Rampaging Beastmen are back. And once gain it was the resolute Dwarves in the front line, readying axe and maul to stop the brutes from their bestial tyranny. Or more importantly, getting their paws on a sizeable hoard of gold and trinkets.
With the long - too long - awaited final release of the Hammer and Forge Dwarf supplement and the Advanced rules from Ganesha Games, it was an evocative step back into the Battleshed's numerous encounters and campaigns in the world of Songs of Blades and Heroes.
I like Dwarves. Fantasy Dwarves that is. I don't know why. Maybe I unconsciously relate to their archetypical characteristics; stoic, brave, resolute, stubborn. OK, maybe the last one. And I don't have any particular hankering after gold or jewels. Or want to chisel away at rocks thousands of feet underground. I do like real ale though. And often fantasise of being clad in armour, wielding a huge Warhammer. Especially when stuck in traffic.
So you can guess I'm completely chuffed that after a long, tortuous wait the Dwarf faction supplement for the Songs of Blades system has finally been brought to the surface.
Tortuous because there were many intriguing Dwarf-like 'traits', highlighted in earthy brown colours, included in the old warband builder on Ganesha's web site but frustratingly never 'activated'. Especially after my Dwarves, led by the hapless Valgen Maest, have long been battling all sorts of monsters, fell magicians and tribal warriors in local skirmishes and on campaign.
At last, the shackles of Dwarvern trait-restraint have been cleaved off. Now the lads can truly reach for their destiny. They fight hard and, aye, may die. They rage at their enemies who may take their lives, but they'll never take their freedom! Or something like that. Without the blue paint.
And yesterday evening saw the first, tentative shoots of the Dwarvern Renaissance with a small band of the Stouthearts, some new, some familiar, venturing into old ruins (that's new!) seeking a hidden treasure hoard (Oh, come now!).
Sam Pate had brought along a warband mostly comprised of Beastmen. As we've found, it's rather difficult to keep track of a game when using Advanced Song of Blade's Reaction system - there are just too many nuances to the skirmishes now. Instead, I'll provide a completely and unashamedly Dwarf-centric overview of the fight. Or massacre as the Dwarves are calling it.
I have many Dwarves. Most of whom are still holed up in their Lead Mountain. And they are soon to be joined by many others once my Hammer & Forge Kickstarter is delivered. I have so many options now! Reading through the new supplement I can truly start fielding fully functional Runemasters. In fact, I can have Runemaster Grenadiers. And black powder weapons - muskets, handguns. Oh wow! Artillery! And Dwarvern Magic Items, War mounts, Grenades and Battle Tankards!
So much available, so little painted. And that means I'll have to temper my runaway ideas of a dream Dwarvern warband until I've taken a brush to a good few of the lads from the Lead Mountain. Those on the bear mounts are pushing their way to the front of the fantasy miniature paint queue though.
Slightly overwhelmed with the available choices, a very modest 350-point warband limit and my personal rule of not deploying unpainted miniatures (I'm not overly bothered if my opponents do though), I settled on a modest warband of 8 Dwarf mercenaries, led by Dorangrir Heavybraids with his Earthquake Maul.
Joining him was Runemaster Strovrul Greysunder, the musket armed Barivroick Warhorn, crossbowlad Javreal Bloodhelm, Khukheac Greattank with his war-lance and finally three characters moonlighting from Valgen Maest's outfit; Scotti MacIrnbru, Falster Vonlyr and Mistress Loveshields.
Mistress Loveshields, after posing with her tattooed biceps and fluttering long, hairy eyelashes at Strovrul the Runemaster, convinced him to let her play with any Runes that Strovrul actually managed to activate. She fancied herself as a Runestone Grenadier.
The objective was simple enough. Head into the centre of the old ruins, rummage about a bit and hopefully find treasure to keep them in enough ale and Beastmen Steaks until their beards were two long and grey to lift. Oh, and should any Beastmen actually turn up, get a head start on their retirement plans.
The Beastmen turned up. Big, burly, snarling hairy things adorned with battered pieces of mismatched armour. Except their Chaos Warrior leader, who was fully armoured in a cheeky little yellow number. He was accompanied by a Minotaur Guard and a two-headed Ogre. As if one big, ugly head wasn't enough. Definitely over-compensation for something. Four Beastmen warriors bulked out the outfit.
|The Beastmen and allies approach|
Runemaster Greysunder quickly drew three rune-inscribed gemstones from a leather pouch. Each were inscribed with a differing set of markings for which Greysunder had diligently practised their rituals. A gem merchant by trade, but with a interest in the arcane - much to the scandal of his kin - he had only recently turned his long indulged hobby into a new business venture. And this was his first contract as a fully-fledged Runemaster.
The other Dwarves unconsciously sidled away from Greysunder as he placed the three Runestones on the ground. Focusing on the first, he quickly began a deep, reverberating incantation. The etchings started to glow, steadily at first then rapidly increasing into an almost blinding, white-green light aligned with Greysunder's escalating incantations.
Suddenly there was a loud crack. The light vanished to reveal the Runestone broken into pieces and slightly sizzling, a sharp odour of ozone in the air. Damn! Greysunder looked up sheepishly to the jeers of the other Dwarves.
Slightly rattled, he quickly turned to the next Runestone and started the whole process again. This time the gemstone glowed with a lurid, pulsing yellow tinged light. Soon the light bloomed in intensity as Greysunder completed the ritual. Once again, there was a loud crack and sizzle. The light died. A more colourful curse escaped Greysunder's lips. He glanced at his employer, Dorangrir Heavybraids, who was impatiently swinging his Heavy Maul.
|The delightful Mistress Loveshields discussing Runes with Strovrul Gresunder|
Greysunder turned to the last gemstone. He closed his eyes and concentrated as hard as he could. As he began his incant, this time measurably more restrained, the gemstone's inscription flicked into life with a red-orange tinge.
As Greysunder reached the climax of his enchanting the light blazed and then vanished. Greysunder stopped and opened his eyes. Then the runes blazed back into life as quickly as they vanished. This time they held a steady red glow. The ritual was a success.
Mistress Loveshields approached Runemaster Greysunder. He picked up the glowing Runestone and held it towards the Shield-maiden,
"One Runestone ready for use, Miss. It's quite stable,' he said, passing it to her. She hesitantly examined the Rune before pocketing it in a pouch.
"Which, um, rune-magic is this one then?"
"Oh, that's the Rain of Fire. It's quite safe...at least, until you give it Priming Words. You remember what I taught you...?"
"Um, aye Greysunder, I remember."
"Good. Well, just remember not to keep hold of it after it's primed. Health and safety and all that. Mostly my health and safety, but all the same!"
It wasn't long before Heavybraids' lads spotted the two-headed Ogre at the van of the small enemy warband, charging in their direction. It completely ignored the big pile of old glinting armour and curiosities lying on the crumbling dais at the centre of the ruins.
Instead the twin Ogre heads were doing their best to sound like a whole army, roaring defiance and swinging a lethal looking ball and chain in great arcs as it barrelled towards the Dwarves.
|Barivroick Warhorn reloading his Musket|
Unperturbed, Barivroick Warhorn casually moved into position, hefted his polished musket - its stock exquisitely carved with runic symbols, sighted and squeezed the trigger. There was a loud crack and boom. A dense cloud of acrid, chocking smoke bloomed and enveloped the nearest Dwarves who all immediately started to cough and splutter.
As the cloud dispersed on the light wind to a chorus of curses from his comrades, Barivroick smiled. It was a long-range shot but his musket had hit home. The Ogre knocked prone as the musket ball slammed into the creature's thick leather armour. Barivroick rested the weapon's brass-ended butt on the ground and began the long process of reloading the weapon. He pondered awarding it a name. After all, the first time in battle and it had felled an Ogre. An honorific was definitely needed he decided.
|Barivroick Warhorn, Arquebusier, and his musket|
Whilst Barivroick was busy reloading, Javreal Bloodhelm cautiously crept closer to the Ogre, still roaring and thrashing about on the ground. Although wounded, it clearly wasn't out of the fight.
It started to get back up. Javreal quickly shouldered his Repeating crossbow, aimed and loosed the deadly metal bolt. With a sickening thunk the missile impacted deep into the Ogre's chest. It fell back, thrashed some more, and then went still. A cheer erupted from the Dwarvern crew. Except Barivroick, who just looked confused.
|Javreal Bloodhelm after felling the Minotaur Guard with his Repeating Crossbow|
Angered by this early setback, the Chaos Leader ordered the rest of his warband into the attack. He'd had high hopes for the potentially devastating damage of the Ogre's ball and chain, only for it to be almost unfairly undone by one of the damned Dwarves new-fanged trick-weapons.
Both sides soon clashed in a vicious melee. Swords, axes and mauls slamming into armour and shields. Loud metallic clangs, grunts and shouts erupted amongst the ruins. Scotti MacIrnbru and Runemaster Greysunder, his runic duties over, tackled a tall Beastman with a shield whilst Khukheac Greattank bravely intercepted the heavily armoured Chaos leader.
The large, solid Minotaur Guard moved surprisingly quickly on the flank and soon caught crossbow-lad Bloodhelm off guard. It was all the Dwarf could do to parry thundering blows from the Minotaur's scimitar with the crossbow's frame, chunks of wood splintering as the dwarves guard gave way under the onslaught. Heavybraids called for Mistress Loveshields to prime the Runestone whilst Warhorn raced to reload his musket.
|[Right] Crossbow-lad Javreal Bloodhelm in a desperate fight with the Minotaur Guard|
Heavybraids ran forward to try and aid the forlorn crossbow-lad, but it was too late. Bloodhelm lived up to his name, lying prone and unmoving at the Minotaur's clawed feet as it bellowed in triumph.
With a snarl, Heavybraids roared out a few words of enchant and his huge war maul seemed to shimmer. Heavybraids then slammed the maul into the ground at his feet as hard as he could. The ground erupted, shaking and rumbling as the Rune-inscribed Earthquake Maul loosed its magical energies.
Most of the combatants, Dwarves and Beastmen alike, fell down whilst the ground reverberated.
"Now. The Rune!" shouted Heavybraids. Mistress Loveshields, miraculously still standing, stepped from behind a large boulder and lobbed the runic grenade. It landed behind the fallen Minotaur and a Beastsman. The air above crackled as suddenly a rain of blazing shafts of fire burst around them. The fires sizzled and snapped, dancing around the enemy warriors as they struggled to their feet.
But it was too much and the Minotaur was silenced by the magical torrent. The nearby Beastman was badly wounded and roaring with anger as the Rain of Fire quickly dissipated. Barivroick Warhorn levelled his musket once again and aimed at the struggling Beastman. The musket fired. Silencing the enemy as it lay prone and sizzling.
The other combatants hastily got back up and soon resumed fighting. Scotti MacIrnbru and Greysunder were having a tough time with another Beastman, Scotti being knocked down a number of times but he doggedly got back into the fight.
|The fight continues after the Earthquake Maul and Rain of Fire Runestone are unleashed!|
Khukheac Greattank wasn't so lucky. The Chaos leader confidently allowed the Dwarves' lance to scrape across his armour as he stepped under the Dwarves' guard. The Chaos leader slammed the top of his great axes into Greattank's helmet and as the Dwarf staggered back under the blow his foe swung the great axe down.
Witnessing Greattank go down, Falster Vonlyr charged the Chaos leader, joined quickly by a shrieking Mistress Loveshields. The Chaos warlord fought desperately as the Dwarves grunted with effort, raining blows on the enemy leader. Jagged holes appeared in the Chaos warrior's armour as the Dwarvern blades tore into the metal skin. Then it was over. The Chaos leader was felled, Falster's jewel-encrusted axe buried in the splinted remains of the warlord's garish armoured chest.
With the Chaos warlord down along with over half his warband, the remaining Beastmen soon abandoned the fight. All thoughts of collecting any loot gone as they attempted to escape.
Two ran, leaving just the Beastman facing Scotti and Mistress Loveshields. Tiring and now afraid it desperately tried to turn away from the duel, only to be lethally cut down by free hacks from the two Dwarves.
Heavybraids' Dwarves were triumphant! The enemy warband decimated and fleeing. Only two of their valiant warriors were down and the loot haul left completely intact. The Battle Tankards will be brimming in the Dwarf Halls tonight!
Another cracking game of Songs of Blades, greatly enhanced and expanded with the new Advanced rules. My Dwarves are now confident of their chances in a future campaign...