Our internal D&D Miniatures War Drums release event took place a few nights back. This was a Limited event with each player receiving a starter and a booster of War Drums. From those 20 minis, we constructed 200-point warbands of up to eight figures from any faction and played three rounds of the standard Assault scenario. The winners in each round received a War Drums booster as a prize.
Odds were good for Team Steve, with no less than four in attendance (web guru Steve Winter, finance guy Steve Montano, RPGA rep Stephen Radney-MacFarland, and me, the D&D Minis dev lead).
Ian Richards, our miniatures program manager for Organized Play, added an extra incentive to beat a select few of the attendees by placing a bounty on three of us: D&D development manager Jesse Decker, visiting Dragon Magazine editor and unbeaten-at-WotC minis player Jason Buhlman, and myself. Every round, Ian handed a booster to each of the three of us. If we lost, we'd have to surrender to our opponent any boosters in our bounty. By the third round, it was possible for an opponent to win three boosters if we were unbeaten at that point, in addition to our standard one-booster prize for winning a round.
Warband Building: Cracking my starter and booster left me a bit discouraged. My pulls were the following:
I was happy to get the War Hulk. His combination of speed and damage is worth building around. He didn't offer much synergy with the Brass Samurai, however, because he already has Whirlwind Attack. My biggest concern was dealing with the inevitable Hill Giant Barbarians -- on average, one in four warbands would be playing him (or have the option to) -- and to a lesser extent, dealing with the other titanic hitters of the set such as the Aspect of Moradin, other giants, the War Troll, or Warduke.
The War Hulk automatically made the roster, because I couldn't turn down 30 points of damage per swing. I also added the Quaggoth as a fast assault-point grabber with reasonable hitting and staying power. Still concerned about the high-damage swings of the other giants, I incorporated one of the Combat Medics in the hope of giving my War Hulk another round of fighting via cure critical wounds. After that, I had a decision to make: focus on melee with the small damage boost of the Warforged Captain's commander effect and the slow-moving Gulgar or go for area effects with the Pyromancer and the Brass Samurai.
I chose the Brass Samurai over the Warforged Captain. With up to 45 damage per round and an effective 20-damage fire line, the Brass Samurai looked to be a more consistent damage dealer (something this warband needed) than the Captain who, with 50 hp, wouldn't last long against the giants, even with his damage boost against them. Bringing in the Pyromancer gave me two more potential fireballs and left me with enough points for another fodder piece. The final addition was a Halfling Slinger. I almost opted for a Shieldwall Soldier and a Skeletal Legionnaire for another activation and a pair of high-AC fighters but preferred the Slinger's small amount of ranged damage.
The final warband makeup: Brass Samurai, Ogre War Hulk, Mephling Pyromancer, Combat Medic, Halfling Slinger, and Quaggoth Slave. I chose the Teleport Temple map for its teleport + fireball possibilities.
I felt I was in decent shape even if my damage output wouldn't compete with the Hill Giant's. A lot was riding on fire-based damage, but I didn't feel too threatened by the fire-resistant minis in the set -- with the exception of the Sand Giant. With high AC, fire immunity, and 140 hit points, it could give me trouble. But what were the odds of facing that?
First-round opponent: Stephen Radney-MacFarland. Odds were good that at least one Steve would be 1-0 after the first round. Stephen came to the table with a Warforged Captain, Orc Mauler, Elemental Wall, some fodder -- and a Sand Giant! He won map initiative, so we played on the Field of Ruin map.
With the Sand Giant leading up the middle, Stephen walled off most of my fireball opportunities. I say most, because I was able to move the Mephling on the first turn to gain line of sight through the middle of the central victory area to his second-rank units without also seeing the Sand Giant. A big boom cleared the fodder and did some collateral damage to his other units. Figuring that destroying the Sand Giant would take too long, I decided to go after his support troops. My Ogre moved up the right side in an effort to reach his commander and Wall.
Stephen used the Elemental's Wall Transformation ability to counter my Ogre's approach but also placed his commander within three squares of the Sand Giant, providing an excellent opportunity to drop another fireball on the Giant and catch the Warforged in the blast. I didn't want to engage the Sand Giant, even though it was on the central victory area, so I pulled the Ogre all the way back along the left side of the board, circling around to get at the Orc Mauler. Stephen kept racking up assault points, but my forces eventually got through to overwhelm the Orc, the Warforged, and the Wall (brought over for support) before time was called, and I won on points.
Second-round opponent: Alan Comer. After surviving the Sand Giant, I was ready for the next challenge. This time, I faced Alan's Warpriest of Moradin, Combat Medic, Axe Soldier, Skeleton (x2), Howling Orc, Warforged Scout, and … another Sand Giant! We both had the Teleport Temple map.
Alan set up in Start Area B (upper left) with his Warforged Scout hiding on the rubble-filled Victory Area B near my own start area. With eight figures, he had activation control, as well as initiative control with his higher commander rating. I started by moving out counter-clockwise, using my Quaggoth to jump through a teleporter to get to Victory Area A closest to his start area. My other forces moved out to block teleporters until I could determine where the battle would take place. My Brass Samurai occupied the teleporter on the other side of the wall from my start area, and the Ogre sat on the teleporter further down the hall (against the long map edge).
As typically happens on the Teleport Temple map, the action quickly got hot. I nearly had a chance to inflict some fireball damage on turn 2, but Alan won initiative and positioned one of his skeletons to prevent a teleport-fireball (or at least a fireball that could target a group). His orc teleported and eliminated my Quaggoth but then fell to my Ogre. The first big shift in the battle happened when I jumped my Brass Samurai closer to his force and burned down his skeletons with her fire-line breath weapon to erase Alan's activation advantage. This left a hole in my line, however, and his Sand Giant teleported through, flattened my Slinger, and cleaved into the Mephling. I scooted the Mephling away and set up my Ogre and Brass Samurai so they could focus on the Warpriest and Medic.
Alan's Scout was still collecting assault points every round. My Mephling routed away and Alan's Warpriest was flattened, leaving me with the task of eliminating the Sand Giant. A well-placed healing spell from my Combat Medic (whose searing light had finished off Alan's wounded Combat Medic) bought some time for the War Hulk. The medic also absorbed a round of attacks from the Sand Giant before succumbing. In the end, the Sand Giant couldn't pile up damage quite fast enough, and the Brass Samurai and War Hulk emerged victorious. I topped 200 points, despite leaving the Warforged Scout untouched the whole game.
Third Round opponent: Jason Buhlman. Jason is an accomplished minis player, having won the regional constructed qualifier last year. He came into the tournament having never lost to a WotC employee at any of our release events, and he had been to the past three or four such events. Still unbeaten, each of us brought a three-booster bounty to the match -- the winner would walk away with over half a case. In this instance, it looked as if Jason would be that winner, because his warband included the Hill Giant Barbarian, the one mini I expected to have problems with. In addition to the giant, Jason packed a Warpriest of Moradin, Fiendish Girallon, Halfling Slinger, Troglodyte Thug, Quaggoth Slave, and Skeletal Legionnaire. Once again, we both had Teleport Temple maps.
I set up in Start B after Jason picked Start A. The first round mirrored my previous match, with Jason using a Quaggoth to get early assault points and both bands moving out counter-clockwise. An interesting dynamic of the Teleport Temple map is that while Start A provides the possibility of Assault points for a Speed 8 mini, Start B allows reasonable sight lines for a creature sitting just a few squares back from the first counter-clockwise teleporter. Jason did well in protecting his minis from an early fireball, because I'd have to target an outlying mini. There was one line to his Halfling Slinger, however, that happened to sit within four or five squares of the Skeleton, Warpriest, and Hill Giant. I managed to win initiative on round 2 and took advantage of the situation -- a fireball eliminated the Skeleton and Halfling and put a little damage on the others.
Then I made a crucial error. I moved the Mephling closer to the teleporter to give it more flexibility in the following round (it could move farther after teleporting). I neglected to consider the insane speed of the Hill Giant, which teleported nearby, moved to base my Quaggoth teleport-blocker, and then used Melee Reach to smash the Mephling into bat guano.
I ported my Quaggoth out, moving to take his Quaggoth off the victory area and trigger Savage Frenzy. My Brass Samurai jumped onto the vacated teleporter and got a swing on the Hill Giant for 15 damage. The Combat Medic added another 10 with searing light, and the War Hulk hit for 30. Considering the damage it had taken already from Furious Spirit and the fireball, it was down 70 hp, leaving it only 10 hp away from a morale save.
Here's where it got interesting. On round 3, Jason won initiative and clobbered my commander with the Hill Giant's first attack. Luckily for me, the Brass Samurai routed, preventing the Hill Giant from finishing her off. The Warpriest moved within six of my uninjured Ogre and provoked a morale save with a deific vengeance spell, but the War Hulk stayed put.
My next activations could be called key. I started by rallying the Brass Samurai, which put the War Hulk back under command. My Slinger 'ported to the teleporter nearest the exit, blocking Jason's Girallon from threatening my commander with a teleport move of its own. His Girallon moved instead to threaten the Brass Samurai with a likely kill if Alan won initiative the following round.
My War Hulk wasn't done, however, because I knew I'd provoke a morale save with another hit on the Hill Giant. I even had an outside shot at outlasting the Hill Giant with 90 hp of War Hulk. As things turned out, I didn't need that outside shot, because the War Hulk landed a critical hit for 60 damage on the hapless giant. The extra damage was just icing when Jason rolled a 1 on the morale save (he needed a 6), and the Giant ran off the board. The War Hulk then 'ported behind the Girallon, basing the Warpriest in the process.
In the final round, I at last won initiative and softened up the Girallon with the Brass Samurai. The War Hulk's Whirlwind Attack finished it off. The final blow was another critical hit that smashed the Warpriest. Only Jason's Troglodyte Thug remained, and the match was done.
Conclusion: So there you have it. I managed to overcome what I perceived as a bad matchup. Even though some rolls went my way, I surprised myself by knocking down both a Sand Giant and a Hill Giant Barbarian in separate matches. While those titans are formidable, they proved to be beatable.
After playing and watching these real-world matches on the maps, I'm more and more convinced that we made the right decisions about which maps to include in the Starter Set. They are a perfect mix of tech and strategy to fill a variety of play styles.
I ended the tournament 3-0 and took home a nine-booster haul. Not bad for a night's work.
About the Author
Stephen Schubert is a Developer with RPG/Minis R&D and is the lead developer for D&D Miniatures starting with next July's War of the Dragon Queen. He's also helped develop many exciting upcoming D&D products, including Player's Handbook II, Monster Manual IV, Tome of Magic, and Tome of Battle!
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