We've assembled a team of four talented warband builders, and each will get the chance to challenge his compatriots to build their best warband around a particular miniature or theme.
Bear in mind that what you're reading is not a primer on how to win tournaments. It's an intellectual puzzle in which the contributors may not always be given the best material to work with. The challenge is to make the most of the starting conditions.
This week's topic was chosen by Bill W. Baldwin.
Bull's strength is a spell that's long been awaited in the DDM community. When I saw the Earth Shugenja, however, I wondered if she was worth the wait. Was the spell powerful enough to be useful, or was it too limited? Is the ability to stack bull's strength with Commander Effects such as the Cleric of St. Cuthbert's and Alusair Obarskyr worthwhile, or are we still waiting for the right commander? Do her other spells make her worthwhile, anyway? Or is she simply a herring as red as her outfit? Even after studying her stats, I still wasn't sure. So when I was given the opportunity to challenge some of the community's foremost warband designers, I thought, "What better way of getting an answer?"
So my challenge was simple: Create a 200-point warband around the Earth Shugenja.
Bill W. Baldwin
Couatl x2 (84 pts)
Marut (74 pts)
Earth Shugenja (17 pts)
Bariaur Ranger (16 pts)
Man-at-Arms x3 (9 pts)
Total = 200 pts, 8 activations
I think the Earth Shugenja's bull's strength spells are a bit of a red herring. If you try to leverage those spells, you pay 17 points to make three weak creatures only marginally better. What's worse, those three weak creatures won't all be buffed until the third round, and it's possible that neither they nor the Earth Shugenja will survive that long. If I want to improve my offense, I'd be better off using a 17 point attacker instead of an Earth Shugenja.
Instead of leveraging bull's strength, I decided to exploit the Earth Shugenja's other advantages. She's the cheapest Lawful Good creature that can cast multiple magic weapon spells, provide solid healing support, and keep up with the advancing troops while doing it (thanks to Speed 6). Think of her as a combination of Mialee and a Healer that doesn't get killed as easily as either of those two. I'm teaming her with a dual-Couatl and Marut core; this is a respectable, flexible warband base that can pump out a lot of damage via snake's swiftness spells. Depending on the amount of DR in the opposing warband, the Marut and/or the Couatls can all benefit from the Earth Shugenja's magic weapon spells. Her cure moderate wounds spells help the Couatls stay alive.
I included a Bariaur Ranger to give the warband a bit of ranged support. Because the Bariaur's ranged attacks are non-magic, it can benefit from magic weapon, too. The Bariaur also gives you a reasonable recipient for a bull's strength spell, should that become useful against a particular opponent. In fact, the Bariaur is better than most other recipients because its two melee attacks can double the bull's strength benefit. Three Men-at-Arms round out the warband. When possible, have the Marut attack enemies from behind the Men-at-Arms -- force your opponent to destroy the Men-at-Arms before he can get at the Marut. The Marut's attack bonus is so high that it doesn't mind if your Men-at-Arms provide cover to the enemy.
Half-Orc Paladin (48pts)
Earth Shugenja x2 (34 pts)
Medium Earth Elemental (13 pts)
Warforged Fighter (16 pts)
Standardbearer (10 pts)
Stonechild (12 pts)
Iron Golem (61 pts)
Total = 199 pts, 8 activations
My goal in designing this warband was to make the Earth Shugenja a key part of the engine driving this warband's threat. With two Earth Shugenjas and four targets they can cast their bull's strength on, that is normally their first priority. If possible, the Stonechild would also get magic weapon in order to maximize its ability to hit. Then the Earth Shugenjas would switch to their second main capability: cure moderate wounds. Depending on the opponent and situation, the cures might be used on the Half-Orc Paladin (because his death means also losing both the Iron Golem and the Medium Earth Elemental.)
Although the Iron Golem appears to be the key melee threat, against moderate AC opponents, the creatures with bull's strength are very dangerous, too -- Medium Earth Elemental gets +8 for 15 damage, the Warforged Fighter gets +7 for 15 magic damage, the Standardbearer gets +4 for 10 damage, and the Stonechild gets +6 for 20 damage. With the Half-Orc Paladin's boost against targets of level 7 or higher, those numbers become +8 (20), +7 (20 magic), +4 (15), and +6 (25). This is serious damage, and it's all without the Earth Shugenjas casting any magic weapon spells at all.
The reason for the mix of creatures instead of four Stonechildren is to get the special abilities that each creature brings: burrow (flanking) from the Elemental, ranged attack protection from the Warforged Fighter, countersong from the Standardbearer, and high damage from the Stonechild.
Competitively, this warband is fragile -- these four hitters have 30 HP or less and can easily fail morale checks (don't heal them until after they pass a morale test -- and even then, think twice about it).
Large Silver Dragon (122 pts)
Earth Shugenja (17 pts)
Cleric of Order (24 pts)
Barbarian Mercenary x3 (27 pts)
Caravan Guard x2 (10 pts)
Total = 200 points, 8 activations
I've chosen to use the Earth Shugenja in this variant of a common Large Silver Dragon build. Traditionally, this build wins by using the dragon's paralysis breath weapon immediately before swooping in with the fast Barbarian Mercenaries, who deliver crippling, double-damage strikes on helpless enemy hitters. The Cleric of Order can increase the dragon's already high AC and Save and provides a good bonus to morale checks and initiative, all for relatively few points.
A magic weapon spell for the dragon is crucial in any Large Silver Dragon build and is commonly provided by Mialee, Elf Wizard. By swapping in the Earth Shugenja instead, however, the band gains several good benefits in addition to the required magic eapon. Bull's strength can increase the already potent damage of the Barbarian Mercenaries, bringing their attacks to +5 (20), or 35 damage to a paralyzed foe. And, because keeping the dragon alive is vital to winning the game, the Shugenja's cure moderate wounds spells are a welcome addition to the band.
This warband is weak against high-AC foes who are immune to paralysis, such as Helmed Horrors and Duergar Champions, because the Mercenaries have difficulty hitting and cannot count on the paralysis breath to assist. Here again, the Earth Shugenja helps the situation because she can expend her surplus magic weapon spells on the Mercenaries to give them a slightly better chance to get in some licks.
About the Authors
Jason Lioi is the 2005 D&D Miniatures champion. Bill Baldwin is a regular contributor to the website via his Art of Warbands articles. Guy Fullerton is well known as "the rules guy" on the miniatures forums, and Michael Derry is a Wizards delegate, tournament organizer, and D&D Miniatures judge.