Thursday, 12 July 2012

Lores of Magic: The Lore of the Wild

Beastman Bray Shamans and Great Bray Shamans have a number of Lores to choose from. One of these Lores is specific to the Beastmen army - the Lore of the Wild. Today we'll have a look at what it has to offer, and how it stacks up with the other options at their disposal.
What does it do?
Being from a 7th edition army book (albeit a very late one), the Lore of the Wild doesn’t have a Lore Attribute. So it’s straight onto the spells, then…
Bestial Surge is the Signature Spell for the Lore. Cast on a 7+, it causes all friendly units within 6” to lunge D6+1” toward the nearest enemy they can see, or straight forward if there is nothing visible. Units stop when they come within an inch of another unit, so of course you can’t charge with the spell. It was probably the first hint that GW were killing off charging spells in the lead-up to 8th edition.

If all you care about is getting as close to the enemy as possible - to get in their face – this spell will serve you well. The obvious use for Bestial Surge is for the army to close the gap to an enemy that doesn’t want them that close – most likely a gun line army. This is the ideal situation, where you don’t really care exactly where each unit ends up, so long as it’s closer to the enemy. Against enemies who are likely to engage you in combat however, the spell is a lot more risky. You can’t use it to charge, and you can’t pick and choose when enemy each unit will rush towards (unless you have very carefully prepared in the movement phase). You can’t even be selective in terms of which units to propel forward – it hits everything in range. So you might be pleased to see your delaying unit rush right up in front of the enemy, but if you’ve done it wrong, your vulnerable unit will do exactly the same thing.
The lack of control that Bestial Surge allows means that it will only be appropriate in certain situations. If your Shaman is in (or near) a unit that has swept wide to get around the enemy flanks and wants to rush back in to threaten things, it would be perfect. If you’re within range of a group of disposable units whose job is to divert the enemy in particular directions, you could mess up your plans completely by casting it. Through careful management you may get decent mileage from the spell, but expect there to be times when casting it will help your opponent as much as it does you.
Viletide is a magic missile with a 24” range, which inflicts 5D6 Strength 1 hits on the target. This is a very unusual spell; Strength 1 is as low as it gets, but 5D6 hits is the most you will ever do outside of spells that hit every model in a large unit. Perhaps it would be clearer to say that this spell offers the most hits you could ever do to a small unit (or single model). On average it will do 17-18 hits – you will really pepper the target.
There are a lot of things in the game that won’t care about Viletide being cast upon them. In fact, most decent-sized units will shrug it offer under normal circumstances. Exceptionally vulnerable targets like Skinks won’t be pleased to see it, but you need 6s to wound anything with Toughness 3 or more (ie just about everything other than Skinks). This means that the spell will be most effective against targets with very high Toughness – things that you would need 6s to wound with anyway, even if you had Strength 3 or 4. Here we are talking things like war machines, enemy Ghorgons, and Warshinxes. The models with the very highest Toughness are often the ones with little to no armour – these are the targets where this spell will excel. On average, you will kill a normal war machine outright.
The other time when Viletide will get results is when it is combined with other factors. The Hagtree Fetish seems designed specifically with this spell in mind. If you get a good casting of The Withering (from the Lore of Shadows) off on your target, Strength 1 might start looking a touch more concerning. Combinations like this can be difficult to arrange, but when you can make them happen, you will see results. The spell will always be a threat to a target with not a lot of wounds and little armour, but in the right circumstances you can get a lot more bang for your buck.
The next spell in the Lore of the Wild is Devolve. It hits all enemy units within 12” of the caster, forcing them to take a Leadership test. Units that fail the test take wounds equal to the amount the failed by, with no armour saves against the wounds. It’s exactly the same as the Aura of Madness belonging to a Jabberslythe, except that it may affect units which are Immune to Psychology.
The biggest problem with this spell is that to hit a lot of targets, you need to be in the centre of the enemy lines – and this is also where the enemy BSB and general will probably be. In other words, the enemy units may all pass their Leadership tests. A player with Leadership 9 or 10 with a reroll on all his units will probably just shrug and let you cast Devolve, knowing that there is a good chance that nobody will get hurt.
That being the case, you may never get to hit a lot of worthwhile targets. Devolve will most often be of use when you’re looking to clean off one or two more vulnerable targets, away from the boosted leadership of the general. A bad test could see even a powerful model with good Leadership cop a few wounds, without the benefit of armour to protect it. In this regard the spell would actually have been more useful if it had a greater range and targeted a single unit. As it is, you will be limited in terms of your targets. There might be the odd occasion where the general and BSB are absent, fleeing or dead, and these will be the perfect time to cull a few units – but they are also times when you may well be on top already. If you manage to stack the spell with Doom and Darkness (Lore of Death) you could do considerable damage to an important target, but as I’ve already mentioned, planning around combinations of spells is a sure path to frustration.
Bray-scream is a slightly frustrating spell. It allows a friendly character within 12” to make a breath weapon attack at Strength 3, ignoring armour saves. This sounds decent (and would be brutal in combat), however the attack is made immediately. So you can use it in combat, however you won’t get the benefits to combat resolution.
Don’t get me wrong, a breath weapon that ignores armour saves could be cruel under the right circumstances. However, it is unlikely that you will have a character in a good position to place a flame template to maximum effect on the off chance of getting the spell off. It is more likely that the character you choose will be in combat, in which case you’ll probably only bother if you’re fighting heavily armoured enemies – in other words, knights. Knights tend to come in relatively small units, and rely more on armour than Toughness to stay alive. Ignore that armour, and they will drop like flies. A high roll on the 2d6 hits could see you cripple or remove a unit, and it’s at these times when the spell is most likely to be useful. There might be the rare occasion where you’re looking down the line of an elite infantry unit, in which case this spell will suddenly be of acute interest to both players. Normally though, Bray-scream will be lacking for really good targets.
Next up we have Traitor-kin. It targets all enemy models (not units, but the individual models within those units) within 12” of the caster, provided that they have mounts of some kind. It also targets chariots and monsters with handlers – basically anything where there are troops or characters trying to control animals. The animals rebel and attack their masters in rather brutal fashion. The beast inflicts an automatic number of hits equal to its Attacks characteristic, using its base Strength. The The rider/crew/handlers do not get any save bonuses from the beast or any barding it may be wearing against these attacks. This may sound like a confusing summary of the spell, but then it is a confusing spell. Not many spell effects hit half a unit, but this one can. Not many attacks in the game require you to determine what portion of the model’s save comes from the beast, but this one does (a Chaos chariot has barding on its horses. Does this mean you subtract 1 from its save? Or 2 because the crew are mounted? But then, they’re mounted on the chariot, not the horses…). Are the attacks against the rider, or the unit as a whole (in terms of excess unsaved wounds)? Do you see the problems?
Anyway, potential confusion aside, this spell will do nothing against some units, a little against others, and it will tear the right targets apart. An Empire knight will only take a wound on a 4+ and then save on a 3+, despite losing the benefits of the steed and barding. On the other hand, a Demigryph will tear its rider up with 3 attacks wounding on a 2+, leaving him only a 5+ save (I assume Armour Piercing does not apply here). A High Elf Lion Chariot will take 4 hits that wound on 3+, and only get 6+ saves. A High Elf Prince on a Star Dragon will suddenly wish he was somewhere else – and your opponent may find himself having to take a Monster Reaction test as the Dragon has a sudden bout of remorse after dismembering his master.
The Dragon I just mentioned is real point of interest here, because ridden Monsters will be the ideal targets for this spell (not that you have to choose – you hit everything in range). It’s not unusual for a Monster to possess the power to butcher its rider (or riders, in the case of crews in howdahs). There could be some very nervous armour or ward saves being taken as a result of Traitor-kin.
The second-last spell in the Lore is Mantle of Ghorok. It affects a character within 6”, and adds D6 Attacks and Strength to the target (rolled separately). If either of the dice rolls a 6, the character also takes a wound with no saves. The characteristics are capped at 10, but if you’ve gotten to that point, you’re doing OK anyway.
The uses for this spell are obvious. It turns a character (who may not have been overly dangerous) into a rabid killing machine. If the target is a Beastman he will probably be boosting these attacks with Hatred, and if he’s a Minotaur then his Bloodgreed could see him rolling a lot more than 10 dice in the combat phase. Either way, the target will almost certainly become the most dangerous model on the table for 2 rounds of combat, which will be long enough for him to mop the floor with his opponents (provided nobody spoils the fun by killing him).
Unfortunately Mantle of Ghorok costs 13+ to cast, so you can’t really just hold onto 1 or 2 dice and expect to get the spell off. Of course, if you’re holding at least 2 dice and you’re a level 4 (or 3 dice for a lesser caster), your opponent will be extremely keen to hold onto enough dice to stop the spell whilst you have a character in combat. A relatively innocuous character suddenly morphing into the Incredible Hulk can completely destroy the balance of a combat, and that could well be pivotal to the game as a whole. The shift is not quite as dramatic as a player casting a boosted Transformation of Kadon (Lore of Beasts), but cast at the right time, the effect on the battle could be the same.
The final spell in the Lore of the Wild is Savage Dominion. Cast on a 16+, it summons a Giant, Ghorgon or Jabberslythe, which is placed anywhere on a board edge. Once it’s there, you can’t get rid of the beastie by dispelling it. You have to kill it, or kill the casting Shaman who is effectively possessing the creature. Every time the beast suffers a wound the Shaman must take a Toughness test or suffer one as well, with no saves allowed. The monster vanishes if the Shaman dies, but short of that or simply killing the thing (dealing with the problem “old-school”), there is no way for either player to get rid of it. Whilst the monster is there, the Shaman is basically out of the game. He can’t cast or dispel, and won’t make attacks in close combat.
So then, a slightly strange spell. Is it any good? Well that depends upon what you need at the time. Any of the monsters listed can cause a player grief, especially if it appears right next to a unit or behind the lines. It will often be difficult to kill, and the thing doesn’t even concede victory points (this was covered in the FAQs). A free model worth up to 275 points is obviously an advantage to have on the field.

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The downsides are considerable, however. So long as the spell is in play, your Shaman is reduced to a drooling idiot, good for nothing but staggering about with his unit. If it’s a Great Bray Shaman, you’ve just negated your level 3 or 4 wizard for as long as your pet beastie is alive. There may be times where your opponent isn’t even interested in killing the thing – he might be just as happy that your Shaman is otherwise engaged, and get on with the business of killing the things in your army that are worth victory points.
The Toughness tests to avoid the monster’s wounds also being taken by the Shaman will be of little concern to a Great Bray Shaman with Toughness 5, unless he’s already taken wounds. However, a lesser Shaman (who you’d be quite happy to have permanently engaged as a puppet master for the monster) is only Toughness 4, and in real danger of dropping before his pet does (and thus taking it with him, of course). It’s probably a death wish for a normal Shaman to cast this spell. This means the most likely caster will be a Great Bray Shaman, and the player will have to decide if it’s worth taking him out of the game for several turns in order to let a monster run rampant through the enemy lines.
How will it be used?
The Lore of the Wild is not overwhelmingly powerful as a whole. There is some variety in its effects, with a movement spell, magic missile, area effects and the ability to summon enormous monsters, but there is also a lot that it doesn’t do. The Lore contains no hexes (or whatever you would call the 7th edition equivalent of one). The only augment spell targets a single character, so the Lore offers no real way to protect your units. Nor are there any spells likely to threaten large enemy units, such as you see in some of the 8th edition Lores. Instead the focus is on short-ranged damage spells in the form of Devolve, Bray-scream and Traitor-kin. If you’re outside of 12” of the enemy none of these spells can be used, and even when you get close, you may find there still isn’t a good target for them.

When it comes to selecting a Lore of Magic for a Beastman army, the Lore of the Wild is up against it. The alternatives that all Shamans can turn to are the Lores of Shadow, Death and Beasts. The first two are dangerous Lores with some lethal direct damage spells and powerful hexes that can affect a game heavily. The Lore of Beasts is a likely choice for lesser Shamans, driven largely by its excellent Signature Spell. When you don’t get to roll a lot of dice when determining spells, you want to be sure of getting at least 1 good one. Wyssan’s Wildform fits the bill – and there are plenty of units in the Beastman army that look pretty impressive with an extra point of Strength and Toughness.

If you do choose the Lore of the Wild, it will probably not be for its battery of short-ranged damage spells. What the Lore offers that the alternatives do not is a way of closing the gap with the enemy. Bestial Surge may be an uncontrolled and unreliable method of moving forward, but it can affect a whole cluster of units and help you advance across the table. If your army is based around powerful combat units (which is probably should be – Beastmen aren’t great at shooting), getting to grips with the enemy will often be what you want. As the Signature Spell, you could be pulling multiple copies of the spell and propelling your entire army – or sending the same smaller group a really long way. Savage Dominion is another means of getting to the enemy quickly. A monster appearing right in the middle of the enemy artillery will help your whole army arrive safely, and at the very least may attract fire away from things you actually paid points for. These two spells are what sets the Lore of the Wild apart from the other options. If you’re making a Beastman army, it’s up to you to decide if it’s what your army needs from its magic, and there is a chance that it will fit the bill – after all, the Lore was made specifically for the Beastmen.

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