Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Lores of Magic: The Lore of Undeath

Well, this is something a little different. The new Warhammer: Nagash book contains a lot of rules for special characters, new units and combining the Vampire Counts and Tomb Kings armies into a single more powerful army called the Undead Legions. It also includes a new Lore of Magic - the Lore of Undeath.

As usual, I thought I would go through this new Lore and see what it has to offer. It's worth noting that, as with everything in the Warhammer: Nagash book, there is likely to be some debate as to whether these spells (and the Undead Legions) are going to be permitted in tournaments. The content of the book is intended to represent a particular time period and set of events, and so many people may feel it's not appropriate for them to be used in what might otherwise be considered "normal" games. Anyway, I'm not going to get into that here. Let's focus on the new Lore of Magic.

Before we begin, there is something else unusual about this Lore that I should mention - all wizards in all armies can use it. So there could be Orcs, Elves, Daemons, Skaven, and all manner of other spellcasters running around, using the Lore of Undeath. So unless you're a Dwarf player, this Lore applies to you!

One other note is that the summoning spells in the Lore of Undeath work differently from any we've seen before in the various Undead Lores of Magic. Instead of creating a specific type of unit (such as Zombies) and a particular number of models or wounds, the spells here work on points values. It's an elegant way to broaden the scope of different units you can create, as well as giving you the option to give them the sort of equipment such a regiment could normally buy (like command models or weapons). The only restriction is that the unit still has to meet the normal minimum size, so you can't go around raising 3 Grave Guard or something silly like that. Other than that, you could see all manner of new units appearing on the table (provided that you have suitable models on hand).

What does it do?
The Lore Attribute for the Lore of Undeath is Raise the Dead. Whenever a friendly wizard casts a spell from this Lore, you place a counter on the table. This counter can then be used to boost a subsequent summoning spell, by adding 10 points to the total raised. So for example you could store up 5 counters and then use them all to boost a summoning spell, increasing the value of the raised unit by 50 points.

The Signature Spell in the Lore is Ryze - The Grave Call. It's a summoning spell that raises a new unit within 12". When cast on a 9+, you get a 50 point unit of Infantry from the Undead Legions list. Boosted to a 14+, this becomes a 100 point unit of Infantry. The final level of the spell is a 16+, which will instead give you a 150 point unit of Monstrous Infantry.

The benefits of being able to summon a new unit should be well known to Vampire Counts players and those who have played against them. There's nothing like a unit (worth no victory points) suddenly appearing in the path of the enemy to screw with someone's battle plan. When you're restricted to creating Zombie units, this is about the sum total of the spell's uses - you use the new unit to block, to redirect, and to slow things down. Ryze - The Grave Call is slightly different however, as you have a lot more choice in terms of what you want to raise. It will generally only take a single round of combat to dispose of a new unit of Zombies. A little gang of Crypt Horrors could prove much harder to move. If you have a Raise the Dead counter handy, you could pull 4 of them out of your sleeve! 3 Vargheists could similarly dissuade someone from charging at all, as could a couple of the new Morghasts (their minimum unit size is probably 2 for a reason - otherwise they wouldn't fit in the 150 point maximum cap).

Even if you want to stick with the time-honoured approach of bogging the enemy with Zombies, the middle level of this spell will get you 30 or more of them. That is a whole lot more than the old Raise Dead spell could do for you. It goes from a speed hump to a potential tar pit. The range is limited at 12", so you can't sit well back with the spell caster and expect results. But the various casting levels offer good versatility, and if you have some counters up your sleeve, there is all sorts of mischief you might achieve.

Next we have Morkharn - Breath of Darkness (yes, these spells have some slightly pretentious names). Cast on a 6+, it's an augment spell that targets a single friendly Undead unit within 12". The unit regains D3+1 Wounds' worth of fallen models. Provided it's not engaged in combat, it can also make an immediate normal move, although it can't charge.

Of all the spells in this Lore, this is the only one that is really of limited use to non-Undead wizards. A Vampire, Necromancer, Liche etc could be using the spell to regenerate and propel a decent unit around the table. There are bound to be targets, and those targets could be significant. Other wizards are likely to be surrounded by living units, and the only targets for this spell will be new, small units that they have already raised.

This potential issue aside, Morkharn - Breath of Darkness is obviously a useful spell. The limited range and inability to boost it is a bit of a limitation, but you could really hurl a unit around with a combination of this spell and Vanhel's Danse Macabre...

Sulekhim - The Hand of Dust is a confusing augment spell. I say confusing, because it doesn't say how long it lasts. Without this rather important information, it's hard to make a real assessment. Anyway, it's cast on a 7+ and lasts until it ends. My guess is that it is only meant to affect the next combat phase, but who knows? It only targets the wizard himself. In the combat phase, he can elect to swap all of his normal attacks for a single special attack against a single model in base contact. If he hits, the model takes a wound that ignores armour saves, with Multiple Wounds(D6). If this attack kills a character in a challenge, you immediately get D6 bonus Raise the Dead counters.

This spell could be considered a couple of ways. It enables a weak or moderate character to hit far above his weight, threatening large monsters and the like. In this regard it is most likely a "backs to the wall" defensive move, because the character casting it is most likely in very real danger. A more powerful character like a Vampire Lord (who is already a threat to most things he will fight) is more likely to see the spell as a way to harvest a ton of Raise the Dead counters - just accept the inevitable challenge, slap down your opponent, and then get yourself something nice in the next magic phase.

Any spell that relies upon a single attack is a little risky of course, so Sulekhim - The Hand of Dust will work best on a character who has a way to re-roll failed hits.

Next up is Khizaar - The Soul Stealer. It's a direct damage spell, cast on an 8+ with a range of 12". Basically it's a Banshee shriek - you roll 2D6+2, and for each point that exceeds the target's Leadership, they take a wound with no armour saves. Great for cleaning off things with low Leadership. Provided that the spell causes at least one wound, you also immediately get D3 bonus Raise the Dead counters.

This spell has a limited range, but for good reason. It's very dangerous to a lot of things, and it would be far too easy to knock off vulnerable targets like war machines if you could reach out to them from across the field. As it is, there will still be plenty of good targets, and often the only thing protecting them will be the general's Inspiring Presence. Regardless, if you want some easy Raise the Dead counters, you will always find something that is easy enough to wound.

Razkhar - The Abyssal Swarm is the second summoning spell in the Lore. Again with a range of 12", cast on a 10+ it summons a unit of War Beasts or Swarms worth up to 75 points. You're looking at some Dire Wolves or a few Carrion or Fell Bats with that. One of the most annoying options would likely be a base of Spirit Hosts (or 2 with a couple of counters). Alternatively you can boost it to 16+, in which case you can summon a unit of Monstrous Beasts worth up to 150 points. Using this, you could ridiculously over-spend and get a Tomb Scorpion (he only costs 85 points), or provided that you have some Raise the Dead counters, you could get some Sepulchral Stalkers (3 of them is 15 points over the limit).

This spell is probably inferior to Ryze - the Grave Call because it's less versatile. There is no option to splash out on a really tough or large unit. Instead you're stuck with quick things - Wolves and flyers, or if you have the resources, some Stalkers. In some situations the Stalkers could be real game breakers, as they could immediately blast a target with their evil eyes. Needing a couple of Raise the Dead counters in order to choose this option at all is a bit of a hindrance, however. Raising one of the other units will either be to bring in a small, quick unit to fly past the enemy and engage something vulnerable like war machines the following turn, or as a backup to delay something after the enemy dispelled Ryze - the Grave Call.

Khandorak - The Harbinger is another summoning spell with a range of 12". Cast on a 10+, it summons a single Undead character worth up to 65 points. Boosted to a whopping 24+, you will instead get a single war machine, monster or chariot.

This spell has great potential to change the game. At its lower level, you won't get all that much - a Wraith, or maybe a low-level spell caster. Anything more capable in combat would require a number of Raise the Dead counters. The Wraith could be a real problem for people, but anything else will likely be for a giggle or a speed bump.

At the boosted level (if you can meet the casting cost), there are a whole host of options. Without any counters, you could be getting a Black Coach, Screaming Skull Catapult, Varghulf, Corpse Cart Hierotitan, Necrolith Colossus or Casket of Souls. If you have a few counters to spend, you can add a Mortis Engine, Terrorgheist, or a War or Necrosphinx. It's an intimidating array to choose from, and they cover a ton of uses. The appearance of almost any of these things could dramatically impact the game, as befits a spell that is so difficult to cast.

The final spell is yet another summoning spell. Akar'aran - The Dark Riders is cast on a 16+, has a range of 12", and creates a single unit of Cavalry, Monstrous Cavalry or Chariots worth up to 150 points. There is no boosted version of the spell.

As soon as people saw this spell, their immediate thought was Hexwraiths, 5 of which cost exactly 150 points. Depending upon the nature of the opposition, they are indeed a likely choice for the caster. There are other options, however they are generally less compelling. Tomb King cavalry do little to recommend themselves. Tomb King Chariots and Black Knights might get a look in. Unusually for these spells, there appears to be some crossover between Akar'aran - The Dark Riders and the boosted version of the previous spell, as they could both be used to make a Corpse Cart (this spell being a more economical method of doing so). It's possible you might stretch to some Necropolis Knights, but you'd need 5 counters and if you had that, you could even consider a group of 4 Blood Knights. These more exotic choices might be exciting to contemplate, but it remains to be seen whether anyone will gather enough counters to make them a reality.

How will it be used?
Assuming that players have agreed that they will be making use of the rules provided in the Warhammer: Nagash book, the question then becomes, will people use the Lore of Undeath?

The answer is, "probably". It won't work for everyone, but there will be plenty of armies that would dearly love a few more magical tricks up their sleeves. Orcs and Goblins and Skaven are currently stuck with choosing spells from their own few Lores, and whilst they have some good spells available to them, the Lore of Undeath might give them a whole new dimension.

It goes without saying that the main focus of this Lore is summoning new units. 4 of the 7 spells do precisely this, and the Lore Attribute is focused around it too. You might question whether a Lore with such a focus will be useful, but frankly it's of use to pretty much everyone. There is no more effective method of blocking and diverting than raising a new, worthless unit for that purpose. Having a variety of options to create a more long-term and powerful unit is hardly going to hurt, and if nothing else it gives you more than one chance to throw a new unit in the enemy's way.

As useful as it could be however, the Lore of Undeath won't be for everyone. The limited range of the spells in the Lore might make it less practical for certain builds, where the only casters are planning to hang back, well away from the enemy. Some armies with more expensive casters (such as Ogres) might struggle to find the points for an additional character just for the purpose of dabbling in the black arts. And a factor for many players will be whether they have (or intend to get) suitable models to represent any newly raised units.

Ultimately, time will tell how often we see random Undead units popping up on our battlefields.


  1. Nice analysis. Would be interesting to see if it allowed in tournaments, or just becomes an interesting aside. The shape of 9th Ed rules may also dictate. Time will tell...

    1. If nothing else, I suspect we will see some tournaments brand themselves as End Times events. Which might be nice to mix things up a bit.

  2. Great summary there. Very useful. Know from personal experience (and you mentioned it) that Orcs & Goblins would love to dabble in this lore.

    1. Yeah, Orcs and Goblins need some more variety in their magic more than any other race, really.

  3. Does the spell Khizaar the Soul Stealer target a unit or a single model? Also, when you summon models, can you add them to a unit you've summoned? For example, turn 1 I summon 16 zombies. Can I, on turn two, summon 16 more zombies and add them to the first unit, making one unit with 32 zombies?

  4. Khizaar - The Soul Stealer targets a unit - you can't use it to snipe out characters.

    As for the summoning spells, they're all for making new units, The only one that adds to an existing unit is the augment spell - Morkharn - Breath of Darkness. Summoning spells are in effect a new spell type, like an augment or vortex. And they're always for making a new unit.

  5. I played a couple game with this. Even one tournament. I was the only living army to take it. I think Razkhar is slightly better than Ryze. Ryze is mostly to stall things, but Razkhar can do several roles. 9 Dire Wolves will tie up an enemy at least as well as ten skeletons. 2 bat swarms could be a godsend to low Initiative armies and a Spirit Host's etherealness can wreck a lot of battle plans. Carrion or Fell Bats will inflict decent wounds. Well mostly it's about the Ethereal. To get ethereal with Ryze you have to burn a lot of tokens and summon three Cairn Wraiths.

    I was able to project the threat of summoning fairly well. My L1 Skink Priest of Undeath would freak out the enemy so much with the idea of fresh ethereal troops that he overcompensated with dispel dice letting my Slann's Light spells have a free reign. I'm going to try L2 Skink Priests in most lists. I think a Pegasus riding Undeath caster would work well for Empire or Dark Elves.

  6. Are casters from other armies able to summon models from their own books? Ex. Could me Slaughtermaster "raise" some Mournfang cavalry with the dark riders spell?

    1. No, it's only units from the Undead Legion list. It has to be dead before you can raise it, I'm afraid.