D&D Miniatures
Night Below
Commander's Notebook
By Bill Baldwin, Michael Derry, Guy Fullerton, and Jason Lioi

We've assembled a team of four talented warband builders, and each gets 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.

The Challenge

This installment of Commander's Notebook is a Night Below test. Our four warriors each selected a different faction and built a 200-point warband around it. The sweet part -- at least 100 points must be from the just-released Night Below expansion. Read on and be illuminated.

Lawful Good -- Guy Fullerton

Battle Plate Marshal (43 pts)
Champion of Dol Dorn x2 (84 pts)
Half-Orc Spy (26 pts)
Sacred Watcher (18 pts)
Delver Sergeant (15 pts)
Warforged Scout (8 pts)
Mialee, Elf Wizard (6 pts)
Dragon Graveyard
Total = 200 points, 8 activations

Admittedly, this slow, plodding, dwarf-themed warband isn't really tier 1. It does, however, have a few subtle strengths to rely on, and it might even be able to hold its own against enemy Large Shadow Dragon warbands.

The three dwarves form the offensive core. The Battle Plate Marshal is a serviceable melee commander with a fantastic Commander rating, a strong Commander Effect, and -- best of all -- the Grant Dwarves Move Action ability. Once per battle, the Battle Plate Marshal can have the two Champions of Dol Dorn move into ideal positions and unleash multiple melee attacks against their enemies. When timed correctly, and when using the Champions' Feat of Strength ability, each of their attacks can hit for 25 damage. This can get as high as 35 damage per hit against a chaotic target (thanks to Blessing of Dol Dorn) that has already activated (thanks to the Battle Plate Marshal's Retaliate Commander Effect). In later rounds, the Battle Plate Marshal needs to get involved in the melee, too. With his Retaliate ability, he can contribute 30 damage per turn, or 45 if he triggers Cleave.

The Delver Sergeant adds to the offensive potential with his own Commander Effect, which allows you to activate all three dwarves in a single phase after the enemy leaves you an opening for a devastating Grant Dwarves Move Action swarm. If the Half-Orc Spy is still invisible, be careful not to position the Delver Sergeant too close, otherwise Illuminator will cancel the Half-Orc's invisibility.

The Half-Orc Spy is a resilient victory point grabber. Because of the Battle Plate Marshal's high Commander rating, you will often have the chance to scout the Half-Orc Spy in your choice of victory areas. Once the Half-Orc is in position, you can be pretty confident about scoring victory area points for the first couple of rounds. The Half-Orc starts out invisible via his Disguise Self ability, so enemy Large Shadow Dragons won't be able to target him with a breath weapon. (The same is true for most other creatures' ranged attacks, ranged spells, and ranged special abilities.) His high AC plus Conceal 11 (from Invisibility) means most melee attacks will fail, too. Even if a few attacks hit, the Half-Orc Spy still has a +15 bonus on his morale save, assuming he's under the command of the Battle Plate Marshal. This should buy time for the dwarves to arrive at the melee. Once melee has begun, the Half-Orc Spy can contribute 20 damage per hit, thanks to Melee Sneak Attack and the Retaliate Commander Effect.

The Sacred Watcher is a survivable hitter that can serve three additional purposes in this warband -- Flanking with the Half-Orc Spy, eliminating enemy scouts, and scoring victory area points when it's too risky for the Half-Orc Spy or Warforged Scout to set up in a victory area.

With high hp and Hide, the Warforged Scout is extremely survivable for the cost, which is a good thing given the likelihood of enemy Dragon auto-damage. If you win setup initiative, he can be used to deny enemy scouts access to victory areas. Because he has two melee attacks, the Warforged Scout gets double the benefit out of the Retaliate commander effect.

Mialee rounds out the warband to an even 200 points. Her magic weapon spell can be used on a variety of allies, depending on which might get the most use out of it. Typically, this will be one of the Champions of Dol Dorn. Against enemies with DR, however, the Sacred Watcher may be a good recipient. Once Mialee has used up her magic weapon spell, it's usually best to keep her far from the fight; don't make it easy for your opponent to harvest a quick 6 victory points by destroying her.

I chose the Dragon Graveyard map because it's fairly short, which allows the slow hitters to reach combat sooner than they might otherwise be able to on other maps. Faster warbands dislike this map because a fast creature that fails a morale save can rout right off the map in one fell swoop. Also, the central victory area is an ideal place for the Half-Orc Spy to begin the battle. Enemies that rush in to eliminate the Half-Orc must deal with dwarf retaliation. Lastly, the dwarves have easy access to early-arriving enemies on the opponent's non-shared victory area.

Chaotic Good -- Michael Derry

Dire Tiger x2 (120 pts)
Hierophant of the Seventh Wind (47 pts)
Wild Elf Warsinger x2 (18 pts)
Bat Familiar (6 pts)
Xeph Warrior x3 (9 pts)
Fane of Lolth
Total = 200 points, 9 activations

The Fane of Lolth map provides a number of advantages for this warband -- starting areas with limited line of sight from the opposing side, good charge lanes, and the ability to spread out. With the current frequency of breath weapons and various line attacks, the walls of Fane of Lolth provide some ability to limit the number of your creatures affected by an enemy template.

On the first round, the Hierophant casts legion's magic fang to give the tigers two attacks at +18 for 15 magic damage (and +20 on a charge). Feral Surge gives the Dire Tigers the ability to reposition before charging to have a perfect charge path. When combined with the Wild Elf Warsinger (+10 damage on a charge) and the Hierophant (+10 damage on second hitting attack) means each Dire Tiger can use Pounce to attack twice and hit for up to 70 damage (with Rend). Even without a flanking bonus (thank you, Xeph Warriors), the Dire Tigers hit reliably with both attacks. Dire Tigers seek out opportunities to kill or rout first, exemplifying a predatory warband.

The Wild Elf Warsingers provide not just their Warsong (+10 Powerful Charge) but also Aura of Fear 2, which is a worthwhile reduction in the chance for a based enemy to make their morale checks. Have the Warsinger base the target as a paired activation with a Dire Tiger charge. That way, the Tiger can be in line of sight and the Wild Elf Warsinger cannot be killed before the Tiger attacks.

Level 8 with Commander 3, even with the morale +4 bonus, means Dire Tiger morale checks are +15 at best, which is not super reliable. A mere 60 damage causes a morale check for the Dire Tigers, so they often need to be used more aggressively than most creatures. With their large bases, they need to be carefully positioned so that the second Dire Tiger can charge the same creature if needed.

The Hierophant with 65 HP is pretty vulnerable. Although he can fight, he should often hang back and only attack secondary targets. The Bat Familiar should be carefully positioned so that it can cast the cure serious wounds on whoever needs it and not get killed before then. Because the Dire Tigers cannot fly, be careful about where the Xeph Warriors go. Make sure they do not get in the way of possible charges by the Tigers.

The Hierophant and two Dire Tigers carve out a niche in the competitive environment, and this combo can be expected to do well against a number of prevalent warbands in the current metagame. The capabilities of this warband are offset by its vunerabilities -- low saves, moderately weak leader, and limited special options.

Lawful Evil -- Bill W. Baldwin

Lady Vol (98 pts)
Beholder Lich (64 pts)
Half-Illithid Lizardfolk (13 pts)
Ice Mephit (13 pts)
Warrior Skeleton x4 (12pts)
Kings Road
Total = 200 points, 8 activations

I originally considered jumping in ahead of Michael and choosing Chaotic Good to play with some of the newer spell casters, but Shadowdancers and Large Shadow Dragons are making it difficult to protect squishy assets these days. So I went instead with a sturdier Lawful Evil build. This band is a new twist on the old Beholder/Soth bands with a little more room for tech.

Winning map initiative means a lot to this band, and it has a +4 bonus to help with that. On the King's Road, both Lady Vol and the Beholder Lich can gain the protection afforded by forests without being slowed down by it or suffering harshly from it. The forests also give Lady Vol the benefit of using her forcewave spells while adjacent to the enemy, though you may want to save those for additional uses of oppressive will. In addition, none of the cone effects of this band are stopped by the forest. The only member that suffers is the Beholder Lich, but his primary duty after the first rounds is to heal Lady Vol anyway. As long as he stays near her, this isn't a problem.

Both the Half-Illithid Lizardfolk and Ice Mephit are here to disrupt enemy plans with a Stunning cone that most of the Warband is immune to and an Inhibiting Cold cone that doesn't damage Warrior Skeletons. The Ice Mephit also makes a good victory point grabber, though this band is most likely to win by destroying the enemy.

For one more nasty little surprise, as long as you keep your Warrior Skeletons within six squares of Lady Vol, your opponent may be reluctant to attack them and take Deathburst damage from such a lowly creature. Of course, if he is reluctant, you can have Lady Vol breathe on them. Then he gets to worry about the breath weapon damage and possible multiple Deathbursts at the same time.

Chaotic Evil -- Jason Lioi

Frost Giant Jarl (102 pts)
Large White Dragon x2 (64 pts)
Orc Wardrummer (19 pts)
Taer (8 pts)
Hyena (4 pts)
Warrior Skeleton (3 pts)
Drow Outpost
Total = 200 points, 7 activations

The Frost Giant Jarl has impressive stats -- high HP, massive damage, Cleave, and a high-DC Stunning Rend are very attractive qualities. That package costs a whopping 102 points, and to make the most of your investment, it's necessary to squeeze every bit of effectiveness out of him.

To that end, I've included two Large White Dragons in the band. In addition to being nicely "in-theme," these beasts are Immune Cold and very inexpensive. Immunity to cold allows maximum flexibility in positioning the dragon's breath weapons and the giant's Icequake Hammer without damaging your own units. The points saved by using the white dragons instead of traditional 38-44 point CE beaters is enough to pay for an Orc Wardrummer. He extends your hit points both by helping your units pass morale saves and by helping them pass saves against damaging enemy spells and special abilities.

White Dragons do have Flighty, a drawback that may give some players pause. In this band, however, losing the Jarl likely means losing the match regardless of whether the dragons rout. If care is taken to never leave the dragons out of command while the Jarl is alive, Flighty becomes a non-issue.

It's possible to reach a full eight activations with the remaining points. I chose instead to stay at seven acts in order to include some key tech -- a Taer. The Taer synergizes with both the Frost Giant and the Dragons, because its Stench ability improves both the effective DCs of the Giant's special abilities and the effective attack bonus of the Dragons. As a cold-immune creature, the Taer doesn't mind getting caught in any of the area effects in the band, either.

Drow Outpost is a longtime friend of titan warbands thanks to its combined central victory area/choke point.

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.

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