Thursday, 28 November 2013

Lores of Magic: The Lore of Dark Magic

I feel slightly bad that I've seen numerous searches hitting this blog looking for the Lore of Dark Magic, and of course they're all finding the old Lore from the previous book. Now that there is a new book, I should really be updating the review. If you actually were looking for the Lore from the previous book, you can find it here.

Lores of Magic: The Lore of Dark Magic
Dark Elves are the only race with access to Dark Magic, although nowadays they have the full range of the Lores of Battle Magic in the rulebook to choose from as well. So, with 9 Lores to choose from, let's hope Dark Magic stacks up.

Dark Elf Sorceresses have a special rule called Hekarti's Blessing which allows them to add +1 to casting attempts at spells from the Lore of Dark Magic. So this is one advantage that they will lose if they opt to use a Battle Magic Lore instead.

What does it do?
The Lore Attribute for Dark Magic is Spiteful Conjuration. Because when you're a Dark Elf, if it's not worth doing spitefully, it's really not worth doing at all. It means that whenever you get a hex, direct damage or magic missile spell from the Lore through, the target unit may suffer additional hits. If the casting roll included any double, the target suffers 2D6 Strength 1, Armour Piercing hits. This becomes 3D6 hits if you managed to roll a triple. It doesn't say anything about rolling 4, 5 or 6 of the same thing, so don't get too excited. At most, you will be getting a bonus 3D6 hits. The extra hits are resolved after the spell itself.

A lot of the time, Spiteful Conjuration will be a cute bonus. You might land a couple of extra wounds on the target unit, and every little bit helps, right? On the other hand, if the spell was cast at something that doesn't actually have a lot of wounds (like a single model) and isn't well-armoured, the hits could prove significant. The lack of Strength means that you'll almost always need 6s to wound the target, but if you're going after something like a war machine, that's generally the case anyway. There are plenty of large monsters which rely more on Toughness than armour to survive (Warsphinx, anyone?), and anything like that tends to care as much about Strength 1 hits as it does Strength 3 or 4. The Armour Piercing doesn't really change the effectiveness of the hits, but it does mean you won't be foiled by the light armour that some war machine crew wear...

Like High Magic, the Lore of Dark Magic has 2 Signature Spells. This gives the Sorceress slightly more control over her spell choice, and it also means that including a whole battery of wizards will not result in them all ending up with a single spell to choose from. It's handy – the more spells the better, right?

The first Signature Spell is Power of Darkness. It's an augment spell, cast on an 8+. It generates an extra D3 power dice, however if you roll a 3, the caster suffers a wound with no armour saves. In addition, the caster's unit gains +1 Strength for one full turn. There is no boosted version of the spell.

There are 2 ways of looking at Power of Darkness. The first way is to consider it a way to potentially generate extra dice (which is all the spell could do in its previous incarnation), with a nice bonus side-effect in the +1 Strength. If you look at it this way, you can't really afford to use more than 2 dice to cast the spell, and you might sucker some opponents into trying to dispel it. An optimistic level 4 Supreme Sorceress might save a single dice at the end of the phase to have a crack at the spell (once you count the bonus from Hekarti's Blessing she is a 66% chance of pulling it off), and thereby artificially extend the magic phase (probably well after the opponent's dispel dice are gone). However, unless the Sorceress has a decent ward save, she probably won't last all that long with the 33% chance that she'll roll a 3 and take a wound. She'll take herself out through attrition – a lot of opponents would let a Sorceress with no save take the risk of wounding herself just for the chance at an extra dice.

Probably more frequently, this spell will become relevant for the +1 Strength bonus on the caster's unit. Dark Elves have a lot of Strength 3 units (the Core section is packed with them), and they're pretty good at landing hits – all they need is a little boost to their Strength. Black Guard would also appreciate the bonus, as would the Cold Ones in a Knight unit. If you then consider the extra dice as the bonus element of the spell, you stand to regain some of the dice you invested in the spell – potentially you might even get more. The downside to all this is that the Sorceress needs to be in combat (or in danger of being in combat), but if she is equipped properly for that, or she is casting the spell to dissuade an enemy unit from charging for a turn, it could prove well worth it.

The second Signature Spell in the Lore is Doombolt. It is a nasty magic missile with an 18” range. Cast on a 12+, it inflicts 2D6 Strength 5 hits. If you boost it to 24+, this becomes 4D6 hits.

Obviously this is not the cheapest magic missile in the game, but it's one of the most brutal. The range of 18” is modest, but far enough that you don't have to get charged the following turn in order to reach your target. The Strength 5 hits are nasty, given they will wound many targets on 2+. The boosted version of the spell is a thing of terror, although it is costed accordingly. 4D6 Strength 5 hits will remove many targets outright – some of them quite substantial. Then there is the Lore Attribute, which could well see additional Strength 1 hits peppering whatever is left of the target after Doombolt is finished with it. The fact that all of this fire-power comes from a Signature Spell is slightly frightening. It means every Sorceress with Dark Magic is guaranteed to have this spell at her disposal (assuming she wants it).

It's also worth nothing that Doombolt might arrive on the battlefield via means other than a Sorceress, if the Dark Elf player is fielding Doomfire Warlocks. The thought of a relatively disposable unit which will take negligible damage from miscasts hurling 6 dice at boosted Doombolt is enough to send shivers down many players' spines, I'm sure.
Doomfire Warlocks. What, can't your fast cavalry inflict 4D6 Strength 5 hits on command? I thought they all did that...
The first spell in the Lore that you actually have to roll (how uncivilised) is Chillwind. It's a magic missile with a 24” range, which is cast on a 5+ (there is no boosted version). The target takes 2D6 Strength 2 hits, and if it takes any unsaved wounds, it suffers -1 to its Ballistic Skill for one full turn.

After the unabashed ferocity of Doombolt, the damage potential of Chillwind seems rather tame. Against a poorly armoured Toughness 3 target, it will probably do a wound, and thus inflict the Ballistic Skill penalty. So it's a pretty good bet when thrown at units of enemy archers, crossbowmen, etc. (remember that being a penalty to the profile rather than -1 to hit, it will even affect Tomb King archers). Its damage is also probably going to be enough to kill one or two light cavalry, which may be enough to force a panic test. So you might scare the odd unit of Goblin Wolf Riders away, provided you both roll about averagely. If you felt optimistic you might throw the spell at a war machine, especially if you're rolling enough dice to pull off the odd double or triple (and thus supplement the damage with more low Strength hits due to Spiteful Conjuration). Having said that, with no boosted version, the spell has only moderate range – so the enemy war machines may well be out of range. All in all, it's a potentially useful if somewhat uninspiring spell.

Next we have Word of Pain. This is a hex spell with a 24” range, cast on a 9+. The target unit suffers -D3 to its WS and BS for one full turn. If you boost the spell to an only slightly more expensive 12+, the penalty also affects the target's Initiative and Strength.

Word of Pain is a great spell. Penalties to enemy WS can have both offensive and defensive
benefits, and being able to cripple enemy Initiative and Strength as well (for a very affordable price) is extremely useful. The combined effects could completely turn a combat on its head. Lowering Initiative might seem less significant now that Dark Elves have the Always Strikes First rule, however models like Executioners are still striking in Initiative order, and it might mean your units gain re-rolls to hit where otherwise they would have missed out.

The Ballistic Skill penalty is effectively a second effect of the spell, since it's unlikely to come into play in the same turn as combat penalties. However unlike Chillwind, you are guaranteed to inflict a penalty, and it could well be more significant than just -1.

Only requiring an extra 3 on the casting cost to boost the spell means that you will probably rarely see the normal version of the spell except when it's used against missile troops.

The next spell is Bladewind. Cast on a 9+, it's a direct damage spell with a range of 24”. All models in the target unit take a Weapon Skill test, and if they fail, they suffer a Strength 4, Armour Piercing hit. There is no boosted version of the spell.

A Weapon Skill test? Really? That is even a thing? Suffice to say that this is an unusual spell. True elite troops with WS 5 or more won't really care about this spell. On the other hand, rubbish troops like Goblins and Skavenslaves (or worse, Zombies) will cop a bit of a hiding. So this is really a spell to try to dent large units of poor troops. Cull their numbers and try to remove Steadfast before you engage. You could try to use it in combination with Word of Pain to lay some hurt on a unit with a higher Weapon Skill, but any time you need to combine spells, you're looking at a pretty optimistic phase.

Next we have Shroud of Despair. It's a hex spell that affects all enemy units within 12”, and is cast on a 10+. For one full turn, the units can't use the General's Leadership or BSB's re-rolls. Worse, every time any of those units fails a Leadership test, the whole lot of them suffer a -1 penalty for the duration of the spell (subsequent failures force additional -1 penalties).

So basically this spell sucks Leadership from everything within 12”. Like, cripplingly so. An army with questionable Leadership like Orcs and Goblins or Skaven could absolutely fall apart with this spell in play. The real key to the spell is the domino effect caused by failed tests. Once you've cast the spell, you find any and every means of forcing Leadership tests on enemy units. Panic, Fear, Break Tests, Reforms, Restraints... Failure at any of these things with start a collapse for everything in the area. It could be as cruel as failed Primal Fury tests for Beastmen. There will be something of an art form to getting the caster into a good location, and then preying upon targets with vulnerable Leadership in order to drag down their more disciplined comrades.

Given the small range and area effect nature of Shroud of Despair, it will most likely be seen on a Sorceress on a flying mount, or perhaps in a Cold One Knight or Dark Rider unit – something with speed which can plunge straight into the centre of enemy formations and break them apart. It would not be unlikely to see the whole centre of the enemy line fold under the pressure of combined charges with this spell in play. Steadfast doesn't mean anything if you have no Leadership and no re-rolls...

The second-last spell in the Lore is Soul Stealer. It's a direct damage spell with an 18” range (when cast on an 11+), which can be doubled to 36” (for an increased cost of 14+). It places a small round template which scatters D6”. Models hit by the template suffer a Strength 2 hit with no armour saves. For each wound inflicted, the wizard rolls a D6 and gains an extra wound on the roll of a 4+.

This spell isn't really about inflicting catastrophic damage. Even if the spell doesn't scatter, you might be looking at maybe 6 wounds if you can land the template right in the middle of a large, Toughness 3 unit. Unless you're working in tandem with a caster using the Lore ofShadow (in order to lower the target's Toughness with The Withering), you're never going to blow a great gaping hole in a unit. If you do manage to score a decent number of wounds however, you're a good chance to double the wounds on the casting Sorceress. It caps out at 10, however it's unlikely you would ever get that far without freak rolling (or the aforementioned Withering combination). Nevertheless, a Sorceress with a good Ward Save on a Dark Pegasus could prove extremely hard to remove if she had 6 or 7 wounds to her name. Thank goodness they took the Pendant of Khaleth away...

And finally we come to Arnzipal's Black Horror. It's a magical vortex that moves a number of inches equal to an artillery dice multiplied by the caster's level. The basic casting level of 15+ gives you a small template, whilst boosting it to a 25+ will upgrade this to the large template. As with all such spells, rolling a misfire would be a mistake; don't do that.

Models touched by the template must take a Strength test to avoid being slain outright. Comparisons with Purple Sun of Xereus (from the Lore of Death) are inevitable, and we'll get to that, however this spell has a significant difference (one that may be a prelude to how such “super spells” will be done heading into 9th edition) – models get to take a ward save to avoid perishing. So ward saves and Magic Resistance will actually go some way to reducing the effectiveness of the spell.

So, comparing Black Horror to Purple Sun. Obviously they're very similar spells, although one uses Initiative and the other uses Strength. In the case of your average human, the result is the same – a 50% chance of instant death. However, the two stats vary wildly as you look across the range of potential targets. One of the lethal aspects of Purple Sun is that most large, dangerous single models possess a rather miserable Initiative. However, these same models almost always have a high Strength value (it's part of what makes them count as “dangerous”. Sorry Bastiladon, you really don't count). This is not to say that they can't die to Black Horror – just that they're far more likely to shrug off its effects.

Apart from this however, what you will generally find is that Black Horror is a more consistent spell. Certainly when you're talking about units of troops, Strength values tend to vary very little. Very few units have Strength 2, and not a lot have Strength 5 (remember that weapon bonuses don't count here). So really, most things are either 3 or 4. This means that most targets are going to fail a half to a third of their tests. Some might get a save thanks to the provision for ward saves, but let's face it – we're not all Daemon players.

On the flip side, Purple Sun is far more variable because Initiative values are all over the shop. There are plenty of targets out there with Initiative 5 or even 6. There are also a lot with 2, or even 1 (alas, poor Saurus). This means the spell has targets it's not really going to hurt, and targets to which it's going to do terrible, terrible things. So the spell can be largely irrelevant, or the whole game can revolve around the potential of it being cast. Whether this wild variation is a good or bad thing, I guess it's a matter for personal taste. A spell that is almost certain to win some games is probably more valued than one that will always be dangerous, but is not going to wipe out whole units.

One thing the two spells to have in common however, is their effect on war machines. Since these automatically fail both Strength and Initiative tests, the result will be the same from either spell. If you can get a model into a position to unleash either of these spells down an artillery line, it's game over.

One way in which Purple Sun of Xereus is more consistent than Arnzipal's Black Horror is range. Purple Sun travels the same distance (artillery dice multiplied by 3) regardless of who is casting it. On the other hand, Black Horror's range is dependent upon the casting level of the Sorceress (artillery dice multiplied by the level). So a level 1 Sorceress is pretty useless with the spell unless she's planning to be in close combat before casting it. A level 2 might do a bit better. A level 3 gives the spell the same range as Purple Sun. A level 4 can potentially toss the spell a full 40”, which would most likely see it flung straight across (and off) the board. For a spell that automatically kills war machines, this is a handy possibility. Of course, it means a level 4 caster will get better value from the lower rolls on the dice too, and even a 4 or 6 might be enough to get the job done.

The long and short of all this range business (ha ha ha... Yeah, I know) is that players will most likely not be taking Arnzipal's Black Horror on a low-level caster and then just giggling and tossing 6 dice at it, careless of any resulting miscast. It's only really going to be effective on a lord-level caster, in which case a miscast will probably have more major ramifications for the game. So between this and the ability to take ward saves against the effects of the spell, Black Horror is relatively tame (if still extremely scary for plenty of targets).

How will it be used?
So, how often are we likely to see the Lore of Dark Magic in action? I suspect the answer is that we will see plenty of Dark Elf players using it, despite having 8 other Lores to choose from. The Lore has a lot going for it.

Of the 8 spells here, half of them are extremely good. Doombolt, Word of Pain, Shroud of Despair and Arnzipal's Black Horror are all top-notch at what they do, and what they do covers a variety of purposes. Direct killing power, the ability to cripple a unit in combat, and a spell that cuts the heart out of the leadership of the enemy army. The remaining spells all have a use, although Soul Stealer is somewhat lacklustre unless your Supreme Sorceress has been killing herself casting Power of Darkness and really needs some more wounds...

Apart from having a good spread of spells, Dark Magic has a couple of other advantages that should see it get regular use. The choice of 2 Signature Spells ensures that no Sorceress is ever going to be stranded with no useful spells. The +1 casting bonus from Hekarti's Blessing is also something that people might not want to throw away. It's true that there will still be Sorceresses using other Lores for specific purposes (for access to particular spells such as Searing Doom in the Lore of Metal), but the Lore of Dark Magic covers most bases pretty well.


  1. Great write up and a lovely read!
    Dark Magic is really good and Word of Pain is an absolute must. It wrecks my High Elf archers!

  2. spiteful conjuration with the bubble nature of shroud shoun't be forgotten. often you will be rolling lots of dice to ge the spell off so affecting multiple enemy units with bonus hits is great, especially if that triggers a panic test or two.

    word of pain / blade wind is a great combo. and blade wind is good for horde thinning could be good for getting rid of hordes of skaven slaves or those hundred night goblin units. It also has the killing power of a final transmutation on things like empire halbardiers.

    I find a bolt to the face wrecks high elf archers