[WFB] Seeing the Wood for the Trees

The background for the Deadwood Covenant has become… convoluted. This is why I don’t normally do backstories; the moment one starts playing, new contexts emerge, options become clarified through experience, and sooner or later much of what you devised at the start is being jostled out by newer ideas. Not necessarily better ones – just newer. This is especially true with wargames, where you might come out of the gate with An Idea and then discover that it don’t work like that in The Rules and suddenly you’re in the jaws of the Stormwind Fallacy again because making stories and doing well are not aligned in productive harmony.

What follows will not be deliciously tuned and well crafted prose: this is another of those posts in which I dump my thoughts out on the table and poke them about with a fork in public, thinking aloud rather than presenting fully formed and concrete ideas, freeing up brain tape so I can move on to the next step of refining and reorganising the raw ideas. Thus, straight from the notes folder:

Original Concept

TESSONFROID in BRETONNIA: a realm afflicted by permanent winter
Uneasy alliance between Wood Elf and Bretonnian courts
Wood Elves keep forgetting there’s a truce — why?
Family curse; the ruling aristocracy made a deal with the Forest Spirits, trading their life force to keep the forest alive
they are now Alter Kindred; no Wood Elves can be in charge; general has to be a Forest Spirit
Thus: the Maven.

ISSUE ENCOUNTERED: one Branchwraith isn’t enough to keep a whole army together, turning down Leadership 9 or 10 is a Folly; the concept does not work in The Rules at 2000 points.
I introduced the Druid (a Spellweaver) to give me a Leadership 9 Level 4 wizard as general, a comfort zone thing, and Gwydion the Battle Standard Bearer. Why are they called Gwydion and the Druid? Because of a Bill Bailey skit I doubt anyone but myself or Shiny will laugh at.

ISSUE ENCOUNTERED: Resurrection created the need for a divergent storyline as it locks the army into a different location (the Badlands)…

Solo Campaign

The Maven & The Witch opened the tin lid on a lot of backstory:

Introduced the full Court of the Crag — Prince Hywel, Gwydion and Gilfaethwy, Bloddeuwydd the Spellsinger.
Introduced High Tiernmas, an ancient kingdom of barbarians. Pre-Bretonni. Clearly a bit necromantic as they ended up being Tomb Kings… well, Barrow Kings. Last king, name of Grimgroth, personally put down by the Wood Elves when they arrived. Twin Princes also: Drognar Nar Janath and Jadan Nar Garoth.
Introduced the Heart of the Forest, a magical location which the Maven was counting on to sort itself out and end the winter one day.

Reflecting on this Grimgroth character and on the rules possibilities of fourth/fifth edition Warhammer, I also introduced the Crown of Sorcery! Dragged up here by Orcs migrating back from the Badlands after the sack of Mourkain, it became the heirloom crown of the kingdom of Tiernmas.
One presumes the Wood Elves came out of Athel Loren to put a stop to all that necromancy going on in said barbarian kingdom, couldn’t destroy the Crown but could seal it away, and settled down there to keep an eye on it.
THEN SOMETHING HAPPENED — against some existential threat (the adversary in a fifth edition game), a Highborn of the Asrai put on the Crown of Sorcery (against the advice of his druidic advisor). WHATEVER THE OUTCOME, the Crown had to go, and the Druid went away to get rid of it (taking it all the way to Troll Country to be sure and returning it to its place in the true canon lore TM).

CAVEAT: none of this can be anything to do with the eternal winter, because that’s not my story element to interfere with; that’s Shiny’s thing.

Resurrection Campaign

So the Deadwood Covenant did a Worldroots walk to protect the Forest of Gloom during all this upheaval in the main campaign storyline.
They didn’t do well: the Maven died a death, Prince Hywel is an Alter Kindred so he can’t be in charge even if he is thinking more clearly now the curse is loosened, so he made a new bargain with the Forest of Gloom, getting his daughter Bloddeuwydd back as a new Maven.
All this has been sent to the campaign organiser so it’s LOCKED AND CANON now! I can’t do my usual “malleable backstory to justify the list I want to take this time” tricks.

Bloddeuwydd is a mage with the Glamourweave upgrade (making her a Forest Spirit so she can lead an army) but she has to ride a Unicorn (I’ve got the model, this is fine). She doesn’t have to be the Lord though — I could take a Treeman Ancient, and since my Treeman has been the absolute star of my games so far I’m not entirely opposed to this.

Asrai Forge

While thinking about the army’s characters and story I’ve also been thinking about army lists, magic items and so on. I’ve reached a point where my units have names – the Black-Briar are my Glade Guard, the Pale Rose my Eternal Guard, and I’ve decided Celyn and Eiddew will be my newly subordinate Branchwraiths. Now I’m thinking about magic items – building a continuity between games is a lot easier when your characters feel like the same people because they do the same things on the battlefield. I went through the Wood Elf army book and made a couple of lists:

Theme Items I Should Use

  • Callach’s Claw
  • Sword of a Thousand Winters
  • Briarsheath (I named my Glade Guard the Black-Briars, so…)
  • Glamourweave
  • Amaranthine Brooch (Shiny’s Damsel is named Amaranthe, and also, this is a thing and so is this)
  • Fimbulwinter Shard
  • Hagbane Tips (Thank you MilitantKakapo for the suggestion of harvesting the Maven’s body for arrows! It’s probably going in the Resurrection list at least…)
  • Banner of Midwinter

Good Items I Like Using

  • Bow of Loren
  • Helm of the Hunt
  • Hail of Doom (and Asyendi’s Bane as a delivery system, off the Battle Standard Bearer; I don’t like dodging the “no longbow” restriction, but I do like that this one stings back if it misses, and I think I can accept it as a one shot “spell-like ability”, reminiscent of Total War’s Talon of Kurnous)
  • Arcane Bodkins
  • Elyneth’s Brooch
  • Gwytherc’s Horn
  • Calingoir’s Stave
  • Banner of Springtide

I haven’t bothered to list Common Magic Items: these are the old standbys to which I always turn when I have space and time, and I’ll always have room in my heart for a Sword of Might, a War Banner or one Dispel Scroll for the bread and butter effects.

I also haven’t gone deep on Spites. I like the Annoyance of Netlings and Cluster of Radiants a lot, and credit is once again due to comrade Kakapo for pointing out that the Resplendence of Luminescents goes a long way on, say, the Druid and a Glade Guard bunker, giving me options that aren’t the Hail of Doom for dealing with Daemons / Spirit Hosts / other Forest Spirit friends. I tend to forget about Spites when not equipping a Branchwraith and that’s something I want to work on as I tune the characters further in the future.

My hope is that they’ll settle, eventually, into the kind of setup Lord Ruthven and his coterie have achieved – minor adjustments as they drift back and forth between editions and list variants, but not losing their fundamental identities.

Prince Hywel is the cursed founder of a dynasty he can never lead; a warrior par excellence but nothing but a warrior. Gilfaethwy and Gwydion are of a pair; arrogant and dangerous hunters of the deep wood. Bloddeuwydd is the voice of reason, but deepest in the forest’s clutches since her death and resurrection.

My poor Battle Standard Bearer – well, he’s where I start making sacrifices for the sake of actually winning a battle now and then, because I find it hard to get a decent story out of “being whooped so hard we really should all be dead by now”. The photocopy special here is Asyendi’s Bane and the Hail of Doom but I think I like the Hail more on Prince Hywel and I want the Banner of Midwinter as my Army Standard, dammit. (From a strict optimisation perspective it should go on the regiment of Eternal Guard, but I think I can argue for wanting the War Banner there or on the Glade Guard and since both of my War Banner candidates look the same… aesthetics and WYSIWYG are a compelling case. Means I can’t take the War Banner on the Wild Riders, but they’re better off cheap I think.) He needs a new name as well as there are just too many Gwydions flying around here (and I want to keep the “Gwydion and the Druid” reference for my Lord and Archmage in the fifth edition “history” list).

And there’s a vacancy for a new Lord, since the siren song of Leadership 10 can only be ignored for so long. The idea here is that the new Lord – hello Nivienne – isn’t cursed, and may actually be able to liberate the Deadwood, given time and good advice, and can at least keep the scheming forest spirits under control. Bow of Loren, Briarsheath, Fimbulwinter Shard and Arcane Bodkins should make for a very hard-to-hit sniper with some “forest spirits stay away” flavour; the alternative is really leaning into having taken what’s left of the Maven and turned her into weaponry, with the Callach’s Claw, Hagbane Arrows, Fimbulwinter Shard again and Gwythec’s Horn to keep any unit she joins robust in the face of terror. Maybe I’ll try that second build at Resurrection 3 and 4, since that’s a much more themey event and I’m on a hiding to nothing in the campaign anyway.

Muster The Kindred

Finally there’s the matter of models. I have a fair amount of stuff in the painting queue already, as discussed in the roundup post:

  • 12 Eternal Guard (primed)
  • Branchwraith (primed)
  • archer Highborn/Noble (primed)
  • 2 Great Eagles (assembled)
  • 5 Wild Riders (assembled, but break every time the cat farts in the next room)
  • 16 Dryads (on sprue)
  • Treeman (on sprue)

You may have gathered that I do not fully respect the Wild Rider models, which are firmly from the new “designed for the Studio, failing at life” tradition of casting and assembly. Lovely display pieces, but in a foam case on public transport they’re not up to code.

I am also having second thoughts about the big Treeman; the first was enormous fun to assemble but again, case and space are iron laws and he’s a bit spindly around the twiggy bits. Can I transport two without a second box that takes me into the realm of “games for the motorised” – which I am not.

Help, however, is at hand. Dead Earth’s cavalry have been repackaged into a “Beastrider Wars” range and made available for 3D printing; I have also been directed to a 3D printing firm who are said to do one-off runs to the acceptable standard.

My current wheeze is to pick up the Stag Riders I’ve had my eye on for a while, as well as their rather spiffy Raven Riders (they do Warhawks, but given the option of a giant corvid I’ll take the giant corvid), and liquidate the Citadel Wild Riders (dreadful spindly things) and Eagles (fine models but a little oversized and intimidating to paint; I’ve had them for a year and don’t feel like taking them on; besides, I could just use MORE TREEMAN).

As for the Treeman, Raging Heroes do a set of three more modestly proportioned lads who might do nicely on 50mm squares. They’re taller than the Tree-Kin anyway, although maybe not large enough to be Large Targets. I shall contemplate them on the Tree of Woe, but as I type I feel more inclined to either build another big bugger OR keep my eye out for some decent Waywatcher proxies.

[Meta Gaming] Winterborn: 2021 Hobby Retrospective

Around this time last year (just before my birthday, in fact), The Twisted & The Twilight released for Total War: Warhammer 2. It was something of a shot in the arm for me, coming along after the six months in which I didn’t do much other than play Total War (I don’t know if I mentioned it, but I had the depression), and before the “circuit breaker” lockdown put me back in my cupboard for four months.

I enjoyed playing the Sisters of Twilight (incidentally, I’d like to issue a correction for my previous post. I’ve just completed a Hard/Hard campaign with them and I think I lost… two battles. I haven’t had to lift a finger to fight off the Ritual armies. I can confirm the Sisters are Pay To Win, as I have Paid for them, and Won). I really enjoyed playing Drycha, and tearing up the very familiar borderlands of Sylvania with my screaming purple trees, then turning on the Asrai that I might attack and dethrone (demi)god. And I had an indefinite period of short working days ahead of me. So… I started a Wood Elf army.

I’ve always enjoyed building miniatures and playing games, but the bit in between often loses me, so I was determined to build, paint, build, paint and so on. My most successful army-collecting efforts have always been punctuated by small games, but of course I was trapped in my quiet little mountain town and not really able to go anywhere. So… I had to improvise.

Inspired by the four-part Campaign Packs of yesteryear, the titles of those TWW2 packs and the rough background I’d thrashed out with Dr. Shiny over Christmas, I set up The Maven & The Witch – a four episode jaunt into warband, skirmish and asymmetric play that I could generally tackle of a morning before work.

Later, I took the first 2000 points Covenant to Warhammer Resurrection in the summer of 2021, to unspectacular results. After some brief hobby wobble I resolved to stick with them into the 2022 events. I like the army aesthetically, but tactically it needed some different bits; a second Treeman and Branchwraith, some Wild Riders to open up additional threat vectors, and I’ve also taken the opportunity to add a new general.

A heroine has arisen in the faraway Forest of Gloom – a Highborn whose elegant solution to the Covenant is to not be part of it, thus free of the curse and able to think clearly. This gives me a) an excuse to paint up the dramatically action posed wood elf archer lady from Cursed City and b) an opportunity to port my long-suffering CRPG character Nivienne into yet another fantasy universe. Murderous Forest Gremlin Nivi didn’t ask to be in charge of an army, but since they’re crap at being in charge of themselves she didn’t think she had a choice.

While confined to barracks and not in a fit state to paint I have also put some research into the names I was using for background (I’d like to pretend I didn’t steal “the Twin Princes of Tiernmas” from a Vampire: the Masquerade supplement, but I never got anywhere by lying), and found them surprisingly correspondent with what I’d come up with! Tiernmas was mythic Ireland’s first idolater king, warned by his sage advisor Celann to defer his descent and punished for his transgressions by divine wrath.

Now, I’d spent a good chunk of the year idly scheming about some fifth edition games covering the fall of Deadwood. In the face of a winter that never ended came a desperate or hubristic turn to ancient powers best forgotten about, that had already claimed one kingdom and reached out insidious talons for another. The details are still simmering down, but I’ll tell you this much; it involves the Crown of Sorcery.

I think what’s stitching together in my head is that the Crown was brought out of the Badlands by Orcs, returning from the sack of Mourkain; was seized by the human tribes that founded High Tiernmas, a kingdom of black magic and stolen power; and was sealed away beneath the Heart of the Forest by the first elves who came out of Athel Loren and settled there.

(I should add that, because I’m fitting in with Shiny’s Bretonnian backstory, the location has already been set outside Athel Loren; we’re in the forest of Chalons. I’m also not in a position to explain exactly what’s behind the endless magical winter that blights the region, although I am choosing to believe that all the necromancy made it worse.)

Of course, under great and terrible pressure, the Asrai aristocracy might have turned to the Crown and its forbidden power – and this is where I actually came in. All I wanted to do was play one of those “High Magic and Dark Magic” Wood Elf armies in a non-eighth edition of Warhammer, because eighth gives me the conniptions. Fifth had the Crown of Sorcery, which turns a character into a Level 3 Necromancer, able to cast with Dark Magic (alongside the Wood Elf Archmage who can use High Magic), but having to take a Leadership test every time they do so; clearly the better elven nature of the wearer reasserting itself over the malign influence of the Crown’s occupant.

And incidentally, this has given me a backstory for the Druid as well: a elven mage from the long-long-ago, returning to the site of his greatest failure in a noble effort to make good. Perhaps he’s the one who took the Crown far, far away, leaving it in the Chaos Wastes in the hope it wouldn’t bloody well show up again and co-incidentally returning it to THE LOAR in time for Jervis Johnson to use it in a battle report c. 1994? Or maybe I’ll just admit that I’m setting all my games in a weird parallel version of the World that touches THE LOAR here and there but is often off playing at Wild Beasts under the table.

So! All that top-of-the-noggin rambling aside, here’s what I have in the build-paint-build-paint cycle queue for next year.

  • 10 Eternal Guard
  • 2 Glade Guard champions / Waywatchers
  • 5 Wild Riders
  • 5 Wardancers (these are older metal figures, who might well end up based as a Mordheim warband, a “counts as Shadow Warriors” sort of deal)
  • 2 Great Eagles
  • 16 Dryads
  • Treeman
  • Branchwraith
  • Highborn

This army’s definitely going to the 2022 Resurrection campaigns (May and September). If I can find an opportunity to play some fifth edition games I would very much like to do so. I have also thrown down the gauntlet to Herr Doktor – we’ve been threatening to ram our new armies into each other for a good couple of years now (since before the debacle at Isca, if you credit it), and have settled on a 1500 point engagement (to be fought in Tor Caerdydd or Brycgstow) so neither of us has anything to paint. All of this merely impends, of course; first, there is the winter season, in which I sincerely hope my hands will behave themselves and I’ll be able to get some blasted figures done.

Concurrently with my Wood Elves, I was also taking my first/last/only attempt at the Old World Army Challenge. I won’t be doing this again, mostly because I don’t have any more old-school figures and I’m a forward looking “pay the wages of people who make things today, not the mortgages of people who bought things twenty years ago” kind of hobbyist, but I am… proud isn’t exactly the word? I’m glad I did it. It cleared a bottleneck and made good on a promise and I learned something about myself along the way.

My mission, should I have chosen to accept it (and I did) was to produce a 1000 point army for second edition Warhammer 40,000. Beneath this, there were personal challenges: “finally paint up that Land Raider I’d had on the shelves since 2015”, “beat the standard established by the Orks’ previous owner” and “perchance give a damn about painting again” as I was in a real goddamn slump when I first signed up.

This is in fact a 1300 point army of Rogue Trader Space Orks (plastic) with a Rogue Trader Land Raider and a metal Warboss, who was the figure I actually enjoyed painting. (All right: I suppose the tank was OK too.)

What I mainly learned from this is that the crisp and bold 1990s paintwork, beloved of many of my peers, isn’t really my thing. I had quite a miserable time figuring out where to place the blacks and reds on these, and the Ork Flesh Wash has left them looking a lot glossier than I remember my originals being, and the less said about those Goblin Green bases the better! I gave it a good college try and I don’t regret making the effort, but I don’t think I can fake-it-till-I-make-it my way back into Herohammer. But here’s the thing: I have given a damn about painting again. Having an opinion, even an unpopular opinion, is a perspective and a motive and even if I’m a scruffy painted who just slaps layers of cold glazes on things forever, I know that’s what I am.

As if spurred on by this dislike for the Old School, for the pre-history I am slightly too young to have experienced, I turned my gaze upon the Middle School, that for which I was there, and painted up a bunch of early-to-mid 2000s figures contemporary with my old Word Bearers army (RIP).

My Chaos Space Marines have settled into the status of a passion project. Since there isn’t a King of Editions, Edition of Kings with an active retro-playing scene to spur me along, I only pick up a Night Lord when I feel like it, which probably explains the four years between build and paint, and the four months between the first and second squadlets. Here’s what I still have (and the state it’s in):

  • 1 Terminator Sorcerer (painted, but I’m not happy with him)
  • 5 Possessed (primed)
  • 2 Chaos Spawn (primed)
  • 5 “display” Cultists (primed) (I don’t think Chaos Cultists should hang out in nice neat Power Level brackets divisible by ten, so I bought another box to paint up just for the look of the thing)
  • 15 Raptors (various states of “just bought”, need rebasing and sorting into proper squads)
  • 5 Warp Talons (half-painted with a different method to mine)
  • 12 contemporary Chaos Space Marines (on sprue)
  • 1 Chaos Lord (on sprue)

Unless someone decides to organise a third edition meetup I very much doubt these are getting done any time soon, but the good news is that I’ve bought more or less everything I really want for this army. (I’ve also bought a small Battlefleet Gothic fleet, on a whim, which I might sell on in the New Year as I am extremely unlikely to play any Battlefleet Gothic.) This is simply something for me to tinker with and keep on the shelf, while my WFB armies are more of a playing concern. At the rate of one squad a year they will probably be done by 2030.

What else does the future hold? Well, I still own about 3000 points of TTCombat Tomb Kings (I consolidated the collection into one range earlier this year and regret nothing; good riddance to Mantic rubbish, hello sturdy single piece figures), but someone else will be painting those for me, as i have no enthusiasm to take on another huge batch painting job. (I’m only going to get the Wood Elves done if I approach them sprue by sprue, almost.) There are the various RPG-ish figures – the Bad Squiddo Dracula range and Otherworld adventurers – languishing in a drawer waiting for the right moment. But the big thing, in a perfect world, is terrain.

Last year I moved out of my large three-bedroom house (with unused garage, lots of wargaming and hobby space but godawful heating bills and too far from work) into a cramped two-up two-down (handy for work and quite snug but I can’t even spray prime in here and it’s basically a corridor full of bookshelves and they’re all full and there aren’t enough shelves). This has put a bit of a crimp on my plans to build a battlefield of my very own, but IF I can sort out some bigger shelves and clear some floor space, I want to find room to set up my GameIn5D cubes and fill them with a few big set pieces around which to set up dioramas and play some basic games. I legitimately love building terrain and, much like the army painting, I want to get some done while I’m still physically capable of doing it.

And that, folks, is your lot. Thanks for joining me in the self-indulgence parade. Drop me some links to your retrospectives if you’re writing them – I do need to come out of my cave and talk to other bloggers more often but, like the Vampire, I’m happier with an invitation.

[WFB] The Theory and Practice of Asymmetric Warhammer

Did the treacherous Wood Elves ambush the noble reptilian defenders of the Great Plan, as the sacred plaques reveal? Or did the savage Lizardmen betray their great purpose and set about their would-be elven saviours with claw and tooth and approximately a hundred and twenty little blowpipe darts?

We had a bit of a Koom Valley situation on this week as Ben S and I took the Ambush scenario out for a spin. 1000 points of attackers against 1500 of defenders and then we’d swap sides and do it again from t’tother side of the ratio.

This doesn’t have much to do with anything, but it’s the first time Ben’s Stegadon has lived to do its job.

The games themselves weren’t massively notable, one all with very one-sided Victory Point scores to be had, and so a conventional report isn’t really worth the bother. What did come out from the post mortem, though, is how we both felt the scenario was a really rough one for the attackers to pull off.

I’ve played enough of these asymmetric encounters now – these two, the Woodland Ambush earlier this year and Reclaim The Stones the year before – that I’m starting to get a feel for them, but this one really got away from us and I want to spend some time thinking about why.

Partly, this was down to the points values. I wanted to avoid having a 2000+ points army on the defence, as that Lord choice and second Rare were clearly going to tip things, but went too far down the scale. 1000 points isn’t really enough to get anything too expensive in, and both of us found that on the attack, it was Core units with a high yield of Attacks that did the business.

Ben’s Saurus were his last surviving unit on his attack, and would have ripped the core out of my army if not for some subpar pursuit rolls stranding them in point blank range of my Glade Guard (two units of ten, on a hill).

One inch makes all the difference. Especially to those ten Lizardmen who used to be in the back.

On mine, the Dryads and Glade Guard were the only things left of my army by the top of turn three after a dud overrun-and-clip brought the Wild Riders into intimate contact with Mr. Scar-Veteran and twenty of his best mates.

My Unicorn had decent odds of squashing Ben’s Scar-Veteran,
but even that wouldn’t have tipped the static combat res. tally anywhere good.

Both lists had something in them that was eating up a good third of the available points by itself – my Wild Riders and Spellweaver, Ben’s Saurus and Scar-Veteran – and if that unit underperformed it was basically game over, boys. Small WFB games can be pretty swingy if there’s a point sink on the table and when you factor in how heavily the attacker is outnumbered that swing can be impossible to come back from (the odds already being against them).

Underneath that, there’s a layer of difficulty with the scenario itself. Warhammer armies aren’t generally built to split up across the entire width of the battlefield, and the Ambush forces the attacker to place at least a third of their army in each available deployment zone. The game is entirely decided by Victory Points for killing stuff – no table quarters, no standards, no dead generals – and runs for a comparatively conservative five turns, so the attacker really has to go in hard and establish an early lead before the defender’s superior numbers kick in.

This is what I tried to do on my attack, and I ended up with my usual Wood Elf weakness of units blocking each other out or not being able to support each other (although in my defence, I did set up some decent supporting charges that just ended up blocked by an uncooperative Unicorn – I think I still hate Ridden Monsters).

Shown here is the consequence of being blocked out of an otherwise well-placed backup charge.

Some asymmetric scenarios are meant to be skewed, of course. The Last Stand and Holding the Tide are the way they are because the defender is meant to sell their lives dearly – if they score their own cost in Victory Points they have done a sterling job. The Battle of Newberry Pass (ask your dad) is strongly rigged in favour of the smaller force by giving them depth of field against an inefficient attacking army with a bottleneck to move through. It’s meant to do that as the smaller force is meant to be forgiving, effective, and easy for a new player to pick up how moving, shooting and fighting work. The Battle of Ironaxe Ridge (same again, buy him a pint) gives the huge attacking army no room to mess up its deployment or movement so the defender has a fighting chance.

Ambush doesn’t have any of that built in – it’s a much more open affair that might need co-operation and curation between both players at the list building stage (which should be the case with all wargames, especially at our age, but old habits die hard).

The Wood Elves look like they’re in a good place here, but one hasty move later it’s the Lizardmen’s game to lose.

Neither Ben nor myself really tailored into the scenario beyond building lists of the appropriate size. His defending force was probably better equipped, with a Stegadon to terror-bomb and impact-hits-bully its way through the Wood Elf line and two units of Skinks to bubblewrap his most important and expensive stuff; my attacking force didn’t really have an answer to the Stegadon’s Terror and I threw the Wild Riders away on a badly aligned “gotta start scoring instead of getting shot at by 22 blowpipe darts again” charge.

Now, my lack of experience and patience with the Wood Elves is definitely showing here (wait, you say, for the opportune moment, because my troops can’t reliably stick and grind until reinforcements arrive? sounds fake) but when we swapped sides I similarly beansed up my early moves, giving away two early charges and yet – this is the crucial point – still managed to table Ben. The same player can make the same mistakes but as defender has a whole lot more breathing room to recover from them.

Three-way charges lead to a bit of a pile-up in the old “flee and pursue” stage of play too…

So. If you’re going to approach an asymmetric scenario like Ambush, there are a few things to bear in mind. You’ll have to consider:

  • Context of play. What are the victory conditions and what do they represent? Does the outnumbered force have a reasonable chance of achieving them or is it too easy for points to sit in places that make the outcome a foregone conclusion? Consider a Woodland Ambush against any Undead or Daemon army, where the scenario’s balancing factor (failed Panic tests yield bonus VPs) evaporates and the Wood Elves must more or less play to table with half the points on hand.
  • Points balance. I think 1200 vs. 1800 is about right for Ambush. Nobody has extra power choices available on the defence and the attack has enough points for a couple of hard units and decisive plays. By contrast, Reclaim the Stones plays much better as a 2000 vs 3000 point endeavour because the bucket of extra magic dice the defenders get really helps to close the power gap. You’ve got to look at what the armies can do with those scenario rules, which brings me on to…
  • List balance. The attacker needs bang for their buck – a high yield of attacks from cheap, reliable troops, and nothing even passing for a death star) and space to answer game-skewing questions from the defender (i.e. is there a really high Toughness unit, something that’s Unbreakable or causes Terror, or really brutal short range shooting that will force the attacker to circle instead of striking?)
  • Player skill – running the smaller force is often not for the faint of heart nor the weak of mind and if there was ever a handicap option for the veteran against the newcomer, this is probably a good candidate.

Have I missed anything?

[WFB] Fragments, inter alia

Lords

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

Heroes

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

Cora – Banshee

Clarice – Banshee

Core

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

Templehof Pals – 20 Zombies – musician, standard bearer

5 Dire Wolves

5 Dire Wolves

The Local People – 10 Ghouls – Ghast

Special

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

Black Monks of St. Herod – 1 Spirit Host

2 Bat Swarms

Rare

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

Lord Ruthven’s Repose – Black Coach

Total: 2000 points on the dot


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[WFB] The Deadwood Covenant: After Action Review

I mentioned in the last post that I wasn’t sure, at first, whether I’d had a good time at Resurrection, to the extent that my good lady wife asked a yes/no question and got a two minute “errrrr” of an answer.

This is nothing to do with Alex, who pulled out all the stops and put on a very good show, wrote up a bespoke scenario pack to make sure it wasn’t three rounds of kill ’em all Borehammer on the Saturday and actually hosted a twenty player narrative campaign event with a map and themed tables and considered scenarios and everything on the Sunday.

Neither is it anything to do with Hammy, who hosts a fine venue at Battlefield Hobbies. The main room was a bit too crowded and loud for my taste and comfort, but the side room where I spent most of the day was fine, and it can’t be forgotten that I’m an outlier in terms of personal space and background noise and so on. Bit of a bugger to get to if you don’t drive, but again, that’s not the venue’s fault is it?

It’s certainly nothing to do with my opponents, either. No, the trouble resides squarely between me and my toys. I have a lot of trouble getting the Wood Elves to work.

Overview: the Fundamental Problems

Before I do a unit by unit review I think it’s worth looking at some recurring problems I’ve had with the Wood Elves on a slightly higher plane. The three biggest ones so far are magic, leadership and combination of force.

Magic has been an issue because I’ve run into magic heavy forces and have had to prepare for them with the idosyncracy of my “only one Scroll” principle in hand. To be fair, it’s only been the Skaven and the Tzeentch Chaos where I’ve felt totally overwhelmed going in and they do that to everyone. The problem in most of the games has arrived later, when one of my wizards has thrown her life away and the other has run like hell off the board.

I can address this by stroppily refusing to play games below 3000 points (an option which has often tempted me, to be fair) or separating out my characters’ roles a little more clearly so that the main provider of Dispel dice isn’t also the front line challenge hunter. She’s dead now, in the story, so I have the perfect opportunity to work on this.

Leadership has been an issue because I’ve played more games with Vampire Counts than anything else, by a factor of about ten, and my most successful side armies were Slaanesh Chaos and Tomb Kings. I am simply not very good at avoiding taking Terror or Panic tests, or coping with the Fear factor when it’s something being used by someone else, on me.

I imagine that this will come around with practice, if I can be arsed practicing and don’t just switch back to Tomb Kings with a sigh of relief as my considerable weight hits the crutch again. The point is that at the moment, some of my games are falling apart because of crucial Leadership tests.

(There’s an issue sitting behind these last two, as well, kind of linking them both. Because I’ve been taking a Branchwraith as my general in narrative games, and a Spellweaver in the competition capacity, in order to keep my magical defences solid, I generally haven’t had access to the best Leadership values going at any points value. Ld 8 in a 2000 point army is particularly rubbish. I’m all in favour of the narrative approach, but I don’t subscribe to the Stormwind Fallacy and I am going to get a better story if I don’t get my twiglets kicked in all the time.)

Combination of force, on the other hand, is more of a usage issue. On a good day, I can line up the Glade Guard and angle them correctly so that two or even three units can cover a field of fire and concentrate their sharp pointy bits into the enemy’s soft woundable bits. What I struggle with is getting the combat troops to back each other up properly, break ranks and score flanks or provide the raw kills necessary to turn a combat around. I never seem to get two of my units onto one of theirs. This sucks, because it’s the Forest Spirits that really made me want to do this army and they need to gang up to get shit done.

Various people have patted me on the head and said “it’s a learning curve mate” or “you just need X” (where X is normally some variant on Wild Riders, Warhawk Riders, Glade Riders or anything else that moves faster than five inches per turn) but that’s list tinkering and I think there’s a more fundamental issue at work here. All of these M5 units could play nicely together but they end up spaced too far apart, because I’m having to weigh their positioning against setting up good fields of fire for the Glade Guard. The melee units end up blocked in or lined up into bad matchups because they’ve had to go down where there’s space. It might be worth leading with them in the setup and then putting the archer lines down behind to clean up.

I’m not saying I won’t be painting five Wild Riders quick sharp, but this is something to think about on a level above and beyond “what’s in the list.”

Full Teardown: piece by piece review

I’m shamelessly ripping off the Woffboot lads’ format for this. Go ye and read Woffboot if you’re into eighth edition WFB or contemporary 40K or you just like to see a bunch of gamers making their own fun.

Lords

The Druid

The good bits are the two Dispel dice, the Leadership 9, and the Lore of Life, which is definitely reaching out and touching people. If I’m on a table without a wood or not playing a Pitched Battle I’d argue he’s essential.

The less good bits are the Rhymer’s Harp and the Eternal Guard bunker. Moving through terrain came in moderately handy against Max, but I don’t really need another unit that can do that, and having my General and my Battle Standard tied down in one unit means they can do things like fail a terror test all together and cost me the game, as they did against Paul. I started bunkering him in with them because he kept dying when I left him on his own, but I only lost Bloddeuwydd to Panic tests all the way through the weekend so maybe the games with Ben were more of a fluke. Or Ben just hates me having fun and wants to kill my wizzos.

Either way: he level 4 can stay, but his kit needs a coat of looking at.

Verdict: I’m Necessary Evil

Prince Hywel

I love this guy. Granted, I threw him away in the game with Joe because I was in a bad mood, but he still did a lot of work with the Hail of Doom across both games and he can absolutely mix it up with any chaff that gets into my army (as he did in the game against Brendan). The only downside is he eats my Lord slot without passing Leadership 10 onto the army or doing anything to help magically; that’s quite a high opportunity cost.

In narrative terms, it might be both wise and appropriate to have him shake off the curse of Deadwood and rejoin the kinbands so he can hand out Leadership 10. There’s nothing stopping me taking the Bow of Loren and the Hail of Doom on a Lord…

Verdict: 100% Reason To Remember The Name

Heroes

Gilfaethwy ap Hywel

I had to try it. The Alter Noble / Bow of Loren / Briarsheath combo is just very evocative. It’s Legolas gone feral. It’s… not bad, but it’s not brilliant either, it doesn’t add enough to the army to be worth the Hero slot in a 2000 point game and certainly not in a 1500. As much as I want to field the whole family together, he’s benched outside of scenario play.

Verdict: You’re Good, Boy, But You’re Not Good Enough

Gwydion ap Hywel

I dropped a Great Eagle to give this stupid boy a decent save and then he doesn’t need to take one all the way through the event. Anyway, the reroll remains extremely handy with only a Leadership 9 general and it’s absolutely vital if I only have a Leadership 8 one. The thing is, taking the Battle Standard renders him ineligible for anything else I need (no Kindred upgrade, no Hail of Doom, he does nothing to help in the Magic phase), so I feel he needs the Eternal Guard along so his Leadership is good for something and stacks up with their Stubborn.

Verdict: Don’t Drink, Don’t Smoke? What Do You Do?

Bloddeuwydd ap Hywel

Being saddled with the Lore of Athel Loren really holds our girl back. As a defensive wizzo who chucks out some novelty Tree Singing she’s good enough. The one thing I’d lose is the Deepwood Sphere; I really want to drop its tricksy trapsy secondary effect but nobody ever voluntarily moves into a wood against a Wood Elf army and if someone’s in her wood she’s probably about to run away from them. Calingor’s Stave is probably a better bet but I can’t guarantee woods in away games, and I don’t face enough 4-dice casting to justify the Divination Orb. I think I’d rather have a second Branchwraith, but I do want to play around with her some more and I have a good story beat in mind.

Verdict: Unfinished Business

The Maven

I love the character, but a single Branchwraith can’t cover the “Dispel dice generator” and “aggressive interference” roles. She can lock down a Hero or even an unprepared Lord indefinitely but her unit invariably gets slaughtered and takes her down with them, at which point I’m also out two Dispel dice and the whole house of cards starts crumbling.

Now that she’s dead I’m farming out her responsibilities to her successors; the new Maven will probably have a more castery build and I’ll put together a second Branchwraith for going out there and mixing it up.

Verdict: Gone Girl

Core

Kinbands of the Black Briar

The Glade Guard are great. Possibly my best unit, in terms of damage output per point expended. I need to stop deforming my whole battle line around them but they’re doing good work. In particular, the unit of 10 deployed 5 by 2 with the War Banner surprised Joseph and might have come in very handy against Brendan if I’d been a bit more aggressive with them.

I got those in by dropping the Scouts and I have no regrets about dropping the Scouts. While they are perversely hard to hit with shooting, so are any skirmishers. They lose the solid short ranged Glade Guard bow effect and frankly on most battlefields there isn’t that great a place to Scout them, so they end up paying 25 points to be slightly less good at shooting things and drop last (giving me fewer drops during the early stages when I’m being out-deployed).

Verdict: Some things in life are priceless: for everything else, there’s Glade Guard

Cildraeth Eiddew, Cildraeth Celyn

I love Dryads. I absolutely love them. You would never guess this from the way I treat them in battle. They work far better as disposable 96 point disruptors about which something must be done than they do as any kind of effective combat unit in their own right, and I don’t think I feel too bad about bailing the Branchwraith out of them and letting them sort themselves out. Frankly I could go for another unit of these just so I could be sure I had some where they needed to be.

Verdict: You and I, we were born to die

Special

Kinband of the Pale Rose

Their sheer weight of attacks means they can’t be underestimated against soft targets, the problem is getting them into a soft target to begin with. I like them enough to keep them around but they aren’t tough enough to work as a death star and treating them as a bunker for an expensive magic user who happens to be my General and a Battle Standard Bearer who they need to be around in order to do their thing is a little bit much. I think they and Gwydion need to spend more time together, but also to figure out what they’re doing with themselves in terms of the army as a whole. Also, I need to finish painting them properly.

Verdict: Boy, Decide. Boy, Decide…

Brawdolieath Pren Mawr

Not only do these 40mm fartarounds either die first in every game or see off something a third of their cost and spend the rest of the game doing nothing, they take up so much space in the battle-line that they’re putting everyone else off. I think they have a role but probably not in my army the way I’m currently playing it. Despite their extremely tidy paint job and overall very fine aesthetic they are finally on the way out. I’ve also given them a name I can’t consistently pronounce, spell or even remember, so fuck ’em.

Verdict: If Looks Could Kill… you lot would still be in the army list.

Rare

Uchelwydd

God, he’s good. Someone (hi Matty) keeps asking me why I take a Treeman and I have to ask “why don’t you?” This big log has held up against everything I’ve thrown him into – nothing has ever actually managed to wound him unto death, although once he’s in combat with any ranked unit he tends to break and run sooner or later. Stubborn on 8s is good but it’s not Unbreakable and I need to stop expecting it to be. He’s more dangerous when he’s roaming around causing terror and doing Strangleroots to things than he is in a scrap unsupported, and until I figure out my mutual support problem that’s the best use for him.

Verdict: My boy – look how they massacred my boy…

Where Do We Go From Here?

Well, I already have five Wild Riders waiting to be added to the team, and I’ve also picked up another Sylvaneth “start collecting” box this weekend. That gives me a second Branchwraith, so I can let their potential breathe a bit instead of jamming it all into one character; it also gives me a second Treeman. I’m sure I’ll get some stick from this on the Facebook groups but a) most of you already go off about Wood Elves on principle so I might as well earn it and b) I wanted to play the Drycha army, that’s where I came in to all this.

I plan on building a very bread and butter army: Glade Guard and Dryads, a couple of Branchwraiths, a couple of Treemen, an actual cavalry unit, and… I need to find a strong central character that isn’t an Alter Highborn to hold it all together. I have a couple of ideas on that front.

I’m hoping this will be a more compact army that doesn’t have the mutual support or leadership issues I’ve experienced so far, and that a passive role for a Branchwraith will keep my defensive magic game up for longer.

This would be an ideal build for Monstrous Mayhem, all things considered, maybe with a Lore of Beasts Spellweaver at the heart to tie it all together, but sadly I’m not going to make it. The recent bouts of hobby enthusiasm have meant I spent the same £50 four times in three weeks and that has to be made up from somewhere. I shall have to sit this one out, lick my wounds, get a couple of local (thus cheap) practice games in when Firestorm’s new gaming hall opens and come out swinging for Resurrection part II in November.