D&D Miniatures03/23/2006

Dominance for Chaotic Evil?
Orc Wardrummer, Meet the Metagame

The Orc Wardrummer will make Chaotic Evil the dominant faction.

Paraphrased from the message boards.

Certainly, the Orc Wardrummer is really good. It's fairly cheap and brings three great effects to the table. Two of the effects can even be delivered from the safety of the Wardrummer's assembly area. Is that enough to vault traditional Chaotic Evil "Quad" warbands back to the top of the metagame? To find out, let's look at what the Wardrummer can do and how previous Chaotic Evil Quad warbands were built.

Despite the analysis at left, don't completely overlook Intimidating Drumbeat. Even though it has no effect on fearless enemies, lots of opposing warbands use plenty of non-fearless attackers. In fact, even mostly-fearless warbands often have a few non-fearless members that are critical to the success of the warband. If you can force those non-fearless enemies to rout, your opponent's warband might unravel completely, giving you a clear path to victory. However, be sure not to trigger Intimidating Drumbeat unless you are confident you won't need the Resistance Drumbeat immediately afterward. Timing is key.

The Wardrummer's primary benefit is its Resistance Drumbeat (Creatures in your warband get save +4). Intimidating Drumbeat (Enemies get morale save -4) is only of secondary importance, because isn't applicable against fearless enemies. Countersong is minor, because its usefulness is highly dependent on the nature of enemy commander effects. Additionally, it's hard to get Countersong working in an optimal place, since triggering it replaces attacks, which limits the Orc Wardrummer to just six squares of movement that turn. Maximizing the Orc Wardrummer's effectiveness means optimizing for the Resistance Drumbeat, as it is the most consistently relevant of the three effects.

Earlier Chaotic Evil Quad warbands were typically comprised of a Tiefling Captain, a mixture of four 38-44 point hitters (Eye of Gruumsh, Ogre Ravager, Orc Champion, or Red Samurai), and enough fodder to round up to the creature limit. This is a strong core with two key weaknesses -- it has relatively low morale saves (typically +11 to +13) and is vulnerable to stun, paralysis, and similar effects. Resistance Drumbeat looks like a great way to shore up a CE Quad warband's weaknesses. Who wouldn't want their Orc Champions to make morale saves at +15 or their Eye of Gruumsh to make Stunning Attack saves at +12?

Superficially, then, the Orc Wardrummer looks like it could push CE Quad warbands back to the top of the metagame -- but what's the real story? Is the Orc Wardrummer that good?

The answer is a definitive yes ... if you add the 19 point Orc Wardrummer to a preexisting 200 point CE warband. Unfortunately, you can't do that. You have to take 19 points out of your 200 point CE warband in order to make room, and that forces you to sacrifice something very important.

Orc WardrummerOption 1: Replace the Tiefling Captain with an Orc Wardrummer.

This is an easy swap if your warband already includes an Eye of Gruumsh to keep your other creatures under command. The exchange also gives you back two points that you can use to upgrade a hitter or fodder piece, which can be quite nice.

Consider, however, what this does to your morale saves. Instead of your Orc Champions making morale saves at +15, the elimination of the Tiefling Captain brings them down to just +12. The Wardrummer only gives you +1 more than you had before. Other kinds of saves still see a big boost, but the boost isn't relevant in every matchup.

What's worse, you drop from a respectable +4 initiative bonus to a miserable +1. You will rarely play on your map of choice, and you can't expect to win initiative on key combat rounds.

To help, you can bring in the inexpensive Drow Sergeant. Unfortunately, that only boosts your morale saves by one more than the Eye of Gruumsh, and it isn't going to win very many initiative checks either. What's worse, the only way to build an 8-activation warband that includes an Eye of Gruumsh, a Drow Sergeant, an Orc Wardrummer, and two Orc Champions is to downgrade a hitter to a Blood Ghost Berserker, which is a big reduction in offense.

Option 2: Downgrade your hitters.

You can fit a Tiefling Captain, an Orc Wardrummer, four hitters, and two fodder pieces into 200 points, but the four hitters won't all be top quality. You must either remove the Eye of Gruumsh (which means your Orc Champions no longer hit for 30 damage), replace a 38-40 point hitter with the cheaper and much-less offensive Grimlock Barbarian, or replace a 38-40 point hitter with an Orc Druid. The best choice probably is the Orc Druid, because its snake's swiftness spells allow you to capitalize on Orc Champion cleaves. Any way you slice it, this option gives you less offense.

Ryld ArgithOption 3: Replace the Tiefling Captain and one hitter with Ryld Argith.

Ryld's 55 point cost is less than the 60 or so cost of the Tiefling Captain and one hitter. In warbands without the Eye of Gruumsh, this frees up enough points to bring in an Orc Wardrummer without disrupting the rest of the warband. Although Ryld is respectable in melee and brings a fantastic initiative bonus to the table, you've really made the same sacrifice as in Option 2 -- you've downgraded one of your hitters, and your Orc Champions (if any) still aren't hitting for 30 damage.

Option 4: Drop below eight activations.

If you limit yourself to just six creatures, you can build a warband that includes all of the key pieces (Orc Wardrummer, Tiefling Captain, Eye of Gruumsh, Orc Champion x2, Ogre Ravager). You still have four high-quality hitters, and your Orc Champions make morale saves at +15. Unfortunately, you're taking a very big activation risk. Few (if any) players are capable of successfully piloting a reduced activation warband in a competitive tournament.

The Result

Ultimately, including an Orc Wardrummer in a CE Quad warband is a potentially strong move, but it requires you to make some tough sacrifices. The Orc Wardrummer is certainly a powerful piece, but it's not necessarily an auto-include ... at least not for CE Quad warbands. I think we'll see quite a few of them show up in a variety of CE warbands in the immediate future -- Quads, Balor warbands, Vampire Aristocrat warbands, Death Slaad warbands, and so on. I don't believe, however, that they'll make Chaotic Evil the dominant faction in the short term.

About the Author

Guy Fullerton is a software engineer, husband, and father in the San Jose area. Guy is also the Official D&D Miniatures Net Rep. As the Net Rep, he answers rules questions on the D&D Miniatures forums, writes the FAQ, and works with R&D to iron out rules problems. When Guy isn't working, you might find him spending time with his family, playing ice hockey, and -- of course -- playing D&D Miniatures.

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