I'm here to report that I just completed my part in our War Drums internal league -- tragically, as it turns out.
The Top 8 players from regular league play held a two-pod draft (two groups of four players, each group drafting from eight boosters). From that point on, it was single elimination until the champion was the last one standing. I've done fairly well in the past few leagues, finishing first overall for both Angelfire and Underdark and in the Top 4 for Deathknell before that.
My luck had to run out eventually.
I chalk it up to a combination of trying to be too cute with my warband and poor initiative control -- while at the same time facing Steve Montano, who played a nearly flawless game given the matchup.
We had an interesting mix of miniatures in the eight boosters we used for the draft. I had an early shot at getting an Arcane Ballista, one of my favorite pieces to play, and started drafting primarily Lawful creatures, getting an Inspired Lieutenant and a Warforged Bodyguard early (in draft play, you construct a warband from one of the four 'sides': Law, Chaos, Good, or Evil). But then a funny thing happened. A Mephling Pyromancer came out of a booster, and lacking any other decent Lawful option, I picked it up to prevent the next drafter from adding it to his increasing Chaotic horde. A thought immediately entered my mind: Flying Ballista! A Warforged Barbarian showed up, and I added him, as well.
My problem at that point was having no commander to play in a Good themed warband. A Lion of Talisid came out in the last pair of boosters, and I made a half-joking comment that he's really only good if you can put three or four Hunting Cougars in, because of the boost he gives them (making them 9 point creatures with 40 hp that attack at +7 for 15 damage). I had two cougars already, so with my second and third picks of the last pair of boosters, I grabbed the Lion and another Cougar.
Because we drafted warbands, I had a pretty good idea what I might be facing. Montano had a pair of Fiendish Girallons and a Warbound Impaler as his big beef, along with King Obould.
I coupled my excitement about the Flying Ballista with the idea of the Lion plus three Hunting Cougars, and that quickly consumed a lot of points. A Warforged Scout could grab early assault points, and a Combat Medic would provide another crew for the Ballista. It was a nicely rounded, 200-point warband with eight activations. I felt pretty good about its chances. I selected the Teleport Temple map to give the Ballista even greater threat range.
What I didn't do, however, was include the Warforged Barbarian. I didn't have the points to do so if I wanted both a Flying Ballista and an army of kittens. Ultimately, I think a better choice for me would have been to swap out either the Lion or the Mephling (plus a Cougar or two) for the Warforged Barbarian. I didn't need three guys to fire the Ballista, and I left myself vulnerable if the Ballista were based because I wouldn't have a reliable melee threat. Factor in that the Warforged Barbarian is immune to paralysis, which would allow it tie up and eliminate Montano's Warbound Impaler pretty quickly, and it also has the hit points to stand up to a Girallon, especially if the Combat Medic is supplementing.
When we finally sat down for our match, I confirmed my suspicions of his warband: two Fiendish Girallons, King Obould, Warbound Impaler, and a Troglodyte Thug. His map was Hellspike (we call it "The Smoke Map"), which was probably the worst one possible for my Ballista band, and he had specifically brought it to counter the ranged threat.
We started the match with Montano winning map initiative -- the first of many init rolls he would win. I won setup init, and made exactly the wrong choice, choosing the more enclosed setup area. I had a reason -- I thought that I could more easily block creatures trying to base my Ballista from that position -- but in retrospect, the other side's start area would have had clear lines of fire to both of my opponent's Victory Areas. Adding insult to injury, that waste of initiative was the last time I would win it until close to the end of the game.
Early positioning was key. My Warforged Scout sat on the magic circle around the Hellspike, hoping to draw one of Steve's Girallons out of the battle for a round or two. That part of the ploy worked. On the first round, Steve sent over a four-armed ape to deal with the diminutive Scout. The part that didn't work was that I had carelessly positioned the Scout so that the Girallon could reach him after a double move. When Steve won initiative on Round 2, the Girallon rent my scout into tiny bits.
Meanwhile, I had a screen of Cougars in front of my Ballista to keep his large creatures from basing it. This nearly worked, except Steve made an aggressive move that I didn't expect. He used a double move to slip King Obould around the line of cougars and base the Ballista before it had a chance to fire. He also based two of the Cougars with his Impaler, preventing me from swarming Obould with cats. His other Girallon then based both my Mephling and the Lion, ensuring some damage would happen on the following round.
The next few rounds felt like a losing struggle for me. My cats didn't hit at all (curse that Obould for Immune Flanking!). I pulled out the Ballista after it had been based, hoping to win initiative on the following round so that it could fire. But I lost initiative -- which also meant that I lost the Lion when the Girallon hit it twice and finished it off with a Rend and a flourish. Without the Lion, my Cougars lost most of their potency, dropping to an unexciting +5 for 5 damage.
I was able to use the Mephling's fireball spell, but it didn't do much damage, especially since it failed to beat the Girallon's Spell Resistance. While the Impaler and Obould cleaned up my remaining Cougars and the Combat Medic, the Ballista flew to the last bastion of hope: the difficult terrain-filled Victory Area. It got there with enough distance between it and the nearest Girallon that, even when Steve won the next initiative, he couldn't base the Ballista. He brought up the uninjured Girallon with the rest of his force in tow, but I finally got off a shot. The Girallon soaked up 35 damage, failed its morale save (hooray!) … and routed to the exact edge of the board.
The next round, Steve moved Obould up to the Mephling. His other Girallon was barely unable to base the Ballista, thanks to difficult terrain. Obould had 60 hit points left, so I let fly with a Flaming Bolt, knowing that one hit would force a morale check. If Obould routed, the Girallon was as good as gone, too. For a brief moment, luck was in my favor, because the Ballista's attack roll came up natural 20. With the Flaming Bolt, that was exactly 60 points of damage. Obould hit the floor, the Girallon was out the door, and the remaining Girallon was lined up for more (damage from the Ballista, that is).
The game hung on the final initiative roll, with no commander bonus on either side. If I won it, I had a +20 attack for 45 damage ready to nail the Girallon to a wall. Even if Steve destroyed the Mephling, I'd occupied the victory area for a couple of turns, which put me ahead on points. With 30 hp left on the flying, fearless Ballista, I could swoop it away from the slower Impaler, land on the other Victory Area, and win on points in two rounds. If I lost initiative, the Girallon would kill my Mephling, the based Ballista would be unable to fire, and Steve's tally would jump up by 15 or so points. Then his Trog could picnic on a victory point area, and he would win on points four rounds later.
Holding our breath, we rolled the final initiative -- and both dice came up 7. More anticipation, more bated breath, more dice clattering on the table, and … Steve's showed two digits, mine showed one. The Mephling's dying croak signaled the effective end of the game.
I was frustrated over winning so few initiative rolls because that allowed Steve to repeatedly base my Ballista and prevent it from attacking. At the same time, I'd made some small but important positioning mistakes by exposing my Warforged Scout and Lion of Talisid too early. In hindsight, I also suffered from trying to build one too many tricks into the warband. I might have dominated the board with the Warforged Barbarian to keep away the riff-raff, but I wanted to try my wacky ideas. It's all spilled milk under the bridge, of course, and my regrets don't detract from Steve's win. He played a solid game and came out on top in a game that went right down to the wire.
So I'm out, and I must wait for the War of the Dragon Queen league to reclaim my top honor and exact revenge on Steve Montano!
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!