(Editor's Note -- If you missed part 1 of Stephen's retrospective, go back and read it. Right now. We're not kidding.)
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.
With new factions and abilities for old pieces accompanying the release of Dungeons of Dread, however, there's no guarantee that my 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 look forward to 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 rather 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: popular and proven pieces but in often non-traditional combinations. These warbands have 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 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!")
Inspired Tyranny (LG)
Inspired Lieutenant (45 pts, Commander 4)
This warband is my variation on an LE Quad, using a non-standard commander with some decent abilities. The Inspired Lieutenant has long been overlooked among the LE Warlords. Most players prefer to spend 11 points less for Urthok or the Red Hand War Sorcerer, or up to 17 points more for either the Human Blackguard or the Ultroloth. Those are the standard LE commanders of choice. This has always worked to my advantage, because it means that most people are unaware of how capable and versatile the Inspired Lieutenant really is. Her recall agony can put up to 20 damage on a foe from sight, and her two available hostile empathic transfer psionic abilities can put some much needed ending/auto damage on an already wounded figure (with the added bonus of healing the Lieutenant in the process). Speed 6, Commander 4, a +15 damage Smite and a +2 melee attack bonus to her followers is all just icing. (I'd say "gravy," but the Inspired don't like gravy). All in all, she's a competitive package.
Like any Quad warband, the strength behind Inspired Tyranny is its ability to outlast its enemies. With four solid hitters and the Inspired Ell-Tee acting as a reserve fifth hitter/finisher, you should be able to outfight even hard-hitting CE warbands, provided you pilot your warband carefully. King's Road is a good map for melee-oriented warbands with high attack bonuses, and it also allows optimal use of the Astral Stalker's ranged and sneak attacks. Use the Kobold to rack up victory points, and gradually advance on the central Victory Area with all but your Barghest, who (assuming you're not dealing with Blindsight) can take a more circular path to act as either a blocker or a flanker. While this LE warband has only a medium damage output, its myriad defenses (Conceal, Invisibility, high saves and AC, immunities, etc.) and good attack bonuses should allow you to outlast many opponents, especially if you're careful to control the area of engagement and to use your large number of hitters to your advantage by blocking and ganging up on single opposing pieces.
Highly mobile warbands are an obvious problem, which is another reason that I selected King's Road. While it is indeed friendly to flying creatures, the relatively short distance that you need to traverse before engaging and the overall odd shape of the map means that slow-moving warbands don't need to navigate quite so far to catch up with those pesky "hit you and run away" pieces. Lack of walls also minimizes the efficiency of shadow jumping units. By carefully selecting which pieces to hold in reserve and which to sacrifice, you should be able to whittle down your opponent and make him wish he'd never underestimated that silly Inspired Lieutenant …
Older Versions: The original version of this warband was nearly identical. The Greater Barghest's spot was held by the Chraal, and the Astral Stalker's role was played by a Helmed Horror. For that version, I used Mushroom Cavern instead of King's Road to capitalize the Chraal's ability to act as a roadblock. I don't think that either the Barghest or the Stalker are necessarily better or worse than the Chraal and the Helmed Horror, but I like this new version as much as I do the old.
Variants: With so many cost-effective pieces in the 33-45 point range, it's easy to swap around individual units in this warband experimentally. It might be fun to swap the Lieutenant with a Sahaughin Baron and upgrade one of the Duergar Champions to a Zakya Rakshasha or the Astral Stalker to a Justicator (any of these changes may or may not necessitate a change of map, as well). One crazy variant I tried a couple times is to substitute the 45-point slot with a second Inspired Lieutenant to maximize her auto-damage potential (though, as expected, this version only does well in certain match ups, usually against CG warbands).
Proudest Victory: Somehow managed to defeat a Werewolf Lord/dual Large Black Dragon/Thrall of Blackrazor squad on Hailstorm Tower.
Most Bitter Defeat: Had the lowest rolls ever against an Ultroloth/dual Noble Salamander team, also on Hailstorm Tower.
Black & Red (CE)
Tiefling Captain (21 pts, Com 4)
CE is the faction I started learning with when I shifted from Sealed to Constructed play, and like most others new to the game, I relied on old favorites -- CE Quads starring tried and true pieces such as the Eye of Gruumsh, the Orc Champion, the Red Samurai, and the Ogre Ravager. I liked those warbands but also found them somewhat lacking in terms of fun playability. To come up with something different, I experimented with the wide array of efficient beaters and bizarre special abilities available in the faction, including some "finesse" CE warbands (such as the many incarnations of my infamous "Slaad Squad" warband). It was when Michael Derry's tournament primer article for CE came out in 2007 that I finally found what I was looking for. Derry's proposed warband (Tiefling Captain, Thrall of Blackrazor, Red Samurai, Large Black Dragon x2, Timber Wolf, Orc Warrior) was a 7-activation powerhouse, and variations of the warband dominated the Qualifier season. Never a fan of lower activation warbands, I saw some opportunity when I realized that I could easily enough divide one of the Large Black Dragons into two separate units -- the Tiefling Warlock and the Orc Wardrummer. With the release of the most recent set, I've replaced the Red Samurai with the Fire Archon and upgraded the fodder, just for the sake of variety.
The idea behind the warband is similar to that of CE Quads since the inception of the game, though in the current meta, one also has a great deal of "auto-damage" pieces to use. Mushroom Cavern is a fantastic map for creating a choke point around the central victory areas. Use the Hyena to garner VPs while picking off fodder with the Poison Dusk Lizardfolk. Hold back both of your Tieflings so as not to reveal themselves for engagement, and position your three primary hitters for a second round strike. With abundant potential for line attacks on the confined areas of the map, the Large Black Dragon should be able to dish out damage on the second round, while the Fire Archon can deal an auto-damage Fire Burst and lay down a melee attack in the same round. As pointed out by Derry in his article, the Thrall makes a great finisher and is a daunting figure to face in melee unless your opponent is fielding a lot of auto-damage of his own or else is using a large number of Undead or Constructs.
The secret weapon in this warband, however, is the Tiefling Warlock, an oft-overlooked piece just exploding with eldritch potential. While the Fire Archon and Large Black Dragon are responsible for laying down the initial barrage of auto damage and weakening strong enemy units, the Tiefling Warlock -- who should always remain behind the defensive front row of hitters! -- is responsible for keeping that damage coming. With the ability to consistently put 10 points of typeless damage onto two nearby enemies every round, the Warlock is the perfect tool for forcing enemy Morale Checks, bringing an enemy's hit points down to a level where it can be eliminated by one the Warlock's allies, or even finishing off weakened units. The greatest benefit of the Warlock is that she's almost guaranteed to elicit one of two reactions from your opponent. They will either --
Older Versions: Besides the original versions detailed above, I've also experimented with some slightly higher-costed hitters and removing the Tiefling Warlock (among others, I've used the Large Shadow Dragon, Orc Banebreak Rider, Dracotaur Rager, and Werewolf Champion). Without the Warlock, though, the warband feels like "just another beater warband," so in the end I've always done my best to make sure that the Warlock finds her way back in.
Variants: With such an abundance of efficiently-costed beaters in the faction, one could easily swap out any of the three primary melee hitters with some of my favorite CE figures in the "juicy" point cost range -- the Orc Champion, Ogre Ravager, Blood Ghost Berserker, Werewolf Champion, Dracotaur Rager, Bar-Lgura, or the Red Samurai. If you think of the three hitters in the squad as a three-activation value of 124 points, you can mix and match however you like, maybe even bringing in more expensive options (such as the Werewolf Lord or Orc Banebreak Rider) along with some cheaper figures to make up the difference. The 11 points of fodder that top off the warband can also, obviously, be switched around (I've often used the Troglodyte in place of the Poison Dusk Lizardfolk or an Orc Brute and an Orc Warrior, etc.).
Proudest Victory: This warband has had more than its share of impossible victories, but the two most memorable were against a Storm/quad (yes, quad) Cormyrean War Wizard warband on Mushroom Cavern and a Warpriest of Vandria/quad X'endrik Champion warband on Dragondown Grotto. (No, I don't know how I pulled off those victories, either, so don't bother asking.)
Most Bitter Defeat: Fell to an Ultroloth/triple Helmed Horror warband on my own map. I need to stop calling out when I think I'll roll a 1, because I'm almost always right ...
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