Thursday, May 12, 2011
Vampire Counts 101
My buddy Peter is the reigning Victorian Master of WFB. Besides being a heck of a nice guy in person, he is a daunting lord of undeath on the battlefield. He has been playing vamps so long it is amazing (he has other armies... he just doesn't play them). I asked Peter to write down a few thoughts on Vampire Counts for a few friends who are new to 8th edition.
Peter... Take it away:
Vampire Lords: You definitely want at least one. You could possibly get two in 2500+, but fitting them in to the Lords allowance is tricky. I tend to start with a 4+ ward (one of the generic ones or the Crown of the Damned) and then equip them depending on if you want to chop things up or cast spells. If you want a combat lord, Red Fury, Infinite Hatred and a +Strength magic weapon is a good start. The immune to Killing Blow or -1 to hit armours are decent. If you want to cast spells, Master of the Black Arts is almost a no-brainer - it ensures you'll always have a decent number of casting dice. Forbidden Lore is great (a Ld10 Death wizard is always nice), or Dark Acolyte if you just want to cast from the Lore of Vampires. Casting Vanhels Danse Macabre an insane number of times is easily possible and feels pretty dirty. The Staff of Damnation is also excellent if you have any hard-hitting troops (which you probably will), and the Helm of Commandment is extremely good for a Lord that wants to lurk at the back.
Vampires: Not bad, but easy to kill. They make decent but expensive casters and decent but fragile fighters. Hard to get a worthwhile armour save on one unless they're mounted; the Flayed Hauberk (2+ save) is about your only option on foot. A potentially nasty combo is the Talisman of Lycni (M9), the Power Scroll and Forbidden Lore with something like Beasts or Death, but it's 200pts for what might be a one-shot weapon (and people often aren't keen on Power Scrolls). They make a pretty good bearer for the Helm of Commandment if your Lord is selfishly hogging his own WS.
Wight Kings: Cheap and tough for a hero. WS isn't stellar, but with a great weapon they fight pretty well. They make excellent battle standard bearers, since they're harder to kill than a Vampire. You don't need a magic banner - I tend to use just the Flayed Hauberk and a great weapon. The Drakenhof Banner is extremely good but makes him a big target and may tend to erode your comp score, so use with caution.
Necromancers: They hold Dispel Scrolls and can always know Vanhels. Decent if you want a backup caster, especially if your Vampire Lord isn't using the Lore of Vampires.
Skeletons: They weren't bad in 6th Ed, were so-so in 7th and are pretty dire in 8th. They can't fight and tend to die in droves. They can at least be joined by characters and get standard, so they're not too bad to include as an extra point of Fortitude in Blood or Glory. You could use them as a bunker for characters, but avoid anything that can actually fight or the whole lot will probably crumble. (There's probably a reason they got a drastic points drop in the Tomb Kings book...) If you do use them, either have a decent number (30+) to soak up casualties or be able to raise a ton of them. Frankly I'd just get Ghouls, though.
Zombies: About the only thing you can say about them is that they can take a standard. Apart from that they're dreadful and won't hold up anything even vaguely competent for more than a couple of rounds. Stick to raising them as diverters.
Ghouls: The core infantry you'll probably actually use. Same price as Skeletons, better WS, two attacks and Poison. They can actually do decent damage to the right targets, and WS3 T4 means they're about as tough as Skeletons vs many things with WS3. Running them 10 wide gives you a hilarious number of attacks, and with rerolls from Vanhels they'll shred anything with low toughness and seriously worry big targets with poor saves. One major downside is not having access to musicians or standards, so no swift reforms and no Fortitude point.
Dire Wolves: Cheap (only 40pts for a minimum unit), but they lost Fast Cavalry in the errata so they're not nearly as manoeuvrable as they were. They don't count towards your minimum core these days, either. Not too bad if you want a cheap diverter/war machine-muncher, but I'd generally shell out 20 more points and get some Fell Bats instead.
Bat Swarms: When it comes to bats, bigger is better. I'd say get some Fell Bats instead.
Corpse Carts: The Always Strikes First aura is quite good if you affect something that can actually fight (i.e. Ghouls or Grave Guard). Black Knights and Blood Knights would also benefit, but might tend to be out of range. I haven't used them much, but given that you have to fuel them with power dice now, I'd probably just cast Vanhels instead. The upgrades are ok but not earth-shattering, and now they can't regenerate combat res wounds they're unlikely to last if they get into combat.
Grave Guard: These are your premier combat infantry. Give them great weapons, throw some accuracy bonuses at them (the Banner of the Barrows, Vanhels and/or the Helm of Commandment) and watch basically anything in the game die. They can quite easily be hitting and wounding things on a 2+. I'd use a wide formation and take at least 30, preferably 40 - they tend to take a lot of damage themselves, and are quite capable of crumbling if hit hard enough. The Banner of the Barrows helps here, but see the notes above on making friends and comp scores. They could make a worthwhile character bunker if you took a small unit with shields.
Black Knights: Basically mounted Grave Guard. Lost a lot of potency from 7th Ed as they won't break numerous infantry on the charge and can't grind enemies down very well afterwards. They do make a good bodyguard for mounted characters, but they'll still take a lot of damage from hard-hitting infantry. If you use them, try to get things in the flank while they're engaged from another direction so they can't turn to face you. Charging through walls/houses/crevasses/etc is still a cute trick.
Spirit Hosts: Not bad - Ethereal is always a great rule to have. They aren't going to kill very much, but might divert a unit for a round or two. They could be handy to stop a unit turning to face (see above). They tend to play second fiddle to Wraiths, though, who server a similar purpose while actually being able to kill things.
Fell Bats: A minimum unit is 60pts and being fliers they're very fast. Excellent for diverting things, especially anything with Frenzy. They're also quite capable of eating (or at least tying up) war machine crews. I tend to take at least two units, and often take three if it's a large enough game.
Varghulf: They maim T3 infantry due to being about the lightest thing with Thunderstomp, but avoid anything that can fight back. They can't Regenerate wounds from combat resolution anymore, so they're more fragile than they were. Like Black Knights, aim for the flank and preferably support another unit. One thing to bear in mind is that while they're M8 they don't have Swiftstride, so they won't charge as reliably as cavalry/fliers/beasts.
Black Coach: Quite hard to kill - except via combat resolution, where the wheels fall off in short order. The power dice eating and power-ups are cute, but can be annoying if it absorbs your dice at a crucial time. They don't do particularly impressive amounts of damage, though at least the Wraith driver gets S5 with his great weapon in 8th Ed. If you take one, use it to support other units unless you're charging something pretty feeble.
Wraiths: The Rare choice of choice. Ethereal means a lot of things can't touch them, and they can put out enough wounds to hold their own against a lot of units. This is one of their best uses - giant unit of Swordmasters/Chaos Wariors/Hammerers/etc giving you issues? Throw 4-5 Wraiths at the problem, cast the occasional Invocation to top them up and deal with the enemy a your leisure. They're also very good at cleaning up annoying enemy light units and supporting other units in combat. Watch out for heroes with magic weapons and good saves, Wights, Forest Spirits and Daemons. Magic is maybe less of an issue than in 7th Ed, since there are a few less magic missiles around now (but watch out for spells that give a unit magical attacks!). Daemons are a particularly depressing matchup, but if you have the points for a Banshee they can still harass things with her scream.
Blood Knights: Ludicrous damage potential, but expensive and quite fragile now. Charge anything with decent strength in the front and you'll take severe casualties unless you practically wipe them out. Aim for the flanks and take the Hatred banner. Keeping somebody with good Ld (a Lord or a Wight King) in range is also a good idea, or they may go chasing after the wrong thing and die.
Overall, Vampire Counts got more fragile in 8th Ed. You can't rely on wiping the front rank of a unit out with a blood-mad Vampire Lord for protection anymore, and decently sized units can hit hard enough to crumble VC units in one round. Taking larger units than in 7th Ed is probably a good idea, especially anything you can't add to with magic. Fear and Terror got a lot less powerful, and deep infantry formations aren't going to break because you beat them by 4 or 5 points, so enemies aren't going to run off as easily. You need units that can actually fight, which VC have (maybe not with much variety, but hey. Bland but functional is better than bland and incompetent...)
Quite a lot of the choices range from so-so to pretty awful in 8th Ed, so unfortunately if you're really trying to hone your list to a razor edge it'll end up looking a lot like all the other razor-honed VC armies. A list that's hard to go too wrong with is a large Grave Guard unit (30-40), a couple of decently sized Ghoul blocks (30-ish), a caster Lord and a BSB. Season with diverters and Rare choices (well, ok, probably Wraiths) to taste. Having said that, most of the limitations are in the Core section, where Ghouls are the only really appealing choice. The stuff in Special and Rare ranges from ok to excellent, so you should probably be able to find a use for anything in there.