D&D Miniatures06/12/2008

WotC Dungeons of Dread League
Crossing the Finish Line

The battles rage on.

After three matches in the Dungeons of Dread league, my warband had a solid 2:1 record and I'd picked up a trio of relatively unexciting pieces to add to my sideboard (Shadowhunter Bat, Goblin Picador, and a second Gnoll Marauder). I thought that it was time to experiment a bit and shake things up. Specifically, I wanted to play the Ice Archon before I got cold feet*, so I decided to try a "mini-titan" warband in this 100-point format. Little did I know I was bound to get iced*.

* Insert laugh track here.

Match 4: Out in the Cold

(or, How I Learned that AC 29 Don't Mean Squat)

My first game with the new warband was a rematch against John Schindehette, who also was eager to try out some new moves with new figures. John was experimenting with his original build by swapping in some new pieces that he acquired after his first games. For my part, I decided to go with a slightly revised version of the Ice Archon band I'd built back when I was first putting together ideas for the league, not worrying much about including a Champion or even a lot of synergy. I just wanted a halfway decent warband that totaled close to 100 points. To that effect, I created this:

Steve's Warband

Ice Archon (66 pts)
Deathjump Spider (11 pts)
Elf Warlock (11 pts)
Goblin Picador (6 pts)
Kobold Archer (6 pts)
Total = 100 pts, 5 Activations
John's Warband

Shadow Demon (42 pts)
Drow Spiderguard (26 pts)
Gnoll Marauder (18 pts)
Orc Raider (8 pts)
Goblin Picador (6 pts)
Monster Lair
Total = 100 pts, 5 Activations

This was the first time either of us played on the wide-open Crossroads map, so we weren't sure what to expect. My Elf Warlock, Goblin Picador, AND Kobold Archer gave me a ranged-threat advantage -- such as it was -- over John's lone Goblin Picador. I managed to drop said Picador on the first turn thanks to some careless positioning on John's part, but that was about the only mistake that he made. I foolishly moved the Warlock to a position near the wall where she could be ambushed by John's Gnoll Marauder, who wiped the elfin smirk from her face with a well-placed natural 20 on his charge attack.

That attack, as it turned out, signaled the beginning of two unfortunate trends for me this game: 1) John kept rolling 20s on his attacks, and 2) John proved highly efficient at eliminating all of my fodder pieces. Before it knew what was happening, the poor Ice Archon was all alone on the battlefield, wondering why it had bothered with such pathetic teammates and where it would find the damage output required to destroy John's team.

From that point on, both "warbands" (or, more accurately, John's warband and my lone, maul-armed popsicle) remained parked on the central Victory Area, swinging, occasionally missing, shifting, and hammering away at each other. The Drow Spiderguard's ability to dish out extra damage against enemies that have already activated proved to be invaluable to John's win, because with my one activation, it was all but impossible for me to deny him use of that ability.

Ultimately, I managed to destroy the Drow Spiderguard and put some heavy damage on the Shadow Demon before a final natural 20 attack from John's MVP Gnoll Marauder shattered my Ice Archon into cubes. Its ridiculous AC of 29 is no better than 12 against natural 20s. Even without those, though, John played a good, solid game.

What I Learned: Pay attention to your creature's abilities. With so many new powers on the table, it can be easy to lose track of things. Then you'll shoot yourself in the foot by forgetting something critical. In this game, for example, I completely neglected the Ice Archon's "Icy Ground" power (which makes adjacent squares become Difficult Terrain for enemies). I don't think remembering this ability would have made any huge impact on the game, but it was still a silly oversight on my part.

Match 5: Death to Good

(or, Careful Does Not Equal Wise)

Steve's Warband

Dwarf Battlemaster (31 pts, Champion 3)
Everfrost Ranger (31 pts)
Gnoll Marauder (18 pts)
Human Sellsword (11 pts)
Kobold Archer (6 pts)
Monster Lair
Total = 97 pts, 5 Activations
Chris's Warband

Dwarf Battlemaster (31 pts, Champion 3) Angel of Valor (30 pts)
Halfling Paladin (21 pts)
Deathjump Spider (11 pts)
Elf Archer (5 pts)
Monster Lair
Total = 98 pts, 5 activations

It was my great pleasure to face off against Mr. Chris Sims, another R&D refugee who always ends up locking horns with me whenever we have one of these leagues. Chris is a great tactical player and a great sport, and our games always wind up being plenty of fun.

This was, in some ways, a mirror match, not because we fielded the same figures but because we both had the same number of pieces filling the same basic roles. The one important difference, of course, was that I had more ranged firepower versus Chris's high AC, which was, going to be a challenge for me.

This was my lengthiest game in the league. Chris and I both took a great deal of care while advancing our figures across the map. You'd think we were assaulting the Westwall the way we counted squares, measured Line of Sight, cross-checked rules, and ultimately spent waaaaaaaay too much time calculating our moves rather than just making them. Eventually, we both threw caution to the wind and sailed in, smashing each other's fodder with our heavy pieces before moving on to bigger threats. Chris made efficient use of his Halfling Paladin's ability to negate charges along with the Angel of Valor's nasty Lightning Strike to stun key figures.

Luckily for me, the dice gods favored me more than Chris, allowing me to avoid some nasty attacks while still landing some lucky hits of my own. The Gnoll Marauder and Human Sellsword were sacrificed to eliminate the Angel of Valor, and though Vindicating Blow kept the munchkin Paladin in the game much longer than he should have lasted, a concentrated effort against his life eventually gained me the win.

What I Learned: Even with our excessive tactical caution, this game still lasted under an hour, indicating to me that the new DDM game has indeed been streamlined for faster play … even when players resist. I've played 200-point, non-tournament games with the original rules that lasted more than two hours. Even though Chris and I were playing with 100-point warbands, I can't see a 200-point game taking all that much longer than this one.

Match 6: Dorothy's Revenge

(or Why It's Good to be Lucky)

Steve's Warband

Dwarf Battlemaster (31 pts, Champion 3) Everfrost Ranger (31 pts)
Gnoll Marauder (18 pts)
Human Sellsword (11 pts)
Kobold Archer (6 pts)
Monster Lair
Total = 97 pts, 5 Activations
Peter's Warband

Drow Wand Mage (50 pts, Champion 2) Howling Hag (22 pts)
Yuan-Ti Swiftscale (22 pts)
Goblin Picador (6 pts)
Total = 100 pts, 4 Activations

Peter Schaeffer, yet another R&D alumni and a regular player in Mike Mearls's lunchtime 4E game (you know, the one I haven't actually been able to make it to in the past 2-3 weeks) was one of the most active players in the league, making returned trips to the OP stockpile to claim his prizes. (Jealous wags spread the rumor that he assembled a complete set of Dungeons of Dread from his winnings, without opening a single case of boosters.) I'm not sure how many games Peter played by the end, but I know it was a lot more than I did. All of those bonus figures allowed Peter to get pretty experimental with his warbands. A case in point is the one he brought to bear against me.

Unfortunately for me, Peter won map initiative, which meant that I would face the debilitating area and ranged attacks meted out by Peter's tag-team of the Drow Wand Mage and the Howling Hag. I knew that up close neither of those figures could last long against my squad of melee hitters. The trick would be getting close. I spread out my team as much as possible to avoid area effects, but I knew from the start that this would be an uphill battle.

I managed to corner Peter's Yuan-Ti Swiftscale fairly early in the battle after losing my stalwart Kobold Archer. While a good portion of my squad was making the Swfitscale into a nice pair of moccasins, my Sellsword mangled Peter's Goblin Picador. Meanwhile, my Everfrost Ranger was suffering a severe beating from the Wand Mage and Hag and dealing out very little in terms of return damage.

As expected, once melee was truly joined, the tide started shifting in my favor. The Everfrost Ranger dropped under the onslaught, but the Sellsword and Dwarf Battlemaster eliminated the Hag before the Sellsword was eliminated himself. The Battlemaster put some damage on the Drow with his Crushing Blow and took some heavy damage in return but set things up nicely for the Gnoll Marauder to charge into the Mage's flank and destroy him with a natural 20, winning me the match.

What I Learned: The same thing that I thought I learned in the rematch with John Schindehette. Check your special abilities … then check them again. Little things are easy to miss, such as the fact that the Dwarf Battlemaster's Crushing Blow targets DEF (Fort) rather than AC (which is how I'd played it through the entire league up until this match). Little things that that, which to some are merely part of a "Well, duh" moment, wind up being big news to others (like, say, me).

Final Thoughts

While I played a handful of other games in the league, those I've detailed in the last three articles were the most instructive and fun. Before wrapping this series, here are some last-minute observations from an "Old Player In A New Game" perspective:

  • The game has been streamlined but not, I think, in any way that inhibits game play. I myself was reticent about trying out the new rules because I was afraid it wouldn't be like "the game that I loved" … and it isn't. It's better.
  • Targeting rules have gotten much better. I like the different types of ranged attacks and how clear it is whom you can target with your attacks.
  • Games go quicker. I didn't think this would be so with the lack of morale checks, but the new charging rules certainly help you get to the battle faster.
  • Powers are cool. The range of special abilities is impressive, even if the concept of keeping track of everything, from Champion powers to just a creature's special abilities, can be a bit daunting. Once you get in the hang of it, the experience is worth the effort.
  • I'll be playing again. You can count on it. I'm excited to see how higher-point games work, and I can't wait to see what new figures R&D has on the hot plate for us.
  • You should try it. No matter how opposed to the new game you may be. give it a shot. A serious shot. Read the rules, put together a 100-point warband, and give it an honest go. You'll be glad that you did.

About the Author

Steven Montano -- accountant, freelance writer, and legend of stage and screen -- doesn't play DDM nearly as much as he'd like to, but that would all change if everyone else stopped making mistakes that he had to fix. (Step up, people, you're interrupting my game time!) What free time he does have is spent maintaining his blog, playing basketball with his son, editing his daughter's writing, and attending to his wife's many, many needs.

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