[Middlehammer] Circle of Blood – Hack Job for the Vampires

Legends say that long, long ago, in the dukedom of Aquitaine in the kingdom of Bretonnia, a brave knight came back from crusade, dead but not ready to lie down. It’s said this Red Duke drank the blood of the living and raised the dead into a conquering army; it’s said the keeper of the chapel refused him the Grail or even the Lady’s mercy; it’s said his son Galand took up sword against him and sent him packing to the grave when they fought upon the fields of Ceren.

It’s also said, by those in the know, that the Red Duke survived; that the gem he wore preserved his essence in the absence of blood, and that one night, a hedge wizard – a self-proclaimed master of the dark arts by the name Renard – thought himself able to raise the Red Duke and bind him to service.

Lo, what fools these mortals be…

boardgamegeek.com - Jason Speicher

Note on edition warfare

I was thinking of seventh edition when I wrote this up, mostly because it offered a fun and powerful Vampire Counts book. I’ve added some notes on converting it to use the gentlemanly, restrained sixth (in which case the Bretonnian and Vampire Counts books are almost contemporary and about equal in power) or eighth (in which case you’ll have to pretend that Crypt Horrors, Terrorgheists and other such ghastly modernities are simply not there).

I – Night Raid at Mercal

A thousand years ago, the Red Duke’s vampire cohorts were entombed beneath the Chapel Sereine in Mercal. They have heard their master’s call, but they have not answered; still they lie bound by the faith of the Holy Knight who stands sentinel over this place. Renard, the biter bit, the master made slave, has been dispatched to seek out his master’s favoured scions and set them free…

dakkadakka - foofighterubu

Forces: 

There are several ways to approach this scenario.

A 100 point Skirmish could be entertaining. In this case, Renard the Necromancer arrives alone, but his Raise the Dead spell will, if cast within the graveyard, summon independent Zombies or Skeletons to do his bidding. For his part the Holy Knight will have a mere handful of infantry to assist him: 30 points to spend on independent peasantry models (which means either five Bowmen or six Men-at-Arms). You could even go stark staring mad and give the Holy Knight the Virtue of the Ideal, making this a fun game of “can the Holy Knight hold out against the zombie horde all by himself.”

Alternatively, play a 1000 point game with the following restrictions:

Vampire Counts:

  • Hero: Renard the Necromancer (on foot, knows all three Necromantic spells, no magic items)
  • Core: any you like
  • Special: none
  • Rare: none

Bretonnians:

  • Heroes: The Holy Knight (Paladin with the Grail Vow, Virtue of Empathy and Virtue of the Ideal). The Knight Rider (Paladin with the Knight’s Vow and Virtue of Knightly Temper).
  • Core: Any number of Peasant Bowmen or Men-At-Arms units. One unit of Knights of the Realm.

Terrain

Mausoleum in the centre, surrounded by graves and enclosed by tumbledown walls, delineating an 18″ square. Otherwise: humble peasant cottages, spooky trees in the corners.

Preamble

Bretonnian infantry deploy first, within the 18″ graveyard. Vampire Counts deploy within 6″ of any one table edge. Bretonnian cavalry arrive on turn three from any table edge except the Vampire Counts deployment zone, as though pursuing a fleeing enemy.

Bretonnians automatically receive the Blessing of the Lady. Vampire Counts go first.

The game lasts for five rounds.

Victory Conditions

If Renard casts Raise The Dead on the mausoleum, the Vampire Counts win at once. Otherwise, whoever has the most models within the Bretonnians’ deployment zone at the end of the fifth round is the winner. If the Holy Knight has maintained the Blessing of the Lady, he counts as ten models (his strength is as the strength of ten because his heart is pure).

Victory Gains

If the Vampire Counts win this game they can field Renard at the Battle of Ceren Field; also, they will raise the Red Duke’s vampire cohorts, and thus can bring Blood Knights to the field. If the Bretonnians win they can field the Holy Knight at the Battle of Ceren Field.

Notes on edition warfare

If you’re playing sixth edition, the victory condition applies to a casting of Invocation of Nehek and Renard is an ordinary Necromancer with magic level 2. Also, since there are no Blood Knights to be had, the victory gain for the Vampire Counts is “what kind of Army Standard Bearer they get” – if they win this scenario it’s a Vampire Thrall, otherwise it’s a Wight King.

If you’re playing eighth edition, the victory condition involves casting Invocation of Nehek and it’s best to avoid the Skirmish variant since there’s no guarantee Renard will be able to raise new units.

II – Defence of the Tower

Though long years have passed, the Red Duke has not forgotten the defiance of Isabeau. It amuses him to wrench her departed spirit from its tomb and dispatch her to the Tower by Lac Tranquile, where her successor Iselda still keeps vigil. Pilgrims and grail-seekers are drawn to this place, where the anointed Keeper is blessed with great power… but the Keeper’s vow transcends even death, and Isabeau’s powers will only grow if she can seize the tower and remove Iselda.

dakkadakka - foofighterubu

Note for purists

As you can see, I’ve made a change to the background for this one. Couldn’t resist adding this little flourish, and I just… really like the idea of having the original Keeper of the Tower pulled back from the dead and ordered to assassinate her contemporary counterpart. Sue me.

Forces

Again, there are a couple of ways to approach this one. It could work very well as a Skirmish, with Iselda and her Grail Knights defending against a Banshee and an equal number of Cairn Wraiths. In this case, the victory condition should be a sudden death job – kill Iselda in five rounds or she wins!

Alternatively, play a 1000 point game with the following restrictions:

Vampire Counts:

  • Heroes: Isabeau the Foul (Vampire, level 2 wizard, Spectral Form)
  • Core: any you like
  • Special: one Spirit Host
  • Rare: one unit of Cairn Wraiths.

Bretonnians:

  • Heroes: Iselda the Fair (Damsel of the Lady, level 2 wizard, The Verdant Heart, uses the Lore of Life) plus a Paladin with the Army Standard, Grail Vow and Virtue of the Penitent
  • Core: one unit of Knights of the Realm, as many Peasant Bowmen or Men-at-Arms as you like
  • Special: one unit of Battle Pilgrims
  • Rare: one unit of Grail Knights

Terrain

Grail Damsel’s chapel/tower and lake, 6″ from one board edge and 24″ apart from edge to edge. Otherwise: spooky trees, screening the lake.

Special Terrain Rules: While within 6″ of the tower, Iselda and Isabeau both receive an extra Power and Dispel die every turn. While within 6″ of the lake, Iselda and any unit she leads are Immune to Psychology, while Iseabeau counts as carrying a Battle Standard.

Preamble

Bretonnians deploy first, within 6″ of the tower and/or the lake.

Bretonnians automatically receive the Blessing of the Lady. Vampire Counts choose to take the first or second turn.

The game lasts for five rounds.

Victory Conditions

If Iselda is slain, the Vampire Counts win at once. Otherwise, the Vampire Counts win if there are no unbroken Bretonnian units within 6″ of both the Chapel and the Lake.

Victory Gains

If the Bretonnians win this battle they may field Iselda, Battle Pilgrims and Grail Knights at the Battle of Ceren Field. If the Vampire Counts win, they may field Isabeau and Cairn Wraiths at the Battle of Ceren Field.

Notes on edition warfare

In a sixth edition game, Isabeau is a second level Necromancer who has the Cloak of Mists and Shadows, and a Banshee replaces the Cairn Wraiths in every respect.

In an eighth edition game, Isabeau has the Cursed Book; also, allow the Vampire Counts to take Hexwraiths instead of their Spirit Host, and have the Hexwraiths’ presence at stake in the final battle.

III – Race for the Bridge

While Duke Gilon was gathering his forces, preparing to fight for his life and his dukedom, his son Richemont scoured the castle’s library and came across a fragment of forgotten lore. The Vampire – or so the tome had it – could only cross running water at a bridge. The direct road to Ceren Fields, and the castle Aquitaine beyond, crossed the river Morceaux at the only bridge for leagues around. Sir Richemont rode out that morning, sleepless but determined – while the Red Duke dispatched his oldest champion, his truest retainer, his unsleeping seneschal Lord Falk, to take and hold the bridge.

dakkadakka - foofighterubu

Forces

This one should definitely be a proper 1000 point game.

Vampire Counts:

  • Heroes: Lord Falk, the Dark Knight (Vampire with the Dread Knight and Ghoulkin Bloodline powers)
  • Core: only Ghouls, Dire Wolves and Bat Swarms allowed
  • Special: Black Knights and Fell Bats
  • Rare: none

Bretonnians:

  • Heroes: Sir Richemont (Paladin with the Questing Vow and Virtue of the Impetuous Knight plus the Sword of the Quest) plus a second Paladin with the Army Standard, Questing Vow and Virtue of Duty.
  • Core: one unit of Knights of the Realm plus as many units of Knights Errant as you like
  • Special: as many units of Questing Knights or Mounted Yeomen as you like
  • Rare: none

Terrain

Bridge (and river obviously) completely within a 24″ square in one corner of the board. Otherwise: large hills to either side of a road leading to and over the bridge.

Preamble

Bretonnians deploy first, between the river and the table corner, except for Sir Richemont and his unit, who may deploy on the bridge. They may attempt a forced march with any of their units. Roll on the following table for each such unit.

  1. Unit arrives late! Move them on from the Bretonnian corner at the top of turn two, as though returning from pursuing a fleeing enemy off the board.
  2. Unit is exhausted. Deploy behind the river as usual.
  3. Forced march successful. Deploy anywhere in the 24″ square.
  4. Forced march successful. Deploy anywhere in the 24″ square.
  5. Forced march successful. Deploy anywhere in the 24″ square.
  6. Moves like lightning! Deploy anywhere in the 24″ square and make a Vanguard move to boot.

The Vampire Counts deploy within 12″ of the short table edge furthest from the bridge.

If the Bretonnians choose not to pray for the Blessing of the Lady, they may choose to go first or second. Otherwise, the Vampire Counts choose as normal.

The game lasts four rounds.

Victory Conditions

If there are no unbroken Bretonnian regiments on or beyond the bridge, the Vampire Counts win. If there are any Vampire Counts units beyond the bridge, the Vampire Counts win. Otherwise, the Bretonnians win.

Victory Gains

Winning this game sets the terms of engagement for The Battle of Ceren Field. Furthermore, the Vampire Counts may only field Lord Falk if they won this game, and the Bretonnians may only field Sir Richemont if they won this game.

Notes on other editions

Lord Falk was originally a Wight King, but I couldn’t resist the lure of a spellcasting hero-level Vampire (there were no Vampire Thralls in 1997, see).

Sadly, that’s not an option in sixth edition, so I suppose we’re forced to pursue the original, rubbish course of action and give him a token first level Necromancer pal. The Wight King version of Lord Falk has the Sword of the Kings and the Cursed Shield of Mousillon.

In eighth edition, Falk doesn’t need to tow the Ghouls after him; remove them from the roster, force him to build his army around Dire Wolves in Core, and give him the cavalry kit and Red Fury power (after all, he had the earliest version of the ability in the original campaign!).

IV – The Battle of Ceren Field

So it ends where it began. The Red Duke rides to Ceren, where Galand his son lies entombed. His intent is simple. Overturn the tomb; draw out his whey-blooded mortal successor and slay him; take the dukedom.

Meanwhile, Duke Gilon keeps vigil. The favour of Iselda pinned to his helm, his blade and shield aglow with righteous fury, he waits, and prays. Though his life be forfeit, it will be well lived if the Red Duke’s ends today…

530515_md-Circle Of Blood, Warhammer 40,000, Warhammer Fantasy (1).JPG

Forces

A 2000 point or 2500 point game. The usual rules regarding slots apply, although the Vampire Counts – being a host of unliving Bretonnians – will bring the same ‘free’ Army Standard Bearer as their living counterparts.

Vampire Counts:

  • Lord: The Red Duke (Vampire Lord; Dread Knight, Red Fury and Infinite Hatred Bloodline powers, wields a Sword of Might, and carries both the Crimson Gem and the Blood Gem of Lahmia).
  • Heroes: any who survived and won their previous battles may be fielded; also, you can take one Wight King to carry the Army Standard, which may be a magic banner. If Renard survived the Night Raid, he can ride a Corpse Cart.
  • Core: any you like
  • Special: as many units of Grave Guard, Black Knights or Fell Bats as you like, plus the usual 0-1 Spirit Host.
  • Rare: Blood Knights if you won ‘Night Raid at Mercal’. Crypt Wraiths if you won ‘Defence of the Tower’. Otherwise you can field a Varghulf (two if you won ‘Race for the Bridge’) and count yourself lucky.

Bretonnians

  • Lord: Gilon, Duke of Aquitaine (Bretonnian Lord with the Grail Vow and Virtue of Audacity; Sword of Heroes, Grail Shield, Tress of Isoulde; Royal Pegasus).
  • Heroes: any who survived and won their previous battles may be fielded; also, you can take one Paladin to carry the Army Standard, which may be a magic banner. If Sir Richemont survived the Race, he can ride a Royal Pegasus.
  • Core: any you like.
  • Special: As many Questing Knights and Mounted Yeomen as you like, plus the usual 0-1 Pegasus Knights. Battle Pilgrims if you won ‘Defence of the Tower’.
  • Rare: Grail Knights if you won ‘Defence of the Tower’. Otherwise, one Trebuchet (two if you won ‘Race for the Bridge’).

Terrain

Large hill within 12″ of one table edge. Wood facing large hill, no more than 24″ from the opposite table edge. Tomb on centre line, at least 12″ from table edge and at least 12″ from wood. A scattering of other smaller gravestones.

Special Terrain Rules: The Tomb of Sir Galand (T7, W3, Magic Resistance 3) is a drain on the Winds of Magic. While it remains intact, no spell may be cast with Irresistible Force.

Preamble

The players alternate deploying units. If the Bretonnians won ‘Race for the Bridge’, the Vampire Counts must deploy the first unit. Otherwise, the Bretonnians must deploy the first unit. Whoever finishes setting up units first may redeploy a unit when it’s their turn to place one.

If the Bretonnians won ‘Race for the Bridge’ they receive the Blessing of the Lady and choose who goes first. Otherwise, the Bretonnians go first (unless they pray, in which case the Vampire Counts may choose to go first or second as normal).

The game lasts six rounds.

Victory Conditions

The Vampire Counts score one Victory Point if Duke Gilon is slain, one Victory Point if the Tomb of Sir Galand is destroyed, and one Victory Point if the Red Duke is still alive.

The Bretonnians score three Victory Points if the Red Duke is killed.

Victory Gains

A 3-0 win for the Bretonnians obviously indicates a great success; Aquitaine and the realm at large are safe, and the Circle of Blood is closed. All is well!

By contrast, a 3-2 win is a hollow victory; the Undead threat is ended but Aquitaine is a broken dukedom, and will doubtless be vulnerable to the next awful threat to present itself.

Of course, if the Red Duke is still alive, the Bretonnians haven’t won – they’ve merely bought themselves some time before the inevitable. A 1-0 win for the Vampire Counts indicates naught but continued hostilities; a 2-0 or 2-1 win means dark days ahead for Aquitaine. A 3-0 win? The reign of blood begins…

Notes on other editions

In sixth edition, the Red Duke is a Blood Dragon Vampire Count and a level 2 wizard. His Bloodline powers and magic items are: Sword of Might, Gem of Blood, Red Fury, Strength of Steel, Honour or Death.

In eighth edition, the Red Duke’s magic items will need some tweaking. Your host would be unable to resist the Sword of Anti-Heroes, especially since Gilon is running around with its counterpart. Stick the Seed of Rebirth on him and call it a done deal. The other option is a return to their original equipment from the fifth edition – Gilon gets a simple Giant Blade and his Grail Vow, while the Duke gets the Sword of Bloodshed and no Bloodline powers at all.

(Armchair) Developer’s Notes

I’ve tried to maintain the general thrust of the original campaign despite taking a few liberties here and there – like the Banshee and Lord Falk, who aren’t quite what their original models and rules depicted. Generally I’ve done this to make the story feel even more ‘circular’, give it the idea that the Red Duke’s return means many things are coming round again.

The armies here are designed to embrace the potential offered by the later editions of the game and the Vampire Counts army lists, of which the Circle of Blood’s Undead forces were an odd prototype. I didn’t bother with fifth edition because it’s mostly self-explanatory; the Spirit Host replaces Ghosts, Dire Wolves replace the Skeleton Horsemen, Vampire Bats replace the Carrion and Banshees replace the Catapults. The only real sticking point is the Chariots and Mummies. I would personally allow a Winged Nightmare without a rider in the third scenario and a Zombie Dragon without a rider in the fourth, giving something fast and powerful and scary to the now rather more ponderous army of Aquitaine.

It might be argued that I’ve tipped the balance of the campaign to an extent, so here’s a quick talk about the logic involved.

The Vampire Counts undeniably have more at stake in the first game than the Bretonnians do. Renard is an extremely useful support character, he’s the only way they’ll get a Corpse Cart to Ceren Field, and the Blood Knights are one of the most dangerous units on their roster. The Holy Knight, by contrast, is okay, but a bit of a niche concept. He will, however, be very useful for handling ethereal nasties if the Bretonnians need an extra pair of hands there.

The Bretonnians have a great deal riding on the second battle, however. While on paper Isabeau and Iselda are evenly matched, the terrain present in the second and fourth games allows the Lore of Life to really flourish, and in this battle Iselda casts and dispels like a level 3 wizard, the only one in the campaign. The Vampire Counts won’t suffer quite as hard from losing, but Isabeau is one of their more capable spellcasters and the Cairn Wraiths will be extremely dangerous without Iselda or Grail Knights in play.

The third battle isn’t a dealbreaker in terms of the heroes available, but the Bretonnians can gain a huge advantage in the fourth if they manage to hold Lord Falk back here. Receiving the Lady’s blessing with no drawbacks, and probably being able to redeploy their troops in response to the Red Duke’s disposition, is going to make a major difference.

Bear in mind that in each of these first three battles, the Vampire Counts only have one spellcaster, and indeed one character. That means if they should lose their commander, they’ve essentially lost the game – their troops will simply crumble away.

The last battle could go a number of ways depending on how the previous three have turned out. If everything has gone the Vampire Counts’ way they will have a major magical edge (eight casting dice against the Bretonnians’ two to dispel), not to mention the combat prowess of the Vampire heroes.

On the flip side, though, if the Bretonnians have had a good run, they’ll have the unique opportunity to pray and still take the first turn, a unit that mulches its way merrily through Spirit Hosts, and a spellcaster who outperforms anyone on the Vampire Counts’ side of the field and has the ideal battlefield for her spells and item to seriously break up the Vampire Counts army. Meanwhile the Vampires will be running on fumes with only two characters and five dice to cast spells.

Even if the Bretonnians are struggling, Duke Gilon is custom-built to lop the head off any wayward Vampire he can reach – for one round he’ll hit the Red Duke on twos, wound him on fours, and deal d3 wounds on any wounding hit, with rerolls across the board. One could easily pull out a 3-1 victory by slaying the Red Duke at the low, low price of Duke Gilon’s life – which seems like the Knightly thing to do in my book.

3 thoughts on “[Middlehammer] Circle of Blood – Hack Job for the Vampires

Add yours

  1. Excellent! These campaign packs came out right around the same time I was getting into GW stuff, and I’ve got some really fond memories of my brother and I hacking our way through Storm of Vengeance (His Dark Angels stopped my Orks in the end as I recall). By the time I got into Fantasy, tho, Circle of Blood and Idol of Gork were out of print and I never got to give them a try.

    1. Ah, now for some reason I never played Storm of Vengeance, despite… owning Orks and Dark Angels at the time. I wonder what was up with that?

      Circle of Blood is responsible for getting me into WFB in the first place. Come to think of it, it was around this time of year, twenty years ago… no wonder I’ve come over all nostalgic!

  2. In retrospect, I regret not making all three of the early games Skirmishes. I’d forgotten there was a ‘race for the bridge’ type of scenario in Skirmish (found it while flicking through the old WD scans this morning) and that’d be fine to do with a Wight Lord and a bunch of Black Knights going head to head with a Paladin and some Questing pals…

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