It has been over 15 years since the Vampire Counts of 6th Edition Warhammer Fantasy have ridden across a battlefield for me, but for the undead time holds little change. “The Laws of Undeath“, as the rules called them, made the Vampire counts army a frightening opponent in more ways than one.
Their lack of ability to march, or move at double their normal rate, unless within 12″ of their General meant the mass of troops made a slow shamble toward their opponent. Of course, many opponents didn’t use this time wisely to pepper the undead with missile fire, instead closing with the Counts’ army only to realize at the last moment that close combat is exactly where the undead wanted to be.
As it says on tin, Cause Fear, was a staple ability of all undead units. Forcing any unit being charged by a fear causing unit or wishing to charge a fear causing unit to take a Psychology Test, basically a 2d6 roll vs the Leadership statistic of the troops or their nearby leader. Failure could result in a unit failing to charge or shoot during their turn or require 6’s to hit during their first turn of close combat. It also could automatically break a defeated unit in close combat if the loser’s unit strength was less than the victor’s.
Further, being undead granted the Vampire Counts’ units the linked abilities of Immune to Psychology and Immune to Break Tests. The former exempting them from worrying about the effects of Panic, Terror, Frenzy, Stubborn, Fear, Stupidity and Hatred during play. In short, rendering the nifty bag of tricks many other armies brought to the table just so much fluff in the description block instead.
The latter ability of being unbreakable caused units to mire the battlefield with minefields of attrition. They would take an additional wound for every point the Vampire Count unit lost a combat by and which was not preventable by saves. On the surface this extra damage seems like a fair trade, however that loss was often short lived due to Necromancy spells such as the Invocation of Nehek which could create between 1D6, 2D6 and 3D6 Skeletons or Zombies with a casting difficulty of 3+, 7+ and 11+ respectively. Every turn.
The achilles heel of the Vampire Counts army lay in their reliance on the General to be on the field of battle. Once destroyed, every undead unit is required to take a Leadership test or suffer a number of wounds equal to the failure amount. This is further bad news because undead troops are not exactly what you would call, leadership material in and of themselves with Skeletons and Zombies having a 3 and 2 out of 10 respectively.
This vulnerability however is wrapped in an extremely dangerous package such as the dreaded Mannfred von Carstein. Riding a barded Nightmare steed, this legendary count is expensive to field, extraordinarily difficult to kill and just plain dangerous to be around. His Cloak of Darkness provides a 3+ ward save just in case his toughness of 5 doesn’t keep him safe enough from the raging battle. He carries the Sword of Unholy Power which grants a extra magic dice to cast spells with on the following round, every time he takes an unsaved wound.
Von Carstein is also Level 4 wizard and wields the Ebony Staff which grants an extra free Necromancy spell cast each turn. Combined with his sword, described above, means Mannfred can unleash a serious amount of Necromantic firepower both at range and up close. Being the highest level of wizard possible, he will always have 4 of the 6 available Necromantic spells at his disposal and will be using probably two of them every turn.
He can summon fresh troops with the always available Invocation of Nehek, or use it to heal himself and others. With Hand of Dust, he can reduce himself to a single attack, rather than his bewildering normal 5, but that attack kills any model instantly with no armor save. His enemies better have brought their ward saves or doom is waiting.
For foes that try to stay out of reach, he can direct the Gaze of Nagash at a target within 24″ and cause 2D6 Strength 4 hits as a magic missile. Also at range, he can inflict the Curse of Years, causing every model in a unit to roll a D6 and suffer a wound on a result of 6 until the spell is dispelled.
If von Carstein so wishes, he can also enhance his numerous shambling hordes with Hellish Vigour, providing a first strike attack, or Vanhel’s Danse Macabre to allow a sudden 8″ charge.
Lest his opponent think that fielding their own mighty wizard is enough to bottle the wily Count, he also packs some nifty tricks just for carrying the von Carstein moniker that can’t be dispelled. Once per game he can summon D3 Dire Wolves that can enter from any table edge, a nasty surprise for any rear echelon lurkers. Being the center of attention and boasting a personality to match, von Carstein also has a longer than normal Leadership range of 18″ instead of 12″ which can catch many opponents off balance when they thought a undead unit was vulnerably away from their fearless leader.
His most powerful inherent ability is Call Winds, which requires him to remain stationary but then subjects the entire battlefield to a -1 shooting penalty and grounds all flying units, forcing them to move at their ground speed and contend with normal rules for obstacles, scenery and turning. This grants his troops a reprieve from pesky ranged fire and brings those high and mighty eagle riding elves out of the clouds.
The hordes of undead have graced the Warhammer Fantasy battlefield for many editions and caused much consternation about how to thwart their nihilistic plans. Despite changes in specific rules they have always provided genre appropriate fun, at least for the devious player at the helm. While the troops are far from the best fighters and have a few tactical limitations, the one thing they are is reliable. They will march on until the end of time forcing an opponent to kill every last one of them.