Bad Timing, Bad Intelligence and Bad Behaviour.
Prologue to the Battle Report, 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, both in the blue and grey cloth of Khurnag’s main battle regiments – one in stripes, the other in checks. Being forced by cruelly edged blades to walk quicker than his short legs were accustomed to was not what annoyed Gurmliss most, however: it was the jeering from every greenskin he passed. He was being treated like a coward – worse than that, a coward who was about to receive his punishment. In truth, he had boldly, if anything too boldly, led his pathetic runt of an army (quite rightly called the ‘Little Waagh’) against the Tileans, to test their mettle, probe them, discover their strengths, their weaknesses, and he had done so despite the fact that he knew full well his army would surely be defeated. He had understood throughout that he himself would most likely be killed, yet he had done so, despite the dangers, to obey his orders and to learn something of great use to Warboss Khurnag, and at no real cost to the main army.
After the inevitable defeat, he escaped the massacre and rode northwards to report all that he had learned of the foe. Khurnag listened, even thanked Gurmliss(!), and his real ‘Waagh’ had begun its march south. Either Khurnag truly relished the idea of fighting just such a foe or he just wanted his warriors to think he did. Gurmliss suspected the former, for Khurnag would likely take great satisfaction in proving to the enemy that fighting orcs was lot more painful than fighting a goblin army.
Yet, now, just when Gurmliss had finally decided he was going to avoid any form of punishment, something had gone wrong. Perhaps a rival had persuaded Khurnag to reconsider Gurmliss’ actions, and see them in a new light? Or more likely, someone had been telling lies.
He arrived at the orcs’ main encampment to discover quite the crowd had gathered to watch the entertainment, mainly consisting of the Waagh’s fighting orc regiments. His escorts prodded him forwards into the midst of a ring of glowering orcs, a good number of whom were scraping their steel choppa blades together to emit an eerie and ominous squealing, while the rest waved their hefty blades in the air threateningly, as they growled and grimaced. Neither sight nor sound were reassuring at all.
Khurnag was standing within the circle, garbed in heavy iron plates from head to toe, with two of his goblin scout bosses by his side, looking quite pathetic amongst the mass of their bigger cousins. Gurmliss suddenly wondered just how pitiful a figure he must appear in the orcs’ eyes – or would do if they knew what pity was.
Gurmliss recognised the two goblins, and neither were what he would consider friends. The first was the army’s scout boss, named Drofda, who Gurmliss had once bloodied in a squabble over a barrel of wine. The second, Jabble, he had chased from a Tilean’s corpse so that he himself could loot it.
Warboss Khurnag was grinning, as ever, his fangs so large they forced his lips into that shape. He raised 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 entertained on his way here. Not at all. It was impossible nonsense, for a start, for he had witnessed both the goblins’ march from Pavezzano and their subsequent massacre with his very own eyes. Nothing but a handful got away, their arms discarded, and hardly any had run back to Pavezzano, because that’s where the enemy would go next.
“Who says de gobbos is still alive?” Gurmliss asked, trying hard not to sound afraid.
Khurnag thrust his choppa at one of the goblins next to him, forcing the little fellow to jump back to avoid being sliced. Gurmliss laughed, praying that such apparent confidence could help turn the situation around. He looked the goblin scout boss in the eye.
“You saw Pavezzano, did you, with the Little Waagh in it?” Gurmliss said. “Where did you see it? Where exactly?”
The scout boss scowled. “Not more’n four miles from ‘ere: gobs ‘n fences ‘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 to. You saw sumfink else.”
Grunts and snorts burst from the orc boys gathered all around.
Scout boss Drofda shouted his answer, trying to inject a tone of mockery into his word, but failing completely to hide his fear.
“So your sayin’ dere’s two forts filled wiv gobbos on dis ‘ere coast? I don’t ‘member passing anuvver when we came up norf.” He turned to his second, “D’you, Jabble?”
Jabble’s eyes went wide as he realised this meant he too had to speak in front of this somewhat unsympathetic crowd.
“N .. no,” he stammered. “Dere’s no second fort. Just Pavezzano.”
Drofda 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 all 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 and raised his blood-stained axe and blade once more, 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 umpteen leagues, or brave Gurmliss ‘ere can’t remember where he ran away from? I know which one I‘d lay my gold shinies on.”
A growling rumble of laughter rippled through the encircling orcs.
“Tell you what,” the warboss continued, “‘cos gobs is gobs, an’ they’re all as useless as each other, I’m not gonna decide who’s right. Nah, I’ll send you, Gurmliss, to the fort. If the naughty goblins there ain’t ours then they’ll likely kill you. An’ if it is Pavezzano, then they’ll kill you for running away before. Can’t do better than that, eh? You’s got two lovely choices. So, take yer pick, 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 chopping him up into pieces?
“I’ll go, as you command. I’ll go see who an’ what an’ where. An’ I’ll come back with the truth, like I did before.” He glared at the two goblin scouts. “Best I go if dis pair can’t even remember where Pavezzano is or what it looks like. An’ when I finds out how wrong they are, Mighty Khurnag, I ask only that I be the one to pluck out their lyin’ eyes. They’ll make a tasty treat boiled up wiv a bit of vinegar.”
Bad Timing, Bad Intelligence and Bad Behaviour: The Battle
Southern Tilea, several leagues 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 past in a long, drawn out column, with very little thought given to battle preparedness. 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).
Squabbling in a big way!
(This report includes the original ‘in game’ pictures, and a good number of prettier, posed ones.)
Gurmliss had gone as commanded to take a look at the mysterious coastal fort, but he was not the only one from the Waagh to wander out that way. Several other goblins were meandering in the vicinity as the army continued it’s erratic, stop-start march southwards.
He rode his new chariot, having left the previous one smashed outside Pavezzano, and as the driver was doing all the work right now he was able to think for a while. Of course, he already knew that whatever greenskins were present at the fort were not part of Khurnag’s forces, and certainly not the Little Waagh which he had personally witnessed being destroyed. Yet it still gave him satisfaction to have his conviction proved true when a wolf rider hurtled past him towards the main Waagh, shouting about enemies and forts. The rider no doubt hoped to turn the rest of the Waagh in this direction.
As Gurmliss’s chariot trundled along beside another, he spotted a company of wolf riders (from which the lone rider must have originated) to his left. It was 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.
As his chariot rolled into view of the enemy fort, he saw it was a ramshackle affair typical of goblins. He could also see that the enemy were already alerted – they had formed into companies, crewed their engines and lined their raggedly cut fences with missile troops. Gurmliss was not happy about the number of powder-pieces they had. He could see lines of muzzles, big and small, resting on the plank fences – two cannons, half a dozen swivels (of the kind some called ‘murderers’) and a considerable number of the sort of wide-mouthed handguns northern men called blunderbusses.
Guns were bad news for chariots. Guns behind fences were even worse.
The defences included a couple of rickety redoubts, one of which had a small piece of artillery mounted inside, probably a naval gun.
Beside it were some mean looking orcs with crossbows, wearing white linen tunics almost as bright as their typically large teeth.
Advancing on this particular foe was going to hurt, thought Gurmliss, at least for those unlucky enough to form the vanguard. Once the rest of the Waagh came up, and especially when Khurnag’s warriors smashed their way over the fences, it would be quick, easy (and bloody) work, for the main Waagh vastly outnumbered this petty band.
Yes, he decided, victory would surely be Khurnag’s, of that there was no doubt. But anyone who went in first, would almost certainly not be around to enjoy the spoils.
The only gate Gurmliss could see was covered by five brass swivels, crewed by orcs, positioned in such a way that to enter the camp he would have to ride right past their muzzles.
The handguns were wielded by a ragged band of goblins, off on the enemy’s left flank. He wondered just how well the goblins had been drilled in the loading and use of their pieces. In his own experience the combination of clumsy gits and black powder lead to lots of accidents and very little damage to the foe. And yet there they were, in numbers, which suggested they were entirely capable of employing their weapons correctly.
Perhaps the goblins with the handguns just enjoyed the bangs and flashes enough not to care about the inevitable risks to their personal health?
Inside the fort were two larger bodies of fighters, one an orc company, the other goblins. The orcs looked like seafarers and for a moment Gurmliss wondered if these were the same sailors who had brought the vanguard of Khurnag’s Waagh over the Gulf from the Badlands?
But that made no sense because most of those orcs had been pressed into service in the Waagh, their boats and ships burned or abandoned. Besides, why would those orcs 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 of their kind. They were armed to the teeth with every sort of weapon, but mostly pistols, boarding axes and cutlasses. They had to be veteran pirates to have stolen so much stuff.
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, and had the look of a looted dwarfen piece.
It was commanded by a purple cloaked orc whose head was enclosed in a battered, bloodied metal helm – the blood most likely from whoever it was he last butted!
Although it was hard to make out the details it looked like many of the greenskins inside the fort were engaged in an argument. No surprise there, Gurmliss thought. This day would go a lot better for him if the enemy was distracted and 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 seemed to be busying themselves for the fight. When the cannon’s blast came it was loud enough to make Gurmliss’ wolf team jolt his chariot. The effect on Clabtoe’s wolfriders was somewhat more serious, and combined with the squall of iron-tipped bolts that issued from the crossbows …
… it caused the surviving wolf-riders to flee, including Clabtoe.
Gurmliss grinned. He had never liked Clabtoe and was glad it was him who had been stung first. Glancing behind he now saw that the excitable goblin rider had successfully summoned several other companies of riders from the Waagh. No less than Warlord Khurnag himself had arrived with his bodyguard of boar riders …
… while Thagger’s Big Uns came up beside them. It seemed Khurnag had not bothered to prepare and mount his wyvern, but instead had simply trotted over riding his travelling boar.
A boar chariot also trundled into 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 passel only by the curved horns on Khurnag’s helmet. He was not in his full war gear, which might reveal how little he was concerned about tackling this present foe.
His boar rider bodyguards carried his personal standard, a pole adorned with the rotting skull of 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 guards with thrice their number. Their own ragged banner had once been the personal standard of the Badland’s Warboss Gravell the Red, who had been toppled 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, all those who had previously been merely milling about began to move more directly towards the foe, with Khurnag and his boar riders moving quickest. Gurmliss himself, eager to repair his reputation in Khurnag’s eyes (despite the fear gnawing at the pit of his stomach because of all the guns) was right out in front, his hurtling chariot bouncing so much he had to hold on with all his might. He tried not to look at the swivel gunners, hoping they might similarly pay no attention to him. Besides, did they not now have much better targets to occupy them than a goblin chariot, what with the large passel of boars thundering to his right and the clattering pump wagon behind him?
The arguments were apparently still raging 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 had been aimed at targets within the fort! (Game Note: Animosity can be a right bugger!) An orc fell screaming, prompting several others to run from their ranks and begin hacking furiously at the goblin hand-gunners, killing a good number.
When the cannons boomed …
… causing Gurmliss to jump second time (not something one should do too often when riding a careening chariot), they were aiming at the advancing enemy. Luckily, not at him, but at the boar riders, felling one. Better still, the crossbow orcs also chose not to trouble him and his chariot, instead bringing down another boar rider. He was beginning to enjoy this!
Behind the vanguard more regiments from the Waagh were arriving, 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 ramshackle fort with “most likely no loot at all up for grabs”. He came to kill men for shiny treasures of gold and silver, not to squabble with greenskins over turd piles and scraggy kine like back home. The newly arrived troops were somewhat annoyed at the goblin boss’s exhibition of truculence, and took it upon themselves to convince him and his riders (in a bloody manner) to turn around. As an orc boss put it, Clabtoe and his lads were going to attack the fort, and they were going first.
What resulted was a messy squabble (ironically not at all dissimilar to what Clabtoe had claimed he did not like about back home) which meant the newly arrived ogre leadbelchers had to waste time marching perpendicular to the battle front to circumnavigate 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? The orc swivel gunners unleashed a volley of sangrannel scrap-iron, only to witness two of their own barrels shiver apart and kill the 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 now engendered a bad tempered contrariness which spread contagiously, disgruntling several other bodies and slowing their advance to a crawl. Two orc boys had died to goblin wolf riders’ arrows, then two wolf riders died before they could escape the vengeful orcs’ wrath. As they fled in terror, it dawned on only one among that they were now indeed heading back towards the fort!
At the real fighting front, Spoiler’s boar riders chased after the goblin handgunners who had fled immediately, no doubt suddenly aware of the utter insanity of their decision to leap the fence and head out alone.
Meanwhile, 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 (as well as considerable, 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, 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 hit hard. The goblin pirates’ leader, wearing a large hat decorated with a yellow feather, seemed dazed by the turn of events …
… and was felled swiftly by one of the boar boys’ spears. The rest of the goblins quickly gave up the struggle and hurtled away in panic.
Unwilling to chase such a pathetic and broken foe, Khurnag halted 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 three intact swivel guns 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 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. He preferred 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, everyone else too busy with their own butchery to become involved.
Try as he might, Sea Boss Scarback could not harm the mighty warboss, but Khurnag’s huge cleaver-bladed spear much bloodied the orc pirate.
The Boar Riders and their snorting 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 simply died cursing anything and everything. Whatever their dying thoughts, the few still living inevitably broke and ran, only to be ridden down and ground into the dirt by boars’ hooves and chariot wheels.
The battle was ended. Sea Boss Scarback’s Greenskin Corsairs were no more.
And still more regiments of the Waagh were only just arriving!
(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!)
In Morr’s Most Holy Service (Prologue to a Battle)
Northern Tilea, at the Bridge of Pontremola, Autumn 2401
Biagino had been watching the army march across the bridge at Pontremola to the northern bank of the River Tarano. The crusaders’ military commander, the condottiere General Urbano D’Alessio, had declared the ground on the far side of the bridge to be the better place to make a stand, and so the need to cross. He had not explained his decision (and why should any general worth his salt have to?) but Biagino and several other priests secretly agreed that the choice was most likely based on the fact that with a river behind them, spanned by a single bridge, the holy army’s peasant and militia soldiers would find it difficult to quit the field of battle. Whether or not this meant they were more likely to stand their ground, the priests could not agree upon. It could simply mean that if they did flee, they would drown as a consequence!
The enemy host would surely be terrible to behold, and the battle against them more like a feverish nightmare than the waking world. Then again, thought Biagino, what battle is not a nightmare? Yet this foe would strike fear into the bravest noblemen; even the most experienced and battle-hardened of mercenaries. This battle would be more horrifying than most, for there would already be dead upon the field before even the first blow was struck!
Living dead, wholly intent on killing the living.
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. Admittedly, just before the army’s departure, the lord of Viadaza had fallen sick – so ill he took to his bed. But this was not the reason his troops were absent. He had never intended to send any soldiers upon the crusade, and his rather convenient illness meant he did not even have to watch the holy army’s departure from his city, nor give them any sort of blessing, not even a ‘fare thee well’.
The crusaders had paraded through the streets nevertheless, their maroon flags emblazoned with the raven-winged hourglass of Morr …
… the trepidatious crowds occasionally managing an almost excited cheer, while the marching men were in a more consistently sombre mood.
One might have expected Lord Adolfo’s soldiers, at the least, to line the streets in respect, or perhaps to patrol the walls and gates if only to ensure an orderly exit. Instead, they were either confined to barracks or guarding Lord Adolfo’s palazzo. When the crusaders passed one of the palazzo gates, Biagino had glimpsed a number of guards, including some half-orc soldiers the like of which had not been employed in the city since the tyrannical rule of Lord Adolfo’s father – stunted, green-skinned, red-eyed, wild-haired warriors, bearing bloodied blades. There were other creatures too, even more bestial, with leathery skin and even horns upon their heads.
Their brutish faces had put him in mind of the recent nightmare in which he had been humbled by the duchess and Lord Adolfo. Since that night, Biagino could not think of Lord Adolfo without seeing his dream-form – drooling, fanged, bestial in its brazen lust.
Indeed, the number of guards gave the impression that Lord Adolfo was anticipating being 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 the peasant soldiers posed a real threat, mustering a bolstered force of guards in a sudden fit of timidity. At the time, Biagino had briefly feared it might be part of some cunning plan in which the crusaders were to be divided, disarmed and dispersed. But he soon 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. He had most likely mustered such a strong guard just in case the peasant soldiers’ bad feeling bubbled up into rebellious, riotous acts against his palazzo.
Right now the militia pike regiment was attempting to cross the bridge. And they would have been making progress, if an overloaded cart had not become stuck at the northern end.
Biagino could not help but stare as two burly peasants pulled at the draught oxens’ harnesses, while the great heap of sacks and barrels 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, apparently unaware of the danger the teetering barrels presented, had already begun constructing a short stretch of wooden fence to partially close off the bridge.
While some of the labourers had stopped working and joined Biagino in watching the struggle with the oxen …
… several were still hauling stakes around and hammering them into place – very likely what had spooked the oxen in the first place.
One peasant carried neither maul nor stake, bit rather a pitch fork, and was obviously not there to assist in the labour. Nor was he about to harvest hay! It suddenly dawned on Biagino that he must be a guard.
The fork’s tines were not even particularly sharp, one having snapped off near its point. Biagino could imagine the argument between the peasant and his master concerning which fork to take. Not one of the good ones, obviously! Once again he found himself thinking about the army’s capability, if this was what counted as armed protection. The sight did not exactly inspire confidence.
Still, he thought, glancing over the bridge, the army did contain some more appropriately armed soldiers. The militia pikemen stood with apparent patience, well drilled in their postures from years of weekend practice, their brace of drummers now sensibly silent.
Many had mocked the pike regiment as ‘rude militia’: part-time, amateur soldiers who were ever-ready in arms, apart from during times of war, fit only for drinking songs and arguing over who got to wear their few pieces of communally stored armour, than for battle. Biagino, however, knew that whatever they had once been, they were now inspired by the god of death, holy Morr. More than their patriotic duty, more than loyalty to their long familiar officers, more than an urge to protect their family and neighbours.
But so much of the army were not equipped as ‘proper’ soldiers. The large regiment of haphazardly armed peasants which had yet to cross the bridge, led by fierce Father Antonello, seemed to grow ever more keen during the march, more than any others in the army. It was a resolve that would no doubt be tested when they finally looked upon the foe. At present they were truly proud of the fact they wielded pitchforks and scythes, flails and axes, and believed their experienced familiarity with such tools made them nimble in their use.
This confidence could well wane when the walking corpses of long dead warriors came at them, their bony bodies bereft of flesh to scythe or organs to pierce. To fight such monsters required an extra-ordinary sort of courage, military discipline and fighting weapons, not mere skill as farm-labourers and makeshift blades.
Biagino could see that the pair of peasants who were yanking with all their might to move the cart were determined indeed, but what was a pair of stubborn, dull-witted oxen compared to a shambling horde of horrors, stinking of the grave and driven by the formidable, death-defying will of a vampire?
Perhaps, he mused, the power of prayer would save them? Morr’s will directed through them, like the sermons, speeches and the arch-lector’s proclamations had all promised. The again, considering the failure of the priest currently praying before the oxen to have any noticeable effect, maybe not?
Just as this thought sent a now familiar chill through Biagino, the wagon lurched as its wheels began to turn.
He watched as it began slowly trundling away, and heard the pike regiment’s captain was already issuing the command, sword raised to gain more attention:
“Have a care! Prepare to march!”
A lingering doubt remained in Biagino’s mind. If a brace of dumb animals and a wagon stocked with grain sacks and wine-butts could halt the best regiment of foot they had, then was it utter foolishness to think they could not only stop, but defeat the vampire duke’s army?
We Shall Stand (A Battle Report)
They were to make their stand upon the northern side of the river at Pontremola. The ancient bridge had seen better days, but the damage was superficial and it proved sufficiently strong to transport the Viadazan army. The two toll-towers were abandoned, the keepers having fled in fear three months before, along with the Ebinans crossing southwards to escape the Vampire Duke’s deadly dominion. To the north, haphazardly delineated with hedgerows, the road was more than a byway of hardened earth, as ancient stone foundations lay beneath its packed dirt surface. Here it commenced its course northwards, through the gently sloping, eastern hills of Usola.
For six full hours the Viadazan crusaders had stood in battle array awaiting the foe. Not one man succumbed to weariness, for every one was sufficiently nervous concerning the imminent battle to ensure a churning stomach and a wakeful, keen urge to watch for the first glimpse of the enemy. Not a one of them had thought to sit and rest easy, despite no order given to the contrary. The mercenary crossbowmen, being professional soldiers, made a show of looking nonchalant. Yet everyone could see that it was exactly that – a mere 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 militiaman and 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 artifacts 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 ever to set foot in Tilea. Or perhaps the second or third? It depended who exactly you asked, for neither living scholars nor ancient books agreed.
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 elected to accompany the crusaders, garbed in full plate armour and riding barded destriers.
The lighter horsemen were the surviving 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, multi-layered ribaudequin which had been restored to – what was hoped to be – full working order. The crew were led by an old soldier, bent with age, who swore he had served the engine in its youth. It was he who had decided it was best they did not test the barrels by firing, claiming it would be bad luck to do so for they should only be used in anger. He was fooling no-one. It was obvious he feared the old engine of war would likely blow itself to pieces, and would rather it did so after harming the enemy than before even reaching the battlefield!
The peasant militia, captained by Father Antonello, who had somehow spent the last six hours tirelessly maintaining their spiritual frenzy, stood next in line.
These were flanked by the equally large body of militia pikemen. It was among these colourfully attired militia that Biagino stood, having nominally been made 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 condottiere general Urbano D’Alessio harkened to the Lector’s suggestions then turned them into military orders as he saw fit. Although, now that battle was imminent, General D’Alessio had begun behaving more like a captain than a general, taking personal command of the mounted knights and leaving Lector Bernado Ugolini in the traditional position for a general (in the rear, at the centre). Biagino had agonised over whether he should insist on rather more active than passive control of the regiment he led, choosing in the end to let circumstances decide.
The Lector of Viadaza, Bernado Ugolini, was accompanied by his bodyguard, whose feathered wings revealed their origins as descendants of mercenary Kislevites, although they were mostly the Tilean grandchildren of men actually born and raised in the icy lands of the far north.
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 second artillery piece, 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, again and again, heating the barrel properly 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-yet-animated 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 in an attempt 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
When the Vampire Duke’s army at last arrived a general gasp of horror rippled through the ranks and files, not just because of its nature (a shock which had been expected) but also because of its sheer size. It was large, with four substantial bodies of foot soldiers moving over the hills, and several many even more monstrous horrors besides.
Ahead of the army rode a 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, fearful to behold, yet somehow less nightmarish than the vampire duke himself and his guard of undead 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 instantly transformed back into farmers and merchants. The divinely inspired agents of Morr’s will now appeared to be merely mortal men, fearfully insufficient to the task at hand and trembling with the realisation of the same.
They could not possibly win.
The foe was too mighty, too monstrous, too many.
Then he heard Father Antonello singing. It was a solemn hymn to Morr, yet his defiance was plain to all. It was not the sound of a frightened 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, and filled with the confidence of knowing that god was working through him.
More and more voices joined, until all three large regiments were singing. When the carroccio’s bell began peeling in perfect 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 seamen 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 while scrutinizing the ground ahead to ascertain the best route forwards.
The enemy were not for hesitation, however, for there was not a creature amongst them that could recall what it was to feel such. The hex-wraiths charged at the company of skirmishing sea men on the far left of the line, 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 immediately gave vent to a pained and painfully loud squealing, like a hundred desperate birds caught in a net. Thinking the sound ugly enough, the men at arms had no idea what more the beast could, and would yet do, with its piercing squawk. 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 quicker and 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, arms swinging wildly. 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 the two drummers’ beating to jolt the tumbling profusion of fearful thoughts from his mind. Only moments before he had witnessed five corpses claw their way out of the ground before the crossbowmen, clearly summoned by the Vampire Duke to obscure the mercenaries’ line of fire. He could not help but worry again that the crusaders had bitten off far, far more than they could chew. The enemy was numerous enough to begin with, and now even more were being raised to serve them.
He glanced over at Father Antonello …
… and not for the first time took solace from his reassuring presence. Father Antonello’s peasants seemed much more keen for the battle than the militiamen beside them – veritably chomping at the bit to get at the foe.
Biagino’s escapist reverie was suddenly broken by the dying screams of two pikemen succumbing to some spell emanating from the foe. He did not know it, but the undead knights around the vampire duke suffered worse, losing three of their number to an uncontrolled spillage of magical energies, but then only a moment later they were re-animated by necromantic magic, so that not one crusader noticed their momentary weakness.
(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 small company of armoured nobility in a brave 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. (Game Note: I write ‘almost’ because of course the monster’s terror was reduced to fear.) 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.
As they fought, like mythical knights of old, elsewhere bolts were loosed and iron-shots fired. Two of the ogre-like monsters fell to these missiles and five grave guards 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 riders in a charge against the Viadazan noblemen with General D’Alessio.
Few among 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, while the Arrabiatti riders moved up to the spot vacated by the noblemen, to maintain the cohesion of the crusaders’ line.
Just then the men of Viadaza were gifted 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 no less than five of the knights attacking 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. D’Alessio knew his skill with a blade was insufficient to ward the blows, but his plate armour and the blessing of his holy talisman was up to the task, miraculously preventing each and every blow from wounding him. Obviously outmatched and most likely to die any moment, the general bravely fought on, accompanied by his 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 regiment of peasants to charge the flank of the undead 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 grave guards were felled, including some who had already been re-re-animated, by a deadly combination of crossbows, cannon and mortar. As these worldly weapons were employed, the priests prayed for spiritual aid. In this way they blessed the peasants with the lesser form of Morr’s Protection, while Lector Bernado used his prophetic book to cast the enchantment most 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, better armed and armoured, and unnaturally skilled in the martial arts.
Biagino found himself very close to the enemy’s brute horrors.
When the militia sergeant ordered the pikes leveled, 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 six serried rows of sharp steel tips would be foolish. So it was they halted, their heads stooped as they leered savagely at the living Viadazans.
Somehow, against all the odds, General D’Alessio’s magically warded armour continued to save him from each and every one of the almost uncountable blows rained upon him by the vampire duke. (Game Note: For a second time, even at -3 to save, somehow I rolled all 5s & 6s!) Despite this, 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 did the Arrabiatti’s blows prove sufficient, and – perhaps unsurprisingly – neither could the peasants do so much as scratch the enemy.
Ignoring the peasants, as if they were of no consequence at all, the foul creatures of the night mortally wounded six of the Arrabiatti, their subsequent death-dries loud and disturbing. Lord Totto shouted most boldly to the last few that they should stand and “See this through”, and such was the respect they had for him that they did indeed do so. But not so the peasants. Father Antonello had been dumbfounded by his supposedly blessed warriors’ failure even to scratch the foe, and his momentary silence was enough to undo all that he had achieved with his inspiring words. The peasants turned and fled, running right through Biagino’s pikemen and Gonzalvo’s swordsmen. Neither militia unit broke, perhaps having expected just such behaviour from the peasants, and the peasants burst out of the swordsmen’s left flank with the stunned Father Antonello still among them. For the first time in months even ‘fighting father Antonello” suffered doubt, 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 carried 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 undead knights danced macabre, and the grave guards acquired a hellish vigour, but the joint efforts of the Morrite priests and the wizard Lord Totto ensured that none of the enemy dead were re-animated. The Terrorgheist unleashed another horrendous screech 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 undead knights’ champion, and the very last of his shadowy brotherhood fell by his side, leaving General D’Alessio to fight on entirely alone. Once again, despite still being magically befuddled by the vampire duke’s proximity, his armour and wards proved sufficiently strong, saving the general from each and every blow. Even the vampire duke, his mind cold, cruel and not quite of this world, began to feel frustration concerning 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 guards hewed down swordsman after swordsman, with the duke’s vampiric captain (once the renowned Empire mercenary Theobald Hackspitt, 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 immediately before the carroccio.
Their bestial commander, the tortured demonic spirit now inhabiting the twisted, undead 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, and his hatred swelled. He raised his black-clawed hand, gestured …
… and barked his command. As one, the grave guards hefted their massive blades and prepared to charge.
Knowing only too well that to win this battle the vampire duke had to be killed, and that the embattled General D’Alessio could not be expected to fight alone a moment longer against such horrors, the Lector of Viadaza, keenly aware that this would be perhaps the greatest test he faced in his life, yet resolute in his commitment to Morr, commanded his Kislevite bodyguard to charge with him into the undead knights’ flank. This the feathered riders did without hesitation, for since their march from the city they had understood that in a war as desperate as this, their role could not possibly remain merely ceremonial.
Glimpsing the Lector’s charge, Biagino knew the time for caution was over, and ordered his pikemen to charge into the horrors standing before them. Many of the Viadazans fleeing towards the river witnessed these bold charges, as well as the fact that much of the enemy was still some distance away, and – faced with almost certain death in the cold river waters – decided that desperate flight was not the best option after all. So it was the crossbowmen and peasants 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 guards, then, after a brief moment’s hesitation during which one of them 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’s handgunners, while the cannon sent a ball into the rickety corpse cart which tore it to pieces, its punch so severe as to utterly un-knit the arcane forces holding the foul and stinking construction together.
And still, now clearly miraculous and unquestionable proof that Morr was indeed present with the Crusaders, General D’Alessio’s armour withstood another torrent of blows rained down upon him by the vampire duke. (Game Note: all 5 wounds saved by armour or ward saves!) Despite the battering rained upon his armour and shield, somehow Urbano’s blade pierced his foe, causing corrupted blood to bubble from the wound, withering the grass wherever its spatters fell. Three of the vampire dukes’ grisled and grim knights were dispatched by the Kislevite riders. Such was the ferocity of the combat that the foul magics sustaining the remaining undead knights waned to nought and they now crumpled, as did the Terrorgheist also, collapsing inwards to create a tangled heap of bones and leathery tatters.
Duke Alessendro Sforta now fought 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 of the players on both sides, and the GM, the sort it is hard to avoid.)
Biagino was caught up in a no less dangerous combat, praying that the militia pike’s hatred of the foe, combined with their practiced skill with arms and the weight of numbers on their side, would spur them on to victory. It was not to be, however, for despite the ferociousness of their efforts, they barely scratched 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 sustained the Viadazans, and they stood their ground, clutching tightly at the pikes and leaning upon each other in an attempt to counteract the foe’s brute force.
Behind them the surviving grave guards now smashed into the carroccio …
… the vampire Theobald screeching 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 out of the upper platform and hurling him to the ground below, Theobald then 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, somewhat removed from the full potency of his commanding will, shambled slowly onwards, gradually 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 horse wraiths.
Needless to say, the gun crew stood no chance, and all perished quickly. 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 ancient warriors in a charge against the recently rallied peasants. Considering how the peasants had so far behaved, and how bloodily effective the grave guards 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 appeared they had a chance, for they certainly had numbers on their side, and somehow they found the courage to attempt the fight, at least.
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 found he could do little more than pray, while the pike shafts packed close around him protected him from harm.
On the far right of the Crusaders’ line the desperate fight against the vampire duke continued …
… with General D’Alessandro’s beaten 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, weakened by his long efforts and finally succumbing to fearfulness. The fight had been impossibly long, the foe so nightmarish, that it was all he could do just to stay mounted as the blows rang repeatedly on 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 skill with magic easily brushed the prayer aside.
And yet, it proved just enough, howsoever briefly, to distract the vampire, and in that moment, quite suddenly and to his own surprise, General D’Alessio snapped out of the magical beguilement that had until now ensnared his mind.
The fight between them blazed 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 was now becoming ever more weak. He was surrounded by foes, outnumbered, alone. Finally, to the utter astonishment of those fighting him, he slumped suddenly forwards in his saddle, his head lolling to bash against his mount’s skull. Then, with an angrily anguished moan, he tumbled 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 much-dented helm …
…the Kislevites began thrusting their long spears, one after the other, again and again, 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. Like a wave washing across a beach, the diminishment in its power spread across the field of battle. A brace of the crypt horrors fighting Biagino and the militia pikemen collapsed, as did half a dozen zombies, many more skeletons …
… and four of the grave guards. All five hex-wraith’s simply vanished as nothing more the smoke carried away by a breeze.
(Game Note: End of Turn 4. Effectively the end of the game.)
No one cheered. The Lector, his guards and General D’Alessio were simply too exhausted, while all the rest remained embroiled in mortal combat and could not yet know what had happened. But the vampire Theobald knew full well – he felt his sire’s death in the very 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 loped away – not a frantic, scrambling flight, but rather purposeful and controlled, for as he ran he directed all the magical power he could muster to invigorate the army, ordering it to fall back, retreat, escape. Drinking every drop of the etheric winds he could to hold them in this world, he intended to take all he could with him, away from the place of his master’s death.
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, the Lector and General D’Alessio discussed their next actions. After all that had happened they no longer feared what was around them – even the massive (though now crumbling) force of zombies and ghouls seemed of little consequence compared to what they had already faced and beaten.
Before long their orders were given and the surviving crusaders began 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 utterly exhausted, and that a vampire still commanded what remained 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.
As Lector Bernado put it: “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