D&D Miniatures05/08/2008

WotC Dungeons of Dread Internal League
Taking Those First Steps

Part 1: What Game Is This?

(Or, How to Build a League Warband with 13 figures or less)

It's been a long time since the last Wizards DDM Internal League (of, course I'd be saying that if the last one had been only last week). This time we have something special: an entirely new game system. I wrote some articles not too long ago to bid a fond farewell to my old DDM system warbands. Now, like many others, I'm jumping into the new system feet first. Unlike the "pro" players out there, many of the dedicated DDM fans working here at Wizards of the Coast (and who aren't directly involved in the design and development of the game) haven't had a lot of opportunity to get real table-time with the new rules because we aren't eligible to participate in sanctioned DCI events. Indeed, until the beginning of this league, I had played only a single game of revised DDM with some friends back when the first set of updated stats were released for Deserts of Desolation. So for me, this new league was as much a chance to learn the new rules as it was to have some fun, earn some free product, and rack up my kill score.

In recent leagues, the good-natured maniacs down in Organized Play have set up a unique reward system that enables players to add new, random miniatures from the set to their sideboard for league play. The initial pool is generally a pair of boosters handed out during sign up or, in the case of the Dungeons of Dread league, a Starter and a single Booster. In the past, a player descended to Organized Play (unquestionably the dank underbelly of the company) after every game to receive a reward. For this outing, each player was issued a card (108 x 140 mm, if it matters) with three blanks for matches played. Once you filled out your card with three matches, none of which could be against the same player, you clambered down to the Org Play area to gather your prizes.

So, without further ado …

Part 2: Warband Construction

(Ok, so there's a little more ado.)

As noted above, each player in this league received a starter set and a single booster with which to begin their domination of their rival departments here at Wizards. From these selections, each player was to construct a 100-point warband with no more than 8 figures, no Alignment or Faction restrictions, and no cap on how many points could be sunk into any single creature. Warbands could be retooled between matches, though most of that would be happening after every third game (assuming the figure you won was something you wanted to squeeze into the mix). By now, everyone in the known universe has acquired a starter set and (most likely) more than the lone booster I acquired for league play, so be warned that my analysis of figures here may be "old hat" to you. If that's the case, wander back to your regularly scheduled program for a moment and rejoin us once the carnage begins.

Here's what tumbled out of my starter set and booster --

Starter (no surprises here)
Dwarf Battlemaster (31 pts, Champion 3)
Large Green Dragon (36 pts, Champion 2)
Human Sellsword (14 pts)
Elf Warlock (11 pts)
Yuan-Ti Swiftscale (22 pts)

Griffon (22 pts)
Frostfang Ranger (31 pts)
Gnoll Marauder (18 pts)
Kobold Archer (6 pts)
Ice Archon (66 pts)
Chillborn (18 pts)
Deathjump Spider (11 pts)
Dire Wolf (14 pts)

Yeah. A real horror story.

At a glance, this selection didn't strike me as particularly … exciting? Noteworthy? Playable? In fact, at a glance, I thought it was downright awful. Where's the Hydra? The Ascendant Hellsword? The Tomb Guardian?

Alas, little of that wonderful love had been set aside for me, it seemed. I had what I had, so I sifted through the stats and tried to make some sense of the possibilities.

The Ice Archon jumped out at me immediately, though my reaction to what I read on its card was mixed. With AC 29 and a never-miss +19 to swing, this cool customer would unquestionably be a strong presence on the battlefield. At 66 points, however, working him into a 100-point warband would be tricky at best. At worst, it would be just plain stupid. The only reasonably intelligent warband I came up with to build around the Archon included the Chillborn (who could benefit from being close to the Archon if an enemy got Immobilized) and the Dire Wolf (no synergy, really, but he'd make a decent front-line figure and, perhaps more importantly, he looked cool). The more I thought about Mr. Freeze, though, the less excited I became. I decided that for my first warband, I'd focus instead on using a higher number of low- and mid-cost pieces to get a better feel for how the game played without relying on a titan. (The Ice Archon would put in an appearance later, only to confirm my initial suspicions.)

Despite their cool appearances, the Griffon and the Large Green Dragon were both set aside as well. The Griffon didn't do much for me even at a glance -- it had overall low attack bonuses and, knowing my own proclivities as a player, I felt pretty sure I'd end up sacrificing him early in the battle in order to make use of its Thunder Charge. I felt pretty sure that I had better options in his 22-point cost range. The Green Dragon wasn't so obvious an exclusion for me, particularly because of its breath weapon. Cones in revised DDM can be awfully tricky (both to place and to avoid), and the Big Green's maneuverability would be fun to experiment with. Still, looking at my other options, I decided to leave him on the sidelines, too, at least for my first matches.

Having stumbled upon the genius notion that my warband should have some sort of Champion, I decided to go 5 points cheaper than the Green Dragon and use the Dwarf Battlemaster. He was not only a better deal but a much more versatile piece, particularly with his highly useful Champion abilities. With a solid AC of 24 and good attack bonuses (not to mention the great "Crushing Blow" finishing strike), the Dwarf was an obvious pick. (As a side note, most of my opponents in the league also used the Battlemaster, which speaks volumes on the piece's functionality in this 100-point sealed environment.)

The Everfrost Ranger was also an auto-include, so far as I was concerned. While his attack bonuses are only middle of the road (a possible cause for concern in the new realm of mega-high ACs), the Everfrost's constant ranged threat, his Counterattack ability, and his high AC and Defense meant he'd be able to take it as well as he dished it out. Without many high damage options to choose from, the Ranger's 20-damage melee attack also looked mighty nice.

With 62 points and two figures down, I wanted to pack in at least three more activations. For reasons I can't really explain, five activations has always been the magic number for me when it comes to Sealed games. Sealed bands tend to be less efficient that Constructed bands, meaning activation control isn't quite as important in Sealed matches. One can generally get away with using fewer, stronger units, but there's still an activation threshold you don't want to fall below.

Looking at my other options, I focused on the Human Sellsword. For only 14 points, the Sellsword packs quite a wallop, has decent AC, and his ability to lay down up to 30 damage (40 with the aid of the Battlemaster) is just plain obscene. The slightly more expensive Gnoll Marauder fit a similar role. The Marauder's AC, Defense, and attack bonuses were all a bit lower than the cheaper Sellsword, but the Marauder makes up for that deficit with better speed and the capacity to do more consistent damage once he's Bloodied. While I originally had it in my head that I'd need to settle on just one of these two, I eventually concluded that having as many beaters as possible in this low-cost environment would be the better choice, especially since most of the other units in my sideboard lacked bite. There's something to be said for offering your opponent a spread of roughly evenly matched targets to choose from -- nothing stands out for quick elimination. With all of that in mind, I included both the Human Sellsword and the Gnoll Marauder, giving me four activations at a cost of 94 points.

Only one 6-point figure was available to me, and that was the lowly Kobold Archer. Having a second ranged threat, even a minor one, is never bad, and neither is spending all 100 points.

The only maps we were allowed to use were the two half-size layouts, Monster Lair and Crossroads. I chose Monster Lair because it is an all-round more interesting battlefield.

So my first-ever revised DDM League warband looked this --

Steve's Largely Imperfect 100-point Band

Dwarf Battlemaster (31 pts, Champion 2, slow as hell) Everfrost Ranger (31 pts, not too friendly to people he doesn't know) Gnoll Marauder (18 pts, smells terrible) Human Sellsword (14 pts, too lazy to lift up his sword) Kobold Archer (6 pts, pouts when ignored) Monster Lair
100 pts, 5 Activations

It's worth noting that while I constantly redesigned this warband in my head as the League progressed, I actually changed it only once, with disastrous results. This band was simple, straightforward, but surprisingly strong, and wound up performing admirably in spite of my inexperience with the new rules.

Part 3: Strategy

Yes, even more ado!

So far as planning strategy went … that would be a bit difficult, considering how new the rules were to me. From watching games (both in person and on Vassal), I spotted one major difference between the new and old rules. With all of the movement/charge/targeting options available, it is now much more difficult to predict what your opponent will do on any given turn. I'm sure my ability to measure and gauge my opponent's actions will only increase as I gain more experience with the game (and this League certainly helped me with that), but at the moment, I find myself enjoying the unpredictability of these new rules (which, for me, is further enhanced by the fact that I'm not nearly as familiar with the various pieces of the set as I'd like to be, because I haven't been able to acquire very many yet).

That being said, I found it difficult to formulate a solid "strategy" since I had little to no idea what I'd be facing. Rather than attempt to concoct any far-reaching plans, I decided to get to know my pieces so that I could react as well as possible to difficult situations. In general, my strategy would be to position the Everfrost Ranger and the Kobold Archer so that they could potentially take first round "cheap shots" against exposed enemies. This is possible more often than not if I set up on the open/non-cave side of the map. My opponent would likely go gunning for my primary ranged threat (and a nice 31 points) in the form of the Ranger. Then I could use my plethora of melee beaters to gang up on enemy beaters. They, through a combination of the Dwarf's Champion Powers, good high/average melee damage, and no small amount of luck, would finish off most enemy pieces before they could retaliate.

Time to get some battles!

NEXT: Thrill as Steve … crushes his Dungeon Master! Marvel while he … hums "Me and My Shadow!" Turn away in terror as he loses a game … to himself!

Steven Montano, who has precious little time outside of his role as a hard-core accountant for Wizards of the Coast, is currently engaged in a lengthy remodeling project that will undead-proof his home in time for the upcoming zombie apocalypse. (He's not worried about zombies as much as he is desperate to put all of that extra duct tape that he found in the shed to some good use.)

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