Welcome to my DDM insanity!
I'm Steven Montano, an accountant here at Wizards of the Coast who has the morbid pleasure of dueling with some of our better-known WotC madmen in our various D&D Miniatures Internal Releases and leagues. After a dismal showing in the Angelfire league (my first exposure to the game), I've fared better than one might expect, landing in the Top 4 of the Underdark league, finishing second overall in the War Drums league, and winning the War of the Dragon Queen internal release event (but, I swear, pulling an Aspect of Bahamut had nothing to do with that…). While I play far too many matches during these leagues to report every game, I'm about to share what has been one of the more exciting matches I've had thus far.
My fifth league game for Blood War was also the first time during this league that I've gone up against any of our esteemed R&D designer/developers, in this case the Chaotic Evil overlord occasionally known as Mike Mearls. (I normally refer to him simply as "Mearls," because the Mikes actually outnumber the Steves here at Wizards). If you've played D&D 3rd Edition and beyond, you've likely read some of Mike's stuff. If you're a DM, chances are that you've killed a few characters with one of his monsters and/or adventures. If you're a player, then know that Mike was indirectly responsible for at least one of your character's deaths.
In addition to his dire talents as a destroyer of PCs everywhere, Mike is also an exceptionally talented D&D Miniatures player, and it was a pleasure to throw down with him.
I had no idea what Mike was running, but I decided that I wanted to try something different for this match. After running a four-activation Titan warband in my match against Steve Winter, I was in the mood for something different. Since I had a decent pull, I opted to go with a more melee-based warband, one that would utilize figures both from my original two boosters and the pieces that I won from Organized Play for previous matches. My new warband (which is actually my original warband for the league, revised, revamped, and regurgitated), looked like this --
Red Hand War Sorcerer
I had never used the Shadowdancer before that match, but having seen her in action numerous times in casual games, I thought that she might be an interesting piece to use (and, more importantly, she filled up the 5-point gap that was left open in the original build when I used the Orc Wizard in her place). I selected Drow Outpost to provide a bit of cover against ranged threats. The Outpost also provides plenty of walls for the Shadowdancer to bounce off of and a nice choke point for my two big hitters to block off.
Mike showed up with a very interesting warband, one that had obviously been augmented by the "sideboard reward" that he received from Organized Play after his match with Steve Winter earlier in the week.
Cleric of Syreth (reward piece, 47 pts, Com 5)
While Mike's warband lacked any of the true titans of the set, he possessed great mobility and high AC, a devastating line attack, and an almost unmatched Commander Rating (for this league, at least) of 5. I was fully aware of Mike's level of playing skill, as he was responsible for one of my only two losses in the Wardrums league with his all-Uncommon warband (beware the Warpriest and the Mephling and their pet flying monkey). I was sure to have my hands full with this match.
Mike won both map and setup initiative, and he split his force between the two "B" start areas (on the left side of the map). His Thundertusk and Bluespawn stayed close to his commander in the lower left start area, while the Shadowdancer and fodder pieces occupied the upper left. I placed my primary pieces together in the lower right "A" start area and set my Sneaks in the upper right-hand corner. (I knew that they would be prime assassination targets if I used their Scout ability to park them in my Victory Areas, so I opted instead to keep them hidden and advance them gradually. I was going to need all of the Activations that I could get.)
Mike out-activated me, an advantage that he capitalized on immediately by forcing me to move first when he won first round initiative.
My main concern in this match was how to keep the Red Hand safe from the Shadowdancer, Bluespawn, and Thundertusk for as long as possible while still making effective use of him. The Shadowdancer would be the most immediate threat, so I decided to place the Red Hand out just a bit and see whether Mike would send her in after him. If he did, I was prepared to swarm her and get her out of play quickly.
Right out of the gate, I dropped some light damage on his Dancer and Hammerers with a snowball swarm and routed one of the Fiendish Snakes with a Greenspawn's ranged attack. I maneuvered the Fire Giant and Maug into what I thought were good positions to either aid the Red Hand (should he be threatened) or to move forward and pummel Mike's main pieces. With all of my moves finished, Mike advanced the Bluespawn far enough to zap some electricity damage onto the Fire Giant (who made his save against the lightning breath), and he positioned his other pieces for a second round assault.
Besides all that, Mike did indeed make the expected attack against the Red Hand with his Shadowdancer, who used a shadow jump and then … swish, rolled a natural 1. The Red Hand's sigh of relief was heard all through the land.
I won initiative on the 2nd round and tried to eliminate the Dancer as quickly as I could. The Maug clobbered her, but she used her Defensive Roll to avoid the blow, as expected. Then my own Shadowdancer Shadow Jumped onto her flank to land a super-sneaky sneak attack. Despite the shocking underhandedness of the attack, Mike's Dancer made her Morale Check and stayed put.
Hammerers and Snakes advanced to attack from the northern section of the map, but the Forgepriest would have none of it. He stepped up and squished one automaton and Cleaved onto the other … or would have, except that he rolled a natural 1 on his Cleave attempt.
At that point, I made what I feel is one of the worst kinds of mistake you can make in this game -- the mistake of assumption. This is where you think that either a) you know a rule that you really have no clue about (this is me playing on a heavily forested map such as Dragondown Grotto), or b) you assume that you know the current score, or a creature's hit points, or some other variable without actually checking to make sure that you're right. I was guilty of the second in this instance. I assumed that Mike's Shadowdancer was down to a mere 20 hit points, when indeed she was at 30 (10 from the snowball swarm and 20 from my Shadowdancer's sneak attack). 60-20-10 equals 30, no matter what school of accounting you attended. Wrongfully assuming that I could finish her off with a lightning bolt, I moved the Red Hand away, accepting the Attack of Opportunity in what I thought was a well calculated risk ... only to suffer a natural 20 on her attack. Ouchie. Luckily for me, the Red Hand also made his Morale Check. The Dancer failed her save, took 20 damage, and then, clinging to life with those 10 hit points I didn't think she had, jumped to a new position and dealt another 10 points of damage to my poor commander, dragging him down to a mere 5 hit points.
To close the round, Mike set up the Stormlizard and Thundertusk to deal some serious damage against either the Maug or the Red Hand in the coming round. His surviving Fiendish Snake and Hammerer both tried to block off the Forgepriest's access to the main action and eliminate one of my Greenspawn Sneaks, but the plucky Sneak with his impressive 19 AC stood them off. My second Greenspawn moved to base Mike's Shadowdancer in the hope of finishing her off.
When Mike won the initiative, as we both surely knew that he would, his Shadowdancer lashed out against the Red Hand with her killing blow ... only to miss again with another lousy roll. Undeterred by his pathetic wristage, Mike moved the Dancer away in order to clear an avenue for his Thundertusk to race in and finish the job she seemed incapable of doing. Given her luck so far, it came as no surprise when both the Sorcerer and my valiant Greenspawn Sneak jabbed a knife apiece into each of her kidneys, bringing an end to what had surely been a thoroughly miserable day for the unhappy Shadowdancer.
Relentless, Mike raced in the Thundertusk, took a solid Attack of Opportunity hit from the Maug on the way, and squished the Red Hand Sorcerer to pulp. On its own turn, the Maug flailed at the Thundertusk to no avail (his position on the magic circle was completely nullified by the Cleric of Syreth's legion's shield of faith that had been cast on round 1). My Fire Giant moved through the gap that was still being held open by my second, valiant Greenspawn Sneak and assaulted the Bluespawn Stormlizard for a thumping 30 points of damage. (Note to self -- don't forget Cleave. I could have killed the Snake and scored a hit on the Bluespawn if I'd been paying attention. Ultimately, it made little difference, and I'd been smart enough to make that move in my match against Steve Winter, but I completely missed that opportunity here.) Mike tried to put some damage onto the Fire Giant, but all of his attacks missed. I followed up by Jumping my Shadowdancer into flanking position on the Bluespawn and hitting it with a sneak attack. That hit forced a morale check, which the Bluespawn kindly failed.
With the Bluespawn out of the action, the Thundertusk only one hit away from his own morale check, my Maug untouched, and my Fire Giant down only 10 hit points, Mike conceded the match.
I considered this to be a very well played game on both our parts. Ultimately, it was determined more by the available figures and the perverse, chaotic nature of dice than it was by play and tactics. Afterward, Mike and I had a good discussion about the D&D Minis metagame, the various pieces of this and the next set, and how neither of us wanted to face Organized Play's Ian Richards's warband (which I believe involves a Pit Fiend and a pair of Elf Warmages...!).
I intend to stick with this warband for a bit. Not many changes will happen between this and my next match. Mike scored a Blackspawn Exterminator (of War of the Dragon Queen fame) as his consolation prize, and I wound up with another Skeletal Reaper. (The most luck I've had with the sideboard rolls was the Shadowdancer I used in this match and a single Gnoll Barbarian. Apart from those, I've been rewarded with a third Soldier of Bytopia, a second Free League Ranger, and a second Harmonium Guard … oh, the fortune!) This match bumped my record to 4:1, and we still have another week to play. Let the battles continue!
About the Authors
Though he masquerades as a devilishly handsome, fiendishly intelligent, and supernaturally charming accountant for Wizards of the Coast, Steven Montano is in reality the demi-lich Acererak. Keep that in mind the next time you decide to submit something to the Finance Department late.
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