon list but you want to do Von Carsteins. You’re looking for the reason your Von Carsteins are like they are.

I was directly building into the Storm of Chaos variant list for the Army of Sylvania, which had a core of well-equipped Skeletons and Zombies surrounded by a swarm of bats, wolves and so on and so forth. No Ghouls, and only a limited supply of Knights, which is why I only had one unit for years and years.

2. an Army List,

built around those units that establish and maintain a theme and without which your commander would not be under any circumstances whatsoever. Thinking about your army in different tactical situations (i.e. different kinds of battle) is recommended – if they’re caught on the march, if they’re raided at home, if they’re much reduced in circumstances, which units never leave? Mine are my Black Knights and Skeletons, plus at least one Vampire.

3. some Models,

which are tailored to fit the particular aesthetic that goes along with your Idea.

This is why most of my models, barring the monsters, are kitbashed from Empire stuff – and even my Winged Nightmare, back in the day, was a gnarled-up Empire Griffon rather than the skinless horrors of the core Vampire Counts range. I really wanted to emphasise Sylvania as part of the Empire, a dark mirror held up to the neighbouring provinces, with uniformed Skeleton militiamen and a ragged Zombie levy and later, ghosts swarming out of the haunted Fort Oberstyre (because plastic Flagellants put the “make a Spirit Hose out of Flagellants” option within my price range at last).

4. some Characters,

of a sort who might logically lead the kind of army you’ve created. This is the bit where I go a bit off base, as my characters have been renamed and repurposed over the years and I’ve never quite settled down and defined which of them is which. I have a lot of names, derived from nineteenth-century vampire novels because I’m a pretentious arse literature graduate, but who exactly IS Lord Ruthven and which of these vampire models is him? It’s never been entirely clear.

5. some Other Stuff.

The original article recommends:

  • a baggage train (I never did this, because General’s Compendium style scenarios with extra modelling work that I wouldn’t be using week in week out were a bit too much fiddle and fart for me)
  • writing flash fiction or background to set your army’s personality (I’ve done an Amount of this but it’s all been for non-started attempts at reviving the army for eighth edition)
  • bespoke scenery (I did this once, but my old battle board was given to a gaming club when I moved to a tiny box room in London and had to reduce my hobby down to “fits in a backpack” kind of scale)

Now. This sort of thing is well and good but I don’t quite think it goes far enough. Like a great deal of the ink that’s been spilled over the hobby over the years (bad sentence, but shush, I’m not at work), it focuses too much on the army list. That’s not a reproach to Paul Gayner, who delivered an excellent article on collecting themed armies – more a commentary on how army lists are a quiet and personal process that takes place before games and are easier to discuss in isolation from the heat of the moment. Giving your characters names and converting half your models and putting thought into the colour schemes is only the start. The next step is making it have some kind of impact on the games you’re playing.

After all, this is what it’s all about…

See, I’m not a great believer in backstory, beyond the sort of sketch level that gives characters a name and a motivation and a rough personality. People tend to go too far with backstory, presenting something as tightly plotted as a novel, with no room for other players to stake a claim and have a say and help resolve and develop things.

I like collaborative, emergent narratives; stories that are generated out of actual play and that develop as a result of the experiences players have together. This is a bit tricky if you’re playing week in week out pick-up games and you’re fighting Skaven one week and Empire the next and Lizardmen the week after that only the Empire player’s borrowing some Daemons instead. Kind of hard to sort out a coherent narrative out of all that.

Back in the day, I managed it by keeping records of games and then much later sorting them into rough chronologies. My early games during the Storm of Chaos campaign were a given, and my handful of games against the Reikland Intervention Force were obviously roughly contemporary with Sigmar’s Blood, but my few seventh edition games took place around the time Mannfred von Carstein was first coming to power and the lesser Von Carsteins were fighting back, while the Mordheim campaign I played in 2008 shortly before selling the army was actually the prologue… basically, the army’s fictitious history was nowhere near aligned with its actual one. And games against anything really odd, like – let’s say a Southlands Lizardmen army, or even High Elves – would never make the cut at all because it’d be an odd game out which didn’t fit with anything already on the slate. That was a damned, damned shame.

Nowadays, of course, I tend to play chains of games against the same people with more or less the same armies (or at least the same figures, though they might walk back and forth between editions a little). This means… in theory… that we can actually string together short campaigns, narrative chains of games which let some stories emerge and build up. The People’s Panting and I have this WIP idea about playing through an Albion campaign together, and that’d be a test run for the sort of thing I’m on about.

I don’t want to go mad with it – there are some lovely campaign rules for sixth edition WFB but they absolutely depend on having regular, frequent games, week in week out, to keep momentum. It’s the same problem we have with RPGs: committing to regular weekly sessions around kids and shifts and our respective agonies just doesn’t work. With an added layer of “this is a dead game” and “we all live just far enough apart that it’s a big deal to get together and play.” So I’m looking to do what I did with RPGs: shift from the “weekly episode in an endless picaresque” to the “occasional feature length special” mode of storytelling.

Remember that platonic ideal of Warhammer I was on about, where games are heavily curated and teased up to with some skirmishes and given a bit of context? That’s part of it. Why are these two (or three) armies fighting? What happened in the run up? Does this need to be another Pitched Battle or can we plan ahead and do an Ambush or something?

Wanking away telling stories for myself is fine but I’d love to tell some with other people and really let them build up. So far we’ve been playing tester games, taster games and tournament games – not things that hang together super well – but the opportunity is now knocking to do my favourite thing.

Who ARE you fanged dorks, for goodness’ sake?

To this end, I’m actually thinking I might have to put some definite names to some definite faces, lining up my Vampires of all shapes and sizes and once and for all saying who the hell is whom. Whether Lord Ruthven sticks around or finds himself confined to the Black Coach remains to be seen. There are still plenty of Lord Ruthven’s R-Words left to name lists and reports after, after all, and it seems fitting to stick with the first and greatest of English literary vampires as my officer in charge. Even if his actual Bloodline status becomes a bit… fluid… thanks to a possible new model I have in mind (and me wanting to bugger about with different rules).

Obviously I’ll keep Clarimonde on hand as a backup Countess (a general for when I don’t fancy taking a Lord/second Lord for small games) and the malicious Sir Francis Varney as fighting Thrall and general for small forces. Goodness knows what I’m going to do with the new Battle Standard Bearer. Is he Romauld, or is that my shiny new Necromancer of variant levels? Or shall I take advantage of that loose standard, stick it in a hole on the back of a base, and have it there for anyone who wants it to lug around?

And I have to admit that I liked “The Master and Margharita” as a title/concept for my fifth edition list, hinging as it did around a Vampire Countess and a Master Necromancer. That’s another little vampire literature homage I’d like to keep going. It may be that I end up using the literary references as titles for list archetypes. I used to do the same thing with Cradle of Filth songs, which just shows how far we’ve come since 2004… in some respects, at least.