There are no two ways about it; the Wood Elf book is old and in serious need of an update. Rumours currently suggest that this might happen around May 2014, but that's still 6 months away. So in the interest of completing my reviews of the Lores of Magic (there's only a few left now), I figured I might as well give the Wood Elves the treatment.
Interestingly, the extreme ancientness of the Wood Elf book has both its perks and its downsides in terms of the spells here. An echo of a bygone era...
What does it do?
Being from a previous edition (actually, it's from the edition before the previous edition), the Lore of Athel Loren has no Lore Attribute. So with each spell, what you see is what you get.
In the absence of an actual Signature Spell, all mages can swap one spell for the first spell in the Lore, which is Tree Singing. Cast on a 4+, the spell targets a forest within 18” of the caster, and it immediately moves D3+1” in a chosen direction. It stops when it hits anything that was not within the forest to begin with (another terrain piece or a unit). If you have models within the forest, provided that the unit is entirely contained within it, you can move the models along with the forest (if the unit hangs out, the forest can't move). You can't use the spell to charge, however – the forest will stop when your unit is 1” away from the enemy.
If there are enemies within the forest, you can't move it. However, you can instead target the unit itself and inflict D6 Strength 5 hits. This alternate effect of the spell has no range limit – you can target any unengaged enemy unit at least partially within a wood, anywhere on the table.
This spell is a classic case of something that was once quite useful, and is now far less so. The crux of the problem here is the change to the rules for terrain in 8th edition. Previously, a forest halved the movement of most things that passed through it, and prevented marching (it was classed as Difficult Terrain – a concept that no longer exists). Furthermore, you could only see through up to 2” of a forest, and if you were entirely on one side of a forest whilst your opponent was entirely on the other, you couldn't see each other at all. Nowadays if the models themselves can draw a line through the forest, they can see. And it won't slow them down, although it can be Dangerous Terrain.
All of this means that the spell is nowhere near as potent as it used to be. In the past, if you could shove a forest between your unit and an opponent's, he would probably lose line of sight and wouldn't be able to charge you. Failing that, dragging a forest in front of most units would result in them grinding to a halt as they halved movement and ceased marching (a slightly ridiculous combination really – just ask any Dwarf player how great moving 1.5” per turn feels).
In 8th edition, these things are all a moot point, Pulling a forest into the path of an imminent charge may force some Dangerous Terrain tests (might scare off a chariot), but it will not affect the enemy's speed, nor is it likely to impact line of sight.
Admittedly, there are other uses for the spell. Pulling a forest into a location where enemies fighting your units will lose their Steadfast could be useful. Planting it somewhere that the enemy will end up standing in it has other benefits for things like Strangleroot attacks, or further castings of Tree Singing.
The ability to move units around can still be useful, although this will generally be to steal a few inches in order to block a charge with another unit, or step out of the front arc of the enemy. If you're seriously attached to the idea of your Dryads or Wardancers being Stubborn because they're in a forest, you could move them into one and then try to complete getting them into position with Tree Singing (“try” may be the operative word here). Getting a unit into its ideal starting position for an attempt at Call of the Hunt may be on the cards, too. In the past you would typically place your free Wood Elf forest toward the centre of the table in order to rush things into it and then try to surf toward the enemy lines, however 8th edition has also changed the placement of this bonus forest, so that particular plan is out the window.
The secondary mode of the spell (the one inflicting hits) remains unchanged in 8th edition, and it's still pretty useful given its complete lack of range restrictions. Strength 5 is reasonable, although only a single D6 hits means many targets (larger units) simply won't care. Nevertheless, there are plenty of things that might have wandered into forests looking for cover and the like, but hesitate to do so when they're fighting Wood Elves. Tree Singing is a part of this.
|Wood Elf mages do not walk. They float on a cushion of haughtiness|
The next spell is Fury of the Forest. It is cast on a 6+, and inflicts D6 Strength 4 hits on an unengaged target within 18”. If the target is within 6” of a forest, the hits become Strength 5 instead of 4. This is a simple damage spell, and like most spells found in older books, the casting cost is nice and low. D6 Strength 4 is nothing terribly exciting, however it could start getting painful if there are forests near the enemy lines.
Next we have The Hidden Path. Cast on a 7+, it targets a friendly unit within 18” and effectively makes it Ethereal for a full turn. However, the effects end as soon as the unit is engaged in close combat.
As an aside, you will notice that the Lore of Athel Loren was basically the pioneer of the “until the start of the next magic phase” style of spell. This has helped it stand up a little over time, compared to something terrible like the old Gut Magic (which was laden with low-cost “remains in play” spells), which were just dispel targets waiting to happen.
Anyway, what about this spell? You can make a unit ignore terrain, which is less significant in 8th edition than it was in 6th and 7th, and it's on an army which is pretty quick anyway. It could still allow you to charge clean through a building, provided you can see. This side of the spell is OK, but not great.
The other effect of The Hidden Path is that the unit can ignore non-magical shooting. There will be times when this is quite significant, like when your Highborn on Forest Dragon is staring down a battery of Empire Great Cannons, or you are charging something like Wild Riders straight into the teeth of the enemy gun line. It is not entirely clear whether the effect would carry over for something like Fanatic or Mangler Squig hits, however they're not technically missile attacks, so probably not.
Next comes The Twilight Host. Cast on an 8+, it makes a friendly unit within 18” cause Fear for one full turn. If it already caused Fear, the unit causes Terror instead.
Fear is not the weapon it once was, and consequently protecting yourself from it is less important than it used to be. However like Aspect of the Dreadknight (from the Lore of Death), there might still be times when you can find a use for the spell. Upgrading a unit of Dryads, Treekin or Wild Riders to cause Terror on the charge in the following turn could help scare off some targets, or it could see something that causes Fear (like Ogres) suddenly having to test for it themselves. Most Wood Elf combat units are not too fussed about psychology however (many are immune), so the defensive benefits of the spell are less handy.
Ariel's Blessing is yet another augment-style spell. It is cast on a 9+, and gives a target within 18” Regeneration for a full turn.
It's a simple spell, and it's a pretty good one. In most cases (Flaming Attacks and Killing Blow
notwithstanding), this is giving a unit a 4+
ward save out of nowhere. The benefits are obvious, however there are
admittedly times when it will feel less significant because the
Forest Spirits may already have a 5+ ward save (there was a time when
the two could be used in tandem, but no more). Any bonus to a saving
throw is a good thing however, and there are plenty of things with
Magical Attacks that will see the Forest Spirits lose those ward
saves altogether. At those times, this spell could well be what holds
them in the fight.
|My Glamourweave Mage|
The final spell in the Lore of Athel Loren is The Call of the Hunt. It's cast on a unit within 18”, and has one of two effects. If the unit is already in combat, each model gains +1 Attack in the following round of combat. This is simple enough, and not devastatingly dangerous. If the unit is not already in combat however, we moonwalk back in time to an era where magical charges were a thing, and the unit moves 2D6” toward the nearest enemy it can see, which could result in a charge. Break out your retro dance moves, and party like it's 1999 (or in this case, 2005). Any unit that gets charged in this manner gets no charge reaction, but won't have to take a Panic test if the charger causes Terror.
Charging magically used to be pretty common, and was fundamental to the game plans of Undead players the world over. Nowadays 8th edition has nearly stamped it out, and the only ways you can charge out of sequence are the Anvil of Doom (which will doubtless be changed in the new book), the Screaming Bell (and let's face it – Skaven are meant to cheat), and The Call of the Hunt. It may be that some newer players don't even really grasp how game-changing such a thing can be. For those newcomers, suffice it to say that moving around someone's flank and then charging them in the side before they get to react is slightly damaging to one's game plan. As is spinning on the spot and charging something that was hidden safely behind you...
The Call of the Hunt is not entirely reliable – you must charge the nearest thing you can see, and you could fail to make the distance with the dice. However, it's still a potentially game-breaking spell, and it's fair to say that anyone actually electing to choose the Lore of Athel Loren is probably doing it for access to this spell.
How will it be used?
So, in a world where Wood Elf armies are a relatively rare sight anyway (most of their army books have crumbled to dust due to age, and as such they can't really use the army any more), how many of them will actually rock up with the Lore of Athel Loren? Well, it kind of depends on the army construction, because they may not have a choice.
Lord-level Wood Elf mages (Spellweavers) have a choice between the Lore of Athel Loren, the Lore of Beasts and the Lore of Life. Any power-gamer can tell you that the Life is a powerful Lore on a high level caster, and the ability to heal Treemen (which are hard to shift anyway) is more than handy. So the default choice for most Spellweavers will be the Lore of Life. Some players who consider themselves more cunning (or foolish, in my case), or are trying to dodge a massive composition penalty, might opt for the Lore of Beasts. They would be hoping to get good mileage from their combat units and characters with spells like Wyssan's Wildform and Savage Beast of Horros. As I mentioned above however, a player would only really consider the Lore of Athel Loren if they were hell-bent on getting Call of the Hunt. Otherwise the Lore doesn't really stack up.
Having said all this, Spellweavers are not the only casters in the Wood Elf army. Lower-level Spellsingers and Branchwraiths have no choice, and can only choose spells from the Lore of Athel Loren. So as I said, it comes down to army construction – people fielding lesser mages will be using the Lore whether they want to or not. And finally there are the Treemen, who come with Tree Singing as a bound spell. This used to be great, but nowadays it's almost a footnote. You might squeeze the odd round of hits out of it, but by and large it's an ability that is rarely used.
In all likelihood, when the Wood Elf book gets re-released, their mages will have a far greater range of choice in terms of their Lores of Magic. But almost as surely, the Lore of Athel Loren will be significantly more impressive when it arrives in its new form.