[WFB] Why I Shouldn’t Be Excited For Vampire Counts

Yes yes yes I know I said ‘every three days’ but I couldn’t stop myself.  Besides, Thursday was late, so Sunday can be early.  *sage nod*

Okay, first things first: they look pretty damn cool, yes.  The Shell Case has a short video released by GW in which the new models are waved about, and apart from a couple of familiar ‘how the hell am I supposed to get this into base to base contact with ranked enemies’ form-over-function situations which have been par for the course with this miniature range since the last book they’ll do very nicely.

I won’t let myself get excited until I have the book in my hot sweaty little hands, though, ’cause the Vampire Counts present something of a challenge to developers.

They have certain innate limitations derived from How The Undead Work In Warhammer, to whit:

  1. WS and I stats behind the curve on everything that isn’t a Vampire.  They don’t fight well.
  2. Limited mobility without a Vampire nearby.  The poor Ld of the Vampire Heroes mean they can’t resist pursuit opportunities too well and have trouble executing reforms.  Adding Wight Kings to compensate for that reduces the points free for Vampires.  They don’t move well.
  3. Dependence on magic (the most unreliable phase of the game) to counteract these weaknesses.  They need to cast well.
  4. Crumbling if the Vampire General dies.  The Vampire General is also one of the mobile, hard-hitting, spell-slinging key pieces that make them not shite, therefore making him a single point of failure (I’ve won games after losing my Vampire General, but only when I’ve either already inflicted overwhelming damage before losing him, or through luck/favourable terrain setups).

Furthermore, they have additional limitations placed on them by How The Vampire Counts Background Says They Work.

  1. No conventional shooting, which means mid-range threat projection is displaced onto the spellcasters, who already have ‘casting support spells’ and ‘not dying’ on their plates.
  2. Not as good at magic as High Elves, Daemons, Dark Elves, Lizardmen… in other words, they’re dependent on one thing to make them go, and they’re not even the best there is at doing it.

The previous book is very much a seventh edition book, and the errata process was not kind to it, in three significant ways.

  1. All ‘True Core’ (i.e. Core choices that count toward your 25% minimum spend) are M4 melee only infantry with all the usual undead drawbacks.
  2. Being able to spam single die spells is not as impressive when there’s a one in three chance that doing so will stall out your strategically and tactically vital wizard for a turn, and your little wizards are very easy for big wizards to dispel (Necromancers don’t like casting against level 4 wizards, no they don’t).
  3. Fear is not the tense throw-in-resources-if-I-win-just-one-round-that’s-enough game that it used to be; now it’s both easier to resist (Army Standard re-rolls, no chance to auto-break) and less helpful (enemy needs fours or fives to hit if they fail their test, rather than flat rate sixes, a double sting given that they’ll still be striking first unless there are some unreliable buffs up).**  Given that the Vampire Counts were built to play that ‘just one round won and I’ll have ’em!’ game, that’s frustrating.

So, they really really really need a new book, if only because there is lingering baggage from seventh edition that’s holding the army back.  I’m just not sure how much of the baggage is actually going to be addressed, given that so much of it is dictated by the game’s background rather than little incidental questions like ‘does this army have enough meaningful strategic choices and tactical options available to it to make it fun for the intelligent player in anything other than a “shove it over the board and hope for the best” kind of way?’

I’m also… damn, there’s no way of saying this without it sounding like fanboy hate… I don’t have masses of confidence in Phil Kelly when it comes to ‘evil’ books.  See, Mr. Kelly seems to like bad guys as barbarian hordes.  No tech, no resilience, no redundancy, no mid-range – waves of guys, ploughing across the field, bringing their knives to a gunfight and hoping vests can stop bullets.  The best Vampire Counts list ever written was Mat Ward’s Army of Sylvania list; Mr. Ward understood that a breadth of Core choices that fulfilled different purposes was good, that being able to restore wounds to those units or summon new ones whatever they were was also good, that having a meaningful presence in all phases of the game turn was vital to making an army interesting and rewarding and, all right, competitively viable.

The focus of the new release seems to be on shiny new toys rather than addressing the fundamental issues of fitting the existing Vampire Counts into eighth edition Warhammer, and giving them a sense of strategic vitality and tactical nuance that rewards the intelligent player without punishing people who just want to line their toy soldiers up and charge.  It looks like a patch where a redesign is needed.

Mind you, as usual, I want GW to prove me wrong, ’cause I do love me some undead.  Not all of the issues even need to be resolved; some of them, like the ‘Vampire or Wight’ choice are good design, forcing you to choose between mobility or control.  The single-point-of-failure thing is part of how the army works and managing the risk-vs-reward aspect of the Vampire General is genuinely fun – but an army with a single point of failure that’s full of other things that make Stelek angry is doomed, because armies with too many weaknesses are not fun.  Here’s one more list, just to show you what I want from the new book.  Any three of these things would do, but less than two and I feel the army will still have too many fundamental issues to stand up.

  1. A meaningful presence in movement, magic, shooting and combat phases.  Doesn’t have to be brilliant, I’d settle for Skeleton Crossbowmen again (long range, good S, offset by low mobility and lousy BS).
  2. Either greater insurance against the unreliable and dangerous eighth edition magic phase, or less dependence on it.  At the very least, something that influences the number of dice available in every turn, and something that mitigates Miscasts on the General.  Continued access to Big Red Rulebook Lores is also essential in this department as Necromancy can’t address everything that needs addressing in six spells.
  3. Genuine strategic and thematic options, derived from True Core choices that aren’t M4 melee-only blocks.  Skirmishing Ghouls, Skeleton Crossbowmen and Dire Wolves that count toward the 25%, guys, that’s all it’ll take.
  4. An understanding that autobreaking from Fear is gone, and that Vampire Counts can’t rely on Psychology as a win condition now that it’s less effective and easier to resist.
  5. Oh, and while we’re on the subject, no Bloodlines as a rules mechanic.  They were prescriptive brain-shackles for people who can’t make representative choices.  I like the current book’s approach to that; Bloodlines in the background, genuine options in the rules.  Nothing says you can’t do a Lahmian but nothing says all Lahmians are the same.  That’s awesome.  More of that please.

And yet… despite everything… I am a little bit excited.

* – I understand why Dire Wolves and Bat Swarms didn’t count in seventh edition – it was a bit too easy to spend 150 points on filling your Core slots with fifteen disposable Wolves and then move on to the Black Knight Fun Buses – but surely with the ‘slots’ system gone we could have had that limitation lifted?  There are more incentives now to take things that aren’t Dire Wolves, for one, and for two, I’d love to do an army of, say, undead knights and their hunting hounds, or werewolves that happen to use the VC rules.  I still don’t quite understand why Corpse Carts don’t count; that’s a lot of potential buffing being thrown out but the key word is potential – they’re low-Power Bound spells or abilities that require semi-careful positioning to accomplish.

** – again, I understand why; the auto-break if outnumbered thing from sixth and seventh editions was very very frustrating to people who didn’t play Vampire Counts armies and I’m glad that it’s changed.  My point is that the Vampire Counts need to be changed in order to account for the new way in which Fear works, because they were built with the old Fear mechanics as a fundamental principle.  At the moment, they’re a house built on church foundations – they don’t fit and they could fall over at any second.

8 thoughts on “[WFB] Why I Shouldn’t Be Excited For Vampire Counts

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  1. “I don’t have masses of confidence in Phil Kelly when it comes to ‘evil’ books. See, Mr. Kelly seems to like bad guys as barbarian hordes. ”

    The problem is I think this issue is very much out of the studios hands. If you heard the Rick Priestly interview on 40k radio, the sales team call the shots in terms of how the book should be presented – big blocks of infantry and a favouring of whatever new shiny is released in that book.

    While I would love to see something different, the only changes in concept you will see is if Phil is able to shoe-horn some structure and character into the book alongside these requirements. Unfortunately, I don’t think it will always be possible.

    Thanks for the article though, made interesting reading!

    1. Glad you enjoyed it, and thanks for the insight into the design process! I haven’t heard that interview (don’t tend to listen to many podcasts) but I may go and hunt it out now. Mr. Priestly’s always good for a laugh and I do like knowing why things are the way they are…

  2. I agree with all of your points here, and it’s probably why I stopped playing them in the first place (way back in 4th or 5th edition WHFB). The other reason was that back then Vampires were the ultimate Herohammer – or at least, were supposed to be. The zombies and skeletons were there to deliver your vamps, who would then wreck face while the lesser undead looked scary and caused fear (and your Lich helped keep the army running, if not killed guys himself). But then invariably you lost your vampire and the army crumbled.

    I remember something, either from Rick Priestly or Gav Thorpe, way back when, trying to explain the points costing for skeletons. If you look at the profile, they’re worse than goblins (which cost 2 points each). But then you factor in unbreakable and fear, and suddenly the skeletons are worth 8 points. That struck me as a bit off (especially considering crumbling from combat res) even then, but now that fear is meh, I hope they change things.

    I would love to see skeleton crossbowmen/archers. Back in the old ‘Undead’ book (before the VC/TK split) you could have skeleton archers and screaming skull catapults, which helped – apparently, TK took all that with them. And you’re right that Army of Sylvannia was an awesome list. Undead should be scary – even skeletons and zombies – but right now they just aren’t. You also hit the nail on the head with the need for the vamps/necromancers to do everything for the list with magic, and that they’re not as good at it as they need to be. I keep thinking giving an option to Core units for a local leadership skill would help instead of having to babysit them, but I dunno

    In my eyes, Vampire Counts should be a mix of Brettonia and Empire, realistically, only twisted, and relying on magic to replace technology. Instead, they seem to be bound by the popular culture vision of classic undead swarms, which makes for fun movies but poor playing to win, since the fluff doesn’t translate onto the tabletop.

    Lastly, I love these pieces of classic artwork. Wish they’d go back to stuff like that.

    1. I thought the Vampires were fairly impressive in fifth edition (that’s when I started out), although in fairness I ran disposable combat Counts and my General was a cheap Liche hiding up a tower more often than not. That should indicate my regard for the pre-split Undead army which had a wealth of options I rather wish had been kept on. At least Storm of Magic encourages allied play with the Pacts mechanic…

      I’m not overly concerned with winning but I do like to enjoy myself (which involves having a variety of stuff to do and not skipping too much of the game turn) and present some sort of meaningful challenge to my opponent. I want to be able to try to stop the opponent winning without feeling that gimping mechanics and limited choices are making their life easier, basically.

      Classic undead swarms are fine as long as they’re interesting to control. I think the problem is that they’re usually represented as autonomous masses, and so there isn’t always a context to think about them as intelligent and directed. The Return of the King and Army of Darkness are my sources for serious/comic undead, n general.

      Gibbons and Blanche between them set a very strong style for the mid-90s. It’s pretty formative stuff for me and I would like to own a print of that Necromancer now that I know they can be had.

  3. Long time reviewer, first time replier.

    I’ve had a read through the current copy of WD and combined with my knowledge of the TK and how the changes to Fear really has changed the way undead have to play I have drawn a few conclusions from the differences.

    1) Vampires are singular, godlike powered figures, Tomb Kings are powerful lords: The Tomb kings all have a solid stat line and access to some decent options but are (from what is visable in the WD) a heck of a lot cheaper to put on the table. All of the example VC Lords in the WD were 600+ points, I checked and even topped out and mounted on a warsphinx the TK has a hard time cracking 450 for a single Lord choice in a 3000 point game you are likely to see two TK and maybe a Liche High Priest filling out the 25% lord slot. Ergo it looks like the VC Lords are intended to be just the one, with a smattering of some heroes for support. Hopefully for the VC player it means they have a high Ws S T I A and Ld to compensate for the ‘awesome’ tax they appear to be paying.

    b) Sneak peak at spell list in WD : The vampire lore gains back a single wound on any one model (caster or with 12(?) inches) and the signature spell restores d6+ caster level wounds on a unit. TK lore restores d3+1 wounds on affected friendly units (but not characters) and signature spell lets everything within 12 inches of the caster move(again). The TK lore has a ‘lets buff everything’ or ‘lets move everything’ sort of approach so regaining less wounds on each cast is ok because you could heal multiple units at the same time. It would be likely the VC spell list is more specifically targetted, pick a unit, it gets a buff.

    Thirdly) Using some bakwards math it looks like the Zombies are cheaper (again) the Skeletons are on par with the TK Skeletons and Ghouls and Wights flop either side of the Tomb Guard on a per head basis. I agree the cost on skeletons was previously high because fear was such a significant decider and for TK the change in fear led to the changes in ‘my will be done’ where the TK gives the unit they are in his Ws so you have a unit Ws6 spearment poking your troops in the eyes while you blindly wave your now Ws1 pointy sticks in reply. VC used to have the crown of command that enabled a single unit eact turn to be handed the bearers WS regardless where they are on the table. I would be surprised if this item has gone but it also looks like a lot of the heavy lifting will be done by the Wight kings, Tomb Banshees and the like from the hero section with all of the example armies having a character in nearly every infantry unit to provide them with some diretion and muscle.

    How this plays out on the table will be interesting.

    $) I am not afraid of the new VC, I’ve looked at the new monster stats, the new units etc and I can already see ways around it. If you have two bolt throwers you can potentially win in turn 1 if the Lord is up on one of those new large target chariots, some armies even have access to magic items that make their bolt throwers double wounds or flammable or such. Same goes for the new mortis engine, as with anything large, massed fire, poison, multiple wounds are all your friend.

    Once I have a copy of the book in hand I’ll be able to back up some of my preposterous claims :P

    1. Good to have the silence broken, and liking the numbering convention too.

      1 – yep, I can get behind that; the narrative for the Vampires has always been ‘powerful individual raises army of undead for purposes usually akin to conquering the world.

      2 – looking at the Corpse Cart and Mortis Engine I’m expecting a lot of passive abilities that are either triggered when the unit is targeted by a spell or happen outside the magic mechanics, which should help to get more mileage out of the magic and, at the same time, make it less absolutely essential. Which is nice. Although I thought the new Invocation added wounds to every friendly unit within X”, with X increasing as the spell is boosted up?

      3 – I hear that the Helm of Commandment has gone to the same place as the old Forbidden Rod: the Oubliette of Nerdrage. I do agree that it looks like Heroes are going to be important to Vampires; also that many of them will be unlocking additional banshee wails that provide… what’s this… an unconventional but potentially scary short-ranged shooting phase? Have my prayers been answered?

      4 – Large Target centrepiece models are always going to be absurdly vulnerable. I quite like the idea of the Mortis Engine as a buff for saves and spellcasting and a fire magnet, though, and it’s not like the Lord has to ride that one…

      I am actually increasingly excited about the book. This can’t be good.

  4. So I’ve cracked open the WD while in front of the interwebs portal so I can be make sure my references are a bit more accurate.

    Lore attribute restores 1 wound on the caster or friendly model within 12 inches.

    Invocation of Nehek is the signature spell and it is a ‘burst’ spell. Restores D6+caster level wounds on friendly units within 6 inches, boosted casting increases range, however there is no clarification if this increases the effectiveness.

    Mention of spell “Raise dead” which appears to be able to create a unit of zombies or skeletons (up to 15 models)

    Vanhels Danse Macabre gets a mention in the battle report, still allows a march move

    Zombies are listed with something called ‘Freshly dead’ this allows the unit to be taken over its original size, possibly also makes Nehek more effective on them as well.

    Skeletons can be taken over original unit size but it requires the caster of Nehek to have a specific ability “Master of the Dead”, No mention if there is a similar thing for Ghouls, may have been dropped from the previous edition. (Ghoulkin I think it was?)

    I’ve always envisioned the VC army arriving on the table and in comparison to the army across from it having a lesser model count and then as the game progressed the ranks swell and this would seem to support that idea. The Corpse cart has a bound spell that allows units around to always strike first; the Mortis engine can boost spell casting within 12 inches of it.

    I like the way some of this is going, the army is still dependant on the ‘Vampires’ to march either within the generals command or because the unit is vampiric to start with so getting the different elements to where they need to be at the same time may require faster units be held back longer because the zombies are still shufflin’ to the beat of LFMAO over in the far side of the battlefield because your opponent has dispelled every ‘Danse Macabre’ you’ve thrown down for.

    Side note I am working on the math for risk/reward ratio of number of dice to achieve particular result vs probability of mage head going pop. I suspect someone on the interwebs has already done this but searches thus far are all using the previous version of the rules for miscast.

    Strategically at this point they do appear dependant on the magic phase and having multiple wizards or bound items for when the winds of magic blow in the VC favour could be the best way to build (knowing when to hold or pull up the spinnaker).

    I’ll know more in a few weeks hopefully.

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