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 Baldwin.
Summoners enjoyed popular play in DDM in the early days. But rule changes and an increase in relative squishiness when compared to the average damage increase of most new creatures eventually reduced summoners to easy points for their opponents. With even newer rules and new maps, has this situation changed again? Can viable bands make good use of summoners? Do the eight-creature limit and maps such as Drow Enclave make the summoner playable again?
These were the questions I asked the experts to answer. My challenge was to design a 200-point warband with at least one summoner in it.
Part of me expected all of them to come up with similar warbands, believing that one summoner is clearly the most efficient. I was pleasantly surprised by the results.
Drow Arachnomancer (52 pts)
I chose the Drow Arachnomancer because she's the least fragile summoner currently available. She brings to the table a high commander rating, useful spells, and the Venomous ability. When any creature on the battle map (even an ally) suffers from poison that deals damage at the start of its activation, Venomous forces that creature to take an extra 5 damage each time.
To benefit from Venomous, I needed poisonous creatures in my warband. The most cost-effective poisonous creature is the Spider of Lolth. I don't like starting with Spiders of Lolth in my warband, however, because they're Wandering Monsters; they might end up being an easy kill for my opponent in the first round. (Besides, the Drow Arachnomancer can summon at least one Spider of Lolth via spells.) Instead, I used a Forest Troll as the primary source of poison. It can deliver DC 17 poison either at short range or with both melee attacks.
The Forest Troll needs to attack numerous weak creatures that are easily destroyed by poison (but not by the attack's normal damage), because each enemy destroyed by poison allows the Arachnomancer to summon another Spider of Lolth. A handful of these summons increases the likelihood of additional poisonings and also give this warband tremendous activation control that the Hill Giant Barbarian can capitalize on.
Even though the Xen'drik Champion doesn't have any poison abilities, it fits this warband because it can inflict damage in the middle of the round, when you might otherwise just be passing activations while waiting for the Hill Giant Barbarian's chance to go. The Xen'drik's ranged attacks can eliminate enemy fodder with only 5 hp and thus aren't good targets for the Forest Troll's poisonous attacks. Kobold Miners beware! The Hill Giant Barbarian and -- to a lesser extent -- the Quaggoth Slave capitalize on this warband's activation control by performing devastating strikes on vulnerable enemy creatures at the end of the round.
The Cursed Spirit offers a lot of flexibility -- it can get to most victory areas easily, it can flank for the Hill Giant Barbarian, it can screen against enemy Beholders, and it can deliver save penalties to enemies about to make a Poison or morale save.
The Orc Warriors act either as bodyguards for the Arachnomancer or as supplemental attackers against opposing low-AC warbands.
I chose the Drow Enclave map for this warband simply because of its summoning circle. A Spider of Lolth summoned into that circle can act on the round in which it was summoned.
If you don't have access to a Cursed Spirit (from Archfiends) or Orc Warriors (from Harbinger), use a second Quaggoth Slave (from War Drums) or Gnolls (from Aberrations) instead.
Inspiring Marshal (39 pts)
Of all the summoners currently available, the Evermeet Wizard strikes me as most valuable. Her summon spells can bring in a higher point value than any other summoner (15), and she has more variety in the units she can choose to summon. If activations are needed, she can bring in six Timber Wolves. If Burrow would be helpful, she can call a Medium Earth Elemental. For fire immunity, she can choose the Medium Fire Elemental or the Magmin. Additionally, she has multiple castings of two very useful non-summon spells, acid arrow and benign transposition.
The Inspiring Marshall and Frenzied Berserker have a long history of working together to smash enemy warbands with a devastating Grant Move Action followed by full attacks from the Berserkers. With an AC of only 10, however, Frenzied Berserkers have always been vulnerable to attacks from fodder units. Using the Evermeet Wizard's acid arrows and attacks from summoned creatures to clear out enemy fodder will prolong the life of your Berserkers. Benign transposition can be used to extract a Berserker from combat without receiving an AoO or to put an unactivated Berserker next to an enemy for a full attack.
Remember that although summoned creatures cannot activate on the turn they are summoned, they can still take advantage of the Marshal's Grant Move Action if they are under command. This can sometimes catch an opponent by surprise and can accelerate the summoned creatures' usefulness as flankers or screeners. If you plan on using this strategy, summon Hunting Cougars and Monitor Lizards instead of Wolves and Hyenas, because units with the Difficult 20 ability cannot be put under command by the Inspiring Marshal.
Cultist of the Dragon (29 pts)
This warband relies on the Hill Giant Barbarian and the snake's swiftness spells of the Orc Druid to do most of the work. The Troglodyte Thug's stench assists the Umber Hulk's Confusion and can yield impressive results in many matches. The Orc Wardrummer provides not only much better saves for the Hill Giant but also a critical boost to the saves of the Umber Hulk, which is always out of command in this warband.
Once the first Confusion save from the Umber Hulk is missed, the target creature is permanently Confused for the rest of the match with no subsequent save. (ear in mind that Constructs (but not living constructs), Oozes, Plants, Undead, and Vermin are immune to Confusion. The Helmed Horror is the most common of these types in competitive settings and in quantity are difficult for this warband to deal with. A burrowing Umber Hulk does not provoke attacks of opportunity, so it can position itself advantageously before Confusing foes even when based by other creatures.
The Umber Hulk's Gaze can be a real problem for your opponent, as the following excerpt from the Rulebook demonstrates --
In addition, any creature (enemy or ally) within the Gaze Attack's range that chooses this creature as the target of a ranged attack, ranged spell, or ranged special ability must make a save afterward to avoid the effect of the Gaze Attack.
The job of the Cultist is to summon Abyssal Maws. The Maws provide activations, additional combat power, and mobile block. The more time the Abyssal Maws provide, the more time the Umber Hulk, Hill Giant Barbarian, and Druid have to eliminate opposing threats. The activation advantage is also crucial for allowing the single Hill Giant to move after all enemy creatures have moved during the movement-to-contact rounds.
Don't' forget the Cultist's Mordenkainen's buzzing bee spell. If your opponent gives you a line of sight to a key, non-fearless creature, make its saves harder -- every bit counts. Creatures that can rush to VP areas (e.g., Timber Wolves) can be hit with a fire orb if they're within range.
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.
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