There’s talk of a Wales and South West Middlehammer meetup, with a small no-stakes low-restrictions tournament at its heart. This is good.
Somehow I’ve ended up involved with organising it and doing test games to remember where the exploits and snags are. This is good.
It’s… fifth edition?
It would have to be the one for which I don’t already have an army list written up and ready, wouldn’t it?
A Shameful Confession
I never really played my Vampire Counts under fifth edition rules. Oh, I had a modest Undead army, or at least a bunch of plastic Skellies plus metal Liche, Vampire Count and Skull Chucker, but those were laid aside when I learned you could build a 2000 point Chaos Warrior army for about £75 and still have some birthday money left for the Lord of Change. Sure, I pre-ordered the first Vampire Counts book, but I got as far as painting a buck-toothed Necrarch and a handful of Zombies before sixth edition rolled out and Mordheim happened and everything sort of… went sideways.
The point is I’d be retro-engineering here, taking my collection of models for sober, sensible, troop-focused sixth edition and seeing how well they transferred to the age of Banishment, Black Gems of Gnar, and flying Chaos Lords with sixteen attacks and a sword that stops all your magic items working.
I do more or less remember how fifth edition works, and how the Vampire Counts work within it – it involves being able to reliably cast and recast very cheap support spells like Vanhel’s Danse Macabre or Summon Skeletons, keep your General alive and a character in almost every unit, and focus your efforts into juuust tipping the balance in combat since most things you beat and outnumber will be running for the hills.
The terms of engagement are pretty simple – 1500 points (to keep a tin lid on some of the worst excesses) with no named characters (because enough of us still have hangups about them twenty years down the line) but no other restrictions (because restrictions emerge organically out of a living ‘meta’ and we don’t want to start banning stuff before we see how the community evolves).
First out, I toyed with the idea of a Lahmian Vampire as my general (since her essential 5+ unmodified save and always-strikes-first capacity come from Bloodline Powers and not magic items which can be Deadlocked, Plaque of Dominioned or Sword of Destructioned away) and a Necromancer Lord (automatically able to recast spells and powerful enough to get them through reliably).
Thing is, I’ve always played Von Carsteins. The other thing is, I wanted to try some more authentically Middlehammer wackiness, like being able to stick large monsters in your army without necessarily strapping your single-point-of-failure Vampire General on them, or taking multiple Vampire Counts in any size game I liked.
1500 points is not quite enough to take my Zombie Dragon (I could do it, but I’d have no other characters or decent defences for the Count on its back, and if a stray cannonball took him off his ride it’d be game over in one shot) and I don’t own a Winged Nightmare any more, so back to the drawing board again.
Two Counts. That had some potential. They could cast the big Necromancy spells, the ones that are too expensive to really bother with recasting and great for drawing out Dispel Scrolls, and then a relatively budget but still reliable Necromancer Champion could spam out the two spells that actually matter.
As a bonus, these three characters could scale; 1000 point games could feature a cheap Count, Thrall and level 1 Necromancer, while at 2000 or more I could roll out the same models as a power trio of Vampire Lord, Vampire Count and level 3 or 4 mage. All this was going around my head when…
I’m not an imaginative soul when it comes to naming characters, but when my army’s steeped in Gothic horror traditions I don’t have to be.
During its sixth and seventh edition heyday, my legion of the living-impaired was commanded by Lord Ruthven and his Thralls, Carmilla and Varney. Later efforts of course featured Clarimonde and Romauld, as chronicled elsewhere on ‘ere.
My Necromancers have always been supporting cast, with different naming conventions; I’m not proud of the brief “völkisch occultism is f a s c i n a t i n g” phase that led to Jörg Lanz von Liebenfels, but Rosenkratz and Guildenstern (they died a lot, you see) were okay.
When the moment of serendipity came this time, it was an alignment between conversations: proxying Mannfred as an ordinary Count just to get the model on the table in one window, and translating Russian classics as mock Big Bang Theory scripts in the other. Click. If my Mannfred would be acting incognito it only made sense that he wouldn’t have an actual title, and my suitable footslogging Count is female…
The Master and Margarita
I named the Necromancer after my favourite fifteenth-century demonologist (what, you don’t have one?) and was in business. Here’s the list I came up with for testing games.
The Master: Von Carstein Vampire Count: barded Nightmare; Unbending Willpower; Staff of Damnation: 251
Margarita: Von Carstein Vampire Countess: Pure Blood, Carstein Ring: 240
Walravius: Necromancer Champion: Destroy Magic Scroll, Cloak of Mists and Shadows: 229
Regiments: 727 > 375
5 Wight Cavalry: lances, heavy armour, shields, barding, flag, trumpet: 252
19 Zombies: flag, alleged musician: 105
19 Zombies: pointed stick, blunderbuss: 105
5 Dire Wolves, including 1 Doom Wolf: 65
4 Vampire Bats: 100
1 Banshee: 100
Monsters: 50 / 375
1 Bat Swarm
A weird mix of troops because I honestly don’t remember what’s good in fifth edition. I want more Wight Cavalry but crikey they’re expensive, and I slightly regret two units of Zombies but I wanted two solid line infantry units and my full kit Skeletons (who come in at 12 points per head) just don’t fit in a game of this size.
The list is built around either Count working as the general. There’s definitely a default setting (Margarita in command, being harder to reach, better protected and less inclined to take risks, which is honestly a nice little riff on the novel too) but it’d be interesting to try and wrong-foot people by making the Master an expendable general (if he’s dead, the Wights are probably dead too, and the Zombie units can recover from d6 casualties well enough). In either case all the chaff will implode but again, I don’t bet on Wolves or Bats outliving their commander.
Now all I have to do is fix the models. Here are some long-neglected lads who at least have all their bits glued back on now…