With a new edition of DDM looming around the corner, I've heard this statement quite a bit lately -- "I'm going to miss the old D&D Miniatures game." For the record, I agree with the sentiment, but I had to ask myself: "OK, but what about the old game, exactly, am I going to miss?"
Is it my own familiarity with the game? At first, I thought this was the answer. It takes me some time to get familiar with a game, or even to get decent at playing it at all. My first exposure to DDM was the Angelfire internal league here at work, which I rocketed through with an impressive 2-8 record. (Yes, that's 2 wins, 8 losses, ladies and germs). I started to play casually after that and honed myself up for an even more impressive 3-7 record in the Underdark League -- progress!
But then, somehow, something clicked, and all of that practice and getting my butt handed to me paid off. My record of games won on Vassal started to improve, so that by the time the War Drums league came around, I'd honed my skill enough to earn an 8-2 record and to land 2nd place overall. That impressive showing continued through the Blood War league (9-2, a 1st-place finish), the Unhallowed League (4-1), and the Desert of Desolation League (2-1 -- it was hard to find opponents, for some reason). Finally, I found a game that I was good at!
But now that game is going away … or at least it's being replaced by something new. New is good, right? Everyone can agree that the rules for DDM needed to be cleaned up, and nothing I've seen in the new rules cries out to me, "Stop, you'll hate this game!" To be honest, I was a bit skeptical at first about the new rules … until I saw them. While part of me still groans at how many games I'll have to lose before I figure out this new system, I'm much more excited about the new DDM than I'd allowed myself to believe, especially after the revised Desert of Desolation stat cards became available. Once I actually played the game, it was confirmed in my mind: R&D just made the game even better.
So, then, the issue wasn't so much "Will I like the new game?" It was "How long will it take me to learn it?" I had a fairly steep learning curve with the original DDM, so I hope I won't need to undergo another 5-16 record before finally getting good at this new version.
But wait … I didn't answer my original question. "What is it about the old game that I'll miss?" To say I'll miss my familiarity with that game seems like cheating.
Now I see what it really is -- I'm going to miss my warbands.
I'm one of those players who likes to build a warband and then subtly alter and modify it as time goes on, either in response to play testing ("Wow, that combo really is lame") or to populate the warband with newer figures as sets are released ("Man, that wolf thing looks cool!"). Regardless of the changes, the core of the warband -- or at least the concept behind it -- always remains. Vassal, that wonderful online tool, is always there for playtesting or casual gaming. Even though my real-life (i.e., outside this building) games occur only irregularly these days, they still serve as a great testing ground for the continued evolution of my primary warbands.
Those warbands, it seems, are in danger. With new factions and abilities for old pieces accompanying the release of Dungeons of Dread, there's no guarantee that these old warbands will work anymore. Even if faction restrictions don't keep them apart, the new abilities simply might not mesh well. Add that there undoubtedly will be so many cool pieces in Dungeons of Dread that all thoughts of "those old warbands" will vanish faster than a gnome's ability to be a PC. (Good figures are coming, trust me. I may not be "in the loop" around here, but I still get to see things before the general public does, and rest assured that there are some pretty groovy pieces in Dungeons of Dread.)
While I no longer fear the imminent arrival of the new game, I will miss the reliable warbands that I've developed over the past couple of years. But fear not! With the power of the written word, I shall immortalize yon warbands so that their glory will never fade! The warbands below are the latest versions of some of my old favorites. Each of them has earned a place in my personal DDM history as warbands that I enjoyed playing, and I hope that these reminiscences about the crazy stuff I've tried during my time with this fantastic game rekindles similar fond memories of your own.
A quick note: I've never been what I consider a "Tier 1" player, primarily because I find Tier 1 warbands -- which more often than not are as many of the same piece that you can possibly stick onto a warband -- boring to play. I'm sure I'd feel differently, of course, if I played competitively in tournaments, but since the only "for prize" competitive play I can engage in is the Wizards Internal Leagues (which are always Sealed), I tend to play what I consider "Tier 1.5" warbands: I use popular and proven pieces but in often non-traditional combinations. Each of these warbands has been a work in progress for quite some time, evolving a bit with each new release to incorporate new pieces and with a mind toward combating other new pieces. Each of the warbands listed below also has (at the worst) a 5-2 record, and they've all been played against a variety of warbands (popular Tier 1 and other experimental warbands) in both live games and on Vassal.
If you enjoy this sort of thing, then jump on the forum and share your own favorite "old school" warbands! (Before you know it we can sit around the campfire, our old bones aching, and say smarmy things like, "Back in my day, DDM was about Morale Checks! We failed all of our MCs, young fella, and we were thankful for it!")
The Defenders of Grimhold (LG)
Cleric of Order (24 pts, Com 5)
I've never been a huge fan of the Lawful Good faction, as the style of play required to do well in the faction differs considerably from my usual "fast and sneaky" routine. At the same time, however, I love dwarves, and I've enjoyed watching more and more of the stout little fellows emerge from the DDM vaults over the past several sets. While recent figures (such as Bruenor Battlehammer and the popular Champion of Dol Dorn) have earned their roles in many warbands, the Thundertusk Cavalry and the new Dwarf Maulfighter have become my favorites -- stout, unattractive, beer-drinking louts who know how to lay a smackdown on their opponents. (Remember, I'm talking about dwarves, not roleplayers.)
This warband functions much like a traditional multi-hitter LE warband except that it's a bit slower and needs more time to get itself prepared. The War Weaver should magic weapon the three melee hitters right from the start and follow up with a bull's strength spell on the Arcanix Guards on round 2 (the buffed Guards can strike for up to 25 damage against enemies with SR -- not bad for 9-point fodder pieces). The Cleric of Order should grant major resistance on the Thundertusk and Arcadian Avenger (both of which suffer from poor saves) and then position himself to keep the warband in command. Between the Thundertusk Cavalry's Mounted Melee Attack and the War Weaver's pair of snake's swiftness spells and dimension hop, this normally slow-moving warband can still surprise your opponent, especially on the central corridor of the Shrine.
This warband's biggest weakness is its lack of auto-damage or energy resistances. That, coupled with the overall slow speed, is why I selected Dragon Shrine, whose energy resistance areas can be a great help versus enemy auto damage. The Magic Circles also provide some assistance with the Arcadian Avenger's relatively low attack scores, allowing for more success with her Elude Chance ability.
(Note: Grimhold is a fictional stronghold in John Marco's "Lukien Trilogy," a home for mutants, outcasts, and people deformed by magic. It is a haven of hope and prosperity in an otherwise cruel and bleak world. It really has nothing at all to do with this warband, but it lent itself to a cool warband name, and those books always come to mind whenever I run this warband.)
Older Versions: This warband has probably evolved more than any of the others, mainly because I've never been able to quite get the warband to be exactly what I want it to be while still maintaining eight to nine activations. The original (pre Blood War) version used a Slaughterstone Eviscerator and a War Weaver with a Battle Plate Marshal, while another version had an Elf Warmage in lieu of the Dwarf Maulfighter and a Githzerai Monk instead of the Arcadian Avenger.
Variants: As noted above, the Champion of Dol Dorn is generally more popular than both the Dwarf Maulfighter and the Thundertusk Cavalry, and two Dol Dornians can conveniently be substituted into this warband for the same price (84 points).
Proudest Victory: Defeated a triple Large Black Dragon warband on the Dungeon of Blood.
Most Bitter Defeat: Slaughtered by a Vlaakith/Thrall/Vampire Dire Wolf warband on the Dragon Shrine.
Eternal Warriors (CG)
Eternal Blade (54 pts, Commander 4)
I credit the many great and devoted Chaotic Good players that I've faced over the past couple of years with providing me the inspiration for this warband. The CG faction is and always has bristled with opportunities, but until the release of Blood War, only a handful of players were willing to give the faction a shot. The biggest problem with it, as people saw things, were: 1) a lack of cost-efficient hitters, and 2) overall low saves and attack rolls. With the release of Storm Silverhand and the myriad of 28-40 point pieces released with Blood War, however, the faction saw new life. Suddenly CG had more cost-efficient pieces than it knew what to do with. At the same time, CG's other big problem -- poor morale saves -- was all but eliminated for a good number of units by the powerful Commander Effect of Storm Silverhand. CG warbands were suddenly everywhere, and it was the rare person who wasn't using Storm + multiple Bralani Eladrins or, even worse, multi-Shadowdancer warbands.
Now, at last, a commander has come along to challenge Storm's dominance. While the Eternal Blade doesn't possess Storm's Warband Building abilities and can't grant the gift of Fearlessness to any of her followers, the +4 save bonus that she provides more than makes up for the deficiency. At any rate, it's nice to see a Commander other than Storm out on the playing field! One thing I look for in any warband (and Chaotic Good warbands in particular) is flexibility, which is why this warband contains such a mix of ranged and melee figures.
The basic strategy behind the warband is simple -- pepper your opponent with ranged attacks, clear their activations, and rack up area victory points to force your foe to come to you … at which point they get to deal with the Wemic and the Eternal Blade. Mialee should use her magic weapon spell on the Wemic early, while the Shaman should grant the Asura a cat's grace. Use the Asura and the Graycloak Ranger to barrage your foe with the afore-mentioned ranged attacks, and use the Crow Shaman to grant additional shots via snake's swiftness until your opponent finally closes. At that point, the Shaman backs up the Wemic and the Blade, providing them with extra melee attacks.
Another thing I like about non-Storm CG warbands is … the chaos! A great deal hinges on the luck of the dice, so this warband requires careful piloting to ensure that you don't expose your pieces too early or present too many opportunities for your opponent to capitalize on, as one or two bad rolls is all that separates this warband from utter victory or utter defeat. (One way or another, there will be something utter.) The Eternal Blade, luckily, can automatically succeed at one save thanks to her Moment of Perfect Mind ability, and her +4 save bonus Commander Effect helps mitigate some of your concern over facing those Beholder warbands.
I selected Magma Keep for its excellent sight lines as well as the central corridor that allows you to channel your foe to where you want him while still making use of the Asura's fantastic speed to make it difficult to hide from her ranged strikes.
Older Version: The original version of this warband was almost entirely different. It possessed a Lyrander Skyfire Captain and an Aspect of Kord in place of the Eternal Blade and the Wemic. Wulfgar later replaced Kord, but for this build I wanted the main hitter to be one that could benefit from the Eternal Blade's Commander Effect.
Variants: One could easily swap the Wemic Barbarian for a similarly priced hitter (Wulfgar, a Frenzied Berserker, etc.) or the Asura for a different archer (Bralani Eladrin, Half-Elf Bow Initiate, etc.), depending on personal preference.
Proudest Victory: Defeated a Tordek/Couatl titan warband on Magma Keep.
Most Bitter Defeat: Heartlessly destroyed by a spell-casting LG warband on King's Road. (Save bonus or no, a 1 is still a 1 …)
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