Bloodlines: the army-defining choice

Bloodlines are absolutely integral to how your army plays. The choice of Vampiric lineage will impact everything beyond the very basic principles already discussed. It is at least as important as how you use and enable your mandatory magic user, and in two cases has a major impact on magic use: therefore, this section and the next are in conversation with one another, each referring to ideas the other introduces.

A Vampire’s Bloodline affects them in two ways. Firstly, their stats will change and they’ll pick up some additional special rules. Secondly, they’ll gain access to a suite of powers which they can buy with their magic item allowance, but are not magic items themselves. This is really important against Empire, High Elves and other armies who can use spells and items to interfere with your army list and take your toys away. Know your rights, and don’t let them steal what the design team put beyond their reach.

VON CARSTEIN

The archetypal (or basic) Vampires of the Warhammer World: pure Hammer Horror. Vanilla vampires, and like vanilla they’re an underrated flavour that tastes great if you give yourself time to taste it properly. Other vampires fight better or cast better but the Von Carsteins support their army like nothing else. No profile modifiers but plenty of good Bloodline powers.

Summon Bats and Summon Wolves give them a fast-moving ‘chaser’ unit behind the enemy, ready to hound, harry, block and threaten as needed, although Summon Bats costs slightly too much to be comfortable (there’s bound to be something else you’re giving up to get that power, and it’s not so good that I’d forgo basic necessities).

Call Winds is a solid pick if you’re going up against armies like Dwarfs, Empire, any Elves or Orcs and Goblins who like to throw conventional Ballistic Skill based shooting around, but a) it does absolutely nothing to stop cannons, stone throwers or anything that uses the flame template and b) your Vampire and bunker will not be moving while they keep the power up. That last is the reason I don’t take it all the time. Vampire Counts armies need to be moving, pressing, pushing to the close combat where they actually win games, and in 2000 point games I can’t have my best fighter standing still. In 3000 points it becomes a good pick on a secondary Count who might be keeping their distance a bit more.

In an army that likes to win combats by just enough, an extra +1 combat resolution here or there makes all the difference. I used to swear by Walking Death on my Battle Standard Bearer (a hero who brings extra, strong attacks and a static +2 to combat resolution to every fight he’s in) when I started out. If I’m taking a Thrall to carry the Battle Standard I still consider this the default build; they’re a bit brittle but that’s nothing a Talisman of Protection and crossed fingers won’t fix.

Aura of Dark Majesty doesn’t sound spectacular unless, like me, you used to take it all the time and then had to adapt to a Vampire Lord with a smaller sphere of influence. The ability to spread your army out or have units extend and still be able to march is a game changer, especially if you like a more conservative footslogging General like I do. Almost a must-take.

Wolf Form is the final power and another quite innocuous one with hidden depths. If you have a Call Winds Vampire and 20 points spare, this can get them back into the fight once they don’t need to control the weather any more. If you have a Thrall with the Flayed Hauberk and a great weapon, this gives you a lightning fast wrecking ball with three S7 attacks, a 1+ armour save, an 18” charge and a 360 degree line of sight, able to bob and weave with the best of them. If I’m not bringing a Battle Standard I may well be bringing one of these instead.

It would be remiss of me not to mention the Carstein Ring at this stage, as it may as well be a Bloodline power. The Ring is a superb piece of defensive kit affording a 4+ Ward save and a 4+ Regeneration roll to keep your general on the table and the army held together. Is it worth giving up everything else you could have? Potentially. A Vampire Lord with the Carstein Ring and a great weapon is a perfectly capable mulching machine and a perfectly adequate level 3 wizard, and if you can keep your army together you might not miss the Aura. I always do.

LAHMIAN

-1 Weapon Skill is not the end of the world for a Vampire, particularly one with such high Initiative that she’ll nearly always be striking first. Losing the access to great weapons is a blow, particularly for Vampire Thralls whose main appeal is the ease with which they can dish out chariot-smashing S7 hits. The gem here is the -1 Leadership malus every Lahmian radiates, which will go a long way against enemies which ignore fear and have to be broken from combat the traditional way.

Four of their Bloodline powers are essentially variants on a theme. The biggest problem with these is that they require a Leadership test in order to do anything and even with the malus in play, the average enemy hero will pass Leadership tests just over half the time before you factor in anything like the presence of a nearby General or whether they’re Immune to Psychology and thus don’t care about the cavorting of goth girlfriends. If you feel like taking the Lore of Death and a Spell Familiar to give you good odds of Doom and Darkness, I can’t argue that’s not worthwhile: a whacking —4 penalty to an enemy unit’s Leadership is worth having in its own right and if it makes your Bloodline powers more effective that’s just gravy.

Beguile and Transfix are cheap as chips and do the essential job of keeping your Vampire safe. If you can take a unit Champion or even a hero out of the equation for a turn with Transfix you’re that much more likely to win combat. Seduction, in my opinion, eats too much of your Vampire Lady’s powers-and-trinkets budget to be worth bothering with. Domination is the edge case: cheap enough that a Thrall can take it and still have points for the Biting Blade. Personally I have better things to do with my Hero slots but I can’t deny the appeal here.

However, the real strength of the Lahmians is in the mundane looking abilities. Quickblood and Innocence Lost give you a lightning fast combatant who can rip an enemy front line apart before they even know what’s happened, and the high native Initiative of the Lahmian is great for breaking ties. Give her the Sword of Might to overcome the minor issue around Strength and let her go to town… but there is another option.

Once again, the Lahmians have a unique magic item that I’ll talk about where it’s relevant. The Asp Bow looks like a stupid gimmick, but two things nudge it into the realm of “worth considering.” Firstly, enemy unit champions often issue challenges in an attempt to dummy your Vampires into not murdering the rank and file: being able to snipe champions out of enemy units before you engage them denies this tactical option and also gives the unit one fewer attack. Secondly, Vampire Lords have a good enough Ballistic Skill that they can still land those sniping shots on a 3+ at long range, which means they may be able to plink a wizard to death in the early stages of the game and tip the magical balance in your favour. Some players advocate taking this on a Thrall but I’m not convinced: the Thrall’s Ballistic Skill isn’t good enough to overcome the malus for sniping on top of the usual ones for range. If you’re going to try this item, put it on someone who’s going to get the most of it.

On the whole, the Lahmians play a similar game to the Von Carsteins, to whit supporting their army: they just do it by killing or neutralising enemy models rather than empowering your own.

BLOOD DRAGON

Blood Dragons do two things very well. They hit most enemies on threes or even twos with their enhanced Weapon Skill, and they achieve the much coveted 1+ save on multiple Vampire models across an army. Blood Dragon Lords and Counts can get there with a barded Nightmare and a shield; Thralls can pick up the Enchanted Shield if they’re similarly mounted, or the Flayed Hauberk if they’re on foot. Sadly, Blood Dragons are honour bound to challenge whatever can-opening enemy characters are around and often end up fighting things that don’t care how much armour they have, but a 1+ save is a 1+ save and still not to be sneezed at.

The other drawback of the Blood Dragon is the casting die dropped by each Lord or Count in the army, but in a weird way this is actually a blessing in disguise. If you wanted to try an army which didn’t go heavy on characters, a Blood Dragon is the Bloodline to do it with. In a 2000 point game and all else being equal, a Blood Dragon Count gets three dice to cast with and a Lord gets four, which allows them to attempt a single spell and then get on with the rest of the turn and not lose any sleep over the power die that’s gone to waste. A chap called Lachlan did very well on the Australian tournament scene with a one-caster Blood Dragon army (in fact, he only had the one character, and it wasn’t even a Vampire Lord!) so don’t write the idea off altogether. If I tried it I’d probably bring the Vampire Lord, though.

Red Fury and Strength of Steel are decent enough powers and if you absolutely want to have magical attacks on one of your characters Strength of Steel and the Sword of Might are the way to do it while still retaining the crucial Strength 7. I find Heart Piercing a better buy for Blood Dragons: their attacks are fine, it’s just the occasional turn of bad dice you need to watch out for. Master Strike is fine in its place but it costs the same as the Book of Arkhan or a Dispel Scroll and either of those would in my opinion be more useful.

My absolute favourite, though, is Blade Master. Take this and the Cursed Shield of Mousillon and you have a defensive kit for the inevitable challenges that ensue whenever a Blood Dragon takes the field. I’ve had a Blood Dragon Count hold a Khornate Daemon Prince to a standstill over four rounds just by taking away two attacks and tanking the rest: the Count couldn’t kill the Prince but the Prince wasn’t mowing through my Skeletons either and eventually vanished when it flubbed an Instability test induced by the Skeletons’ ranks and banner.

Honour or Death is the get-out clause for challenges. It’s cheap enough that you might have spare points to take it, but it’s not something I’d go out of my way to pick up. The challenge is part of a Blood Dragon’s appeal, even to a coward like me. Besides, the enemy has to fail a Leadership test for it to do anything.

NECRARCH

Don’t worry about the Weapon Skill penalty. It does mean that your Vampires will generally be hitting on fours rather than threes in combat, but for your General there’s always the Sword of Striking and for everyone else there’s the knowledge that they still have more Attacks and better Strength and Toughness than a Necromancer, and that’s why you take them. Like Lahmians, they suffer from a lack of mundane weapon options; unlike Lahmians they don’t mind too much as they have something seriously good to compensate. That +1 to cast is a big damn deal for the Necrarchs, synchronising beautifully with their most expensive and signature Bloodline power all the way down.

Nehekhara’s Noble Blood. For 45 points a Vampire has a magic level over and above their normal allowance and more or less every Vampire in your army should take it.

Doing so gives you a level 4 Vampire Lord who, with the Spell Familiar and the Forbidden Lore power from the same list, is guaranteed every spell off whatever Lore of Magic you’ve selected. I actually like to live dangerously with this Lord and not bother with a Ward save: instead, I take Master of the Black Arts and revel in the havoc I can cause while barely leaving my deployment zone. The only downside here is that the Vampire Lord’s still-solid combat statline is standing around not engaging in combat.

Doing so gives you a level 3 Vampire Count who doesn’t eat an extra Lord slot and so can bring a battery of supporting wizards. Even without this power a Necrarch Count can also chance most Necromancy spells on two or three dice thanks to that inbuilt +1 to the roll, which is an encouragement to bring Necromancers purely as batteries and have them feed all their dice through him. I prefer the level 3 variant simply because I want the freedom to four-dice two spells if I need to. For the rest of his kit I like to bring The Awakening (a power which guarantees you a new Zombie unit on a mid-tier Invocation by throwing another die into the pool — d3+2d6+2 gives a minimum result of 5, a subtle difference that stops any Invocations going to waste, and can cap the unit out at four full ranks if you’re lucky) and either the Sword of Striking or the Ring of the Night depending on whether I want him to hit things or try not to die.

Doing so gives you a Vampire Thrall who is at first glance a rather inferior Necromancer — but no. Don’t think about the casting die you drop. Think about being able to cast a mid-tier Invocation on two dice every turn. Think about taking two of these to handle your raising and reanimating needs so your Count is free to cast the doom spells. Think about a 1500 point army which doesn’t have to muck around with Necromancers at all. I looked at the numbers and realised that they are a fine backup caster who can do their thing just using the two dice you get for turning up and still do a credible job in combat.

The other good thing about Necrarch Thralls is that they can carry Arcane Items, which makes them good scroll caddies. There’s also a nifty little power called Dark Acolyte which allows them to generate an extra Power die and can be carried alongside the Book of Arkhan, smoothing away a lot of your army’s needs around dice and key spells.

I’ve talked about Necrarchs in a slightly roundabout way because their powers are quite fussy: with proper combinations and forethought they can do really, really well, but you need to look at the army build overall to see the value in them. The one I’ve not touched so far is Unholy Cynosure, which is perfectly fine as insurance if you’re worried about Miscasts — however, most of the time a Miscast is not that big a deal and will just cost you a little momentum for one turn. After seventy-odd games with the Vampire Counts I can recall exactly four Miscasts which turned the tide of a game, and one of them was actually in my favour (an Irresistible Curse of Years onto a big unit of Chaos Warriors which the Khorne player just could not show the 10 to shift on two dice). I prefer to spend my points on items and powers that do things rather than protect against stuff.

STRIGOI

Ahh, the power gamer’s choice. Strigoi don’t get to take magic items, but they get special rules equivalent to a 60 or 75 point magic item loadout. For free. Extremely fair and balanced, like everything Alessio “Warlock Engineers” Cavatore introduced to the game.

Strigoi are great though. Their only downside is a slight tendency to go off in a hatred infused snit rather than staying in the battleline like good boys, and (all together now) the lack of Strength 7 attacks from the absence of great weapons. Oh, and they can’t carry their own Battle Standards, but I’ve already discussed the Wight Lord in this context. Having everything else they need built into their free kit means their Bloodline powers are all gravy, but what gravy it is!

My favourite Strigoi is the Lord or Count who adds Flying and Regeneration (Bat Form and Curse of the Revenant) to their existing suite of abilities, which costs 100 points on the dot.

I also quite like the Strigoi Count with six Strength 6 attacks, rerolling all his misses ever, and four Wounds (Massive Monstrosity, Infinite Hatred, Iron Sinews). Again, 100 points exactly. The same kit on a Vampire Lord gives you seven Attacks and five Wounds. Who even needs Dragons, eh? A three Wound Vampire Thrall is not to be sneezed at either (Massive Monstrosity again).

Finally there’s Summon Ghouls, which I think is better than the Von Carstein summons because you get a self-sufficient unit for your trouble, and everything that makes Ghouls good makes them VERY good when they appear behind your army. Maybe try Curse of the Revenant, Iron Sinews and Summon Ghouls for a catch-all Strigoi (Strength 6, Regeneration and a Summon).

The more time I spend looking at these powers the more combo-tastic they look. A pity the models were so… uninspiring.