Thursday, 27 September 2012

Lores of Magic: The Lore of Vampires

Magic used to define the Vampire Counts army in much the same way as it did the Tomb Kings. The primary difficulties an opponent faced was the prowess of the Vampire characters, and the fact that the generally modestly powerful units could regain lost models (or even grow beyond their starting size), spring up from nowhere, and charge in the magic phase. 

Things have been shaken up a bit under the latest Vampire Counts book, including the loss of the ability to charge using Vanhel's Danse Macabre (continuing the trend we have seen across all new magic lores under 8th edition). The book has seen a number of new units added, many of which fight well enough that they don't necessarily need magical assistance to get the job done. 

So then, the army has reduced its reliance on magic (assuming the player builds his army list correctly). What does this mean for the new Lore of Vampires? Let's take a look.

What does it do?
The Lore Attribute for the Lore of Vampires is The Curse of Undeath. Whenever a spell from the lore is successfully cast, a friendly model within 12" (or the caster himself) immediately regains a lost wound. This is exactly the same as Lifebloom (the Lore Attribute for the Lore of Life), and is extremely important. Vampire Counts characters (and the army general in particular) are essential to the success of the army. Some of them are also very tough, which means opponents often have to work hard to bring them down. Knowing that each time you cast a spell from the Lore of Vampires (whatever that spell may be) you can be regaining a wound on one of these resilient characters, makes them that much tougher and will frustrate your opponent's efforts. 

It's worth remembering that the effects of The Curse of Undeath are not limited to characters - the Vampire Counts army has an extensive ranges of multiple-wound models and units. Things like Crypt Horrors, Mortis Engines and Varghulfs all pack high Toughness and Regeneration as well, which means they can be very hard to shift. Healing them back up as a side-effect of a spell could see them survive where they would otherwise be worn down.

The Signature Spell is Invocation of Nehek. Friendly Undead Units within range of the spell regain a number of wounds depending upon their unit type. Infantry regain D6 + the caster's magic level, Vampiric, Ethereal and Large Targets regain a single wound, and everything else gets back the caster's magic level +1. The range of the spell depends on the level at which it is cast, and there are 3 levels - 6" for 6+, 12" for 12+ and 18" for 18+ (you may see a pattern there)...

There is nothing particularly subtle or sneaky about this spell - its effects are very straightforward (even if they sound convoluted because of the different target types). Damaged units in the affected area will replenish themselves. Zombies, Skeletons, Dire Wolves, Bat Swarms and Fell Bats may actually increase beyond their starting size, however all but Zombies are dependent upon a Necromancer skill or Vampiric Power in order to do so. 

You will notice that the rate at which units replenish is heavily dependent upon the caster's magic level. A level 1 wizard will heal most units 2 wounds at a time (and Infantry D6+1), whereas a level 4 would be healing 5 wounds (or D6+4 for Infantry). This means your opponent will most likely be looking to prevent your high level caster from pulling the spell off, but you might slide past with your secondary attempts from lesser wizards. This is of course the beauty of it being the Signature Spell - you can get several copies of it should you so desire.

The most efficient targets for Invocation of Nehek are the best units for their troop type. It would be great to be able to raise mountains of Blood Knights at a time, however the Vampiric rule ensures you will only get one back per casting. Black Knights on the other hand will regain somewhere between 2 and 5 models, depending upon the wizard's level. Given how resilient they are, this could be a cruel blow for your opponent. Crypt Horrors are also extremely tough, and they get wounds back at the same rate as the Black Knights. Likewise raising a Skeleton is all well and good, but you get Ghouls and even Grave Guard back at the same rate, which is a lot more significant. Some well-timed castings of this spell could see you undo your opponent's best efforts and leave him facing full-strength regiments once more.

Of course, the beauty of this spell now is that you don't need to pick and choose your target unit carefully. Careful placement of wizards will ensure that you can hit several important units at once, even without boosting the spell heavily. 

Vanhel's Danse Macabre is an augment spell with 2 effects. The target gains rerolls To Hit in close combat for one full turn. In addition, if it is unengaged the unit may immediately move up to 8", though it may not charge. The spell has a range of 12" and is cast on a 6+, however this may be increased to a 12+ in which case it will affect all friendly Undead units within 12".

As a rule, Vampire Counts armies tend to have fairly moderate Weapon Skill. There are exceptions to this rule (such as the Vampire characters), but even a lot of "elite" Undead units only have WS 3. As such, rerolls to hit are of obvious benefit (you can't rely on the enemy failing Fear tests all the time). Some of these units also have Poisoned Attacks, which makes the rerolls even better. A unit like a horde of Grave Guard with great weapons is a fairly fearsome prospect, but if it's rerolling failed hits, it can become downright lethal. Being able to boost the spell to affect several units is good, because unless you've got the Book of Arkhan, you will only get one chance at casting the spell each turn.

The bonus movement used to define Vanhel's Danse Macabre, however now that you can't charge with it, this aspect of the spell has become a lot less potent. It will still enable you to close the gap with the enemy (or increase it) should you so desire, and it may also allow you to position some of your units for flank charges in the following turn. Good use of the spell could still allow you to dictate the terms of the game, even if you can't use it to force through the game-winning charge as was the case in days gone by.

Hellish Vigour is an augment spell that allows the target to reroll failed To Wound rolls in combat for one full turn. It targets a single unit within 12" for 8+, or can be boosted to hit all units within 12" for 16+.

Having rerolls to wound is always useful, but it tends to come into its own when your troops are not striking at high strength. Rerolling when you're already wounding on a 2+ is not normally significant, however it makes a huge difference if you're looking at something closer to a 4+ (which will see you increase your wounds by half again). The Vampire Counts have a number of units that can produce a good number of attacks without necessarily having the Strength to make them hurt. Ghouls and Crypt Horrors are particularly good examples. Granting them rerolls won't improve their ability to punch through armour, however it will ensure they get a good return on their hits in general, and be bad news for poorly armoured opponents.

Gaze of Nagash is a bog-standard magic missile, doing 2D6 Strength 4 hits to the target. Its range is 24" for a 9+, or 48" if boosted to a 12+. It's always useful to have a spell like this for clearing away chaff or wearing away at dangerous but vulnerable targets. And of course you can heal a model as a side-effect thanks to The Curse of Undeath - not bad when you're dealing damage to the enemy at the same time.

Raise Dead allows you to create a new unit within 18" of the caster. You get 2D6+3 Zombies if you cast the spell on a 9+, or 2D6+3 Skeletons if you boost it to a 14+. Raised units don't grant victory points to the enemy if they are destroyed, however they don't come with any command options or upgrades.

It's no secret that Zombies and Skeletons are not the most dangerous units in the Warhammer world. In fact, in the scheme of things they are very poor. However, there will always be a number of uses for a new unit, whether or not it can fight. Probably the most frequent use for a raised unit is to block the enemy advance or charge. The unit will be raised right in front of the enemy, forcing them out onto an angle to prevent a meaningful overrun, and prepare to die swiftly. Like any diverting unit, this can allow you either to have the charge yourself, or to buy another turn before the enemy arrives. 

18" is sufficient range for you to consider raising a unit behind enemy lines, provided they have advanced close enough. This could be a useful way of getting past the combat units and opening up a charge on the softer missile troops or artillery behind them. For this to be useful, the raised unit doesn't even need to be capable of breaking the missile units - it just needs to get up there in their faces and prevent them from shooting for a while.

The other potential use for the new unit depends upon your overall magical supremacy. 2D6+3 will give you 10 models on average, which is 2 complete ranks. However, this is a thoroughly unconvincing number when you consider how poorly Skeletons and Zombies fight. This is where Invocation of Nehek comes into play. If the unit becomes more substantial (say, 20+ models) it will start to be a concern when menacing the flank of one of the enemy's main units. Suddenly its presence in a combat will cancel enemy ranks, gain a flank bonus, and potentially add charge and rank bonus or even the cancellation of Steadfast all on its own. Against a moderate enemy unit, this threat might be enough to force them to turn to face you. Against stronger opposition, the unit may be ignored but if the enemy charges your main line and fails to break through, the addition of this bonus regiment in the side could swing the combat in the second round.

Curse of Years is a hex spell with an 18" range, which is cast on a 12+ (there is no boosted version). All models in the target unit roll a D6 and suffer a wound with no armour saves on a 6+. The spell then remains in play, and strikes again at the end of each subsequent magic phase, except that it becomes more dangerous each time - on a 5+, then on a 4+, etc (it's capped at 2+). 
Curse of Years? No! Pete's retro Vampires look better with age, when you consider the current range of hideous models. Vlad, you used to have style, man...
This is a slightly strange spell. 1 in every 6 models taking a wound is not a good damage return - almost any other "equivalent" spell wound be based on a characteristic test, and many targets wound be looking at 1 in every 2 taking wounds, or worse. Curse of Years is not going to cripple a unit, and it's not likely to threaten characters unless they are already down to a single wound.

Where Curse of Years comes into its own is that it Remains in Play. It will keep damaging the target in every magic phase if it's not stopped, and will rapidly become exceedingly dangerous. What this really means is that provided your opponent remembers that it's in play (and there should be some sort of marker or spell card there to remind him), the spell will almost always be dispelled in the following magic phase - before it can strike again. It will become far too lethal for any valuable unit to continue wearing the damage. With this in mind, the real effect of the spell is that it will do a round of light damage to the target, and then absorb 3 or 4 of your enemy's power dice in the following magic phase as he stops it from shredding his troops.

The final spell in the Lore of Vampires is Wind of Death. It's a magical vortex cast on 15+ that uses the small template and travels a number of inches equal to 3 times the roll on an artillery dice (so a maximum of 30"). The effects of the spell are very unusual, however. Any unit touched by the template takes D6 Strength 3 hits for each rank of models in the unit. So a unit 5 ranks deep would suffer 5D6 Strength 3 hits. Furthermore, the hits ignore armour saves. The spell can be boosted, in which case it uses the large template and the hits are inflicted at Strength 4, but it costs a whopping 25+ to cast.

So, what to make of this spell? Unlike many magical vortices, It's no real threat to large monsters or characters (unless they're by themselves) - it's a unit killer. The way the template works feels very strange indeed - a unit glanced by the template takes as much damage as one where it moves straight through the bulk of the unit. The width of the template dictates how many units you can manage to touch on the way through, rather than how many models will be moved over. This is a different mentality from how these spells normally work, and may take some getting used to.

The wording of this spell is slightly vague, for instance it doesn't state whether hits are distributed as shooting (one would imagine so). Also, "D6 Strength 3 hits for each rank of models in the unit" - I am assuming that a single model is a rank unto itself, but no doubt some people will be inclined to argue the point. Hopefully this will be clarified when (if) the Vampire Counts FAQ comes out.

The damage from this spell depends directly on how deep a formation the units are in. Units in Horde formation will get off fairly lightly, as they are taking on 1D6 hits for every 10 models in the unit. On the other hand, a deep Steadfast bus unit would cop a hiding, with 1D6 for every 5. God forgid you are targetting Bretonnians - with some decent rolling you could remove a massive lance formation (or several at once), as the spell might as well be custom-made to attack them. In fact, most well-armoured cavalry will want to stay well away from Wind of Death - they tend to be relatively narrow formations and rely on their armour for protection, which means the spell is ideal for culling the unit. 

The way Wind of Death's damage is inflicted, it is actually quite easy to line up a goodly number of enemy units and hit them all with a decent roll on the artillery dice. It's quite a dangerous spell, and against the right army it could be apocalyptic. However, you will really get best mileage from the spell if it's boosted, and 25+ is an extremely steep casting cost. It's possible most players will never see it at its fullest potential because the sheer number of dice and risk involved will generally mean there are better options open to the caster.

How will it be used?
The Vampire Counts army general must use the Lore of Vampires, so you can be sure that you will see at least one spell from this Lore when the army is being used. However, when it comes to other spellcasters, there are a number of choices open to the Vampire player. Necromancers have access to both the Lore of Vampires and the Lore of Death, so there is a decision to be made there. Vampires may also choose the Lore of Shadow, or with the Forbidden Lore Vampiric Power they can access any of the Rulebook Lores except the Lore of Life. With up to 8 different Lores available, the decision will ultimately come down to what is needed from the magic phase.

Corpse Carts feed off Vampire magic
The Lore of Vampires has much to recommend it. The Lore Attribute is excellent, and the Signature Spell is well worth having multiple copies of. An army with decent combat potential would definitely like access to Vanhel's Danse Macabre and Hellish Vigour. If there is a Corpse Cart in the area then these spells become doubly important because units within 6" of it will gain Always Strike First as well (the ability is triggered by the Corpse Cart being affected by an augment spell from the Lore of Vampires). Some of the spells in the Lore may feel inferior to alternative offerings (Purple Sun of Xereus will threaten a lot of things that Wind of Death will not), but that doesn't mean they're not worth having up your sleeve.

Invocation of Nehek represents one of the great advantages of the Vampire Counts over other armies. Replacing fallen warriors (and even boosting beyond starting size) is a luxury most players don't have. Taking multiple copies of the spell on lesser wizards (like regular Vampires) reinforces this strength, arguably more than taking the odd Spirit Leech or Mystifying Miasma (or trying your hand at rolling something better from the Lores of Death and Shadow) would.

One additional consideration here is potential loss of the army general. In days gone by, it spelled doom for the army - crumble tests at the start of each turn for the rest of the game, and numerous units disappearing very quickly indeed. In the current book there is a fallback position - another character can take over holding the army together, provided that he is also using the Lore of Vampires. If the army general is likely to be in harm's way, a backup "general" might be worth a thought.

In summary, the Lore of Vampires is a fundamental part of the strength of the Vampire Counts. It may be possible to pay it lipservice and focus on other Lores, but I think this might be undermining what the army can do. It might not be the only Lore you include in your army, but it's a good place to start. 


  1. hi

    that was heaps quick! Thanks.

    having used it a few times im not overly convinced its a good lore but unfortunately it is a must

  2. I aim to please. Sometimes...

    As for how good the lore is, I think it probably depends on your army composition. The Vampire Counts have a lot more variety available to them than they did previously, and you probably have to make use of some of this if you want to get mileage from the spells. Vanhel's and Hellish Vigour are only really promising when you're fielding some of the more capable combat units. If you've got wall-to-wall Zombies, no amount of rerolls to hit and wound is going to turn them into good troops. In cases like that, I'd be tempted to field a number of low level (ie level 1) casters with Lore of Vampires (for plenty of Invocations of Nehek), and then go with a different lore for any higher level guy you might be looking at.

  3. Wind of Death came up at Book of Grudges. It hit a unit in a building. We said it had one rank, and did it like that.
    What about skirmishers, who specifically have no ranks?! Bring on the FAQ!

  4. Wow wind of death... well hello little steadfast tarpit of over 300 skavenslaves... (2 points a rat) D: at least I play lisardmen... BUT MY SKINKS!!

    1. Not sure 300 skavenslaves constitutes a "little" tarpit...