As an introduction to Night Below, we arranged for a special Limited-format match between Bill Baldwin and Jesse James Dean. Each of them received two Night Below boosters (before the actual release -- eat your hearts out!) from which to build their warbands. Last week, we looked at their builds and the planning behind them. This week -- the match.
Bill: So much for hoping what Jesse wouldn't get. His band was exactly what I didn't want to see -- an effective, hard-to-kill commander, beaters with good AC and Saves, and the unstoppable Raistlin. I would have a difficult time forcing Jesse to come to me, because Raistlin's spells are so unstoppable. Worse, Large creatures aren't good at chasing him down, even if they are fast. I would need a little luck to win, mainly by way of failing few morale checks and getting better-than-average attack rolls.
I won map initiative and didn't like either of my choices against Jesse's warband. I decided to go with my Teleport Temple if for no other reason than it would disrupt whatever plan Jesse had for his own map. I am also more familiar with Teleport Temple than Dragon's Graveyard.
I also won side initiative and made one of my first (of many) mistakes. I chose Start Area A, which is normally a good choice because it gives better access to more teleporters, which means better egress from the start area -- but I forgot that I had a significant speed advantage over Jesse. Instead of looking for ways to exit my start area, I should have looked for ways to enter his start area. If I was to bring in my full attack weight at one time, I needed to be able to come at him from front and back simultaneously (to avoid traffic jams with my Large creatures). Without that, I would need Jesse to spread out in a vain attempt to prevent getting sandwiched -- which he was unlikely to do if he wasn't in danger of being sandwiched in the first place.
Jesse: It looked as if my victory area gamble wasn't going to pay off. Bill got his choice of map and setup area, and I couldn't gain first turn victory area points under the conditions he chose. That would give him quite a bit of leverage, especially considering how much faster his warband was than mine. I did have a number of ways to get at Bill's commander, however, leaving me hoping that he might get careless with its positioning.
Round 1 -- initiative Jesse, first move Bill
Bill: I realized there was no way to keep my commander alive and still get use out of him. The best I could hope for was to make Jesse work for the kill. I also realized Jesse wasn't going to let the Cerebrilith use its psionic powers on the first turn, so I moved it first. I put it in the foremost position because it was the slowest and toughest of my creatures. My Deep Legionnaire Stonestepped into my closest victory area. The Dracotaur and Scorrow took up threatening positions near the front. Finally, I managed to put my commander in a position where Raistlin could get to him on round 2.
Jesse: I moved my pieces into positions where I could control the teleporter closest to my slow warband while preventing Bill from having easy access to any of them except for my high Armor Class Exarch of Tyranny or my Fearless Gnoll Claw Fighter. Fortunately for me, it appeared that Bill was getting into an offensive position rather than assuming a defensive posture that would force me to come to him.
Score -- Bill 10, Jesse 0
Round 2 -- initiative Jesse, first move Bill
Bill: This was the first important initiative, so I didn't like losing it. (The next two were going to be even more critical.) I debated using the Cerebrilith's Mind Thrust, but Jesse's saves were too good. With Reach, the Cerebrilith could get just close enough to attack the Exarch of Tyranny. If I could move it one more and still attack, I could have gotten at Raistlin and pinned the Exarch against two of Jesse's own creatures, forcing them to deal with the Exarch's Ring of Blades. Sadly, Jesse is way too skilled at counting squares to make that mistake. I also hoped I might lure Jesse into committing prematurely to destroying the exposed Cerebrilith. I decided to move up and make the attack, but missed. It was a bad move, because it guaranteed Jesse could shut me off from attacking with all three larges on the same front. I moved my Commander, the Greyhawk City Militia Sergeant, onto the nearby teleporter so that Jesse's Gnoll Claw Fighter couldn't teleport in and pounce on her. Instead, Jesse teleported the Earth Mephit and breathed on her! She failed her morale check, and I forgot to check for the Earth Mephit's Ensnare ability, which might have saved her. Jesse moved the Exarch up and attacked the Cerebrilith for 15 damage, the Claw Fighter Pounced it for another 30, and Raistlin added 10 more. I chased after the Mephit with the Babau but missed it.
Then, my gamble almost payed off. Jesse moved the Champion of Dol Dorn up to force a morale check on the Cerebrilith, but in so doing left an opening I could use to teleport my Clawborn Scorrow or Dracotaur next to Raistlin and his commander to devastating effect, which would make the potential sacrifice of my Cerebrilith worthwhile. Despite me putting on my best poker face to avoid giving anything away, Jess noticed the mistake. I was forced to advance the Scorrow for a single attack against the Claw Fighter and to move the Dracotaur on a long march to the back of Jesse's army. It used Spit Fire against his Champion of Dol Dorn just to make sure it could use that ability before a morale check was forced.
Jesse: Bill did exactly what I wanted him to and moved forward to attack me. His Cerebrilith was in a position to experience retaliation from my entire warband, swinging control of the game from him to me. Despite this, I realized that it was not wise for me to do so because of the danger that the Exarch of Tyranny's Ring of Blades posed to both me and my opponent. With the large damage output of Bill's warband, it would be silly of me to give him even more. Between that and me catching, at the last second, the threat that the Clawborn Scorrow presented to both my commander and Raistlin, I got only two units to attack the Cerebrilith. Routing Bill's commander with the Earth Mephit was an excellent turn of events (good thing I included it!), and Raistlin was able to use his Debilitating magic missile on the Cerebrilith, adding to my already significant damage output for the round. At the end of the round, Bill was ahead on victory points, but I felt comfortable with my control of the game.
Score -- Bill 20, Jesse 13
Round 3 -- initiative and first more Jesse
Bill: Another critical initiative lost. Jesse forced a morale check on the Cerebrilith, and my dreams of good luck started their slow, steady collapse. The Cerebrilith routed after making only one attack. The Claw Fighter attacked the Scorrow and the Scorrow killed it in return with two claw attacks. After a brief look at the clarifications to make sure it wasn't illegal, the Scorrow also used his Grab and Sting against the Exarch (illogical, perhaps, but not against the rules). That was 10 points of auto damage, but the Exarch made his save against the Poison. The Babau finished off the Earth Mephit and returned to the main battle area.
Jesse hit the Dracotaur with ray of enfeeblement from Raistlin and then attacked the Scorrow with the Champion's Feat of Strength but thankfully rolled a 1. Some good luck at last, but I feared it was too little.
I then made another mistake. I took immediate advantage of the opening left by the Champion to pop in my Kuo-Toa Hunter to whack Raistlin, and then charged the Warpriest with my Dracotaur for 10 points of damage. But the timing was wrong, and the Warpriest of Vandria forced a morale check on the Kuo-Toa with two successful hits before Sidestepping away from the Dracotaur and back onto the teleporter after the Kuo-Toa Hunter routed. The routed Cerebrilith ran off the board.
Jesse: Winning initiative was pretty important here, but the Cerebrilith routing out of the game was even more important. Suddenly I had a much more even level of power on the board, with two powerhouse melee threats and two secondary hitters to Bill's two powerhouse threats and one secondary hitter. Also, my tech was much, much better.
Unfortunately, I missed the Clawborn Scorrow with my Champion of Dol Dorn's Feat of Strength, and that allowed the Scorrow to wipe out the Gnoll Claw Fighter and use its Grab and Sting on the Exarch. I had assumed that the Grab and Sting target must be the original creature attacked, but apparently not. I felt comfortable keeping the Warpiest of Vandria as the Dracotaur Rager's only target because of the Warpriest's Single Combatant ability. Between that and the newly Enfeebled Dracotaur's low attack bonuses and damage output, the Warpiest could survive long enough for the Champion of Dol Dorn and the Exarch of Tyranny to finish off the Clawborn Scorrow and deal with the Dracotaur.
Score -- Bill 67, Jesse 87
Round 4 -- initiative and first move Jesse
Bill: The dice were not helping me compensate for a bad matchup and bad mistakes. Only shear luck and/or unexpected stupidity out of Jesse could win it for me at this point, and I wasn't getting either. The Champion attacked the Scorrow for 40 damage, forcing a morale save. For once I made it, but then the Exarch hit it again, leaving the Scorrow with only 10 hit points. When it activated, the Exarch's Ring of Blades dropped it to 5 hps before it attacked the Champion of Dol Dorn. Connecting with both claw attacks would have forced a morale check, but only one connected.
I decided not to move the Dracotaur up to the Warpriest until after she activated so that she wouldn't get to make two attacks and Sidestep away again. But I also committed another mistake by not bringing up the Babau to Sneak Attack the Exarch. That could have created an opening after Jesse's next move. I also forgot that the Scorrow had only 5 hit points left, and Raistlin finished it off before the Babau could take advantage of its flank position. The Warpriest's searing lights seared the Dracotaur for 10 points of damage before it moved up and attacked fruitlessly. The Babau at least inflicted 15 points on the Exarch.
Jesse: I was getting pretty lucky with initiative rolls with my 4-point commander rating advantage at this point. I like to think that was payback for losing both map and setup initiative. I focused the brunt of my attacks against the Clawborn Scorrow and was slightly disappointed that it made a successful morale check. My units were tough enough to take its counterattack, and I still had the Warpriest of Vandria's mass cure light wounds as backup. Luckily, Bill didn't move the Babau into a position to take full advantage of its Sneak Attack until after I'd eliminated the Clawborn Scorrow. That extra 10 damage would have reduced my ability to counterattack the Babau, thanks to its Protective Slime. At this point, I was pretty confidant that I had won the game, even if luck turned against me.
Score -- Bill 77, Jesse 119
Round 5 -- initiative and first move Bill
Bill: I finally won initiative, but it was way too little and way too late. Both the Dracotaur and the Babau muffed all of their attacks against their high-AC opponents. The Exarch routed my Babau off the board. The only bright spot was that the rest of Jesse's troops failed to force a morale check on the Dracotaur.
Jesse: There isn't much more to add. With Bill's failure to eliminate anything this round and my continued ability to reliably hit his low armor classes, the game was largely in the bag.
Score -- Bill 87, Jesse 148
Round 6 -- initiative and first move Jesse
Bill: Jesse's troops finally routed the Dracotaur, leaving me with the Deep Legionnaire all alone. Because this was a demo game, I resisted the urge to concede and decided to battle it out to the bloody and inevitable end.
Score -- Bill 97, Jesse 192
Round 7 -- initiative Jesse, first move Bill
Bill: Forced to activate first, my Legionnaire couldn't do anything constructive. Jesse's forces mobbed him while Raistlin moved into the victory area to claim the final 10 points.
Final Score -- Bill 107, Jesse 202
Bill: Having only a single, squishy commander proved painful, but I am not sure a second would have made much difference. Raistlin is just too unstoppable at killing squishy units. I would have been better off with a more open map, such as the Tomb of Queen Peregrine, because I needed to get all of my beaters onto the front line in the same round.
I also succumbed to a classic battlefield mistake -- spending too much time thinking about fixing and preventing my own mistakes and too little time thinking about creating and exploiting the mistakes of my opponent. I was reactive rather than proactive, and that gave Jesse battlefield initiative even more than the dice did.
What all this highlighted more than anything was that I am way out of practice, and there's just no substitute for that. I need to stop slacking off and start practicing more if I hope to stand a chance at the GenCon Championships this year. I'd rather my next article not be another laundry list off mistakes made. I hope to learn enough from these to avoid that.
Jesse: While I had a warband advantage over Bill, he exacerbated it with tactical errors. If he had gone with a more conservative, defensive strategy, it might have been difficult for me to get into such a favorable position, which would have forced me to attack him in a place of his choosing. Instead, I was able to hunker down and fight his warband in a way that didn't punish me for my units' low speed. Still, it was a fun match and a nice capstone to my series of Night Below sealed tournaments.
About the Authors
Bill W. Baldwin lives on the Space Coast of Florida with his gaming family of a wife, two daughters, and assorted pets. He started playing D&D in 1974 and was a wargamer and miniatures gamer even before that. Bill has been published in Dragon magazine and does freelance work for Wizards of the Coast.
Jesse James Dean is the top-ranked Constructed and Limited DDM player in the state of Florida and one of the top 20 Constructed and Limited players in the United States. He has participated in every Championship since the first and is the author of several online DDM Toolkits. His day job is with the Space Center.