Thursday, 7 August 2014

Lores of Magic: Skaven Spells of Plague

Yesterday we did a quick walk-through of the Skaven Spells of Ruin. Now it's time to discuss the other Lore in the Skaven book – the Spells of Plague.

As with the Spells of Ruin, there are no Lore Attributes, boosted casting costs or clear spell types to work with due to the book harking back to 7th edition.

The Spells of Plague are the only ones available to Plague Priests, whilst Grey Seers and Vermin Lords can select them if they wish.

What does it do?
The first spell of Plague is Pestilent Breath. Cast on a 5+, it places a flame template in base contact with the caster. Anything touched by the template takes a Strength 2 hit which ignores armour saves. It can be used when the caster is in combat, however then it just inflicts D6 hits on a single unit in contact.

The limitations of this spell are pretty obvious. It has a very limited range, which means a lot of the time there will be no point in even considering casting it. Unless you're looking at a Vermin Lord or a character being moved around by Skitterleap, it's unlikely that you will get into a perfect position to maximise the spell's damage potential. Find the right target however, and it could prove dangerous. Against Toughness 3 enemies with otherwise decent armour saves, Pestilent Breath could be pretty effective. Get into a position to cast it across the lines of elite infantry or down a solid column of cavalry (Bretonnian formations look appealing), and you could significantly dent a unit. Nevertheless, overall the spell is fairly underwhelming.

Next we have Bless with Filth, which gives a friendly unit within 12” Poisoned Attacks in close combat. It's cast on a 7+ and lasts “until the end of the next player turn”, so basically one full turn. Units that already have Poisoned Attacks wound on a hit roll of a 5+ instead of a 6+.

How useful this spell is depends upon your opinion of Poisoned Attacks. It will most likely be cast upon a unit with modest Strength, and does nothing for their ability to penetrate armour. You'll get a few extra wounds, which could make a big difference against something tough and lightly armoured like some Monsters that you see running around. But to really get mileage from it, you need a lot of attacks. This means something like Plague Monks with additional hand weapons, or maybe a unit in horde formation. In most situations, Bless with Filth is the sort of spell that your opponent will let through in order to dispel something a bit more menacing.

The next spell is Wither. Cast on an 8+, it targets a single enemy unit within 12” (which may be in combat). The spell permanently reduces the target's Toughness by 1. If you manage to hit a target with the spell multiple times (or by some good fortune manage to find a target that started with Toughness 1), dropping models to Toughness 0 will kill them.

For many targets, this spell is very scary. Unless loaded with armour (and therefore probably
Some Skaven weapons force Toughness tests
already relying upon it for protection), nobody likes the idea of a permanent reduction in Toughness. Many things rely upon Toughness to survive, and even those that are not really tough to begin with will take a lot more damage as soon as the value starts to drop. Units like Plague Monks that can unleash a huge number of attacks start to look very scary when facing regiments with Toughness 2 and only modest armour. There are also things like Plague Furnaces and Censer Bearers that force Toughness tests upon their enemies, the toll of which could pile up fairly rapidly.

The limited range on Wither is a bit of an issue, but then it's a bit of a recurring theme in the Spells of Plague, as they're probably expected to be used predominantly by Plague Priests, who are more inclined to be closing with the enemy than hanging back and avoiding combat anyway. This short range may mean the spell isn't relevant for the first couple of turns, but unless the caster is a Grey Seer on foot, it is more than likely that he will be close enough to find a target before the game is out.

Oh, and for anyone lacking the imagination to think of situations where you might find a Toughness 1 target, there are indeed certain occasions where it could occur. Sivejir's Hex Scroll could see someone important hopping about as a rather squishy toad. If your opponent has Teclis, it's highly unlikely he would dare use the power of the Moon Staff of Lileath if you have Wither up your sleeve. There are other spells which (provided they were cast first) might set up a target for immediate removal, however such spells are not so easily accessed by Skaven and as such it's not a combination that's likely to arise in most games. Of course, you could just go the simple approach of hitting the same unit with Wither repeatedly, as I know happened to a unit of Bloodletters once (the Herald saw the writing on the wall and left early)...

Next up is Vermintide, that most widely celebrated of Skaven holidays. It's also a spell that is cast on an 8+. It places a large round template and then moves it 4D6” away from the caster. Any units touched by the template take 3D6 Strength 2 hits, so it's possible to hit multiple targets with a single casting. The range is unreliable and fairly limited, although when you consider the fact that it's using a 5” template, an average roll can still reach a target 19” away. The spell can also be cast in combat, however in this case the template isn't used and it instead simply inflicts hits on a single engaged unit.

Let's face it, there are a great many units in the game that don't care about 3D6 Strength 2 hits. For this reason, there will be plenty of times when Vermintide isn't really worth casting. However, there will be times when it causes people real concern. Small, important units of low-Toughness troops like Wild Riders or Hexwraiths could be crippled or removed with a good hit from this spell. Others may find they enjoy it less than they might like if they've already been hit with Wither and are thus more susceptible than normal. Having said that, it's never likely to have a real impact except against these small units that are looking to cause mischief.

The next spell of Plague is Cloud of Corruption, which goes off like the world's worst fart bomb. It's cast on an 11+ and hits everything within 12”. Friendly units are only affected on a 4+ (Clan Pestilens on a 5+), whilst enemies (other than Clan Pestilens) are affected on a 2+. Affected units take D6 Strength 5 hits that ignore armour saves.

This is an odd spell, and is based around the theory that Skaven lives are cheap and hence it's far more likely to be scary for your opponent than it is for you. Of course, unless the caster is right in the thick of things, you're likely to be rolling for a lot more friendly units than enemies. But that's OK, they're only Skaven right?

The damage from the spell could be significant against the right enemies. Strength 5 ignoring armour saves is pretty brutal, although the number of hits is limited. As with the Skaven themselves, armies relying upon large units will shrug it off, but smaller, more important targets could be crippled. Rushing them into combat will not protect them against Cloud of Corruption either, which is useful.

The final spell in this Lore is Plague. Cast on a 13+ (every Skaven's lucky number), it hits an enemy unit within 18”. Every model in the unit must take a Toughness test or suffer a wound with no armour saves allowed. It can be cast into combat, however it will then affect all units engaged in the fight. After resolving the damage of the spell, the player rolls a dice. On a 2-4, the spell ends. On a 5 or 6, the player can end the spell or choose a new target within 12” of a unit already affected it that turn, as the Plague spreads. This can continue until the player stops rolling 5+. On a 1 however, the spell backfires and the opponent can then take control, choosing new targets and rolling 5+ to keep going.

I love Plague. It's a terribly frightening spell for large, soft units, but it's also pretty scary for smaller, well-armoured ones. It's also exciting because players can go mad with power and start destroying their own units in an effort to inflict more damage upon the enemy. I say players (plural) because I have seen games where both players went berserk, exchanging control of the spell and walking it through their own units to get to more enemy targets (OK, so maybe it was me, and I was walking it through my own Orcs to reach more rats, but hey! They're Orcs. They're big and tough and they can take it. Many models died that day...)

In most games, there will be a unit that really doesn't want to be targeted by Plague. Often there will be more than one. Happily it's got the best range of any spell in the Lore, so it's a real threat to your opponent. This is the sort of spell that will not often be swapped away for a different one, as its potential makes it well worth having up your tattered, flea-infested sleeve.

The Dreaded Thirteenth Spell
There is one more spell that technically doesn't fall under the umbrella of either the Spells of Ruin or Plague, and that is Curse of the Horned Rat. Being outside of those Lores, it cannot be selected by Warlock Engineers or Plague Priests, however Grey Seers and Vermin Lords can elect to swap one of their other spells for it.

Curse of the Horned Rat is cast upon a 25+, and targets an enemy Infantry unit within 24” and within line of sight. The caster rolls 4D6, and if that number equals or exceeds the number of models in the target unit, the whole thing (characters and all) is removed and replaced with Clanrats under the control of the casting player. If the number rolled is less than the number of models in the target unit, it instead kills that many models outright, with no saves of any kind possible.

If this spells strikes you as truly terrifying, you are not alone. A great many games have been decided over the years by the power of this spell. The extremely high casting value can see plenty of failed attempts to cast it, but that also means that when it goes off it is frequently with irresistible force (which means the Lord-level caster is in danger from the miscast, but also that the opponent is helpless against the spell itself).

Some armies don't care about the power of this spell, as it can't target Cavalry or Monstrous Infantry. But for every army that can ignore it, there is another that will be crippled with fear over its power. A unit of 15 or so models can quite easily be consumed with a roll of the dice, and there are plenty of powerful infantry units that travel in these sort of numbers (or can be reduced to that size by other means before casting). Elf, Dwarf and Chaos armies can all find themselves removing their most important unit with little chance to respond.

For some people, Curse of the Horned Rat encapsulates much that is wrong with the game of Warhammer nowadays. They feel that power spells that can simply end the game as a contest with the roll of the dice ruin the experience and kill the fun. I'm not going to take sides on that here, but there are plenty of people who would be happy to see this spell disappear (or change drastically) when the army book gets an update.

How will it be used?
Anyone who fields a Plague Priest will automatically be selecting from the spells of Plague, however as I have already mentioned in the other half of my Skaven review, when given the choice most Skaven players like to hedge their bets a bit and mix between the spells of Ruin and Plague. In cases where the player then feels like one of the spell sets has little to offer, the Grey Seer or Vermin Lord will simply roll a single spell from that Lore and then swap it for Curse of the Horned Rat if they didn't get something they fancied.

The spells of Plague are a bit of a mixed bag. Pestilent Breath will generally be a disappointing roll, and Bless with Filth may be greeted with similar disdain. However, spells such as Wither and Plague are extremely potent and are enough of a lure that most players would like a chance to get at least one of them.


  1. Bamf.
    What you do now man-thing? You have review-rated all-all cunning-smart lore-things.


  2. Plague and bamf best spells ever.