[WFB] Dark Omens: Prologue

Darkness, save the distant starlight. Silence, save the susurrus of the dunes. Such is night in the Land of the Dead; empty of life, empty of light. Yet not, it must be recalled, empty of intent. If something should disturb the moonless emptiness – something that arcs across the heavens, bleaching the sands white in a false dawn, something that one imagines shrieking, even across the void that devours all sound – there are no eyes that will turn to the heavens.

No eyes, but sockets in plenty.

So it was that the passing of a twin-tailed comet was noted by the diviners of the High Queen of Lybaras. So it was that the scrolls were consulted – the more recent scrolls, those telling of the Reign of Millions of Years, and not the true history of Nehekhera-that-was-in-the-long-ago. So it was that a portent was recognised, considered, and understood. The last time this happened, the nemesis of the usurper and defiler was born far to the north; the fate of Nagash to perish in battle was sealed, and long centuries of prosperity ushered in. An auspicious time, for the High Queen of Lybaras to hunt.

And so it was that the armies of Lybaras are mustered, the client kings called to arms, and one among them bends a knee to the High Queen and craves indulgence…


Khonekt, who was King in Lybaras in the Second Dynasty when Rakhaf was King in Khemri, who woke most lately in the year before the Pestilence of Nineteen Crows, was troubled. He had often been troubled, since the ignobility of his latest awakening: since his crown had been snatched from his tomb on the watch of his foppish and ignorant son. It was not to be borne, it really wasn’t, and no amount of humiliating the boy would make up for that, and what an excuse for an excuse – “it was skaven, father, and we killed all but one of them!”

It only took one, that’s what King Khonekt had told Prince Thotmanho at the time. One to run back to an army of his little friends with the crown and that’s that, it would never be seen again. No, it wasn’t to borne at all, and Khonekt had had enough of bearing it. In the absence of his crown and ceremonial robes, he ordered his armour brought to him, and his second best chariot, and he set out for the Temple that was seat of the High Queen.

Court, it seemed, was in session. The death-rattle of their voices – those kings who had come before and after him – fell silent at his entrance. Someone sniggered, and Khonekt wished something quite unpleasant on them, like a scorpion taking up residence in their disused stomach. He had no crown to doff in the presence, to hand to an attendant, but in the absence of such crucial marks of etiquette he took off his helmet instead and tucked it under his arm.

“My Queen,” he began, addressing the gilded seat below the altar of the asp goddess, and its occupant in her alabaster mask. “I crave a boon of you. I would ask your benevolent indulgence in taking the greater part of my strength away to the Death Pass and the lands beyond, and recovering that which – “

“Granted,” said the High Queen Khalida, in a manner high and clear and – somewhat detached from what he was actually saying, Khonekt thought, in the treasonous privacy of his own skull. “For you see, King Khonekt the Fourth, who is called the Crownless and the Risible, we had a mind to send you northwards in the first place. There are portents.”

“Malign ones?”

“Seldom any other,” muttered King Roshambo the Second, from the front row, earning a scornful tilt of the High Queen’s mask in his direction.

“Portents of great prosperity,” she went on, “which our augurs inform us bode well for the great hunt.”

A priest shuffled from the ranks amassed below her throne, and croaked out: “The Light of Death shall stir the dust of aeons, and much that was lost will be found; in the long dark lies truth, and in truth lies beauty and in beauty goodness and the divinity of vengeance.”

Another priest joined the first, and explained: “After your reign had passed, Khonekt, a great shrine was built in the walls of the Valley of Death far to the north, for the armies of Lahkashaz the Second, and in that shrine was sealed the lore of the Fourth Dynasty by the priests and scholars of the armies that did pass that way, and then that shrine was lost when Lahkashaz was slain by Setep and Lahmia thrown down and the Fifth Dynasty ascended to rule. Many of the secrets of Lahmia the cursed city may be found within.”

“You shall go to Death Pass,” the High Queen informed him, “as our champion. You shall seek out that which is lost. You shall bring us back the true and accurate history of the Fourth Dynasty that fell into blood and ashes. You shall have our blessing, and you shall wield the Destroyer of Eternities in our name, and if you happen to find that which you seek also, so much the better.”

It sounded like a lot of beetle’s breakfast, to be honest, but King Khonekt was not one to look a gift horse in the mouth at the best of times, and these were not the best of times. Any excuse would do.


And so it came to pass that in the third year of the Pestilence of Nineteen Crows, the desert was no longer empty, nor silent, nor entirely dark. The sands were stirred by four score marching feet and change; the light of distant stars glimmered off bronze and gold, khopesh and torc.

At the forefront of the army rode Prince Thotmanho in the second best chariot of the household – a place of honour, and also the place at which most trouble was likely to start and from which he was least likely to return. In their wake strode ushabti and the mighty bulk of a warsphinx, with the frame of a catapult lashed to its back. Overhead the great carrion birds circled and swooped, on a wind that blew out of Lybaras to the north, across the Gulf and the Plain and the Mountains that lay beyond.

And among the soldiery strode King Khonekt the Fourth, the Crownless and Wandering King, the Herald of the High Queen, who bore the Destroyer of Eternities within his hands, and whose sockets were fixed on the north.

He would not be alone. The kings of Quatar and Numas and perhaps even Khemri would surely send forth their armies by the western route, skirting the Marshes of Mourkain. With good luck and a following wind, he’d reach the eastern end of Death Pass while they were still harried by the greenskin tribes, and the ancient lore of the Fourth Dynasty would come back to Lybaras, and he’d have first crack at the skaven nests to boot. With better luck, his crown would still be there, and not swept further north still.

Even to his empty-eyed gaze, the World’s Edge seemed ablaze. The journals of Amenemhetum told of a strange light that sometimes shone across the northern seas, pale and ghostly and transcendent in its loveliness. King Khonekt had never seen it, but he fancied it looked much like the cascade that grew bigger and brighter every night as the army marched closer to Death Pass.

[WFB] From Dust Taken, To Dust Returned?

My Tomb Kings are a cursed project. I love the army in theory; in practice I have been trying to make a Tomb Kings army happen for four years and currently have three games played on one day in 2019, zero painted figures, two “botch and restart with new range” hobby wobbles and a bunch of brittle resin figures that my clumsy arthritic fingers struggle to keep in one piece at the hobby table, never mind bagging them up and taking them away to play with.

The final breaking point was realising that the bases supplied with the figures have the slots cut out but the figures don’t have tabs so I’m going to need to either fill 80 slots or buy 80 wooden bases, and the wooden bases I have look like they’ve got mildew somehow, and I’m just sick of all the faff this army has turned out to be and how the only way I’m likely to get it finished is throw yet more money at it.

I think I’ve spent over £500 on Tomb Kings so far, including supplies bought just for these (like five assorted cans of spray paint, which I otherwise never use). I got £50 for the Mantic stuff, a fraction of what I spent but I did ruin the figures so I was lucky to get much of anything. This is a sink for time and money. I’m now at the point where I’m talking about commission painting and that makes me seriously wallet shy, and also feel like a copout because I’ve always painted my own figures before and stuff I didn’t paint never feels like mine.

Here’s what I have, all from the TTCombat range:

  • KS exclusive Tomb King (conversion job done)
  • Tomb King on foot
  • Tomb Queen
  • KS exclusive Liche in Chariot
  • Liche on foot
  • Casket of Souls proxy
  • 2 x 20 Swordsmen
  • 2 x 20 Archers
  • 5 x Swarm bases
  • 3 x Chariots
  • 5 x Carrion
  • 2 x Scorpions
  • 6 x Ushabti
  • Bow Giant
  • Catapult

I think I spent about £300 on these. I’d want £200 in my pocket after shipping and fees, just so I can sleep at night. I’d throw in a copy of the sixth edition army book for good measure.

Failing that, I’m looking for a price for commission painting. I will gladly supply cans of Zandri Dust, Skull White and Chaos Black spray for priming – they’re of no use to me as my new house doesn’t have a good space for using aerosols. I will also gladly supply the Liquitex inks I own from before Contrast was a thing, but was thinking of using in a similar way. If I can supply conventional paints from my collection I’d be happy to as my hobby life is coming to an end and I don’t see myself using up everything I own.

I’ve never actually used a commission service before and have no idea what reasonable prices and standards look like. As I said earlier, the mere thought of paying someone else to paint my models – especially models from a project which has already cost more than it should – is making me very skittish on top of the usual uncertainty from not knowing what’s what. I feel like anything less than £200 is taking the piss but anything more than £100 is giving me the fear.

[WFB] Fragments, inter alia

Lords

The Master – Master Necromancer – magic level 4, Talisman of Endurance, Feedback Scroll

Heroes

Margarita di Maddaloni – Vampire – shield, Biting Blade, Nightshroud, Aura of Dark Majesty, Dark Acolyte

Cora – Banshee

Clarice – Banshee

Core

Company of the Black Eagle – 39 Skeletons – champion, musician, standard bearer (Screaming Banner)

Templehof Pals – 20 Zombies – musician, standard bearer

5 Dire Wolves

5 Dire Wolves

The Local People – 10 Ghouls – Ghast

Special

Order of the Black Cross – 8 Black Knights – champion, musician, standard bearer

Black Monks of St. Herod – 1 Spirit Host

2 Bat Swarms

Rare

Crimson Order of the Dragon – 4 Blood Knights – champion, musician, standard bearer (Rampager’s Standard)

Lord Ruthven’s Repose – Black Coach

Total: 2000 points on the dot


The above represents a good faith attempt to recreate my fifth edition army list in eighth edition. The conditions of construction are as follows:

  1. the List is to avail itself of newfangled opportunities where possible (the Skeletons deploy in Horde formation, the off-colour Knights receive a vampiric upgrade)
  2. the List is to respect the necessities of the edition (a level 4 wizard and a secondary Lore of the Vampires caster)
  3. the List is to preserve the character of the original (Margarita as off-caster doing something useful for the army and helping out with wolves, Lord Ruthven as “absent presence” in his Black Coach, with the core units providing further continuity)
  4. the List must be constructed with models I already own (hence none of the “only in eighth” goodies like Terrorgheists, Mortis Engines or Crypt Horrors; while I like these things well enough they are dramatically out of keeping with the late-Nineties/early-Noughties aesthetic of the army as it stands and also I’m not buying them)

There are things I’d consider jimmying about. I’d like a magic standard on the Black Cross (even if ’tis but a War Banner), and I could go for Beguile and Summon Creatures of the Night on Margarita if I had more Dire Wolf models. I would also consider the Rod of Flaming Death instead of the Nightshroud, because I find that item hilarious (and it has a lot of battlefield control potential!) and the Banshees are just there for nostalgia’s sake, I could easily replace them with something else (in which case I would change out Margarita’s powers and the Skeletons’ magic banner and stop trying to make Fear happen).

I know it’s somewhat idiosyncratic. I wanted to avoid the photocopy special (Ghoul King Dragonbane Gem Red Fury blah blah Terrorgheist Mortis Engine yawn yawn Ghoul Horde fiddle fart) and instead try to uphold the spirit of the army as it was originally created.

This mania has in no way been inspired by the extended narrative on offer at Big Small Worlds, an exhaustive and quietly competent Warhammer campaign played under eighth edition rules that’s been occupying a lot of my screen time lately. Not at all.


“Why are you doing this instead of painting Wood Elves, Jonathan?”

Well, because it’s festival season, which means pop up book stalls, which means a lot of extra work for muggins ‘ere and I don’t really have the mojo to paint when I get home. This week I’ve been playing Total Warhammer instead, because it’s there and the vampire factions have received a little bit of a retool (not quite enough to make me enjoy Count Noctilus’ early game, but enough to get me over the midgame hump of Sylvania and into a position where I could win a campaign if I put a weekend into it).

I have every intention of getting back to the Wood Elves in September, once two out of three festivals are done with and I have a nine day streak off work. I’ve acquired the necessary materials to produce a new general, some Wild Riders and an additional Treeman in time for Resurrection II in November, and intend to give those units a good crack of the whip. Beyond this there are sixteen Dryads, another ten Eternal Guard and two Great Eagles to paint. I have my eye on a final character (further exploiting the scale difference between Citadel and North Star figures to make my heroes truly “heroic scale”) and I’ve just lately discovered that the Oathmark range is about to develop some cavalry figures, allowing me to add Glade Riders to the assembled Covenant.

Nevertheless, a comforatable “done” is in sight for the Wood Elf project, probably around the 3000 point mark. It’ll all depend on how they perform at Resurrection II. There will come a point where a chain of defeats no longer forges a narrative worth the hearing, and if I sustain another brace of defeats there’s every chance that something slightly more cadaverous in nature will turn out for the 2022 season. See, Warhammer: Resurrection is to expand into a biannual narrative weekend as well as a heat-heat-final series of tournaments, and this expanded arena may be able to contain certain larger-than-life personalities who’ve been on the outs for a couple of years now…

Rumours of his death? Exaggerated.
Rumours of his retirement? Premature.
You can’t keep a bad guy down…

This is what’s on my mind at the moment, Warhammer-wise. As well as maybe liquidating some of the Tomb Kings. I wonder if I don’t like the idea of myself as a Tomb Kings player more than the reality of it, and I still don’t feel in love with the Mantic models, whereas Oathmark’s plastics and the TTCombat resin elites do speak to my soul rather more. Oathmark’s figures are also a fat sight easier to paint in the classic dip-and-go style and that might be what I need right now.

Another option would be breaking the habit of a lifetime and paying someone to paint them for me. If anyone knows a reasonably priced tabletop standard commission service, lemme know in the comments. I can supply several cans of my own primer that I’d be very glad to get out of the house.

[WFB] Battle Report: The Maven & The Witch, Chapter III – A Maven’s Folly

600 / 1200 points | Woodland Ambush | Wood Elves vs. Tomb Kings

The Premise

The woods were waking up. Slow, sluggish, breathing deep and laboured in the perpetual cold, but clawing their way to life and fury, answering the Maven’s call.

Her allies had answered, better late than never; the kinbands of the Black-Briar crept at her side, arrows nocked. Her sisters strode at her back, and in the whisper of leaves she heard that others were on their way, drifting down from the high vale beyond the river.

And the dead were coming. Score by score, bony feet shuffling through the snow. One clutched an old bronze blade to its chest; one had its head thrown back, its hollow throat raised in a dreadful monotone chant.

There was no time to wake her brothers, no time to wait for the Court. The Heart was in peril and the time to act was now.

Continue reading “[WFB] Battle Report: The Maven & The Witch, Chapter III – A Maven’s Folly”

[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.