D&D Miniatures06/02/2005

Secrets of the Champions, Part 4
A Primer for the 2005 Tournament Season

Lawful Good

This will be an unpopular statement, but I sincerely hope that someone proves me wrong:

The Lawful Good faction has a very difficult time competing in assault format against Tier 1 warbands without using the Large Silver Dragon (LSD).

I have logged hundreds of attempts, in person and on Vassal, and I've discussed this problem with a number of the best warband pilots, even a few that strongly favor LG as a faction. The consensus is that it is very, very difficult to field a non-LSD, Lawful Good warband that consistently performs well against a wide variety of warbands. Angelfire may change that picture, but that's an article for another day.

Still, there are promising options, particularly against certain CE warbands. I'll discuss these following my review of LSD warbands and tactics.

LSD warbands come in several varieties. Until now, one of the most successful employs the very aggressive Barbarian Mercenary to clean up after a successful Paralysis breath weapon, to screen out fodder, and to eliminate low-AC pieces. The warband counts on

  • paralyzing a few key figures or

  • luring key opposing figures into concentrating their attacks against the LSD, allowing the Mercenaries to gang up on a single, preoccupied target (inflicting as much as 60 damage a round without help from the LSD) or

  • quickly assassinating a soft commander.

The Cleric of Order seems, on the surface, to be a more efficient commander than the Couatl or the Cleric of Yondalla, but a closer look at LSD warbands reveals the hidden strengths of these two commanders. More recently, some of the more crafty LSD players have had strong success with the Cleric of Lathander (as a metagame piece against Undead proliferation) and the ever-present Purple Dragon Knight (PDK). The PDK is still a strong base from which to start an LSD warband but has lost a tremendous amount of utility thanks to the fearless Frenzied Berserker and Zombie White Dragon. In addition, stand-off warbands featuring Beholders and archers have somewhat nullified the PDK's fear cone.

Most LSD warbands follow one of three principles:

  • Massively buff the LSD -- Here we see a lot of warbands that combine the Cleric of Order with Eberk and the occasional Sword of Heironeous (not a great commander for the LSD). These warbands appear to be the least successful because too many points are spent buffing the already-tough LSD.

  • Load up the damage -- As per the Barbarian Mercenary build that follows. Combining the LSD with the ability to quickly chew through paralyzed figures or spread out and decimate support pieces (Healers, Orc Druids, Tiefling Captains, Aramil, etc.) makes for a powerful combination without sacrificing activations. Newer incarnations feature the Couatl to unload a Snake's Swiftness on the LSD against paralyzed foes or to dish out Empowered Sonic Orbs.

  • High HP builds -- These tend to pair the LSD with another high-HP, sturdy LG piece such as a Warforged Hero or Gold Dwarf Fighter. Unfortunately, LG currently lacks the speed and damage output (at least in a single, survivable package) to efficiently and securely complement the LSD in this way.

I'd argue that, given the current state of the metagame, aggressive, damage-heavy LSD warbands have a slight edge, particularly when it comes to making fast but low-AC units think twice about hunting down your commander. Four Barbarian Mercenaries are a match for an Orc Champion or Red Samurai and are worth fewer overall victory points if lost.

LSD Warbands

Some players feel that the LSD warband isn't competitive or won't show up in great numbers for several reasons. I have seen reports that the warband won't be competitive because it hasn't changed over the course of a year, or that it won't show up because it isn't much fun to play. I agree with the second statement more than the first. The LSD remains competitive purely on the basis of its sheer toughness in timed games, and it will continue to do so unless a major format change or "spoiler" figure is introduced. As more sets are released, the chance increases that players will find interesting companions for the LSD and viable alternatives to the LSD. Fortunately, the previously popular "turtle" style of play (i.e., hide the Silver Dragon until time has almost expired, then rush out and kill as many points as possible with a breath weapon) has been replaced by a more aggressive style. Aggressive LSD warbands use the dragon to hunt down vulnerable units, paralyze them, then eliminate the paralyzed units one at a time. On the down side, this strategy takes more activity and concentration than turtling. In either case, the LSD in the hands of a practiced and capable player can annihilate many Tier 1 warbands in a timed game. The LSD is difficult to destroy in just 60 minutes and is more than capable of inflicting serious damage while collecting assault points.

Sample LSD warband

Large Silver Dragon
Cleric of Order
Barbarian Mercenary x4
Man-at-Arms x6

LSD Options and Variants

Aramil, Adventurer: This useful miniature is often included as a tech "silver bullet" against other LSD warbands. If Aramil lands his Ray of Enfeeblement against the other dragon, the game strongly favors the warband fielding the non-enfeebled LSD.

Azer Raider: These fiery outsiders used to appear in pairs to defend against Gauths. They are less viable against the popular Beholder + Gauth combination. Including Azers cuts down your ability to field multiple Barbarian Mercenaries. The Azer is an efficient piece, but Mercenaries are LG's response to CG and CE warbands with four heavy hitters. In an environment expected to be heavy with Chaotic warbands, I'd lean away from the Azer and toward the hard-hitting, fast moving, tile-grabbing Barbarian Mercenary.

Eberk: The stout dwarf provides extra buffing power but is rarely worth the cost. In the skirmish game, once you reach AC 24 and a save of 16, adding an additional +1 to each isn't worth 16 points, particularly if the Cleric of Order is already being utilized.

Cleric of Moradin/Dwarf Artificer: See above comments regarding Eberk. Serious testing of the LSD warband shows that the difference of 2 AC often isn't worth the investment of even 14 points (unless rolled into another package, such as an effective commander).

Second commander: Including a second commander addresses the warband's most vulnerable weakness. Various options have been tried, but few allow the LSD warband enough flexibility in points to remain as competitive. Dwarf Samurai pop up frequently. The Cleric of Yondalla is a more efficient choice.

How to Play LSD

Skilled LSD players have a masterful command of the clock and carefully measure their activations. The LSD doesn't need to annihilate the opposing warband, it only needs to score more points than the opponent scores against it. Terrain setup should include defensible nooks and long corridors or hallways down which lines of command can be established. Knowing precisely when to strike with the LSD to cause the most damage and exactly how many Men-at-Arms to throw in the way of the enemy as speedbumps are essential tools for winning.

Many LSD players argue that you should use your Paralysis Breath first, hoping to catch outlying heavy hitters in the cone (catching a lone enemy commander can be just as valuable, which is a liability for Ryld, Greenfang Druid, and Inspiring Marshal warbands). Even if the targeted units make the saves, these units will often rush the LSD after the first breath attack, drawing closer for the second breath attack or leaving a vulnerable gap through which the still healthy LSD can blast its cold weapon against softer units. Don't be afraid to throw Barbarian Mercenaries up against enemy heavy hitters. The power of the LSD demands that heavy hitters focus their attention on it, and if your opponent chooses not to attack the LSD in favor of going after Mercenaries, you have succeeded in prolonging its life.

How to Defeat LSD

When an LSD warband loses, it's usually because of either poor terrain setup or because its commander was killed, or both. Poor terrain setup forces your LSD out of command or prevents it from catching enemy figures that filter around the dragon to score points against vulnerable fodder. Three or four heavy hitters are in a good position to make an end run around an LSD warband; the dragon is kept occupied by one or two hitters while the others demolish the soft core of the warband. The key to defeating the LSD warband in this situation (try to think of it as outscoring your opponent) is to spread out the LSD warband across the board. You do this by spreading out your own warband across the board. If you draw the Dragon far enough away from its support troops and commander, you may force the LSD to commit to just one part of your warband. The more threats you have in your warband, the more difficult it becomes for the LSD to address all of them while simultaneously protecting its support pieces. (This is one reason why LSD warbands have moved toward tougher support pieces such as the Couatl and Barbarian Mercenary).

Faster warbands can make a lightning strike against a lone LG commander and then run from the out-of-command dragon for the remainder of the game. This is a controversial strategy that is currently supported by the rules.

It is extremely unlikely that you will eliminate a fully-buffed Large Silver Dragon in a one-hour match if the LSD player know what he's doing. You must concentrate on scoring as many points as possible during the match by eliminating other figures while keeping your distance from the dragon. Against less experienced players, a warband featuring several figures with high attack bonuses and good damage stands a good chance to kill the LSD by flanking it with all of your heavy hitters.

One strategy worth noting is called "Pinning the Dragon." This technique creates a situation in which the LSD is unable or unwilling to use its area-of-effect attack for fear of harming its own units, effectively "pinning the dragon" against its own breath weapon. This technique was perfected as a counter to Purple Dragon Knights and Gold Champions back during the reign of Dragoneye. To use it, an opposing warband rushes up quickly, moving into base contact with as many of the LSD's support units as possible. With good speed and timing, the LSD warband can be caught with several key units clumped together. By carefully positioning your forces around vulnerable support figures or commanders, you make it difficult for the LSD to unleash a breath weapon without hitting its own troops. This technique is risky because a miscalculation in placement can turn a hoped-for advantage (the LSD being able to use a breath weapon against only one of your figures) into a disadvantage (the LSD catching two or more figures in a breath weapon with creative cone placement). Nevertheless, if you find yourself close to the nucleus of an LSD warband, it may be worth moving in and basing its commanders and other valuable support pieces.

Match-Ups for LSD

Favorable: Other LG warbands; concetrated (i.e. one or two figure focused) CE warbands; Beholder Warbands (without the Gauth); archery warbands; LE mixed warbands (without the Gauth).

Neutral: Inspired Frenzy warbands; Ryldfecta-type warbands; Greenfang power builds (bear + bear = dragon? Not enough data to tell at this point, but the results are still filtering in).

Unfavorable: Inspired Frenzy warbands (with Healer and/or Aramil); CE or CG warbands featuring 3-4 heavy hitters; LE warbands with multiple Gauths.

Major Variation -- the Couatl

A number of strategists and skirmishers, unsatisfied with some of the unavoidable weaknesses of the Large Silver Dragon, opted to test the Couatl for viability following the release of Deathknell. What this rainbow-hued flying serpent brings to the table is a highly mobile commander that is more difficult to assassinate (22AC, 60HP, level 9), provides energy resistance for the fire-vulnerable dragon (and to the rest of the warband as well), adds to the damage potential of the warband as a whole (by way of Empowered Sonic Orbs), and adds directly to the damage potential of the LSD, particularly against paralyzed opponents (with Snake's Swiftness). The inclusion of the Couatl aims to remedy three weaknesses in traditional LSD warbands:

1. Vulnerable Commanders: Many LSD warbands of the type described above fielded units like the Cleric of Order, Cleric of Lathander, Sword of Heironeous, and Cleric of Yondalla as the warband's only commander. This left it particularly vulnerable to commander assassination and forced the warband to stay tightly grouped against opposing warbands with three or four significant melee threats. Keeping the LSD so close to the main group does not play to its strength as a mobile area-effect titan. If the LSD strayed too far, however, the game could quickly take a turn for the worst if a hard-hitting unit slipped through and based the commander. The Couatl is no easy kill and can dish out damage with spells if opposing units draw too near.

2. Energy vulnerability: The Gauth has always been a thorn in the side of the LSD, and even fragile units like Halfling Wizards, Elf Pyromancers, Red Wizards, and Mordenkainen can be a problem for the fire-hating dragon. The appearance of Gauths in tournaments prior to the release of Aberrations was rare. With the coming of the latest two sets, LE received some competitive figures, and the LSD player is forced to plan for the inevitable matchups where a Gauth shows up. A pair of Gauths can be managed by the LSD, but the addition of the Couatl allows the player to rely on more reliable tactics in outmaneuvering fire-based warbands without fear of long-distance reprisal. The Couatl's granted energy resistance helps protect the rest of the warband from energy effects such as another LSD's breath weapon or an untimely fireball or abyssal blast.

3. Late game damage: The LSD warband has always struggled to find ways to push through the last few points of damage on badly wounded or paralyzed enemies. The modern incarnation of this warband uses Barbarian Mercenaries, who have a strong early game presence. Fast, hard-hitting Mercenaries provide both deterrence ("If you come after my commander, here's what's waiting for you") and damage. Unfortunately, a single Orc Warrior or a pair of Men-at-Arms or Elf Warriors can quickly dispatch the 10AC, 20 HP Mercenary. Even though they often dish out as much as 30 damage a turn each, they rarely survive more than one round of melee, which limits their usefulness late in the game. The Couatl's empowered sonic orb allows it to hit for the same amount of damage, from a distance, at less risk to itself. In addition, snake's swiftness can allow the LSD to punch a much-needed 30 points of damage onto a paralyzed unit that it otherwise might have had to turn away from (to deal with a more active threat). So, while the Barbarian Mercenaries often prove to be efficient one-shot missiles, the Couatl is a reusable fount of damage.

It should be noted, however, that the inclusion of the Couatl in a Large Silver Dragon warband carries with it some significant limitations. These range from annoying to severe. Three of the most significant are:

1. Diminished Commander rating: Few LSD warbands include the Couatl as their only commander (my data indicate that it would be unwise to do so). The Couatl is most often paired with the Cleric of Yondalla, who supplements the Couatl's uninspiring commander rating of 0 with her more acceptable rating of 3. She also provides the absolutely imperative Magic Weapon for the dragon. Even with a commander rating of 3, however, the LSD warband falls short of the Cleric of Order's 5 (and the LSD also loses the shield of faith), which can be critical to winning key terrain and turn initiative. Moreover, the majority of opposing warbands will feature commanders with initiative bonuses ranging from 4 on average all the way up to 8, which instantly puts the Couatl warband at a disadvantage on every critical initiative check.

2. Fewer activations: After accounting for the LSD, Couatl, and Cleric of Yondalla, only 22 points remain to complete the warband. This makes it nearly impossible for this warband to surpass 10 activations. Ordinarily this might not be a significant problem, but given that LSD warbands are almost exclusively based around the effectiveness of a single activation (the LSD's), have no real ranged threats, and have a low commander rating, having few activations can kill this warband. Activations become critical later in a match, particularly when both warbands are engaged in melee. If a 12-activation warband forces the LSD warband to go first, it may have as many as four consecutive end-of-round activations for utility pieces and heavy hitters that the LSD warband cannot respond to. If the opposing warband can also eliminate the Cleric of Yondalla or significantly surpass her in commander rating/initiative bonus, then it stands a good chance of immediately taking the first two activations of the new round, too, and inflicting even more damage.

3. Fewer sources of damage: Following directly from the problem of having fewer activations, having a lower number of points to spend also means that the warband can field fewer significant damage sources. While the Couatl provides a sensible (if more expensive) alternative to the inclusion of four Barbarian Mercenaries, it counts for only one activation and one source of damage. Having multiple sources of damage allows a savvy skirmisher to respond to threats as they occur. Often it is the threat of a riposte more than the actual counterattack that alters when and where melee takes place. The Couatl will last longer than four Barbarian Mercenaries, but the ability of Mercenaries to either gang up on a single unit or to spread out and engage multiple targets can be a significant advantage in some situations.

In short, while the LSD + Couatl warband offers some solutions to the warband's weaknesses, it also poses new challenges for the pilot. Both warbands have a similar style of play and both have unique weaknesses. It remains to be seen which version of the LSD warband will emerge as the most productive in an uncertain metagame. My initial data indicate that the Cleric of Order + Barbarian Mercenary combination is slightly more successful.

Denial of Resources

At the beginning of this article, I promised you an alternative to the LSD in some matchups, and Denial of Resources is just such a warband. Based on the enigmatic concept of (ahem, in my best Guy Fullterton imitation: "Offense, we don't need no stinking offense!") defensive play, this type of warband hopes to make it next to impossible for opponents to score more than a few victory points against them. These warbands tend to be fluid in their construction, but all of them share the ponderous Dwarven Phalanx Soldier as their cornerstone. The warband is tailored to counter CE and CG warbands without significant automatic damage threats (from spells and breath weapons). It is particularly problematic for three and four heavy hitter CE warbands.

Sample Denial of Resources warband

Sword of Heironeous
Cleric of Yondalla
Dwarf Artificer
Halfling Wizard x3
Ember, Human Monk
Dwarf Phalanx Soldier x5

Denial of Resources Options and Variants

Fodder: This warband tends to avoid units like the Hill Dwarf Warrior and Man-at-Arms in large numbers because they offer relatively easy points to the opponent. Such units are useful in small numbers to boost activations, but overall, you don't want to offer up any easy points, particularly not slow, combat-useless figures.

Couatl: The Denial of Resources warband listed above tends to roll over and die when facing any warband that has a significant energy-based area effect -- a breath weapon, fireball, or abyssal blast. The Couatl offers more offensive potential while mitigating the impact of area-of-effect spells and abilities. The Couatl also grounds dangerous flying units that can give this warband fits.

Eberk, Adventurer: Eberk probably has a stronger place here than in an LSD warband. While the difference between a 28 and a 29 AC is negligible, the +1 bonus to saves for the entire warband is nice to have.

Warmage: An often-overlooked LG support unit, the Warmage offers flexibility and affordable ranged damage in one package. His superior movement and choice of spells make him more versatile than the Halfling Wizard, but his additional cost means sacrificing something else from the warband.

Skullclan Hunter: A serious LG piece with the potential to hand out a lot of damage if he catches his enemy unaware. A strong player can make efficient use of the Sidestep ability. The Skullclan Hunter's cost, however, means restructuring the core of the warband.

Barbarian Mercenary: Another excellent choice to include, but in a warband like this, it is imperative that you keep the fragile Mercenary in a safe place until he can strike without fear of being lost. He is an easy 9 points for your opponent if mishandled, and the temptation is strong to get the Barbarian into melee as soon as possible.

Dwarf Caver: While obviously an inappropriate choice for LSD warbands, the Dwarf Caver can be just the right sort of "hate" against opposing warbands here. Provided the Dwarf Phalanx Soldiers can protect the Caver, Orc Champions dare not approach the front line of the Denial of Resources warband. If the metagame ends up light on Orc Champions, the gamble is largely worthless.

Warforged Fighter: The Warforged Fighter provides the perfect insurance against nickel-and-dime units that chip away at your warband for 5 points here and 5 points there, the way the Graycloak Ranger does. A Warforged is also a stout front-line fighter.

How to Play Denial of Resources

This warband relies on two factors to win games: surprise and the law of averages. It hopes that in its unorthodox appearance and with a great bonus to initiative checks it will surprise its opponent not in combat but in terrain placement. Few players have experience against this type of warband, and even fewer understand how to arrange terrain to gain an advantage against it. The Denial of Resources player capitalizes on the presence of massive blocking tiles (Treasure Room, Torture Chamber, Corridor, and Statue Room) in the opponent's warband to create synergy with his own blocking tiles. Using his high initiative bonus, the Denial of Resources player wants to set up a very defensible, sealed area to collect assault points. He counts on his opponent answering in kind (that is, going for an Assault-point placement first instead of keeping the board open and fluid). The Denial of Resources player then blocks off narrow channels, allowing no more than two points of access to the strategic center of the board (the area in which melee will likely take place).

Ember, with her 22 AC (26 vs. ranged attacks), rushes out to grab tile points while the rest of the warband sets up a defensive perimeter. The Dwarf Phalanx Soldiers (DPS) block off two- or three-space-wide corridors. With four or five of them available in most warbands, blocking off a pair of three-space-wide alleys shouldn't prove too difficult. It is preferable to leave NO ROOM between the DPSs for enemies to slip through (most opponents will happily risk a pair of 5-point attacks of opportunity for a chance to lay waste to the soft core of the warband). The rest is a simply strategy of carefully maneuvering and healing while your casters fire leisurely spells from behind the flesh-wall of sturdy dwarves.

The warband depends on the law of averages holding true, counting on the DPSs (with ACs of 27-29) going toe-to-toe for two rounds with most any heavy hitter. This gives the artillery battery of scorching rays from the Halfling Wizards a chance to gang up on any heavy hitter near a wounded DPS, causing as much as 45 damage to it in a single turn. Concentrated fire over a couple of turns, along with solid chipping by the DPSs, should bring down the heavies one at a time. If the law of averages holds out, and the opponent doesn't land any critical hits, and you make all your morale saves, the gods of math should lift up the Denial of Resources warband to victory. If by the end of the match, three DPSs are sacrificed to bring down one Orc Champ, the denial strategy has worked to perfection. In addition, enemy fodder such as Orc Warriors, with no hope of hitting an AC of 26 or higher, become a liability in the face of all the automatic damage flying around on the other side of the shieldwall. A win by 3 to 6 points is not uncommon with this type of warband. The overall goal is simply to prohibit your opponent from scoring more points than you do.

How to Defeat Denial of Resources

Unfortunately for the Denial of Resources warband, simple warband construction techniques such as including some automatic damage dealers can wreck the warband's chance of winning. Units with powerful area of effect spells and abilities, such as Lord Soth and Large Silver Dragons, are difficult for this warband to overcome without a Couatl present. Hard-to-hit, high HP units are similarly difficult to score points against. Constructs with Spell Resistance: All are equally frustrating, and multiple cheaper units with area effects (such as Elf Pyromancers and Red Samurais) can score points from a safe distance. Dragons of almost any sort (particularly Reds and Silvers) absolutely savage this warband, even if it is stiffened by a Couatl. The Graycloak Ranger and other archers have a hard time with this warband, but some ranged units (the Beholder and Centaur Hero) pose a serious threat to the Denial of Resources strategy.

For warbands without area of effect spells, breath weapons, constructs, or serious ranged damage threats, options still exist. The most effective strategy against a warband like Denial of Resources is to always keep track of how many points you might sacrifice for the number of points you might gain. Save- and AC-lowering units are a plus. Concentrating all your attacks on one Phalanx Soldier is critical. If you eliminate a DPS, move through the gap right away.

Keep tile placement strategies in mind. If you lose terrain initiative, concentrate on keeping large traffic lanes open and forcing multiple entry points to every section of the board. The Denial of Resources warband doesn't have enough melee strength to prevent being surrounded, so if you can preclude it from walling itself off, you've put it at a major disadvantage.

Match-Ups for Denial of Resources

At this time, this warband has too little data to draw broad conclusions. From what I have seen and from what has been reported, it matches up well against CE three and four hitter warbands and to CG non-ranged warbands. It struggles to hold its own against LSD, Beholder, Gauth, and serious CG ranged warbands.

Rogue Warbands

Expect to see some attempts at making the "dreaded" Skullclan Hunter viable. Couatl warbands featuring various hitters (including Rask) have shown early signs of promise but are vulnerable to more efficient CE and CG builds. Someone will try dual Gold Dragons and someone will resurrect super high-AC LG warbands thanks to the departure of the Drider, but their time hasn't fully come yet, and I don't predict much success for them. The worst enemy of the LG rogue warband, ironically enough, is the Large Silver Dragon.

Disappointing Performances

Gold Champion: Even with his arch-nemesis, the Drider, gone, the Gold Champion's saves still haven't improved, and low HP make him vulnerable to nasty things like Orc Champs, Frenzied Berserkers, and archers with high attack bonuses.

Rask: The Half-Orc Chainfighter certainly looks effective, but he lacks inherent synergy with LG, particularly as he requires a sub-par 20 point commander to bring him over. There are better uses for the 72 points invested to bring Rask into LG.

Dwarf Caver: Both the Chaotic Good and Lawful Evil factions provide plenty of effective CE "spoiler" pieces without any tradeoff in efficiency. This Lawful Good commander isn't efficient enough to find his niche in a warband that can succeed against a wider array of metagame warbands.

Young Master: Someone will try to make this piece work, particularly with Rask around, but one good whack from a Frenzied Berserker or Orc Champ and the Young Master will never become an Old Master. Far too much faith is placed in an enemy failing one stun save.

Surprising Performances:

Medium Gold Dragon: An effective tank for LG, capable of tying up an LSD for a couple of rounds. Nice HP and decent damage along with solid breath weapons make a great addition to LG's mundane arsenal, but lower AC (for the faction) makes the MGD very vulnerable, particularly at 70 points.

Warforged Wizard: Still slightly pricy, but the two disruption bolts combined with good speed and durability make this wizard an interesting consideration. Unfortunately, the lack of flexibility (no magic weapon/magic missile/buffing options) leaves him too one-dimensional.

Dwarf Phalanx Soldier (DPF): I vacillated over how to assess this figure for some time. On one hand, I knew that even if a creature had an AC of 5,000,000 and 9,999,999 HP, no opponent would ever decline to risk even three of attacks of opportunity (particularly at +6) from a creature that deals only 5 non-magic damage. In an untimed game, that 5 damage might make a difference, but not in the current format at that cost, and I just couldn't get past this. Needing nine hits to force a morale check on an Orc Champion seems slightly absurd. After watching the DPF in action a number of times, however, I realized the natural synergy that this inexpensive piece has within LG. With great HP, a fantastic AC, and solid saves, the DPF can slow the game down without stalling, which works to the disadvantage of a number of warbands. With careful warband construction and tile placement, this piece has a future in the LG faction.

And the Question of the Day Is...

"If you had gone to a qualifier, which warband would you have played?" This was by far the most frequent question I encountered, both in my data collection process and in the feedback I received on the boards and by PM/email. Before reading my response, however, you should keep in mind that warband selection is a personal process. No matter what anyone says or writes, no matter their skirmish record or position, you must choose the warband that is right for you. Personal playing style and preference always play a large role in my warband selections. While I use my observations and experimentation as guides, I'd be crazy not to consider my very aggressive, risky style of play when deciding what creatures to place in my warband.

Given the whole of my experience analyzing hundreds upon hundreds of match reports and running through the logs of an even greater number of skirmish games on Vassal, I can attest that having so much information only makes the choice that much more difficult. My personal preference is for quick, surprising, hard hitting warbands, which makes Chaotic Evil a natural choice. Originally I settled on a four-hitter warband (the same Quad warband featured in my article on CE). Given the warband's sheer speed and power and my own experience playing CE, I could reasonably expect to play with few mistakes against some of my worst matchups. In addition, with an effectively built Quad warband, the game often ends, completely, within two rounds of first melee (if it takes even that long), and there is something greatly satisfying about winning -- or losing -- a match through total annihilation.

Knowing that the former champ would receive a Gencon invitation automatically, and given my current DCI ranking, I started thinking about more unorthodox options. It seemed too conservative of me to play a meaty warband like Quad, and if I had nothing to lose (literally), I wanted to opt for a more surprising, "techy" version of a CE warband. To that end I designed, tested, and honed

The Savage Song warband

Tiefling Captain
Red Samurai
Orc Champion
Ogre Ravager
Harpy x2
Cursed Spirit
Abyssal Maw
Orc Warrior x3

I loved the challenge presented by fielding only one commander in the current environment, and the lack of any Beholder/HEBI-proof meat-shield meant that my maneuvering needed to be precise in every detail. In my opinion, these factors helped to make my maneuvering less sloppy than it was when I had the freedom to sit behind the Zombie White Dragon or the range to spread out with two commanders. Once I learned the perfect timing for the Harpies' Captivating Songs against each warband I played, the warband really came together.

I enjoyed the hesitancy that the Harpies caused in my opponents; it felt almost as if I was fielding a significant ranged threat in my warband. After a prolonged period of testing, I was confident that on tactics alone I could beat most non-Couatl based LSD warbands or non-Beholder + Gauth warbands with a pretty similar set of maneuvers. Many of the other matchups came down to the timing of the separate Captivating Songs. Against CE warbands, one song was often followed by a quick rush of the Cursed Spirit and Troglodyte and then firing off the second song. I was amazed at how even highly skilled players (including myself) reacted to having all of their fodder and usually one of their primary commanders stunned for a round (once I got better at mastering the timing, sometimes two rounds). Pressing my advantage with speedy pieces like the Orc Champion and Red Samurai, followed by a hammer like the Ogre Ravager, unravelled many CG and CE warbands that were temporarily denied their highest commander rating (Inspiring Marshal, Tiefling Captain) or their critical support pieces (Elf Warriors, Orc Warriors, Graycloak Rangers, Wolves, etc.). Even when the die rolls went badly for me, the use of two songs generally assured that at least two or three fodder pieces were sitting still, giving me a solid advantage from which to press my attack.

As with any warband, luck plays a major role, and it's never nice to have all your opponent's pieces pass their morale saves and stun saves, or crit you twice in a row. The warband listed above has its share of difficult matchups. The real challenge comes from using skill to overcome weaknesses that the individual pieces in the warband can't cover. The Savage Song warband was a distinct gamble, but one that I felt I could pull off with pretty solid consistency. In the end, it had just the right amount of recklessness, surprise, and speed to make it the right warband for me.

Words of Thanks in Closing

Once again 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 matchups, or sharing their experiences. Without their careful editing, creative criticism, results, and testing, these articles never could have happened. In particular, I offer my gratitude to Brad "bshugg" Shugg, Bill Baldwin, Robert "Dagni" Hatch, Chris "ChristopherGroves" Groves, Guy Fullerton, Michael "derry" Derry, Jesse "doubtofbuddha" Dean, Mannix "Nixlord" Manansala, and Steve "Huscarl" Winter (thanks again for the amazing editing!). In addition, I'd like to thank those additional contributors who opted to remain anonymous as well as everyone who offered advice, results, and feedback in the forums. You have all made a significant contribution to our gaming community.

A Final Word From the Doc

I hope that all of you found something of value in these articles over the past four weeks. I tremendously enjoyed the process of researching and writing about the current state of the competitive environment leading up to the D&D Miniatures Championship Series. Even if I can't put to use much of what I've learned about the game, I enjoy passing on this information for the benefit of other skirmishers. Your feedback so far has been deeply appreciated and continued feedback is both welcome and encouraged. 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. In the meantime, keep your eye out for a future series of articles detailing the creation of the first player-created D&D Miniature with a special look behind the scenes at the process of bringing a miniature to life. Until then, good luck, and good sportsmanship.

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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