My second game in the WotC internal Blood War league pitted me against Mike Mearls, a key player in D&D Miniatures R&D. (You can also read this account of Mike's bout with Steven Montano.) I was still unsure of my footing with the Githyanki Dragon Knight, but this time around, I at least got to fight on my own map.
My warband was unchanged from the first game --
Githyanki Dragon Knight (98 pts)
Red Hand War Sorcerer (34 pts)
Dragonmark Heir of Deneith (34 pts)
Soulknife Infiltrator (24 pts)
Fiendish Snake x2 (10 pts)
The Kings Road
Total = 200 pts, 6 activations
I'd concluded that my troubles the first time around originated with me, not the warband, and I was determined to stick with it until I got a handle on it.
I didn't like the look of Mike's warband (but then, I generally don't like the look of any opposing warband ... ).
Thundertusk Cavalry (44 pts)
Bluespawn Stormlizard (39 pts)
Hammerer x2 (32 pts)
Shadowdancer (28 pts)
Harmonium Guard (27 pts)
Earth Element Gargoyle (23 pts)
Acheron Goblin (7 pts)
Total = 200 pts, 8 activations
As in my first match, I faced an unfavorable hit point situation -- 385:280 in Mike's favor. People have accused me (and rightly so, I'm sure) of putting too much emphasis on that one stat, but a 100-hp difference is hard to overcome when most attacks cause 10 or 15 points of damage.
That gap was compounded by our damage potentials. In a strict melee tradeoff, Mike could dish out 135 points per round compared to my 95.
Clearly, a toe-to-toe fight wasn't going to get me anywhere. But then, I pretty much knew that even before we sat down.
Mike: I came to similar conclusions on looking over Steve's warband. I had an edge in hitting power, even if none of my individual figures could match up with the Dragon Knight. The key to victory was to keep Steve's warband scattered and bring as much firepower to bear on that Dragon. With the Buespawn's deceptive speed (it looks slow, and it's easy to forget that the chubby, large blue figure is speed 8), the Shadowdancer's Shadow Jump, and the Thundertusk's Mounted Melee Attack, this was a good match-up.
I won the terrain toss, which meant we'd play on The Kings Road. That gave me a quick flush of confidence, because it meant my Githyanki Dragon Knight would have a speed advantage over all but Mike's Earth Element Gargoyle and Shadowdancer.
I set up on the left side of the map, Mike on the right.
Round 1 -- initiative Steve, first move Mike
Basic round 1 maneuvering. Both warbands advanced cautiously into strike positions. Mike's Shadowdancer moved adjacent to a rock pile for a second-round Shadow Jump. His Gargoyle occupied the victory area near the top center of the map. The Githyanki Dragon Knight drew first blood against the Gargoyle but stayed out of the victory area to avoid lining up a potential Lightning Bolt for the Bluespawn Stormlizard. It could have moved further back, and probably should have, but I decided to leave it in place and take the risk of winning round 2 initiative.
Mike: In round 1, I wanted to lure out the Dragon. My Gargoyle gallantly volunteered for dragon-bait duty, so off he flew. I wanted to force Steve into making a tough decision, either giving me victory points for a few turns or sending his Dragon far ahead of his warband. That's my play style -- force hard decisions on the other guy. Some would say that's clever. I would say that I'm too lazy to make them myself, so I leave them to other people.
Round 2 -- initiative and first move Steve
My gamble paid off. The Githyanki Knight routed Mike's Gargoyle, then pulled back into the shelter of the forest. Unfortunately, the Bluespawn Stormlizard was still able to line up a Lightning Bolt that caught the Githyanki Dragon Knight and Dragonmark Heir of Deneith. Both made their saves, so it was only a minor annoyance.
Mike: The way I saw it, this was an acceptable trade. I wanted the 'Spawn's Lightning Bolt to hit both of the figures I had pegged for removal, the Dragon and the Heir. Thanks to speed 8 and a 12 square line, the Bluespawn is a really useful figure in sealed games.
Of more concern were the Thundertusk Cavalry, which based the Githyanki Dragon Knight but missed on its attack, and the Shadowdancer, which based my Soulknife Infiltrator and hit it once. The Shadowdancer suffered two hits in return for its trouble. It cancelled the first, however (a 20-point attack because of the Soulknife's Smite), using Defensive Roll to avoid risking a morale check while out of command.
Mike: This was a key point in the match from my point of view. I didn’t want the Soulknife psionically speeding up to flank either of my hitters once they were engaged with the Dragon Knight. I knew I could jump next to the Soulknife, lock it down for one turn, and then (thanks to activation control) swing the Shadowdancer around to attack the Dragon Knight after the Soulknife activated.
My Red Hand War Sorcerer and Dragonmark Heir bodyguard moved up the top side of the map toward the common victory area, where Mike's two Hammerers were also closing in. His commander, the Harmonium Guard, hung back out of strike range of the Githyanki Dragon Knight.
Mike: No Harmonium Guards were harmed in the making of this battle report. His job was to tackle anyone who tried to flee the battlefield. In the two games I played before sending him to the bench, he made and suffered zero attacks.
Up to this point, things were going reasonably well for both of us. No one had made any significant mistakes. I had a small point lead because of the Gargoyle's rout, but that was meaningless so early in the game.
Mike: I could see that the next round was critical. If the dice went my way, I'd have a three-on-one fight against the Dragon Knight.
Round 3 -- initiative and first move Mike
Mike used initiative to get in some licks on the Githyanki Dragon Knight with the Thundertusk Cavalry. His first attack was a 40-point critical hit and the second also connected. Combined with the 10 points of damage from the Stormlizard's lightning bolt, that was enough to force a morale check, which the GDK thankfully passed. (Granted, it had a +16 on the check, but it failed in the first game.)
The Red Hand War Sorcerer fired a lightning bolt through both of Mike's constructs, then the Dragonmark Heir missed on both of its attacks. Although the Kings Road map makes the Githyanki Dragon Knight even slipperier than usual (all that forest means it almost never gets pinned down or takes an attack of opportunity), fighting in that forest can be a frustrating exercise. Everything has cover, so many more melee attacks than usual miss.
Mike did something unexpected at that point. He disengaged the Shadowdancer from the Soulknife in order to flank the GDK with it. Twenty more points of damage from the Shadowdancer (thanks to her Melee Sneak Attack) dropped the GDK to just 35 hit points.
At that point, I had a key decision to make. The Githyanki Knight was based by the Thundertusk Cavalry, the Bluespawn Stormlizard, and the Shadowdancer. It could take a shot at putting 20 damage on one enemy and then fly away, but at AC 26 and 27 respectively and +14 to hit, that was a less than 50/50 proposition. It could stand its ground and duke it out with the same iffy chances to hit and against a trio of foes with enough combined damage output to more than kill it in a single round of average melee attacks; obviously a bad choice. Or it could use its breath weapon for a guaranteed 30 damage split between two enemies and possibly 60 with a bit of luck, but then it would be able to move away only eight squares afterward.
Mike: Note that at the end of the round, the Bluespawn was not base-to-base with the Dragon Knight. I sent it around back to finish off the Soulknife. It was still just above the Knight on the map, out of the forest.
The breath weapon seemed the best choice, and that's the direction I went. The Thundertusk made its save at 12+, taking 15 damage. The Stormlizard failed at 13+ and absorbed 30, but that left it 5 points above needing to check morale. (I could have turned the breath against the flanking Shadowdancer and forced a morale check on it, but would have hit only one, much weaker figure, and I planned to flank her with my Soulknife anyway.)
In the face of all that, I decided not to risk it. I had a 50/50 chance to win the initiative on the coming round, and that would give me a decent chance to rout at least one, maybe two of Mike's threatening creatures.
Neither of those was a good option. In hindsight, I honestly can't say whether I chose right or wrong. A 5% chance of being eliminated immediately by a critical hit was better than the approximately 40% chance of being eliminated by losing the initiative (the combined odds of Mike both winning initative and then connecting with at least two of his four first-turn attacks from the Thundertusk and Shadowdancer), but there's no guarantee that the Githyanki Knight would have survived long enough to make a difference either way.
Mike: I'm not sure I agree with Steve here. The Githyanki could have attacked and then moved away, probably destroying the Shadowdancer or putting the Thundertusk into a bad place. At the very least, moving away would have prolonged the game and made things much harder for me. I wanted to avoid one-on-one fights whenever possible with the Dragon, and I think Steve could have forced that. On the other hand, even my lame Harmonium Guard had a good chance of eliminating the Githyanki Knight, so it isn't completely clear which option was the best one.
Either way, this was definitely a turning point. If the Dragon Knight had moved away, the game would've been in doubt. However, I had intentionally run my Bluespawn along Steve's right flank to prepare for just such a case. Luckily, I didn't need to chase the Dragon around the field.
Round 4 -- initiative and first move Mike
As it turned out, Mike won initiative and the Shadowdancer's first attack was a critical hit that destroyed the Githyanki Knight. So one could assume that by standing its ground, at least the doomed GDK prevented the Shadowdancer from making a full move.
The Dragonmark Heir slew one Hammerer, and my Red Hand War Sorcerer fired a second lightning bolt through the remaining Hammerer and the Thundertusk Cavalry. The Dwarf passed its subsequent morale check, and then things get hazy in my post-trauma-stressed mind. (My note-taking became a bit lax once the light disappeared from the end of the tunnel.)
Mike: After eliminating the Dragon Knight, the Shadowdancer hightailed it out of there for point denial. The Bluespawn charged and finished the Soulknife (it may have been a failed morale save).
The Dwarf then attacked Steve's wizard once, but he shifted the damage onto his still Fearless Dragonmark Heir via Bodyguard. By using Pushback to separate the Heir from the Sorcerer (the creature that takes damage suffers Pushback), I was able to unleash a second attack's worth of dwarven fury on the hobgoblin and destroy it.
The match continued for two more rounds before Mike amassed 200 victory points and won outright, but it was just mopping up.
It's tough to point out any particular error of judgment that cost me this game, with the possible exception of one listed below that never occurred to me during the game or while writing this recap.* Suffering two 40-damage critical hits against the Githyanki Dragon Knight was a serious blow. With those extra 40 hit points, the GDK would have survived at least another turn, maybe two, and could have gotten back into swoop-and-claw mode.
* It's been pointed out by an astute reader that the Githyanki Dragon Knight could have caught all three of its foes with its breath weapon if the cone had originated in the upper right corner of the Dragon's space. Breathing across your own space is an often-missed trick, and I missed it. The attack wouldn't have killed the Shadowdancer, but a failed morale save (10+ -- she was in command at that point, I believe) would have opened up the Knight's escape route.
So I believe this one could have gone either way. I'd have to admit that Mike played a flawless game (from my perspective, anyway), and earned his win the honest way.
Mike: I definitely had some luck on my side. The Shadowdancer is a great figure, at least in sealed format. She offers unrivaled flexibility, and her ability to cancel a hit lets you take bigger risks with her than you might accept otherwise. Without her, I don't win this match. The Bluespawn is another good figure. He looks like he should have speed 4, and I've seen plenty of games where a 16-square double move catches someone off guard.
* I love it when a perfect title drops right into my lap ...
About the Authors
Steve Winter produces the D&D Miniatures website for a fraction of what he could earn as a criminal mastermind. Mike Mearls neglected to attach any biographical notes to his commentary, but we'll add them just as soon as they come through. (Steve can do that because he's the producer …)