D&D Miniatures05/26/2005

Secrets of the Champions, Part 3
A Primer for the 2005 Tournament Season

Chaotic Evil

Chaotic Evil, the faction that nearly monopolized last year's Championship Series, is being challenged for dominance since the release of the Aberrations and Deathknell sets. It comes as no surprise to experienced skirmishers, however, that Chaotic Evil has not been dethroned yet. Remarkable efficiency from commanders and figures helps make Chaotic Evil the "faction to beat" in the upcoming qualifiers.

While far from unstoppable, Chaotic Evil has several strengths that make it easy to play and forgiving of mistakes. These strengths -- excellent speed, high damage, and low cost -- are what make CE so successful in the current competitive environment.

This article will examine some of the popular CE warband options, including several explicitly recommended by some of the best players in the world. Also included are ideas that could be used to counter common CE tactics plus several interesting figures that could prove troublesome for some common CE warbands.

Ryldfecta Warbands

Sample Ryldfecta warband

Red Samurai
Orc Champion
Ogre Ravager
Orc Warrior x7

Ryldfecta Options and Variants

Before discussing options and variants, I need to make a few brief statements concerning CE options for warband construction. Because of the extreme efficiency of many CE units (e.g., Orc Warriors, Orc Champions, Red Samurai, and Ogre Ravagers), they are all almost equally useful options for any CE warband. I'll focus the discussion on pieces that are useful against other metagame warbands or that fulfill a specific role in the strategy of the warband it is included in.

Replacing the Ogre Ravager: Some players will remove the Ogre Ravager in favor of adding a second Orc Champion because the Ravager is slower and cannot benefit from Ryld's commander effect. Failing to include an Ogre Ravager in most Chaotic Evil warbands is, in my experience, a serious mistake. A majority of the world's best skirmishers consider the Ogre Ravager to be CE's most powerful weapon against a Chaotic-heavy metagame. If low-AC, low-save warbands show up frequently, the Ogre Ravager is a tremendous piece to have in your band. In addition, its Smite ability allows it to do 40 damage once per game, which is about as often as you'd expect (or perhaps less than you'd expect) a pair of Orc Champions to achieve a 50-damage critical from Ryld's commander effect. Unlike the Orc Champion, the Ogre gets to choose its timing.

Replacing the Red Samurai: Many premier Chaotic Evil skirmishers are divided on the issue of including the Red Samurai or dropping it in favor of another Orc Champion. The Samurai's breath weapon provides a useful area effect that can reach up to six spaces away, threatening a square up to 14 spaces from where the Red Samurai starts the turn. It also discourages opponents from grouping their miniatures tightly, making it easier for your forces to pass by them without taking attacks of opportunity (perhaps in a frantic dash for a commander or vulnerable piece). When opposing pieces are spread out, it's also easier for you to surround and gang up on them. Numerous expert tournament players will not even consider fielding a CE band in the current environment without a Red Samurai. In certain situations, the Orc Champion's Cleave ability can be almost as effective as a breath weapon, and his added speed and damage are very attractive.

Replacing the Troglodyte: I credit Alex "Parag0n" Weitz with first showing me the fantastic utility of this 7-point bargain. The Stench special ability is potent in combination with CE's heavy damage and also has fantastic synergy with the Ogre Ravager's Aura of Fear 2. Stench decreases the chance of the enemy unit making a morale save while increasing your ability to hit that enemy, forcing the enemy to direct its attention to the Troglodyte. Redirecting even one activation away from one of your key units can be a major advantage, particularly in a CE vs. CE match-up. Just be sure to keep the Troglodyte away from your own figures, because its Stench affects everybody.

How to Play Ryldfecta

This band's success is centered around Ryld's tendency to win initiative when the game is on the line. Most high-level tournament matches last three to six rounds, and serious melee combat usually doesn't begin until the third round. In that environment, matches can come down to one critical initiative, with the player that wins unloading a large amount of damage in two activations. In addition to being a fantastic commander, Ryld is also a formidable front-line fighter, but he should be brought into melee only as a last resort.

Ideally this band hopes to use its ability to consistently win initiative (including terrain initiative) to maneuver into a position from which it can make one swift, decisive strike. With a threat range of seven to nine spaces for the heavy hitters, the band will slowly edge up until it has a decisive activation advantage. At the end of a round where it has the last two or more activations and is within range, it will move up at least two heavy hitters (generally the Orc Champ and the Red Samurai) and either attack with both or breathe with the Samurai and follow that with the Champion. The player then gambles that Ryld will win initiative, allowing these pieces to immediately attack again at the start of the next round. This one-two activation of the heavy hitters is quickly followed by a swarm of Orc Warriors and the dreaded Ogre Ravager. The Troglodyte slips in if it can, maneuvering near a critical enemy piece in time for one of Ryld's heavy hitters to force a morale save.

How to Defeat Ryldfecta

Ryld's function in this band is essentially an attempt (albeit a subtle one) to replicate the effectiveness that the Drider created for the CE faction. The Drider allowed a unit to attack without fear of reprisal simply by transposing it out, or it allowed a heavy-hitting unit to take a double attack while "moving" up to 12 squares for free. Ryld achieves the same effect with back-to-back activations. Usually this requires forcing the opponent to activate first at a critical point.

Other than very solid overall play, there are three main techniques for reducing the advantage the Ryldfecta warband: Out-activate the band, reduce Ryld's initiative advantage, or assassinate Ryld.

  • Out-activate the band: Ryldfecta rarely contains more than 12 miniatures, and thus relies on forcing the opponent to move first to guarantee that Ryld's teammates get the last two activations of the round. This advantage can be reduced by fielding a band with more than 12 activations. Even if you are forced to go first, you should still have an activation or two remaining after Ryld's warband is finished. This strategy is unreliable in some situations and simply impossible for some factions. A better method to reduce the activation advantage is to directly reduce the number of activations in the Ryldfecta warband. Archers such as the Half-Elf Bow Initiate and Graycloak Ranger, and pieces with significant area-effect abilities or spells such as the Elf Pyromancer, Large Red Dragon, Lord Soth, and Large Silver Dragon, can significantly reduce the activation imbalance. Archer-based warbands backed up by melee fighters are especially effective because the Ryldfecta warband rarely contains units that can serve as effective arrow-shields (such as the Zombie White Dragon).

  • Reduce Ryld's initiative advantage: Ryld adds +8 to every initiative roll, which can be an alarming bonus to overcome. The Lawful factions in particular, however, can field competitive commanders that have initiative bonuses closer to Ryld's. Bands led by a single commander with a rating of 2 or less can rarely, if ever, hope to win a critical initiative check. When playing against Ryld with a lower commander rating, assume that you will lose initiative every round. If your movement and positioning accounts for the fact that you expect your opponent to win each initiative without question, you should lessen the damage that he is able to do. Grouping fodder in forward positions to hand out attacks of opportunity is a common strategy. Keep in mind that this is the very tactic that the Red Samurai is there to counter.

  • Assassinate Ryld: This sounds much simpler than it is. Ryld, however, is more vulnerable than he appears to be. His function within the Ryldfecta warband is to act as a back-up commander. Many players piloting the warband will be tempted to get him close enough to make use of his commander effect, which can create opportunities to do away with him. Moreover, one of Ryldfecta's worst match-ups is against Inspired Frenzy warbands. These CG warbands are able to pick off or soften up the Ryldfecta band from a distance, forcing the enemy to come to them. Inspired Frenzy can then unleash a devastating Grant Move Action, moving their Frenzied Berserkers 16 spaces to base and attack Ryld (whose total morale save bonus becomes a chancy +10). The CG fodder such as Wolves and Elf Warriors also use the GMA to move up and become the nearest targets for rushes from the then out-of-command remainder of the Ryldfecta warband. Sometimes, a paralysis cone from a Large Silver Dragon is just as effective as assassinating Ryld -- a paralyzed commander can't add his commander rating to the warband's initiative roll.

Match-Ups for Ryldfecta

Favorable: CG ranged warbands without melee support; CE one-commander warbands without a significant area of effect or ranged threat; passive/turtle LSD warbands.

Neutral: CE single-LRD builds; CG Goliath Warbands; single & dual Beholder Warbands; CE ZWD warbands; CE Quad warbands.

Unfavorable: CG ranged warbands with significant melee threats; CG Inspired Frenzy warbands; aggressive LSD warbands.

Zombie White Dragon Warbands

Sample Zombie White Dragon (ZWD) Warband

Eye of Gruumsh
Tiefling Captain
Orc Champion
Ogre Ravager
Zombie White Dragon
Orc Warrior x7

Zombie White Dragon Options and Variants

Replacing the Eye of Gruumsh: Certain CE proponents replace the Eye of Gruumsh with a Red Samurai (to gain the threat of an area of effect breath weapon) or another Ogre Ravager. In a ZWD band, however, having a second commander, along with bonus damage for the Orc Warriors (the impact on the Orc Champion is generally negligible) makes it a more desirable option. If one of these pieces is substituted in, one of the Orc Warriors is usually converted to a Troglodyte or an Orc Savage with the remaining points.

Replacing the Ogre Ravager: If I'm able to convey one point to those who want to play a CE warband for the qualifiers, I hope it will be this: Some of the best CE warband players in the world insist that the Ogre Ravager must be included in any serious warband expecting to perform well in a CG/CE heavy metagame. The deadly combination of Reach 2, Aura of Fear, 30 damage, Resist Fire 10, Smite, 80 HP, and level 9 make this piece too valuable in the metagame to exclude from almost any CE warband. Keep in mind, however, that the Graycloak Ranger has also experienced a significant surge in popularity, and his Giant Foe ability is a problem if the Ravager is maneuvered carelessly.

Replacing the Tiefling: Some players are tempted to replace the Tiefling Captain with the Drow Sergeant. The ZWD warband is not the infamous LRB warband ("Large Red Beatings," featuring the Large Red Dragon, Orc Champion, and Ogre Ravager), which must include the Drow Sergeant to maximize activations. The rule of thumb for CE warbands is: "If you can afford to include the Tiefling, include the Tiefling." Even in warbands featuring expensive but low-rated commanders such as the Eye of Gruumsh and Lich Necromancer, the Tiefling is a worthwhile addition to augment initiative checks and morale saves and the occasional critical hit.

How to Play Zombie White Dragon

The Zombie White Dragon is the ultimate safety valve for a CE warband. Its relatively low cost and huge HP make it nearly impossible to destroy in a timed game without dedicating huge resources to the task. The ZWD player generally hopes you will focus on it while he moves in the other three heavy hitters and scores big points. The ZWD is a multi-purpose metagame figure that can absorb full attacks from three Orc Champions, take HEBI, Graycloak, or Centaur Hero arrows by the handful, and shrug off fireballs, Beholder and Gauth eye rays, and magic missiles without concern. The ZWD is immune to the LSD and other paralysis effects, it's immune to anything effects only living enemies (Stun, Confusion, Dominate, Poison, Sneak Attacks, and Critical Hits), and it's healed by negative damage.

In most ZWD bands, the dragon serves as an extremely large distraction, drawing the opponent's attention away from the real threats following behind it. The ZWD rushes forward to base an enemy commander or spellcaster, becoming the nearest target for all sorts of other attacks and daring the low-HP commander/caster to move and suffer at least one 10 damage attack at +18. The ZWD is a capable flanker, and its breath weapon can wipe out legions of Orc Warriors, Elf Warriors, and Goblin Skirmishers. ZWD players often use the dragon as their forlorn hope, moving it far ahead of the rest of the warband until the ZWD can foul up the enemy's targeting. Then they bring in the heavy hitters.

The ZWD's large size blocks off narrow corridors and forces enemy units to either bunch together to overcome it or spread out to maneuver around it. If the enemy bunches up around it, the ZWD simply flies over them, freeing up an opportunity for its heavy hitters to fill the gap. If the enemy spreads out, the ZWD can fly off to base one or two of them while the rest of the heavy hitters swarm around a single, isolated target.

How to Defeat Zombie White Dragon

The majority of the skirmishers I interviewed felt that the ZWD was an "easy" answer to metagame concerns like archers, Beholders, paralysis effects, and high-damage units. They also agree almost unanimously that in the hands of a very skilled CE player, there is rarely a need to include a ZWD (unless you are expecting an environment heavy with archers and spellcasters), and that the ZWD is a marginal substitute for another heavy hitter (an Orc Champion or Ogre Ravager). Very experienced CE players hope to prevail in the traditionally difficult match-ups by using good tile placement, making very careful opening moves, and using practiced strategies to defeat specific warbands. Units such as Beholders and Half-Elf Bow Initiates can be defeated with refined tactics and tile placement, making the ZWD less useful than another heavy hitter would be.

In other words, many CE players feel that sacrificing 75% of a figure's damage potential for a 40% gain in HP is not worth the investment.

The ZWD, however, is still a frustrating piece for players not used to dealing with it. Three strategies are recommended for dealing with this high-HP undead dragon.

  • Ignore it. Ignoring the ZWD is something that many players must learn to do. While not always appropriate, it should be possible for most metagame warbands to divert no attention toward dealing with the ZWD. Its low damage output and Slow Attack ability make it a poor offensive weapon. All it's really good at is absorbing damage and causing interference. If you don't attack it, its ability to absorb damage becomes meaningless, wasted points for your opponent. Players facing off against the ZWD warband should look for ways to avoid the dragon while concentrating their attacks on the enemy heavy hitters. Warbands with multiple commanders and/or good mobility should have no trouble spacing out in a way that prevents the Dragon from reaching vulnerable commanders or soft utility pieces. With some very mobile support pieces, it is possible to lead the Dragon away from the remainder of its support. Once it's drawn out of command, it is forced to rush meaningless fodder. Concentrating your offense against the ZWD's heavy hitters is a better strategy against ZWD warbands.

  • Focused Fire. Occasionally, there will be times when a player leads too far with his ZWD or overextends it (particularly given the popularity of the ZWD among players with a wide variety of experience and skill). In these situations, particularly if you are playing a melee-heavy warband, it may be possible to destroy the ZWD in a single round. A pair of attacks from an Eye of Gruumsh and an Orc Champion followed by a single smack from an Ogre Ravager can erase all sign of the ZWD. Similarly, a couple of Graycloak shots followed by double attacks from a pair of Frenzied Berserkers can make short work of the beast. The key is to catch the ZWD far enough away from its support units so that you can bring it down in as short a time as possible without the enemy interfering or rushing to its rescue. At 37 points, the ZWD is a significant loss, especially if it doesn't have accomplish much before crumbling. I don't recommend this strategy often, but in certain cases -- match-ups featuring other CG or CE melee-oriented warbands -- it can produce a quick point advantage.

  • Out-hit the ZWD. This is more of a warband building strategy than a tactic to be employed in-game, but the data show it to be effective. If you field more heavy hitters than the ZWD band, you can negate its usefulness. CG Goliath-based and other CE warbands are particularly good at providing this kind of melee support. A large group of fast, mobile hitters can force the ZWD to act defensively, particularly as you bring a mismatch to bear against its key units. Players with a wealth of experience against the ZWD note that mobile, high HP heavy hitters should risk attacks of opportunity from the ZWD in order to concentrate their attacks against one or two opposing heavy hitters. Four or five mobile, high damage threats create a challenging match-up for ZWD bands.

Despite all this discussion of the ZWD being overrated, do not dismiss or underestimate this warband. A well-built, two-commander, 12-activation ZWD band is one of the most robust and dangerous warbands in the metagame today. Many of the top CE players have opted to go without the ZWD in their bands, but skilled players who include the ZWD make very formidable opponents, and even someone with less experience is still dangerous if given the right weapon.

Match-Ups for Zombie White Dragon

Favorable: CG ranged warbands; single and dual Beholder warbands; LE Rakshasa warbands.

Neutral: Inspired Frenzy bands (this can be a borderline favorable match-up depending on the Inspired Frenzy build used); LSD bands; CE Ryldfecta warbands.

Unfavorable: Single LRD warbands; CE Quad warbands; CG warbands with 4-5 heavy hitters.

CE Quad Warbands

Sample CE Quad Warband

Eye of Gruumsh
Red Samurai
Orc Champion
Ogre Ravager
Tiefling Captain
Orc Warrior x6

CE Quad Warband Options and Variants

Many of the Options and Variants presented in the previous warbands are applicable here. Players often adjust the number of Red Samurais and Orc Champions based upon the type of warbands they expect to face in their local environment.

In general, this is a fairly "tight" build, meaning that it leaves little room for substituting pieces other than the heavy hitters. The Tiefling provides an essential boost to initiative checks and morale saves, and the Eye of Gruumsh boosts fodder damage and provides a useful second commander. Some builders rely on the Tiefling as the only commander, opting for another Red Samurai, Orc Champion, or Ogre Ravager in place of the Eye of Gruumsh. The additional 4-6 leftover points are usually spent upgrading Orc Warriors to slightly more potent figures. Most of the players that provided insight into their CE warbands suggested that dropping the Eye of Gruumsh, and losing the flexibility of a second commander and his commander effect, wasn't worth 4-6 extra points. The ability to split up the heavy hitters and to inflict enormous damage with units like the Orc Warrior are absolutely essential in making this warband successful.

How to play CE Quad Warbands

Many of the foremost CE warband builders and skirmishers cite this warband (or variations of it) as the most dangerous warband in the hands of a skilled player. This is tempered by a CG and CE melee-heavy metagame, but the power to unleash up to 100 damage per round from four figures and from seven to nine spaces away can be devastating.

Because of this warband's low ACs and fragile fodder, it can be difficult to manage. Most strategists identify several particular methods they rely upon to make the best use of this band.

  • Hole up. Against ranged bands, such as those featuring a Beholder, Graycloak Rangers, or Half-Elf Bow Initiates, the CE player may look for a safe staging ground from which to launch an all-out attack after regrouping. Locations like a Treasure Room or Torture Chamber tile are placed near the center of the board. Once all of the Quad units are entrenched within their safe location, they wait for an advantageous initiative check (or pair of initiative checks) before rushing forward to base or attack vulnerable units. Orc Warriors are frequently used to screen archers or spellcasters, willingly absorbing the hits to use up enemy activations. They are then followed by the heavy hitters once all threatening ranged options are exhausted.

  • Fodder leads the way. Against warbands that lack a significant ranged or area effect threat, Orc Warriors can form a screen to protect the four heavy hitters. Even very successful three-hitter CE warbands can't afford to devote many of their resources to attacking opposing fodder if they hope to later deal with the presence of four high-damage figures. If the opponent uses his low-cost figures to deal with the Orc Warriors, that negates the ability to use those same fodder pieces to swarm an Eye of Gruumsh or Orc Champion. The hope is that these Orc Warriors will inflict 10-15 points of damage and clear away opposing fodder or weaken heavy hitters. The Quad warband then presses its superior damage advantage (as a result of having a greater number of high-damage, high-HP units) by ganging up on wounded figures or other pieces of significance. Even if the Quad warband fails to win the next critical initiative, four heavy hitters will survive longer than two or three opposing heavy hitters, particularly with several Orc Warriors still operating. This simple strategy is brutally effective. It is also, despite its simplicity, surprisingly difficult to carry out. It involves complex decisions about which targets to attack and which pieces can be sacrificed.

  • Divide and conquer. One of the advantages of a two commander, four heavy hitter warband is its ability to execute a pincer attack. A pincer attack is a maneuver in which the heavy hitters split into two units (frequently the Eye of Gruumsh accompanied by the Orc Champion and Orc Warriors, and the Tiefling paired with the Red Samurai and Ogre Ravager). These two groups maneuver around the opponent, intending to converge on it simultaneously from opposite sides. The pincer attack is a very (very!) risky maneuver, but it is also one of the most successful techniques employed by this type of warband. In the hands of a skilled player, this tactic forces your opponent to make critical decisions quickly. The enemy must decide where to allocate its resources to deal with both threats, and the potential for making a mistake is high. The presence of four heavy-hitters with good speed can turn even a single bad decision into a game loss.

  • Force unfavorable match-ups. One of the strengths of this warband is straight mathematical advantage. With four heavy hitter units and no appreciable loss of commanders or ultra-efficient fodder, this warband can simply out-fight opposing bands. To counter that, look for opportunities to force uneven match-ups that let you hit single enemy units with a lot of damage in one round. Even if the Quad warband loses a heavy hitter or two, it still has an advantage. If the Quad warband loses one heavy hitter while taking out, for example, one of the ZWD band's heavy hitters, the ZWD band is reduced to about 65% fighting efficiency while the Quad band is at 75% efficiency. The advantage is even more pronounced against bands with only two hitters, such as Inspired Frenzy. If that band loses a Frenzied Berserker in a one-for-one trade, or even a one-for-two trade, the CE warband is still in very good shape.

How to defeat CE Quad Warbands

In the hands of the right player, this warband is one of CE's strongest options. It does, however, have unique vulnerabilities that can be exploited by solid tactics and clever warband construction.

  • No safe havens! Include at least one (more is better) unit in your warband with a solid ranged or area effect attack, spell, or ability. This can make the difference between a win and a loss. The ranged threat should be able to wipe out multiple Orc Warriors in one turn or strong enough to force a morale check on one of the heavy hitters over time (multiple Graycloak Rangers or the Lich Necromancer's Empowered Magic Missiles are good examples). These ranged units must be backed up by solid tile placement. Expect the Quad warband to bring at least two completely solid terrain tiles to the table (e.g., Treasure Room, Torture Chamber, and Statue Room/Corridor). Anticipate their attempt to place one of these tiles in a forward location. Be sure that you have at least one, preferably two tiles with walls on the borders to force the opponent's tiles into less effective placements. If you are allow your opponent a safe place to hide (and it can be difficult to prevent), force it to be on his side of the board. Try to guarantee yourself line-of-sight access to the tile he is hoping to gain assault points from.

  • Out-activate them. Another benefit of including a ranged attack or area of effect is the ability to quickly gain an activation advantage. With no pincushion unit to absorb ranged attacks, the Quad warband is often forced to either expose a heavy hitter or sacrifice Orc Warriors. The point loss from Orc Warriors seems insignificant, but the activation loss can be enormous. Try to keep your activations as high as possible, and force the Quad player to choose between suffering a weakened heavy hitter or losing valuable activations. Including a commander with a high bonus on initiative checks makes it easier to move aggressively against this band, particularly if you can reliably get back-to-back attack rounds.

  • Use their speed against them. While the Quad warband has the potential to launch all-out "alpha strike" type attacks as soon as round two, it often takes several rounds for it to get set up. CE pieces tend to be fast, and they tend to have low saves. If you can bring the fight to their side of the board, you may find that their speed works against them when they fail morale checks. During my observations of hundreds of games with this warband, most opponents maneuvered very cautiously and let the Quad band come to them, thus giving the Tiefling (who hangs back later in the game) a chance to rally routing units. Not many warbands can match the Quad band in power, but if you're fielding a band that you think might, consider trying to keep the fight closer to their side of the board.

  • Force them to make saves. CE's greatest weakness in the competitive environment is relatively low saves. Units capable of paralyzing, stunning, or otherwise doing bad things to them are invaluable support. One failed paralysis save negates the presence of one heavy hitter for the most critical rounds of the game. Even if you direct no attention toward it, you are no longer threatened by it and can allocate your resources more effectively. A combination of ranged attack/ability along with another ability like paralysis can put the Quad warband in a bad situation. Forcing the Quad player to choose between having a heavy hitter stunned, stoned, paralyzed, etc., or between losing an Orc Warrior or two automatically puts you in a better position because it increases the potential for a poor decision on the part of your opponent.

  • Fight on your terms. With no significant ranged threat, the Quad warband has no way to bring the enemy to it. Instead, it must rely on the intimidation and speed of its hitters to force the opponent into an unfavorable position. Keep in mind that close-quarter fighting provides an advantage -- melee cover and tight terrain provide protection from reach attacks and from being swarmed by all the heavy hitters and fodder at once. Loose or open terrain in melee is an advantage to Quad bands because they make it easier for them to execute pincer attacks and achieve flanking against opponents. The key is to use the terrain to prevent them from bringing all of their offensive resources to bear at once.

Match-ups for CE Quad Warbands

Favorable: CE ZWD bands; passive/turtle LSD bands; single Beholder bands; CG ranged bands; Inspired Frenzy warbands.

Neutral: Ryldfecta bands; CG 4-5 hitter bands; CE LRD-based bands; aggressive LSD warbands.

Unfavorable: This warband tends to match up extremely well against most of the prominent metagame warbands. It still suffers from many of the typical Chaotic-based weaknesses, such as low saves and low AC, but the large number of significant threats it fields make it a formidable foe in any match-up.

Attacking the Dominance of CE

I have heard a number of players object to the lopsided success that CE seems to enjoy in the metagame. For that reason, I will present two additional sections in this article. One section deals with strategies for overcoming the titans of the CE faction as individual units; the other presents promising alternatives available to every faction that can give the typical CE warband a very hard time.

The Bigger they are...

Eye of Gruumsh: The Eye of Gruumsh, while efficient, has a number of significant weaknesses. His saves are quite low for his cost, and his AC makes him almost impossible to miss. For this reason, the Eye is best used as a "clean up" attacker, rushing in to finish off wounded opponents. The best way to deal with the Eye is to use a tactic called egging. Egging means tossing very low-cost units in the path of the Eye or some other low AC unit. Even most low-cost fodder has a chance of hitting, and if the Eye hits back, he deals five points of damage to himself. For a minimal investment, 4 or 5 low-cost units can swamp the Eye, causing significant damage. Orc Warriors, Elf Warriors, Elf Spearguards, and Azer Raiders are particularly useful for swarming the Eye.

Orc Champion: The Orc Champ's speed sometimes proves to be his demise in unfavorable match-ups. While Orc Champs are not as susceptible to egging as is the Eye of Gruumsh (thanks to a higher AC and the Cleave ability), they have a serious problem saving against spells and abilities. The Champ has a miserable 25% (one in four) chance of failing save attempts against DC 13 spells (such as those wielded by cheap units like the Blue, the Wolf, and Ialdabode). Even under the command of the Tiefling Captain, his chance at sticking around after failing a morale save is a risky 55%. Units that lower saves, such as Cursed Spirits, Troglodytes, Lord Soth, and Frenzied Berserkers, can put the Orc Champ in a precarious situation, particularly given that he runs 18 spaces if he fails his check.

The Ogre Ravager: The Ravager is one of CE's few egg-proof units, which can be frustrating given the need to bring up another heavy hitter to deal with it. Fodder still provides a significant advantage against the Ravager, however, by providing impromptu cover against its reach attacks. With the Ogre's low attack bonus, a couple of strategically placed fodder units can significantly reduce its chance of hitting with a reach attack. Indeed, very-high-AC, low-cost units like the Man at Arms can be very frustrating for this CE staple. Even though the Ravager's fire resistance can be a headache, its large frame makes it an easy target for ranged attacks. If you can't damage the Ogre with a fireball or abyssal blast, it still makes a great target for these spells if you can torch other units within a 4-square radius of the Ogre. In addition, its speed of 6 is average for the faction, and can cause the Ogre to become wasted points if you catch faster, forward-roaming units outside of his support range.

The Orc Warrior: Quiet and unassuming, the poor, unloved Orc Warrior is destined to go down in history as one of the most valuable common pieces in the D&D Miniatures game. You'd be hard-pressed to ever find a better bargain for 3 points, and the nice attack bonus (a bit of D&D Miniatures trivia: only three creatures have an attack bonus that's higher than their point cost, and the Orc Warrior is the most playable compared to the incited Kruthik Hatchling and the wandering Grick) combined with a respectable 10 damage and an amazing synergy with most of the faction's commanders make this piece the top choice to fill out activations. Unfortunately, the Orc Warrior has nothing in the way of saves, average speed for the faction, 5 HP, and a terrible AC. These make the Orc Warrior vulnerable to ranged attacks and spells and an instant kill for any area effect that does 10 or more points of damage. The tendency for CE bands to want to make use of the efficiency of this figure means they must often hold back their ultra-fast units to wait for the Orc Warriors, or they must double move the Warriors for several turns, exposing them. Elf Warriors, Kenku Sneaks, Ialdabode, Blues, Githzerai, Catfolk, and Goblin Skirmishers all provide a long-distance challenge for the Orc Warrior without investing an exorbitant number of points.

Large Red Dragon: This piece has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity lately, for good reason -- the LRD can be a fearsome foe. While the scope of this series prevents me from discussing LRD-based warbands in detail (I hope their pilots will take this opportunity), these bands do have vulnerabilities. Because the LRD is so expensive, LRD warbands often contain less support than other CE bands and often field only one commander. This makes them vulnerable to overextending or commander assassination, particularly if piloted by skirmishers unfamiliar with the peculiar tactics of such a warband. The LRD is often best met first, because it can be more economical to attack it with two or three heavy hitters and suffer its full round of attacks as opposed to allowing it the opportunity to come to you and unleash its breath weapon and then follow that with a full round of attacks. A pair of Ogre Ravagers, at significantly less cost, can be a difficult match for the dragon. If an LRD is surrounded by able attackers, it can quickly become an 83 point liability. Time works directly in the favor of the LRD, so the more rounds its opponent squeezes into the game, the greater the likelihood that the dragon will become an expensive loss.

Anti-CE Tech

Lich Necromancer: Ironic, perhaps, that some of the best anti-CE metagame pieces are themselves CE pieces. The Lich Necromancer is a 75 HP, fearless, lightning- and cold-immune commander that's capable of forcing a 50/50 paralysis check on an Orc Champion from clear across the board. His commander effect boosts the activation bonus of any band he's in with Orc-Warrior-slaying Gnoll Skeletons. In addition, his 45 damage worth of Empowered Magic Missiles can force a morale check on anything with less then 90 HP from an unlimited distance and are certain doom for any piece of fodder. Add in the fact that the Lich has DR5, Aura of Fear 2, and a nasty melee attack, and you have a surprisingly versatile piece. He is expensive for his role in a CE band, but paralyzing even one Orc Champion or Eye of Gruumsh can make him instantly worth his cost. His ability to disallow a "hole-up" strategy from opposing bands further increases his value.

Chuul: Unfortunately for giant crawfish fanatics everywhere, the banning of the Drider Sorcerer neutered the potential of the Chuul. This 95 HP, DC 19 paralyzing monstrosity does have a niche as a potent weapon against low-AC bands. The key is finding a way to get it into base contact for two attacks without losing it completely. If that becomes possible, then in combination with a Cursed Spirit or Troglodyte, any of the primary CE orc villains is very unlikely to ever make its save against the paralysis effect. While unlikely to fair well against a diverse metagame, a clever pilot could make efficient use of Chuuls against a chaotic-dominated environment.

Goliath Barbarian: Goliaths can't match the damage potential of most of the CE heavy hitters, but the other stats of the Goliath match up perfectly for his cost. What the Goliath does have going for it is fantastic support pieces like the Elf Pyromancer, Graycloak Ranger, and Inspiring Marshal. The Goliath's low attack bonuses are no significant disadvantage against the low ACs of the CE faction, and its Reroll Attack ability can provide a substantial advantage.

Grell: The Grell is little more than 26 free points against any faction other than CE (including other LE bands), I have seen warbands consisting of Rakshasa, Grell x2, Gauth, Skullcrusher Ogre, and Snig crush standard CE builds. The inability to transpose the Grell hurts, but a pair of Grells with Reach 2 can make a CE band nervous if you have the beef up front to keep the CE hitters at a distance for a turn or two. It's very tough to make this fragile piece work in the current metagame, but CE still needs to respect it.

Kenku Sneak: The Kenku is currently the cheapest option for a useful ranged attack in the CE faction. CE bands hoping to spoil a Chaotic-heavy metagame may be able to make use of them to snipe opposing Elf and Orc Warriors, and their Hide ability makes them difficult targets. Pieces like the ZWD limit their utility to some extent, but Kenku can still inflict a large amount of damage against low AC CE piece once melee combat has begun.

Blue: Another efficient fodder piece, the Blue can cause serious problems for some CE builds. Mind Thrust is a splendid way to remove opposing Orc Warriors from a considerable distance, and the confusion effect poses interesting questions for the opponent. Some players will chance the DC 13 spell against major pieces like the Orc Champion. On certain occasions, however, it may be more useful to steal an Orc Warrior and charge an Eye of Gruumsh or a Tiefling Captain, particularly given the high likelihood of that Orc Warrior failing the save.

Hill Giant: In well-tuned warbands, the Hill Giant's massive damage output can result in an unfortunate mismatch against traditional CE builds. A handful of top warband builders determined to find a nasty CE spoiler band devised a clever Hill Giant team. The goal of the warband is to use a pair of Hill Giants to set up a "cleave cascade." The Hill Giants both approach a group of enemy creatures. One Giant attacks, hoping to destroy a weaker target (such as an Orc Warrior) and then cleave against a bigger target (such as an Orc Champion) to force a morale save. If the enemy fails the morale save, the other Giant takes the attack of opportunity, hoping to kill the routing creature and cleave onto the next victim, provoking an attack of opportunity from the other, adjacent Hill Giant. These cleave cascades can become vicious if set up properly, dishing out over 160 damage in just two consecutive activations. The Hill Giant's Pushback ability helps keep figures that make their morale save from taking full attacks the next turn.

Harpy: I surveyed a number of experienced players hoping to gain insight into what piece they felt might hold some prospect as true "anti-CE tech." No figure came close to the Harpy in receiving a more sound endorsement as "unexpected and potentially dangerous." With the removal of the Drider, some typical CE builds had up to 30 free points to work with. One use of the board-sweeping Captivating Song might seem unimpressive, but two uses of the song can hammer opposing bands. The DC 13 stun effect is of little use against higher-level pieces. Used at the right time, however, a pair of unlimited-range stun attacks can cripple many CE warbands on the approach. Orc Warriors stand little chance of making one save, much less two, and Tiefling Captains and Drow Sergeants are similarly at risk. By wiping out the ability of these warbands to use their cheap commanders (or perhaps only commanders) and their fodder, you instantly alter the landscape of the battlefield. Moreover, if even one of the heavy hitters fails the save, the game becomes quite interesting.

The Harpy holds additional promise because it is equally effective against many of the prominent LG and CG warbands. Clerics of Order, Men at Arms, Barbarian Mercenaries, Elf Warriors, Graycloak Rangers, Wolves, and Inspiring Marshals can be immobilized by a pair of Harpies. The more menacing figures of these warbands are largely unfazed by the stun, but their infrastructure and support can be severely compromised. The loss of a round or two of support can havetremendous impact in a 1-hour game. That delay might even trigger a major change in strategy for the opposing warband.

I think only a skilled player who is willing to take risks will make full use of the Harpy, but a number of other players agree that the potential exists for this piece to wreak havoc in the right hands. Several Ryld + Harpy x2 and Harpy x3 + Orc Champion x3 warbands that were tested proved to be formidable under the right conditions, particularly in the assault format. Some of the save-lowering options available in the CE faction also make this piece more attractive. Despite the Harpy's significant limitations, savvy players looking to spoil things for typical CE builds may surprise more than a few opponents with a cunningly timed Captivating Song.

Rogue Bands

The Chaotic Evil faction has so many interchangeable parts that function efficiently together that it's impossible to predict exactly which pieces will show up in competitive play. Strong pieces that I haven't dealt with because of space constraints include the Orc Druid, Lareth the Beautiful, the Ettin Skirmisher, and especially the Large Red Dragon, to name a few. I expect successful warbands to be built around the Druid and the Dragon in particular, and I have no doubt that these warbands should not be classified as "rogue" on the basis of their power, but rather on the skill it takes to pilot them effectively. In truth, I expect that most of the CE warbands that appear at the qualifiers will contain some combination of the figures mentioned in this article, making the appearance of a truly "rogue" CE warband a rare event.

A Final Word From the Doc

I hope you've all enjoyed this exploration of the Chaotic Evil faction and perhaps learned a little from the insight of some of the game's finest skirmishers. Good luck at your Qualifiers and stay tuned for the final installment of this series, where I'll discuss the Lawful Good faction. We'll talk about Large Silver Dragon warbands and how to play against them, as well as what the future may hold for LG. In addition, I'll share some of my own thoughts about what I would have played at the qualifiers (if I had played) and what my personal testing revealed. 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.

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