[WFB] Battle Report – The Maven & The Witch, Chapter IV – Season Of The Witch

Rearguard scenario. 1200 points of Wood Elves vs. 600 points of Vampire Counts.

My original plan for this one was to stage a nice big climactic Ambush scenario, but then I actually bothered to read the rules for that one and realised it was built for a 6′ by 4′ table; I could only get away with it by so compressing the Undead deployment zone into a straight line, and we already played that one last week…

So I went back to basics: look at the board, think about the story, choose something that works. I’d been hacking at the scenario trying to encourage the Undead into moving for one specific table quarter, containing the Heart of the Forest; what I needed was a scenario that turned on one specific table quarter, and cast one army in a position of desperation (after the stonking the Undead had taken so far).

Rear Guard it was.

The Premise

This was the end.

The Heart of the Forest heaved and strained in the clutches of dark magic, and Thaniel knew without knowing that when the sun failed the rite would be done. It could not stand. It must not stand.

He would not fail again. This was punishment, but this was also redemption, for his kinband would press the last attack, the final reclamation of Deadwood from the dead. The Brotherhood of the Pact would deliver them; the Maven, reborn, would not let them fail.

Behind the walls the Witch was waiting. So little time; an hour, maybe less. With the sun’s last rays she would be flesh and blood once more, and she could quit this awful place. The last of her risen dead, her carrion children, and the beasts of the dark wood who’d flocked to her call; all of them could perish for all she cared. All that mattered was the Heart. The power. The light.

The Hacks

Tree Singing may not move any of the trees (it’s winter, and their spirits are slumbering).

Rules from Warhammer: Lustria apply to movement. Flyers move 15″ if their Unit Strength is 1, or 10″ if it is greater than 1. Infantry of Unit Strength 1, if not fleeing or in close combat, may adopt or abandon Loose Formation as a reform move (unless they have a musician, in which case they simply do it without penalty).

Models adopting Loose Formation move up to their normal M characteristic, ending 1″ apart. Models in Loose Formation are treated as Skirmishers, except that they may only be 1″ apart, may not march within 8″ of an enemy, and may not shoot; enemies shooting at them do not suffer the -1 to hit penalty. Units in Loose Formation should be set up all facing the same way. They are not true Skirmishers; they have just broken ranks in order to navigate the terrain more easily.

Designer’s Note: this isn’t something I’d suggest for everyone playing this scenario. It’s an attempt to get around how cramped and crowded my paper scenery is, allowing the Undead some freedom of movement, and to evoke the feel of a desperate battle for the deep woods. I didn’t go Full Lustria with this, adding Events and Encounters, because I’m doing all this by myself and didn’t want to add too much cognitive load in one go.

The Field

Paper scenery is Ravenswild Forest by Heroic Maps – £10 of store credit well enough spent, although best for skirmish play.

The rocky ridges are very difficult ground. The frozen river is difficult ground. (If I wasn’t still learning how the Wood Elf models work, I’d have broken out the General’s Compendium for additional frozen river rules.)

There are three layers of relative high ground on the board: the frozen river is the lowest, the Heart and the clifftops facing it are the highest, and everything else is on the middle layer.

All wooded areas are treated as light forest, per Warhammer: Lustria (i.e. difficult ground, blocking line of sight after 2″), although individual trees do not block line of sight to whole regiments (use some discretion). The shrine of the Heart is a ruin, per Warhammer: Lustria (i.e. difficult ground, hard cover, defended obstacle).

The Forces

Wood Elves

The Maven of Deadwood
Branchwraith (magic level 1) with an Annoyance of Netlings and a Cluster of Radiants: 165

Bloddeuwydd
Spellsinger (magic level 2) with the Deepwood Sphere and a Dispel Scroll: 175

Black-Briar Kinbands
16 Glade Guard with standard bearer (Aech: Banner of Springtide): 237
5 Glade Guard Scouts with Champion: 95

Cildraeth Celyn
8 Dryads: 96

Cildraeth Eiddew
8 Dryads: 96

Brawdoliaeth Pren Mawr
5 Tree Kin with Elder: 345

There was no question of not using my freshly painted Tree Kin for this one, and I wanted to have my Spellsinger hit the table sooner rather than later (and also spread my magic levels around a bit so I’d have plenty of Dispel dice).

The scenario demands absolute aggression across unfavourable terrain: I can’t afford to hold back. The Tree Kin will be going front and centre, straight up the path, with the Dryads and Scouts scaling the cliff faces to outflank.

Since Tree Singing wasn’t going to be hugely useful I actually bothered to roll the Maven’s spell and got The Hidden Path, which I swapped for Tree Singing as it was going to be knack all use (everything was already moving at a goodly rate through everything anyway). Bloddeuwydd got Tree Singing anyway and also Call of the Hunt, which could be huge if I actually managed to cast it!

Vampire Counts

The Witch
Necromancer (magic level 2) with Cloak of Mists and Shadows: 145

25 Zombies with musician and standard bearer: 165
5 Ghouls with Ghast: 50
5 Ghouls with Ghast: 50
Bat Swarm: 60

2 Spirit Hosts: 130

The Witch has a simple job here: hold out until she’s consumed the Heart and recovered her full strength, at which point she’ll quit the field. As a result, she’s loaded up on sacrificial and delaying troops: everything but the woman herself is disposable, with the Bats and Ghouls fast enough to rush out and interdict specific units, the Spirit Hosts able to move down the cliff faces without penalty, and a big block of Zombies to hold the path leading to the Heart itself.

Spell rolls were not kind. The Maven ended up with the worst possible outcome: Invocation actually rolled up, and Hand of Dust as the other spell. Hand of You Will Not Be Casting This Until It’s Too Late To Matter And It Never Does Anything Anyway Because You Still Need To Hit And Wound With A Sodding Necromancer’s Single Rubbish Attack Dust.

The Fight

The defenders, i.e. the Witch, set up first, and I admit it: I went full nobber this time. For verily, when the scenario allows a full quarter in which to deploy, and the enemy must deploy a great distance away from all our troops, who among us does not put our cheapest fastest chaffiest things right up the front and force our opponent back unto the very board edge, while chortling and caressing our beard? Only a yoghurt, and I was determined to give the Wood Elves a run for their money this time. So the Bat Swarm went front and centre and some Ghouls locked down both flanks in the same style; there were only a few tiny bubbles where Wood Elf units could ackshuwally be deployed at all. Quinlank be praised! The Spirit Host deployed where it could see and thus charge through the walls of the Heart’s shrine, and the Witch deployed out of sight and well away from any trees.

As the attacker I naturally cursed the beardy sod who’d deployed in the manner of a tossbag, no fun allowed, game for two players you know mate, we’ll be having words outside afterwards. My entire army was corralled into the bottom right corner except for Thaniel and his scouts (I was suddenly very glad I’d taken Scouts) who could at least have a pop at some cheeky flanking.

Wood Elves Turn 1

Everyone marched. Everyone had to march, even the Glade Guard who were successfully blocked in by the Tree-Kin, except for Thaniel, who led his Scouts on a more cautious advance into short range of the Ghouls. Bloddeuwydd could not cast Call of the Hunt, Tree-Singing on the Ghouls who’d carelessly stood in a wood was dispelled, and Thaniel and co opened hostilities by shooting three Ghouls through the ghoulie bits.

Vampire Counts Turn 1

The Bats went full nobber again, flying up and angling themselves right in the way of the Tree-Kin; all the Ghoul units went double-time, avoiding trees and staying out of line of sight of the elven archers. Invocation of Nehek was dispelled on a straight match, ten for ten.

Wood Elves Turn 2

The Tree-Kin charged the Bat Swarm (they might as well, no point going around); everyone else, once again, had to march. Even Thaniel, this time, as he couldn’t see anything to shoot. One Ghoul was still carelessly trailing into a tree (the Wood Elf half of my brain decided that if the Vampire Counts half of my brain was going to play the rules and not the game, no quarter would be given on that front) and so Tree-Singing whomped him and one of his mates. (It would have been four if they were T3 – no kidding, Wood Elves really struggle with tougher than average targets, and I once again see that all those formative games against Skaven and Empire have made me overestimate ranged attacks.)

The Call went off, and the Witch showed a double 1 on her Dispel roll, so the Maven was able to surge 7″ forward, suddenly into the game! I should probably have cast it on the Tree-Kin though, since eleven attacks showed eight ones and twos, and the Bat Swarm was left alive on one wound.

Vampire Counts Turn 2

No point in charging anything, said the nasty little voice in my head. Don’t give them overruns. Make them waste their moves. So the Spirit Host did a 3″ shuffle, and that was all she wrote. The Witch even managed to miscast her Invocation and end the magic phase, while the Bats were cheerfully obliterated by the Tree-Kin elder.

Wood Elves Turn 3

The Maven and the Eiddew Dryads charged the Ghouls right in front of them, the rest of the Forest Spirits marched forward unfettered. I’d hoped to get the Tree-Kin forward through the lane I left, but the Witch showed a mighty fifteen on her dispel roll and that was the end of that plan. Thaniel and the boys climbed up the rock face and took aim at those cowardly Ghouls again, wiping them out in the subsequent flurry of arrows. The Glade Guard were finally able to nock arrows and loose too, killing three Zombies. In combat the Dryads whiffed spectacularly, only the Maven managing to kill her opponent in the challenge; fortunately the Ghouls failed to hurt anyone either and legged it, outpacing the wrath of the woods by a good three inches.

Vampire Counts Turn 3

The Ghouls rallied, the Spirits moved up to block the Maven (yesss, yesss, play like a jeb end), and the Witch backed up as there were some trees a little bit closer to her than she liked them. Invocation was dispelled on a double six, and that was another “no, you play the game” turn done with.

Wood Elves Turn 4

Both Dryad units charged headlong, with the Tree-Kin moving up in support; Thaniel and his Scouts danced around to get line of sight on the Ghouls. Call of the Wild Hunt was just not quite cast, Thaniel shot a Ghoul, and then it was on to the fun bit.

The Maven and Eiddew Dryads absolutely wrecked the Spirit Host, and overran into the Ghouls; the Celyn Dryads tore apart every Zombie who could hit them back and began the long process of expanding, lapping, killing, grinding…

Vampire Counts Turn 4

The Witch pulled back further, into the round tower; this time it wasn’t even worth Invoking, as it got the Wood Elves’ Dispel Scroll quick sharp. The Maven tore the Ghouls apart all by herself, and was now free to move, while the Celyn Dryads repeated their exact performance from the previous turn.

Wood Elves Turn 5

There are no penalties for Skirmishers to cross obstacles, and so the Maven was off, finally within lunging distance of the Witch! One good solid Call of the Hunt would see this nonsense over and done with, and of course Bloddeuwydd failed to cast it. Thaniel darted for the board edge, since he couldn’t harm the Witch, and you may already be sensing the game-terms conclusion to this engagement already…

Vampire Counts Turn 5

“I’m ethereal,” says the Witch, and possibly “bitch” as well, and simply walks back through the wall to where the Maven can’t see her. And then the game ends on the roll of a 2.

The Result

Not a single casualty taken by the Wood Elves. One Vampire Counts model left on the board. A win for the Vampire Counts nonetheless…

The Learnings

I realised as soon as I set this one up that the Vampire Counts would have to go hard to win this one: play cagey, noncommittal keepie-uppie-hammer and hope they could run out the clock. This is how I used to play 40K a lot of the time, since it was sufficiently blighted with Random Game Length that it was a commonplace special rule, and I’ve won games on this kind of technicality enough times – but I’m unnerved at how naturally this playstyle came back to me.

On the same “play the rules not the game” level, I can spot an actual mistake I made as the Wood Elf player, something that could have kept me in the game, and ironically it’s what I did with poor Thaniel (who otherwise redeemed himself so well!). Going after the Ghouls was a greedy move that didn’t pay off, I didn’t even have line of sight with the whole unit. If I’d played smart I’d have zigged instead of zagged, had the Scouts in position to move off table, and been able to stay in the game for another turn.

I have learned a few things about Wood Elves, too. Granted, this table with its immobile scenery was not the best suited to how Tree Singing works, but they really do need to spam out the Tree Singing and draw dice in order to get any of their buffs out. On the turns where I could do that, things worked; on the turns when I couldn’t, they didn’t. I also appreciate the role of the aggressive Spites – the Lamentation of Despairs and Pageant of Shrikes – in landing hits on hard to reach models, like the Witch in this battle.

The Solo Wargame Experience

This was definitely the right way to end. I think about the complexity of my original 1500 point army list for the Vampire Counts, and about the 2000 points I was originally aiming for, and heavens to Betsy do I not want to wrangle all that by myself. However, the games have ticked along nicely at around the 1000 point mark as long as one army’s been easier to play – the Undead have more or less played themselves as they’ve had clear objectives related to the taking or holding of ground.

Such win conditions allow the solo gameplay to be targeted, and simplify the decision process away from the more emergent and abstract tactics often required in a points match. Warhammer Warbands was particularly good for this, as it’s a single scenario with a lot of possible variation in the random objectives and deployment areas.

On the whole I think the experience has been a good enough one. By committing to “what the characters would do” and playing some slightly eccentric lists, I’ve avoided the games feeling like a total stitch-up. I’ve had the opportunity to play my Wood Elves and try to get some stats down in my head before inflicting myself on other human opponents, and I’ve been able to play some scenarios that I haven’t before and figure out a bit about how they work so I can shill them to other players and get away from the Borehammer. Of course I’d rather play with other people, but I would do something like this again, in similar circumstances.

The Narrative

“Leave them!” the Maven shrieked. “Leave the carrion! Make for the Heart! Kill the witch!”

Thaniel sprang, swung from branch to branch, racing past the battle-lines. He would not fail. Not this time. He could see the hovering, spectral figure, a gleam of purple light in the twilight, and he had the eye. He nocked an arrow. He took aim. He fired – and the arrow passed through her like she wasn’t even there.

The Witch took a deep breath. A breath. Air. Lungs. Unapologetic life! And not a moment to spare, as the sun dipped and the light died around her. The woods were alive; they were well and truly alive, furious dryads clambering over the walls, leaping and bounding across the wintry ground. Too late. Much too late. She was alone, but she was undefeated. Her work here was done. Even as their leader caught her gaze, swung back her crook, the Witch touched two fingers to her lips and let the shadows rise around her, bearing her into Shyish.

Thaniel cast down his bow; the circle of dryads wailed and moaned, raking the air with their claws. It was dark; pitch dark. The light of the Heart had gone out; shattered, snuffed. The Maven knelt, shuddered, and as Thaniel approached, he heard and saw and knew that she was weeping. They had slaughtered. They had triumphed. They had failed. And spring would never come to Deadwood.

[WFB] Battle Report: The Maven & The Witch, Chapter II – Grave Disorder

Warhammer Skirmish; Vampire Hunt scenario, hacked for speed running.

The Hacks

I compressed the battlefield down to 2 feet square, as before; removed the attackers’ supporting troops, as injury rolls have a tendency to bloat and delay the Skirmish experience; and I gave the Vampire a set location and set her victory condition to “escape” rather than “kill they heroes.”

The Premise

Thaniel had told his story three times in two days. Once to himself, as he hurried through the deep pathways of Deadwood, so fast and so far that even his sure elven feet had betrayed him here and there. Once to Rychell, and the veteran had nodded gravely and led him up here…

He knew the Court. He knew what to expect. But it was still a strange feeling, to see four gnarled and blasted stumps and to stand at the point between them, to address them by name and to watch as flesh flickered out of splinter and shadow, as the lords and ladies of Deadwood came back to hear the tale.

Mostly. Prince Hwel had not come, and Thaniel was grateful for that small mercy.

“It happens to us all,” Lord Gwydion said, and “not to me” Lord Gilfaethwy said, and that had been an end to Thaniel’s apologies. The Lady Bloddeuwydd had said nothing at all, until Thaniel’s tale was told, and then:

“Grimgroth did not raise himself from the dead. His crown was taken. His will was broken. Someone broke those seals; someone stirred him up and set him loose.”

Some interloper,” said the Lord Gilfaethwy, and “some necromancer,” said the Lord Gwydion.

Someone who has roused the Maven’s wrath. We must honour the covenant. But we must know how deep the rot goes; if we are beset from within. Brothers; will you go to the Tombs?”

And you to the Heart?” said the Lord Gwydion, “with all haste and all our strength?” said the Lord Gilfaethwy.

The Lady Bloddeuwydd bowed her head, and rose in a rustle of roots, a shiver of snowfall. “Ahead of the Maven, if I can,” she said, “and with Thaniel.”

The Forces

Wood Elves

Gwydion, a Noble: Alter Kindred, longbow, light armour and shield
Gilfaethwy, a Noble: Alter Kindred, greataxe, light armour and shield

Vampire Counts

Clarimonde, a Vampire Thrall: Von Carstein, with heavy armour, Summon Wolves and the Gem of Blood,
and a Bat Swarm

The Field

Ravenswild Forest, from Heroic Maps. Well. About a quarter of it.

This is where things become unusual. Normally I abhor 2D terrain; it is the mark of my own personal End Times, the herald of the millimetre counters and precision junkies who turned Warmahordes into a crude attempt at tt-sports and robbed it of all spectacle and charm. But needs must when the devil vomits into your kettle; storage space is limited, funds are short, AoS scenery has a resale value and I had just enough DriveThruRPG store credit to give this a try.

Further house rules were implemented. The cliff faces were treated as impassable; shooting from the paths up into the ruins was not permitted.

Clarimonde would start the game in the tower at the heart of the ruins, about her nefarious business with the Heart of the Forest; the Bats would be roosting in the nearby tree. Gilfaethwy and Gwydion would deploy in the opposite corner.

The Fight

I randomised who’d get the first turn; it went to Clarimonde and her associates. Since she didn’t know there was danger yet, but I didn’t want to pass the turn completely, I had her Summon the Dire Wolves from a random board edge, which turned out to be the top one.

I’d made a minor deployment whoopsie, placing Gwydion up front, meaning if I wanted to charge in with Gilfaethwy, they’d both have to get stuck in. No great hardship. Gwydion scored two critical hits, but all his injury rolls were ones or twos; he really knocked that Wolf down. Gilfaethwy, being more accustomed to melee combat, flattened his Wolf with a similar double-crit display.

The Bats, alerted to the sound of violence, fluttered out of the ruins and circled around behind the elven interlopers. Meanwhile, the last Wolf counter-charged Gilfaethwy, but didn’t manage to land a blow. For their part, the twins mustered a stun and a kill.

Gwydion, sure he could trust his brother to handle a few flying rodents, moved around toward the north entrance of the tomb, intent on establishing what was going on in there, although he did take a potshot or two at the Bats (dealing a wound). His faith may have been somewhat misplaced, since Gilfaethwy proved unable to eliminate one stunned Dire Wolf…

Clarimonde was still about her mysterious business (I didn’t roll a 6), so the Bat Swarm swept in to protect her, charging Gilfaethwy and scoring a critical! Counting as two hits (and, I presume, two wounds), they managed to stun the Alter Noble, and suddenly things were looking a lot less one-sided than they had been a moment ago.

Gwydion didn’t even have a charge lane to the bats (I think I flubbed the rule here, too much Warmahordes baggage still) but successfully stunned the Dire Wolf that would otherwise be gnawing on his brother’s tender bits.

Clarimonde completed her task (“awoke”, in the scenario’s original terms) and made a cautious move out of the ruined tower. Her Bats, regrettably, didn’t follow up their previous exemplary performance, fluffing their attacks on downed Gilfaethwy for the second round on the trot.

Said Gilfaethwy took to his feet and proceeded to absolutely ruin the Bat Swarm; inspired by this performance, Gwydion landed two critical hits on the Dire Wolf and killed it three times over, poor thing.

Now aware that she was alone and had to make good her escape, Clarimonde bolted for the board edge, opting for the path on the bottom left as the one farthest from whatever was going on so messily down at the foot of the crag. The twins set off in hot pursuit, but crucially lacked the Line of Sight to declare charges. They were reduced to a potshot with a longbow, praying for a lucky crit, and Gwydion managed to definitively miss that one, allowing Clarimonde to make good her escape!

The Result

A win for the Vampire Counts!

The Learnings

I’m not convinced I adapted this one as well for the solo experience. In particular, Clarimonde’s Summon Wolves at the top of the game was an impulse choice, trying to avoid a churned turn – I don’t think she should have done it until she knew there was something worth summoning to avoid. To be honest, Clarimonde’s whole kit was a bit of an impulse choice: I’d forgotten this scenario originally included a Strigoi with the usual 60 points of free kit (thanks, Alessio!) and Bloodline powers on top of that, and had to retune on the fly.

With the benefit of hindsight, I could have very easily taken Sylvanian rules into this, setting up a couple of grave markers (dispellable on the standard 4+) that were spawning Zombies for the boys to whack down, and maybe cheated a bit with Clarimonde’s powers, setting her up with a Countess spread of Summon Wolves and Summon Bats. That would make a better use of the title too, really hammer home the feeling that zombies are pouring out of the grave for some reason.

I also wasn’t quite sure about losing the troops for the attackers. Things would have been a lot slower with more models – Skirmish, in my experience, tends to derail fast if you start whiffing attacks or can’t make satisfactory injury rolls, and really needs a bypass to make stunned enemies easier to take out or something. Bringing the brothers on together felt right, but the two of them couldn’t really cover all three routes off the map. If they’d been able to move more decisively for the ruins (i.e. if the Wolves hadn’t been there) things might have gone perversely better for them and we might have had some head on conflict.

It worked well enough for something I could play in half an hour before work, and the result stands, but I think I’d like to play this one again with the premise and forces adjusted.

The Witch…

“Is it done?”

“You asked for the Heart of the Forest,” said Clarimonde, “and you’re all but on top of it. You asked for the Tombs to be opened, and I’ve done it, and survived. All the dead of High Tiernmas follow in my wake.

Her – what was the word? Employer was too crass, too mundane. Mistress was too permanent, and had some unlovely connotations. Cohort? Collaborator? Those suggested a partnership of equals, which this was certainly not, in either of their minds.

Whatever she was, the Witch was apparently unpleasable. Her eyeless gaze roamed over Clarimonde, over the paths out of the clearing, over the distant ice-topped river.

“It’s not enough. The Heart eludes. It resists. Resists me, Clarimonde! I won’t have it. I need the army at my back. I need you at my side.”

You will have your army. But you will not have my sword. I wish you good fortune, madame, in your quest. I am weary of this wretched forest. I must feed, and the Heart will not bleed for both of us. You’ll need all that it can give.”

The Witch’s skull turned to face her; the trailing shadows about it stirred and shifted, unseen currents drawing them this way and that.

If I am to be whole again.”


I’ve nearly finished all my Dryads (and two thirds of the Glade Guard), the last sprues are queued up for painting this week. That means next week I’mma paint some Tree-Kin and the week after that I can stage Chapter III – A Maven’s Folly.

[WFB] Battle Report: The Maven & The Witch Chapter I – Ghosts in the Fog

Warhammer Warbands (200 points); A Little War scenario; objectives were Hold Territory (Wood Elves) and Invade! (Vampire Counts)

The Premise

Grimgroth opened his eyes.

Was it time? Had the bell been rung, its doleful peal sounding the Time of Ending? He swung slowly off his graven slab and took up his axe and followed the breeze out of his tumulus. His huscarls were stirring, skinless hands closing on sword-hilt and shield-grip, as they followed him into the twilight of the gods, and also of the sky.

Grimgroth closed his eyes, then opened them again, dessicated lids flapping in ponderous amazement, then closed them again to have a good hard think.

Who had put those bloody trees there? When he had been laid down to rest, all this had been fields; the fields of High Tiernmas of old.

Now he was starting to remember. There had been… others. In the long winter that had never seemed to end. The elves had come. They had put Tiernmas to flight. They had relieved Grimgroth of his kingdom, his crown and his life, in that approximate order, almost in the one day. They had sealed him into the tomb dug for him long ago.

Grimgroth opened his eyes. He kicked away the carrion-eater who was reaching out a filthy calloused paw for one of his favourite toes; the ghoul fled, yelping, into the woods. Yes. The woods. Through the woods and out, out into the world. Out to glory, for the Old Kingdom. And they’d put a stop to any Time of Ending that happened to be going on, and all.

The Forces

Wood Elves

The Maven of Deadwood, a Branchwraith
Cildraeth Celyn, 4 Dryads
Black-Briar Kinband, 5 Glade Guard Scouts

Vampire Counts

Grimgroth, a Wight Lord
The Tomb-Born, 10 Skeletons
The Bone Gnawers, 5 Ghouls

The Field

In the woods, the howl of a kicked ghoul and the whisper of bony feet on snow fell on interested elven ears. Thaniel nodded to his troop, hooted once like a barn owl and twice like a screech owl, and motioned them to keep their heads down. The Maven was haunting these woods tonight, and she would want these draugr for her prey.

Somewhat less than inspiring stuff, I think you’ll agree. I had every intention of playing this out over a battlemat, but then I took the battlemat out, realised it was obnoxiously busy with implied scatter terrain and my models would simply disappear on top of it, and promptly chucked the thing on eBay because I’ve never liked it anyway. I don’t actually remember how it ended up here in the first place.

Anyway. I played this over a 2′ by 2′ board to give the undead a fighting chance (four square is much too big for an engagement this size anyway, SAGA has the right idea with its standard 3′ x 3′ and even that uses more models than this).

I used a scatter die to determine where Grimgroth and co. arrived, then set up the Maven and her associates in the opposite quarter. Units would have to have their back corner touching the board edge, unless they were Scouts in which case they could set up out of sight of and around 10″ away from the enemy. Grimgroth would count as an Undead General, allowing his units to march, and neither character could start the battle in a unit.

When it came to actually making the moves and choices I did more or less what I thought the troops would do, given their objectives.

Grimgroth’s mind was bent on securing his escape, so he wouldn’t stop and fight until he was in the Wood Elves’ starting quarter; the Ghouls, being cowardy cowardy cutlets at heart, would attempt to not get shot at while protecting their new master as best they could.

The Maven would hold her starting quarter unless she had an opportunity to engage and destroy Grimgroth; the rest of her army would attempt to envelop and exterminate the undead nuisance, sweeping as much of the grove (i.e. as many table quarters) as they could occupy.

The Fight

Only a dozen or so, Thaniel said to himself. Easy pickings for the Maven and her sisters; but it wouldn’t hurt to even the odds just a little, as the draugr marched by. There was something else stirring further in the woods, but it was hard to make out what. The mist was rising. She was coming.

Grimgroth shelters from the Glade Guard behind the Skeletons; the Ghouls scurry around to check for any nasty surprises behind the tree. Glade Guard shooting plinks one Skeleton (I didn’t fancy their chances hitting skirmishers, in cover, at long range).

As they came upon the clearing, three paths winding out between three vast gnarled trees, Grimgroth slowed his pace. Something was wrong, beside the tearing up of good honest roads and the planting of a forest where his serfs had once been toiling. The snow was fluttering and stirring about them, the freezing clouds shifting as if the forest breathed out a warning. Which way was out? Which way led down to the lowlands? And as Grimgroth considered, an arrow shot past him into the dark, and another, and yet another took brave Darven in the empty eye and sent him off to a second death. Elves.

The Wood Elves spread out. In response, the Ghouls swing back around to threaten the Glade Guard and cover the Undead rear (oo-er). Grimgroth takes up the missing space in the Skeleton unit; another two Skeletons get shot.

They bobbed and weaved around the old oak tree, arrows nocked and flying at the slow-shambling draugr. Thaniel could hear the song of the woods now, keening high and fierce through the mists; he knew without knowing that the hunt was almost on him. Another volley, more draugr fell; the carrion eaters snarled and hissed at the stone where Thaniel had stood whole seconds ago.

The Undead are successfully march-blocked, and Grimgroth begins a slow shuffle toward freedom. The Ghouls realise they have to do the business or get off the pot, and place themselves between the Skeletons and the Dryads. I also buffeted the tree on the right, moving the surrounding miniatures whole centimetres out of place and rendering the result of the game NULL AND VOID in the eyes of all the millmetre-counting why-in-goodness’-name-don’t-you-stick-to-video-games turbo-spods out there. Of course, I am now five years free of Warmahordes and consequently put things back more or less right and decided to be generous with the matter of measurements in the next turn.

Grimgroth hefted his axe and plodded on; no sense in chasing ghosts in the fog. Let the ghouls taste elf-flesh instead of breaking teeth on his old bones – and then he heard their yammering and yelping cut short by an eerie whistle, piercing and clear, on the upper edge of hearing yet echoing through the trees. The trees were screaming. The trees were moving! Something came shrieking and wailing out of the fog, right at him; some fiend in woman’s shape, a long plait whipping behind her, a scythe in her hands. A peasant’s weapon. Slow. Clumsy. Grimgroth braced himself to take the charge.

The trap is sprung! Kind of. Boxcars on the Glade Guards’ fear test leaves the Maven going it alone. It doesn’t go well; while she lands a wound on Grimgroth in the challenge (of course he challenged, he wasn’t going to let her whack his honour guard to death!), he lands a Killing Blow with a magical Wight Blade on her. The Dryads only kill one Ghoul, and a flurry of outrageous rolls (four sixes!) see one Dryad poisoned to death in return and a break test only just passed. I’ve had better trap-springings, put it like that.

She. She! Thaniel held his hand down, holding the troop back, watching the cold and hateful heart of the forest beat once, twice, and launch the Maven into life. She ran for the dead with scythe upraised, rallied to reap, ready to kill! Cyfamod Pren Mawr demanded his troop join her… but the sound, the awful sound of the Dryads in full fury, and would they keep the pact? And then the draugr’s leader stepped forward, and turned his face to Thaniel, and winked with his dead eye as he caught the scythe in one hand, its weight ripping his arm from its socket, but he moved with it and brought his iron adze sweeping across the Maven’s throat, pulling her onto the deathblow. Perhaps he imagined it, but Thaniel swore he heard a taunt in broken Asrai fall from the dead man’s lips.

“You’re next, chum.”

I had Grimgroth overrun, so he could get into position to achieve his objective, and then turn to face the Glade Guard, the only unengaged foes. Might not have been tactically sound, but I feel it’s what a Wight Lord running on autopilot would do.

The Glade Guard don’t fancy their chances against said Wight Lord. Fortunately, the Dryads absolutely butchered the Ghouls on the Undead turn, and are now free to avenge the Maven. They underperform, allowing Grimgroth to barge his way into combat and kill one of them, but in the next round a Dryad gets another set of boxcars and that’s it for Grimgroth.

There they were. Grimgroth had them now. The she-daemon was dead, cut down, and the woodland fools had shown their hands. He knew the way now; these elves would be guarding the safe path, driving him onto a wrong turn. Past them and down, into the lowlands, into the light. And now he knew the way… he could afford to take his leisure. His guard fell into rank beside him as he turned to face the elven scouts. Their leader was still quailing with his sword half out of its sheath. As their gazes locked… as their gazes locked, Vandam and Erl flew across his vision, torn to pieces. More of these cursed, screaming sprites! Grimgroth turned, pushed his way through the ranks; one would die like any other. He struck one across the back as it lunged past him, but as he turned he saw the branch swinging straight for his helm.

Grimgroth closed his eyes.

The Result

Victory to the Wood Elves by default; a tabling for the Undead, although they preserve some honour by dispatching the Maven.

In reflection on the armies: the Dryads are every bit as brutal as I remember, Initiative 6 (and 8 on the Maven!) putting them well ahead in later rounds of combat. They weren’t too well suited to fighting the Toughness 4 Ghouls, though. I was less impressed with the Glade Guard, and I ended up holding them back from a charge once Grimgroth had his front presented to them as I didn’t fancy feeding him kills. The Maven… well, these things happen, you can’t account for Wight Blades, and she did have to leave her defensive kit at home. If nothing else it’s a good excuse for her having the Annoyance later on; she won’t be fooled again. On the whole, the Wood Elves seem good at landing the hits, but maybe struggle to convert.

In reflections on the game: there were a few things I had to look up besides stats, including what the shooting maluses actually are (look, I play with Banshee screams and Asp Arrows against magic missiles and wonder weapons: modifiers don’t really come up!) and how the hell skirmishers charge when their way is blocked by other skirmishers but not completely… in the end I opted for the least gamey, smoothest flowing option of having the Dryads charge the Ghouls instead of a dodgy two-in-one-looping-around move that would have barely had them in contact anyway.

In reflections on solo play: it seems to work! I think this scenario did me a lot of favours as it set clear objectives for each side, so I could lean into those whenever I needed to make a characterful decision.

The Maven…

Thaniel rose from his furrow behind the old oak tree. He was, he suspected, a dead elf walking; the forest spirits would surely be furious, his inaction had surely led to the Maven’s downfall. He dropped his sword, handed his bow to Ithain, walked toward the trio of surviving dryads with his head held down; they parted, to let him pass. Surely they were the Despairs, come to claim him. Surely the forest itself whispered his name…

“Thaniel…”

Fresh snow was falling, on the bones and the blades and the body of the Maven. Thaniel dropped to his knees, cradled her head, heedless of splinters. It was all his fault. Failure. Traitor. It would be the Waywatchers for him, if they’d have him at all.

“I am sorry. I am so, so sorry. I…”

Help me.”

He looked down. A purple light was shining, crashing out of her open throat; he took the head more firmly, settled it onto her neck, felt the wood grind and gristle back together.

A dryad held out her scythe, and she took it, rising slowly, crone-bent and weary, her voice a hiss from somewhere deeper than her wound. Thaniel stayed on his knees; surely, surely the blade would fall, the forest would reclaim him for what he’d done?

You will restore amends. Rouse the kinbands. Honour the Covenant. I go to wake my sisters, stir my brothers. This will not stand. This will not stand…”

By the time he dared look up, the dryads were gone, into the fog.

Coming soon: Chapter II, Grave Disorder. Once I have some Alter Kindred painted. I’m not sure about the tomb scenery, which I fall into and out of love with every time I get it out of the box. I think I’ll use it for the time being, but leave it up on the Bay of E and see if I can’t get shot of it too in the long term.

[WFB] The Twin Princes of Tiernmas

Barrow Kings.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[WFB] The Maven and the Witch

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

Danièl de la Saleté, bard of the Forest of Chalons

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

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

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

Click the headings for the individual reports!

Chapter I: Ghosts in the Fog

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

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

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

The Maven of Deadwood

Chapter II: Grave Disorder

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

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

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

“Absolutely.”

Gwydion and Gilfaethwy

Chapter III: A Maven’s Folly

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

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

The Maven of Deadwood

Chapter IV: Season of the Witch

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

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

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

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

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

[WFB] List Maintenance: Lord Ruthven Restored

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Swap in the Aura.

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

Stick to a Wight Lord BSB for Leadership 9.

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

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

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

Consider a steady list with swappable Counts?

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Whispering Nell: Wraith: Cursed Book: 140 points

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

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

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

Verhungernhund Claw: 5 Dire Wolves: 50 points

Verhungernhund Fang: 5 Dire Wolves: 50 points

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

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

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

Cora: Banshee: 90 points

Clarice: Banshee: 90 points

Emmanuelle’s Hearse: Black Coach: 200 points

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

[WFB] Battle Report: Lord Ruthven’s Reanimation

My second engagement on the eve of Nineteen Crows was something equally eccentric, and this time I have slightly more adequate notes. Joseph Bain of tournament fame had suggested Reclaim the Stones, a scenario from the Albion campaign: always keen to skip out the Borehammer, I’d accepted his vulgar challenge. Although I was going in with 3000 points to his 2000 I would be doing so with a split-up Vampire Counts army (never a good idea) and Joseph had tricked out his list to give me a run for my money in the magic department.

He had:

Wizard Lord of the Celestial College: level 4 wizard (Lore of the Heavens: Second Sign of Amul, Storm of Kronos, Comet of Cassandora and… something else), Hex Staff
Warrior-Priest of Sigmar: heavy armour, shield, barded warhorse, Sword of Might, Van Horstman’s Speculum
Warrior-Priest of Sigmar: great weapon, Armour of Meteoric Iron
Master Engineer: repeater pistol

8 Knights of the Inner Circle: full cavalry kit, champion, musician, and standard bearer (War Banner)
10 Handgunners
10 Handgunners
5 Pistoliers: champion

18 Greatswords: champion, musician, and standard bearer (Griffon Standard)
Mortar
Great Cannon

Helblaster Volley Gun
Giant

I was rocking:

Margarita: Vampire Countess; level 2 wizard (Lore of Death: Dark Hand, Steal Soul, Doom and Darkness), Sword of Striking, Ring of the Night, Spell Familiar and Summon Wolves.
The Master: Master Necromancer: level 4 wizard (Necromancy: Invocation of Nehek, Hand of Dust, Gaze of Nagash, Vanhel’s Danse Macabre), Wristbands of Black Gold, Black Periapt
Rosenkratz: Necromancer: level 2 wizard (Necromancy: Invocation of Nehek, Vanhel’s Danse Macabre), Book of Arkhan, Power Stone
Guildenstern: Necromancer: level 2 wizard (Necromancy: Invocation of Nehek, Vanhel’s Danse Macabre), Rod of Flaming Death
Whispering Nell: Wraith: Cursed Book
Walravius: Wight Lord: Army Standard, Flayed Hauberk

Templehof Militia: 30 Skeletons with light armour, spears, champion, standard and musician
Templehof Levy: 25 Zombies with standard and musician
Hounds of Verhungern: 10 Dire Wolves with champion
The Local People: 10 Ghouls with champion

Drakenhof Templars: 12 Black Knights with barding, champion, standard (Banner of the Barrows) and musician
Black Monks of St. Herod: 5 Spirit Hosts

Cora: Banshee
Clarice: Banshee
Lord Ruthven’s Repose: Black Coach

The scenario forced me to split my army down the middle and with only one General to go around that made the choice of what to slap where pretty straightforward.

The A Team, consisting of everything that either can’t march (the Black Coach), can march regardless of proximity to the General (Ghouls), or is fast enough to reach combat even if it doesn’t march (Black Knights, Dire Wolves), plus the Master to give everything a bit of a Necromantic fillip. I wasn’t particularly optimistic about this flank’s chances but if they could corral Joseph’s army to an extent until the infantry showed up to win the game for me I’d be happy.

The B team, consisting of everything which needed proximity to the General (that’s Spirit Hosts, Skeletons and Zombies) plus everything that would want to hide in a Skeleton or Zombie unit (that’s all the characters except the Master). I also deployed the Banshees on this side on the grounds that they are supposed to stick close by the Battle Standard Bearer to help them survive the odd round of combat.

I was deeply worried about Joseph’s Greatsword unit led by the Warrior Priest as, even with closed lists, I had a reasonable idea what they’d be packing (it’s always the Griffon Standard, show me an Empire player who doesn’t). My plan with those was to pin them down with Spirits for as long as physically possible, while my Banshees whittled away at them and I dealt with the elements of Joseph’s army I felt I could kill, which was basically all the war machines and possibly the Knights if I got lucky.

It started well as I realised I could potentially tie up the Helblaster crew and the Greatswords with one charge, and had enough Vanhel’s Danses to pull it off. Sadly Joseph’s heap of Dispel dice for having all his casters within the Circle proved more than up to the challenge and I was left feeling a bit overexposed.

I did have a chance to turn things on their head very early as Joseph’s wizard had decided not to chill with the Greatswords and, as a unit all by himself, was an eligible target for Banshee screams. A Leadership 8 target. Sadly he managed to survive with one wound left and promptly buried himself in the Greatswords next turn, while their attendant Priest worked on restoring those Wounds (but at least he wasn’t casting Soulfire). My second Banshee didn’t have the range to finish the job but did manage to shoo Joseph’s Pistoliers straight off the board with their first Panic test of the day.

The fast flank started going to bits as soon as Joseph’s turn began: my Ghouls were vapourised by a Mortar shot and his Giant lumbered out to engage my Dire Wolves quick sharp, while Joseph’s Knights (“are they Inner Circle, mate?” “no, they’re in a line!”) marched up to point blank range of mine so their Priest could let rip with Soulfire. I didn’t manage to Dispel it and the odds between the units tipped rather dramatically as a whole five Black Knights went to the bad place in one go.

At the top of turn two, I would have to get spicy.

Fortunately, the Master was out of the Knights’ charge arc, and so I formulated a plan. My Knights would charge Joseph’s Knights and sink as many attacks as they could into the Warrior Priest (finishing him off with a Killing Blow as it happens). The Master would sneak around their flank and cast a Danse on the Black Coach, bringing it close to the circle; close enough that one of my three other Danses would surely go off and propel the overpriced paperweight into the middle of Joseph’s army. Even if it flubbed its charge it would hopefully last long enough to spread some tasty Terror around and knock off a few war machine crews…

The plan went off, although it took every single Power die I had, my Power Stone and the Book of Arkhan (ran out first time, as usual) to get the chain of Danses through. By the time the charges, tests, redirections and post-combat panickings were done, Joseph’s artillery crew were all dead or engaged (the Spirit Host having also ploughed in to do its job on the Helblaster), half his Handgunners had been run down and the others were fleeing, and I’d even discovered that the Banshees can scream freely into a combat they are not personally engaged in (although if they are personally engaged, they have to scream at what they’re fighting).

The only fly in my ointment was that loose Giant roaming around the back of my fast flank. I hate Giants. I hate them so much. There’s no way of predicting what they’ll do, but their Stubbornness plus Terror-causing tendencies plus the heinous “automatically win by two” Yell and Bawl habit means it generally amounts to “not bloody go anywhere whilst being too tough to shift.” In theory a good Hand of Dust will sort them out but somehow I never quite want to risk a Necromancer in picking fights with them.

Joseph renewed hostilities by bringing down a Comet of Cassandora into the big combat in the centre. Once the dust from that had settled, one of my Banshees was wounded, half my Spirit Host were frazzled, and a whole rank of his own Greatswords had also gone to meet Morr in the great beyond. Storm of Cronos took yet more wounds off the ghosts, but not enough to open my charge lane.

I forget who charged who here: I think it must have been Joseph going for me, after I moved my Necromancers into the stone circle to take advantage of those extra dice for myself, and I know for a fact I wheeled the Coach around to get away from the Giant as best it could. I would surely have charged my Skeletons into what was left of those Greatswords if I could, so I’m forced to assume the Spirit Host died on my turn somehow after blocking my lane for the duration?

In any case, the combats went as well as might be expected. Depleted Knights couldn’t finish off many Zombies, what remained of the Greatswords didn’t have the mustard to fight off a Vampire Countess (who overran into the Master Engineer before he got any ideas about priming the Helblaster for one last volley) and the Giant didn’t quite finish off my Black Coach but undoubtedly would have done given another turn. Joseph had managed to call down another Comet of Cassandora before his Wizard Lord bought it, but sadly it didn’t land before the game formally ended. Sad face.

A Vampire Countess, Battle Standard Bearer, two Necromancers and two Banshees within the Circle is more than enough to overcome the opposition of some leaderless Knights and the dead weight of those Zombies: plenty of points, enough for a Victory to the Vampire Counts!

Hots and Nots

Warrior Priests are softer than I remember them being. I think I fixate too much on the damage potential of Soulfire and overlook that they’re really not that much harder than a regular Wizard. The Banshees remain excellent and become more so the more I become familiar with their targeting rules; there are all sorts of cheeky things they can do through not being a conventional shooting attack. This time, the Lore of Death was a mixed bag: I didn’t regret taking it but I do think Steal Soul is a spell you need to cast every turn or kind of forget about even trying (although it’s hard to calculate magical potential in a scenario as asymmetric as this one).

Necromancy continues to have an embarrassingly short range – even the 24″ is not that far when your caster is on foot and the board is six feet across, and the really important spells cap out at 18″. Also, as I predicted, the split deployment was a mare. Vampire Counts really need to stick together in a clump around the General and everything I left out on the other flank, including the Master, was basically a goner. The Coach only made it through because I had enough Danses to save the damn thing and while it did actually get to grow its scythes in this game, it only killed useless chaffy Handgunners and war machine crew it would normally (probably) never have got near. I’m still not convinced.

One thing I’ll add in conclusion is that this game really hammered home how great the sixth edition magic system is, as long as nobody’s boring and brings four Dispel Scrolls and decides to try and take it out of the match altogether. The dice fencing aspect brought a lot of laughs, especially with the sheer number of dice Joseph’s army was generating within the circle, and yet my superior starting pool kept me in the running right the way through. An unusual game against a heavily tailored list, but one of the most fun I’ve had since this whole sixth edition revival thing really got going. Kudos to Joseph for being such a sport about it all.

Next up: teardown and rebuild of the Vampire Counts list, then it’s back to homebrew: Bloodspell Extended Edition is coming along nicely and I intend to have developer’s notes ready alongside the book itself for a December launch. Be seeing you!

[WFB] Battle Report: A Wrong Turn on the Road to Zavastra

Just before all this malarkey with Nineteen Crows kicked into high gear, I was in London. The London Book Fair had been cancelled but I was there anyway, and had a spare day to play some socially-distanced no-handshakes Warhammer at the new Dark Sphere ‘megastore’ in Shepherd’s Bush. Also risking life and limb for some last jollity before the end were Niklaus Meurke (known for The Old World Lives podcast) and Joseph Bain (known for organising a bunch of London and Midlands sixth ed meetups while we in the West and Wales have sat on our asses since EGG).

We agreed on 3000 points and no Pitched Battles. I took a lot of photos but not a lot of notes (something has to suffer if I’m to concentrate on actually playing the game) and it’s now been long enough that I don’t remember enough for a blow by blow recap.

First up for the motley was Niklaus, with something pretty unusual.

Deployment: KISLEV.

Niklaus brought the Tzarina Katarina, a unit of Kossars with a Boyar, three units of Winged Lancers with Boyars, three units of Ungol Horse Archers (one quite large), the Gryphon Legion (packing War Banner) and Bronzino’s Galloper Guns. I no longer recall which Boyars had which kit (one definitely had an Enchanted Shield) or exactly what the Kislev spells are called (but Katarina had a breath weapon, a wall effect, a self-enhancement that made her fly and improved her combat stats, and a basic magic missile).

Given the sheer haste of his forces we opted for the Breakthrough scenario with him attacking.

Deployment: Sylvania..

I would be using the same list for both games: fortunately, I have written that down at least.

Margarita: Vampire Countess; level 2 wizard (Lore of Death: Dark Hand, Death Dealer, Doom and Darkness), Sword of Striking, Ring of the Night, Spell Familiar and Summon Wolves.
The Master: Master Necromancer: level 4 wizard (Necromancy: Invocation of Nehek, Hellish Vigour, Gaze of Nagash, Curse of Years), Wristbands of Black Gold, Black Periapt
Rosenkratz: Necromancer: level 2 wizard (Necromancy: Invocation of Nehek, Curse of Years), Book of Arkhan, Power Stone
Guildenstern: Necromancer: level 2 wizard (Necromancy: Invocation of Nehek, Vanhel’s Danse Macabre), Rod of Flaming Death
Whispering Nell: Wraith: Cursed Book
Walravius: Wight Lord: Army Standard, Flayed Hauberk

Templehof Militia: 30 Skeletons with light armour, spears, champion, standard and musician
Templehof Levy: 25 Zombies with standard and musician
Hounds of Verhungern: 10 Dire Wolves with champion
The Local People: 10 Ghouls with champion

Drakenhof Templars: 12 Black Knights with barding, champion, standard (Banner of the Barrows) and musician
Black Monks of St. Herod: 5 Spirit Hosts

Cora: Banshee
Clarice: Banshee
Lord Ruthven’s Repose: Black Coach

Opening gambits! As you can see, Niklaus didn’t go hell for leather or anything, opting for a sedate advance that kept his options (and his cannons’ fire lanes) open. For my part I raised a nice big blob of Zombies in the path of the central Lancers, shoved my Banshees up to begin the business of screaming a few rank bonuses away and standing in charge lanes, and made my usual ponderous forays forward. Sadly I made one quite major boo-boo with my early movement! The Spirit Host didn’t quite have the pace to get through that house in front of them, we didn’t think a Unit Strength 15 swarm should be able to pile into a small cottage, so I had to wheel them around it instead and leave a flank pointing at the Gryphon Legion, who took full advantage (as one might expect). Although they didn’t have a magic weapon to their name they did have a rank, a flank, a standard, a War Banner and superior Unit Strength, ensuring they’d win the round by at least two. Just to vex me even further, the Spirits’ formation wouldn’t allow me to move any extra models into combat and out of the Knights’ way, as there were no rear ranks for the models to be moved from!

I would have to do something decisive, and so I did something decisive. Here’s what the board looked like when I was done pushing my luck.

 

Predictably, the Black Coach had eaten a cannonball despite my best efforts, and Niklaus had swept away its attendant Ghouls with a Lancer charge and gone careening on into the Master, who was suddenly regretting being so stingy with his defence budget. “I don’t need the Cloak of Mists and Shadows,” I’d said, “he’ll never end up in combat anyway”.

In the centre, I’d been more successful. I Summoned some Wolves to threaten Niklaus’ cannons. He was forced to overinvest somewhat in destroying them, with two Horse Archer units and Bronzino himself turning around to finish off three mouldy lupines. I also pressed forward with my Wraith: she abandoned her post and joined up with the Zombies I’d just raised instead, preparing to deter the Lancers’ charge. BUT…

Her proximity to the Kislveite lines meant a number of Terror tests had to be taken. Niklaus passed most of them, except the test for the Gryphon Legion, who suddenly turned and pelted it out of combat! Suddenly, his left flank was looking a lot less secure, with the Black Knights and Spirits poised to charge across each other and potentially mess up two of his large Lancer blocks in one go…

Sadly, the Black Knights didn’t quite make it, but the Spirits chased down the fleeing Gryphon Legion, while on my other flank, Margarita and her associates absolutely flattened Niklaus’ Kossars in combat. I wasn’t terribly worried about the Knights having to eat a charge from Winged Lancers: with Toughness 4 and a 2+ save they were better equipped to laugh it off than most of my troops! The Master had also managed to hold out, somehow, and was still lending his formidable bucket o’ dice to my spellcasting efforts. This will become significant shortly.

 

What you see here is the impact of a successfully cast Doom and Darkness on the Tzarina and her big unit of Horse Archers, followed up by a double-six Banshee scream right into them. The Tzarina was left on one wound, although her “turn me into a frosty phoenix” spell ensured she made short work of Clarice in the fightin’ phase.

A “top of the midgame to ya” kind of image. My wall o’ summoned Zombies were now long gone, but a new block had joined them to protect the flank of the Skeleton unit and deter those surviving Lancers from trying anything.

After beating back the Lancers’ charge for a modest four casualties, my Knights (and Spirits) were now hopelessly out of position. Unable to march, they played no further part in the hostilities, while Niklaus’ Horse Archers finished off my Dire Wolves.

Not wanting to risk a rear charge from the Horse Archers on my Skeletons, I opted to try and block their lanes with the Wight Lord, whose 1+ save was enough to eat their attacks and, thanks to his Battle Standard, not that fussed about being outnumbered either. If the Tzarina tried anything he was done for but that would leave her in range of all my magic missiles.

Finally freed of Zombies, the central Lancer unit ploughed on into my Necromancers’ bunker, while the rest of Niklaus’ units ran hell for leather into my deployment zone, trying to salvage as many warm bodies (and necessary points total Broken Through) as they could.

The Tzarina elected to try something quite bold at this point, moving in to try and pin the Zombies down and save her cavalry. Sadly, even her frosty fun bird spell and breath weapon (dispelled) didn’t avail her and she ended up fleeing back into the tightening noose of Undead infantry, leaving a ragged handful of survivors to trickle past as the Zombies focused their attentions on her, the greater prize. The middle block of Lancers legged it too: Niklaus just couldn’t catch a break.

Victory to the Vampire Counts!

To Niklaus’ credit this was going to be a hard one for him to win on the victory condition. His individual units were so cheap and comparatively fragile that he’d struggle to get 1000 points’ worth through my lines unscathed without detouring at least one Lancer block around me, and with this much stuff on this size table there wasn’t really room for him to do that. My conservative approach to Vampire Generals meant he wasn’t likely to get the sudden death win from killing Margarita and polishing off crumbling units, either. In the early turns my poor movement and his speed advantage might have freed up some space for him, but that fortunate Terror test brought the game back to me.

Hots and Nots

The Lore of Death absolutely proved its worth here. I’m pretty sure Death Dealer was instrumental in seeing off those Lancers at the end, and of course the Banshee scream + Doom and Darkness power move came off about as perfectly as it could. Taking a Spell Familiar on Margarita was a sound choice as well, ensuring that I had a Death spell worth casting even though I only had a single caster.

However: the army really started to struggle magically when the Master dropped off. I wasn’t particularly threatened by a single level 4 caster, but I was also struggling to get any spells past her with only level 2s throwing a handful of dice around the place. Also, the sheer width of table involved here and the breadth on which I had to engage Niklaus’ forces meant my most expensive and powerful units were stranded once they’d broken through. Granted I should have set Margarita up a little more centrally and I probably could have saved the Master’s flank from collapsing, but I still found myself wanting for Aura of Dark Majesty towards the end of this one.

[WFB] Getting Schooled by Dr. Shiny

Ten years ago this month, I started teaching my arch-rival and nemesis and bestest friend ever Lawrence how to play Warmachine. I also started a blog, because I’d come home at the drop of a hat to start my teacher training and left the Warmachine scene of Greater Manchester behind and frankly, I was feeling a bit lonely. It’s been a long ten years and it hasn’t always been much fun, and a lot of things have had to be left behind in the meantime.

But not everything.

Lawrence and I go way, way back. We’ve known each other for well over twenty years. And in that time, Lawrence’s long-suffering, long-serving Skaven – the first opponents for my putative Army of Sylvania fifteen years ago last Christmas – have never managed to beat my Vampire Counts.

Until now.

Preamble

I won’t say that playing Lawrence again was the only reason I went down to the Exeter Games Gathering, but it was certainly up there. It’s only an hour’s train ride for him, so he had no excuse. By the time he arrived I was struggling to formulate a coherent thought and so we opted for a nice straightforward Pitched Battle, bo-ring as it might be.

I was testing out my new “three casters? take Death!” approach and, at the last moment, dropped both my Bound Spells in favour of a single base Spirit Host because I felt myself wanting for chaff. The resultant army looked like this:

  • Countess Carmilla: level 2 wizard, Death magic (Death Dealer, Wind of Death), Sword of Striking, Ring of the Night, Black Periapt, Aura of Dark Majesty
  • Rosenkratz: level 2 wizard, Necromancy (Invocation of Nehek, Hand of Dust)
  • Guildenstern: level 2 wizard, Necromancy (Invocation of Nehek, Gaze of Nagash)
  • Whispering Nell: Wraith with Cursed Book
  • 30 Skeletons: light armour, spears, full command
  • 20 Zombies: standard and musician
  • 10 Huntsmen
  • Spirit Host (1 base)
  • 8 Black Knights: barding, full command
  • 8 Black Knights: barding, full command
  • Banshee
  • Banshee

Lawrence, it turned out, was also testing out a new approach, which he’d never had the balls to attempt back in the day:

  • Grey Seer Makkiavelli: level 4 wizard (Skitterleap, Pestilent Breath, Vermintide, Plague): Death Globes, whatever the Skaven equivalent of the Wristbands of Black Gold are called
  • Fooko: Warlock Engineer with all the trimmings plus Storm Daemon and Dispel Scroll
  • Derridaa: Warlock Engineer with all the trimmings plus Warpscroll
  • Kirkegaad: Chieftain with shield, heavy armour, Bands of Power and Sword of Battle
  • 30 Clanrats: full command, Warpfire Thrower team
  • 30 Clanrats: full command, Ratling Gun team
  • 4 Giant Rat packs
  • 5 Rat Swarm bases
  • 10 Night Runners: slings, additional hand weapons
  • 28 Plague Monks: additional hand weapons, full command
  • Warp Lightning Cannon
  • 6 Plague Censer Bearers

This is, as you’ll appreciate, quite a toothy Skaven army. I remember Lawrence’s Skaven not being this tuned. It’s my own fault, I know perfectly well that plastic Plague Monks have happened since the day, I was there when he built the cannon, and Skaven have ALWAYS had the option of four Warp Lightnings in a turn. It’s just… a lot of that slipped my mind, lulled out of consciousness by Lawrence’s relentless whinging about how rubbish his Skaven are. And back in the day, I was being carried along by a bullshit Storm of Chaos list which could put Magic Resistance on everything worth zapping and yeet three units of Dire Wolves into the back of his army on turn two. This sort of thing annoyed and/or worried Lawrence and left me able to coast over the top of the Skaven blocks quite effectively once the Rat Swarm was out of the way.

That’s why I felt confident enough to set up like this.

The plan was to set up a picket line with the Huntsmen, fleeing when Lawrence’s troops started to close, and pull a unit of Knights over to that side as well, with the remaining units jammed up his grill to occupy the Plague Monks and Rats. And that worked fine.

But that was the entire extent of the plan. The rest of my game boiled down to “try and win a magic-missile-off with the army which has the best magic missile in the game and can cast it three times, two with better-than-average odds of Irresistible Force, every turn, and also outshoots me by a country mile.”

And the other thing I hadn’t expected was that Lawrence would Skitterleap his Grey Seer into the back of my army and proceed to chain cast Vermintide and Pestilent Breath into the back of my Skeleton unit two turns on the trot. This after he wiped half of them out with an Irresistible Plague on the very first turn.

Frankly, it was courteous of him to blow up his own Warpfire Thrower, kill a rank of Clanrats with an overenthusiastic Vermintide, fall short with all but one of his Warp Lightning Cannon shots, and have Makkiavelli drop his Death Globes on his own feet twice. That, plus panicking his Night Runners off the table and making the one good move at the start, at least kept me in the game until the fourth round. At that point, once my Knights had been shot to shit trying to get into a decent position, I opted to call it a day.

Maybe if I’d had a bigger Spirit Host, and a Book of Arkhan somewhere to guarantee me a Vanhel’s Danse to cast… maybe if I’d not decided to play a defensive game against an army that had no reason to close the distance when it could slaughter me from 18-24″ away… maybe if I’d had a better night’s sleep beforehand… maybe if I’d treated my oldest friend with something more than contempt and actually planned to give him a proper fight…

If ifs and buts were candies and nuts we’d all be diabetic, I suppose. I did consider leaving the army in a skip or something on the way home – it’s been fifteen years, and I often feel trapped by nostalgia, like I’m trying to get back to 2004 and pretend the time between then and now didn’t happen, and I can’t deny the symbolism of anniversaries and old enemies and final defeats.

It’s been ten years and in that time the whole ‘hobby blogger’ phenomenon has boomed and bust. I effectively put the blog on life support back in 2018, but resolved to give it a final year and a fair go, and this is the best note to go out on, I think. A couple of lads from Plymouth shoving some toy soldiers around, and walking to the station in the rain.

Once I built a railroad; now it’s done.

[WFB] Battle Report: Von Carsteins at Caerwysg

WFB Sixth Edition.
6000 points.
Vampire Counts vs. Bretonnians and Dogs of War.

Frankly, if that doesn’t wake you up inside, I don’t know what will. It certainly kept me going for about eight hours, even though I hadn’t actually slept for two nights on the trot and was fast succumbing to ye pestilence and, frankly, was only kept functional by a hideous cocktail of OG Relentless and cranberry juice. Lee hadn’t had the best night either, with two fire alarms going off in his hotel during the wee hours, but damn it all we’d been planning this for weeks and we weren’t going to let anything stop us now.

Doesn’t that make it all worthwhile?

Neither force was what you’d call “legal”, although the conventions regarding numbers of Lords and Heroes, as well as Core, Special and Rare troops under them, were still obeyed. The goal was for myself and Lee to plonk our entire painted collections on the board and give the other attendees of yer actual Exeter Games Gathering something to gawp at in between doing each other over. If you have a 6’x4′ table for the whole day, you might as well make use of it!

We cobbled together a makeshift scenario by mashing up the Flank Attack and Capture ones from the WFB rulebook. Flank Attack would make the most of Lee’s divided forces by not actually considering them the same thing; Capture would relieve us of the need to calculate or even consider Victory Points, with victory determined by Who Was Closest To The Shed at the end. The well-paid and foolishly courageous Dogs of War would start entrenched behind enough linear obstacles to make a Dwarf blush (to ensure I couldn’t sweep them all away by turn two), while the Bretonnians would advance from a flank of Lee’s choosing at the top of turn three (giving me a turn to at least brace for impact before the inevitable charge).

We needed something suitably high stakes to draw these mighty forces together, so I elected not to bring the Carstein Ring, and instead place it within the retirement cottage of one Felix Mann, Esq, once of Altdorf and now long deceased. Why was this important? Look at who showed up…

Vampire Counts (attacking)

  • Mannfred von Carstein
  • Lord Ruthven (Vampire Lord on Zombie Dragon; some kit which ended up being totally irrelevant)
  • Countess Carmilla (Vampire Countess on foot; Summon Bats and Spectral Attendants)
  • Sir Francis Varney (Vampire Thrall in Wolf Form)
  • Walravius (Wight Lord Battle Standard Bearer, waving the Hell Banner about)
  • Whispering Nell (Wraith with the Cursed Book)
  • Rosenkratz, Guildenstern and Haeckl (three Necromancers with a Power Stone and Dispel Scroll apiece)
  • 30 Skeleton Spearmen
  • 20 Skeleton Crossbowmen
  • 20 Zombies
  • 2 (independent) Bat Swarms
  • 10 Ghouls
  • 10 Huntsmen
  • 10 Dire Wolves
  • 20 Drakenhof Guard (with the Screaming Banner)
  • 28 Black Knights (one unit of 12 with the Drakenhof Banner, two units of 8 with nowt fancy to their name)
  • 1 very large Spirit Host
  • 2 Banshees
  • 2 Black Coaches

Dogs of War (defending)

  • Lorenzo Lupo
  • an unnamed but courageous Hireling Wizard, late of Bretonnia no doubt, brandishing the Staff of Sorcery (Lee’s spare Damsel coming out to play)
  • a foolhardy Paymaster
  • Leopold’s Leopard Company
  • the Marksmen of Miragliano
  • a Pikeman company whose resemblance to the Alcatini Fellowship is entirely coincidental
  • an off-brand Crossbowman company
  • Tichi-Huichi’s Raiders
  • Bronzino and a Galloper Gun
  • Dadallo and the Birdmen of Catrazza
  • Lumpin Croop and his Fighting Cocks
  • the Giants of Albion and Hengist

Bretonnians (flanking)

  • King Louen Leoncoeur
  • Morgiana la Fay
  • The Green Knight
  • a Paladin on a Pegasus
  • a Paladin not on a Pegasus (bearing the Battle Standard)
  • two footslogging Paladins
  • a slightly overwhelmed Damsel with the Silver Mirror
  • half a dozen Grail Knights (playing escort to the Fay and the BSB)
  • eight Knights Errant
  • two dozen Bowmen
  • a dozen Men At Arms
  • two fistfuls of Mounted Yeomen
Lee felt himself stretched pretty thin by this engagement, but had the advantage of a strong defensive position for his Pikemen and an excellent viewpoint for the Marksmen of Miragliano. His skirmishers occupied the wood on the left, while the Giants of Albion reluctantly divided their attentions, ready to counter-punch the oncoming horde.
Mannfred isn’t feeling very optimistic about his positioning, but he has the only Danse Macabre on the field, so without him the infantry will be lucky to reach the halfway line, and I’m not leaving him on his own without a cavalry unit to hide out in.
Lorenzo Lupo stares the Vampire Count down. These pikes are going nowhere!
In many ways my choice of flanking force was dictated by the terrain. My Huntsmen could only take cover behind this ruined chapel, while the Black Coaches didn’t have any other way into the lines that wouldn’t take them into a hedge and certain destruction. The Dire Wolves are over here because they’re still pretty nippy even if Mannfred can’t help them march; the Black Knights will turn into the bulk of the army and pick up speed later. The Spirit Host is just out of sight on the left; if the Bretonnians show up on that side, I’m confident that 24 Ethereal wounds will at least slow them down.
On the other flank, I planned to have these Ghouls spread out to block the Bretonnians should they show up, while Ruthven is there to deliver Terror, dragon breath and Death Magic into the heart of the Dogs’ line. Allegedly.

We both figured the Dogs of War would need a lot of luck to make it through the game, but things would doubtless turn Lee’s way when the Bretonnians arrived. Were we right? Read on…

Opening Gambits (Turns 1 and 2)

My advance was immediately checked when the Green Knight showed up on turn one! The ethereal crew don’t fancy their chances any more, and to be honest I was already thinking of this flank as a write-off. My suspicions were confirmed when the Galloper Gun smashed one coach to powder with its first damn shot, and the Green Knight spent three turns making Spirits go bye-bye. Lee’s rolls for the git’s Dolorous Blade or whatever it’s called were terrifying; six, six and five extra attacks in a row!
Mannfred drove his Knights headlong into the Pikes. Not the best idea he’s ever had, especially when I realised they didn’t actually have the “sod your obstacles I hit you on threes” standard after all, but Pikemen are only WS and S 3; I’d get to roll some hefty armour saves, and with a bit of luck I’d have Lord Ruthven joining them in that conveniently dragon-shaped hole on their flank. Sadly, Lee managed to dispel Vanhel’s Danse Macabre and cast The Bear’s Anger on his Paymaster, making him big and mean enough to hold off a whole unit of raised Zombies all by himself! What you see here is the impact of static combat resolution on Knights who’ve achieved nothing but a dead unit champion.
On the left flank, the charging Giant stumbled as my Hunstmen did a bit of baiting and fleeing. Hengist was now open to a charge from the Dire Wolves, and my Black Coach had a lane on Bologs (or is it Cachtorr?). Impact hits weren’t enough to fell the brute, however, and it proceeded to Yell and Bawl for three turns on the trot. Automatically losing combat by two each time was enough to grind both units into dust. BORING!
Something similar happened on this side. On its charge, Cachtorr (or is it Bologs?) Yelled and Bawled, denying Lord Ruthven and his faithful steed any chance to get a wound in edgeways. On his next turn, Lord Ruthven proceeded to Miscast, lobbing himself out of the combat and narrowly avoiding the hedge!

Bretonnia Rides (Turns 3 and 4)

The Knights arrived, and promptly… achieved nothing for an entire turn, as the Yeomen failed their fear test, refused to charge my Skeleton Crossbowmen, and tied up the far braver units behind them. Similar events occured in the midfield, where the Men At Arms wanted nothing to do with fighting Ghouls and the Peasant Bowmen learned that actually, Ghouls are quite dangerous in a fight.
Morgiana took exactly one swig from her magical chalice, chugging the lot and hurling a Comet of Cassandora into the middle of the undead lines! As if that wasn’t enough, Mannfred’s attempt at Hellish Vigour to improve his Knights’ odds of crossing the fence was met with the Silver Mirror, dispelling the spell and putting a wound on him to boot. Even the Zombies were unable to turn the tide, as Lorenzo Lupo generated sufficient surplus wounds from challenging the Black Knights’ champion to cancel out his unit’s loss of rank bonus and draw the combat!

Desperate Times (Turns 5 and 6)

In response, the Undead lines turned. The Huntsmen rallied and ran to intercept the Bretonnians, along with the leftmost unit of Black Knights. Their counterparts on the right charged Bologs (or Cachtorr) in an effort to save the Dragon from another round of Yelling and Bawling. Banshees and Wraiths were hurled toward the centre of the field in an effort to put the Cursed Book in play and whittle down the Dogs of War further, but a nasty surprise or two lay in wait. Firstly: Leopold’s Leopard Company are immune to psychology, and therefore to Banshee wails. Secondly…
Secondly, the Knights arrived too late. Cachtorr (or possibly Bologs) took matters in hand (or rather forehead), nutting the Zombie Dragon to death. I’d be pissed off about this, but “nutted to death by Giant” is a pretty epic way to go. The Knights didn’t quite manage to finish him off, he passed his Stubborn AF break test, and next turn King Louen charged and proceeded to go through the Knights like a woodchipper. In back, the Yeomen charged my summoned Zombies in the rear, breaking their ranks and buying Lorenzo Lupo another round…
… which he used to challenge Mannfred, taking the Count of Sylvania on mano-e-mano in the Classical style! Still hampered by the hedgerow which his Knights had yet to cross, Mannfred wasn’t quite able to strike down the mercenary general, while Lorenzo only landed two blows of his own; not enough to put Mannfred out of his misery.
On the other flank, Sir Francis Varney seized the day. An 18 inch charge and a 1+ armour save delivered him safely into the Crossbowmen, and three S7 attacks saw them broken before his onslaught.
The Drakenhof Guard produced impressive results in their charge against the Leopard Company. Although their Screaming Banner and Hell Banner power combo was wasted on the fearless pikemen, Leopold was cut down by a Killing Blow from the Guards’ Champion, and the Guard – aided by a timely cast of Death Dealer and Hellish Vigour – killed enough of the Leopard Company that they actually broke from combat on its own!
Even without Leopold, the Pikemen rallied, but this was do-or-die turn for the Vampire Counts and they didn’t let me down. Lord Ruthven charged and butchered the Mounted Yeomen, and the Drakenhof Guard were impelled into combat with an Irresistible Danse Macabre, turning both combats in favour of the Undead. Leopold’s men were run down, and while Lorenzo just about held his ground…
… the Paymaster was not so fortunate. Sir Francis was thirsty, and as the Paymaster fell beneath his blade, disaster struck the Dogs of War. Lorenzo, one of the Giants, and the Marksmen of Miragliano all failed their Panic tests and bolted, leaving the Sylvanians in control of the objective! And just to cap everything off, I managed to dispel the Comet.

There followed a chain of events which I was too tired to photograph, and I hope Lee can supply suitable imagery in good time. But here’s what happened.

Mannfred was finally able to cross the hedge and take control of the Mann residence. All he had to do was survive one last turn. To that end, he and all his Necromancers attempted to cast Invocations to restore him to full capacity of Wounds. Lee Dispelled Mannfred’s Invocation, and I failed to cast the other three. Suddenly, everything was back on the knife edge again.

In the middle ground, I was able to Summon Bats, redeploy Ghouls, and shove Skeletons forward so that Lee’s Knights had very few charge opportunities left.

The second Giant stumbled in its charge on Carmilla and her guard; about to Jump Up and Down, the drunken oaf ended up falling at Carmilla’s feet, and she took great pleasure in avenging her last outing against the Giants by cutting it down in person.

King Louen descended on the Necromancers, cutting their zombie bodyguard to ribbons but leaving the casters themselves alive.

Hope, such as it was, rested with one man…

Whirling his Delirious Blade about him, the Green Knight, immortal defender of Bretonnia, charged in and challenged the Vampire Count to single combat. Lacking any alternative, Mannfred drew his sword again and hoped against hope that he could prevail. It was not to be. The Ethereal care not for hedgerows, and so the Green Knight fought at full efficiency, liberating Mannfred from the mortal coil.

Hopefully, this epic final clash is not spoiled too much by my errant fingertip making its way into the photograph.

Defeat! Defeat at the very last round of combat on the very last turn! Honestly, I couldn’t ask for a better way to go out than that. When you’re playing a supervillain like Mannfred, hubris and trickery and defeat snatched from the jaws of victory by an immortal force of righteous fury is fitting and there’s no bones about it.

Lee was delighted at the chance to field all his forces together and for that matter so do I; one never normally gets to take things like Dragons and so many spellcasters that the Lore of Death on two of them doesn’t feel like a waste. On top of all that, it was a delightfully close game which could easily have gone either way, and if we played it again (ideally when we weren’t both half mad with sleep deprivation) I for one would do things a little differently.

I’d probably stack the cavalry on that open flank, and let the Spirits lead the charge into those pike blocks (since they don’t give a monkey’s chuff about hedges). That might leave my infantry lagging a bit, but to be honest, their job was to ferry the spellcasters and Wraith forward and then block as many charge lanes as possible. I wouldn’t change the list much, except for maybe slipping Call Winds onto Carmilla for the early turns… and of course, not leaving home without the Banner of the Barrows.