Save us, O Steel, from the Fury of the Ratmen! – A Ninth Age Battle Report

It’s been awhile since I played a proper game of Fantasy/Ninth. Not for lack of interest – rather, I’ve had far too many other interests and lack of time! But a friend of mind, Dave ‘Darkenwrath’, recently acquired a Vermintide army and at some point while we were chatting about it someone threw down a gauntlet/hand-wear of some description and we organized a game at pretty short notice. Neither of us shirk challenges so we agreed a thousand points each and the game was on!

Now, my dwarfs have only ever played low model count armies – mainly Chaos Warriors. They have enjoyed an undefeated record doing so, but that experience wasn’t really going to help me now. I had no idea what to do and was a little concerned that things might got South for my bearded heroes. This was rammed home when Dave mentioned he was thinking of bringing one hundred and fifty rats to the thousand point party.

One hundred. And fifty. My lists until this point had had about forty dudes, and I thought that was a lot. My mind literally boggled trying to figure out how to deal with over a hundred dudes, and then some. What key points did I focus on? Offensively, I picked up on Vermintide being toughness three, having low to no armour and low to no leadership. Defensively I identified numbers (models and attacks), firepower (magical and regular) and speed.

Lets start with those defensive points – I couldn’t out run them, but that was nothing new for my brave bearded boys. However, Vermintide are very fast with a base movement of six inches. Sure, dwarfs actually march nine inches in Ninth thanks to some nifty rules, but we only add a measly three to our charge roll. So unless Dave got unlucky, he was probably going to get the charge and apply those massive attack dice pools to my face before I could fight back. Secondly, Vermintide have a lot of gnarly firepower to buy, most notably Jezzails. Last time I fought these things they ran around freely, occasionally blowing up but more often than not taking chunks out of my Saurus blocks. I imagined they wouldn’t worry about possibly doing the same to a Vermintide Slave unit that was miring my boys in hand to hand. Warp Lightning Cannons and a host of other nasty things pollute the Vermintide list, so I was uneasy about hanging back too long, especially a I was worried about magical bombardment as well. Lastly, he was going to have roughly three times as many dudes on board as me. Is a dwarf worth three rats? Depends on the dwarf. And the rat. I was worried.

What were my advantages? If I ever won a fight I was probably going to get a chance to chase people down; most Vermintide units have base Leadership five or six, and even with a rank bonus a good bit of combat resolution was going to see them off. Winning that fight wasn’t going to be too hard either – at Toughness three and with no armour Vermin die in droves. All I had to do was handle them piecemeal and let my dwarfs grumble their way through rodent limb and bone, and hopefully stop a unit or two ever getting into combat by shooting them off the board.

Those paragraphs are roughly to proportionate in size to where my thoughts were making my list – mostly, pretty scared. Toughness four was going to pay dividends of the first order this game, so I was lucky that was my minimum. Heavy armour and shields sounded nice too. The harder I was to kill, the better. And since I had lots of targets, I needed lots of attacks or models. My first list then made: 2×20 Clansmen with Shields and Hand weapon, 1×15 Seekers with Vanguard and Skirmish, 1xDemonseeker with a Rune of Might, Fury and Quickening and two Gyrocopters with Steam Cannons. I was chucking out fifty-seven models that were very hacky and would tear into the Vermin with hatred and rage!

Then I realised that I was playing into the Vermin hands! Sure, each of my units was near guaranteed to beat a Vermin one in a straight up fight, but Vermin don’t do straight up fights! If my battle line was broken, if even one of my blocks was stopped, slowed or ambushed along the way, the remaining two could be surrounded and killed – slowly and painstakingly, in the case of the Seekers, but killed. This was sub-optimal, so back to the drawing board it was.

I stuck with two Gyrocopters. I own two, and no-one has ever come up with a convincing argument not to run both. I switched one to having a Forge Repeater so I could try out the new bombing run rules, but kept a Steam Cannon for the template and what it would do to cheap blocks. I have, after a drunken night of Warhammer-based debauchery, recently fallen in love with Flame Cannons, even though I played them incorrectly (wrong template, made them rather better than intended). These bad boys could burn through the toughest Vermin, and with D3 wounds I wasn’t all that worried about Vermin Hulks either. So I threw three hundred points on these war machines first.

Now I had to protect them. Twenty Greybeards with shields and a Thane Battle Standard Bearer with the recently nerfed Banner of Ward Save Bubble (name incorrect) later and I felt fairly confident. Strength four with a 4+ save, then a 5/4+ ward (I’ve been told Ward Saves stack in ninth and haven’t found anything to the contrary, so I’m including the Shieldwall bonus there) seemed a good way to make rodent babies cry, although I was worried about the low number of models in the unit. I stuck in a Runesmith too, more because he was safest in that unit than for the somewhat-redundant Armour Piercing, but you never knew.

Coupled with this was fifteen feisty young clansmen with an extra axe each. The extra Initiative off the bonus hand weapon would never be useful against Vermin, but if these guys hit a flank or even just a regular charge, they would be remaking the recipe for Ratatouille. My plan was send the Gyros to harass any enemy artillery and delay marches while the combat units camped out with the Flame Cannon, forcing the Vermin to come into its sphere of terror. Once they’d been soften/flambéed, charge and don’t stop until the rats go home.

 

The Game:

Dave hadn’t played very many games of Ninth, and hadn’t played Fantasy in a long time, so this was definitely a friendly game. A friendly game with trash talking, besmirching of names and races and bragging rights at stake, but I was also still exploring the rules, especially with the new updates hot off the press. So I was expecting a very fun match, even if I was nervous that my bearded boyos would lose their 100% win record.

We rolled secondary objectives – two, which ended up being hold the centre and hold two points, one chosen by each player. Great; I was playing a take and hold game against a numerically superior force which could outpace me. And my battle plan had been to camp out on a hill somewhere, or preferably a wood. I throw out terrain, somewhat lazily only using hills as we’d gotten to the club a little later than expected and I couldn’t be bothered to hunt out any woods (shooting my own strategy in the foot, great start). We rolled edges and deployed:

NinthAge2Map

Key:

Dwarven Holds Vermintide
GB (circle) Gyrocopter, Forgegun J 7 Jezzails
GS Gyrocopter, Steamgun SV 37 Slaves
FC Flame Cannon VH 4 Vermin Hulks
GB 20 Greybeards with shield & throwing axes, Thane BSB, Runesmith General PC 20 Plague Cult, Skaven Chieftain BSB
DC 15 Clansmen, Extra Hand Weapon CR 36 Clanrats, Spears, Shield, Magister General, Apprentice Magister

 

Dave brought four magic levels to a thousand point game. Four. My Runesmith was looking pretty glum since I’d given him a Rune of Dragonbreath rather than Devouring for thematic reasons (he always has one) and because it could roast a bunch of rats quickly. I kept my oversight to myself until about turn three when he cast a ton of buffs, and I won’t be making that mistake again! I manage to grudge the Clanrats before I forgot, which was a first.

There were lots of hills. This upset my line of sight for the Flame Cannon, so I was going to have to pick my ground. The black dots on the map are the secondary objectives; I hadn’t really made a good decision with mine, wanting it away from the centre so I could tempt Dave into running at me. Unfortunately this meant that technically he could camp the other two and win. Fantastic strategy there. Normally I consider myself as pretty expert when it comes to deployment, and troop wise this held true. Objectively speaking, I basically given Dave the game. Great going.

The Gyros dashed up the left flank turn one while the rest of my army marched up to the hill directly in front of it, claiming the objective there. I faced them at a slight angle so the full Vermin line was in sight and to get a flank charge they’d have to march an awfully long way or into decent Flame Cannon range. In the magic phase I got to show off that Dwarfs have magic now (I had Resilience and Reckoning) and made my Greybeards effective Toughness five – I didn’t want them being whittled down by the Jezzails or magic – Dave had got Warp Lightning, Feed the Swarm and The Hunger, so lots of combat buffs and a nice, cheap sniping spell on his Magister, while his Apprentice had got the signature spell of the Shadow school which debuffed my guys’ Weapon Skill. That combination was going to hurt if it hit me. My Forge-Repeater Gyro managed to snipe a Jezzail team and then my turn ended.

Dave leapt forwards – twelve inches is a long way for that many models to move all at once! He was frustrated and impressed dwarfs were allowed triple, but swung his line to face and flank me pretty well. Turn two would probably see a charge from the Slaves and Vermin Hulks, although hopefully not against the same unit. Dave only threw Warp Lightning at me this turn, as he rolled low for magic dice, and easily got it off – my Runesmith really did have his work cut out for him facing off against that Magister! Fortunately he rolled a one for his D6 Strength five hits, which meant it resolved against the caster, who had no armour so took a wound. The Jezzails opened up on my Steam Gyro, bravely in the middle of their arc, but only managed one wound.

My second turn saw the Forge-Repeater Gyro bomb the Jezzails for a truly pathetic three hits which managed a single wound. The Steam Gyro drove up to the side of the Slaves, hoping that with the combined template power of it and the Flame Cannon they could make the scarily large, if sacrificial, block flee before it could slap at my fellows. The infantry blocks reformed, I had my Greybeards denied magical protection but did manage the to give the plucky Clansmen re-rolls to hit. The Forge-Repeater missed, so I swiftly moved onto the slave-pocalypse my wonder weapons were about to cause. Both cannons summarily rolled ones to fire. Dave patted me on the shoulder, empathised and I could feel he wanted to offer to let one happen, but didn’t. I can’t blame him. I passed him the tape measure and prepared my charge reactions.

The slaves charged into the Greybeards while the Vermin Hulks managed a terrifying fifteen inch charge into my Clansmen – did I mention Vermin were fast? They’re fast. I nobbled three slaves with my throwing weapons, but wondered why I bothered after the other thirty three slammed into my general’s unit. The rest of the rats swung around, the Plague Cult trying to line up a charge on my doomed-looking Clansmen while the Clanrats swung out wider, looking for flanks. Dave got a mis-cast on The Hunger, which was way out of my Runesmith’s dispell-range anyway, and caused a Strength five wound to all wizards on the board. My Runesmith quietly took credit and congratulations for this, escaping by virtue of not actually being a wizard. However, the Slaves were now Frenzied; fantastic. Oh, and the Vermintide magic list augment allows a unit within 24″ to fight in extra ranks. That was also gifted to the slaves. Lots of good news that phase, although Dave had nearly killed both his own wizards without my assistance so I didn’t complain too loudly.

The Jezzails volleyed the Steam Cannon Gyro and destroyed it utterly, then we went to combat. Dave picked up something like thirty dice as the filthy flood of frenzied tooth and claw broke upon my shield wall. My Greybeards stood like a cliff face against the Vermintide, and only one fell to the mad scrabbling attacks. They shoved with their shields, lifted their weapons high and the axes fell; six slaves stayed down. Despite the ranks of rodents arrayed against them, my Greybeard won the combat and sent the Slave packing (they start at something like Ld 2) and managed to chase them all down into the bargain! Dave later remembered they should have just been wiped out, but it was an easy rule to forget.

Then we went to the Vermin Hulk – twelve Strength five attacks against my flanker unit, designed to attack the weak and unwary. After some tragic luck, only three died at the hands of the beastly mutants. In a display of vengeance and fury that would put a dyed-in-he-blood-of-dragons Seeker to shame, they managed a mighty five wounds with fifteen attacks in return, despite only being Strength three! The victory was somewhat quashed when Dave let me know his Hulks were immune to psychology, but I was still proud of the plucky little bastards. I took the reform to ‘optimize’ our units, cleverly hiding behind one of the Hulks to prevent the almost inevitable charge for the Plague Cult next turn.

My general’s unit turned their formation and the tables on the Vermintide; I was now flanking the Plague Cult, forcing Dave to reform and face them, accepting a frontal charge, or risk my Clansmen holding a second turn if they charged them and being flanked. I bombed the Jezzails again, killing one and finishing another off so they finally fled and my surviving Gyro could get involved in the main fight – although he was massively out of position. The Magic phase granted my brave Clansmen both rerolls and magically enhance Toughness – and my BSB was within 6″ so they got a ward save! Huzzah!

Combat saw two more Clansmen bite the dust, but the remaining axe-dwarfs felled another Hulk! The vicious little bastards were winning! Unfortunately, this opened me up to a charge from the Plague Cult, which Dave took with barely a hesitation – a gamble but worth taking. If he could wipe that unit out of make it run then he could reform and trap my Greybeards in a sea of fur and filth. Buffs went out to the Plague Cult this turn, but only one – the Winds of Magic just weren’t blowing today! In combat four more brave Seekers-in-training fell, much to Dave’s disappointment. The combination of effective Toughness five and Heavy Armour meant that most of the Plague Cult’s attacks were rebuffed. I killed a Plague Cult and wounded another Hulk twice, losing combat by two. Grimly I rolled the dice, but the lads stuck about without even having to use the BSB!

In my next turn my General bellowed the charge and my Greybeards made it into the flank of the Plague Cult with miles to spare. Buffs were thrown and dispelled, the Gyro copter chugged back towards the centre and the Flame Cannon finally managed to roast half a dozen rats, although the Clanrat unit didn’t much care. In combat the Vermin Chieftain uncharacteristically yelled a challenge, taken up by my Greybeard Champion who was cut down before he could swing back. I could have said yes with a character, but neither of mine were really kitted out for a fight and the rat had a halberd, so I called it cheating. The Plague Cult were wiped off the board by the axes of my Greybeards, and another Hulk fell. The Chieftain fled and wasn’t pursued, as I couldn’t risk being charged in the flank by the still unfortunately large block of Clanrats looming the hill nearby.

In Dave’s final turn he gallantly threw his last unit into my basically unharmed Greybeards – more buffs were thrown and this time Dave got them off without a hitch, my Runesmith again failing to dispel anything. This meant that he rolled a might forty-odd dice, with the extra rank, spears, spells and Frenzy. Two Greybeards fell. Once again they shoved the Vermin back and let the axes fall. Six Clanrats fell, and despite the bonuses from charging the rodents nerve broke – the game was over, but for the Seekers-in-training finishing off the final Vermin Hulk!

 

Epilogue:

My brave bearded boys did it again! The Greybeards took and awful lot of punishment and dealt just as much back, their armour and general grumpiness seeing them through magnificently. The one turn Dave got two units into combat with one of mine – my biggest fear – his dice abandoned him after he threatened the dice gods. Rookie error.

The Vermin Hulk, something I know Dave had been unimpressed with previously, held up 50% of my battleline all game. Sure, this was one unit but it was my counterattacks, and they were charged by exactly the wrong unit for their bases to be touching. I was surprised they held out so long but by keeping my Ward Bubble Banner in range at all times they had a pretty good chance of not dying. If they hadn’t got the initial five wounds things might have got a bit grimmer and bit faster though, so I’m very aware I was quite lucky.

The Flame Cannon did not deliver on its potential, but I won’t stop using it. I was unlucky it didn’t fire on turn two, and it caused Dave no end of stress so I’m frankly happy with it’s ability as a deterrent alone. Destructive potential has been proved previously, so I will be using one pretty often. It’s accuracy (5/6) is pretty respectable too, so I’m definitely scratching this up as poor luck.

I chatted with him about what he could have done differently. I suggested holding back a turn while his large Clanrat unit caught up, so he didn’t go toe to toe with my guys, dwarf on rat (exactly what I wanted). He explained he’d suffered from indecision before and didn’t want it to happen again, highlighting the three war machines on the board at the time as massive threats to his safety. This was understandable, and definitely was a bad strategy, but I definitely would have let the slaves die to artillery fire to let both the Hulks and Plague Cult charge together. We also agreed his deployment wasn’t ideal – he’d wanted to cover as much of the board as possible, which makes sense and again he’s suffered for not doing so. I did suggest that it was worth consider that since I deployed in a safety ball that he hadn’t needed to cover all the board, which he agreed with.

All in all it was a great game, and Dave was a great player both on the board and off it – he took his losses on the chin and was enthusiastic the whole way through. I can only hope he had as much fun as I did, and I’ll definitely be up for the inevitable rematch at a large points setting when the gauntlet is thrown!

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