Friday, 29 March 2013

Meet the Stormbournes

Greetings and salutations Bunker dwellers. Well, 9 days of warhammer with my Dwarfs taught me a thing or two! I thought I'd share what I'd figured out about the units in the Stormbourne Host.

General thoughts about Dwarfs

Dwarfs in 6th ed do exactly what you feel they should. They can take anything the enemy can throw at them and just will not break. A major problem though is their small units - your opponant will almost always be steadfast, they may not be able to break you but you'll struggle to get rid of them too! Their anti-magic is brilliant though and don't bother casting remains in play spells against them. With no magic to cast themselves they can use all the power dice the army generates to dispel anything still hanging around. They are an older book though and it does show at times - especially in unit costs, compare some of the dwarf costs to some newer lists and oh boy are they pricey - but I was starting to get past the aged handicap by the end of the week. Oh, and when combined with an allied Empire army they are just evil!

So lets take a look at some specific examples from my army.

Dwarf Rangers (Stromni's Wanderers)

These guys were the absolute daddy in the campaign. I cannot recommend quarreller rangers highly enough. Their flexibility is the key, this is a solid missile regiment that can deliver a very nasty surprise with their great weapons. They work best when occupying a defended obstacle or similar and don't expect them to last for turn after turn as light armour alone is just not enough to keep them in the fight for long. Get them some support though and they kick all kinds of ass.

Dwarf Slayers (The Unforgiven Dead)

Slayers have the same problem they always had. They are naked dudes with I2. Being able to step up has helped but they struggle to kill enough to break a unit so they wind up a rather expensive roadblock. By watching the Powderkegs (Charlie's handgunner unit) in action, I think I've figured out how to fix this though. Add a hero level slayer. With some serious killing power in the front rank they can strip away the opponant's static resolution and start to actually win some combats rather than just saying "ah well, we're unbreakable".

Dwarf Thunderers (Dafrir's Deadeyes)
Thunderers are the archetypical dwarf unit and damn, I can see why. The +1 to hit just makes them solid and reliable. Strangely, the thing I appreciated most was the shields. Hand weapon and shield with that 6+ parry save along with the light armour, shield, WS4 and T4 that all dwarfs come with make them really tough to take out. These chaps weathered storms that would have swept human missile troops off the table. Awesome. If I was a beardy chap then I would be adding a LOT more of these chaps to the army.

Dwarf Longbeards (The Ancient Mariners)

These guys earned a much-deserved reputation in the campaign. They are just ridiculously tough to take down. Savagely expensive in points but worth every single one. That S4 upgrade along with the heavy armour and shield combo makes them a really upsetting prospect for anyone to take on. Never let them get flanked though, lose that 6+ parry, the ranks and the ability to fight in support and they are done for.

Dwarf Hammerers & Lord (Hafnir Stormbourne and the Stormbourne Kinband)
I didn't get much use out of these lads. At almost 600 points for the character and the unit they are just far too expensive for anything other than 3k. Oh, and then they ran away in that game anyway! Weirdly this fits with Hafnir's personality and Dwalin Gravenrune the runesmith is fast becoming the de facto leader of the army. 

Dwarf Warriors (The Dockers Host)
These chaps are the other lynchpin of a dwarf army. Not  quite as "killy" as the Longbeards but gods damn are they tough to kill. Plus the - relatively - cheap cost means that they actually have some rank bonus. 

The War Machines

Out of the war machines in my collection the real winners from the change to 6th ed are the Stone Thrower and Gyrocopter. Their templates are now savage and especially the gyrocopter - which I didn't really rate in the last edition - is now a real game changer. The ability to march and fire (being a flying monster) is horrible and against T3 opponents especially it is brutal. The organ gun - in dwarf hands - has always been horrible and continues to be a solid performer. Sadly, the cannon is still almost useless if your opponent doesn't have any big critters to shoot at. Likewise, the bolt thrower was useless - aside from one glowing moment when it sniped a lone necromancer, it managed to fail every S4 hit it was asked to make! At most, it killed two guys at a time. I think it is mostly sacked and replaced with the gyrocopter in most games.

Warhammer VIII

This week was the first sustained period of play I had managed with the new Warhammer. I think I've got to grips with it. Overall I love it. Combat feels right and the spectacle of big units able to really hit hard is a delight. Magic has gotten very present in the system. There are just so, so many huge area affecting spells. This took me by surprise a bit at the start and I need to say sorry to Maisey for my incredulous reactions when his vampire army got all of the spells it really needed in one turn. It was the first time I had experienced such a gods awful beating that felt like it had been the magic phase winning. Later games taught me that it really, really doesn't happen often! Likewise, one of the only rules that I don't like in the game - that you cannot dispel magic that runs until "your next magic phase" in the opponant's turn, only remains in play ones - caused me to bitch mightily at Mark about Skaven magic. Sorry Mark. My point was that especially Howling Warpgale works for both the shooting phase and the stand and fire phase of the next turn and you can do nothing about it. Nonetheless, not Mark's fault and he bore the brunt of my complaining about this particular rule. Unfortunately he also had the army with the most "it can do that?!" moments so I imagine there were some really uncomfortable games at times.

This made me think. It is not fair, ever, to bitch to the player about their army. I am ashamed that I did this. Every army has things that are just wrong to face. With my army for example, I'd say that adding two Runes of Penetrating and a Rune of Accuracy to a stone thrower is one of the nastier tricks. Having no Dwarf with a Ld less than 9 is also hardcore. So why assume that anyone else's army has more evil than mine? In my defence, I was facing a lot of stuff for the very first time and the nasty surprises could be disorientating. Nonetheless, it is not cool to behave like that and I will be endeavouring to never do it again. There are, after all, only a couple of things in the skaven army that made me raise my eyebrows (Poison Wind Mortars for instance). 

So, important lessons from Warhammer VIII? With Dwarfs I have to cripple the opponant's magic phase or I am in trouble! Magic now allows some armies - Vampires for example - to ignore their army's traditional downsides. Come prepared and throw down. Second lesson, biiiig units, even bigger than I'm currently using. They're ace! Third lesson - and this one is particularly germaine to this week - allow your opponant to win without feeling bad for gods sake! I always thought I did this but on the retrospective evidence of my memory I did not. That is not cool.

So what is next?

It was inevitable that I wouldn't be done with the dwarfs yet. They have been an important army for me for two decades now, and they still work how I remember! Additions currently planned include:
  • A horde. Yup, 50 dwarf warriors with great weapons. Savagely expensive in points but just try to kill them. Plus 20 or so WS4 S5 attacks a turn will make anyone's eyes water. It will also make me happier to have more "normal" Dwarfs in the army.
  • More characters. I want another runesmith to be Dwalin's apprentice and allowing me to promote him to runelord from time to time. Might even look into acquiring an Anvil of Doom for Dwalin if the Stormbournes ever retake Karak Hoch. I also need a thane without a battle standard so I have a warrior capable of leading the army and a dragonslayer to beef up the slayer unit.
  • Another stone thrower. I've got the older model mangonel style thrower (not the goblobber although I've got one of those too) that I can strip and repaint. If one stone thrower is brutal, two will be eye-watering.
  • A steam tank! I've wanted to Dwarf-up a steam tank for ages and this is a perfect opportunity. One of the advantages of a gaming group like ours is that no-one should mind me using this piece of nuttiness.
That will take the army to a whopping 4000 points. Not sure I can see a huge amount of point in going any higher as I just won't ever be playing a game larger than that any time soon. So that is what I learned on my holidays folks. Hope it has provided some food for thought for any potential dwarf players out there!

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Campaign Week: part five

Come one, come all, to this: the final instalment of the narrative that evolved over the course of the Beard Bunker’s Campaign Week. If you’re new here, you might want to start at the beginning, then read the first and second parts of the story so far.

Also, fair warning: what with this last part being, like, totally epic and awesome and whatnot, it is not short. Be prepared for schturm and drang and much gnashing of teeth.

The Survivors

Somewhere in the Weiss Hills

Someone was shaking Amelia awake. “Sorry, miss, but it’s time to move on,” they said. She squinted at the light; the sun was coming up behind a pale sheet of cloud. The moorland turf beneath her was cold.  Her vision was still blurry, but better than it had been after the miscast. Her joints ached, and her hearing was still off. As she came to, she took in the other eight survivors, and in doing so, brief flashes of their night-time flight swam back to her: sneaking through the burned-out ruins of Müden. Being chased. Stumbling, tripping over every root, stopping to vomit, wiping the blood from her eyes and ears. Staying quiet. Having their cover blown by another survivor. Captain Brandt asking her to kill something. Failing. Then: the muzzle flash of the captain’s pistols lighting up the trees for an instant. Wolf-like rats as big horses leaping out at them. More running. More tripping. Hearing a soldier’s scream cut off abruptly. Captain Brandt told them to run; he’d hold them off.
          Without spells at her fingertips, Amelia was too scared to disagree, but the Blades and the last few Powderkegs refused to abandon him. Even Fabian, the bitter old priest, called on Sigmar to bless their weapons.
          Two soldiers died, and Oskar was badly bitten in the shoulder by one of the wolf-rats, but they killed the nearest of their hunters and fled into the Weiss Hills, running alongside the River Kiefer to keep their bearings in the darkness. Eventually, they could run no further. Amelia didn’t even remember falling asleep.
          Someone was shaking her awake again. “Sorry, miss, we can’t wait any longer,” they said. Her eyes adjusted. Captain Brandt was crouching next to her, his hand on her shoulder, his other still holding a scrap of cloth to his wound.
           “Water,” she said.
           “We’ve no skins; you’ll have to drink from the river.”
          Amelia sat up and rubbed her eyes. Flakes of dried blood stuck to her fingertips. “How far to the fort, d’you think?” she asked.
          “We’ll get there by sundown if we keep a good pace,” he said. She was warming to him; a poseur, yes, but not a selfish one. He’d kept them alive.
          “Seen any other survivors?” she asked.
          “None,” Oskar said numbly.
          “What about Grand Master von Rüdiger?”
          “Dead or captured. Last I saw, his lot were surrounded and being pulled from their horses.” 

Monday, 18 March 2013

Campaign Week: part four

Something I’ve learned from the first week of campaign play is that the “narrative” in “narrative wargaming campaign” doesn’t come so much from the battles you play, but the little bits of story that knit them together. Consider, for a moment, the structure of an action movie... obviously, there need to be explosions. We’re all down with explosions, not least of which so that badass people can avoid looking at them. Now imagine a film containing nothing but explosions. That’d get old faster than [insert reality-TV-launched boy band here].

Don’t get me wrong, action scenes still have story content, but they function more like a big, gory fulcrum around which a preceding chunk of plot will turn.

Why am I rambling on about this? Because it serves as a preamble to the second part of our campaign’s story wot we started in the last post. If you haven’t read that, this post is going to make little sense from this point onwards.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Campaign Week: part three

Arr, gather round, ye Beardlings! Here be the third part of the Beard Bunker’s campaign coverage, and now that we’ve shown you the armies and explained the background, style, and characters of the campaign, we’ll be starting the story.

The first campaign game that we played was a roleplaying session, and served to set up the political landscape and several of the characters’ relationships for the rest of the story. If you’re thinking of starting your own narrative campaign, I can’t recommend this step highly enough. You don’t necessarily need to do it in RPG mode; it could just as well be a conversation. The main thing is that a setting and characters aren’t a narrative, they’re ingredients for a narrative. Stories are made by people changing each other and the world around them, be it with big sticks or fabulous cooking.

Finally, a reminder: the campaign’s set after the established fluff of the Warhammer World. It’s our own private storyworld. Where the GW studio has to take hobbyists and their collections into consideration when they write this sort of stuff, we have no such limitations. We can do anything we want to Hochland – it could become the private domain of the de Crécy brothers, or fall beneath the shiny gold boots of a certain sorcerer of Chaos.

Part the First: the Stormbournes arrive in Hochland
(as explained by a halfling with a chip on his shoulder and a half-pint in his hand)

Cedric Sneakfoot had been in Count Ludenhof's "employ"
ever since he'd been caught poaching in the Count's estate.

There I were, lying abed at some ungodly hour, when one of the Count’s little fireworks goes off. Gods I hate them things. But he were quite clear: if one of them goes off, I’m to get to the palace smart quick. So I legs it over there, thinking it’s going be another job following some noble twerp, or watching a “person of interest,” or maybe one of his secret jobs, but instead I finds some fat beardy bloke covered in more armour than a bloody steam tank. The Count’s put a brave face on, but it’s clear the beardy bloke is making him nervous.

Before I even finds out why I’m there, the beardy bloke’s talking stern at the Count. “This is your agent? A child?” says he. Now I’ve gotten used to humans and their sizeist assumptions, and I’ve grown my goatee for just this reason. Mind you, his beard is bigger than I am, so maybe by his standards it don’t count. But he’s a nob, so I bows and scrapes like always, and finally, the Count tells me what we’re about, that is, to take the beardy bloke – a dwarf noble, he says – to the Tussen College of the New Sciences. Apparently the dwarfs lent us some sort of stone, and it just got pilfered. It were only later on, when I knew more, that I realised what sort of trouble we’d be in if we didn’t find it.

Apparently the dwarfs want to build a load of watchtowers along the river, no idea why, and one of them needs this special stone in it to tell them when there’s enemies afoot, and if we didn’t find this stone, the dwarfs would be wanting to build a tower on part of Tussenhof, which I reckon wouldn’t be all that popular with the folks what live there. That’s why the Count’s nervous, I thinks: he don’t want war with our only ally, but he can’t just sit by if the dwarfs start knocking down our houses.

Anyway, off we trot, and the dwarf tells me his name: Dwalin Gravenrune. He’s a serious sort, but a straight talker.

The day took a funny turn after that. Quick version? We worked out that the stone was nicked by a necromancer, and we had to go all the way to a creepy-looking tower north of Estdorf to get it back. Sortof walked through a goblin tribal war on the way, and then there was all sorts of walking dead’uns inside the tower, which meant that a) we knew we was on the right track, and b) I damn near shat my trousers. By the time we got to the necromancer, there was dead’uns coming at us from all round, and the soldiers we’d brought with us looked to be in trouble, and even Dwalin were looking like he were on the ropes.

No-one pays much attention to the little folk, though. I snuck round the side and put an arrow right through the necromancer’s heart. That seemed to sort the walking dead’uns out, and the dwarf stone was just laying on a table next to some other paraphernalia, so there you has it, cheers all round, war averted, pats on the back. But here’s the funny thing: when the necromancer died, two glass jars on the shelf just... shattered.

I went up and had a peak whilst the others looked to their wounds. In one jar, there was a scrap of faded black cloth, and in the other, an old Fleur-de-Lys pendant, both soaked in old, curdled blood. That seemed a bit off, so I took the cloth and the pendant back with us to Hergig to show the Professors at the college. I didn’t hear nothing after that.

When I went back to ask about it the other week, Professor Kartoffelkopf suddenly got this look on his face, and told me not to worry about it. Well as you know, there ain’t nothing scarier than someone telling you not to worry, so the next time I saw Dwalin walking up towards the Count’s palace, I asked him if he might need a local tracker. If something big’s going on, I reasoned that being the Count’s favourite agent would put me in harm’s way. Luckily Dwalin seemed keen on the idea; seems I made an impression. You should’ve seen the look on His Lordship’s face when Dwalin asked him...

You know, for the first time in years, I reckon things might be looking up.

Part the Second: things are in no way looking up

The academics at Tussen College knew enough to date the Fleur-de-Lys as a design that hadn’t been popular for over five centuries. They checked what few records remained from so long ago, and found references to two Brettonian knights known as the de Crécy brothers. The records said only that they had been involved in murder and grave robbery, and that they disappeared before the law could catch up with them. It seemed bizarre that a Brettonian knight would have anything to do with such crimes. Starting to suspect they were out of their depth, the researchers sent word to the experts on the dead: the college of the Amethyst Order in Altdorf.

A week later, Amelia von Lessing arrived in Hergig, and went straight to Count Ludenhof with grave tidings. The de Crécy brothers were no mere murderers. Most of the chronicles of the time had avoided the details so as not to cause widespread panic, but in actuality, the de Crécys were vampires who had emptied three towns of their people and besieged Bergsburg with an army of walking corpses. The siege was eventually lifted by the Knights of the White Wolf, but Phillippe and Etienne de Crécy were never seen again.

The meaning of the shattering jars was clear to Amelia. Her research in Altdorf told of a member of her order, Edmund Schiller, who was sent to Bergsburg to help the White Wolves kill the vampires. Schiller was never heard from again, but Amelia could well imagine his fate: chasing the defeated vampires through the forest, but unable to face them in combat, he had somehow locked them in torpor using arcane foci – a scrap of cloth from Phillippe’s cloak, a pendant torn from Etienne’s neck by a passing branch – but somewhere along the line, Schiller had strayed from the Amethyst path and turned to necromancy; perhaps it was what he had to do to trap the vampires, knowing that he could never go back to his order. Perhaps he had done it with the best of intentions, but it was a corruptive path. Now, at least, he was dead, but the Grand Master of the Amethyst Order was quite clear: until the de Crécys were slain, the affair would remain a secret shame; a black mark on the college’s honour.

Amelia wasn’t nearly as concerned for the college’s honour as she was for the villagers of Hochland.

Part the Third: things are in fact totally stuffed

Hochland in 2251. Original map sourced from Winds of Chaos.

It started off as outlandish rumour. No-one really believed that Praag had been sacked, much less by the biggest army of Norsemen in recorded history. Then Archaon’s horde destroyed Ostland and swept through Hochland. Amelia’s search for the de Crécys was abandoned as, for five gruelling months, she fought as a battle wizard among Hochland’s soldiery. They didn’t even slow Archaon down.

Hochland in 2253: good times.

In the wake of Archaon’s defeat at the gates of Middenheim, Amelia resumed her search. For months, there was nothing. She began to wonder if releasing the foci meant anything at all. But then she heard an ugly rumour: some refugees had been escorted back to their ruined homes in Stöckse, but had not been heard from since. With there being so few state troops left, she sent word up the River Talabec and petitioned the Stormbournes for aid.

Hafnir Stormbourne was uninterested; these were human concerns with no bearing on the retaking of Karak Hoch. Dwalin thought differently. Archaon had destroyed the Stormbourne’s watchtowers only months after they’d been built, and with the Empire’s strength at an all-time low, there would be nothing to stop two vampires making life very difficult indeed.

In the end, Hafnir relented, and Dwalin sailed south down the Wolf’s Run with his new underling in tow.
“Will this’un be dangerous, milord?” Cedric asked as they stood side-by-side on deck.
“No. We’re only going to go and have a look.”
“Like that time we went and had a look for that stone, and ended up fighting off two goblin tribes and an ’orde of walking dead’uns?”
“Hmph. You watch that tongue of yours, Cedric Dwarf-friend, or I shall watch it for you.”
“Yes, milord.”

Cedric with his new master. Clearly the start
of a beautiful bromance.

* * *

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the end of the beginning: thanks to Cedric's heroics, the Dwarfs are firm allies of the Empire, and the hunt is on for the newly-freed vampires. It goes without saying that the violence is going to ramp up quite considerably in the next campaign post.

As much as it seems ridiculous to have an acknowledgement at the end of a blog post, special mention ought to go to Tom, who not only created Cedric Sneakfoot, but then wrote a hilarious journal of his doings after our game. Jeff also gets props for suggesting the use of Cedric’s voice in this post. I have shamelessly stolen some of Tom’s lines to write Cedric’s monologue, and as such, I really can’t claim all the credit for the charm onslaught that is The Halfling Experience.

It’s a shame, too, that in the interests of being concise, I’ve had to omit a lot of Cedric’s more ridiculous accomplishments, the finest of which being the point where he defeated an entire army of goblins using a single Strength 3 shot. Killing Blow + Sniper + a wounding roll of a 6 = 1 dead goblin general. The nearest goblins then had to take a panic test for a unit being destroyed within 6” and... well... you can guess the rest.

Aaanyway, I hope you’ve enjoyed the story so far. How are y’all finding the format? Would you prefer a more anecdotal style? More focus on the actual scenarios and games we played? More in-depth stories? If you have feedback, leave it below, and your thoughts shall be taken on board.