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 Steve Winter.
This Week's Challenge
This installment of Commander's Notebook is a Blood War Halloween treat. Our three warriors each selected a different faction and built a 200-point warband to drop into your trick-or-treat bag. The sweet part -- at least 100 points must be from the soon-to-be-released Blood War expansion. We figured that with all those demons and devils to choose from, this would be perfect for a spooky, late-night game between sudden raps on your chamber door. Quoth the Pit Fiend, "Nevermore!"
Bill W. Baldwin, Lawful Good
War Weaver (33 pts)
Harmonium Guard (27 pts)
Arcane Ballista (48 pts)
Kolyarut (45 pts)
Hammerer x2 (32 pts)
Warforged Scout (8 pts)
Mialee, Elf Wizard (6 pts)
Dungeon of Blood map
Total = 199 points, 8 activations
Building a Lawful Good Warband for Blood War posed some interesting problems. First, there is only one LG commander in the set. There are also some very obviously good pieces to choose from, but many don't synergize well with other Blood War pieces.
Because LG still has the problem of slow movement in Blood War, I decided I needed an old standby to bring the enemy to me -- the Arcane Ballista. This is an especially good choice against Blood War warbands because this band is likely to face lots of quality, large Blood War pieces. Normally the Couatl is the best choice to go with the Ballista, but there was one other piece that synergized well with both it and a new piece in Blood War. The War Weaver gives the Ballista magic weapon to improve hitting, snake's swiftness to gain extra attacks, and dimensional hop to move and fire in the same turn. The only problem it had previously is no good use for the bull's strength spell.
No one loves bull's strength better than the Hammer. Two of these big boys make it easy to block enemy access to the Ballista, and (after some lubrication from magic weapon and bull's strength) +11 to hit for 20 magic damage is scary even to some of the tougher opponents.
The Kolyarut is a second spell caster for the Ballista that also makes any oncoming targets easier to attack with its unlimited Enervation Rays. It doesn't pack a wallop, but Life Drain keeps it in the fight for a while.
The Harmonium Guard's commander effect is always useful for this high-AC warband, and his relatively low Commander rating is offset by most of this warband being Fearless. He also counts as yet another spell caster to crew the Ballista.
Mialee brings her usual magic weapon and magic missile spells (and a 4th spellcaster crew member) to the table. The Warforged Scout rounds things out as both the tile grabber and distraction for the Ballista. For the Ballista, nothing beats the Dungeon of Blood map, a.k.a. Fish in a Barrel.
All told, this Warband has four spellcasters to crew the Ballista and five Constructs. That's enough to make even the Lord of Blades envious.
Michael Derry, Chaotic Good
Storm Silverhand (57 pts)
Valenar Nomad Charger (36 pts)
Shadowdancer (28 pts)
Gnome Trickster (27 pts)
Half-Ogre Barbarian (25 pts)
Healer x2 (24 pts)
Xeph Warrior (3 pts)
Total = 200 pts, 8 activations
Having Storm Silverhand available presented a phenomenal number of options for this Chaotic Good warband because of her Warband Building effect -- LG Humans and Elves are legal in your warband -- and amazingly good Commander Effect -- Human and Elf followers in your warband gain Fearless. Those two make a wide range of borderline creatures viably competitive. Every creature in this warband except for the Gnome Trickster and Xeph Warrior gains Fearless when within command range.
With the warband restrictions placed on the build, I felt that moderate cost/attack/damage creatures could be successful as long as they remain within the commander effect of Storm Silverhand. Another key facet of this warband is the invisibility sphere of the Gnome Trickster. Invisibility for the entire warband allows one to choose the exact moment of contact. Delaying until you have initiative or another advantage is preferable.
A mix of creatures often has a hard time working well with each other and synergizing, but the diverse capabilities and types of preferred targets for these creatures allow you to select an optimum setup before you start attacking.
When you choose how to attack with this warband, pay particular attention to the key creatures in the opposing warband. Focus your efforts on eliminating those creatures that make the enemy warband work. Often the weakest link is the opposing commander. Sometimes it is a weak spellcaster or other support creature, sometimes it is creatures that are out of position and are therefore vulnerable.
With an invisible warband, don't get overly eager or lured into a sub-optimal setup by your opponent. Take the time required to move into the right positions and engage the key enemy creatures late in the round so they cannot move away. You will not get an attack of opportunity without ruining the invisibility and making yourself vulnerable.
The Valenar Normad Charger should be used to base enemy creatures at the end of a round so that if you win initiative and everyone is ready, he can deliver all three attacks. Remember to use the Shadowdancer as the blocking/engaging creature for the enemy's heaviest hitter, because she has the Defensive Roll special ability.
Jason Lioi, Chaotic Evil
Gnoll Sergeant (33 pts)
Green Slaad x 3 (123 pts)
Orc Wardrummer (19 pts)
Cursed Spirit (11 pts)
Quaggoth Slave (10 pts)
Hyena (4 pts)
Dungeon of Blood map
Total = 200 points, 8 activations
The Marilith may be the flashiest piece Chaotic Evil has in Blood War, but I find the Green Slaad to be the most interesting. Any mini with unlimited castings of fireball and chaos hammer makes me sit up and take notice. Add in unlimited castings of a fear cone that causes a morale save regardless of the target's current hit point total, and you have a mini that I simply must try.
Of course, as an outsider that embodies pure chaos, the Green Slaad may not always use the spell you wish it would. Rolling randomly to determine which spell it casts is a serious drawback. To maximize the chance that I get the spell I need, I've included three Green Slaads in my band. Rolling three spells per round should result in some serious fireworks!
Because I expect my opponent to be making a large number of saving throws, I've included a Cursed Spirit to reduce the saves on his key minis. Plus, as an incorporeal, chaotic undead, the Spirit doesn't mind being caught in the fear cones and chaos hammers of the slaads and stands a decent chance of surviving a friendly fireball as well. Adding an Orc Wardrummer to raise friendly saves and reduce enemy morale saves is an obvious choice.
The Green Slaads will eventually be forced into melee. While they have good attack bonuses, they do an anemic 10 damage per swing. Choosing a Gnoll Sergeant as my commander boosts this to a reasonable 15. Adding a Quaggoth Slave adds a bit more melee punch to help finish a wounded enemy. The Gnoll Sarge has Hyenamaster, and I conveniently have 4 points left, so a Hyena rounds out the band.
When using this warband against opponents who are Lawful, not immune to fire, or both, delay engagement as long as possible to cast the maximum number of ranged spells on the opposing band. Against chaotic or fire-immune bands, the fear cone, skein of shadow, and melee combat become more important, meaning I'd rarely try to cast spells at long range.
Before playing this band, be sure to brush up on the rules for invisibility. The Slaads have Disguise Self, granting them Invisible until they make an attack or cast a spell. This allows them to cast their first spell while based or to move past an enemy without receiving an attack of opportunity. But be careful if your opponent has ranged attacks or spells -- the Slaads will not count as the nearest enemy for your opponent if they are invisible, so be sure to screen with your Cursed Spirit. Also, be careful how you place the Slaads when they are casting spells. Rolling a fear cone when no enemy is within range of the cone can be disastrous if you've placed your other units nearby -- you'll be forced to cast the cone on your allies.
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 2006 D&D Miniatures champion.