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Tactica: Vampire Counts

By Matt Thrower: version 1.2 (updated 05 Jan 2004)
with contributions from:
Nekroskop
Mach_5
Snipafist
Black Sunshine
Edmund

"He's alive, Richie, alive!"
"Yep, and a mite thirsty I reckon."

Introduction

I've been planning this in my head for a long time, so I hope the end result won't be too garbled or confused. I must also add the disclaimer that, as a general, I have about 2 years experience of playing the VC so I'm not an authority. However, updates and suggestions are very welcome and should be mailed to matt_thrower@hotmail.com so that over time this source of advice can improve. I'd also like to say that throughout this I've tried to give advice on maximising the effectiveness of a VC army but this isn't to say there aren't other viable ways to play the army. Playing warhammer is about having fun and I encourage readers to digest this information and then go out and try a few different things, just for the interest value.

The first thing that any new army general should learn are the strengths and weaknesses of his army. The advantages a VC force has over others are many:

  • Heroes strong in both combat and magic
  • The powerful lore of Necromancy
  • Immunity to psychology
  • Fear and terror

Based against this are the weaknesses of the army. In the case of vampire counts these are the absolute requirement to protect the general, the lack of shooting, the lack of maneouverability and the generally expensive but weak core troops. The rest of the introduction will consist of an investigation into each of these in turn.

First up, vampire heroes. To qualify this, we're talking about vampire counts and lords, not thralls. While thralls are powerful combat characters, the great strength of lord-level vampires is the ability to combine combat strength and magic in a single model, allowing the player to pick a range of heroes which can be effective in combat and magic at the same time. Of the other army books, only Chaos can claim the same with the mark of Tzeentch and/or Daemon heroes. So the first lesson is: take advantage of this. A good VC army can balance combat ability with magic ability and should do so. Don't try and go "low magic". Although low magic VC armies are perfectly effective, you're not playing to the strengths of the army book.

Of course, this advice is double effective given that VC generals have one of the best lores in the game, necromancy, to give to their characters. Some new players look at necromancy, with it's dearth of blasting spells and think it's weak. Nothing could be further from the truth: Invocation of Nehek (IoN) and VanHels Danse Macabre are two of the most feared spells in the game. Another strength of Necromancy is that only one of the six spells is a duffer (Hand of Dust) meaning a level 2 necromancer is virutally guaranteed two good spells (unless you roll 1-2 or 2-2 on the dice). So lesson two is: you've got a good lore, so make good use of it.

The third point is immunity to psychology. Now this is balanced somewhat by the "crumbling" rule in combat resolution which can actually take your units down faster than if they routed, especially if you're hit in the flank. The trick is to learn the advantages that this gives you. Don't think it makes your units invulnerable to destruction, or that it makes them capable of holding up the enemy indefinately: a canny opponent will know how to exploit the crumbling rule to destroy your units in short order by flanking them. What it does do is ensure that your units will always, always do what you want them to and you'll never suffer from an unlucky dice roll against Ld that screws up your plan. So the lesson is your army will never deviate from a plan, so make a flexible plan for dealing with the enemy before you even start your deployment.

Finally but certainley not the least is fear and terror. One of the great things about fear-causing undead is the fact that while your troops are guaranteed to stick to your plan the fear-factor makes the enemy even less able to stick to theirs. The obvious advantage of fear is that a combat win while you outnumber causes the enemy to flee instantly, regardless of leadership. This is pretty terrible to watch but it's not the only advantage. Never forget that any enemy unit trying to charge you or being charged by you needs to take a fear test. I've won a number of games because my enemies' critical cavalry charge stopped dead after a failed fear test. I've also won games because an enemies elite troops were reduced to hitting my mere skeletons and zombies on a '6' because of a failed fear check. So there are two lessons to be had here: firstly try and ensure that your core infantry always outnumbers the enemy (use Invocation of Nehek) to gain maximum effects from fear and never, never forget to make your opponent take his fear checks.

In terms of disadvantages, the first is that the whole game can turn on the death of your general with that terribly destructive crumbling rule. This is what makes sub-2000 point games so much more difficult for VC as your general is likely to be an easily-killed necromancer that you need to invest many points in to protect. Even if you have a lord-level vampire general you have to be careful using him as a combat character as he has no armour and needs to survive to keep your chances of victory alive. So always be sure to protect your general, whatever he is. I'll be talking more about how to do this for each bloodline in the heroes section. Another trick to help with this problem is to place your heroes into units so they can test against a heroes Ld instead of their own paltry score if the general does die. It's advised that you always, always carry at least one dispel scroll in your army to counter attempts to kill your general using one of the few character-stomping spells available (like 'ead butt).

The lack of shooting means you're usually going to be on the offensive but this is the smallest disadvantage. You can even remove it by taking DoW crossbowmen if you really wish. A cunning general can use it to his advantage. If your enemy lines up by his table edge and tried to shoot you for three turns then you're being allowed to dictate the flow of battle: he's not moving so you can pick and choose your engagements and any combat wins will likely result in the enemy routing off the board. A wise general playing against VC with anything but the most defensive army will advance a little way to meeting the oncoming horde.

Lack of maneuverability is much more serious. There are two parts to this. First the "only march within 12 inches" rule means you're pretty much forced to deploy your forces in a block. It also makes it difficult to combine fast and slow moving forces effectively. The second part is the inability to do anything but stand and take a charge. The solution to the first problem is to make sure you've got at least a couple of units in your army that don't suffer from this problem. Ghouls can always march (they're not undead and are skirmishers) and Fell Bats and Bat Swarms don't need to as they fly so they can always move full movement whether they march or not. Dire Wolves are also a possibility since with 9" movement they don't really *need* to march. Place these units on your flanks away from your general and you'll have a core block of infantry which is pretty much what you need anyway. Be wary of placing your general on a steed or flying beastie as this will too likely take him away from the rest of your army, halving their movement. This is better done with a thrall or (in larger games) a second vampire count. There is no solution to the second problem: make sure you're prepared to stand and take the charges! Use IoN to keep your units up to strength where possible. You can use ghouls or bat swarms for the bait-and-switch if you wish but it's difficult since these units will likey form a minority in your army.

There's also no solution to the expensive troops problem. Despite the dreadful stats, the core VC units are worth every point becuase of the fact they cause fear and are immune to psychology. The trick to overcoming the weakness of the core troops is effective use of characters and elites. For this reason I'd always advise VC players to use all their character slots rather than spending more on troops. Some people say that the creation of an "uber-unit" of elites with a character is an effective way of playing but I've always felt it was too easy a target for shooting and magic, too much a concentration of points in one place and too easy for the enemy to avoid. With VC the problem is exacerbated by the weakness of the core troops: those zombies and skeletons need powerful combat characters to make them effective! With VC the "uber-unit" can work if you use a large block of black knights as your chosen unit but generally, I'd advise against it. More discussion of this in the section on heroes and core units.

Bloodlines and Heroes

First, a quick word about balance. At 2,000 points I've always felt that a lord-level vampire and one or two necromancers is enough magic. Fill your other slots with thralls or wight lords. If you've got more than one lord, ignore necromancer lords and take more vampire counts instead as they're still magic users that add combat punch as well. In sub 2,000 point games you're almost forced to go magic heavy. You'll likely be taking a necromancer as your general and you'll need to give him some defensive magic items. This means that in most cases you'll need a second necromancer as a scroll caddy to stop enemy magic obliterating you. In many cases under 2,000 points I'd opt for a third necromancer unless you're facing an army with chariots, in which case a thrall with a great weapon is probably the better choice.

There's also the question of when to pick a Vampire Lord over a Count. Well, I'd usually agree with Alessio that the answer is "don't" unless you're playing a really big game. There are exceptions, in particular for Necrach vampires which I'll discuss later but in the meantime I'll qualify why I usually think they're a bad choice. Firstly, you're paying an extra 80 points for the lord over a count, plus extra equipment costs. What are you getting for your points? Well, magic level 2 for starters, which we know from Necromancers and Counts is worth 35 points. You're also getting +1 to WS, W, A and Ld. From the stats PV published in previous editions of warhammer we can guesstimate that that's worth about 10 points. You then need to add in an unspecified "hardness factor" which represents that the Lord is a very tough, hard to kill model. If you factor this at 25 points (which is a high estimate, I'd say) you're still 10 points short of the required points. So I'd say they were slightly bad value for the points, let alone the fact that you're likely going to be tying up 450 odd points in a single model, which is never a good idea in small games: at 2000 points that's almost a quarter of your total! The second problem with Lords is that they eat up an extra character slot. I've already discussed the fact that VC armies benefit greatly from having well distributed combat characters in units to make those units tough enough to face up against difficult opposition: by taking a vampire lord you're limiting your opportunities to do this. This is less of a problem if you don't have a lot of zombies and skeleton units in the army: try and ensure you've got a combat character in each one, and if you've got a slot left over you could go with the lord instead of the count. You can of course put a lord on a Zombie Dragon but Winged Nightmares are usually enough and besides, in most cases putting your general on a winged monster is a bad idea since he needs to stay close to his troops to allow them to march. The extra point of Ld can be useful if you field a lot of ghouls, and, interestingly, it makes the crown of the damned a viable choice albiet a bit risky. What can I say? You pays your points, you takes your choice.

Wights, Wraiths & Necromancers

I'm going to leave discussion of vampire characters until we talk about individual bloodlines as they're all so different, so we'll deal with the other characters available to a VC force first. Throughout this section I'll also be talking about magic items and bloodline powers: if I don't mention one it generally means I don't think it's worth taking.

Wight Lords are best used with units of wights, otherwise go with a Thrall instead. Thralls are better combat characters and more flexible to boot for the paltry extra points you have to pay for them. However, a wight lord in a unit of grave guard or black knights which is carrying the banner of the barrows is an unholy terror. If you give the wight lord the sword of kings you've got 3 attacks guaranteed to hit on a 3+ and then instantly killing enemy models on a 5+. Some players think the combination is so powerful that it's broken! A wight lord in this capacity is just custom-built for killing enemy heroes so equpping him with the cursed shield of mousillon alongside the sword of kings can also be a good idea, then get out there and issue those challenges! Because of the specific combinations required to get the best out of wight lords, I'd limit myself to one an army.

Wraiths are often overlooked in favour of other characters but used properly, they can be very effective. Don't forget that they're not much of a combat boost fore core troops with just two WS3 attacks at S5. The "wraith librarian" with a cursed book is a popular model, since there's not much sense in giving the Wraith many other magic item from the lists: he's ethereal so defensive magic is generally not required and he comes with a great weapon so purchasing magic weapons seems pointless. The other good option is the Talon of Death which will result in the Wraith dishing out a goodly number of S5 hits every turn without taking any back from troops without magic weapons. Wraiths are good in two situations: firstly they work well against low Ld armies because of the terror effect and second if you think your opponent isn't carrying much in the way of magic weapons (and great weapons are oh so much more popular) he can be very good for issuing challenges are forcing enemy heroes to hide at the back. The wraith can be on foot or mounted he can deliver the benefits of his cursed book and his terror or his Talon where needed fast: don't give him barding as being ethereal is defence enough. A mounted wraith with the Talon is a bit like a mini-chariot although you need to watch out for the crumbling rule if used against ranked-up units. Mounted wraiths can also be superb warmachine killers: they're immune to the fire of most war machines and are likely to either scare away the crew with terror, or rend them limb-from-limb in HtH. Any opponent going after a mounted wraith on it's own is going to have trouble catching a model with 16" move that ignores difficult terrain, and even walls! Shame GW don't do a mounted wraith model! That said, the mounted Nurgle Lord is very wraith-like and could be used with a little conversion work. Having said all this, he does take up a precious character slot which is most cases is better filled with another character, but having a wraith can be a blast.

Now, what is there not to love about Necromancers? I usually take two of them at level 2 in all my battles, regardless of the number of points on offer. If you've got a necromancer general you'll need to equip him defensively, but this can be a tough choice. With just 50 points to spend you can only afford one talisman, but which? The Ring of the Night is an obvious choice, but flawed because in most cases a 5+ ward save simply isn't enough when keeping your general alive is so vital. Better to opt for the cloak of mist and shadows or (if you know your enemy has magic shooting like dwarfs, skaven, or wood elves) the wristbands of black gold and then keep your general well out of the way! I like to keep my necro generals in a block of 11 or so zombies which prevents him being picked as a target and which can easily be added to with IoN and left behind as a screen for your necromancer should enemy melee troops catch up with him. Leave the zombies static and get the necromancer moving out of there, but make sure you've got enough zombies in the block to avoid the dreaded overrun!

For non-general necromancers the first choice of kit is traditionally a dispel scroll and the book of arkhan and for good reason. The book is an absolute steal, for 25 points having the chance of casting one of the best spells in the game each and every turn and forcing the enemy to keep back a dispel dice or two to deal with the threat. For a second necromancer the choice is a bit more tricky. I usually like to go with the power familiar since I try to ensure I've got 3 dice a turn to cast on each spell attempt (more on this in magic) and the power familiar is a good way of doing this. However, a dispel scroll and the black periapt is also a good choice which achieves a similar result at less cost. In some circumstances a completely different choice of items is appropriate: the staff of damnation (if you've got lots of zombies) or the rod of flaming death (if you're trying to play defensively).

I'm not convinced of the value of Necromancer Lords. Sure, with 4 magic levels they can dish out some serious spells, but do you really need a level 4 mage when 5 out of the 6 necromancy spells are so good? And when most necromancy spells can be cast on 3 dice? I think not, especially when you could have magic and combat power (and thus flexibility) from a Vampire Count instead.

Von Carstein Vampires

This is an oft-overlooked bloodline which has some real power if used properly. For starters, it has options to armour thralls which can make them very, very useful indeed. Second it has probably the best bloodline powers in the whole book. Sadly this causes a fairly serious dilemma when I'm playing a Von Carstein army. We've already discussed how important it is to protect your general and by giving a Von Carstein general the Carstein ring you're giving him the best protection available to the VC and, with a great weapon, rendering him a combat monster to boot. However it eats up the whole 100 points allowance meaning you can't take the excellent "aura of dark majesty" bloodline power which removes much of the maneuver problems a VC army can face. As a general rule I take the ring. However, the bloodline power combined with "walking death" could be a real killer in a largely cavalry army. In larger games you could also save the ring for a second count mounted on a winged nightmare, providing much needed protection from war machines and creating a powerful unit well able to operate without support. If you don't give your general the carstien ring then make sure you give him the ring of the night at least! An interesting idea that was suggested to me is to give the count Wolf Form and Walking Death and then putting him in a unit of Dire Wolves. The unit will help protect the general and it provides you with a very fast, very manueverable unit which has a good chance of crushing anything your opponent has, especially if you can hit him in the flanks. If you do this with your general, make sure the other units can stay within his marching range.

Thralls can be armoured and given a great weapon or a second hand weapon to enhance combat potential. I'd generally go with bloodline powers over magic items for thralls. Walking Death is awesome, especially for a mounted thrall: a unit of black knights with such a thrall and the war banner could break most units in the game. Wolf form on a thrall with a great weapon makes a superb hunter for mages and chariots: imagine your opponents surpised when you thrall out-charges his precious chariots and rips them up with S7 hits! Giving a thrall of this nature the flayed hauberk is a good choice, making him more able to operate without support. If you don't buy the hauberk, load up on all the armour you're allowed for any carstien thrall. You can even pull up a Cartsein Thrall with the battle standard and wolf form and have a unit of Dire Wolves with a standard bearer! This is more useful than it sounds, especially in a cavalry army, or in tandem with the wolf-form general suggested above.

Blood Dragon Vampires

Hmm, everyone's favourite bloodline? Well not mine: I've never played them which makes it a bit difficult to offer advice. But I'll do what I can based on my assessment of the powers from the book. Never forget that your blood dragons are going to be in a lot of challenges, so picking up things to deal with enemy characters is a very good idea. A more experienced general pointed out to me that BD vampires (especially counts and lords) are perfectly effective at destroying enemy uber-generals like Bloodthirsters. In fact a tooled-up BD lord on a Zombie Dragon is probably the most powerful single model in the game. So if you're having daemon trouble, you know which bloodline to turn to.

One of the many great things about Blood Dragons is that BD generals can wear armour, making them, and consequently your army, that much safer. Lords and Counts come with full plate which confers a perfectly acceptable 4+ save. With hand weapon and shield this becomes an excellent 2+ and so for this reason I'd advise not giving a BD general a magic weapon: a great weapon and a shield gives you maximum flexibility as well as S7 hits. I'd still have the ring of the night in case of emergencies though, but that still leaves 70 points to play with on bloodline powers. I'd go with any two of Red Fury, Blade Master or Master Strike. The nice thing about the latter is that combined with one of the others, it leaves you enough points for a Black Periapt if you wish.

Thralls don't get any armour automatically so a flayed hauberk can be a good choice, with the obligatory great weapon although that doesn't leave you enough points to buy anything else worthwhile for the model. If you don't buy the hauberk, load up on all the armour you're allowed for any BD thrall. Red Fury with an extra hand weapon looks a nasty combo. However, possibly the most evil of all (especially for an extra count, should you have one) is to buy the trusty old common magic item, the humble sword of striking. This means your BD is going to hit almost anything on a 2+! Combined with Strength of Steel on a thrall is a dread combination but still worse is combining it with Master Strike on a Count. That's an awesome combination indeed.

Necrach Vampires

Necrach vampires have several big problems, but they're still a powerful bloodline if used right. Obviously you need to go magic heavy to get the best out of them.

The first problem is that counts and lords aren't massively powerful in combat. They have no armour and no bloodline-specific powers or items that can help protect them. So a Ring of the Night is a must for your general but he's still an easy target for enemy lords at which point your army is as good as dust. It's for this reason that playing Necrachs, I sometimes play with a Vampire Lord at 2,000 point games. It's generaly the only bloodline I'd advise doing this with but boy, can that extra wound be helpful in keeping the general alive! Another benefit of the Lord is the level 3 magic, meaning you don't have to buy Nehekara's Noble Blood to get the extra magic power a Necrach army needs. The points can then be used for other bloodline power or magic items. It's interesting to note that buying Dark Acolyte and Forbidden Lore on a level 3 vampire lord gets you all the advantages of Noble Blood for 10 points less. It does mean you can't throw 5 dice at a spell, but that's not generally a good idea anyway! Don't forget you can heal him with IoN. This does loose you a hero slot which you'd probably be best off using to buy a wraith or wight lord since you need two necromancers in a Necrach army. It's a difficult trade off: see what you think. In either case, Nehekara's Noble Blood is a must for any counts, general or otherwise. You've then got 25 points left to play with. The Sword of Might can be a good choice to add combat punch if you've sacrificed a hero slot for the Vamp Lord, otherwise the Awakening is a good choice, or Dark Acolyte if you really need the extra dice to ensure you've got a multiple of three (see magic). An interesting idea I once heard was to give the general Death Magic instead of Necromancy and then Master of the Black Arts but since this is only likely to be useful for one extra turn of blasting, I'd say it's not worth it. Please feel free to experiment though!

The second problem with Necrachs is that the thralls aren't really very good. They're not much use in combat due to no armour and a low WS for a hero and the biggest advantage of the Bloodline (+1 to casting spells) is useless unless you give them Nehekara's Noble Blood, enabling them to cast spells. If you do that you've got a level 1 wizard who (if using necromancy) can only throw two dice at a spell usually cast on a 7+ and that 'aint good enough odds for my liking. You could try casting IoN at 3+ with one dice but since there's a little known rule in the rulebook that says any spell fails on a roll of 1 or 2, there's no point: the +1 to cast advantage again becomes useless. You can give arcane items to Thralls but frankly, what's the point when you could have a necromancer instead? They're not even much use as the general of sub 2000 point armies since you've spent all the magic item allowance making them into a (fairly useless) level 1 mage and so have nothing left for talismans. One circumstance where a thrall (general or otherwise) might be useful is with Death Magic since the two dice can then get chucked at a 5+ spell which is probably worthwhile. You can also use them as "batteries" to add power and dispel dice to your army for better mages to use, while still retaining some combat potential. However, as a general rule, a wight lord or wraith is a better choice, especially since a good way to make up for the lost combat punch of using Necrachs is to have lots of wights in your army, making the banner of barrows/sword of kings combo very tempting.

Lahmian Vampires

I've never played these either and neither have a lot of people. That's because of an inherant flaw in the design. Lahmians are almost as weak as Necrachs in combat and yet their bloodline powers generally require them to be in base to base contact with enemy models!

If I were to have a Lahmian general, I'd use Quickblood instead of the ever-faithful Ring of the Night just because it can't be dispelled. If I were to take one of the mind-altering powers I'd go with Domination which leaves 30 points for the fairly tempting Asp Bow. Either that or 25 on Innocence Lost as another method of trying to protect your vampire general from harm. Or you could go with Seduction instead but I'd be wary of paying that many points for a power which is likely to fail a goodly percentage of the time: you're likely to want to target enemy characters who'll have high Ld don't forget! I'd also consider using a Lord instead of a Count for the same reason as Necrachs, but the need is less pressing.

I'd steer clear of the thralls as well, although the idea of loading one up with the Asp Bow and Transfix might be worth a shot. The Asp Bow is a pretty good item and if I ever do build a defensive VC army, Lahmians might be worth a try just for that item alone.

Strigoi Vampires

Now these guys are really rather good. They're so good I'm surprised that Blood Dragons get all the complaints when Strigoi vampires can be just as deadly in close combat. I'd rather have an extra, re-rollable attack than +2 WS any day. However, because they can't be mounted or take magic items it does make them a bit inflexible, although bloodline powers can't be targetted by Vauls Unmaking of course.

For your Strigoi general, the choices are a no-brainer. Iron Sinews is a must, followed by Summon Ghouls and Curse of the Revenant. The other option is Infinate Hatred and Massive Monstrosity but that's not a goer in my opinion and I'll tell you why. For starters, for an extra 5 points you're buying a 50% chance of saving each and every wound instead of the certainty of an extra one. One a model with 3 wounds and a 5+ ward save I'd say the 50% regeneration chance has better odds of "making" more than one wound over the course of the battle. Especially if you heal your general at any point with IoN. Second, I don't much care for infinate hatred. There's precious little that can stand more than one round of combat with a Strigoi and besides, summon ghouls is massively useful for disrupting enemy mages, war machines, archer units and skirmishers: it generates a minimum of 4 poisoned attacks don't forget!

Strigoi thralls aren't so good because the 6+ ward save, no armour and no possibility of buying regeneration means they're a bit fragile for my liking. That said Wraiths and Wights aren't very fluffy for Strigoi armies so if you want to stay true to the fluff you'll likely end up buying one of these. My favourite combo is Iron Sinews and Summon Ghouls although Infinate Hatred and Iron Sinews is a viable option. One place where Thralls can be very handy is in the awesome "Strigoi Flying Circus" setup. Take nothing but Strigoi vampires in your army and give them all "bat form" as a bloodline power. Then, in the second turn or so, charge all of them into one enemy unit. You'll have no ranks, standard or outnumber but 17 S5 rerollable attacks will put pay to pretty much any unit in the game. Fantastic for dealing with enemy uber-units, although it does leave all your characters vulnerable to enemy counter-charges.

Odds and Ends

Firstly, a quick word about battle standards. It's a very quick word and the word is "no". They're generally useless for most armies. I did once conceive of an army template that consisted almost entirely of expensive wights and ethereal models, with the idea that taking a battle standard would make it very difficult for the enemy to overcome the ethereal units. I've never tried it and I doubt it would be very effective. Another possible use for a battle standard is in a cavalry army with a lot of black knights but I think I'd still steer clear.

Second, a roundup of a few other potentially useful magic items I've not hitherto covered. For starters I think the wailing helm has possibilities given to a well armoured Blood Dragon or Carstein Thrall on a horse. For starters it can achieve the good old 1+ save and causes terror to boot. Warrior familiars can be a nasty surprise for the enemy given to a Necromancer or Lahmian or Necrach vampire, but they're not generally worth the points. The banner of doom can be a good choice for grave guard but not black knights: the number of models making saves from a warmachine hit is so much greater in a large unit of slow infantry than a small unit of quick cavalry. The war banner is always a useful choice for almost any unit. Finally, the screaming banner always looked a good item to me but I've never used it because the banners of Doom, Barrows and War are all better and I've never had cause to field more than 3 units capable of carrying magic banners. It's a shame you can't have one unit of skeletons with a magic banner as the screaming banner would be a natural choice.

Magic

Well, Necromancy or Death magic? Well in almost all cases I'd go with Necromancy, so I'm not going to spend much time discussing the spells in Death magic. Instead I'm going to use this space to talk about times when it's useful to take Death magic. The most obvious one, which has already been mentioned, is for Necrach vampires in combination with Necromancers provding necromancy. It's the only sensible choice for a Necrach Thrall and it would allow a Necrach Count to make full use of the Master of the Black Arts power. A combined lores force with a Necrach Count and Thrall (Death) and two Necromancers (Necromancy) sounds like a tasty treat. The second time death magic can be useful is if you use all death magic and go very magic heavy in an attempt to drum up a form of magical artillery and fight defensively. See the army templates section for more information. Don't forget that Death magic also contains the oft-overlooked spell "doom and darkness" which is liable to make a target into banshee-meat, although since it's the "6" spell you can't plan a game around getting this.

A quick glance down the casting values for the Necromancy spells reveals an interesting point. They almost all cost 7+ to cast. The lowest level of IoN is an exception, but that's not much use apart from healing wounds on characters. When you're casting spells you want as much as possible for them to succeed, otherwise your wasting power dice and allowing your enemy to keep back dispel dice for later use. Trying to use 2 dice to cast a 7+ spell (a 50% chance) is thus rather akin to pissing into the wind. However, 3 dice will give you a good chance of casting almost any spell from Necromancy besides being the largest number of dice a level 2 caster can use. And it's not many VC armies that should have anything better than a level 2 caster on the board: Necrachs only! For that reason I always, always try to have a multiple of 3 power dice so I can chuck three dice at every spell: 6, 9 or (in extremes) 12. That's why a power familiar can be such a handy choice.

When rolling for your spells, I'd generally choose them in the following order, although the precicse cirumstance of the game and your battle plan can change the order of desirability slightly:

  1. Invocation of Nehek (every necromancer should have this!)
  2. VanHels Danse Macabre
  3. Hellish Vigour
  4. Gaze of Nagash
  5. Curse of Years
  6. Hand of Dust

Invocation of Nehek

The first spell on the Necromancy list is Invocation of Nehek, which is a cracking spell that is consistantly undersetimated by people playing against VC armies. Every single one of your Necromancy-using wizards should default to this spell, even if you rolled two other good spells as it's simply that good. It has three different uses and you'll be best served if you remember all of them and use it appropriately. In most cases, the only useful version of the spell is the 7+ version although the first and last applications are suitable for a 3+ shot on a single power dice if you like.

It's first use is to add models to an existing unit. It's this version of the spell which tends to be underestimated. If you use it early on in the game, when other spells might not have targets, your opponent might not bother dispelling it. This can be a big mistake. If you start with 25 skeletons in a units, you can easily have 40 after a couple of applications of this spell, and any unit is going to have a hard time whittling down forty skeletons. Don't forget also that the rules clearly state that this doesn't change the VP status of the unit: your opponent is going to have to kill 27 of those skeletons just to get half the VP of the original 25! Similarly, it can be used on damaged units to deprive your enemy of VP at the end of the game. A fairly common tactic is to buy a small (10-15 models) unit of skeletons with full command, light armour and spear and then turn it into a fully combat ready unit with IoN. It means you're getting more value from the spell since each new model is worth 11 points instead of 8.

It's second use is to create new units which is sometimes misapplied by novice VC generals. Since you need at least 5 new models to create a valid unit, it's very, very tempting to go for zombies since at 2D6+2 you're virtually guaranteed to meet this requirement. You can raise them at the back or sides of units and then use VanHels Danse Macabre (or another turn) to get a flank or rear charge. However small units of zombies, as we shall see under core units, suck. It is not unknown for the net result of this tactic to work against you since the enormous drag factor of zombies being killed by enemy troops can actually negate the advantage (say +2 for rear and 3 for rank bonus) that the zombies give you, especially against troops with multiple attacks. However it is a valid tactic and it usually works, especially if you can manage to throw a lot of zombies into the fray. This version of the spell is also most apt to creative use. If you want to protect a unit from charge, raise some zombies in the way, although be aware that the rubbishness of zombies and the overrun rule can cause this tactic to backfire. Zombies are also great for blocking the LoS of units with missile capability and indeed a block of zombies stands a fair chance of beating a small unit of unarmoured archers in HtH. Beware overusing this spell since the resulting small units of zombies usually die and add VP's to your opponents total. Repeated instances of this can really add up, even at only 6 points at model! Finally, a really nasty application of this version of the spell is to suddenly bring up new units in table quarters in the last couple of game turns, either to contest them with the enemy or to grab unoccupied ones to add to your VP. Particularly useful against wood elves.

The third and final and most often overlooked use is to heal wounded undead models. The potential application of this to the vital VC general hardly needs stating: if your general is a necromancer he should always, always have this spell. However it's also useful for all multiple wound undead models like fell bats and (especially) spirit hosts which can hang around for ages with repeated applications of the spell.

Hand of Dust

This is the worst spell in the list, but it's far from useless, especially in the hands of Lahmian vampires who can strike first with this deadly attack at a decent WS. It's especially useful against large monsters, which VC armies can struggle to deal with, and heavily armoured models. However in almost all cases I've rolled this spell I've swapped it for something else where I can.

Hellish Vigour

This is especially useful when applied to Wights (with that nasty killing blow attack) and Zombies (since it turns the worst troops in the game into respectable killers). It's also another one that opposing players underestimate and let pass, which you can use to your advantage if you find your opponents magic defence particularly strong. Since it requires no LoS it can be useful as a spell to chuck dice at when all your units are already in close combat toward the end of the game.

Gaze of Nagash

It's just a magic missile, albeit quite a powerful one that has a good chance of drawing out some dispel dice or scrolls allowing you to get in a critical stab at casting VanHels or IoN. As useful as magic missiles are, don't overestimte it's application for an army which will be looking to close for close combat as soon as possible. Also, don't make the mistake I often do with this spell and hide the necromancer with it behind a screening unit unless there's a pressing need to do so!

VanHels Danse Macabre

Possibly the best spell in the game. An unexpected flank charge, or even front charge is a game winner. If you don't understand why, just try using this spell in a couple of games and you'll see. It's especially effective when applied to newly created units in inconvenient places as it prevents your opponent from maneuvering to avoid a possible charge. It's all the scarier for the fact that it can be used multiple times on the same unit and the book of Arkhan (which every army should have) carries this as a bound spell. If used properly, you can be guaranteed your opponent will be wanting to dispel it so try and save it for the end of the magic phase where possible to draw out dispel dice and scrolls first. If your opponent knows you have the spell (as he should) you can use this to help you get off other spells, since he may save dice and scrolls to counter this! The only tiny downside is that at 9+ it's slightly tight odds on 3 dice, but unless there's a level 3 mage in your army with this spell, there's precious little you can do about it. Don't forget that the spell has defensive uses too: if an enemy unit suddenly finds itself unable to move because it's in HtH it can serious disrupt enemy offensive plans.

Curse of Years

Can be very nasty, especially applied to blocks of heavily armoured elite infantry like dwarven ironbreakers. Try and save it for use on units with plenty of models (i.e. infantry) otherwise it's a waste of dice: it never lasts more than one turn as it's too dangerous to leave. That, incidentally is another nice side effect of the spell: it draws out your opponents power dice in their own magic phase. However, at 10+ it's too likely not to work on three dice to make a major threat. I'd avoid it unless you've really got the dice to spare.

Core Units

Zombies

Ah zombies, the worst combat troop in the entire game, and little sods to paint to boot. Which isn't to say they don't have their uses. The statline of a zombie is bad enough but the real killer is the "braindead" rule which means they always strike last, virtually ensuring that there's not enough zombies left in the front rank to do any damage to the enemy. And thus they crumble. However, you're always going to have to have a box of the models for raised units.

Aside from being the prime choice of new units (as discussed in magic) Zombies have two main roles in unlife. They're generally completely useless as a front-line combat troop because they're so dreadful in combat. However, put a standard and a musician in the unit, add in a fearsome combat character (a Strigoi Count is particularly appropriate) and the zombies can act as capable rank-standard-outnumber bonus for the character. If the character gets to attack first it can even wipe out enough of the enemy for the zombies to get a few attacks in! As already mentioned a small block of zombies, sans standard and musician are quite good at babysitting necromancers. Otherwise, take 30 or so with full command for this role.

The second use is as a tarpit unit that can be used to tie up enemy troops. In this case you're expecting the zombies to die, so no standard and musician but take 30-40 to make sure they can take the punishment. Then, as soon as they get into combat, cast IoN on them like mad until they either all crumble or manage to overwhelm the enemy unit through sheer weight of numbers. I've always felt that using IoN on bases of spirit hosts is a better idea for this role however, and it can be a massive drain on your dice if you need to keep using IoN on the same unit every turn. However, if you really feel you need multiple tarpits (Bat Swarms and Spirit Hosts are both 0-1) then Zombies could be the answer.

Skeletons

Skeletons are the workhorse of most VC armies. Not vastly expensive and not too dreadful in hand-to-hand they make a fair core infantry troop, especially when supported by characters and/or repeated applications of IoN.

Skeletons should always have a standard, and I usually like a musician and champion as well. The musician is key for skeletons since winning by even one means your opponent is likely to be routing due to the effects of fear. I like to have a champion in case I need him to take a challenge in place of a character in a turn. Some people will argue that all those extra points for one WS2 S3 attack aren't worth it and there is some mileage in that approach but I'd rather pay the points than loose a necromancer in a challenge. And sometimes that one extra attack is the one that wounds and tips the balance, causing the enemy to flee. I usually take skeletons in block of 25+: remember more troops to maximise the effects of fear!

Unlike zombies, skeletons have some equipment options. Spears may only cost one point but alone, they're a bad idea. Although they allow a second rank to attack you end up loosing the +1AS for weapon-and-shield bonus and given that the second rank's attacks are only WS2 S3 and you only get them if you've been charged (when, most of the time, you're going to be the offensive army don't forget) they're not worth it. A statistical analysis reveals that spear-armed skeletons don't fare any better than vanilla skeletons against most opponents and all for a point extra. Light armour is a better bet but +2 points is a lot to pay for an extra point of armour save, so again, vanilla is generally preferred. However, units armed with both, while expensive, can be worth the investment, especially when their numbers can be increased with IoN. Start with 10-15 with full command and watch 'em grow.

Ghouls

What is there not to love about Ghouls? They're such an essential part of the VC lineup that I never leave home without them, even if it means breaking the fluff a bit. Point for point I reckon they're the best skirmish troops in the game and you get added value because of the immense tactical flexibility they add to VC armies. Here's why.

For starters, ghouls are alive. While this means they're likely to flee on their feeble Ld it also means they can march in any position on the battlefield and, crucially, it also means they can flee from charges, leaving the enemy exposed to a couner-charge from your own forces in that most classic of warhammer tactics, usually denied to the undead. In short they're a fast, flexible unit in an army usually filled with slow but rock-solid units.

Next, they make a truly superb missile screen to stop enemy archers picking off your units. They're particulalry good at screening grave guard in this way since the foot wights are no faster than the ghouls and can advance behind them in good order. As skirmishers, you can deploy them all in one line, plus they get -1 for the enemy to hit and they're toughness 4 which is capable of blunting archery volleys from longbows. You want armour as well you say? Well that's just greedy. Of course if they're screening a unit of infantry then anything that charges the ghouls (who can flee) is going to leave itself very, very open to a counter-charge.

Finally, they're hard as nails in HtH despite the lack of ranks and standard. Having a 360 degree charge range should allow you to get them into the flanks of the enemy buying a +1 bonus to combat resolution. The volume of attacks is huge since the skirmishers arrange themselves to get maximum models in combat. All that plus the poisoned attacks makes them invaluable against large monsters like giants and dragons with high toughness and this in a force that can struggle to deal with large monsters.

So, go buy some ghouls! Be careful not to field them in a direct multiple of 4 as this makes it easier for enemy fire to make them flee due to the 25% casualties panic rule. I get mine in units of 9-11 although a number of commanders have had great success fielding very large units of ghouls. Don't buy a ghast. They're possibly the silliest unit option in all of warhammer: characters can't join ghouls so he'll never have to take a challenge and for less points than it costs to buy the extra attack a ghast provides you can buy another ghoul and get 2 extra attacks instead. Their only possible advantage is against monsters where you're only going to get 5 ghouls in base-to-base and the extra attack might come in handy. But paying 10 points for that eventuality seems like a bad idea. GW don't even make models for them, so they obviously don't expect to see many :).

Dire Wolves

Dire Wolves are much maligned because most first-time generals will field a unit or two and note how at T3 and not skirmishers and no armour save, they get ripped to shreds by even feeble enemy missile fire. However, that's just not using them properly. Look again at what you're getting: a very low cost, extremely fast cavalary unit. They only cost 2 points more a pop than skeletons!

I've found there are two main ways to profitably employ dire wolves in your army. In the first instance, take 10-12 in one or two units and then make sure you've got something else in your army worth shooting at: some wights are usually a good idea. Use the direwolves against soft targets at the rear of the enemy line: their speed and flexibility can make them a real terror for lone mages or warmachine crews. Then your enemy is going to have a real quandry as to whether to shoot the easy targets of the dire wolves, or have a more risky pop at your harder units. This approach works best against armies with lots of warmachines like dwarfs and empire.

The second, and probably better method, is simply to solve the problem by taking lots and lots of them so that there's bound to be some left by the time they hit the enemy. Try 3-4 units of 8-12 models. They're only 10 points each don't forget and are almost certain to hit the enemy on turn 2 of movement (18" march move followed by 18" charge). Since they're US2 it doesn't take an awful lot of them to get an outnumber bonus on the enemy, whose infantry may well be more expensive than your dire wolf cavalry!

If you're going to use them in this more substantial role, be sure to make a few notes about how they fight. Despite the high US they're no match for ranked up infantry and will die very quickly if you try. Far better to use all that speed and manoueverability to try and get some flank charges in, especially if you can pin the front of the unit with heavy black knight cavalry or (less likely) infantry. Dire wolves do remove rank bonuses don't forget!

A third method which as been suggested is to use a small unit as a charge directer. Given the excellent maneuvrability of fast cavalry, you can quite easily move them to outflank an enemy and then align at an angle, the result of which will be that the enemy unit will be pretty much forced to align itself to the wolves in order to avoid a flank charge. The result will be an enemy unit which has wasted a move aligning itself and is now (in all probibility) facing away from the main combat: if it charges the wolves and overruns it'll be even further away and if it stays put you're likely in a position to threaten the flank with another unit. Handy, but it relies on the wolves surviving missile fire to work.

Bat Swarms

Bat Swarms don't feature heavily in most people's VC lists and not because there's nothing wrong with them: it's simply that for 5 points a base extra spirit hosts (see special units) do a better job in the same role in most circumstances. The fact that the bats can fly is no bonus: spirit hosts can march faster than the 10" fly move the bats are allowed. The two ways in which the bats are better are firstly that they have 360 degree charge arc, which does make them better flank guards than hosts and second that they can be employed to tarpit ranked-up infantry as they don't suffer a crumbling penalty. However at T2 you really wonder just how much longer they're likely to survive: at least the spirit hosts have a fighting chance of doing some damage to a unit before the CR kills them. The only time I ever take them is against armies that can employ a lot of magical shooting like skaven, which render the advantages of the ethereal spirit hosts pretty much a moot point. Like most swarms, 3-4 bases is best, although 2 will do in a pinch.

Special Units

Grave Guard

Grave Guard are rightly feared as a very tough combat unit, but they suffer the disadvantage that all elite infantry suffer: your opponent will likely target them with every archer unit and warmachine that they have as they toil across the board at 8" a turn. They may be T4 and have a 4+ AS with shields but that fire is still going to take it's toll over the turns. And with the crumbling rule being particulalry nasty on expensive wight models that loss of ranks (and thus CR) can really hurt. Plus it means you're less likely to get that all important outnumber to maximise fear benefits: without bowmen of your own you can't whittle down enemy infantry in the same way.

There's various things you can do to help them out though. You could provide some other targets which are more urgent to shoot at, like black knights or dire wolves or even some more grave guard. You could give them a missile screen of ghouls or spirit hosts, although that's less of an attrative option if the enemy has a hill to deploy missile units on. You could take lots of items and units to help remove the threat of missile fire, like fell bats, dire wolves or the various "summon" bloodline powers. The banner of doom can be a big help. Take your pick.

Once you do get them into combat, they're idiotically hard. The general consensus is that they're best fielded with hand weapon and shield: the shield will help against missile fire (and is thus a good choice) and the halberds cost a point extra and leave a lower AS in combat. However with the banner of the barrows and halberds you'll have a unit which hits most enemy infantry on 3+ and wounds on 2+. Can't be bad. Give them full command and if you want a magic banner the banner of doom (against most armies) or the banner of barrows (if you've got a wight lord in there or against non-shooty armies) are both effective due to the number of models in the unit. I usually field them in blocks of 20: less is madness and 20 is a good number for 4 ranks 5 wide: I like to minimise ranks to minimise the effect of cannon and bolt-thrower fire.

Make full use of the killing blow ability: if you've got models in base-to-base with an enemy character it can be worth a shot at attacking him with wights in the hope of landing a killing blow. Don't overdo this and end up loosing combat (and thus models) more badly than you need to but against very strong or very weak opponents it's a tactic that will likely scare your opponent very badly in case his 250 point dwarf lord gets killed by a 14 point wight. Wight champions in challenges are particulalry good for this: issue a challenge and watch as your opponent agonises as to whether to risk his character dying or risk loosing the combat after sending him to the back. Don't forget that wight blades count as being magical, which makes them handy against enemy daemons and ethereal troops.

Black Knights

Much like dire wolves, either take a single unit of these nasties or take a lot: they're going to be an absolute magnet for war machine fire, and said fire will devestate your lovely (and very expensive) unit in very short order indeed. They're much harder than grave guard to screen from this sort of abuse because there's no decent screening unit that can keep in front of them and the banner of doom is much less effective because there's less models in the unit to make the save. So the only really viable option is to provide alternative targets: hence, more black knights. You could attempt to screen them with spirit hosts, but you're loosing movement and tactical flexibility, and if the combo gets out of march range of the general, they're in a whole lot of trouble. You can also screen them with dire wolves: the ability of fast cav to change formation means you can leave the wolves facing obliquely in front of the knights, allowing you to screen large units of knights with a few wolves.

If you're just going to go with the one unit, it can be invaluable for keeping missile fire away from your other units for a turn or two and however heartbreaking this might be given the time you invested in painting them, it's still a worthwhile role. Some people like to have a big unit and place a character in there. If such a unit survives the missile fire it can break pretty much anything in the game. However, that's a big "if" and remember that the more ranks you have in a unit, the more damaging bolt thrower and cannon fire is likely to be. Beware of allowing a bolt thrower or cannon to get a flank shot on your knights: a cunning general will place his machines one at each end of the field, making it difficult to avoid this fate. Also, especially against armies that lack a lot of missile fire, considering holding them back to the pace of the rest of the army, or moving them round the flanks of the enemy: a lone charge by an unsupported unit will often end in their destruction. Of course if you've got multiple fast units in the army this ceases to be a problem.

I almost always take barding: it's only 2 points and if it saves a model from a single arrow it's worth it. There is some mileage to be had in leaving off the barding and getting an extra 2" charge range for surprise value, but any canny general will notice this the first time you move them and it'll no longer be a surprise. Take full command and if you want a magic banner, the war banner is a good choice: given the crumbling rule it has to save only one model to pay for itself. Besides the banner of doom is generally better employed with grave guard, although if you've got a wight lord in the unit, the banner of the barrows can work. If you're facing up against a missile-lite enemy then the banner of the barrows can also help give them some much needed punch to overcome the lack of ranks. I find heavy cav of all sorts is best fielded in units of 6 models: if you must have a rank bonus buy 12 and do the "bus" formation of 4x3. Remember that Black Knights have wight blades, with the attendant advantage of a magical killing blow.

Fell Bats

Fell bats are much bemoaned for the fact that, compared with other flying units they're a bit of a swiz. Sure, they have 2 wounds and 2 attacks, but furies have T4, a smaller base size and a 5+ ward save, and they cost less. But we're stuck with them the way they are and they're a very useful component of a vampire counts force.

There's two main reasons for this. Firstly, much like ghouls, they're a very manouverable unit in a largely static force. Having that 20" 360 degree move to harass and annoy your enemies can be a real asset. Plus they don't march so the 20" move is guaranteed, whatever the distance from the general. Second they make excellent warmachine hunters in an army that can suffer greatly from warmachine fire. Except against dwarfs: T4 dwarf warmachine crews can put up stiff resistance against fell bats, but you'll still stop them firing for a few turns!

I always take some, and I always take at least 5. However, if you can buy 6 or even more then they have an added advantage: if you keep the US over 5 after taking a bit of missile fire then they can flank or rear-charge units for the ever-handy bonuses to combat resolution that this provides. I once had 5 fell bats (no joke) beat and run down 20 black orcs with the general due to a flank charge so don't knock it. If the enemy has to be constantly keeping an eye on where the bats are to avoid a flank charge, it may be they're not keeping an eye on something else important.

Spirit Hosts

I think that spirit hosts are probably the single most feared unit in the whole VC army book because an awful lot of generals simply don't know how to handle them. They're worth taking for this "Lordy, what am us for to do?" effect alone never mind the fact that they're incredibly useful. The easiest way to nullify them is to get them into combat with something they're unlikely to beat: a block of infantry or some heavy cav: anything with ranks and a banner, in fact. What most people seem to forget is that the only thing that makes this task difficult is the relentless way in which people choose to play defensively against the VC which, as already discussed, is often a mistake.

So, presuming you can avoid having them tied up by a huge block of Empire free company, or somesuch, what's so useful about these things? Well the base fact is that in a game where great weapons are often preferred against magic weapons, many armies have nothing that can hurt these things except combat resolution. So, you need to pick fights where even if you don't cause casualties (spirit hosts aren't great fighters) you're not loosing by much each turn. The obvious targets therefore are skirimishers, small archer units and warmachines. Indeed I've seen a bunch of three spirit hosts roll up overly defensive, shooty armies almost singlehandedly. Their speed and wide frontage also makes them handy missile screens.

However, spirit hosts have another useful function. At US3 per base, it only takes two bases to deny a unit rank bonus. And that 6" move is dead handy for getting them into position for a flank charge, even if they do have to wheel like the clumsy dogs they are. So first lesson, always take 2 bases. More than 4 is a waste as the unit becomes wide and unwieldy and you'll never get that extra base in combat anyway. You can try this tactic with a variety of other units. Armoured black knights make good counterpoints as they're only 1" faster: crash the knights into the front of the unit in the first turn and then get the spirit hosts in the flank next turn: there's precious little that can escape from a vice like that.

Spirit hosts can also be employed like a moveable wall to neutralize area-effect blasting weapons like hellblasters, organs guns and chaos dwarf blunderbusses. Just move the spirit hosts up toward the weapons and watch as your enemy tried to crush them to little avail: if they try to charge the hosts, rush up some units behind to either catch the chargers on the flank, or be ready to charge in once the hosts go down. It might kill the spirit hosts but blasting weapons can neutralize many time their points value in short order, so it's worth it.

Beware of races that commonly use magic weapons, especially missile ones. Skaven are obviously dangerous in this capacity, but dwarfs and wood elves commonly have magic archery weapons as well. And don't forget that human and elven often choose to take magic weapons over great weapons, and so can sometimes damage the hosts. Avoid heroes when you can, but if you know a hero doesn't have a magic weapon, try and tie him up with the hosts. I once spent a whole game with my opponents vampire count tied up against spirit hosts while my own was free to wreak havoc on his army. Oh, and never forget you can heal these babies with IoN: judicious use will keep them around forever, even against ranked-up infantry!

Rare Units

Black Coach

The Black Coach is often seen as a bit of a missed opportunity. It's a cool model with some interesting special rules but it's rarely seen on the battlefield becuase a single cannon shot has a 66% chance of rendering this 200 point lovely into matchwood. That's not a risk most people want to take and, sadly I'm in complete agreement. If you can't guarantee your opponent isn't going to have S7 hits then don't take one.

However, if know your opponent is unable to get the required S (or is only going to have one model with it as a HtH attack) then you can get one if you like. Elves of all sorts, Brettonians, Orcs and Necrach VC armies are good potential opponents for the black coach to eat up.

The nice thing about the Black Coach is that it's one of the few chariots that can stand up to ranked infantry due to the number of wounds it's likely to gain from the impact hits. However, like all chariots it's at it's best when charging so point it at smaller, more fragile targets where possible. It can't march so it actually makes quite good support for infantry and this combo can be used to take out ranked infantry. Charge the coach in first and if it doesn't break the target, get the infantry in with ranks and standard to shore up the combat. With the damage the coach has already caused it'll likely break the target in pretty short order.

Banshee

Against most armies, the Banshee is a huge gamble. I had one against a chaos army that screamed on a "12" at a unit of chosen knights and ripped the heart of the enemy army, but that's unusual. Look at the odds: with the short range of a banshee it's likely to only get 3 turns of screaming in the whole game. Against most armies with Ld 7-8 (higher with the general around) it's only going to kill 1 model a turn and even if that's an expensive cavalry model you're looking at a return of 75 odd points on your investment of 90. Not good.

But it's not all doom and gloom. They're effective against heavy cavalry and indeed they're one of the few things in the VC list (apart from black knights) which are. Against lots of cavalry which is likely to charge you, giving you more turns of screaming, they can be invaluable. Against low Ld troops like Orcs and much of the Lizardmen list, they can just be devestating. Try and use them against either cavalry or scouts which means you're screaming sooner and which are likely to be out of range of the generals Ld. They're particularly good against skirmishers since they have a fairly high chance of even getting into HtH and surviving.

Banshees are also good as mage hunters: they're faster than other foot models and they can target lone mages even if they're within 6" of another unit. Mages also tend to have lower leadership than other characters. In a real emergency, they can also be used to hold up large monsters for a turn: the banshee will die because it's outnumbered, but it'll survive for one crucial turn allowing you to either counter-charge or get something vital out of the way of the big beastie.

Be very careful with your Banshee. It's very, very easy to try and weave one into the thick of combat in the gaps between units and accidentally leave it open to a charge. It's an expensive model to loose. Also beware of heaven's magic which can pick these models out and devestate them. In many situations two banshees are better than one since it gives your opponent a chance to blast one with magic missiles/items that he could've used on your wights, and still leaves you a banshee for emergencies.

Army Templates

Here's a selection of ideas for armies: tactics VC's can use and an appropriate list to go with it. The first three are the "standard" models that you usually see, the rest are more or less experimental. All the sample lists are a 2,000 points and I don't claim to have playtested *all* of them :) And don't forget they're just sample lists to help give you an idea of what I'm talking about: make up your own variations.

The Infantry Army

The most popular type of army simply because it's the most flexible. It's good for any bloodline and for taking on any opponents. It works around the principle suggested in the army list: a centre of "core" infantry units supported on the flanks by faster units from the "specials" section. Aim to bog down the enemy with your center and envelop him in the flanks. Of course, if you can't do this for whatever reason, there's plenty of other ways you can use this army.

Strigoi Count, level 2, curse of the revenant, iron sinews, summon ghouls
Necromancer, level 2, black periapt, dispel scroll
Necromancer, level 2, book of arkhan, dispel scroll
Wraith, cursed book

26 skeletons, full command
26 skeletons, full command
29 zombies, full command
11 ghouls

6 black knights, full command
3 spirit hosts
5 fell bats

The Cavalry Army

The idea of the cavalry army is to overcome the inherant slowness and inflexibility of VC troops by taking very fast and mobile units and crashing them into the enemy as fast as possible. Since we don't get core heavy cavalry, this is harder than it sounds: all of your units are likely to require support in the form of another unit which is capable of hitting the flanks or rear, at least to get the CR bonus that this offers and at best to get rid of rank bonus as well. You can either take a host of smaller units, best suited to a Carstien Bloodline, or a smaller number of dead 'ard units, in which case Blood Dragons is a better choice. Other bloodlines simply don't have the shock power to make this template work. In this set-up putting your general on a Winged Nightmare can really work wonders, although it's not something I'd normally recommend.

Carstien Count, level 2, Winged Nightmare, Great Weapon, Ring of the night, Aura of Dark Majesty
Carstien Thrall, Nightmare, Barding, Heavy Armour, Lance, Walking Death, Enchanted Shield
Wight Lord, Nightmare, Barding, Heavy Armour, Sword of Kings, Cursed Shield
Necromancer, Level 2, Nightmare, Dispel Scroll, Book of Arkhan

10 Dire Wolves
10 Dire Wolves
10 Dire Wolves

7 Black Knights, Full command, Banner of the Barrows
7 Black Knights, Full command, War Banner
3 Spirit Hosts
5 Fell Bats

The Horde Army

The horde army is based on magic and lots of models to make it work. It's slow and cumbersome but thanks to IoN it can be surprisingly flexible. It's a powerful choice to take against most armies, but can suffer badly against fast moving, magic heavy opponents like a lot of Elven armies. In essence, you start by shambling slowly toward your opponent, adding to the size of your units along the way. When you're in range start creating and adding to units of zombies to the flanks and rear of the enemy line. Then employ VanHels to co-ordinate your attacks. Most of your troops will be fairly duff using this set up, so make sure you've got some wights, and make sure you deploy them opposite and elite infantry units in the enemy line that vanilla skeletons would have trouble shifting. Necrachs are a good bloodline to use because of the extra magic.

Necrach Count, level 2, Holy Blood, Ring of the Night, the Awakening
Necromancer, level 2, dispel scroll, book of arkhan
Necromancer, level 2, dispel scroll, black periapt
Necromancer, level 2, Staff of Damnation

12 Skeletons, Full Command, Spear, Light Armour
30 Skeletons, Full Command
30 Skeletons, Full Command

20 Grave Guard, Full Command, Shield, Banner of Doom
3 Spirit Hosts

The Defensive Army

I've discussed this elsewhere, as it's one of my pet projects to make this work. Think about it: your troops are never going to rout off the board, so why not sit and let the enemy come to you? Of course, to make this work you need some missile power, but that's not so hard to come by. Buy some DoW crossbowmen, or even a cannon for starters. Arm your mages with Death Magic for guaranteed blasting spells. Got a Lahmian? Give her the asp bow. Got a Necromancer? Rod of flaming death. With this approach you should be able to muster enough firepower to make the enemy come to you, and then pin them in pointless combats for the rest of the game. Sure, it might not be exciting, but I reckon it'd work against all but the shootiest of opponents. It's certainly a potential way to take on Chaos, or other VC armies!

The Ethereal Army

I've heard this proposed, but I have my doubts over the effectiveness. Essentially, you take an army standard and every ethereal option you're allowed in the game: a wraith, 3-4 bases of spirit hosts and as many Banshees as you've got rare slots. Take some wights as well, and for core stock up on skeletons or ghouls. March forth, making sure you keep your ethereal units within reach of the army standard. Now the idea is that the extra wound your ethereals won't be taking because of the standard gives them that much more staying power. It certainly makes lone Banshees and Wraiths capable of standing up to small archer units as well as skirmishers. Then, as they're flailing away at the ethereals, go in and attempt to break the enemy with your wights and a skeletons block with a vampire count.