Fellow skirmishers, please allow me to be the first to welcome you to the 2005 Dungeons & Dragons Miniatures 2005 Championship Series!
As the current D&D Miniatures Champion, I've seen a significant amount of tournament play over the past 17 months, and these experiences have provided me with a wealth of knowledge to share with other players. Most importantly, like many of you, I've spent a significant amount of time preparing to play in my upcoming qualifier for the world championship. Unfortunately, I've recently learned that (for purely personal reasons) I won't be able to attend a qualifier this year.
Worry not, for my loss is your gain! This year, rather than keeping my warband, techniques, and strategy secret, I'm offering a detailed exposé on what warbands you should expect to see and how they compare with each other. I've gone to great lengths to dig up the most closely guarded warbands, strategies, and "tech" from some of the best players around the world. With all that info, why not blow the lid off the tournament scene?
I feel somewhat guilty, as the current champ, that I'm not able to attend a qualifier. On the other hand, it's always a pleasure to give something back to the community at large, particularly in the hope of improving the overall level of competition in our game. So with the short time I have left during my reign as champion, I'll give you a look inside the strategy of top-tier competition.
Since returning from GenCon in August of 2004, I have logged the results (and warbands) of every competitive game I've played or observed in person. I've also compiled a list of warbands that have shown up in or won sanctioned tournaments from every internet website and online report I could find. I've gone incognito on the Vassal program since the release of Deathknell and logged hundreds of games in the hopes of getting a more complete sense of the wide range of warbands players are fielding. Finally, I've interviewed and conversed with some of the most highly regarded and successful players in the game to get their opinions on what they expect to see and play at the qualifiers. These players have been gracious enough to offer their opinions on various match-ups, individual pieces, and strategies.
I hope that by reading this primer, you will gain a better understanding of what the national metagame will look like from qualifier to qualifier and benefit from the insights of some of the game's top competitors. Be warned, however -- this primer is not an exhaustive analysis of what you should or should not play at the qualifiers. My "endorsement" of a particular band or figure does not indicate that those bands or figures are guaranteed to win. Your skill as a player and preparation with your warband will determine your success at the tournament. Still, a review of the current state of the metagame can be a valuable preparatory tool for both veteran and novice players.
One final word of caution: Keep in mind that your local metagame may vary greatly from any of the other tournament environments, particularly the national metagame. My own opinions, while tempered by scouring every available online report, incessantly monitoring Vassal, and soliciting the opinions of players all over the world, are heavily influenced by the 800+ matches I've recorded in my local environment. Always remember that your mileage may vary.
Fun with Numbers
I'm sure you've all heard Ben Disraeli's quip about "lies, damned lies, and statistics!" I think a more appropriate descriptor as applied to D&D Miniatures play would be:
"The manipulation of statistical formulas is no substitute for knowing what one is doing."
-- Hubert Blalock
I'd prefer to make a concise case for the opinions and judgments presented here based on logic and experience rather than just from numbers. Drawing correct conclusions from statistics is difficult enough when you're working from a valid sample; when the sample is narrow and unscientifically gathered, the job gets even trickier.
For example, I could tell you that on Vassal, 67% of the games I've observed have involved Lawful Evil bands. I guarantee you, however, that nationally, 67% of qualifier warbands will not be LE. Moreover, telling you that the Orc Warrior and Elf Warrior were (respectively) the most commonly occurring pieces at our local game shop between November of 2004 and February of 2005 adds little to your understanding of the functional utility of those pieces and may actually be misleading.
So, despite the huge database I've constructed, you won't see me quoting many hard stats. I'd prefer to stick to a more rational, qualitative analysis (which is much more useful when discussing something as subjective as gaming). Statistics will be offered for support rather than enlightenment.
A Word of Thanks
Before getting truly underway, I'd like to offer my sincere thanks to all of the individuals who helped by reviewing these articles, providing commentary on warbands, strategies, or match-ups, or sharing their experiences. In particular I'd like to offer my gratitude to Brad "bshugg" Shugg (the Brad Pitt of our hobby!), Robert "Dagni" Hatch, Chris "ChristopherGroves" Groves, Guy Fullerton, Michael "derry" Derry, Jesse "doubtofbuddha" Dean, Mannix "Nixlord" Manansala, and Steve "Huscarl" Winter. In addition, I'd like to thank those additional contributors who opted to remain anonymous until after the qualifier season is complete. You have all made a significant contribution to our gaming community.
Warbands by Faction
Again, a statement of caution: The bands listed within are not intended to be an exhaustive list of the "top tier" or "most successful/promising" bands. I have purposely included some bands that are decidedly not top-tier bands for purposes of comparison and analysis. A large variety of warbands will be present at the qualifiers, and diversity in warband composition is the sign of a healthy metagame. I have compiled data on a number of bands from each faction that have proven successful across a variety of settings.
Never forget that we learn and improve through practice. If you hope to be successful in a tournament, you must practice with the warband you intend to use and test it against a broad range of competitors. That means playing, playing, and more playing.
Over the next four weeks, I'll provide you with a glimpse into some of the most competitive warbands in each faction. Each article will include sample warbands, recommendations for playing with or against these warbands, suggestions for alternate builds, an analysis of various match-ups, and reviews of other figures within a particular faction.
This first article covers one of the most popular factions, Chaotic Good. This article will be followed by Lawful Evil (May 19), Chaotic Evil (May 26), and finally, Lawful Good (June 2).
In the span of 16 months or so, Chaotic Good has gone from consummate whipping gal to the belle of the ball. (I remember those flame threads -- Chaotic Good was consistently "hosed" and Lawful Evil was "unstoppable," cried the masses. Displaced Aggression anyone?)
I expect chaotic armies to make up the majority of qualifier warbands. Chaotic Good is particularly healthy. A deluge of efficient and flexible pieces has spawned a wide variety of competitive warbands. Fortunately, the reliable classification of Ranged vs. Melee still applies to a closer examination of the data I've collected on CG bands.
Match analyses indicate that ranged bands tend to fall into two types: Half-Elf Bow Initiate (HEBI) bands and Centaur Hero bands. Presently, neither warband seems to be tremendously successful in the competitive environment. Recently popular Beholder + undead bands are capable of healing ranged damage while simultaneously firing back deadly salvos of Disintegration, Abyssal Blasts, and Petrification beams against exposed archers. Similarly, Graycloak Rangers can quickly pick apart even a Centaur Hero or Half-Elf Bow Initiate without threat of retaliation. Finally, fearless units such as the Frenzied Berserker, and especially the cheaper pin-cushion-of-doom Zombie White Dragon, can move quickly and engage archers in melee ("basing") without worrying about an ill-timed morale check.
These archer bands -- particularly the HEBI x3 and Centaur Hero + Crow Shaman x2/3 bands -- can dish out an impressive amount of damage on paper. On the negative side, they are hampered -- some might say crippled -- by poor terrain placement, and they perform weakly against some of the more popular metagame warbands in my collected data. Warbands with multiple Crow Shamans can confound novice players because the figures tend to get in each other's way. The player realizes too late that the "nearest figure" to a Crow Shaman is another Crow Shaman and not the intended Centaur Hero.
Some of these bands will do well, particularly in a timed format, but I don't expect them to perform amazingly on the whole. Without multiple, significant melee figures, ranged warbands do not appear to be seriously competitive in the current state of the metagame.
Chaotic Good melee bands, however, have had an impressive impact on the competitive environment, particularly against the once dominant Chaotic Evil faction. After the release of the Frenzied Berserker in Aberrations, balanced, lightning-fast CG bands quickly took hold and drastically changed the face of the metagame. Under the command of the inimitable Inspiring Marshal, the Frenzied Berserker is a fearsome match for any piece in the game with a similar or lower point cost. In my local metagame, I was able to single-handedly extinguish the use of Trifecta-type bands thanks to the Inspiring Marshal/Graycloak Ranger/Frenzied Berserker combination. Chaotic Good's ability to deal with the powerful and ubiquitous CE Drider-based bands quickly caught the attention of skirmishers across the country and caused a marked increase in competitive CG play.
With the introduction of Deathknell, several pieces capable of providing an answer to the terrifying Berserker catapulted into competitive play. Ironically, one of these pieces is also found in CG: the Goliath Barbarian. For an impressive 40% lower cost than the Berserker, you get a figure capable of absorbing at least 35 points of damage, with equally impressive damage output and maneuverability. The drawbacks of questionable attack bonuses and low saves are lessened by the Reroll Attack special ability and low cost. It remains to be seen whether the Goliath is superior to the Berserker, but at the price of 31 points, it presents a viable alternative in many CG warbands.
A Sample Inspired Frenzy Warband:
Frenzied Berserker x2
Graycloak Ranger x3
Inspired Frenzy Options and Variations
Crow Shaman: A flexible utility piece that boosts ranged attacks and adds another 30 damage each round for an affordable 26 points. This piece appears to be slightly out-of-favor in the current metagame because of the need to keep activations at 12 or more to maximize the effect of the Inspiring Marshal's Grant Move Action ability. It has proven very difficult to make maximal use of the Crow Shaman in the low number of rounds that an Inspired Frenzy band tends to allow in a timed format.
Goliath Barbarian, Half-Elf Bow Initiate: Both may be solid options but the majority of serious CG players indicate that, in their testing, the traditional dual-Berserker build performs better against the non-CG bands they expect to encounter. The efficiency of the Goliath gives it a slight advantage over the HEBI in all but the most expert hands.
Aramil, Adventurer: This piece is often included as a deterrent to Large Silver Dragons. It's still a useful figure, but currently takes a back seat to the great synergy between the Healer and Frenzied Berserker. Aramil may also prove to be quite useful against Dire Bears. Against Large Silver Dragons in timed games, her clout is frequently overestimated.
Medium Astral Construct (MAC): The MAC is CG's high-hit point (HP) choice in an environment that features significant numbers of Beholders. Just one Medium Astral Construct can buy you several rounds against a Beholder in order to set up a game-ending Grant Move Action.
Rask, Half-Orc Fighter: Shows some promise but for the price, top-tier players seem to agree that the Frenzied Berserker is a better choice, particularly against CE bands. Rask is more useful against Lawful Good and Lawful Evil bands, but the fearlessness, Deathstrike, higher damage, and higher HP of the Frenzied Berserker make her a more frequent choice in the current competitive environment.
How to Play Inspired Frenzy
Some Inspired Frenzy warbands reach 14 or more activations by cutting out moderately-priced support troops such as the Healer in favor of units costing 3-5 points. The large activation advantage these pieces provide can be a significant benefit in mirror matches against other Inspired Frenzy bands fielding 12 or fewer activations. Being able to out-activate your opponent lets you save the Grant Move Action ability followed immediately by the Berserkers' activations until your opponent has moved all of his pieces, providing you with an important "first strike" advantage. On the downside, so many activations play out very slowly and can become a significant point-loss liability if they get caught in area effects such as spells and breath weapons, or even Cleave.
Use the Wolves to grab tiles for assault points while the hidden Graycloak Rangers wound your opponent's figures or channel their movement. Reduce your opponent's activations while healing and maneuvering the Frenzied Berserkers to set up a game-ending Grant Move Action (or as Maxminis.com faithful have dubbed it, "Game Breaking Action"). In the best-case scenario, the Grant Move Action allows each of your Berserkers to move eight spaces, activate, then make two attacks against their intended target for a potential 60 damage apiece. Few units can withstand that much damage, and most require a morale save (at a -2 penalty thanks to Aura of Fear) after only a single hit. The Grant Move Action also allows the Wolves and other fodder (i.e., very cheap figures) to move into intervening positions while the Graycloaks clean up any dangerous, low-HP, high damage units that threaten the Berserkers. Bands with only one commander are particularly susceptible to the dangers of the Grant Move Action, which even under the worst conditions can result in a movement of 16 and an output of 30 damage per Berserker. The addition of the Healer provides a useful buffer against troublesome fodder while simultaneously reducing the impact of the Burnout drawback. The Healer's Remove Paralysis spell also proves useful against paralysis effects from units such as the Rakshasa, Gauth, Large Silver Dragon, Chuul, and Lich Necromancer.
Generally, Frenzied Berserkers target any unit they can safely rout or destroy without risking being hit back. When Inspired Frenzy has more activations than its opponent (because the FBs have wiped out the opposing fodder), it's time to fire off the Grant Move Action and base a target unit, such as an Eye of Gruumsh or Purple Dragon Knight, hoping to immediately hit for an unanswered 60-120 points of damage. Commanders are favorite targets for the Berserkers, and even the toughest can find themselves in serious trouble when they are suddenly flanked by a pair of active Berserkers. Single-commander bands should be particularly aware of the distance they keep from Frenzied Berserkers. If an Inspired Frenzy band assassinates the lone enemy commander, the remaining enemy figures will be out of command and will want to rush or charge FBs. Wolves and other mobile support pieces (such as Elf Warriors) should be brought up to become mandatory targets for these enemy attacks, thus preserving the Berserkers.
Many dedicated Inspired Frenzy players emphasize the importance of including at least two, preferably three Graycloak Rangers to screen out dangerous fodder units (e.g., Orc Warriors, Orc Savages, Goblin Skirmishers + Snig, Barbarian Mercenaries, etc.) before they can damage the Berserkers. In addition, the combination of the very complex Grant Move Action ability with 12 to 15 activations that mix melee and ranged attackers makes for a slow-playing warband. Be aware of this whether you are playing with or against Inspired Frenzy. Pay particular attention to the time remaining in the match.
When Filipino skirmisher Mannix "Nixlord" Manansala and I first began concurrently researching and testing our dual-Berserker warbands several days after the release of Aberrations, we developed the band as a direct counter to the dominance of the Drider-based Chaotic Evil warbands. With the massive number of Driders seeing competitive play, particularly as a wildly popular option among skirmishers with moderate to low experience, Inspired Frenzy showed tremendous potential in sanctioned tournaments the world over.
The recent banning of the Drider Sorcerer has profound implications for the metagame, particularly with regard to the types of CE bands that will now see play. Because the original version of Inspired Frenzy was developed to counter Drider-based warbands, we expect it to find many of the new warbands (particularly those in the CE faction) that develop in a Drider-free competitive environment to be particularly challenging opponents.
How to Defeat Inspired Frenzy
Try to force multiple, critical saves on the Berserkers, force inefficient match-ups on the Berserker in a single round, or eliminate the Inspiring Marshal early. Forcing a critical save obviously doesn't refer to a morale save because FBs are Fearless, but rather a save vs. Stun, Paralysis, Petrification, or a similarly devastating condition. The Berserker has adequate but not great saves; it will fail eventually if it's targeted repeatedly. In testing, many dual-Berserker players admitted to being apprehensive about match-ups against Rakshasas, Gauths, Beholders, Chuuls (unfortunately, the loss of the Drider means that the Chuul becomes significantly less effective in the current environment), and Large Silver Dragons, especially if the Berserker band did not include a Healer.
Forcing an inefficient match-up makes the Berserker a liability, costing more points than it scores. Look at it as a simple mathematic transaction: If you're playing a decent, melee-oriented band, you can expect a single enemy Berserker to survive no more than five rounds. If that Frenzied Berserker destroys fewer than 52 points worth of your units -- its cost -- then you've come out ahead. You should be happy to give up 40 victory points while gaining 52 for as long as your opponent allows. Orc Warriors, Goliath Barbarians, and Ogre Ravagers are particularly useful for this purpose. Unfortunately, opposing Graycloak Rangers will discourage you from pressing this advantage too hard.
Finally, eliminating the Inspiring Marshal before he can use his Grant Move Action (or forcing him to use it rashly rather than lose it) can cripple this band. This is a difficult mission to accomplish with just about any warband -- the exception being one built around the Large Silver Dragon. Players have experimented with units such as the Githyanki Renegade and Githyanki Fighter, but these would-be assassins are too inefficient and too vulnerable to cause serious problems for well-built Berserker bands. Dragons offer more promise as commander assassins against this band.
Also, warbands containing four or five figures capable of dealing 20 or more points of damage after a single move of 8+ spaces are demonstrably more effective against dual Berserker bands. Ideally, traditional builds of Inspired Frenzy expect to set up a third round (or later) Grant Move Action. This gives their Graycloak Rangers several rounds to fire and allows the Berserkers to move into optimal positions. Opposing warbands with four or more heavy hitters can disrupt this strategy by rushing the Berserkers and forcing melee as early as the second round.
Match-Ups for Inspired Frenzy
Favorable: CE bands that center on one or two major, high-cost figures such as Large Red Dragons, Clay Golems, or Hill Giants; CG Ranged Bands and Greenfang Druid bands; LG high AC/mixed bands; pre-banning Drider Trifecta warbands.
Neutral: Passive or "turtle" Large Silver Dragon bands (without a Healer, this match-up moves to Unfavorable for a well-piloted Large Silver Dragon build); single Beholder bands without an undead shield; Rakshasa warbands.
Unfavorable: CE and CG heavy hitter x4 bands; Beholder x2 bands; aggressive Large Silver Dragon or Zombie White Dragon bands; Beholder + Lord Soth warbands (Dear Mr. Graycloak: Blindsight is a killer. Signed: Your Best Pal, Abyssal Blast).
Go(liath)-Go or G-Force
Go-Go warbands comprise large numbers of Goliath Barbarians, usually in combination with the Grant Move Action ability (hence the "Go" name). I've observed a large variety of these bands recently, and many of them have experienced a degree of success against the standard metagame bands. Their worst match-ups are against Large Silver Dragons or other high armor class (AC) bands (although this depends heavily on the composition of the Goliath warband). Included is just one of the many possible permutations that I've collected data on:
A Sample Go-Go/G-Force Warband:
Goliath Barbarian x4
Graycloak Ranger x2
Elf Spearguard x2
Effectiveness depends heavily on the exact build, and the relatively low cost of the Goliath (31 points) means that countless variations are workable. I do not have enough data at this time on any single build to outline a universal strategy to use with or against these types of bands. Some combination of the tactics used with and against other warbands containing the Inspiring Marshal should be applicable.
These bands only just surfaced, so the data on match-ups need to be expanded. Based upon what I have seen and read from players in the field, these warbands match up very well against other CG melee bands, particularly some dual-Berserker variants. They could also provide an interesting counter to some of the 'super-cheap-commander + Large Red Dragon (LRD) + heavy hitters + fodder' overload bands that have emerged very recently (in response to the Drider ban?). They have a harder time against LG high-AC bands, LSD bands, and some LE bands including those featuring either the Beholder or the Gauth. Perhaps unsurprisingly, CG ranged bands have an easier time picking apart Goliath-heavy melee bands, in part thanks to the need for Goliaths to make a morale save after taking 40 points of damage.
A review of the current match data on CG bands would be incomplete without the mention of another promising addition from Deathknell: the Greenfang Druid (GFD). The Druid is a survivable commander with a flexible arsenal of offensive and defensive capability. His combination of HP, AC, speed, commander rating, and damage output make him equally comfortable as a front-line combatant. A limiting factor in his utility seems to be the red herring appeal of his warband building and commander effects. Including most magical beast and animal units (with notable exceptions, see below) seems to be largely unproductive in competitive play. Even the superficially efficient, now-commandable (but low HP) Owlbears, Dire Lions, and Griffons are largely outclassed by metagame warbands built around units that deal 30 damage per hit (forcing a morale save from all of the previously listed creatures) or the presence of dangerous, unpredictable units such as the Beholder and Large Silver Dragon.
An exception to the relative ineffectiveness of the Druid's synergy with animal/beast figures seems to be when he's paired with Dire Bears. This combo has posted modestly promising results, particularly against certain match-ups that are traditional problems for CG bands. While the Druid is too expensive to use as effectively with two Berserkers, he works well with a single Berserker or a combination of less costly but nearly as dangerous melee fighters such as the Goliath Barbarian. As of this writing, however, too few match results from a consistent build of Greenfang Druid bands has made significant analysis of strategy recommendations inappropriate at this time.
A Sample Greenfang Druid Warband:
Green Fang Druid
Dire Bear x2
Graycloak Ranger x2
Wolf (or Timber Wolf) x2
Gnome Recruit x3
Greenfang Druid Options and Variations
Goliath: Adds cheap if somewhat less-reliable damage and a solid number of HP. Is it better than the Dire Bear? That's debatable, given the Green Fang Druid's commander effect and buff spells. Still, it's a strong possibility and one that some talented players have been giving serious consideration.
Frenzied Berserker: Unfortunately, some players felt that the answer to Burnout was Regeneration. The Druid, however, proves to be a little too expensive for the purpose of augmenting the Berserker, who benefits far more from the Inspiring Marshal + Healer combination (which allows more movement and heals more damage than the Druid for fewer points).
Drizzt: Never overlook Drizzt. If an outstanding player decides to outfit Drizzt with Regeneration and a suitable complement of utility pieces, you might be in for a fight. That said, the Drizzt + Greenfang Druid combo is too expensive to stand up against a good player fielding a top-tier CG or CE band, and a well-outfitted LG or LE band still poses serious problems -- particularly a LE Beholder band.
Ryld: See comments on Drizzt. Ryld doesn't merit a casting of Regeneration and is undoubtedly supplanted by the Druid's commander rating/cost ratio. There's simply no need for these to figures to coexist in the same band.
Rask: See comments on the Frenzied Berserker. Rask + Regeneration for the same cost as a Berserker is not an advantage against most other top tier bands, even with Reach.
As mentioned above, I am confident that warbands built around the Centaur Hero will make an appearance at some point. In the hands of a skilled player, this band will win games. Against an equally skilled player, however, I expect that certain likely match-ups will prove very difficult for the Centaur. Other players surveyed on this agreed that Zombie White Dragon CE bands featuring large numbers of fast moving heavy hitters will give the Centaur and its 95 HPs serious problems, particularly if they manage to keep the ZWD alive for two (or more!) rounds. Moreover, the Centaur's blazing speed becomes a liability if he's jumped by two Berserkers capitalizing on a favorable initiative win.
Still, the Centaur holds promise. The biggest perceived liability right now is its high cost (78 points). I'm betting, though, that some of the players experimenting with it will opt for more traditional, predictable figures when qualifier time comes.
Drizzt bands should make an appearance or two but suffer the same cost-efficiency problem as the Centaur, particularly when offered the alluring option of including pieces such as Rask. Orc Champions and Frenzied Berserkers still pose problems for Drizzt-based bands, and the match-up against Beholder bands is rumored to be strongly in favor of LE.
In addition, I have personally witnessed a warband containing Renegade Warlock x3, Inspiring Marshal, Goliath Barbarian, Graycloak Ranger x2 , and fodder demolish several prominent CG and CE warbands. This warband has evolved experimentally since the introduction of Deathknell, with variations featuring Ryld, Frenzied Berserkers, Moon Elf Fighters, and even the forgotten Regdar (to cram in as many points as possible). Unfortunately, the Warlock suffers horrifyingly against Beholders and Large Silver Dragons and is vulnerable to well-built CE bands that are prepared to absorb large amounts of the automatic damage that the Warlock dishes out so well. If the Renegade Warlock shows up, it should turn in some surprising wins against other rogue bands and some CG variants. If you expect to see a significant number of Beholder and Large Silver Dragon warbands, I discourage the use of the Warlock.
Arcane Archer: Has seen its day. No longer worth the points, even as a spoiler piece against meatshield units such as the Zombie White Dragon and Lord Soth.
Moon Elf Fighter: Completely supplanted by the Graycloak Ranger, Inspiring Marshal, and Frenzied Berserker.
Half-Elf Bow Initiate: To borrow a term, this piece gets "pwned" by Berserkers, and for a 30% reduction in cost you can have an equivalent number of Goliaths. Not a dead concept but significantly weakened by the introduction of figures such as the Beholder (and by association, the Death Knight and Lord Soth), Centaur Hero, Zombie White Dragon, and Dire Bear.
Evermeet Wizard: Not considered currently competitive by most top-tier players. Speed kills this figure. For 40 points you can buy three figures that could potentially assassinate this piece as early as round two without significant repercussions. May look tempting in combination with the Greenfang Druid and Half-Elf Bow Initiate, but don't be fooled by this piece. Even Chaotic Evil lovers in transposition withdrawal after the Drider Sorcerer banning should avoid this figure.
Githyanki Renegade: Not since the 1980s has the phrase, "Just say no!" been more appropriate.
Half-Giant Psychic Warrior: If the introduction of the Frenzied Berserker, Goliath Barbarian, Longtooth Barbarian, Centaur Hero, Griffon, and Dire Bear weren't enough to convince to look past this piece, refer to the above statement regarding the Githyanki Renegade.
Catfolk Wilder: Another infamous red herring. For only 4 points more, you can have an attack that does 20 damage against typical CE and CG bands with a lot more regularity than that Mind Thrust and isn't subject in any way to Spell Resistance. Let's not forget that the Goliath has the same speed, more HP, and no chance of being self-stunned. Some players are still hot on the Wilder, but the majority agrees that it doesn't quite seem to be worth the cost in the current environment.
Halfling Ranger: It would be foolish to scout this piece against most top-tier bands unless the player opposite you is very inexperienced. Compared to other archers in terms of straight damage, this piece takes 5 turns of movement + shooting, or 2.5 turns of standing still and shooting, to pay for itself in terms of point cost-to-damage output. The Graycloak Ranger takes 1.5 turns of movement or 1 turn of pure offense to pay for itself. The potential for undead punishment might seem nice at first glance, but divide the Zombie White Dragon's HP by the damage the Ranger can inflict each round, then get back to me and let me know if it still seems as attractive in a game that's likely to last only 4 or 5 rounds.
Medium Astral Construct: As mentioned previously -- fearless; is unaffected by negative energy, petrification, and several other nasty abilities; and has a lot of HP for the cost. Also, great speed as a tile grabber or tile-grabber-assassin.
Halfling Wizard: Still manages to surprise in 200 point play. You can almost always count on dishing out at least 25 damage in a match, which pays for itself. Beware speed and Antimagic Eye. We'll revisit the Wizard again in our discussion of Lawful Good warbands.
Elf Pyromancer: See Halfling Wizard. Elemental immunities, particularly to cold and fire, are nice, as is the fireball, especially to clear large numbers of Goblin Skirmishers, Orc Warriors, Elf Warriors, and Men at Arms. Can be particularly menacing when combined with the Inspiring Marshal and fast-moving Wolves.
War Chanter: Considered a sleeper piece by some very notable warband builders, the Improved Countersong and +4 saves from the commander effect make the Chanter an interesting alternative in an environment that's predicted to be heavy with Inspiring Marshals and Beholders. Often a tough piece to squeeze into already tight Chaotic Good warbands. The Chanter can be a risky investment of points because it is very vulnerable.
A Final Word from the Doc
I hope you've all enjoyed this insider's look at the competitive warbands possible within the Chaotic Good faction. Good luck at your qualifiers, and stay tuned for next week's installment on Lawful Evil. Feel free to contact me by private message on the forums if you have questions or concerns, and of course, lively discussion is what the forums are there for.
About the Author
Brian P. Mackey, Ph.D., resides on the Jersey Shore with his lovely wife, and works as a child psychologist. He started playing D&D in 1986 and recently earned the title of 2004 D&D Miniatures Champion. When Brian isn't perched over the gaming table, he spends his time stalking fish with his Rod of Fly Fishing +3 and preparing for his next rugby match. Brian has authored a number of professional publications and also does freelance work for Wizards of the Coast.