Many inexperienced and/or untested skirmish players have lamented the lack of support that LE received from Deathknell. I'm here, however, to announce to the world, and to the skeptics of this faction, that Lawful Evil is a contender. LE bands will surprise some players at the qualifiers. According to my data, some of the most frequently played warbands on Vassal tend to be LE bands. Post-Deathknell analysis indicates a 53% increase in the frequency of 200-point LE bands on Vassal in the past month. Perhaps it's merely casual players experimenting, but I think that these warbands are seeing the beginning of an archetype that -- though not fully developed at this time -- will continue to grow stronger as new sets are released.
One wonders whether all these people would play LE if it's truly such a terrible faction. I don't have the answer. I do think LE bands will be seen less than the Chaotic factions at the qualifiers. In particular, I think that in spite of their capability to succeed, many players will avoid LE in favor of more established archetypes precisely because a competitive LE mix is so new and its match-ups are untested.
LE warbands are also slightly more dependent on the combination of skill and fortunate dice rolling (in cases such as the Beholder) and can be particularly vulnerable to poor terrain placement. Furthermore, LE has a reputation for being uncompetitive, which may drive away players unwilling to take the time to experiment with or fully develop warbands.
For all of these reasons, it is unlikely that LE will take the top position at a qualifier, though the possibility exists for a well-practiced and skilled LE player.
The most successful LE bands fall into three categories: double Beholder bands, single Beholder bands, and Rakshasa-based bands.
Dual Beholder Warbands
Dual Beholder bands, according to my observations and the reports of other testers, have not yet come into their own. They sacrifice a lot of power and consistency in initiative (particularly in that all-important first tile placement) by being forced to used Snig the Axe as their only commander. Still, having to face down four eye-ray rolls each round is intimidating, particularly for bands that rely on low-save melee fighters as their primary means of achieving victory. But make no mistake -- although the Beholder is erratic and costly, it will significantly impact the metagame. Expect to see a few players fielding at least one Beholder. The success of these bands depends entirely on their pilots having invested the time to work on techniques for tile placement and early maneuvering.
Sample Dual Beholder band
Goblin Skirmisher x5 (3 minions)
Dual Beholders Options and Variations
There's one glaringly obvious disadvantage for this band. With only 34 points remaining after the inclusion of the second Beholder, you don't have much to choose from for support. Players promoting this band indicated that they prefer to maximize activations with 3-point units such as the Goblin Skirmisher (particularly in combination with Snig's commander effect). This lack of flexibility is a major weakness for the band in the diverse metagame.
How to Play Dual Beholders
Setting up terrain is critical in any band, but perhaps no band depends on it as heavily as dual-Beholder builds. Dual-Beholder proponents seem to have settled on a strategy that involves trying to provide Assault-friendly tiles for their opponents, but only in such a way that exposes the unit on the tile. The goal is to allow the opponent to set a piece on your side of the board, then vaporize it with the Beholders and force the opponent to come to you (if you presumably have a point lead). Blocking off hiding spots on Assault tiles becomes quite important. With good tile placement and the Beholders sliding each other along, it's not uncommon for them to eliminate an enemy tile grabber on the first round.
How to Defeat Dual Beholders
Don't get fooled into taking a seemingly convenient chance to grab tiles, and be very cognizant of the fact that the Beholder pilot will try to block off safe hiding spots for Assault points. You need to force the Beholders into an offensive position and get them to come to you. The best approach is to quickly dispose of the opposing Mongrelfolk while scoring safe Assault points of your own, or pick off some of their fodder. Don't press your advantage after that point. The Beholders are very slow, and Snig must remain in the far rear of the band, so it can take several rounds for this warband to get into a better offensive position. That means a clear mismatch in Assault points if your side of the board is clear. If you get drawn into melee with the Beholders, keep the following in mind:
- Don't spread out your offensive force. Concentrate all available attacks on one Beholder at a time until it's dead or routing.
- Fodder is still useful to create flanking situations and to draw fire (as the nearest enemy). Get them into the fight as sacrificial lambs.
- Don't bother targeting Snig unless a Beholder is routing. Snig adds nothing with his commander rating and is only a minor nuisance compared to the damage the Beholders can dish out.
- Plug holes! Remember that one Beholder can slide the other (no attacks of opportunity provoked) to a location up to three spaces away, right over your pieces, creating the dangerous potential for a new "nearest enemy target" to pick on or weaseling their way out of flanking situations. Fighting in a narrow corridor or intersection or choking the immediate area with fodder can be helpful in preventing such situations.
Match-Ups for Dual Beholders
Favorable: CE bands not featuring the LRD, ZWD, or Clay Golem (Orc hordes tend to roll over and die when facing this band); HEBI and Centaur Hero bands without numerous Graycloaks; single Beholder bands without an undead shield; Goliath-based CG builds without ranged support.
Neutral: Inspiring Frenzy bands with fewer ranged options; passive LSD bands (Even with the LSD's saves, it can take up to 40 damage a round if Line-of-Sight is established and, after three rounds of this, all it takes is one 19 or 20 to end things. Still, the LSD is capable of standing up to the Beholders, provided no unlucky saves occur, and the fodder stands no chance against the breath weapons).
Unfavorable: ZWD, LRD, and Golem based CE bands; any CG band featuring three or more Graycloak Rangers; single Beholder bands with an undead shield.
Single Beholder Warbands
Single Beholder warbands have posted some surprising successes for the LE faction in both online and face-to-face play, despite being lacking a unified build or tactics. Nevertheless, the strength of the Beholder against melee-only bands remains a force to be explored in the metagame. It will likely remain underplayed, despite the band's potential to cause serious damage in the hands of an experienced pilot.
The majority of single Beholder bands fall into one of three categories: Beholder bands featuring a Gauth, bands without the Gauth, and bands with a significant undead figure (91% of the time this has been Soth or the Death Knight, though the occasional Mummy Lord, Spectre, or Mummy have shown up). I have collected the most data on bands with the Gauth and those with an undead shield, so I'll concentrate my discussion on these archetypes.
Sample Beholder Band
Half Orc Fighter
Goblin Skirmisher x6
Beholder Options and Variations
Thayan Knight: An efficient unit, but limited by the low damage it does. Most players seem to agree that the speed, melee reach, and extra damage of the Skullcrusher Ogre make it a better choice than the Thayan. In the current metagame, defense against archers is less important than the offensive potential that the Ogre provides.
Half-Elf Hexblade: Generally felt to be an inferior choice because it leaves the band without real melee support. The save-lowering Hexblade's Curse, while appealing on the surface, can be difficult to use effectively. It's an interesting alternative, but it leaves the band vulnerable to all-out melee assaults.
Green Dragon: A fantastic utility piece and an unsurpassed tile-grabber. Unfortunately, at its cost, even a single Beholder warband cannot afford to spend 28 points merely grabbing an assault tile or inflicting 5 damage per attack as a melee combatant.
Barbarian Mercenary: Very playable as an opportunistic melee piece in Lawful armies. The 15 damage and speed 8 make him an excellent choice to pair with the Gauth's paralysis ray and the Beholder's slide ability. Unfortunately, a single Barbarian Mercenary costs the same as three Goblin Skirmishers, and sacrificing three or more activations does not play to the strengths of this particular band.
Snig the Axe: Snig is occasionally used as the primary commander for this type of warband, thanks to his remarkably efficient ability to both increase activations and boost melee damage. Unfortunately, his commander rating of 0 adds nothing to your initiative checks or morale saves. Many players admit being undecided on which commander to include in a single Beholder band, with Snig being one of several likely options.
Urthok the Vicious: Another popular commander choice for single Beholder bands. Few LE commanders have better efficiency, and his commander rating of 5 and overall survivability for 34 points is attractive. The choice to spend 13 or 14 more points on Urthok as the primary commander is a difficult one because it cuts down significantly the amount of melee support and activations available.
How to Play a Single Beholder Warband
The Beholder has obvious synergy with the Gauth. The Gauth helps ensure that high HP pieces, undead figures, or construct-type shield units take damage if your opponent leads with them. Furthermore, the potential to paralyze, stun, and then burn melee combatants that close with the Beholder is quite useful. This pairing presents your opponents with the dual quandary of not being able to lead with just fire resistant figures (e.g., Azers, Ogre Ravagers, Red Dragons) and not feeling comfortable leading with only smaller undead or construct figures (which still take 15 damage a round). The above band has had success combing a cheap commander that has a decent rating for initiative and morale saves (including a nice boost to melee attacks) -- the Half-Orc Fighter -- with the Skullcrusher Ogre. The Skullcrusher has better synergy with the Beholder and Gauth than does the Thayan Knight, thanks to the deadly combination of slide + reach, and paralysis + damage 15 attacks.
Ultimately, the band plays out much like a traditional CG ranged band. It hopes to deal significant damage from afar and retreats to a defensible position as the enemy advances. Generally the Gauth is slid into a firing position to weaken or destroy advancing units, falls back toward the Skullcrusher, and is then buffered by a line of interfering goblins. Having 13 or 14 activations is an important advantage for this band, particularly if the Beholder's and Gauth's activations are saved for last and then brought to bear again immediately the following round. That generally adds up to about 70 points of damage (negative, negative, fire; negative, negative, fire) for non-immune figures and can easily become as much as 110 damage if saves are failed.
As an aside, the Gauth is one of the key figures that makes this or almost any other LE warband a success. Indeed, multiple Gauth bands can still give CE and CG players fits if played well, and a single Gauth is nearly automatic in most LE warbands. Azer Raiders and Gold Champions will show up far less at this year's qualifier series. Large Red Dragons and Ogre Ravagers, on the other hand, will show up in huge numbers. Be sure to use the Gauth's Selective Shot ability to choose your targets carefully and keep in mind that one double move may provide far better targets next round than moving three and taking a single shot.
How to Defeat a Single Beholder Warband
If you cannot trade ranged attacks effectively with the Beholder and Gauth (and only a select few bands can), be sure to set up your terrain in a way that provides you with contiguous hiding spots as you cross the board, particularly as you near your opponent's side where you plan to meet the Beholder. Don't allow your opponent to set up a melee bottleneck, where he can block off a passage with the Skullcrusher Ogre and sit behind it with both evil-eye-orbs.
If you have a construct or undead figure, use it as a shield, but move quickly. The Gauth will not allow you the luxury of hiding behind a construct all game, particularly with its Selective Shot ability, and you certainly don't want to allow extra attempts at rolling up a Disintegrate.
If you are forced into melee, concentrate against the Gauth first. Some players dispute this, and they have valid reasons, but the Gauth is fragile with only 45 HP. One or two shots should remove it. This eliminates three eye rays (particularly the paralysis and auto-fire damage), as opposed to the Beholder's two rays.
Once the Gauth is eliminated, concentrate all your fire on the Beholder until it goes belly-up. Also see the above tips on overcoming dual Beholder bands, because many also apply here.
Match-Ups for Single Beholder Warbands
Favorable: CE bands not featuring the LRD, ZWD, or Clay Golem; Spellcasting bands; LE Rakshasa-based bands; Goliath CG builds without ranged support.
Neutral: Inspired Frenzy bands with fewer ranged options; passive/turtle LSD bands (the Gauth/Beholder combination keep this from being an unfavorable match-up).
Unfavorable: ZWD, LRD, and Golem-based CE bands; any CG band featuring three or more Graycloak Rangers; single Beholder bands with an undead shield; aggressive and Couatl-based LSD bands.
Undead Shield Beholder Band
Sample Undead Shield Beholder Band
Goblin Skirmisher x4
Undead Shield Options and Variations
Deathknight: Many players have reported experimenting with this version, which allows the band to field a greater number of activations. Unfortunately, that still leaves the band without a commander. Consensus among those running the band seems to be that for 18 more points, Soth is worth the extra cost with his commander rating of 6 and the additional HP and Aura of Fear.
Spectre: Another undead option, but tends to work very poorly as a damage sponge thanks to low HP and low AC. A few unfortunate incorporeal rolls can demolish the Spectre. Its one attack for 10 damage also makes it less intimidating in melee than either the Deathknight and Soth. Overall a weak choice.
Mummy Lord: This piece tends to be used infrequently but has shown some early success. Unfortunately, you're still limited in what else you can include thanks to needing to pay for an additional commander. Even so, the Mummy Lord's fantastic HP and complement of nasty spells and abilities make it a formidable complement to the Beholder. Bands featuring the Mummy Lord can reach 14 activations with Snig as the lone commander. Blues make a nice addition to the save-lowering abilities of the Mummy Lord. The Mummy Lord is limited by the fact that it makes only a single attack each turn.
How to Play Undead Shield
Assuming you are playing with the most typical build, including Lord Soth, your main goal should be to get off a devastating Abyssal Blast, then retreat to a defensive position. Many players can be caught unaware if the Beholder slides Soth six spaces, followed by Soth moving four more and then unleashing an Abyssal Blast. Assuming that assault puts the Rakshasa up on points, the opponent is forced to go on the offensive.
The undead shield build is particularly effective against ranged bands. The entire band can sit behind the undead unit, healing it up to 40 points per round thanks to the Beholder's negative energy ray. The Damage Reduction of the undead units helps protect against the majority of ranged units (Elf Warriors, Kenku Sneaks, Graycloak Rangers, etc.), requiring more significant ranged units to establish Line of Sight. If a Half-Elf Bow Initiate or Centaur Hero can see the undead shield unit, chances are that the Beholder can see that archer.
If you play this version of a single Beholder warband, keep your pieces spaced out to avoid concentrated fire on your undead shield. Use what fodder you have to keep units from ganging up on Soth so that the Beholder can continue to heal him. Remember that with Soth's Aura of Fear 3, it may be better to use the Beholder's fear ray instead of the negative energy or slow ray against enemy units threatening your shield.
How to Defeat Undead Shield
Place your tiles in a way that lets key units advance across the board without forsaking cover, while simultaneously allowing yourself enough room to spread out to avoid being caught in an Abyssal Blast. Bunching up in a secluded treasure room or torture chamber is a bad idea unless you can completely block Line of Sight to all entrances.
The undead shield variant of the single Beholder band is particularly vulnerable to melee "alpha strikes." This involves rushing all of your units into base contact with the shield unit and doing as much damage as possible in a single round. If there is enough distance between the Beholder and the undead shield figure, consider throwing several fodder units into the intervening space. That way, your melee units can attack the undead figure without also being the nearest targets. Fodder should not be kept adjacent to Soth; it won't survive long against his Cleave ability.
If your warband favors high-damage melee units, concentrate on the undead shield in one massive wave of attacks. In bands with a lower potential to deal damage, the right choice may be to deal with the Beholder first, then turn your attention to the undead piece.
Remember that Lord Soth's Abyssal Blast is a special ability that can be used while in melee contact with opposing pieces. A pair of slides from the Beholder can push Soth into a contact position where his Abyssal Blast is absolutely devastating; don't be caught unaware.
Bands relying on units with the Hide ability should remember that Lord Soth can use Blindsight to target those hidden units with his Abyssal Blast. Many Graycloak Rangers have been reduced to charred husks -- evidence of a CG player learning this lesson the hard way.
Finally, keep an eye on your opponent's Mongrelfolk. Even if you think all your pieces are hidden from the Abyssal Blast, the Beholder may be able to slide Soth to a location where he can target one of his own Mongrelfolk from clear across the board, putting your otherwise safe units in jeopardy.
Match-Ups for Undead Shield Beholder Warband
Favorable: CG ranged bands; other Beholder bands; LE Rakshasa based bands; spellcaster bands; low-attack bonus CE and CG bands without a construct, dragon, or undead shield.
Neutral: CG Greenfang Druid builds; Inspiring Frenzy bands (suffer from lack of magic weapon and the inability to use Hide, can suffer terrain placement disadvantage due to Soth's higher command rating).
Unfavorable: ZWD, LRD, and 3-4 heavy hitter CE bands; LSD bands (the dragon is too quick for the Beholder/Undead combo, and if played correctly, can wipe out enough points to win handily when time expires).
Sample Rakshasa Warband
Goblin Skirmisher x5 (3 minions)
Rakshasa Options and Variations
Bone Devil: This unit sometimes replaces the very expensive Thaskor. While the community seems divided, many players that experimented persistently with this warband found that in a timed game, the Thaskor's Trumpeting Blast, higher attack bonus, superior damage output, and additional HP make him a better choice. Even so, the Bone Devil's significant immunities, poison ability, flight, Aura of Fear, DR5, and high AC make him worth considering. The Bone Devil has less synergy with the Gauth's paralysis ray and the Rakshasa's Slapping Hand and Hold Person spells.
Death Knight: Another unit used as a potential replacement for the Thaskor. Many players dismiss the Death Knight based upon his poor HP-to-cost ratio. Players testing this band, however, found that his combination of Abyssal Blast, cold immunity, solid damage, high attack bonus, and DR5 can make him a useful complement to the Rakshasa and Gauth. Unfortunately, his speed can be an issue, and overextending this piece can result in leaving commanders vulnerable.
Aspect of Nerull: Experimentally substituted in place of the Thaskor. While survivability between the two pieces appears roughly equivalent, the Aspect performs significantly better against some ranged bands. Unfortunately, the Aspect's lower damage potential makes it a less attractive piece for this warband.
Kobold Sorcerer: Sometimes included as a replacement for Snig. While the Sorcerer offers an attractive alternative for ranged damage, his commander effect is less useful, and he contributes fewer activations than Snig does.
Myconid Guard: The relatively high DC on the Pacification Spores ability make this fungus worth including in almost any LE band. Most players, however, feel that the low attack bonus, low AC, and speed of 4 limit the utility of this piece.
Substitute Commander: Some players have replaced the Rakshasa with either a cheaper commander (to boost the melee capability of the band) or with a more durable commander, such as the Human Blackguard. Many of these builds have proven unsuccessful; they lack the synergy or flexibility required to help the band compete against a wide range of opponents. The Rakshasa seems to be the critical nucleus that allows this band to be successful.
How to Play a Rakshasa Warband
The Rakshasa-based warband listed above is a textbook example of a true "synergy" band. It relies on interaction between the Rakshasa's versatile grouping of spells, the Gauth's paralysis and auto-damage combined with Selective Shot, and the efficiency of 3-point Goblin Skirmishers commanded by Snig, all backed by the tremendous melee intimidation of the Thaskor. Ideally this warband hopes to force the opponent into maneuvering very carefully in response to the ranged threat of the Gauth's 15 fire damage. Most bands are not prepared to handle two paralysis saves, one stun save, and one confusion save within a single round, let alone those attacks backed by a high AC, good save, high HP, high damage unit like the Thaskor.
In a perfect situation, the Gauth selects a target, scorches it for 15 fire damage, and then paralyzes it. That one-two punch is followed by a 50-damage smack from the Thaskor. As if that isn't bad enough, the Rakshasa can then cast Slapping Hand, provoking another possible 50 damage from the Thaskor.
The key to making this warband work is positioning your pieces in such a way that they all support each other. The Gauth must have line-of-sight to where the Thaskor is fighting, and the fodder must also be able to access that point. The Rakshasa's slide spell must be used on the Gauth and the Thaskor at the right moments. Slide can combine with the Thaskor's reach attack to keep enemies with multiple attacks at a distance.
The Thaskor can be particularly devastating with the capability to move 16 spaces (or 17 with slide) and unleash his high DC stun cone. Because the stun cone is a swift action, it can be used any time during movement. The Thaskor can advance, stun a large number of units, and then use the rest of his movement to either back out or to base newly-stunned pieces.
Pay careful attention to the enemy commander. Your Rakshasa rebroadcasts the commander effect of any enemy commander within sight. If you're facing off against a Tiefling Captain, Lord Soth, Couatl, Inspiring Marshal (a very nice commander ability to steal in combination with casting Bigby's Slapping Hand), Drow Sergeant, or Sword of Heironious, you can make very effective use of their stolen commander effects, particularly with the Rakshasa's speed of 8.
How to Defeat a Rakshasa
Try to force the Rakshasa and Gauth to use their spells and abilities against units other than your critical pieces. It helps if at least one or two figures in your warband have spell resistance, immunity to paralysis (e.g., undead, constructs, and dragons), or some type of fire resistance. When counting out potential enemy moves, remember to add one additional space to account for the Rakshasa's Slide spell. Keep your figures spread out to avoid having multiple figures subject to the Thaskor's double movement of 16 + stun cone tactic. If you tackle the Thaskor head-on, do so in an area where you can surround him, or at least prevent the Rakshasa from sliding him out of reach, forcing you to move up to attack.
Picking off the band's fodder (such as Goblin Skirmishers) from a distance can force the Rakshasa's warband to slow down. The Gauth has a maximum movement of six spaces a turn, which is quickly outdistanced by the speedy Thaskor and commander. If you force the faster units to wait on the Gauth, or force the Rakshasa to burn his Slide spells on double-moving the Gauth, you should gain a slight advantage.
The Rakshasa does very little melee damage and has poor attacks, despite being relatively sturdy. If you can base him with an inexpensive, efficient HP or AC unit, you can prevent him from unleashing many of his more devastating spells or using his great speed to his advantage.
Favorable: Passive/turtle LSD bands; CG Goliath builds; 3-hitter CE bands.
Neutral: Orc horde bands with lower commander ratings (Orc Druid/Necromancer/Drow Sergeant only variants); Inspired Frenzy; CG ranged bands.
Unfavorable: ZWD- and LRD-based CE bands; single Beholder bands with an undead shield; dual-Dire Bear CG bands; aggressive or Couatl-based LSD bands.
The Rogue Bands
There is, perhaps, but one significant rogue Lawful Evil band worth mentioning here. Bands revolving around the Red Wizard and his commander effect can be a nasty surprise if you are unprepared to face him. The banning of the Drider Sorcerer took away the Red Wizard's best utility piece, helping to guarantee his survival even when based.
Most Red Wizard bands combine the Red Wizard with the spell-slinging Deathlock or Cultist of the Dragon. Often capable of dealing as much as 120 points of automatic damage in a round, these bands seem impressive at first glance. Hidden archers and units that move 18 to 24 squares (Frenzied Berserker + Inspiring Marshal) in a single round can make for very fast defeats. Indeed, Large Silver Dragons and Beholders also present a challenge for this band, and it has a difficult time coping with a flexible metagame. Even so, the Red Wizard has potential in well-practiced hands, but it has to hope for favorable match-ups in order to emerge unscathed through four or five rounds of Swiss play.
A Final Word from the Doc
I hope you've enjoyed an insider's look at the competitive warbands possible within the Lawful Evil faction. Good luck at your qualifiers and stay tuned for next week's installment on Chaotic Evil. I'll spend a significant amount of time discussing the recent emergence of warbands based around the Zombie White Dragon and the Large Red Dragon, including several tips from the players fielding those bands about how to beat them. 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 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.