Wednesday, 27 April 2016

The Shadows Return: Game 5

By this point all 8 players had played one game. Rather than launch straight into the next round of games without really giving things much shape, I had something particular in mind for James, our Undead player who had suffered so badly in the first round. His next game represented an opportunity to get his campaign back on track (albeit a slightly different track) and would be against an NPC army controlled by Peter Spiller in a cameo appearance.

Game 5: Hail to the King

Norbert gasped and wheezed as he stumbled through the seemingly endless swamps. He had been fleeing for hours, and could no longer hear the sounds of the Chaos worshippers’ pursuit. His old and frail body would have long since failed him however, half-dead as it was, he had been able to make some use of his necromantic magic to keep himself moving. This was unsustainable, though; the more he pressed on using his deathly powers, the more he could feel his remaining life essence wavering.  Eventually he sagged to a halt against a rotten tree trunk, his legs half-submerged in the foetid water around him. Surely he was safe enough now.

“Well that was humiliating.” The voice seemed to come out of nowhere, shattering the relative quiet of the fens. Norbert scrambled about in the mud to discover that he was not nearly as alone as he had imagined. Sitting nearby on a old tree stump was a figure wrapped from head to toe in dark, ragged robes. He held a crude wooden staff in a twisted, taloned hand that was a sickly grey colour. Norbert could make out nothing of his face within the darkness of his hood.

The new arrival didn't bother waiting for him to respond, “I had thought you mistress to be a useful ally, but it seems I was mistaken. No doubt I am wasting my time with you also.” He leaned forward slightly as he spoke, the tattered fringes of his cowl swaying as his words dripped with contempt.

“Who are you?” Norbert managed to gasp. He considered reaching for his concealed dagger, but something told him that such a move would be of little use and only incur greater mockery from this new tormentor.

“It doesn't matter who I am. All that matters is who I represent, and you have not proven yourself worthy of that much information,” sneered the hooded creature. “I was sent to invite your mistress to this island, but the minute she arrived, she got herself killed!” He shook his head reprovingly. “Clearly my master overestimated her. I thought Vampires were made of sterner stuff.”

Norbert considered his options. He was currently lost, alone on an island he knew next to nothing about. He needed allies – ones who knew more about Albion than he did. He had no intention of serving anyone, but perhaps this condescending stranger had something useful to offer. “Perhaps I might be of some assistance,” he offered, rising slowly to his feet and ignoring the way his ancient body protested and the mud and swamp water streamed from his own tattered robes. “I am not a Vampire, but I have resources of my own.”

The stranger laughed briefly – a shrill bark of a laugh that immediately brought to mind some of the mad hermits Norbert had encountered during his travels. “You mean your petty magicks?” the mockery had not changed a jot, “What use would my master have for a necromancer? And one with no army of the dead at his back?”

Norbert ignored the stranger’s tone. “A true master of the necromantic arts has no need to travel with an army,” he explained with exaggerated patience. “He can find a willing army wherever he goes.”

Skeletal hands burst forth from the brackish water around the strangers feet, seizing his ankles and clawing at his robes. All around him the swamps were suddenly shifting and heaving as long-dead corpses dragged themselves from the muck. This stranger was a fool if he thought Norbert would have collapsed in a place where he could not defend himself. He could feel the weight of the dead underfoot. This place had seen its share of death and misery.

The stranger gave a quick shriek that may have been either alarm or his crazed laughter as he swept his staff about in front of his feet. Dark fire blazed in its path, and the skeletons that had looked to drag him down were shattered in a splinter of bone. Another sweep of the staff sent out a wave of fire in all directions, tearing through the undead that had started to emerge from the waters and blasting them back down from whence they came. 

Norbert raised a hand to shrug aside the fire as it swept toward him, and continued his own spell to summon more of the long-dead warriors that slumbered fit fully beneath the fens. 

“Enough!” shouted the stranger suddenly. The tone was a dismissive command, but there was something of a threat underneath it, and it gave Norbert some pause. He was, after all, only try to get this dark emissary’s attention. He needed his assistance for now, and needed to show that he might have something to offer in return. The undead all around halted their advance and waited silently upon the will of their master.

The hooded stranger leaned upon his staff and looked straight at Norbert, ignoring the enemies all about him. “Your feeble dead things are no real threat to my master’s enemies, but perhaps you might be of some use, if your skills are up to the challenge. Not too distant from here lie the burial grounds of a once mighty army. An entire legion of Wights rest there, waiting for one with the will to claim them. Take control of these, and you will have a force worthy of my master’s attention.”

Norbert smiled slightly. This was precisely the sort of local knowledge that he lacked. An army of Wights should not prove too difficult for him to control, and once he had them he would indeed be a force to be reckoned with. Then he could deal with the stranger’s insolence in an appropriate fashion.

He could not see the stranger’s wicked smirk, hidden in the shadows of his cowl.


Korgorax, Lord of Wights and collector of fancy hats
Storm clouds gathered overhead as Norbert made his way slowly up the hill toward the complex of cairns and barrows that lay there. The stranger was no longer with him, having disappeared shortly after bringing them both to the island by means of dark sorcery. They had walked a short distance through the swamps to a set of ancient standing stones, and then as they stepped through the air around them shifted and darkened briefly before brightening again to reveal that they were now in an entirely different stone circle. This was the Isle of Wights, the stranger had said. He also now revealed that the Wight army at its centre was not quite as restful as Norbert might have hoped. They were currently bound to the will of the Wight Lord, Korgorax; one of their commanders from ancient times. Slay the Wight Lord, the stranger had said, and the army would be Norbert’s to command. Then he vanished, leaving the Necromancer to his work.

Norbert no longer had the stranger for company, but that did not mean he was marching up the hill alone. Behind him shambled a vast horde of the living dead, summoned from the shipwrecks off the coast of the island and from the stony fields nearby. There were a surprising number of corpses given the location, considered Norbert. Perhaps he was not the first to come and test the might of the Wights that waited here.

He had prepared as best he could for the confrontation he now knew must be coming. He had rested as much as he dared before starting his march and gathering his legions about him. He had considered his approach and knew that he had the magical means to best this Korgorax personally if his multitudinous but admittedly flimsy troops failed to do the job for him.  He had studied the necromantic arts for many decades; long before he had thrown his lot in with his fallen mistress. Even she had never discovered the true extent of his powers.
Norbert walks alone, but with many friends nearby. Note that he had advanced from Necromancer to Master Necromancer for this game. Shameless self-promotion and all that.
The army was almost entirely Zombies and Skeletons, but I allowed James to include a Wraith and a Spirit Host unit to mix things up a little and add some interest.
As Norbert crested the hill and came within sight of the Wight barrows, he realized he would need all of his skills if he was going to achieve his goals. The hill was topped by a broad flat field in front of the ancient burial grounds, and arrayed across it was another army of the living dead. The Wight Lord was waiting for him.
The Wight army marches forth to meet the invaders. Special mention must go to Owen, who threw together these burial mounds just for this occasion, despite not even being there for the game itself. Unfortunately he left me to do the static grass on one of them. Turns out mine is not as lurid as his. And my PVA and his paint don't get along very well, apparently.
So many Grave Guard. You will note that this army does not adhere to the normal Vampire Count army construction rules. It was led by a couple of Wight Kings, so had no magic. The entrances to the burial mounds worked in a manner similar to the old grave markers in the Sylvanian list in Storm of Chaos. They could cast either Raise the Dead (Skeletons only - no fresh bodies here) or Invocation of Nehek, with a range of 12" and a bound spell level of 4. Oh, and this game would end immediately if either Norbert or Korgorax died. They were all that mattered here.
Korgorax and his retinue of Grave Guard with great weapons and the Banner of the Barrows. Blendy-blendy choppy-chop.
No sooner had Norbert’s army begun to spread out into a battle formation than the Wights began to advance. Having no sorcerous powers of their own, they had no intention of waiting for the Necromancer to bring them low with his magic. Grave Guard marched in formations that echoed their training received centuries before when they were still living. Black Knights sat astride ghostly steeds that glided across the field in a mockery of the stolid plodding of living horses. And movement echoed from the dark mouths of the nearby burial cairns as reinforcements forced themselves from their tombs to join the battle.
The Wights move first, but not terribly quickly. Probably planning to stay within range of the barrows and their spells.
At the head of the army marched a powerful-looking Wight King. Korgorax. Held carelessly in one hand was a huge axe with a blackened, jagged blade. The Wight's eyes glowed with fell power as he stared across the field, directly at the enemy Necromancer. It was apparent he knew the source of this new challenge.
Curse of Years, you say?
Realising the enemy would soon be upon him and that his staggering hordes would be a poor match for the stronger and better-armed Wights, Norbert slowed his army’s own advance and sought to magically wither the Wight King’s own retinue. They marched forward in a broad formation, eschewing shields in favour of large, double-handed swords. The Necromancer's curse swept around and settled upon the marching Grave Guard, the weight of years weighing down upon them. Their steps did not falter, but some of their number sagged slightly and then suddenly seemed to cave in upon themselves as the fell energies accelerated time and weakened them.  Those that remained neatly stepped forward to fill any gaps in their formation, and Norbert felt his spell unravelling far sooner than he would have hoped as Korgorax set his will against it.
Pete realises James has no intention of coming to him when he can throw Curse of Years around, so picks up the pace.
Things are about to happen.
The Black Knights had moved to within charge range, however Norbert had a couple of tricks up his tattered sleeve. Just as the Wight cavalry heeled their ghostly mounts forward, they were met by a wall of moaning Spirit Hosts. Barely visible before, the ghosts now drew themselves together as they charged, becoming more substantial until they were barely translucent by the time they reached the enemy. The Black Knights ground to a halt as the Spirit Hosts reached them, pawing ineffectually at their heavy armour. The Knights swatted at them with their ancient, pitted weaponry but it passed right through their ethereal assailants and they soon realized they were wasting their efforts and gave it up. 
Spirit Hosts rush forward to bog the Black Knights and play for time.
A regiment of Grave Guard wheeled about and charged into the flank of the Spirit Hosts, pressing in amongst them and their mass of bodies to scatter the ghosts. Some turned and clawed at the Grave Guard whilst others continued to grab at the Black Knights, but gradually they were being pushed back and dispersed.
Combat resolution bonuses charge to the rescue. Oh for the days when Wights all had magic weapons, hey?
You shall not pass!
Norbert sent a large mob of Zombies forward to block the advance of the Wight King and his minions, whilst he continued to assault them with his magical curses. More Grave Guard collapsed under the assault, but still two thirds of Korgorax’s retinue remained, and they plunged in amongst the interfering Zombies with great weapons sweeping. They struck with unerring certainty and took a savage toll on their lesser opponents. More Grave Guard pressed in alongside, striking out from behind a wall of shields. Norbert could do little to hold his pawns together, and barely a handful remained upright when the initial blows had been struck.  Still, they had served their purpose; the enemy’s advance had been stalled.
Korgorax leads the charge, with more Grave Guard arriving alongside.
5 left, you say? Bah, if only Korgorax's unit hadn't rolled so many 1s to wound. The Wight King's regiment reformed deep in anticipation of what was to come.
There are a an awful lot of undead looking at that combat.
Meanwhile the Spirit Hosts fight on bravely and ineffectually.
Now it was the Necromancer’s turn to play the aggressor. A regiment of Skeletons surged in alongside the failing Zombies, whilst his Corpse Cart rattled in on the other side, the Zombies falling over each other as they hauled it along obediently. Even as the shield-bearing Grave Guard braced for this charge, they were set upon in their flank by another horde of shambling Zombies. 
Send everyone!! Skeletons and a Corpse Cart in the front (the Cart needed to charge to be within range for its spell), and Zombies in the flank. But will it be enough?
Other units close in on the Grave Guard trying to be rid of the Spirit Hosts.
Norbert smiled as his legions surrounded the Wight infantry. His minions were well-positioned and had the weight of numbers - they outnumbered the enemy more than two to one – but he knew it would not be enough. Only by his magical mastery could his ineffectual Zombies hope to threaten the superiority of the Grave Guard. 

Drawing the Winds of Magic about him, Norbert prepared to spread his magical influence amongst his followers. Zombies were dreadful troops, but he had the means to grant them speed, skill and strength all at the same time. The Wight King would come to understand that he was over-matched… 

…And then he fumbled the first of his spells.

With a string of curses the Necromancer tried desperately to seize control of the energies he had gathered about himself, but they fell away as his concentration faltered. It would take time for him to regain his composure – time he did not have. As he scrambled to reassert himself over the situation, the Wights set upon his hapless troops. 

The Grave Guard were surrounded and outnumbered, but the fight was hopelessly one-sided in their favour. Everywhere they struck, Zombies were dismembered and Skeletons fell apart. Instead of being on the defensive, the Wights stepped forward and lashed out with ruthless efficiency. The Corpse Cart fell apart under the assault. Skeletons collapsed and Zombies dropped lifeless as the magic binding them to the Necromancer’s will faltered. Another of Norbert’s tricks was revealed as a hissing Wraith emerged from amongst the Skeletons and hacked at the Grave Guard with its wicked scythe, but the damage it could inflict meant nothing in the face of such carnage.

The Wight King’s personal guard shifted their sole focus onto the Skeletons with their Wraith champion, whilst the other Grave Guard regiment turned to address the Zombies in their flank, fanning out aggressively to cut them apart as quickly as possible. Both engagements would be over very soon.
Flank us, will you?
At least there are slightly fewer Grave Guard than there were...
The Black Knights and Grave Guard finally broke free of the Spirit Hosts that had delayed them so, but by this point more enemies had reached them. The Grave Guard drew up their ranks once more as a horde of Skeletons charged around an ancient standing stone and crashed into their formation. Once again the Wights were hopelessly outnumbered, but they had the advantage in quality and they were soon pressing the enemy back despite their numbers.
We're free!
Sigh. Bogged again.
Things are looking grim for the Necromancer, with his units quickly evaporating.
The Wraith challenges Korgorax. Operation Assassination (ie: Plan B) is a go!
Norbert ponders his next move.
As Korgorax and his retinue tried to fight their way clear of the Wraith and the last of its Skeleton companions, another horde of Zombies threw itself into their flank. This was really to buy time, however; Norbert had given up on wiping out the Wight King’s followers and now intended to focus upon him specifically. Having recovered from his earlier clumsy failure, he now channelled his magic into the Wraith facing the King. Granted Hellish Vigour and with its skills bolstered by Vanhel’s Danse Macabre, the Wraith hissed a challenge and unleashed a flurry of blows with its scythe. Its efforts were disappointing however, and Korgorax shrugged off its attack. The Grave Guard hacked down the remaining Skeletons around them, and the Wraith was now standing alone as it fought. Norbert cursed the uselessness of his underlings and scanned the field for what opportunities remained.
Zombies to the flank swing the combat bonuses back in Norbert's favour.
The Skeletons are hacked down around the Wraith as the challenge continues. Can he roll well enough to win the game?
The Zombies attacking the flank of Korgorax’s followers were themselves flanked as the Black Knights finally found the space to lower their lances and charge. They crashed into the Zombies who offered characteristically little resistance, their formation quickly collapsing. The Wraith ignored this and continued its attempt to assassinate the Wight King. This time its blows found some purchase and Korgorax drew back with a jagged hole torn in his armour, but it was too little too late. The pressure applied by the Black Knights was too great and as the Zombies fell apart the magic binding the Wraith to the physical realm was torn asunder, and it vanished with a final bitter hiss.
The Wight army does include a single regiment of Skeletons to give them something a little different. Even these are a match for Norbert's troops, however.
The Skeletons give up on their horde formation as the Grave Guard take a toll.
Well that's just unsporting.
Having spent the first few turns using his power dice to dispel Curse of Years, Pete finally gets to raise some Skeletons from both the burial mounds. I think they're just in time for the victory party. Or are they...?
All across the field, Norbert could see his forces failing. Though the Wight King’s entourage was battered, there remained a handful of them still standing and they fought on tirelessly as the last of the Zombies facing them fell apart. Elsewhere the Grave Guard were proving just as resilient, and now enemy reinforcements were starting to emerge from the tunnels. The battle was over as a contest. 
Norbert watches as Korgorax and his minions dismember the remaining Zombies.
And yet…

Norbert fumbled within his cloak for a moment before producing an old, crumbling piece of parchment. Upon it was some scrawled notes in a hand he could barely read, and a language he only half-understood. Most would have discarded it as nonsense scribblings, but the Necromancer knew better. These words contained ancient power. If he did not truly grasp the words’ deeper meaning, he knew all too well where they had come from. Gazing upon the parchment for the last time, Norbert read aloud the words of the incantation, summoning forth the Hand of Dust and calling upon the power of its creator; the Great Necromancer himself, Nagash.
Norbert casts Hand of Dust and charges in a final bid to take down the Wight King. I may have suddenly taught him that spell when it was apparent things were over. He needed something more.
Korgorax spun about upon hearing that ancient name and his glowing eyes suddenly blazed with ancient rage. He hissed as he saw the Necromancer running towards him, his hand outstretched and bathed in swirling black energies that seemed to suck at the very air around it. Norbert charged the final few paces between them and lunged at the Wight King, however his baleful hand closed upon thin air as Korgorax stepped to one side quicker than he could have imagined possible. Holding his great axe low with one hand, the Wight King whipped up the other and caught his assailant by the throat with such force that he raised him off the ground. The shock jarred the Necromancer’s senses, and he felt himself losing control of his spell as the power of the Hand of Dust faded and vanished as he choked in the vice-like grip of those skeletal fingers.

As he struggled for breath and darkness began to close in, the lights in Korgorax’s eyes blazed all the stronger. He stared into the Necromancer’s face and hissed in a voice mixed with jubilation and anger:

You are mine!

Look, it could have worked!


  1. Oh dear. James has not the luck.

    1. There is a certain pattern to his games so far. Admittedly they have both been slightly quirky scenarios. In this one he was heavily reliant on magic to level the playing field in terms of combat, and rolled terribly in the one phase that really mattered.

  2. Almost a year after the end of 8th, I am thoroughly enjoying your write up of this campaign. I've migrated to KoW, but the memories of 8th ed shenanigans, combined with the excellent humour that is so reminiscent of the best WD battle reports makes for a cracking read. I hope everyone participating in the campaign is enjoying it as much as I am reading about it, and so glad to see you are out of your hobby funk.