We've assembled a team of four talented warband builders, and each gets the chance to challenge his compatriots to build their best warband around a particular miniature or theme.
Bear in mind that what you're reading is not a primer on how to win tournaments. It's an intellectual puzzle in which the contributors may not always be given the best material to work with. The challenge is to make the most of the starting conditions.
This week's topic was chosen by Steve Winter.
This installment of Champion's Notebook is an Against the Giants test. Our four warriors each selected a different faction and built a 200-point warband around it. The sweet part -- at least 100 points must be from the nearly-released Against the Giants expansion. Read on and be illuminated.
Borderlands (Dwayne Stupack)
Large Brass Dragon* (50 pts, Ch 2)
Skullcleave Warrior x3 (117 pts)
Merchant Guard x2 (16 pts)
Goblin Runner x4 (16 pts)
Total = 199 pts, 10 activations
I noticed after building this warband that, with the exception of the Merchant Bodyguards, it has a tribal feel of Dragon worship, almost Eberronic in flavor. That had little to do with the build, it was just a 'side benefit' that was somewhat unusual for Borderlands.
The first thing that one notices is that this band lacks an Eternal Blade, the past queen of the Borderlands no matter what type of warband one might want to play. Her reign was controversial if not benevolent; with only three sets released prior to Against the Giants, it was relatively easy to pick out clear winning pieces. Now things get a little more complicated, with Against the Giants riding into the metagame and Unhallowed sneaking in alongside.
The warband I've built for Borderlands highlights a piece we may see more and more of in warbands -- the Skullcleave Warrior. He is aggressively priced and has some nifty tricks, including the ability to score one critical hit when needed with Unavoidable Strike. Whenever he scores a crit, his Skullcleaver power lets him make a free attack against another, adjacent target. Granted, this warband seems to basically have one trick, but, as they say, "it's a good trick." Although this build features three Skullcleave Warriors, builds with only two or as many as four can be completely viable.
The next strangeness is the dragon. Why would anyone play the somewhat anemic Large Brass Dragon alongside these boys? Aside from a much-needed [C] line attack, the dragon's presence becomes more rational if one considers the Sleep Breath cone. Recall that [M] attacks against helpless enemies are automatic critical hits, and Sleep makes you helpless. This gives you room to really leverage the Skullcleaver power. The trickery of the Dragon's champion powers allows you to punish your opponents if their dice are bad while also providing alternative ways to score victory points. If you're averse to dragons or large creatures, one could also pick Wulfgar, who offers similar abilities.
The Merchant Guards are included to protect these four while they race into combat. This team could really struggle vs. ranged threats on certain maps, so it's good to have some insurance.
The warband is rounded out by a group of Goblin Runners. These guys are very classy 4-point pieces. Once they spread out, it's easy for them to snatch victory points, skirmish with your opponent's fodder, or act as pickets (i.e., speed bumps), particularly if your opponent has ranged units with range "nearest." In the right terrain, like the jungle, they might even hold their own against a Kobold Archer.
Jungle or forest is important for this group, though it could also play on Forest Cliff Lair. The key features one would like are blood rock terrain near a victory area and the opportunity to hide from ranged bands. Nonetheless, this warband would fare well on numerous maps, including those with smoke (Evermelt, Hellspike) or on Ratfang Sewers. This flexibility is important, because with a lowly Champion 2, you might not get to play on your map as often as you'd like.
* At the time of this writing, the Large Brass Dragon is still in Beta form, so its use here is not entirely cricket. The judge has deigned to allow it.
Civilization (Jason Lioi)
Rakshasa Baron (75 pts, Ch 3)
Eladrin Pyromancer x2 (90 pts)
Fist of Moradin (12 pts)
Merchant Guard x2 (16 pts)
Goblin Runner (4 pts)
Farmer (3 pts)
Total = 200 pts, 8 activations
One of the strongest features a mini can have in the D&D Miniatures game is the ability to deal auto-damage. When you can damage your opponent's creatures without relying on the notoriously fickle d20, the consistency you gain makes your tactical decisions easier. Consistency often leads to victory, and for that reason I've built my band around the Eladrin Pyromancer.
The Pyromancer's Fireball is a powerful area attack. Against enemy beaters and titans with typical Defense ratings, the +13 attack bonus can be expected to hit somewhat less than half the time … but because the Fireball deals 15 damage on a miss, nothing will escape untouched. Support pieces and fodder, with lower Defense scores, will take the full 25 points fairly often. At radius 2 and range sight, targeting the Fireball exactly where you need it should not be a problem, particularly on Flooded Ruins. On this map, it's possible to hit most of both starting areas in the first round using two radius-2 effects.
Of course, while a single Fireball should remove some enemy fodder, it's not going to stop opposing beaters. Being hit (or even missed) by Fireball after Fireball, however, will take its toll. This is where the Rakshasa Baron's champion ability comes in. The Baron can recharge the Eladrins' Fireball up to three times, for a total of five uses. While recharging the Eladrin's attacks, the Baron can also thump the opponent's biggest threats with Mind Twist, which Staggers the target on a hit. Staggered enemies can't use ranged attacks, which might grant the Pyromancers more time to launch Fireballs before being engaged. If you're playing on Flooded Ruins, most enemies are also slowed down by a long slog through the river -- blocking the teleporter on your side of the map is trivial.
When the Eladrins are forced into melee, activating Razor Barrier continues the theme of auto-damage to the enemy, as does the Fist of Moradin's Smite Unbeliever attack. (While the Smite is also eligible for a recharge from the Baron, typically this will not be an optimal choice.) The Fist's Aura of Protection gives a slight boost to your warband's AC and DEF scores, and the Merchant Guards can prolong the life of your Eladrins by absorbing a hit or two each.
Obviously, this band will struggle against opponents with fire-resistant or fire-immune creatures. The Rakshasa's Mind Twist can help in that regard, but with so much of your damage output typed as fire, you are in for a rough time against opponents running units such as the new Efreeti Flamestrider. As always, consider your local metagame before choosing an element-based band like this one.
More activations would make this a stronger warband. If not restricted by this challenge's requirement to use 100+ points of Against the Giants creatures, I'd swap out the Fist of Moradin for another Merchant Guard and Goblin Runner. If you try a band like this one, tell us how it worked in the forum!
Underdark (Michael Derry)
Deathpriest of Orcus (79 pts, Ch 2)
Shadow Demon x2 (84 pts)
Hellwasp (9 pts)
Ravenous Ghoul x2 (16 pts)
Ravenous Dire Rat x4 (12 pts)
Total = 200 points, 10 activations
Building competitive warbands for Dungeons & Dragons Miniatures Battle Rules (aka the new game) means looking for the maximum synergies possible and ways to use these combinations to win. With so many creatures able to be in two (or more) factions, finding the best synergies can be more difficult than before, even though the game currently has fewer creatures than before.
The Deathpriest of Orcus brings several compelling capabilities to a warband. Most obviously awesome is the Visage of Orcus attack. Also compelling is the champion power to heal 20 HP for a demon or undead ally. While this may not seem like much healing (only 40 HP total for a creature costing 79 points), two 20-point heals in a faction that generally does not have healing can be very helpful. Creatures with Insubstantial or Conceal are already harder than average to hurt; combined with healing, they become much more competitive. Otherwise the Deathpriest has solid AC/DEF and reasonable HP, a whirlwind-type attack, and a useful buff to adjacent demons, undead, and Orcus allies (+2 AC and +2 DEF).
Underdark creatures that are demons or undead with Conceal 11 or Insubstantial are scarce now. One quite good option is the Shadow Demon. With 60 HP and Insubstantial at a cost of 42 points, the Shadow Demon has not looked very compelling before, especially with its modest attack. But with the potential for two 20-HP Healings, Shadow Demons can't be destroyed without a lot of effort. Extending the Shadow Demon's life is important, because its Shadowed power does a small amount of automatic damage. The longer that power can be kept going, the more cost-effective the Shadow Demon becomes. Keep it going long enough and it can result in kills. With two Shadow Demons, it is easier to maintain the ongoing damage and to spread it among more targets. Deathport enables Shadow Demons to jump adjacent to damaged enemies, increasing yet again the power of Shadowed. If the enemy creature is immobilized by the Deathpriest’s sight-range Visage of Orcus, it can't move away from the Deomon to end the Shadowed effect. All of this makes the Shadow Demons more mobile and more capable of focusing their damage on the specific targets you want to destroy, which makes them tougher opponents and more competitive.
The Drone power of the Hellwasp (adjacent enemies can’t make opportunity attacks) gives your creatures amazing tactical flexibility. D&D Miniatures Skirmish Rules (aka the old game) limited the mobility of creatures that were locked in combat, because shift was not a default ability. By now, standing your ground once based by the enemy in order to not give away free attacks is a habit ingrained in many experienced players. Sharp players can sometimes take advantage of an opponent's habitual stoicness in the face of potential opportunity attacks. The Hellwasp's Drone power opens up mobility even more and might magnify the mobility advantage, even against players who've become accustomed to the greater mobility that shifting provides. Moving (and maybe then charging) without the threat of opportunity attacks can be a potentially match-winning capability at the right moment. The key thing is to preserve the fragile Hellwasp until the right moment, instead of wasting it early.
If the Ravenous Ghouls actually hit a key target, the Staggered condition imposed by Ghoulish Bite makes them well worth their cost, and it synergizes well with the control-oriented style of this warband. Although they will often be best at winning the battle against other fodder for control of VP areas, consider having them join the main fight, especially against foes with moderate DEF (Fort).
The key part of winning with this warband is using its control capabilities to limit the offensive capability of your opponent’s warband. With careful positioning, you can force your opponent's creatures to either stand in place and take ongoing damage (often on several creatures) or disperse and retreat from your shadow creatures.
Wilderness (Jim Cook)
Warpriest of Vandria (40 pts, Ch 3)
Galeb Duhr x2 (90 pts)
Golden Wyvern Initiate (35 pts)
Giant Eagle (18 pts)
Darkmantle (6 pts)
Kobold Archer (6 pts)
Elf Archer (5 pts)
Total = 200 pts, 8 creatures
I considered three different bands for Wilderness: a 'no champion' band of various hitters and ranged support, a Hierophant of the Seventh Wind with several beasts and elementals, and the group you see above. The first one was ineffective in my test games, while the Hierophant's group did well but was largely a 'melee only' affair, vulnerable to ranged enemies. This warband also prefers fighting up close, but it has a lot of flexibility.
Controlling the victory areas is very important, and I feel I have a reasonable chance of getting Hailstorm Tower thanks to my Champion rating of 3. The victory areas on that map are shared by both teams, close together, and with no blind spots. The Darkmantle will start in one of them thanks to Wandering Monster, and the Galeb Duhrs can burrow through walls to reach them by round 2. At that point, Stone Transformation ensures that I'll almost certainly hold at least one area. The Warpriest and Golden Wyvern Initiate will arrive shortly thereafter, and the narrow terrain in the tower makes the Initiate's abilities all the more useful.
The Giant Eagle can hunt weaker targets or provide combat advantage to the Galeb Duhrs, and the Darkmantle can do the same once those big rocks arrive to hold the victory area. Between the Warpriest's Searing Light plus the Kobold and Elf Archers, I have a decent ranged option if I wind up playing on my opponent's map. With all those options, I should be gaining victory points early and often and will likely find a way to take away my opponent's activation advantage. I'll almost certainly need to, because this warband starts with only eight creatures.
My biggest concern is how this warband would fare against ranged warbands, specifically those led by an Eternal Blade on Frostfell Rift. That particular type of foe doesn't seem especially common, but it could pose a problem to my Galeb Duhrs. Moving at speed 4, they'd need to use up their Stone Transformations just to safely approach the enemy. Considering the overall scarcity of that warband, however, this build is something I'd be willing to try even in a normal Constructed environment.
As a bit of homework for the reader: this warband can be made more versatile and also have more front-line hit points ('beef' as some people put it). Those changes can be made while still honoring this challenge's requirement of using at least 100 points of creatures from Against the Giants. It starts with removing one Galeb Duhr in favor of another hitter from this set in the low 30s point range. Substitute a few other creatures and even change your map to something less specialized if you wish. Which changes would you make? Feel free to post your ideas on the forums.