Throughout the Blood War, people constantly whispered about Ian Richards's warband … "Have you seen Ian's warband? … No one will play against him … It's impossible to beat!"
Now, you can argue whether no one wanted to play against Ian because his warband was so daunting or because Ian the player is so daunting. I can't say that he's never made a mistake in a game against me, but I can say that he's never made more mistakes than me, or even as many. He has this way about him -- thoroughly unconvincing, I should add -- of moping around about how pathetic his warband is and how mundane a player he is. Then he proceeds to dismantle every opponent reckless enough to face him with the cool bloodlust of John Wesley Hardin.
Ian's desk is right next to Chris Tulach's, and Chris was the guy running the league. After every match, players needed to check in with Chris to report the result and claim their new figure. That also meant that after every match, Ian would hit me up with his "poor, pitiful me" routine about how no one would play against him even though he's such a pushover.
Now, don't think for a minute that I fell for any of that. But the fact is, beneath that wise-cracking English exterior beats the heart of a pretty decent guy. At least, losing to Ian is always fun (I couldn't say whether winning against Ian is fun, since I've never had the experience). So I agreed to a match, just for grins.
(As you can see, I've now cleverly laid the basis for explaining away any potential defeat …)
I used a variant of my original warband that worked in the newly-acquired Steelheart Archer, one of my favorite pieces.
Red Hand War Sorcerer (34 pts, Cmdr 3)
Githyanki Knight (98 pts)
Dragonmark Heir of Deneith (34 pts)
Steelheart Archer (15 pts)
Ethereal Marauder (14 pts)
Fiendish Snake (5 pts)
Total = 200 pts, 6 activations
Ian played a warband that we'll call, for no particular reason, "The Unconquerable Hammer of Doom."
Pit Fiend (105 pts, Cmdr 4)
Elf Warmage x2 (84 pts)
Kobold Monk (5 pts)
Fiendish Snake (5 pts)
Total = 199 pts, 5 activations
At least he didn't have a Shadowdancer …
Ian won map initiative, which meant we'd be playing on Broken Demongate. I was really hoping that I'd get my choice of map, because Dragondown Grotto would have gone a long way toward neutralizing some of his warband's ferociousness. I set up on the cavern side of the map, Ian on the palatial side.
Round 1 -- initiative Ian, first move Steve
In the first round, Ian claims that he made a terrible error in the positioning of his Elf Warmages, but don't believe him. If things had gone a bit differently, perhaps …
The round ended with the Githyanki Githyanki Knight and the Pit Fiend in base-to-base contact at the broken wall. That's what matters. It wasn't my choice, but it did result from poor counting on my part.
Before getting into round 2, let's take a quick, statistical side-trip into the numbers.
In a dew-clew-to-dew-claw slap fight, the Githyanki Knight could expect to deliver an average of 21 points of damage per round, compared with the Pit Fiend's expected average of 34 points per round. At that exchange rate, the Githyanki Knight dies in 4 rounds, and the Pit Fiend dies in 6. The Pit Fiend is also slightly more likely to pass a morale check, thanks to its Aura of Fear 2. All of which means, ain't no way I win that fight.
I wasn't the least bit sure how I would take down that Pit fiend, but I knew it wouldn't be on Ian's terms. My 'plan', such as it was, was to whittle away at the Pit Fiend with smaller units while the Githyanki Knight munched Ian's backup. If my support could do enough damage to swing that attrition ratio back in my favor before all of it died or routed, and the GDK could use Mounted Melee Attack to destroy the Elf Warmages without taking much damage in return, there might be a chance.
That was the plan …
Round 2 -- initiative and first move Steve
Field Marshal Helmuth, Graf von Moltke famously uttered the words, "No plan survives contact with the enemy." He also said, "In the long run, luck is awarded to the efficient." Von Moltke was a wise old dude.
When the Githyanki Knight took off, giving up an attack of opportunity, the Pit Fiend raked it for a 40-point critical hit. Twenty more would mean a morale check. Critical hits are efficient, von Moltke would say.
I cheered up a bit when the Githyanki Knight laid 20 points of its own fury on one of the Elf Warmages, but the slippery Elf passed its morale check. In my haste to land that attack, however, I was forced to park the Githyanki Knight too close to the Elf Warmage twins. Both cast Sudden Empowered ring of blades on themselves, sashayed up to the Githyanki Knight, and the countdown began.
If you've been paying attention, you probably concluded that this was exactly the turn of events Ian was hoping for -- which is to say, exactly the trap he laid for me.
"First weigh the considerations, then take the risks." -- Field Marshal Helmuth, Graf von Moltke.
Meanwhile, the Steelheart Archer maneuvered cleverly to a position where she could see the Elf Warmages but not the much closer Pit Fiend, which allowed her to score a clean miss on the Elf. The Pit Fiend would have been much harder to hit …
Having already inflicted a full round's worth of damage on the Githyanki Knight, the Pit Fiend turned its unwanted attention on the Dragonmark Heir of Deneith. She could handle the 20 points of damage.
Round 3 -- initiative and first move Steve
At this point, the GDK was based by two Elf Warmages packing Empowered rings of blades. The moment it activated, it would take 40 points of damage and an out-of-command morale check. I desired to put off that unpleasantness for as long as possible. There was no preventing it, however, short of a minor miracle in the form of a critical hit from the Steelheart Archer. At that point, any hit would have been welcome, but it was not to be.
The Ethereal Marauder set up a flanking attack that actually scored a hit on the Pit Fiend. It caused only 5 damage thanks to the Fiend's DR, but it showed that maybe, just maybe, there was a chance to weaken it. Things got even brighter when the Dragonmark Heir, boosted by the Ethereal Marauder's flanking position, landed one 20-damage Sneak Attack, and the Red Hand War Sorcerer lanced a lightning bolt through the hateful thing. The Pit Fiend was down to 80 hit points, and 20 more damage would trigger a (long shot) morale check. It would have happened that round if the Dragonmark Heir's second attack connected, but the weak second had only a 30% likelihood.
The Pit Fiend, heedless of futile attacks of opportunity, responded with a fireball centered on the Dragonmark Heir. Her successful save cut it to 10 damage, but the Red Hand War Sorcerer took the full blast. His morale check, however, was solid.
At last, I had no choice but to activate the GDK and endure the 40-point lashing. Thankfully, I rolled a good morale save. My notion at that time was to eliminate at least one of the Warmages, possibly both if Ian failed a morale check. That goal crumbled immediately when I rolled a natural 1 in the first attack. My second attack turned against the unwounded Elf Warmage with the intention of forcing a morale check. Why I made that choice, I couldn't say, because it was clearly wrong. The attack should have been against the wounded Elf, where a hit would have guaranteed elimination. I paid for the mistake, because the attack hit, but so did the morale save.
That meant the Githyanki Knight was doomed. It started with 125 hit points, lost 40 to the Pit Fiend's critical hit, 40 to the Empowered rings of blades, and would lose 40 more the next time it activated, leaving it with 5. But even that wouldn't come to pass, because both Elf Warmages could cast touch-range, no-save, 30-damage shocking grasps. The GDK wouldn't -- and didn't -- survive the round.
Clearly, this was a bad, bad situation.
Round 4 -- initiative and first move Ian
"War is an element of God's world order" -- Field Marshal Helmuth, Graf von Moltke
With initiative, a pair of +17 attacks, and Cleave, the Pit Fiend killed the Heir of Deneith and the Red Hand War Sorcerer. It suffered a critical hit in return from the Ethereal Marauder, which triggered the much-anticipated morale check. As expected, the Fiend stood its ground.
Purely out of spite, the Steelheart Archer slew Ian's Fiendish Snake.
Round 5 -- initiative and first move Steve
Now that it was too late to matter, the Steelheart Archer finally hit and killed one of the Elf Warmages. It was a futile, if satisfying, gesture, because the match was over.
As always, squaring off against Ian was fun. If nothing else, he is reliably self-deprecating while standing on your neck.
I ended this catastrophic match thinking that there were no particular lessons to be learned from it. My mistakes were so obvious that it was impossible to learn from them. I already knew better. In hindsight, however, I've decided that's not true.
Some years ago, in a lawyer show, a public defender explained to his client that he built one sort of defense when he believed the person to be innocent and another when he believed the client to be guilty.
Before Ian and I sat down at the table, I expected to lose this match -- and a person plays one sort of game when he expects to win and another when he expects to lose. I expected to lose, and I did. Aside from the small measure of satisfaction I can take from being right, there isn't much else to be pleased about.
I still believe that nothing short of astounding luck could have changed the outcome of this match. In a rock-paper-scissors world, I brought paper to a scissors fight. Still, had I walked in with my mind right, I might have been cut into only three or four pieces instead of confetti.
"The experiences of war are a lasting influence, strengthening a man's ability for all future." -- Field Marshal Helmuth, Graf von Moltke.
About the Author
Ian Richards is an Organized Play guru. Steve Winter is an alchemist who transmutes victory into defeat.