[WFB] Herohammer Battle Report – The Second Battle of Point LeStroud

Another Herohammer battle report! Fifth edition WFB, 1500 points, High Elves vs. Vampire Counts, Tournament Battle lists and scenario.

Lists-n-shit are in the previous post; let’s crack along!

We made a couple of changes for the second scenario.

Firstly; angling those walls. It’s an old secret from the Warmachine days. Walls running parallel to deployment zones become things behind which forces cower. Walls running diagonally to deployment zones are interesting – they defend a flank or a front but not both, and to make the most of them demands turning off the ‘march straight forwards’ route and presenting an angle to the enemy.

Secondly: this time, I took a DARK MAGIC spell. I’d found myself wanting for Power cards last time, and poor Margharita had spent most of the game lurking in my lines, from whence she could have been casting a nasty DARK MAGIC spell.

I drew Blade Wind – not the best against such a high WS army, but I’ll take it – and otherwise stuck with the same Necromancies as before (that’s Summon Skeletons, Vanhel’s Danse Macabre and Gaze of Nagash on Walravius; Summon Undead Horde on the Master). Ben drew Banishment, Fiery Convocation and something else mildly unpleasant. (I actually forgot to ask at the end, but given how cagey he was about not having Assault of Stone, I have suspicions.)

Deployment

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(Key note: several of these units are illegally deployed, according to the Tournament Battle scenario. My Wight Cavalry certainly are and I’m not sure about Ben’s Bolt Throwers either.)

(Further key note: this was before Ben double-checked his Bolt Thrower rules and discovered they’d shear through the Wight Cavalry’s 1+ saves no problem. Obviously I would never have put them there had we known, but since I’d benefitted so much from this misunderstanding in the first game, we agreed it was only fair to give the Bolt Throwers their head.)

As before, Ben finished deploying first and so got the first turn. My plan was a bit different this time – pin the Princes in the open centre and set up my Skeleton blocks behind the walls, from which defended obstacle they’d stand a chance against the White Lions. The Wights would simply swoosh around and roll up the flank, possibly Summoning some Zombies to help them out and catch fleeing Elves on the run.

High Elf Turn One

Ben also had a new plan. It was a highly aggressive GO FOR IT kind of plan in which he marched the White Lions through that gap in the walls and the Dragon Princes 8″ into my grille.

The Archers – now far more central and relevant – did a little two inch shuffle to the side to open their field of fire, and went for it, killing off a whole base of Bats while the Bolt Throwers messed up four of my Wights.

At least the Winds of Magic were a fart in a tin can.

Vampire Counts Turn One

I moved the Bats moved up to aggressively block the Dragon Princes – but not into combat with them. They’d be charging on Ben’s turn, or going around. Emmanuelle pared herself between the units, ready to wail at whoever needed the most wails, while I pressed the surviving Wight and the Master forward, desperate to close in and not eat any more Bolts than they needed to. Finally, I sent Margharita up to point blank range of the White Lions, attempting to get them before they got me.

Cometh the Magic phase, cometh the man, and fortunately I was well off for Power cards (with only one Dispel, that I could convert into Dark Magic power). First off: the Staff of Damnation, propelling the Wight Cavalry and the Master upfield and into point blank range of the Bolt Throwers. One more round, and then they’d be gone – since they were in a battery, I could break them both in one charge.

Blade Wind went off, despite Ben’s effort to Destroy it, but only killed one White Lion. (We decided they’d get their close combat save, since the spell does go after them with, you know, blades). Ben dispelled the first Summon Skeletons, but the second added three models to Margharita’s unit, and then he didn’t Scroll Vanhel’s Danse Macabre, so I propelled the Spearmen into the White Lions on the grounds that I’d rather get to fight them than not.

(We shouldn’t have fought this combat, but we did; the White Lions passed their Fear test and though I killed three of them, they nailed five Skeletons and won the combat by one.)

Here’s the bottom of turn one. Bloody hell, this one’s moving faster!

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High Elves Turn Two

As predicted, Ben sent the Dragon Princes headlong into what remained of the Bat Swarm – he’d considered charging his general out and into the Skeletons, but thought better of it – while the Archers wheeled and unloaded into the Master and his last Wight. Fortunately, between the range and the 1+ save, nothing happened. Phew. Sadly, the Bolt Throwers finished off the last Wight, but were totally unable to put a wound on the Master. Toughness 6 is… higher than I remembered.

Unsurprisingly, the Dragon Princes wiped the Bat Swarm out and successfully prevented themselves from charging off like loonies. In the other combat, each side chopped four wounds off the other for a complete draw.

Then… then Ben cast Banishment with Total Power.

Fortunately, Margharita was just out of range, but one Skeleton from her unit and six from Walravius’ bunker were blown to kingdom come. Adding insult to injury, Ben dropped Fiery Convocation on Walravius and company and killed another two, which meant he’d be taking at least one S5 hit next turn, if not more.

Vampire Counts Turn Two

I really wanted to save Walravius. I really wanted to rules lawyer it so that he could charge out of his unit, away from the last Skeleton, and leave Fiery Convocation behind. Sadly, in fifth edition you can’t do that. Characters in units are still in units at the time charges are declared, therefore they must charge along with their friends. Leaving units happens in the Remaining Moves step. At least we took the time to get that right.

Anyway, instead of charging he advanced to get out of the Dragon Princes’ line of sight (blowed if he’d give them the satisfaction), while the Master charged the Repeater Bolt Throwers. Failing their fear test, the crew legged it off the board, and his failed charge put him behind the hill – probably the safest place for him!

Emmanuelle whiffed her wail on the White Lions. In combat, Margharita finally flexed her muscles and killed three White Lions, enough to win the combat – but since the Skeletons no longer outnumbered them, they got to take their Break Test, and the buggers held.

Unbelievably, Walravius survived the Fiery Convocation (which I could not Dispel without any Dispel cards) with one wound remaining. He cast Summon Skeletons twice, raising a total of nine Skeletons into the Spearmen unit, but Ben dispelled the Staff of Damnation and its attempt at getting another round of combat in.

 

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High Elves Turn Three

The Princes wheeled to face what remained of the Vampire Counts army, while the Archers reversed two and a half inches (turn, move and turn, at a quarter of their movement for each turn) and unloaded into the Master, who laughed it off. Toughness 6, man!

In melee, Margharita killed two White Lions and the Skeletons nailed another, finally enough to break them and run them down.

Fiery Convocation finished off Walravius, unsurprisingly, and then… another Banishment. I tried to stop it, I really did, but it was my turn to roll a 1 on a 2+ Dispel attempt. Once again, Margharita was just out of range, thanks to that overrun, but the Banshee was atomised and so were three Skeleton spearmen.

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Vampire Counts Turn Three

The Master turned his horse about and cantered gently toward the centre, while Margharita abandoned her unit. This was the wrong call. I got her out of there so she wouldn’t be poofed by the Dragon Princes, but the thing is – if she had been, she’d have exploded, killed a bunch of them, resurrected herself in the building, and been safe from any further charging because it’s a four turn game and I was going second. Instead, I… well, you’ll see. Anyway, the Spearmen turned to face the inevitable, and Ben saved me any further Staff of Damnation cheating by using Drain Magic straight out.

High Elf Turn Four

The Dragon Princes charged and, unsurprisingly, pulverised the Skeleton Spearmen, while the Archers totally failed to put any hurt on the Master again. The Winds of Magic were generous, and gave Ben enough to cast Fiery Convocation on Margharita. I wasn’t having that though – I dropped Rebound and this time got away with it. Sadly, the High Elf affinity for dispelling meant Ben easily shut down my spiteful Blade Wind on his Archers with a Mental Duel. On top of everything, he plonked a wound on Margharita for her trouble. Grr.

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Vampire Counts Turn Four

With only two models on the table my options were a bit… limited. I charged Margharita into the Dragon Princes, challenging the High Elf General – who failed his Fear test and, as Ben pointed out, actually did him a favour, since now it was much less likely he’d kill the Vampire. Margharita did two wounds to him, which made the combat… a draw. Blech.

(We counted and recounted the combat results, and this is where we spotted the other big thing Ben had bee doing wrong all day. In fifth edition, you do not get +1 combat resolution for charging; you get to strike first and that’s your lot. I don’t think it would have made a huge difference, since generally I was charging him or he was charging units which don’t care about combat resolution, but it’s still something that came up and which I didn’t catch until it became Crucial.)

But wait! It was not over! In my final desperate scrabble to retrieve some dignity from this game, I sacrificed all my dignity in doing a whole bunch of what I now know to be inadvertent cheating.

First, I tried to cast Summon Undead Horde so I could charge something into the Archers, still under the impression that a Vanhel’s charge allowed you to fight afterwards. Nope. Destroy Spell. Dispelled and then destroyed.

Then, I tried to Blade Wind the Archers. This time, Ben remembered he had a Dispel Scroll, and used it.

Finally, I used the Staff of Damnation to fight another round of combat against the Elf General. This is cheating because you can’t use Vanhel’s Danse Macabre on a lone Vampire. She killed the Elf General, but still died to combat resolution. This is cheating because you don’t count combat resolution in bonus rounds from Vanhel’s Danse Macabre – you carry it over to the next turn. Anyway, Margharita exploded, killing five Dragon Princes but, crucially, not the Mage, and everyone passed their Panic tests for the dead general, not that they should have taken them anyway.

Things would probably have turned out more or less the same way if I’d just left her in her unit and challenged Ben’s General on his fourth turn like a sensible person, but even if I include those three Victory Points, two Vampires can’t contest any table quarters, so Ben’s still sitting on the win he deserves.

Final Score: Vampire Counts 8 – High Elves 9

Debrief

Well, Ben certainly took my remarks about needing to come and fight me to heart! This time his Archers were set up to dominate the centre ground while his Bolt Throwers, who can afford to sit on hills in the corner, were sat on a hill in the corner. My Wights took the beating they actually deserved from the Bolt Throwers, and while the two Vampires closed the distance in terms of raw killing power, I was scrambling to catch up from the start.

With one win each under our belts a deciding game is called for. Ben, being a madman, suggested 2000 points and no limits (so he’d take the Executioner’s Axe, hopefully on a footslogging general in a White Lion unit this time, hint hint, and I’d take the Forbidden Rod/Amber Amulet power-combo) – but by the time I was waiting for the train, he’d messaged me to say “how about 3000?” So that’s something to look forward to. In the meantime, here are some thoughts on Fifth Edition and my list.

Talking points: Fifth Edition

It’s not sixth!

This is the big one. Everything that we got wrong – Vanhel’s Danse fiddliness, +1 combat resolution on the charge, Bolt Throwers only being regular S4 shots when they multi-fire – was a product of thinking back from later editions and underestimating the streamlining work that went on between the Herohammer and Borehammer years. In particular, Vanhel’s Danse Macabre really needs some… sigh… ‘dojoing’ so I know exactly what it can and can’t do for next time.

Card fencing

I both enjoyed and did not enjoy the fifth edition Magic phase. The ‘card fencing’ aspect, where a key Dispel attempt can be reinforced with power cards and then the spell itself can also be reinforced, led to some fun back-n-forth over crucial Banishments or Danses. That was fun.

It was… less fun… not knowing what casting power I could count on turn for turn. Back when I played Chaos in the actual mid-Nineties it didn’t stress me so much, but I learned my Vampire Counts trade in sixth edition when my Tower of Power and Pile of Denial dice were a constant, affected only by careless Necromancer immolations. We’ll get into that more when we hit the list review.

Tournament Battle lists at 1500

Both of us had two units which really did the business, and I think at 1500 points we can expect to see similar compositions from others. Both of us took the level 3 wizard we were allowed to, and both of us had empty magic item slots in favour of getting some support units in.

List Review

I gave Ben’s a once-over last time – now it’s my turn. Having direct access to my own thoughts, I can actually go through mine almost blow by blow.

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Margharita

She did… all right. Although neither of my Heart of Woe explosions were entirely legitimate, the basic principle holds up. Buried as she is among the infantry it took Ben three turns to get near her, just enough time for her to blow up and reincarnate safe and sound on turn four. It’d be nice if she hit a bit harder, and I rather miss Summon Wolves as a means of deterring Bolt Throwers and the like without putting more strain on the magic phase.

The Master

I really like the “two Vampire Counts” approach, and even when the Master ended up on his own, his high Toughness and tendency to have carved up war machine crews personally meant he could weather the storm of lesser firepower. The problem is that Counts still only have three attacks. They’re very good attacks, but only rolling three dice means they whiff a bit too easily, and they don’t have an additional hand weapon option in this edition.

I’m also in doubts about their spellcasting prowess. Three Wizards gave me good card storage capabilities but I was still often hurting for power cards, and it might be wiser to have some tech to help me get more spells off with the cards I have. Dark Magic helped with that but it’s unpredictable, and if I’m dropping one wizard then there’s no way I’m coming in without two Summons (on different casters) and ideally two Danses (again, the Staff of Damnation on a Vampire and the spell itself on a Necromancer).

Walravius

An absolute must. In order to force through a Vanhel’s Danse I generally had to cast it two or three times (including the Staff of Damnation), and to do that I needed the reliability of the Master Necromancer. Gaze of Nagash was also my most effective attack spell by a long shot. The one thing I’d say he needs is a nice cheeky Wand of Jet to help him get those first cheap-as-chips spells out. To find points for it, though, I’d have to drop a Count down to Thrall status…

Van Ian

… possibly by replacing this guy. He’s only there in case Margharita needs someone to eat a challenge, or to provide theoretical leadership in the event of her destruction, but in both cases her unit was wiped out before she died. Perhaps a footslogging Thrall and Walravius could do a good enough job of commanding the Skeleton infantry? Especially if that Thrall had something fun like that ring that stores a Battle Magic spell?

Wight Cavalry

Ben thinks a bigger unit of these is in order. I agree, but I’m unsure where the points should come from in a game of this size. Seven or so plus a Vampire Count or Wight Champion would do the business but goodness knows how I’d afford that. I do like the 1+ save on them – even accounting for the bolt thrower snafu they laughed off a lot of arrow fire and it made them tough as balls against the White Lions in the first game.

Skeleton Warriors

OK, so there are a few problems with these, only two of which I can fix.

Firstly: two units. I’m in the habit of taking a small ‘bunker’ for my Necromancers thanks to sixth edition, but it’s a luxury I can ill afford here.

Secondly: small units. It was an experiment, and it failed; I couldn’t get Summon Undead Horde off to boost them. In other editions I’ve found it’s best to buy the undead you need and raise the ones you’d like; this one, it turns out, is no different.

Thirdly: equipment. Spears and armour are suboptimal. I know it. Keep ’em cheap, stack ’em deep. BUT: I built this army to be an Army of Sylvania where spears or crossbows and light armour were the only kit options going. BUT: What You See Is What You Get. BUT: I’m not replacing them, all right?

SO: I think one deeper block of eighteen Skeletons with spears, and I avoid the all-eggs-in-one-basket problem that creates by moving my Undead general out of the infantry.

Banshee

Didn’t do much but she’s more of a deflector piece that can do damage. She can engage units like Ben’s Dragon Princes without getting into actual contact with them, and whittle down those heavily armoured highly protected dudes over time. I think I have to pick a target unit for her and stick to it like glue, though; against high-Ld targets she’s often pinging off one or two guys per turn if she’s lucky and those have to add up over time.

Bat Swarms

Gold. They’re fast, they’re Unbreakable, but they’re not Undead, and that makes all the difference in an edition where specific Undead-killing tech is so abundant. Being able to pin down units without fear of the crumble nor the Banishment nor the Banner of Undead Incineration was crucial to my tactical approach in both these games. These are definitely staying and I’m definitely keeping two Vampires so that the whole Swarm is only worth 1 VP.

Closing thoughts

First of all – big thanks to Ben for coming out, tolerating my occasional foray into complete Rimmerdom, and providing a couple of stand-up games.

Second of all – big ups to Stroud’s Atlantic Games (HI SEB!) for providing such convenient gaming space within sneezing distance of the station.

Third of all – no thanks at all to the cocksack CrossCountry conductor who pulled away from the platform at Gloucester right as I was high-tailing it towards him, and then gave me the most aggro “sucks to be you” face on the way out.

Finally – thanks to you, dear reader. These have been a long-ass couple of posts, but I hope you’ve enjoyed them despite that. There’ll doubtless be more of these to come, what with Ben and I fighting our decider and every possibility of a tournament happening next year.

Free Association

I am not supposed to have the sudden urge to run first edition WFRP, certainly not to conceive of an extended Nurgle-themed campaign that traverses the World Pond at least twice. I have other things to do. Neither am I supposed to have the SAGA/OSRD&D twitches. This is supposed to be a time in which I prepare an IKRPG scenario and a Hordes army, and work on notes for an original D&D setting, not the pseudohistorical neo-Arthurian stuff that’s turned over sleepily in my head and made noises about getting up any second now.

Perhaps it’s because efforts on the Road to SmogCon are temporarily halted for want of some decent primer. Turns out my Liquitex gesso really doesn’t like whatever the non-metal Privateer Press miniatures are made from. I am averse to a full Dettol job but a quick blast of white spray primer may be in order; the product is not up to the task. I am also mildly unnerved by how many unpainted miniatures I now seem to own: there is a mostly-assembled Oldhammer Ork army (need a few more large bases for the second Dreadnought and the Skorcha), a handful of Otherworld adventuresses, and a sundry array of persons for Frostgrave/Mordheim/D&D/other fantasy stuff. Oh, on that subject…

Heresy Miniatures deserve a huzzah. For those not in the know, Andy who runs Heresy has basically ruined his life in order to put dragon models in the hands of people who paid for dragon models which turned out to be an enormous pain in the ass to cast. Bear in mind that all these people were told up front that it may never happen, so he had the opportunity to welch whenever he felt like it and didn’t. We are talking about a bloody fool, but also a man of honour who is finally able to kick his business into life again. Buy stuff from Heresy.

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For instance, this Frostgrave/Mordheim/small fantasy skirmish thing ‘warband’ is mostly Heresy stuff (the vampire in the topper, the wizard with the pointy wizard hat and all the ghouls). Heresy ghouls are awesome.

While I’m doing shoutouts, let’s talk about two not-shit podcasts.

First: Dungeonpunx. First episode’s a bit crackly but it’s solid. Five British blokes and a dog rambling loosely about games, music and stuff, strictly by/for functional human beings and not millimetre-counting tryhards. I hear they like Frostgrave.

Second: Combo Smite. Very focused on one game, very into that game (the word “meta” is used without irony), but basically chill about it. Receives brownie points for doing battle reports that talk about why people do the things they do in games and what they hope to get out of it. This is the way a battle report should be done.

And finally: while browsing old White Dwarfs on Scribd, I stumbled upon the Chivalry rules in issue 74 or thereabouts. Delightfully, it has the card-based choose-a-location-to-attack-or-defend system which would later pop up in Freebooters’ Fate. Is there no idea GW didn’t have first?

Terry Pratchett, OBE: 28 April 1948 – 12 March 2015

What Pratchett really does… did… is excise and excite human nature, and everything else is ironmongery – but it’s brilliant, ornate, detailed ironmongery, with sniggering orang-outangs peeking out of the pattern, done by someone with a name like Calumny Jones.

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“Terry Pratchett’s died.”

That’s not the sort of thing you just walk into a room and say to someone. It simply isn’t cricket. That’s the sort of thing you break to someone gently, over a cup of tea, something you take your time over and think about. It’s not an everyday sort of announcement, nor an everyday sort of news.

When just a wee lad, left to my own devices in the library as often as not, I was interested King Arthur and dragons and all that malarkey, but not in what you could call fantasy as such. Not original fiction about that sort of thing, written by people who’d lived within the twentieth century. Not, until the day when my bleary little eyes alighted on this gaudy-looking paperback with a dragon on the front and some startlingly-drawn chaps in dodgy-looking armour attempting to do harm upon it. Guards! Guards! was where it started.

The first fantasy novel led to a lifelong fascination with the genre, fed into an interest in fantasy play and fantasy games, and into a fascination with writing. When I came to write my own material – prose and resources for games and, to the chagrin of a dozen hard-working pedagogues, essays – and to frame my own characters and worlds and perceptions, they were invariably formed by this body of work that I’d read upside down and inside out over the years. Before Pratchett I’d wanted to do all sorts of things when I grew up; after Pratchett I wanted to be A Writer. More than that, I wanted to be a particular kind of Writer – the kind who uses words like ’embuggerance’ and still manages to make a point.

It feels trite and selfish to say “well, the subject of this tribute was a huge influence on me” and then talk about oneself line after line, so allow me to scrabble for redemption and say that I’m not the only one. A generation of young readers cut their teeth on Discworld, watched Johnny and the Dead on the telly, played spot-the-author with a worn copy of Good Omens – you get the idea. Not until a former teacher from Gloucestershire wrote a Bildungsroman about a speccy kid at magical boarding school did anyone come close to Pratchett’s stature as the genre-defining figure in British young adult fantasy.

Pratchett defined fantasy and comedy and bloody good prose to the boy who would be Von and to thousands like him, but he defined activism too – at least, a particular kind of critical activism. His novels are hysterically funny, of course, but there isn’t a single Discworld that doesn’t have a steely grey eyebrow raised at something foolish or barbarous. Pratchett’s books lay the absurdity of the world bare – and absurdity isn’t just funny, it’s also dangerous and stupid and demands to be pointed out, ridiculed, understood and prevented. Look at something like Wyrd Sisters, which is a funny story about witches and the excesses of theatre, with a rather serious point about the upbringing of children and about the arts as propaganda. Look at something like Making Money – you have to sell a lot of snake oil just to get people believing in currency and exchange, never mind reinventing them and getting people to accept that this piece of paper is innately valuable – and yet ideas like used stamps being worth what it says on the front and pins being highly collectible take off without your trying.

You can’t go around saying things like “Pratchett holds a mirror up to life” because that’s simply not enough; Pratchett lays life out on the slab, slices it open with a flash of stainless razor wit, and has a good poke around inside, showing us where the cankers are, making daft remarks about sausages, laughing at words like ‘spleen’ and ‘pancreas’ – and then the blade twists again and there’s a lump of something black and rotten on the end of it. A-haaa, you say, in your finest Tom Baker tones: there it is. And he does it all without being righteous or bland or preachy, without ever telling you that you can’t say or think or do a given thing – Pratchett can call you an idiot to your face and have you laughing as he does it. What Pratchett really does… did… is excise and excite human nature. Everything else is ironmongery – but it’s brilliant, ornate, detailed, charming ironmongery, with sniggering orang-outangs peeking out of the pattern, done by someone with a name like Calumny Jones.

I would be delighted if my children and grandchildren are taught to talk about Pratchett in the same breath as Dickens, and with the same reverence for wit and whimsy and the same phrase for What It’s All About – the Condition of England. I would be even more delighted if they enjoy him as much as I have.

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Rest in peace.