Monday, 20 June 2011

Lores of Magic: The Lore of Shadow

And finally we have the Lore of Shadow. I admit that when people are talking about this Lore, all I ever hear is “Okkam’s Mindrazor RAAR OMGWTFBBQ!!1!” People seem to get very excited by the possibilities of this spell, especially when they’re talking about casting it on something like High Elf Spearmen. It may shock people to discover that this Lore does in fact have more than 1 spell (I know I was surprised). So let’s have a look through them.

What does is do?
The Lore Attribute for the Lore of Shadows is an odd one. Smoke and Mirrors allows the caster to swap places with any friendly character of the same troop type (eg Infantry, Cavalry etc) when he successfully casts a spell. The most obvious use for this spell is to get yourself out of a unit that has arrived in combat (or is about to), or perhaps to get yourself into a better location for another spell. The downside to this is you need another character to be waiting in your desired destination – one who doesn’t mind potentially being thrown unexpectedly into combat. There are probably cunning uses for this Attribute – things like charging a Shadow wizard on a Pegasus into the flank of a unit, then swapping him out for a Stubborn Lord on a Pegasus who will make their day far less fun. Bit risky if your opponent can stop all your spells, but hey…

Melkoth’s Mystifying Miasma is the Signature Spell of the Lore. It’s a hex spell that knocks D3 off the target’s WS, BS, Initiative or Movement (your choice) for a full turn. It has a massive range of 48” and is dirt cheap to cast on a 5+. You can boost this to a 10+ and have it affect all of those stats, which would go a long way to reducing your target to an immobile, talentless mass. 

The benefits of dropping enemy BS and Movement are pretty obvious. One will slow down your target, whilst the other will make the lousy shots. I will let you work out which is which. These effects mean the spell is useful against unengaged enemies. Lowering enemy WS can have both offensive and defensive benefits, and is only useful when an enemy is engaged (or soon to be). The Initiative hit will generally be of most use in combat, however there are two other spells in this Lore that force Initiative tests on your targets (with potentially devastating ramifications if they fail), and this will only come into play at range. All in all, this is a very versatile Signature Spell, even if it might not have the potentially dramatic effects of some others.

Next up we have Steed of Shadows. The spell allows you to make an immediate Fly move with a character within 12”. The ongoing trend in 8th edition is the removal of the ability to charge with magic, and this spell suffers for it. There will be times when it is useful to fly a character out of danger, or around to the enemy’s flank (in the case of larger monster-riding characters). You may also wish to use it to reposition the wizard himself in order to cast The Penumbral Pendulum down the enemy line, but you will probably be exposing the wizard in doing so.

The Enfeebling Foe is a hex spell that reduces the target’s Strength by D3. Depending upon how you roll, the effects of the spell could vary from annoying to crippling. The spell remains in play, so you’re only guaranteed to have it in place for your next combat phase. The casting value of 10+ means your opponent will probably need to save a few dice to dispel it, so its being a remains in play spell is not all bad. The Enfeebling Foe has a moderate range of 18”, which can be doubled for the increased cost of 13+.

The Withering is the twin spell to The Enfeebling Foe. Where the previous spell knocked off Strength, The Withering lowers the target’s Toughness by D3. This is extremely dangerous for the target. They could find themselves relying entirely on armour for protection, as normally tame weapons such as Bows suddenly start wounding on a 2+. Like The Enfeebling Foe, this is a remains in play spell with a range of 18”. The cost is slightly higher at 13+, which becomes 16+ to double the range. This also means your opponent will be forced to allocate a fair pile of dice to dispel the spell in his or her turn.

Lowering your target’s Toughness is a more versatile effect than lowering their Strength. In particular, even if the spell lasts for its minimum duration (being dispelled in your opponent’s next magic phase), a unit may find itself being shot at twice before regaining its Toughness – once in your shooting phase, then again from a Stand and Shoot charge reaction. This could be enough to scare your target out of charging that turn at all.

The Penumbral Pendulum is a slightly strange spell. It draws a line from the caster, 6D6” long (so a maximum of 36”, but an average of 18”). Everything touched by the line must take an Initiative test, or cop a Strength 10 hit, doing D3 wounds. You can double the distance rolled by increasing the casting level from 13+ to 18+.

As impressive as Strength 10 is, the D3 wounds is a disappointment. The spell would have been far more potent if the increased casting level had instead changed the D3 wounds to D6, but alas, this was not to be. Quite often you will be eyeing off a very large, tough target, many of which have pretty poor Initiative. However, D3 wounds is unlikely to be life-threatening to such a target. It is scary enough for characters, but unless they’re standing off by themselves, they will get a Look Out Sir roll to get out of the way of the Pendulum.

Spells like The Penumbral Pendulum always get the best results if you can get into the enemy’s flank and fire it down the line. This makes it a serious danger to wide, shallow formations such as cavalry or missile units. It often also allows you to target things like monsters without them being the only thing you’re aiming at. If you manage to fire down the line of an Ogre Kingdoms army (with their miserable Initiative and multiple wounds), the player will probably be having nightmares about the spell for weeks. But this is pretty much best-case scenario.

You will get more mileage from this spell if you’re able to lower the target’s Initiative with Melkoth’s Mystifying Miasma, which could conceivably result in every model in the unit you touch being killed (provided you roll well on the D3, their Initiative wasn’t too high anyway, and everything else falls your way). However, all things being equal, The Penumbral Pendulum is far from the most lethal spell going around.

The next spell, Pit of Shades, is a far scarier prospect for your target. You place a small round template (or the large round template, if you boost the spell from a 14+ to a 17+) anywhere within 24”, then have to roll to scatter it D6”. Models touched by the template must pass an Initiative test or be dragged to their DOOM! (their words, not mine – how great is that? A spell that has DOOM written in capital letters…) Victims get no saves of any kind, so this is potentially a very nasty spell.

As with the Pendulum, characters in units will get Look Out Sir rolls, so you’re unlikely to claim many of them with this spell. However, where Pit of Shades far outshines the previous spell is its ability to kill targets outright. This means the big nasty monster you want to kill so badly will actually be dead, instead of just dented a bit.

The other way in which I feel Pit of Shades is superior to the Pendulum is that concentrates damage on a single target (or at least, it will do if it lands in the right place). The template is quite capable of covering most (or all) of the target unit, whereas Pendulum can never kill more than a single rank or file. It might seem nice to be able to damage a lot of units with a single spell, but concentration of damage is generally more effective. It will also allow you to get the most effect from combining the spell with Melkoth’s Mystifying Miasma, as both spells can target a single unit.

Having to scatter the spell is unfortunate, however there is always the possibility that you will roll a Hit. And even if you didn’t, there is a very high chance that you will have cast the upgraded level of the spell (it only costs 3 more), which means you will still touch your target unless you roll quite a big deviation.**

** In actual fact, the larger version of the spell scatters 2D6 instead of 1D6. So it hurts more when it hits, but it is actually less accurate. I chose not to notice that detail, in the grand tradition of incomplete reading of the rules. These spell descriptions have an entire paragraph of text - it can be hard to stay focused...

And finally we get to Okkam’s Mindrazor. It’s an augment spell that lasts for one full turn and is cast on an 18+. This can be boosted to a 21+ if you want to double the range from 18” to 36”. Models in the target unit use their Leadership characteristic instead of their Strength when rolling to wound in close combat. Further modifiers to the user’s Strength from weapons are ignored, so if your unit has Great Weapons, they will be striking last for nothing. Of course, if they’re fighting at Strength 8, you probably won’t care.

The potential from this spell is pretty apparent to anyone with decent Leadership in their army. Even standard humans have Leadership 7, which will make short work of pretty much anything other than a Steam Tank. The best targets for this spell have a lot of attacks and a decent Leadership. High Elf Spearmen are just about the ultimate example of this. In Horde formation (provided they didn’t charge), they fight in 5 ranks. This means they could be rolling for 50 attacks, and their Always Strike First will generally see them with rerolls to hit as well. When they’re doing all this at Strength 8, there are unlikely to be many survivors from the enemy unit.

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

Who will use it best?
One of the observations I have heard about the Lore of Shadow is that is can often not play a big part in the early turns of the game. Spells that affect Strength (The Enfeebling Foe, Okkam’s Mindrazor) have no real impact until combat is joined, so when armies are still manoeuvring for position and firing missile volleys, these spells are of little use. Depending upon the spells you have been dealt with, you may find yourself relying on the Signature Spell to blunt the effectiveness of a shooting unit or mess with a target’s movement, whilst waiting for your more powerful tools to come into play.

The Lore is also hindered slightly by its 2 offensive spells relying upon low enemy Initiative in order to be effective. You may find yourself struggling to have any impact with these spells against armies with decent Initiative. It’s always handy to have a spell like Pit of Shades to threaten powerful monsters with extinction (a 6 always fails, after all), but if that’s all you have to offer offensively it may not be enough. As such, if you’re relying upon your magic for damage, this is probably not the Lore for you.

On the upside, once the battle lines meet, few Lores offer so many hex and augment spells with which to sway the combats. If you have a half-decent target, your opponent is likely to be very wary about Okkam’s Mindrazor. However, you have 3 other spells that can have an impact – The Withering could still see your unit wounding enemies on a 2+, albeit without the colossal armour save modifiers. An enemy unit can go from lethal to ineffectual if you roll well for The Enfeebling Foe. You can make opponents strike last and be easier to hit, all with Melkoth’s Mystifying Miasma. This is a range of options most Lores simply do not have. If you feel your units need a bit of a boost when it comes to combat, and this is more important than having magic to try to cripple the enemy on the way in, the Lore of Shadow would have to be high on the list. 

That’s all, folks!

And so, we have come to the end of my analysis of the Lores of Magic in the Warhammer rulebook. Every Lore has something to offer, and which one is the “best” is really more a question of which is the “best fit” for you. Different Lores have different strengths, which means you need to find the one with the strengths that best fit your purpose.

If you have been using a single Lore to the exclusion of all others, have you really considered what you could do with them? It might be time for a change.


  1. Amendment added regarding the Pit of Shades. Turns out I wasn't paying attention to what I read and wrote. Apologies...

  2. I really loved these guides to the lores has made rethink my build and I'll be looking forward to what you do next.

  3. I'm afraid you're going to have to update your info a bit. Vampires can take this as their normal lore now.

  4. Quite right, I am out of date. I shall address this shortly.

  5. I would like to see an evaluation of the Lore of Athel Loren. As i have started and mostly painted my wood elves, yet to really play test them. But debating how in hell i can successfully use it. Most my plans so far hinge upon way watchers luring things near to trees.

    1. Hi Malkav,

      I will indeed review the Lore of Athel Loren, although I have already been asked to look at the Skaven Lores, so I guess those will need to happen first. I'll try to get on my bike and make it happen soon.

  6. Casted Okham's Mindrazor on a unit of Chaos warriors with mark of Khorne and additional hand weapons yesterday...... 26 attacks at strength 8? Needless to say they simply annihilated those pesky grail knights in just one round of combat.....

    1. Yeah, it'll certainly do that...