Thursday, 16 June 2011

Lores of Magic: The Lore of Death

I remember the Lore of Death getting a lot of attention when 8th edition first came out. The Lore was loaded with spells designed for sniping characters out of units, and players were getting excited by the potential for truck loads of power dice as a result of Life Leeching after casting The Purple Sun of Xereus. Evil plans were devised around this less-than-subtle ploy, resulting in some very hit-and-miss games. This sort of approach probably contributed to a lot of the negative backlash we saw in the community in regard to 8th edition, and has fed into tournaments placing caps on the maximum power dice you can ever have at once, and bans on the Power Scroll.

So, in keeping with its theme, the Lore of Death did its share in trying to kill Warhammer in the Australian community. But now that the dust is settling and the game is still here, is the Lore of Death the abomination some players might have made it out to be?  

What does is do?
The Lore Attribute for the Lore of Death is Life Leeching. Wounds inflicted by spells from the Lore of Death each generate an extra dice in the power pool on a 5+. This can result in you rolling entire handfuls of dice if you’ve just managed to send The Purple Sun of Xereus through the enemy army. However, Purple Sun aside, you are never likely to generate very many power dice using this ability. 3 of the remaining spells are capable of inflicting wounds (and thereby generating potential power dice), however all of them target an individual model. This will most likely be a character, who will probably have only 2 or 3 wounds. So on average, you would be lucky to get a single power die out of the spell.

This is not to say that Life Leeching is a poor Lore Attribute. More often than not, you will find yourself attempting these damaging spells, and the potential each time to steal an extra couple of dice is a real bonus. Of course, you may well not need these dice if you’re already slaughtering your opponent’s characters… But that’s not the point. More dice is better, right? And you might find yourself laughing maniacally in an ocean of power dice if you get off a particularly juicy Purple Sun, but laughing maniacally is a life skill. As is stroking your white cat and sending henchmen off to be executed for incompetence.

Spirit Leech is the Lore’s Signature Spell, and is cast on a 7+. The spell only has a range of 12”, although this can be boosted to 24” (which pushes the casting level to 10+). The caster and an enemy model of your choice each roll a D6 and add their unmodified Leadership values. If the caster wins the roll off, the target suffers 1 wound (with no armour saves) for the difference between the scores.

So here we have the first of the character-sniping spells. Obviously the spell has its limitations. Its default range is miserable, so you will most often be casting the spell at its boosted level. Most wizards don’t have brilliant Leadership, so your lowly level 1 Human mage is unlikely to overpower a Vampire Lord in a battle of wills, even with some help from the dice. Of course, if the roles are reversed, the Vampire will probably swat the Human like the mental flea he is. The spell will be far more effective in the hands of a Lord-level spellcaster, preferably from a high-Leadership race. You could have a crack with a wizard with a lesser mind and hope to do a wound or two due to the dice, or content yourself with trying to give headaches to monsters such as Varghulfs, with miserable Leadership values.

Aspect of the Dreadknight is an augment spell that makes the unit cause Fear (on a 4+), or Terror (on a 9+) for a full turn. The relatively low casting rolls required are indicative of the reduced impact of these rules in 8th edition, where they could be critical in previous versions of the game. That is not to say that the spell is useless; one side failing a Fear test and dropping to WS1 can have a massive impact on a combat, and not all units will always be within range of the general’s Inspiring Presence and the reroll from the BSB. You may wish to cast this spell to try to cow your enemies, but you are probably just as likely to be casting it in order to negate the chance of your own forces failing a Fear test. If you’re planning a charge the next turn, Terror will force a bonus Panic test on your victims. If they fail that, the game could change suddenly.

The Caress of Laniph is the next in the arsenal of anti-character spells in the Lore of Death. Again, the range of the spell is dependent upon the casting level – 12” requiring a 6+, or 24” on a 12+. If you happen to be within 12”, the casting value of the spell is a bargain, but you will most likely be boosting it. The spell inflicts hits equal to 2D6 minus the target’s Strength. Each hit wounds on a 4+, with no armour saves allowed. Obviously the effectiveness of this spell will depend upon your target’s Strength. Against a target with a moderate Strength of 4 and no ward save, a decent roll will probably see it dead. Regardless of this, it would take a very brave or foolhardy opponent to let the spell through against something valuable. If you roll high on the 2D6, anything will be in danger.

Soulblight is a very powerful hex spell. The target loses -1 Strength and Toughness for a full turn. This is not bad for a casting value of 9+. However, if you boost the spell to an 18+, the spell affects every enemy unit within 24”. This is colossal. Most boosted “aura effect” spells have a range of 12”, which is useful enough. 24” could well affect most of the enemy army. If you’re about to open up with a lot of shooting, or engaging in a series of important combats, this spell could win you the game. In combats in particular, the knock on your enemies’ Strength and Toughness combined could mean a huge swing in combat resolution. People will undoubtedly disagree with me (that is what the internet is for), but I think this is the real power spell in the Lore of Death. Get this spell off at the right time, and you are pretty much guaranteed to swing the game.

Doom and Darkness is another hex spell. This one drops the target’s Leadership by 3. Unlike Soulblight, this spell remains in play, so can be dispelled (of course, this also means your opponent has to get around to dispelling it, so these things can cut both ways). Also unlike Soulblight, the spell has no aura version – instead it just doubles the spell range to 48+ for a casting level of 13+ instead of 10+.

The most effective use for this spell is to drop the Leadership of a Steadfast enemy. A player will be fairly confident if the unit has Leadership 8 or 9 with a reroll, but drop that to 5 or 6 and they will rightly start to get nervous. Another good target is the enemy general. By knocking down his Leadership, you are effectively destroying the Inspiring Presence rule. Units within 12” will most likely be reduced to their own inferior Leadership, giving you a bit of an area effect on the spell.

The Fate of Bjuna completes the set of character assassination spells in the Lore of Death. The spell inflicts a number of hits equal to 2D6 minus the target’s Toughness, with each hit wounding on a 2+ with no armour saves allowed. This makes it the most dangerous of the sniping spells, which is reflected in its casting level of 13+. However, The Fate of Bjuna’s miserable range of 12” may not be extended – the spell has no boosted version. So you’ve got to get in close, but if you get the spell off, your target is in serious trouble.

The final spell in the Lore is the one people were getting excited about when 8th edition first arrived - The Purple Sun of Xereus. The spell creates a vortex using the small template (or the large template, if you boost the spell from a 15+ to a mighty 25+), which moves in a straight line from the wizard, 3x the distance shown on an artillery die. Anything moved over by the template must pass an Initiative test or die outright, with no saves of any kind.

If you have the misfortune to roll a misfire when determining how far the template moves, it is instead centred on the caster and then moves D6” in a random direction. Obviously if you’re standing in a unit when you do this, a lot of your friends are not going to make it…

The vortex remains in play, moving in a random direction at the start of each player’s magic phase, with the distance determined by an artillery die. A misfire results in the spell folding in on itself and ending.

Before you get too excited by the character-killing potential of a spell that kills models outright with no saves, bear in mind that being a template, characters will get Look Out Sir rolls to avoid its effects. Furthermore, most characters tend to have at least moderate Initiative, so they may well just shrug off the damage anyway (apologies to Pete’s Vampire Lord, who showed that even with a 35/36 chance of surviving, there is always the possibility of failure…). So the spell is not ideal for killing most characters, but then the Lore has plenty of other spells that have been made for this very purpose.

Purple Sun is far more likely to kill swathes of low-Initiative troops such as Dwarfs, Orcs, Ogres and Undead. It is also a convenient way to remove large, threatening monsters, which often have low Initiative (and even if they don’t, they’re still a 1 in 6 chance to die). If you get the spell off on the right angle and roll a decent range, it could kill a massive chunk of your opponent’s army. In this, the doomsayers were not wrong. Of course, the number of things that have to go right before this spell will realise its potential makes it far from a guaranteed game-winner.

If you do manage to get the spell off into a reasonable target, you will probably find yourself rolling a huge number of potential power dice with Life Leeching. If you have not yet cast your other spells that turn, you could have a field day. Once again, special mention must go to Pete (the self-proclaimed Purple Sundance Kid), who this time tried to cast the spell himself. Naturally he rolled a misfire, landing the spell squarely in the centre of his unit of Skeleton Warriors, with an over-abundance of characters in the regiment. The characters escaped, however the unit of Skeletons was reduced to little more than a pile of scorched bone. Finding himself with an unexpected windfall of power dice, he then proceeded to raise an entire legion of Grave Guard who had fallen earlier. He claimed the Skeletons were not really destroyed – they had just been promoted and sent off to their new regiment…

So yes, it is possible to generate large numbers of power dice through the use of Purple Sun (even if they may come at the expense of your own troops). However, it is just as likely that the spell will disappoint, especially if you’re too far from your target, or not very good at rolling artillery dice. It is b y no means a certain game-winner, and against some opponents (such as Elves, whose Initiative starts at 5), it may not be worth casting at all.

Who can get it?
High Elves
Warriors of Chaos
Tomb Kings
Dark Elves
Lizardmen (Slann only)
Daemons of Chaos (using Master of Sorcery)
Vampire Counts

Who will use it best?
Any race can make use of the list of spells available in the Lore of Death. With 3 of the spells (including the Signature Spell) being dedicated to assassinating characters, this has to be your main focus when selecting the Lore. If you’re pinning all your hopes on some dastardly plan with Purple Sun, I think you’re taking the wrong approach.

Spirit Leech is most effective when it’s being used by a wizard with good Leadership (preferably 9 or 10), however even a lesser mage can find uses for it in picking on low-leadership, multi-wound models such as Ogres or Goblin Chariots. The rest of the spells do not ask anything of the wielder stat-wise, so this limitation alone should not stop someone selecting the Lore.

Soulblight is a potential game-winner, especially if it’s being cast to backup a combat-oriented army as it engages. It protects your own troops whilst softening your opponent’s, meaning the combats you engage in will slant heavily in your favour. This spell will be useful to any player.

Aspect of the Dreadknight is a bit of a nothing spell, and you may often find that there are no targets that really warrant the casting of Doom and Darkness, however provided you have other options, these spells could prove more than handy under the right circumstances.

The Purple Sun of Xereus, with its chance to misfire and Look Out Sir rolls, is not quite the monstrous “remove models on a 3+” that it was back in the day, however there is no question that you will make opponents nervous when you sit there fondling the large blast marker with one hand, and rattling 6 dice with the other. It may backfire spectacularly, but it is the sort of spell that can turn a nondescript game into something you will tell stories about for years, so for that reason alone, I’m glad it’s in the Lore.


  1. Doesn't Soulblight have enormous potential against artillery (for example, the Bretonnian trebuchet has Ld 5 (6 with extra points).

    Also, with the rules as they are FAQed now, one can soften a target with DnD to then Soulblight... :)

    Playing wood elves now and looking for a good way of protecting my poor squishy elves...!

  2. I assume you mean Spirit Leech, when you're talking about picking off War Machines. And yes, it can work on those. Although they often have a decent number of wounds that need to be knocked off instead of good Leadership.

    As for the havoc FAQs have played with this Lore... Let's just say that if I had been updating the post every time the rulings around "unmodified leadership" were changed, it would have absorbed an unreasonable amount of my time. :(

    I quite like the idea of the Lore of Dark Magic for my Wood Elves. I think they'll give it a whirl when they come out of the cupboards.