Vampire Counts: Grand Army of the Cross of Sylvania

In 1999, when Mordheim and the first Vampire Counts army book were released, I bought an Undead warband and some extra Zombies and a couple of buck-toothed Necrarch vampires, and did naff all with them for years.

At Christmas 2003, when I had my first part time job and an afternoon off school every week, I started to build an actual army. This time they were Von Carsteins, because the Army of Sylvania had just had a writeup in White Dwarf, and I wanted to kitbash an Undead Empire army, and also I was a dreadful little goth.

I played fifty or so games with this army during the best years of my life, had to sell them during a rough patch, got them back by a minor miracle during an even rougher patch, and slowly rehabilitated them during a rough period that had now exceeded all reasonable definitions of the word “patch”. They are now more or less finished, I have played another half dozen games, and to be quite frank I hope to be buried with them.

Vlad and Isabella von Carstein, almost the last models to be painted.
Mannfred von Carstein, from his glory days when he had hair and wasn’t an imbecile.
Necromancers! Enough for a 2000 point army by themselves, but generally play supporting roles.
Lord Ruthven and his Redoubtable Regiment of Foot (25 Skeletons with spears, 25 with swords, 20 with crossbows). Other Vampire characters are available, but Ruthven has been my general in the vast majority of my games, even if his model has been replaced three times now. My favourite is the Imperial Noble version lurking in the back there.
The Order of the Crimson Wing and, in back, the Order of the Black Cross. My new, and original, Black Knight units. A third unit exists but doesn’t photograph at all well.
Emmanuelle the Wraith, Cora and Clarice the Banshees, and the Black Monks of St. Herod, my Spirit Host. Added in seventh edition and never left at home since.
Black Coaches! Some variants of the list call for two, I got by with none for years. I love the idea of them, in practice they don’t do much, but I persevere.
Beatryz the Zombie Dragon, a late addition courtesy of the wonderful Jimmy Spence. Shown here with yet another Ruthven body double. That bloke gets around…

Army Background: Lord Ruthven’s Recount

Our story begins in Mordheim; blighted, blackened and blasted Mordheim that spanned the River Stir and smouldered with sorcery and sin. It concerns a dying man, and who he was is of no import compared to what he would become. His name was Laibach Ruthven; he was a captain of arms and a master of hounds; by these means and that he came to serve the Count of Sylvania, and with a wound in the throat and a drop of blood his life and his allegiance were bought.

Duellist, huntsman, leader of things who were once men and men who are on the road to ruin in their turn. He served, where others schemed and bickered; he endured, where others were consumed; he rose, where others fell.

As captain-general, he fought in the vanguard of his master Vlad von Carstein, and as Vlad’s legacy crumbled a captain seized his moment and claimed his prize. It was as husband to the widowed Countess of Templehof that our man drew steel against the Dwarfs of Karak Cymru as they threw down the Castle walls; it was as lover of the fallen Emmanuelle von Carstein that his heart and his oaths were broken.

When Mannfred von Carstein called, Count Ruthven refused: and though he held the master of Sylvania to a halt in open battle he was driven from Sylvania nonetheless, into exile.

Some say it’s to the Border Princes that he made his way, to the hills of Geistenmund, where he learned black magics at the knee of a Strigany queen. Others to Tilea, where he charmed and hunted the under- and over-classes of Verezzo for a mortal lifetime and a half, taking the Contessa Margarita di Mara as his consort in blood. Others whisper that he took to Sartosa and the sea, and as captain of the Maiden’s Downfall ravaged the coasts of Ulthuan for a hundred years, scuttling his own ship off the coast of Albion when the High Elves brought him to bay.

Vampires live long lives, and perhaps all the tales are true. It is whispered that the Countess Margarita took up with a master Necromancer, perhaps that same one who followed Ruthven in the streets of Mordheim, and together they travelled to Albion to raise their lord and master from his watery grave.

Here is what is known. When Mannfred returned, and issued the call to protect the land of the von Carsteins, this time Laibach Ruthven answered. As the Storm of Chaos broke upon the Empire, the self-proclaimed Lord Protector of the Grand County of Sylvania set forth to meet it, and then to the Old World beyond…

Lord Ruthven and his coterie escaped the disaster at Isca Fields, in which mercenaries from Tilea and the royal court of Bretonnia united to return Mannfred von Carstein to an untimely grave. The Carstein Ring, object of Mannfred’s grand design, was never found. Perhaps, somewhere, Lord Ruthven lives still: returned to Templehof to reign, licking his wounds in the Vaults of Tilea, or taken once more to the high seas?

All of this evolved out of the games I’ve played with the army over the years. A prequel in the form of a Mordheim campaign. My early games against my schoolmates Lawrence (Skaven), Edd (Empire) and Mike (Dwarfs). The last game of the original run (a mirror match with the late Andy, RIP my dude). An interregnum, broken by experiments with fifth edition thanks to the persistence of Ben P. The revival games with Joseph (Empire), Niklas (Kislev), Ben (High Elves) and Dan (Daemons). And of course the mega-battle with Lee (Bretonnians, Dogs of War and being a stand-up guy) in 2019, a fitting capstone to a fifteen year career of violence.

I’ve played fast and loose with the chronology but most of my battles and opponents are accounted for – the ones I remember, anyway.

While I remain very fond of this army, it’s a constant battle to keep those old kitbashes in one piece, and I can’t handle most of the regiments without something snapping off. Never say never, they may come out for another big game one day, but for the time being, Lord Ruthven rests easy in the display case.