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 Jason Lioi.
There's no precise formula for creating a winning warband, yet in the broadest sense, many popular top-tier builds seem made from the same recipe -- Add three or four tough beaters, one good commander, a pinch of tech, sprinkle in fodder to round out the activations, and stir it up.
Because this formula generally requires multiple high-cost beaters, there's seldom room for the multitude of solid units in the mid-cost range (20-30 points). Efficient mid-cost beaters, tech, and commanders exist in every faction, but they get squeezed out of consideration because of the need for expensive beaters and cheap fodder to max activations.
It makes me sad to see good minis not getting much attention, so I decided to force the issue. My challenge to the team was this -- build a 200 point warband using only creatures costing 20-30 points.
Mounted Drow Patrol x 3 (81 pts)
Tiefling Blademaster (27 pts)
Xen'drik Champion x 4 (92 pts)
200 pts, 8 activations
Map -- Drow Outpost
Limiting the warband to a 20-30 point range would normally mean limiting the versatility of the warband, because the high and low end 'jobs' must be covered by non-specialists. You can, howeve, still gain versatility by using good generalists, and CE has two of the most cost effective, versatile pieces in this point range -- the Mounted Drow Patrol and the Xen'drik Champion. Both are mobile, resistant to magic, difficult to hit, have reasonable HP, decent saves, and can inflict respectable damage when used right. This band works best when you keep moving, using hit-and-run to wear down your opponent until the inevitable clash is forced. You can delay that clash by occasionally sacrificing a drow to slow down the enemy. Then the Tiefling adds his commander effect to the fight, helping out regardless of whether you win initiative. The combination of Wall Walker and ranged attacks makes the Drow Outpost an appropriate map in more than just name.
Sword of Heironeous (27 pts)
Mercenary Sergeant (23 pts)
Werebear (30 pts)
Soldier of Thrane x 2 (40 pts)
Combat Medic x 2 (56 pts)
Dwarf Artificer (21 pts)
199 points, 8 activations
Map -- Mushroom Cavern
The goal of this warband is to deny points, deliver damage, and earn VP area points. A commander rating of 7, combined with the heals of two Combat Medics, makes it difficult to eliminate the creatures in this warband. The Dwarf Artificer's +2 AC boost and the commander effect (+1 AC) makes it hard to hit most of the warband. The low AC Werebear has great attacks, good damage, and survivability, because few creatures in this format have magic damage to bypass the Werebear's DR. The Mercenary Sergeant provides a slight attack boost that could prove significant in most matches, especially for the low-attack Soldiers of Thrane.
Because this warband has few normal hitters, all creatures need to get engaged (except for the healers). Even if the enemy focuses on the Combat Medics first, they can heal their own wounds. It should take a long time to eliminate both. The combination of high AC, healing, and reasonable saves means few creatures will get eliminated before this warband delivers enough damage to significantly degrade the enemy warband.
The slow speed of the warband is a vulnerability that the enemy can exploit, but the Mushroom Cavern offsets this disadvantage. By round two, this warband can score victory area points in the funnel between the two start areas. An opposing creature that's scoring victory area points should be engaged and eliminated, of course.
Tiefling Captain (21 pts)
Grimlock Barbarian (28 pts)
Mounted Drow Patrol x2 (54 pts)
Drow Arcane Guard x2 (50 pts)
Xen'drik Champion x2 (46 pts)
199 points, 8 activations
Map -- Fane of Lolth
I looked at all of the 20-30 point creatures currently available and found a handful of efficient Chaotic Evil pieces to build around. The result is a flexible warband that offers a little bit of everything -- melee threats, ranged offense, speed, auto-damage, area-effects, a good initiative bonus, and the surprise factor.
The Tiefling Captain is an easy choice for a commander. She offers a great commander rating at low cost. When under command, all of her followers have better than 50/50 chances of making their morale saves.
Early in the battle, the tactical core of the warband is the Mounted Drow Patrols and Xen'drik Champions. They allow you to execute hit-and-run tactics and snipe from long distances. The Xen'drik Champions have very accurate ranged attacks that can hit most enemies in the 20-30 point range. Because of the combination of Wall Walker, Mounted Melee Attack, and Melee Reach 2, the Mounted Drow Patrol can attack vulnerable enemies up to 18 squares away -- this is a surprisingly long engagement threshold that you can use to capitalize on your opponent's mistakes. If those four attackers are successful, you'll have an early points lead which can force your opponent into an unfavorable position.
In the middle of the battle, look for opportunities to use the Drow Arcane Guards' empowered burning hands spells. Try to catch as many enemies as you can in each spell, but remember the use-it-or-lose-it principle -- don't wait for the perfect opportunity, because the perfect opportunity might never come. Catching two or three enemies in each spell is usually good enough, especially if the damage eliminates an enemy, forces a morale check, or puts the first damage onto an enemy (we'll see why that's important in a moment). Because most of your warband has Spell Resistance, it might even be acceptable to catch some of your own creatures in the blast if it also catches a large number of enemies. If important enemies have high AC, consider saving one or two spells for use on those enemies specifically.
In the late parts of the battle, look for chances to deal finishing blows. Keep an eye open for wounded enemies with 20 or fewer hps left, and send in the Grimlock Barbarian for a quick kill. If that isn't possible, at least make sure the Grimlock attacks wounded enemies, because his Killer Instinct gives a +4 attack in those situations. (That's why it's useful to put the first damage on enemies via empowered burning hands spells.) Once general melee is engaged, the Xen'drik Champions can move up and hit enemies for 15 damage. Use the movement flexibility of the Xen'driks and Mounted Drow Patrols to concentrate your offense on one enemy at a time.
This warband should use the Fane of Lolth map because it offers plenty of unobstructed lines of sight for the Xen'driks and lots of walls for the Mounted Drow Patrols. Besides, with six drow in the warband, how can you not use the Fane of Lolth?!
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.