First, my apologies: between going to France and Devon over the past few weeks, I’ve not found the time to do part two of the freehand tutorial. I shall be slapping it in the face (that means finishing it) this week. Now, moving on... I have something new for the Beard Bunker: a battle report. Kindof.
I find myself wondering if I’m about to fall into some of the traps that sometimes befoul the White Dwarf team when they write one of these. At the least, I guess I can try to restrict my use of hyperbole. After all, dire portents are waxing nigh as the End Times descend upon the Olde Worlde, and who am I to indulge in mere rhetoric as such cataclysmic events unfold?
Now, what the rest of this post may lack in hyperbole, it makes up for in length. You might want to put the kettle on before diving in...
Before I begin, a quick warning: I’m going to write this as a weirdass combination of story, anecdote, silly commentary and actual literal description of the game. It isn’t going to take itself very seriously. There is of course a reason why the White Dwarf guys either write it as an account of a game OR a pseudo-story, which may well mean that this is going to be an idiotic mess. See what you think. Does this format work? You’re totally invited to comment on the delivery (or anything else up to and including your preference for Gruyѐre over Boursin) at the end of the post.
Until yesterday, my only experience of Chaos Dwarfs was reading about them in Forge World’s Tamurkhan, so I was curious to see how they actually played. John was happy to oblige. It turns out that if you’re going to take those angry lil’ midgets on, you’d better bring it. I only wish I’d known what ‘it’ was.
I imagine that my army’s ageing commander, Captain Lars Falkendorf, was sent out from Middenheim to the middle of nowhere (that is, the Howling Hills of Southeast Middenland) to ascertain the truth behind rumours of a small band of Dwarfs sacking the towns of Untergard and Holtdorf. Half-starved refugees seeking refuge in Malstedt would have been ranting about the towns’ people being led off in chains whilst the buildings themselves were torn down by a towering beast made of fire and white-hot iron.
Lars would have been confused for four reasons: one, the Dwarfs were allies of the Empire. Two, they’re not the slave-taking type. Three, the dwarven realms are hundreds if not thousands of miles East of Middenland. And four... towering beast? White-hot iron? An exuberant metaphor for dwarven artillery, surely? Surely?
The scenario we rolled was Meeting Engagement, which I took to mean that Lars’ army were only half a day’s march past Middenstag when they saw that not only was there a column of smoke and steam on the horizon, but that it was coming towards them.
Leaving their supply wagons only a quarter-mile back, the army deployed straight from the marching column into a line. Lars instructed his brother Kurt, the army’s battle standard bearer, to take command of the Ulricsberg Stonewalls – a regiment of dour, Ulric-worshipping greatswords – and hold the line against whatever came over the hill. Lars sent a small force to safeguard the left flank whilst he and the Knights of the Blazing Sun round to the hill on the right to wait for a chance to flank the foe. If you’ll indulge my cack-handed inability with a camera, here’s what Lars could see of his army from the hilltop:
Personally, I thought it seemed like a decent plan, although one of the great cannons was still being dragged into position when the bad guys arrived (i.e. it was stuck in reserve as a result of the scenario). During the first turn’s movement phase, the field looked like this:
It’s amazing how much trickier I find deployment at 2400 points when I have absolutely no idea where my opponent’s going to put his units. Deploying second meant that John was able to more-or-less nullify Lars’ flanking gambit by putting three unbreakable units in front of him: the Iron Daemon, the K’Daai Destroyer and (cue Dr Evil voice) the Magma Cannon. Sucketh to be Lars.
One can only imagine how much of a shock it must’ve been for the old captain and his knights when the K’Daai hoved into view. He’d been expecting an intimidating piece of artillery, rather than a roiling mass of smoke and fire as tall as a watchtower, never mind the steamtank-like-things behind it. He and his knights would’ve been glancing at their eminently flammable lances and wondering what they could possibly do against such a creature. Lars looked to his units behind the main line and pointed his lance at the K’Daai. Thaddeus Krey, a powerful magister from the College of Light, understood Lars’ signal, and attempted to cast Shem’s Burning Gaze at the K’Daai. The ensuing lance of white fire soared across the field towards the daemon, before dissipating mere feet away from it. Unlike most dwarfs, these guys had a sorcerer amongst their number, and that sorcerer had just read out a dispel scroll.
As the fickle winds of Hysh had failed to do Thaddeus proud, the wizard ordered the cannons to open fire on the daemon. One of them still wasn’t ready to go, but the other sent a cannon ball straight into the creature, through the black smoke, and out the other side with no discernable effect (i.e. I rolled a 1 to wound. Gutted.). In response, the creature turned and made for Lars’ knights. It appeared to be speeding up.
During his career, Lars had slain champions of the dark gods, fought the monstrous denizens of Lustria, and slain at least two vampires. He’s brave, but he’s not a moron. When the K’Daai began its charge, Lars and his knights activated Operation: Run for the Hills. Yes, they rolled a double 6 for their terror test. Yes, my general fled the table in turn one. Yes, I would’ve done exactly the same thing in his position. I lost a crucial unit, but it left the K’Daai flat-footed, disappointed, and open to the tender ministrations of the artillery train. There was still hope.
The Chaos Dwarfs wasted no time after that. The Iron Daemon steamed forwards at a worrying speed, whilst their daemonsmith hurled a fireball into the Helblaster Volley Gun, setting the wooden carriage on fire. Seeing an opportunity to impress their masters, one of the two Hobgoblin rabbles fired a volley of poorly-made arrows into the Helblaster’s crew. Poor sods never got to fire a shot with their volley gun. The magma cannon was equally upsetting, sending molten-hot, er, magma over the greatswords, leaving eleven dead and twenty-four with, I suspect, traumatic memories.
Once the hellcannon and hobgoblins on the Empire’s left flank had let off a (thankfully ineffective) volley, most of the Imperial soldiers began a cautious advance, whilst the pistoliers on the left flank swept round behind the dwarfs and shot a few in the back. It’s the sort of chivalrous behaviour I’d expect from a noble on a horse.
Thaddeus threw another searing bolt of light into the K’Daai, to no effect whatsoever (searing... searing... hello, hyperbole). The white flames simply disappeared behind black smoke. It turns out, K’Daai get a 2+ ward save against flaming attacks. Joy abounded. Realising the folly of even trying to hurt the daemon, Thaddeus turned his attentions to bolstering the resolve of the soldiers with augmentary spells. Perhaps, thought he, the cannons would fare better against the approaching behemoth.
Not really, no.
Another cannonball sailed straight through the daemon (it confers a -1 to wound penalty), whilst the crew of the other cannon, slightly out of breath but cheerfully announcing they were finally ready to fire, neglected to load the shot properly, and misfired. Meanwhile, the mortar successfully landed a shot on a patch of grass that was nowhere near the enemy formations. Here’s the state of play circa turn two:
Whilst the Imperial gunnery crew were demonstrating their ability to stand on a hill and not kill things, the Chaos Dwarfs manning the Hellcannon demonstrated their ability to lose control of it, and were dragged along behind it when the daemonic wheels spun round and charged the pistoliers in the flank. There were some screams, some grinding sounds, a brief-yet-fatal chase through some woodland, and at the end of it all, the unit’s lone survivor – the outrider – found himself alone in a field half a mile behind the dwarf lines, wondering what the [proverb] just happened.
It’s unclear whether it was down to some subtle work by Thaddeus, or simply the vagaries of fate, but the Winds of Magic seemed to die down almost completely for a while. The enemy sorcerer failed to hurl any further abuse at the Imperial soldiery, and the K’Daai, starved of magical fuel, practically tore itself apart (by which I mean, it somewhat improbably failed the toughness test is has to take each turn, and lost three of its six wounds).
The magma cannon continued to upset the Imperial soldiery, this time immolating a large number of the swordsmen holding the left flank.
The Iron Daemon steaming towards Kurt and the Ulricsberg Stonewalls needed no such magical fuelling, however. It crunched into the Middenheimers, whose zweihanders bounced uselessly off its armoured hull. Kurt, however, was not so foolish as to try stabbing sheet metal, and instead found pipes and other bits of machinery to attack, heroically taking two of the machine’s eight wounds off (a retired S4 pirate wounding a T8 monster? There had to be another explanation).
With Middenheim’s elite pinned down by the Iron Daemon, and the rest of the line getting pelted by magic fireballs, arcing jets of magma and volleys of hobgoblin arrows, the rest of the Imperial troops had little choice other than to continue their advance. The swordsmens’ detachment of halberdiers, determined to protect their regiment, advanced and stood before the K’Daai in the hopes of distracting it for long enough to let the swordsmen charge the dwarfs’ line.
Over on the left, Brother Marten – a Warrior Priest of Sigmar – led a regiment of halberdiers towards the dwarfs themselves, whilst the Salzenmund Chancers – the smaller regiment charged with protecting the left flank – marched towards the hobgoblins in front of them. As advances go, it wasn’t one for the history books; a combination of the Magma Cannon and hobgoblin arrows swiftly beat them back. Whilst the Chancers never actually quit the field, they would play no further part in the battle.
Rather more impressively, Thaddeus stood in the copse of trees in the centre of the Empire line, drawing reckless amounts of power into his castings of Birona’s Timewarp.*
Having given up on hurting the K’Daai, the cannons trained their sights on the magma cannon that had slain so many soldiers. The first cannon crew – the guys who, thus far, had managed to send two shots sailing straight through the daemon’s body, were clearly happy to be shooting something solid, and did serious (but not terminal) damage to the Magma Cannon. The other cannon crew, having now cleared the blockage of their last abortive shot and keen to make up for lost time, hurriedly prepared the next shot, lit the taper, and promptly disappeared behind a wall of prematurely exploding gunpowder and ruptured brass. The mortar crew, apparently feeling that a display of solidarity was called for, also managed to blow themselves up.
The detachment of halberdiers could only look up at the K’Daai and hope for deliverance. They held their ground as it charged, even though their weapons would be incapable of harming it. It loomed over them and roared. One assumes that their response was to pray to Sigmar.
Turns out those boys knew how to pray. To the astonishment of all, not least of which the halberdiers themselves, the K’Daai tore itself apart. Another failed toughness test, and another 5 rolled on the D3, and the K’Daai was dead.**
In the centre, the Iron Daemon continued to grind the greatswords to a pulp, although it was now looking dented, and leaking small amounts of steam. Inspired by the greatswords’ stoicism, Brother Marten’s men held their ground when charged by the dwarven general. Thanks in no small part to Thaddeus’ herculean castings, they held up the enemy’s elite for four gruelling rounds of combat that saw the dwarven warriors all but wiped out, albeit at a horrendous cost in human lives. The second Thaddeus’ magical defences faltered, however, the dwarf sorcerer called down a storm of choking hot ash, blinding the Middenheimers. Their resolve waivered, and sensing a chance to stab something in the back, the hobgoblins that had been waiting at the periphery of the fight charged in to assist their dwarven masters, swinging the fight firmly in the enemy’s favour.
Keen observers might detect that there’s something missing from the Empire line in the above photo: a large unit of swordsmen. The Hellcannon misfired, which for most people is bad news, but for the Hellcannon meant a large S10 blast. Only five of the twenty-six swordsmen survived, and they rather understandably fled. This left the detachment (who had only recently defeated a building-sized foe with the power of hand-holding and group prayer) to face down a large gaggle of hobgoblins. Gluttons for punishment, those lads. They bravely charged in and, for a little while, held the hobgoblins at bay:
Sadly, things swung against them when the Dwarf Daemonsmith charged into their flank and made short, bloody work of them. The survivors tried to flee, but were cut down by the hobgoblins. In the hopes of reaping some sort of revenge, the surviving cannon took aim at the Magma Cannon. It would seem, however, that the cannon had been damaged when the other two war machines self-destructed. The only competent war machine crew of the day became the third crater on the hilltop.
As the Wissenland detachment were being butchered, the Ulricsberg Stonewalls finally managed to destroy the Iron Daemon. Of the twenty-four men that had been in the regiment when the Iron Daemon charged them, only five were still on their feet, including Kurt. Staggering past the wreckage of the dwarven machine, they made to charge the flank of the hobgoblins that had just killed the valiant Wissenlanders, but in tradition of all goblin-kind, the little sods ran off.
Brother Marten’s halberdiers, who had until now been holding desperately on in the left flank, were finally broken when the Hellcannon rolled into combat to join the Sorcerer and the Chaos Dwarf battle standard bearer.
Too far away to join up with Kurt, Thaddeus now found his copse of trees being attacked from two sides. The dwarven sorcerer and the hobgoblins were approaching from behind him, whilst the daemonsmith in front was now looking his way. Thaddeus managed to stave off the sorcerer’s Curse of Hashut, but was simply too drained to halt the daemonsmith’s fireball. Thaddeus, along with most of the trees he was next to, were set ablaze.
Speaking of being immolated, the final insult was administered by the Magma Cannon, which managed to roast Kurt as he rattled to a halt following the failed charge of the Stonewalls.
The phrase ‘guilt trip’ is probably insufficient to describe the way Lars must’ve felt, if indeed he was at that point even able to see the field of battle. Perhaps the phrase ‘guilt cruise’ would be more applicable.
It has, however, given me a cool idea for a skirmish scenario in which Lars’ knights attempt to rescue the horribly injured Kurt, Marten and Thaddeus from captivity. After all, they’re only being watched by three midgets, a bunch of hobgoblins, and a twitchy Hellcannon. What could possibly go wrong?
For those who like numbers and stuff, the final victory point scores were:
John/Chaos Dwarfs: 1909
Man, I got served.
That said, I had an enormous amount of fun. John’s army was an interesting one to play, what with four big, tough, unbreakable models and only three actual regiments. In retrospect, I think I should probably have ignored the K’Daai and shot at the magma cannon, which did a horrendous amount of damage to my army, whilst being significantly easier to kill.
To (briefly) share my thoughts on the rules for the Chaos Dwarfs... generally speaking, I like them. There’s a lot of flavour, and you certainly pay through the nose points-wise. However, there are definitely some balance issues. Specifically, the K’Daai seems pretty silly, in that there’s almost nothing you can do about it except hope that it gets unlucky. I don’t mind a unit being tough, but I do mind a unit that’s written in such a way that it replaces strategy with pure dice luck.
Finally, although I can’t imagine writing many more battle reports, please do say if you found this one entertaining or, indeed, horrendously boring. In either case, your feedback will definitely inform my decision as to whether or not to do another.
*There was something undeniably charming about the image of an old man in a copse of trees doing the Timewarp, and then doing the Timewarp again. John did some silly dancing in celebration.
**I suspect the K’Daai daemon’s true name was Matt. Matt Daemon.