Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Lores of Magic: Skaven Spells of Ruin

OK, so the Skaven book has been around since 7th edition, and I still haven't gotten around to talking about the Lores contained therein. Maybe I am lazy. Maybe I am forgetful. Maybe I am a perfect storm of both. Anyway, time to rectify that.

The Spells of Ruin are one of two separate Lores that can be found in the Skaven army book. It is the only Lore available to Warlock Engineers, whilst Grey Seers and Vermin Lords are able to take a mix of spells from the Spells of Ruin and Plague.

Being an old spell Lore, there is no such thing as boosted casting values for these spells. There is also no Lore Attribute, as this was another concept introduced with 8th edition. Nor is there the clear distinction between spell types such as Augments or Direct Damage. This has caused confusion in the past, especially given that the general rules applying to all spells shifted slightly when the editions changed. So just bear with me...

What does it do?
The first spell of Ruin is Skitterleap. It's cast on a 5+, targeting a friendly infantry character within 12” (including the caster). The target is immediately teleported anywhere on the table, although not into combat. Pretty simple, really.

There are a number of different ways you are likely to see Skaven players using this spell.
Too pimp to Skitterleap
One of the obvious ones is a means of getting a character out of combat. If you happen to be using a Grey Seer on foot for instance, he probably doesn't want to be stuck in the front rank of a regiment in combat, risking his life.

Other uses are to get models with specific weapons or spells into a position to attack, such as someone carrying the Brass Orb. Alternately, the model might just be thrown into the path of an advancing enemy unit to block or redirect a charge (such is the life of a 15pt Warlock Engineer).

In something that is a recurring theme across the Spells of Ruin, the casting cost of Skitterleap is comically cheap (a legacy of a different magic system). It's so cheap that the player can easily hold onto a single dice (or Warpstone Token) and have a good chance of getting the spell off. This can make it difficult for the opponent to prevent it, which increases its usefulness.

Skitterleap is in effect one of the Signature Spells available to Grey Seers – they can choose to swap a single spell for Skitterleap or Curse of the Horned Rat.

The second spell of Ruin is Warp Lightning. It's a magic missile (the one spell type that did exist in previous editions) with a range 24”, and it cast on a 6+. It does D6 Strength 5 hits to the target, which makes it very cheap for the damage it offers. There is a pay-off, however. A roll of a 1 for the number of hits results in the caster taking the hit instead. So it's a little risky, especially if you're down to a single wound.

The high Strength of Warp Lightning means it's far more menacing than a basic Fireball or something similar. It can quite easily blast a small unit off the table, or do real damage to something important. The damage potential of the spell is increased by a Warlock Engineer or Grey Seer being able to get a Warp Energy Condenser, which increases the number of hits by 2 (provided you don't roll a 1 and hit yourself – that would end the party very quickly). Vermin Lords have to slum it with the normal D6 hits, but Warlock Engineers are really the electricity specialists. In fact, it serves as their Signature Spell – a Warlock Engineer can always swap a spell to ensure he gets Warp Lightning.

Next we have Howling Warpgale. It's cast on a 7+ and lasts for one full turn. Affecting the entire battlefield, it forces Flyers to use their ground movement, and adds a -1 penalty to enemy shooting that rolls to hit.

Unless you're looking at an unusual enemy army with a lot of flying units, this spell is mostly about the penalty to enemy shooting. Against an army that is heavily reliant on BS shooting (like Elves, provided they're not using Trueflight Arrows), the spell offers blanket protection across the table for a turn, without affecting the Skaven shooting in return. How important this is probably depends on the nature of the Skaven army and whether it has valuable targets to protect, or was just wandering across the table with a thousand worthless furry bodies anyway. Players who are really worried about enemy shooting will probably have the Storm Banner tucked away somewhere anyway, which is probably why you don't see Howling Warpgale pulled out more often.

The next spell of Ruin is Death Frenzy. Cast on a 9+, it affects a friendly unit within 18”, which may be engaged in combat. The unit goes berserk, and gets a kind of super-frenzy. The rules are the same as Frenzy, except that the models get +2 Attacks instead of the normal +1. There is a price, however. The unit takes D6 wounds with no armour saves at the end of each friendly turn. The effects of the spell don't wear off – the unit stays crazy-frenzied until (if) it loses a round of combat.

How useful this spell is depends on the targets in your army. Some armies would go giddy with the potential that such a spell would offer them, however Skaven don't have so many of these “brute force” targets. About the most Strength you ever see from a Skaven unit is 5 (counting weapon bonuses), and this comes from Rat Ogres, Plague Censer Bearers and Queek's Stormvermin bodyguard. The first two of these are already Frenzied, so you only get one extra Attack per model, and the units are not generally large enough that they would appreciate the D6 wounds each turn. Queek's bodyguard is a different matter – if you happen to be fielding a lot of those, then Death Frenzy would be pretty scary for your opponent.

There are plenty of lower Strength targets in the army that can afford to take the hits, but the damage potential is still relatively limited. Regular Stormvermin are probably the next best choice. Probably the most impressive results would come from targeting a decent unit that's packed to the gills with dangerous (or at least, high-Strength) characters. A Chieftain with a Halberd is 47 points. Go buy yourself a front rank of them and have some fun.

Next we have Scorch. It's a bit like Flamestorm from the Lore of Fire, except that it's 3 cheaper to cast and doesn't scatter. So clearly it's no good, right? Anyway, what that all translates to is placing a small blast marker within 24”, and everything touched by it taking a Strength 4 hit. It's only a 10+ to cast, which is rather comically cheap. Oh yeah, units that take unsaved wounds automatically have to take a panic test, too. Another thing Flamestorm doesn't do.

Scorch is a great way to trim down a relatively flimsy enemy unit. Armies like High Elves that field dangerous, expensive, flimsy infantry will hate it. If you have the misfortune to be fighting Goblins and they have a large enough unit to maybe defeat the Steadfastness of your Slaves, Scorch could be the answer. The fact that it might scare off the Goblins before you get to engage them is beside the point. Actually, the automatic panic test is a significant effect. There are a great many targets where you can be pretty sure you will inflict a wound with the spell, and not all of them will have great Leadership or be in range of the General's Inspiring Presence. So whilst Scorch's obvious use is to blast a hole in a block of infantry, it could be an effective way of clearing a flank, too.

The final spell of Ruin is Crack's Call (otherwise known as, “Screw you and your Watchtower scenario!”). Cast on an 11+, it draws a line (it counts as a template) out 4D6” from the caster, within his “arc of sight” (so presumably in 8th edition this means forward arc, and line of sight). Models touched by the template must take an Initiative test or be removed. War Machines and Chariots must roll a 5+ or be removed. Being a template, characters will get a Look Out Sir! Roll.

In addition, Crack's Call doesn't like buildings. If a building is touched by the template, on a 5+ it collapses and all models contained within must take an Initiative test to avoid being crushed by falling masonry (or straw, depending on the building). The survivors from the unit are then evicted from the building as though they had left it normally, and the building replaced by rubble. If you think this will never happen, just ask the guy who had 18 Kroxigor in the Watchtower when it collapsed. None survived...

This is a strange spell with a very limited range (the average roll is only 14”). Against a lot of armies it won't have any particularly good targets, but against others it will be a thing of horror. Ogres, Trolls, some Lizardman armies, Treemen, Kholek, fancy chariots like Steam Tanks and Cauldrons of Blood... None of these things will want anything to do with Crack's Call. Just having the spell on hand forces the opponent to change how he plays to ensure you don't just end the game with a well-placed shot. Any army with a single powerful model will be wary, even if it's just a 1-in-6 chance that the model would perish.

How will it be used?

Most of the spells of Ruin are situational – the usefulness of some (like Death Frenzy) will depend on the make-up of the Skaven army, whilst others (Howling Warpgale and Crack's Call) depend on the nature of the army across the table. Others can be handy, but not necessarily game-changing (like Skitterleap). However, what you will find is that not one of the spells is actually bad. They all have their uses, and some of them could be very powerful. They are also very cheap, which means you can potentially get more of them through the enemy defences.

All a Skaven should aspire to be - huge, impressive, terribly vulnerable... Wait, what?
The ability to choose Warp Lightning as a Signature Spell for a Warlock Engineer and combine it with a Warp Energy Condenser for a total of 85 points will probably see a lot of Skaven players include it in their army. There would be few enemies with no good targets for such a spell. And most players will include a Grey Seer (the Vermin Lord being a bit frail for most people's tastes). However, the flexiblity of choosing from 2 Lores will almost always see the Grey Seer split his attention between Ruin and Plague. This means you will rarely see some of these spells as they will generally lose out to the “more useful” ones where the player has the choice to swap.

You can find the review of the Skaven Spells of Plague here.


  1. As a Dwarf player, I find it hard to deal with the Skaven magic phase nowadays, as so much needs to be stopped.

    Howling Warpgale turns my gyrocopters into M1 hoppers (does the same to my High Elf eagles and phoenix).

    Scorch and Dreaded 13th mash infantry blocks, which are the main combat power of a Dwarf army. If you go wide to reduce the template effect of Scorch (and WLC, Doomrocket etc) then you give Steadfast to the slave blocks in front of you, which is always fun.

    Skitterleap is a bitch, because whatever follows is always nasty. If you deploy wide and shallow to avoid the templates, you get a engineer with Doomrocket in your flank. Or a Brass Orb on your war machines, or a 15 pt Engineer blocking your game-winning charge.

    Death Frenzy and Cracks Call are more situational, though Cracks Call in the Watchtower scenario is nasty (if he can't turn your troops into Clanrats that is).

    Also, I think it would be worth talking about Dreaded 13th here, unless you intend to do so when looking at Plague.

    All up, Ruin is still a very good lore that has stood the test of time and edition changes. It's very low casting costs go a long way towards this.

    1. On the bright side, the whole Dwarf army hates Skaven now. So you should get more mileage from your units in combat...

      I figured I'd cover the 13th spell when I do the Spells of Plague, given they're on the same page in the book.

  2. Corrected a couple of mistakes in the detail, regarding Skitterleap and Warp Energy Condensers.