Bad Timing, Bad Intelligence and Bad Behaviour.
Prologue, Part 2
Upon the Eastern Coast of Tilea, Autumn 2401
Gurmliss had been frogmarched through the camp by two hulking orcs wielding viciously sharp choppas. Being forced to walk quicker than his short legs were accustomed to was not what annoyed him most, it was the jeering from every greenskin he passed. He was being treated like a coward – worse than that, like a coward who was about to receive his punishment. He had led his pathetic force against the Tileans, to test them, probe them, discover their strengths, their weaknesses. He had done so despite the fact he had known full well his army would be defeated, and furthermore that he himself would most likely be killed. He had done so because it would prove him to be no coward, instead he would have learned something useful and at no real cost to Warboss Khurnag.
So it was he left the massacre and rode fast northwards to report the battle. Khurnag had listened, Gurmliss was thanked (!), and the Waagh had begun its march south. Either Khurnag actually relished the idea of fighting such a foe, or he wanted his warriors to think he did. Gurmliss suspected the former. Yet, now something had gone wrong. Perhaps a rival had persuaded Khurnag to change his mind about Gurmliss’ actions?
He arrived at the orcs boys’ encampment to discover quite a crowd had gathered (to watch the entertainment?). His two escorts prodded him forward into a ring of glowering orcs, most of whom were scraping their steel choppa blades together to emit an awful squealing and squeaking. It was not exactly a reassuring sound.
Khurnag was there, garbed in heavy iron plates almost from head to toe, with two goblin scout bosses at his side. Gurmliss knew the goblins, and neither was what he would consider a friend. The first he had once bloodied in a squabble over a barrel of wine. The second he had once chased off from a Tilean’s corpse so that he himself could loot it. Khurnag was grinning, as usual, for his fangs were so large they forced his lips into that shape.
Warboss Khurnag clanged his war axe and choppa together to silence the boys, then narrowed his already small eyes as he fixed them on Gurmliss. “You said the gobbos are all dead,” growled the warboss. “You said they were blown to bits. You lied. They’ve been found, sittin’ in Pavezzano just like we left ‘em.”
This was not one of the possibilities Gurmliss had expected. Not at all. It was an impossible nonsense, for a start, for he had witnessed both the goblins’ march from Pavezzano and their subsequent massacre with his own eyes.
“Who says de gobbos is still alive?” he asked, trying hard not to sound afraid.
Khurnag thrust his choppa at one of the goblins next to him, causing the little fellow to jump back to avoid being sliced. Gurmliss laughed, praying that such apparent confidence must surely help turn the situation around. He looked the goblin scout boss in the eye.
“You saw Pavezzano, did you, with the gobbos in it?” Gurmliss said. “Where? Where [i]exactly[/i]?”
The scout boss scowled. “Not more’n four miles from ‘ere: gobs ‘n walls ‘n engines ‘n all.”
Gurmliss laughed. “That ain’t Pavezzano, not if it’s four miles away. Pavezzano is leagues aways – takin’ days to march. You saw sumfing else.”
Grunts and snorts now emanated from the orc boys gathered around. The scout master shouted his answer, trying to inject a tone of mockery into his words (but failing to completely to hide the fear). “So you sayin’ dere’s two forts filled wiv gobbos on dis ‘ere coast? I don’t ‘member passing one when we came up norf.” He turned to his comrade, “D’you, Jabble?”
Jabble’s eyes went wide as he realised this meant he too had to speak in front of this rather unsympathetic crowd. “N .. no,” he stammered. “Dere’s no second fort. Just Pavezzano.”
The first goblin grinned. “See? One fort. Dat’s all dere is. It’s not me who’s lyin’ ‘ere, it’s you. You ran away from Pavezzano an’ made up de rest.”
Once again Gurmliss laughed, although this time with less feigned confidence. “It’s you who’s lyin’, an’ yer so thick you don’t even know yer doin’ it …”
Khurnag grunted, which immediately silenced the arguing gobbos.
“We’s got to get to the bottom of this, ain’t we boys?” he announced. “What a riddle eh? Either there’s a whole other gobbo fort appeared out o’ the blue, or Pavezzano has up and jumped along the coast, or brave Gurmliss ‘ere can’t quite remember where he ran away from? I know which one I‘d lay monies on.”
A growling laugh rippled around the circle of orcs.
“Tell you what,” the warboss continued, “‘cos gobs is gobs an’ there all as useless as each other, I’m not gonna decide who’s right. Nah, I’ll send Gurmliss to the fort. If the naughty goblins there ain’t ours then they’ll likely kill him. An’ if it is Pavezzano, then they’ll kill him for running away. Can’t do better than that, eh? You’s got two options to take yer pick from, Gurmliss.”
As the rippling laughter re-doubled, Gurmliss stood with his arms crossed. The two orcs guarding him seemed disappointed – perhaps they were looking forward to cutting him up into pieces?
Bad Timing, Bad Intelligence and Bad Behaviour: The Battle
Southern Tilea, north of Pavezzano, Autumn 2401
Due to Khurnag’s careless assumption regarding the identity of the Greenskins at the fort, his Waagh is currently marching by in a long, drawn out column, with very little thought given to battle readiness. Thus, in the game, which begins as the first accurate report regarding the fort is delivered to Khurnag, his Waagh will make a staggered arrival on the battlefield. The Waagh list is divided into ‘Peripheral’ units (scouts, lighter, faster units) and ‘Main Battle Line’ units. The former units are all labelled ‘A’, the latter ‘B’. The following table will be used to determine what arrives on Khurnag’s table edge at the start of each turns.
1st turn 2D3 ‘A’ units, chosen randomly
2nd turn 2D3 ‘A’ units, chosen randomly from those which are not yet on the field, of which D2 could be swapped for randomly chosen ‘B’ units if the player wished.
3rd turn onwards 2D3 units, randomly chosen from those remaining on either or both lists.
Characters (labelled ‘C’) can enter the field on their own by rolling 4+ and using up one of the 2D3 slots above. Or they can arrive with an appropriate unit that has already arrived if they roll a 3+ (again using up one of the unit slots).
Gurmliss was not the only one from Warboss Khurnag’s greenskins who made their way to the fort. Several other riders had meandered in that direction as they made their general way south. He already knew he was right about the greenskins there, because moments ago a single wolf rider had hurtled past him screaming about enemies, no doubt hoping to turn the rest of the Waagh in this direction. Gurmliss’ chariot trundled along beside another, while he spotted the body of wolf riders from which the lone rider must have originated to his left – a little mob led by a particularly vile goblin named Clabtoe. A pump wagon, very likely just here by chance rather than design, was rolling along in a clackety fashion to his right.
It seemed the enemy were already alerted, for they had formed into companies, crewed their engines, and lined the fence with missile troops. Gurmliss was not happy about the number of engines they had, especially the lines of muzzles, big and small, he could see resting on the rickety fence – cannon, swivel guns and hand guns. Guns were bad news for chariots. Guns behind fences were even worse.
The defences included several little redoubts, one of which had a small piece of artillery mounted at it (and a crewman who looked remarkably like Gurmliss – like a twin brother!) Beside the cannon were some mean looking orcs with crossbows. Advancing on this foe was going to hurt, thought Gurmliss, at least it would for those unlucky enough to approach first. Once the Waagh came up properly and Khurnag’s warriors got over the fences, it would be quick, easy (and bloody) work, for the Waagh vastly outnumbered this petty tribe.
Yes, he decided, victory would surely be Khurnag’s, of that there was no doubt, but those who went in at the front would not be around to enjoy the spoils. There were even half a dozen brass swivels, crewed by orcs, right beside the only gate that Gurmliss could see – a gate so positioned that to enter he would have to ride right past them.
The handguns were wielded by a ragged band of small goblins, off on the enemy’s left flank …
… while inside the fort were two larger bodies of fighters, one an orcen company, the other gobbos. The orcs looked like seafarers and for a moment Gurmliss wondered if these were the same orcs who had brought the vanguard of Khurnag’s Waagh over the Gulf from the Badlands, but that made no sense because most of them had been pressed into service in the Waagh, their boats and ships abandoned. Besides, why would those greenskins get themselves into a scrap with an army they knew to be vast?
The largest enemy company, a mass of goblins, looked wilder than most goblins. They were armed to the teeth with every sort of weapon, but mostly pistols, boarding axes and cutlasses. They had to be pirates.
A second artillery piece sat upon a fortified earthen mound above and behind the outer defences. It was much larger than the one down by the gate, having the look of a looted dwarfen piece. It was commanded by a cloaked orc whose head was enclosed in a battered, bloodied metal helm – likely from whoever it was he last butted in the face.
Although it was hard to make out the details it looked like many of the greenskins inside the fort were engaged in an argument. [i]No surprise there[/i], Gurmliss thought. This day would go a lot better for him if the enemy was fatally divided. Yet as Clabtoe’s wolf riders began to close on the walls it became obvious that not all the enemy was bickering – the crossbows and gunners by the gate were busying themselves. When the cannon’s blast came it was loud enough to make Gurmliss’ wolf team jolt his chariot. The effect on the wolfriders was somewhat more serious, and combined with the flurry of iron-tipped bolts that issued from the crossbows, it caused the surviving wolf-riders to flee.
Gurmliss grinned. He had never liked Clabtoe so he did not feel bad it was him who was stung first. Glancing behind he now saw that the galloping goblin wolf rider had successfully summoned several companies of other riders from the Waagh. No less than Warlord Khurnag himself had arrived with his guard of Boar Riders, while Thagger’s Big Uns came up beside them. A boar chariot also trundled within view, as well as a goblin shaman whose name Gurmliss had never managed to pronounce (admittedly not having tried to do so often: ‘you’ or ‘him’ usually sufficed).
Khurnag was riding his giant boar Butter, whose oversized tusks were rivalled in the little herd only by the curved horns on Khurnag’s helmet. The warboss’s boar rider guard carried his personal standard, a pole adorned with the rotting skull from the minotaur Khurnag famously felled during the Battle of Foulmire.
Thagger’s Big Uns thundered up on the flank, their heavy hooves making more noise than Khurnag’s Guard who had thrice their number. Their own ragged banner had once been the personal standard of the Badland’s Warboss Gravell the Red, who had been pushed from his wyvern mount by Khurnag, then skewered on Thagger’s spear. That was the day Khurnag had declared Thagger should command his own riders. Laughing, the warboss had added: “I don’t want to have to do all the batterin’ and bashin’ then ‘ave you stick yer spear in and spoil my fun before I’m done.” (Thagger’s nickname amongst the Waagh’s goblins had been ‘Spoiler’ ever since).
Now that Khurnag was on the field, most of those who had previously been milling about began to move more directly towards the foe, with Khurnag and his boar riders moving as fast as they could. Gurmliss himself, eager despite the gnawing fear in the pit of his stomach, to repair his reputation in Khurnag’s eyes, was right out in front, his hurtling chariot bouncing so much he had to grip with all his might.
Meanwhile the arguments were apparently raging on inside the fort. The sharp retort of a handgun or two rang out and Gurmliss felt his throat tighten as he anticipated lead-shot tearing through him, but the shots were aimed at targets within the fort! An orc fell screaming, then several others ran out to hack furiously at the hand-gunners, killing a good number. When the cannons boomed, once again making Gurmliss jump, they aimed not at him but at the boar riders, felling one; the crossbow orcs also chose not to trouble his chariot, instead bringing down another boar rider.
Behind the vanguard more regiments from the Waagh were arriving on the field, only to end up in an altercation with Clabtoe’s recently rallied wolf riders. Gurmliss learned later that Clabtoe had declared that he was leaving, saying that he did not come all this way to fight “orcs ‘n gobs” in a rickety fort with” likely no loot at all up for grabs”. He came to kill men for gold and silver, not to squabble with greenskins like everyone did back home. The newly arrived troops were somewhat annoyed at this exhibition of truculence by the goblin boss, and took it upon themselves to convince (in a bloody manner) him and his riders to turn around. As the boss of the pike goblins put it, Clabtoe and his lads were going to attack the fort, and they were going to go [i]first[/i]. What resulted was a messy squabble (not dissimilar to what Clabtoe had claimed he did not like about back home) which meant the newly arrived Ogres had to waste time marching perpendicular to the battle front just to get around the riot.
The fort’s defenders now did something that Gurmliss really did not expect – the goblin hand-gunners climbed the fence and ran out towards Khurnag’s Boar Rider Guard!
Perhaps they were simply trying to get away from their supposed allies within the fort, having lost five of their number to the orc pirates’ blows? Meanwhile the orc swivel gunners unleashed a volley of sangrannel, only to witness two of their own barrels shiver into pieces and kill gunners wielding them. When the intact guns failed to visibly harm any of Khurnag’s warriors Gurmliss assumed that their powder must be rotten. The three surviving orcs were momentarily stunned …
… then frantically began stuffing powder and shot into their barrels.
While the pirate orcs loosed a sting of pistol shots, bringing down one of Khurnag’s boar boys, and a cannonball smashed the chariot behind Gurmliss’ own, more and more regiments from the Waagh were arriving at the field of battle: boar chariots, spear chukkas, a big regiment of boys (although not the Waagh’s largest) and the Waagh’s army standard bearer Big Boss Malkey the Fist.
Not that many of these units made much headway, as the argument involving Clabtoe’s wolf riders and the pike goblins flared out to draw in several other bodies. Two orc boys died to goblin arrows, then two wolf riders died before they could escape the vengeful orcs’ wrath. At the real fighting front the Spoiler’s boar riders chased after the goblin handgunners who had run off after suddenly recognising the utter insanity of their decision to leap the fence and head out on their own. Khurnag led his own much larger body of boar riders to charge the crossbow orcs at the little gate, losing one of his boys to a fall as they tried to negotiate the fence.
The crossbow orcs were hacked apart quickly and efficiently, until only one remained …
… who then turned to flee, being chased down by Khurnag and his lads. Gurmliss watched as the orc war boss and his regiment of riders’ momentum carried them into the little wooden bastion containing the foremost cannon, where they set about bashing the goblin crew and their bully with glee.
A thunderous boom sent an iron round-shot over the boar rider’s heads to bounce across the field and tear an ogre lead-belcher in two, but Khurnag and his boys did not let it distract them as they tore the terrified cannon crew to pieces. Gurmliss was not the only one watching them, as inside the fort the goblin pirates stared with sick fascination (and some gut wrenching trepidation). They readied their ranks and files to face Khurnag as best they could, their shattered ship’s wheel standard held at their front.
More and more elements of the Waagh were arriving to add to the confusion and general milling about at the rear of the greenskins’ line. Another pump wagon trundled onto the field, as well as a large body of mercenary ogres.
Growing more crazed by the minute, Clabtoe persisted in his disagreement with every other greenskin regiment around him, so that the ogres had to march around the growing riot up to where their recently battered cannon wielding comrades were.
Undaunted by a flimsy fence, Khurnag led his boar riders in a charge against the goblin pirates and was himself bloodied in the thigh by a shiver of wood as his boar Butter crashed through the defences. Another boar rider fell to the goblins’ counter-shot, but when the riders hit they scattered the goblins and sent them hurtling away in panic. Unwilling to chase such a pathetic foe, Khurnag steadied his lads and ordered them to turn to face inside the fort. There they saw that Gurmliss had manoeuvred his chariot through the gate, while the last three enemy swivel gunners had destroyed the pump wagon.
Now the last of the foe were surrounded on two sides by Khurnag’s Waagh, and not only from outside their defences.
Khurnag was about to bellow ‘Waagh!’ and charge in, when instead his boys began squabbling over the looted pistols they had taken from the fallen goblins. Still, there were others who were keen to get stuck in, including the Spoiler and his lads. The trouble was the fence and Scarback’s orcs proved a very nasty combination, and four of the Big Un boar riders were brought down. Gurmliss, seeing his chance to show Khurnag that he was made of the right stuff, charged alone into the swivel gunners (happy in the knowledge that they had had no time to reload) and killed all three of them. He held back, however, from charging the large regiment of orc pirates, for he wanted to go in when Khurnag did.
There was a momentary pause, the only movement being Sea Boss Scarback’s pirate orcs turning to face Khurnag, then with a cry of “Waagh!” in went Khurnag and his lads, joined by Gurmliss’ chariot. As they crashed in, Khurnag and Scarback found themselves locked in personal combat with each other, while all others stayed out of their way.
Sea Boss Scarback could not hurt the mighty warboss, but Khurnag’s huge cleaver bladed spear bloodied the orc pirate. The Boar Riders and their mighty mounts tore into many other pirate orcs, with Gurmliss’ chariot also cutting several down. Perhaps the pirate orcs regretted their lack of armour? More likely they just died cursing everything. Whatever the last thoughts of the dying, the still living broke and ran, only to be run down and ground into the dirt by chariot wheels and boars’ hooves.
The battle was ended. Sea Boss Scarback’s Greenskin Corsairs were no more.
And still more regiments of the Waagh were arriving on the field!
(Game Note: Although this battle is described in a very story like manner, it was indeed a normal table-top game with my mate Duncan and I staying up stupidly late in the Christmas holidays, drinking slightly too much beer (as we felt obliged to do), and getting the usual amount of rules wrong – but not caring. What might appear to be story driven arguments and actions in this account are all in truth retrofitted from the events on the table-top: mostly due to me having to invent story reasons for ill-timed episodes of animosity. Interestingly, although I was worried about how to explain the silly level of animosity shown on both sides, at the time of writing it actually proved extraordinarily easy to come up with reasons for greenskins to fall out with each other!)
Crusade (Prologue to a Battle)
Northern Tilea, at the Bridge of Pontremola, Autumn 2401
Biagino watched as the army marched across the bridge at Pontremola to the northern bank of the River Tarano. The crusaders’ military commander, the condottieri general Urbano D’Alessio, had declared the ground on the far side of the bridge to be the better place to make a stand. He did not say why (should any general worth his salt have to?) but Biagino and several other priests secretly agreed that the decision was most likely based on the fact that with a river behind them, spanned by only one bridge, the crusade’s peasant and militia soldiers would have more difficulty fleeing the field of battle. Whether or not this would consequently make them more likely to stand their ground the priests could not decide upon. It could simply mean that if they did break they would drown as a consequence! The enemy force would be terrible, the battle more like a feverish nightmare than the waking hours of the day. Then again, thought Biagino, what battle is not a nightmare?
With little else to do right now but wait and watch, he found himself once again angry that Lord Adolfo had refused to support the crusade in any way beyond merely allowing them to exist. The lord of Viadaza was now sick abed, admittedly, but this was not the reason none his troops were present. He had never intended to send any soldiers, and now his rather convenient illness meant he had not even had to watch the crusaders’ departure from his city, nor give them any sort of blessing or ‘fare thee well’. The crusaders had paraded through the streets nevertheless, their maroon flags emblazoned with the raven-winged hourglass emblem of Morr, the crowds cheering excitedly, the marching men in a much more sombre mood. One might well have expected Lord Adolfo’s soldiers to line the streets and patrol the walls and gates to ensure an orderly parade and exit. Instead they were either confined to barracks or guarding Lord Adolfo’s palazzo. When the crusaders had passed the palazzo gate, Biagino did glimpse a great number of guards, including even some soldiers with orcen blood, pallid skinned, red-eyed wild men bearing viciously curved scimitars. They had put him in mind of the recent nightmare in which he had been humbled by the cruel duchess. Since that night, Biagino could not think of Lord Adolfo without seeing his dream-face – drooling, hideous, bestial in its brazen lust.
It was as if Lord Adolfo was expecting to be besieged by the crusaders, which was odd, considering how he had so consistently mocked them as nothing more than a rabble, entirely worthless as a military force. Yet here he was behaving as if they posed a real threat, mustering his guard in a sudden fit of timidity. At the time, Biagino had momentarily feared it might be part of some cunning plan in which the crusaders were to be divided, disarmed and dispersed. But he dismissed this idea as ridiculous. The truth was simple: Lord Adolfo wanted the crusaders gone. The crusaders knew it, and Lord Adolfo knew they knew it. Surely he had mustered a strong guard just in case the bad feeling bubbled up into rebellious acts?
Right now the militia pike regiment were crossing the bridge – or they would be if an overloaded cart had not become stuck at the northern end of the bridge.
Biagino could not help but stare as two burly peasants pulled at the draught horses’ harnesses, while the great heap of sacks threatened to topple from the wagon to create an even more stubborn obstacle. The confusion was not helped by the fact that a handful of peasant militia had already begun constructing a short stretch of wooden fence to partially close off the bridge. While some of the labourers had indeed stopped working and joined Biagino in watching the struggle with the cart horses, two were still hauling stakes around (very likely what had spooked the horses in the first place).
The pikemen stood with apparent patience, well drilled in their postures from years of weekend practise, their brace of drummers now sensibly silent. Many had mocked them as ‘rude militia’, as part-time, amateur soldiers who were ever ready in arms apart from during times of war, more fit for drinking songs and wrestling over who got to wear their few pieces of communally stored armour than for battle. Biagino, however, saw that whatever they had once been, they were now inspired by Morr. More than their patriotic duty, more than loyalty to their long familiar officers, more than an urge to protect their family and neighbours. Morr.
The large regiment of crudely armed peasants, led by fierce Father Antonello, seemed even more keen for the fight. It was a resolve that would no doubt be tested when they stood before the foe. Presently proud of the fact that they wielded pitchforks and scythes, flails and axes, reckoning that their familiarity with such tools made them nimble in their use, their enthusiasm could well wane when the walking corpses of long dead warriors came at them, their bony bodies without flesh to scythe or organs to pierce. To fight such monsters required an extra-ordinary sort of courage and discipline, not mere skill as farm labourers. The pair of peasants now yanking with all their might to move the cart looked determined indeed, but what was a pair of stubborn, bucking horses compared to a shambling horde of horrors, stinking of the grave and driven by the mighty, death defying will of a vampire?
Just as this thought sent a now familiar chill through Biagino, the wagon lurched and the wheels began to turn. As it trundled slowly away, the pike regiment’s colonel was already issuing the command: “Prepare to march!”
Biagino was left with a lingering doubt. If dumb animals and a wagon filled with grain sacks could halt the best regiment of foot they had, then was it utter foolishness to think they could drive back the vampire duke?
We Shall Stand
They were to make their stand upon the northern side of the river at Pontremola. The old bridge had seen better days, but the damage was superficial and it was still strong enough to transport the Viadazzan crusading army across without too much incident. The two toll-towers were abandoned, the keepers having fled in fear three months ago along with the Ebinans crossing southwards to escape the clutches of the Vampire Duke. To the north the road was fairly well delineated with hedgerows, more than a mere highway of hardened earth as it had ancient stone foundations, coursing north through the gently sloping, eastern hills of Usola.
For six full hours the Morrite crusaders stood in battle array awaiting the foe. Not one man succumbed to weariness. It was not a hot day and each and every one of them was sufficiently nervous concerning the imminent battle to ensure churning stomachs. None even wished to sit down and rest easy. The mercenary crossbowmen, being professional soldiers, made a show of looking nonchalant. Yet everyone could see that it was exactly that – a show, effortful and deliberate, an attempt to hide their true state of mind.
The Carroccio stood behind the main battle line, its huge, silken standard snapping in the breeze. Since the army had left Viadazza every citizen had assembled morning and night to pray around it, as if it were a famous shrine upon a holy day. It bore the most revered artefacts possessed by the Church of Morr in Viadazza, including the bones of no less than three saints and the hilt of the sword an ancient hero had used to slay the first vampire to set foot in Tilea. Well, it was either the first, second or third vampire. It depended who exactly you asked and where they were from.
The Crusaders’ right flank consisted of two regiments of horse, one heavy, the other light. The former, positioned forwards, consisted of what few nobles had chosen to accompany the crusaders, garbed in full plate armour and riding barded destriers. The lighter horsemen were what remained of the Arrabbiati Brotherhood, led by Lord Totto himself, recently recovered from the wounds he had received during the battle to save the Duchess Maria. Next stood an antique ribaudequin which had been restored to (what was hoped to be full) working order. The peasant militia, captained by Father Antonello, who had somehow spent the last six hours tirelessly maintaining their spiritual frenzy, stood next in line, flanked by the equally large body of militia pikemen. It was amongst these colourfully attired militia that Biagino stood, nominally their captain. In truth, he only commanded in the way that the Lector commanded the army. A militia captain gave all the military orders, at Biagino’s request, just as the condottieri general Urbano D’Alessio listened to the Lector’s suggestions and turned them into military orders as he saw fit. Yet now that battle was about to be fought, D’Alessio had begun behaving more like a captain than a general, taking personal command of the mounted knightsvand leaving Lector Bernado Ugolini in the traditional position for a general (in the rear, at the centre). The Lector was accompanied by his bodyguard, whose feathered wings revealed their origins as descendants of mercenary Kislevites.
Next in line was the second militia regiment, the swordsmen, led by Father Gonzalvo. They were not so large as the pike regiment, but they made up for this deficiency in swagger. Then stood the mercenary crossbowmen, calmly refusing to span their bows until the enemy was in sight. Upon the bridge was the army’s only cannon, a bombard of a long-abandoned design which had been inspected for flaws and cracks by each and every one of the crew nearly every day. They had yet to find any such thing, though the real test would come when they began to fire in anger, over and over, really heating the barrel for the first time in decades. The army’s baggage was placed upon the southern side of the river, with several wagons on the bridge itself. Biagino had wondered if this were also part of General D’Alessio’s supposed scheme to keep the crusaders from fleeing too readily.
Out on the far-left flank stood one company of skirmishing seamen, with the third and last artillery piece – a mortar – placed behind them on the far side of the river. Many a crusader had prayed that the grenadoes lobbed by this piece would cut great swathes in the enemy’s lines, tearing their rotten corpses to pieces. Biagino himself was optimistic, for the undead, deficient as they were in muscle and sinew, must surely be more easily dismembered than living men, and thus much more likely to fall to the mortar’s explosive ammunition.
The only other company in the crusading army was another body seamen. Acting the part of scouts, they were not present in the battle line as they had moved off ahead of the army to outflank the Duke’s shambling horde.
Viadazan Crusaders Total = 2670 points
This army list created from Campaign Tilean List, itself a modified version of the Treachery & Greed Campaign list
Morrite Lector of Viadaza, Bernado Ugolini
Warhorse, Horseman’s mace, Light armour
Prophetic Book Bound spell Harmonic Convergence; Robe of Cathayan Silk Wearer generates one additional power dice; Sword of Might
Special rules: Righteous Fury; Grim Resolve.
Prayers of Morr (power level 4):
Holy Protection (augment): Lector of Morr and unit he is with have a 5+ ward against all wounds until start of next friendly magic phase. (Morr decides when it is their time to die.)
Morr’s Caress (hex): range 24”, target unit suffers –1 T and –1 Str until start of next friendly magic phase. (Morr moves them a little closer to death for a while).
Morr’s Stare (direct damage): range 12”. Target single individual model (even character in a unit). Caster and target roll D6 and add to Ld stat. If Lector wins, victim loses D2 wounds with no armour saves. (Morr passes judgement.)
Urbano D’Alessio, Condottiere General
Warhorse, barding full plate
Sword of anti-heroes; Charmed Shield;Talisman of Endurance
Mercenary skill: Hopelessly stubborn Character & his unit = stubborn
Three Priests of Morr: Biagino, Gonzalvo & Father Antonello
Special rules: Righteous Fury, Divine Power
Lesser Prayers of Morr (innate bound spells, power level 3)
Lesser Holy Protection (augment): Priest of Morr and unit he is with have a 6+ ward against all wounds until start of next friendly magic phase. (Morr decides when it is their time to die.)
Morr’s Touch (hex): range 24”, target unit suffers –1 T until start of next friendly magic phase. (Morr moves them a little closer to death, in undead weakening the necromantic magic holding them together, for a while).
Morr’s Glance (direct damage): range 12”. Target single individual model (even character in a unit). Caster and target roll D6 & add to Ld stat. If priest wins, victim takes a Str 4 wound, no armour saves. (Morr passes judgement.)
Biagino: Circlet of Burning Gold
Father Antonello: Ruby Ring of Ruin
Callistro Gallani, Condotta Captain
War Wagon & Army Battle Standard
Magic standard (Home-rules) = Standard of Morr All troops within range of its battle Standard effect are immune to Fear caused by the Undead (+85 pts)
Special rules: Stubborn, immune to psychology, large target. War Wagon: Chariot, with single profile. NO ‘swiftstride’ rule. Moves as monster, may not march or charge. May not pursue; flees only d6″. May not enter difficult or very difficult terrain. May not cross obstacles. Immune to poison and killing blow.
Armed with 6 handguns, which may fire even if the war wagon moves. Usual penalty to hit for moving and firing applies. Handguns have a 360 degrees line of sight. In combat, has no flanks or rear. Attacks are armour piercing – assume handgunners are shooting as the CC attacks. Cavalry, chariots or monsters (including ogre-sized models) charging a war wagon do not count as charging. They also suffer -1 to hit the war wagon in combat.
The Arrabiatti Brotherhood
Lord Totto Level 2 Wizard
Warhorse, Dispel Scroll, Seed of Rebirth
9 Border Horsemen
Full Command; Warhorse, short bow, Shields, light armour, Horseman’s maces. +1 S, mounted models only Fast Cavalry
Lector’s Guard 5 Border Horsemen
Warhorse, bows, shields, light armour, spears; Full Command. Fast cavalry
36 Militia Pikemen
Light armor, pikes; Full Command
20 Condotta Marksmen
Light armor, crossbows; Full Command
15 Buccaneer Skirmishers
2 hand weapons; Skirmishers.
15 Buccaneer Scouts
Swords, shields; Full Command
Warhorse, shield, lances, barding, full plate; Full Command
(Archaic) Great Cannon
Range 48”, Str 8, Multiple Wnds D4
The Vampire Duke’s army was large, with four substantial bodies of foot soldiers moving over the hills, and plenty of even more monstrous horrors besides. Ahead of the army rode a little company of Hex Wraiths, their every motion unnatural and eerie as the gleaming bones of their mounts grated beneath fluttering robes which were not fully a part of this world.
Behind them, on the far-right flank of the undead line, crept a large body of ghouls, then, next in line, strode a mass of skeleton warriors, momentarily disordered by their descent from the hilly ridge. A huge horde of zombies spilled through the gap in the hills where the road coursed, and beside them came even more skeletons, these being heavily armoured and carrying blades that gleamed in a hellish green.
Six brutish horrors came next, horrible to behold, yet somehow less nightmarish than the Vampire Duke himself and his guard of Black Knights. Finally, upon the foul horde’s far left, atop a hill which now looked like little more than a tiny mound compared to the bulk of the creature upon it, was a Terrogheist. The monster’s wings folded and unfolded in mockery of life, as its head stooped low upon its long and bony neck to espy the foe before it.
In even his worst nightmares, Biagino had not imagined the foe as terrible as this. Suddenly, the might of the crusade seemed to diminish. He glanced left and right and in his mind’s eye the soldiers suddenly turned back into farmers and merchants. These inspired agents of Morr’s will now appeared to be merely mortal men, alone and trembling.
They could not win. The foe was too mighty, too monstrous, too many.
Then he heard Father Antonello singing. It was a solemn hymn to Morr, yet the defiance in his voice was very clear. It was not the sound of a fearful man trying to fool those around him into believing he was brave, but rather the voice of a man governed wholly by obedience to the god of death. More and more voices joined his, until all three regiments were singing. When the bell on the carroccio began to ring in time to the hymn, Biagino felt Morr’s presence like he had never done before.
They could win. They would win. Morr willed it.
Behind the undead line the company of scouting sailors climbed a low ridge to see what there was to see. They could not help but halt, for the foe was arrayed so thick and numerous that the crusading army was barely visible beyond them. Still, the scouts had come here to do what could be done to slow down the enemy units on this flank, and so somewhat hesitantly they cocked their pistols quickly scrutinised the ground ahead to ascertain the best route forwards.
The enemy wasted no time, for there was not a creature amongst them that could recall what it was to feel hesitation. The hex wraiths charged at the company of skirmishing sea men, sending them hurtling away to splash in the waters at the rivers’ edge. (Game note: It occurs to me now as I type that we had both forgotten vanguard units cannot charge in the first turn. Oops! Still, the buccaneers got away.)
On the far side of the field of battle the monstrously huge Terrorgheist flapped in a horribly graceful manner (for such a large and ragged beast) and came to land before the mounted men at arms.
The beast vented a pained and painful squealing, like a giant bird caught bloodily in a trap. Thinking it ugly enough, the men at arms had no idea what more the beast could and would yet do with its scream. The rest of the undead horde shambled onwards, the ones with the longest legs, those mounted on bony horses and those closest to the Vampire Duke (given impetus by their proximity to him who had raised them) moving much further than the rest.
An enormous body of zombies came on in the centre, their stench carrying more than a mile downwind, their gait ungainly and their arms swinging loose. Their black-nailed fingers clutched at the air as they succumbed to the ever present urge to tear living flesh.
Biagino stood in the front rank of the Viadazan pikemen, happily allowing two drummers’ beating to jolt the fearful thoughts from his mind. And there were a lot of such thoughts. Only moments before he had witnessed five corpses claw their way out of the ground in front of the crossbowmen, obviously summoned by the Vampire Duke to obscure the mercenaries’ line of fire. He could not help but wonder again that the crusaders had bitten off far more than they could chew, for the enemy was numerous enough to begin with, yet now even more were being raised to serve them.
Once again he glanced over at Father Antonello …
… and once again took solace from his reassuring presence. If anything, Father Antonello’s peasants were even more keen for the battle than the militiamen beside them – chomping at the bit to get at the foe. Then Biagino’s reverie was broken by the dying screams of two pikemen who had succumbed to some spell emanating from the Vampire Duke. He did not know it, but the Black Knights around the Duke suffered worse, losing three of their number to an uncontrolled spillage of magical energies. As a few moments later the Black Riders returned, summoned back into the world by necromantic magic. No crusaders noticed they had ever gone!
(Game Note: I didn’t notice at the time, but Daz’s two vampires both attempted to cast Invocation of Nehek, and the second one repaired the Black Knights. Of course, in normal rules the Duke could not cast another spell after his earlier miscast. Maybe there is some magical trait vampire’s can buy which allows them to do so? I have checked the VC book myself but I can’t find anything. I have a feeling we weren’t doing very well with the rules in this game!)
General D’Alessio now led his little company of armoured nobility in a charge against the Terrorgheist, their fear almost entirely washed away by the proximity of the carroccio and its inspiring collection of Morrite icons and relics. [i](Game Note: I write ‘almost’ because of course the monster’s terror was reduced to fear.)[/i] Only one knight managed to pierce the tip of his lance into the beast’s bony carapace, but it was enough both to visibly weaken the creature and bolster the other knights’ courage. With the crusader’s Morrite banner streaming above them, they fought on.
While they fought like mythical knights of old against the monster, elsewhere bolts were loosed and ironshot fired. Two of the Ogre-like monsters fell to these missiles, and five Graveguard joined them in second-death.
Now, as the Hex Wraiths finished the job they had begun and chased the Buccaneers off the field of battle entirely, Duke Alessandro led his reformed Black Knights in a charge against the Viadazan noblemen with General D’Alessio.
Few amongst the crusaders could believe that the Vampire Duke was already engaged in combat, against their army general no less, and with a giant monster by his side. Yet they steeled themselves, and the light horsemen of the Arrabiatti Brotherhood moved up to the spot vacated by the noblemen, so that the Crusaders’ line could stay sound.
Just then the men of Viadaza were given an awful glimpse of what the enemy was capable of, for the Terrorgheist gave vent to another screeching wail, this time so overwhelmingly horrible as to take the life of five of the knights before it. As their metal-clad corpses slid from their saddles to clatter to the ground, the Vampire Duke laid about General D’Alessio furiously, raining blow after blow upon him, but the general’s full plate armour and the blessing of his holy talisman prevented each and every blow from wounding him. Obviously outmatched, and likely to die any moment, the general stubbornly refused to flee but fought on, accompanied by only one remaining guard, the standard bearer.
Aware that the Duke’s death was probably the only thing that could bring the Crusader’s victory, and knowing that General D’Alessio could not possibly hope to survive on his own, Father Antonello ordered his peasants to charge the flank of the Black Knights. Not wanting to be outdone by peasants, the Arrabiatti also charged into the Vampire Duke’s guard, so that now a huge fight was taking place on the far right of the Crusaders’ line.
No less than a dozen more Graveguard were felled, including some who had already been re-re-animated, by a deadly combination of crossbows, cannon and mortar. And while these very worldly weapons were being employed, the priests were also praying for spiritual aid. In this way they blessed the peasants with the lesser form of Morr’s Protection, while the Lector used his prophetic book to cast the enchantment commonly known as Harmonic Convergence on the Arrabiatti. The priests knew both these units would need every bit of help they could get, for although they outnumbered and surrounded the foe, the enemy was both fearless and frightening, as well as better armed and armoured.
As the fight began, Biagino found himself very close to the enemy’s brute horrors.
When the militia sergeant ordered the pikes levelled, the monstrous foe did not exactly recoil, but it was obvious that somewhere in the tattered remnants of their consciousness they knew that to charge headlong into the serried rows of sharp steel tips would be foolish. So it was they halted, their heads stooped as they leered cruelly at the Viadazans.
Somehow General D’Alessio’s warded armour continued to save him from each and every one of the umpteen blows rained upon him by the Vampire Duke. [i](Game Note: For a second time, even at -3 to save, somehow I rolled all 5s & 6s!)[/i] Yet although the general’s armour saved him, he could not himself harm Duke Alessandro, for the vampire had beguiled him supernaturally, leaving him so befuddled that his own attempts to strike blows where easily parried. Nor could the Arrabiatti harm the foe, and – perhaps unsurprisingly – neither could the peasants (even though they had been filled with such confidence by the good priest leading them). Ignoring the peasants as if they were of no consequence at all, the foul creatures of the night mortally wounded six of the Arrabiatti, and their subsequent deaths were somewhat loud and disturbing. Lord Totto shouted most boldly to the last few that they should stand and “See this through”, and such was their high regard of their leader that they did indeed do so. But not so the peasants. Father Antonello was dumbfounded by his supposedly blessed warriors’ failure to even scratch the foe, and his momentary silence was enough to undo all the work he had done with his inspiring words. The peasants turned and fled, running right through Biagino’s pikemen and Gonzalvo’s swordsmen. Neither of the militia units broke, perhaps having always expected just such behaviour from the peasants, but the peasants burst out of the swordsmen’s left flank with the stunned Father Antonello still amongst them. For the first time in months he harboured doubts, his faith in Morr so shockingly tested.
The green-bladed Grave Guards now charged the Viadazan swordsmen, their onslaught also catching some of the peasants and forcing them to redouble their efforts to flee. In so doing, the peasants now took the mercenary crossbowmen with them – both broken companies running pell-mell towards the river, the dangerous depth of the waters entirely forgotten in their desperate urge to escape.
Dark magics were summoned by both vampires, so that the Black Knights danced macabre, and the Grave Guard acquired a hellish vigour, but the joint efforts of the priests and Lord Totto ensured that none of the enemy dead were re-animated. The Terrorgheist unleashed another horrendous cry and the last of the Viadazan nobility tumbled from his saddle, his silken banner falling to be trodden into the mud by a taloned and bony claw. A moment later Lord Totto was brutally cut down by the Black Knight’s champion, and the very last of his shadowy brotherhood fell by his side, leaving General D’Alessio to fight on alone. Once again, although still magically befuddled by the vampire duke’s proximity, his armour and wards proved effective, saving the general from each and every blow. Even the Vampire Duke, his mind cold, cruel and not quite of this world, was beginning to feel frustration at this mere mortal who refused to die.
(Game Note: We both failed to realise at the time that if a lone character is fighting a challenge then the fact that his base is corner to corner with a separate unit does not mean that unit remains caught up in that combat. So the Terrorgheist could have left this combat in the next turn. I’ll discuss below whether this would have had much of an effect on the game.)
The long line of shambling, undead foot soldiers continued its advance …
… while the Grave Guard hewed down swordsman after swordsman, with the Duke’s vampiric captain (once a renowned mercenary from the Empire, now a monster with barely a trace of human thought remaining) gleefully hacked off the militia champion’s head, then joined his guard in their pursuit of the utterly broken Viadazans. The undead slaughtered every man who ran, and found themselves before the carroccio.
Their bestial commander, the tortured demonic spirit who now inhabited the twisted, living corpse of Captain Theobald, grinned with glee. Here was something he would enjoy tearing up as much as any mortal. He could feel the power emanating from it, the spirit of the god who hated the undead more than all others. He raised his black-clawed hand, gestured …
… and barked his command. As one the Grave Guard hefted their massive blades and prepared to charge.
Knowing only too well that to win this battle the vampire duke must be killed, and that the embattled General D’Alessio could not be expected to fight alone against such horrors, the Morrite Lector of Viadaza commanded his bodyguard of Kislevites to charge into the Black Knights’ flank. This they did without hesitation, for since their march from the city they had understood that in a war such as this their role could not remain merely ceremonial.
Glimpsing the Lector’s charge, Biagino finally decided the time had come, and ordered the pikemen to charge into the horrors standing before them. Some of the fleeing Viadazans noticed these charges, as well as the fact that the enemy was still some distance away, and – faced with almost certain death in the cold river waters – decided that flight was perhaps not the best option after all. So it was that they rallied, reforming their ranks and files with the river immediately to their rear.
The crew of the ribaudequin hefted their ancient war machine anti-clockwise so that it pointed at the Grave Guard, and after a brief moment’s hesitation during which one of the screamed at the Lector’s secretary to get out of the way ….
… they sent a hail of shot which felled three of the foe. Two more were shot down by the carroccio handgunners, while the cannon sent a ball through the rickety corpse cart and tore it to pieces, the damage so severe that it completely un-knitted the dark, magical forces holding the foul and stinking construction together.
And still, now very obviously miraculous and surely certain proof that Morr was indeed present with the Crusaders, General D’Alessio’s armour withstood the torrent of blows rained down upon him by the vampire duke. (Game Note: all 5 wounds saved by armour or ward saves!) Urbano now managed to pierce his foe with his blade, so that corrupted blood bubbled from the wound, withering the grass wherever it spattered upon the ground. Three of the vampire dukes’ Black Knights were dispatched by the Kislevite riders, and such was the ferocity of the combat that all the remaining Black Knights now collapsed, as well as the Terrorgheist, leaving Duke Alessendro Sforta to fight alone.
(Game Note: If we had realised the Terrorgheist was no longer a part of the combat – see comment above – then it would not have perished, but there is every chance that the ribaudequin or a well placed spell would likely have removed its last few wounds. Perhaps one might say that the rules errors in favour of the undead earlier in the game balance this error in favour of the Viadazans. This error was a genuine mistake, the sort it is hard to avoid.)
Biagino was caught up in a no less dangerous combat, and prayed that the Crusader’s hatred of the foe would spur them on to cause great harm. It was not to be, however, for despite the ferociousness of their efforts, all they could do was scratch at the foe. (Game Note: 24+2 re-rollable attacks resulted in 2 wounds!)
The enemy was not so unlucky, however, and tore into the pikemen so viciously that ten Viadazans fell. Despite the awful damage dealt to them, the spirit of Morr was still with the Viadazans and they stood their ground, clutching tightly at the pikes and leaning upon each other in an attempt to counteract the tremendous weight of the foe. Behind them the surviving Grave Guard now smashed into the carroccio.
The vampire Theobald screeched with glee as he and his guard hacked at the wagon and its crew, ripping both apart.
Clambering up the side, tearing a terrified crewman right out of the upper platform and hurling him into the Grave Guards below, Theobald yanked the Crusaders’ army standard from its bracket and threw it down on top of the now dismembered crewman. (Game Note: Now no 18” Ld re-roll, and no 18” fear immunity for the Crusaders!)
The vampire duke’s right wing, a veritable sea of nightmarish foot soldiers shambled onwards, slowly but surely closing the gap between themselves and the enemy.
The gunner and matrosses manning the cannon on the bridge might have become worried about the massed regiments’ proximity, had they not been at that moment on the receiving end of a charge by the hellish Hex Wraiths.
Needless to say the gun crew stood no chance and all perished. The wraiths then burst out from the other side of the bridge, galloping over the river waters as if on solid ground; their ghostly, unnatural hooves barely splashing as they moved.
Clambering over the splintered wreckage of the carroccio, the vampire Captain Theobald led his Grave Guard in a charge against the recently rallied peasants. Considering how the peasants had so far behaved, and how bloodily effective the Grave Guard had been despite being greatly diminished by missile fire, and with the mobile Shrine to Morr (which had until now been the focus of any confidence the peasants possessed) having been completely desecrated, it was obvious that they could not possibly hope to stand. Yet for the briefest moment it looked like they had a chance, for they certainly had numbers on their side.
Biagino and the pikemen once again suffered horrendous casualties, beaten by bone clubs bigger than themselves …
… yet still they stood their ground. (Game Note: Passing their now non-re-rollable Break test at 5 or less!) Biagino himself could do little more than pray, the shafts of the pikes close around him so far protecting him from harm.
On the far right of the Crusaders’ line the desperate fight against the vampire duke continued …
… with General D’Alessandro’s battered and bent armour once again preventing the duke’s blade from penetrating his flesh. The general himself was now barely able to wield his own blade, as he had finally succumbed to fear – the fight had been impossibly long, the foe so nightmarish, that it was all he could do to stay mounted as the blows repeatedly rang against his steel armour. Lector Bernado could see what a state he was in, and so read from his prophetic book to cast the spell Harmonic Convergence on the general. The Lector also tried to inflict Morr’s Stare on the vampire duke, but Alessandro’s wicked magics brushed that spell aside. It was enough, however, to distract the vampire, and now, suddenly General D’Alessio snapped out of the magical beguilement that had until now held him in its grip.
The fight between them seemed to blaze anew, as both thrust and parried, hacked and twisted. And still the General’s armour could not be pierced (Note: once again, unbelievably, he saved against 4 wounds!) Although neither could pierce the other, Duke Allessandro’s grip on undeath had been growing steadily weaker and weaker. He was surrounded by foes, outnumbered, alone, and finally, to the utter amazement of those fighting him, he slumped forwards in his saddle, his head lolling to bash against his mount’s skull. Then, with an anguished cry, he fell to the ground as the beast carrying him collapsed into nothing more than a pile of bones. As General D’Alessio let his aching sword arm drop to his side, his tears hidden by his dented helm, the Kislevites thrust their long spears one after the other, over and over, into the vampire duke’s now motionless corpse.
Duke Alessandro Sforta was dead. Not merely unliving, but truly and completely dead.
In that moment, the necromantic force holding the entire undead army in this realm was greatly weakened, and like a wave washing across a beach, the diminishment in its power spread across the field to affect body after body of undead soldiers. Two of the Crypt Horrors fighting Biagino and the militia pikemen collapsed, as did half a dozen zombies, even more skeletons, and four of the Grave Guard. All five Hex Wraith’s simply vanished.
(Game Note: End of Turn 4. End of game.)
No one cheered. The Lector, his guards and General D’Alessio were simply too exhausted, while all the rest were still embroiled in combat and could not yet know what had happened. But the vampire Theobald knew full well what had happened – he felt his sire’s death in the core of his being. Grimacing (as if his face was not ugly enough already) he refused to allow the anguished cry building inside him to be released. Instead he turned and ran. But his was no frantic, scrambling flight, rather a purposeful and controlled reaction, and as he ran he commanded all those he could to fall back, retreat. Using every bit of magic he could summon, he tried to hold them in this world.
Where he was going, what he intended to do, only he knew.
Over where the foul remains of the vampire duke lay corrupting the soil beneath them, the Lector and General D’Alessio were discussing their next move. After what had happened they had no fear of what was around them – a crumbling (if still massive) force of zombies and ghouls seemed of little consequence compared to what they had already faced and beaten.
Before long the orders were given and the surviving Crusaders were falling back southwards over the bridge. To some, pushing on against the defeated foe might seem the most desirable course, but the Lector and General D’Alessio knew their men were exhausted, and that a powerful vampire commanded what was still a sizeable enemy force. The enemy was not tired – it suffered no such mortal complaints. The enemy was not afraid, for no trace of emotion was left to them. Besides, the important work had been done. The vampire duke was dead, his army in retreat. Now there was surely time to regroup, recuperate, recruit and then return to complete what they had so effectively begun?
Next Installment: Part 5