Hey guys, I'm Learn2Eel and today I am going to be taking a quick look at the Vampire Counts army book. I've wanted to do a Tactica series for my primary Warhammer Fantasy army for a while, but logistical - for lack of a better term - reasons have deterred any progress there. I think the Tyranid Initial Unit Review article was pretty well received, and this will also give me a good kick-starter for a future Tactica series. I hope you enjoy this article! This is Part 2 of the Unit Overview series.
Skeletal Steed - These are essentially Empire Warhorses with even worse Weapon Skill and Initiative, though they still thankfully retain Movement 8. The twist here is the Spectral Steeds special rule that gives them the Ethereal special rule for moving only and ignore the movement penalty for barding, though the rule is ignored if a character mounted on anything other than a Skeletal Steed is in the same unit. Ethereal movement allows Skeletal Steeds to ignore dangerous terrain - one of the big downsides to cavalry usually - while being able to boost the armour save provided to their rider and not being slowed is a big boon. Unfortunately, Skeletal Steeds are usually the domain of units that will likely be joined by characters mounted on Barded Nightmares; Vampires and Vampire Lords. There are a number of reasons for this that I will discuss in the Black Knight section, but for now, know only that Skeletal Steeds are a great "warhorse" equivalent.
Nightmare - Just as the Skeletal Steed is an Undead Warhorse, the Nightmare is an Undead Chaos Steed with the same Strength and Toughness 4, though the Weapon Skill and Initiative are inferior as expected. This mount is the domain of Vampiric characters and Necromancers and is available either with or without barding depending on which of those models is purchasing the Nightmare. An extra Strength 4 attack at Weapon Skill 3 is never a bad thing, especially as Nightmares are basically the same cost as other horse-type steeds. These do tend to get mixed in with Skeletal Steeds and thus deny their Spectral Steed special rule, but that doesn't in any way detract from the uses of this Movement 8 horse.
Hellsteed - Identical in almost every way to a Nightmare, but it trades the potential for Barding with the Fly special rule. At roughly double the cost of a Barded Nightmare for a hero-level Vampire, the Hellsteed is billed as a mini Great Eagle, essentially. Unfortunately, a Great Eagle this is not. This is not a monstrous mount and aside from giving Toughness 4 to a hero Necromancer it does not provide stat boosts to characters through the monstrous mount rules. There is no Stomp attack, or even three Strength 4 attacks with a mere one included. While a flying mount for a Vampire is a lot scarier than a flying mount for an Elf, the high cost of Vampires and Vampire Lords makes it a far riskier tactic to employ, especially as they lack the numbers or defensive items of those pesky Elves. You can't really afford to use such characters in suicidal roles, or even as chaff because they are far more pivotal to the functionality of an Undead army than a throw-away cheap Elf character might be. The Hellsteed just isn't as useful as it could be because of this, unfortunately.
Abyssal Terror - A flying mini monster along the same lines as a Varghulf, the Abyssal Terror is both mobile and packs in a decent punch even with only three Weapon Skill 4 Strength 5 attacks at Initiative 2. This is because of the always lovely Strength 5 thunderstomp, as well as causing Terror in the few instances where it might come in handy. With no saves of any kind and a mere four wounds at Toughness 5, the Abyssal Terror is essentially a cheaper Griffon that loses quite a bit in the exchange and swaps potential Always Strikes First for a Poisoned Attacks upgrade. This wouldn't be a bad choice if it could be taken on its own, but alas, it is restricted to your Master Necromancers and Vampire Lords as a mount option. You'll find very few monster mounts that are worthwhile nowadays because of the strength and prevalence of both magic and war machines, and putting an expensive and especially pivotal (for Undead) general on there is never a good idea.
Terrorgheist - I don't want to talk too much about this beast of a unit before the independent unit review, but I'll quickly go over the basics anyway. The Terrorgheist is a Toughness 6, six wound monster that has mediocre combat stats with four Strength 5 attacks at Initiative 3, but makes up for this - and a lack of any saves aside from 6+ Regeneration - with one of the nastiest shooting attacks in the game. The Death Shriek basically works by rolling 2D6 and adding the current number of wounds the Terrogheist has - remember that they start with 6 - and comparing the total result against the Leadership of the target enemy unit. For every point the number exceeds their Leadership by, the unit suffers an armour-ignoring automatic wound that counts as magical. Yikes! The Terrorgheist is one of the best monsters in the game and probably the best Rare choice available to Vampire Counts. However, it can also be taken as a monster mount for Strigoi Ghoul Kings. I rarely recommend taking monster mounts for characters, particularly very expensive ones like Ghoul Kings, and this case is no different. The Terrogheist doesn't want to get into combat generally, while the Ghoul King does. The combo will break units for sure, but it is ridiculously expensive and not very survivable. You can try the funny Skabscrath and Curse of the Revenant combo to make your Ghoul King a miniature Terrorgheist, though you are just better off taking a solo Terrorgheist in all circumstances.
Zombie Dragon - Your mostly standard Dragon that follows the rough profile of a Moon Dragon, the Zombie Dragon trades some stats for a unique breath weapon and what can most accurately be described as the Mark of Nurgle. Compared to a typical Dragon, a Zombie Dragon has -2 Weapon Skill, -1 Initiative and -4 Leadership, while its Scaly Skin save is 5+ instead of 3+. This is a serpent with weaker combat and defensive stats, though the Leadership change doesn't really matter as it will be ridden by a Leadership 10 Vampire Lord who should be harder to kill than the mount, surprisingly. The breath weapon isn't as good as it initially appears, as the usual Strength 4 Flaming Breath Weapon already has a -1 armour save modifier. Trading that for Strength 2 with a -3 modifier instead just isn't a good trade off I feel, unless you can combine it with spells such as Soulblight or the Withering to reduce the Toughness of your opponents. Losing Flaming can be considered a buff or not depending on whether you regularly face foes with Regeneration or with +2 ward saves against Flaming Attacks, so I'll just consider it a wash.
The -1 to hit modifier against all enemy models in base contact is what really sets the Zombie Dragon apart, however; this means that unless an opponent has a +1 to hit modifier aof some kind, the best a Zombie Dragon can be hit on is a 4+ which does somewhat help to make up for its weaker scaly skin save. But the real benefit goes to the rider, the Vampire Lord; a Weapon Skill 7 combat character with a -1 to hit modifier against them and a probable 2+ armour save and 4+ ward save is scary as heck, especially when their damage output is among the most insane of any melee character. The Zombie Dragon is also significantly cheaper than the standard Dragon, making it a much more viable option than its living counterparts. As much as I do like this, however, the already insanely high cost of a Vampire Lord combined with the poor monster mount rules do hold this back from being as good a choice as it really could be.
Coven Throne - A themed Lhamian choice and the only chariot available as a character mount for Vampire Counts, the Coven Throne is very expensive but does do a lot for its points. For defence it has five wounds at Toughness 5 with a 5+ armour save and 4+ ward save, making it incredibly survivable for a chariot. As far as offence is concerned, it brings four Weapon Skill 5, Strength 5 and Initiative 5 attacks from its two Pallid Handmaidens that uniquely have Always Strikes First, while an extra 2D6 Strength 3 attacks with poor stats come from the Spirit Horde pulling the chariot along. Its D6 Impact Hits are resolved at Strength 5 and once factoring in the Vampire or Vampire Lord on top, the Coven Throne certainly dishes out damage at a surprising rate. The Spectral Steeds special rule means the Coven Throne ignores terrain - including the dangerous kind - completely, while it even has a Bound Spell with a 3+ casting requirement that provides either re-rolls to hit or re-rolls to wound to all attacks generated by the Coven Throne and its "rider". Throw in Movement 8 on the Spirit Horde pulling the Throne along and it would be reasonable to assume you are already getting a lot of value out of the points, but that isn't all.
The Battle of Wills special rule forces both the Coven Throne and the unit(s) striking it to roll a D6 and add their respective Leadership values, with the throne either using its native Leadership 7 or that of its rider (so ten for a Vampire Lord). If the Coven Throne scores higher, a nasty effect is applied to the enemy unit(s) depending on how much the Coven Throne won by. With mostly Leadership 9 and 10 throughout the meta due to Inspiring Presence and various other special rules, the chances of winning aren't always that great unless you stick a Vampire Lord on there. From there, it will mostly just come down to who rolls higher; if you manage to get the best result where the enemy unit(s) attack themselves, your Coven Throne will be free to mop up the remnants. I am a fan of this, especially as a Lahmian player, but the cost is nonetheless exorbitant even if I feel it is worth that cost. If it was available without requiring a Vampire rider, much like the Zombie Dragon, I would recommend it in a heart beat. Again though, riding a monster or a chariot, even if both mount and rider have a 4+ ward save, is just too risky with the sheer power and ubiquity of cannons and stone throwers. The Coven Throne is yet another unfortunate victim of the 8th Edition rule set rather than its own rules. Also keep in mind that even with the Vampiric special rule the Coven Throne is a chariot and thus can never march.
A lot of the mounts here either aren't as good as they could be or just suffer from being paired up with overly expensive characters and the currently terrible monster and chariot mount rules. However, the Skeletal Steed and Nightmare remain great choices, making a clear statement that cheap and reliable is more than fine.
Zombies - If there was ever a title for "most pathetic unit in Warhammer Fantasy", then Zombies would own it, no question. With 1s across most of their stats and only Strength and Toughness 3 keeping any semblance of their previous life, these models are so bad that they actually combine Always Strikes Last with Initiative 1. Yikes! No weapon options, no armour, no saves outside of a supporting Mortis Engine - nothing. As terrible as they are, they actually fit very well with Vampire Counts as one of the cheapest per model units in the game that can also take both a musician and standard bearer. You can use these as ridiculously cheap bunkers, infinitely deep anvils or as cheesy "darts". As Undead, Unbreakable and Immune to Psychology mean these guys will crumble by the dozen, but larger units will generally have a static four combat resolution with three ranks and a banner. It helps that these guys raise back 2D6+Wizard Level rather than the usual D6+Wizard Level, and can always be raised above their starting unit size.
If you want a tarpit unit then Zombies are the cheapest and most efficient when resurrection is considered. While the Core choices of a Vampire Counts army won't really do much damage on their own and Zombies embody this, they fulfill the role of a tarpit or anvil about as well as you could hope for considering their cost. If you view them in this way alone and run them in medium or small units to be raised beyond their starting size, is there really that much to complain about? Well, yes, sort of. This unit will bleed combat resolution and should never combo-charge with anything due to the way combat resolution with Unstable units functions, while trying to charge it will see it take two full rounds of casualties and crumbling before a friendly caster can raise them back up. The problem for Zombies is that even with the 2D6+Wizard Level resurrection they tend to die quicker than they can be raised back up, reducing their value as true tarpit units. Their inability to do damage against almost anything makes them super narrow in role, and that is a role that relies on spell casters to function properly. You could make this argument for other Vampire Counts units, but Zombies will disappear in the blink of an eye if their baby-sitting Necromancer dies. Skeletons and Ghouls are at least somewhat more self-sufficient through their defensive stats.
Skeleton Warriors - At first glance, Skeletons are better than Zombies in every way for the cost. They get a 5+ armour save and 6+ parry save stock, have +1 to most of their stats excluding Strength and Toughness, and are only a few points more per model. What's not to like? Well Skeletons are still pathetic compared to other regular Core choices in terms of offensive potential with their reliance on the various components of the Undead special rule still as severe as for Zombies. Unbreakable, Unstable and Immune to Psychology are what define this unit, as well as their 5+ armour and 6+ parry. This means they will lose models at quite a slower rate to Zombies, but balance this out by both being slightly more expensive and having less effective resurrection. Skeletons are raised back D6+Wizard Level and cannot be taken beyond their starting unit size, unless one of your (Master) Necromancers takes a one-per-army upgrade, Master of the Dead.
Crypt Ghouls - At double the cost of a Skeleton Warrior, the Crypt Ghoul has stats more reminiscent of a standard Empire Core warrior. The major difference here is that a Ghoul is Toughness 4, though this comes at the cost of saving throws. Ghouls make up for their apparent deficiency compared to such units with two Poisoned attacks each that, combined with Fear, tend to make them efficient at killing either monsters or weak Core units. They won't stand up to the likes of Chaos Warriors even with magical support, but they will hack through Empire Spearmen quite easily. They raise back at the same rate as Skeleton Warriors but can never be taken beyond their starting size; pair this up with their high cost per model and Ghouls aren't exactly the most efficient unit in the book. Of course, Weapon Skill 3 and Initiative 3 as well as actually decent damage potential means these grave-robbers won't be losing combat as badly as those other Core units. On their own Ghouls are very expensive Core models that are best used as a secondary or supporting combat block, but can be used to take on units of a similar cost through the use of spells from the Lore of the Vampires like Van Hels Danse Macabre or Hellish Vigour. In my experience they are far too reliant on magic to justify their rather exorbitant cost and simply don't compare to combat units of a similar cost, often even with those buffs in consideration. The fact that Ghouls can't take any command options aside from a champion is also rather damning, losing them a point of static combat resolution and preventing them from performing swift reforms.
Dire Wolves - War Beasts with no saves, mediocre combat stats and the all the juicy benefits of being Undead, Dire Wolves are surprisingly the best Core unit in the book because they are the best chaff unit available in the slot. An army built primarily around death-stars and loads of chaff loves having Core Dire Wolves that have both innate Vanguard and Movement 9. Combined with Swiftstride as War Beasts, Dire Wolves are decent war machine hunters and mage assassins, while various formations such as the "dart" can be used to great effect with them. They aren't much cheaper than Crypt Ghouls and are an inferior unit both defensively and offensively, but their sheer speed and value as chaff units due to their minimum five model unit size and insane speed make them the strongest choice available. I recommend combining multiple Dire Wolf and Zombie, Skeleton or Ghoul units to fill up your Core points and overflow the Deployment phase, providing you with lots of cheap drops to out-deploy your opponent. If you run something like a Grave Guard death-star with the Banner of the Barrows or a Vampire "Blender" Lord attached to a unit of Black or Blood Knights, then multiple units of Dire Wolves are a necessity as your cheapest chaff unit. Speaking personally, while these units rarely do much of anything in the game itself for me, running four units of them in addition to other chaff means I can always outdeploy my opponent and gain an early tactical advantage. The only negative here is the inability to march outside of the General's 12" bubble, but it isn't enough to take away from how useful this unit.
While Zombies and Skeletons are tarpit units and should be seen solely as that, they need a lot of support - the former unit in particular - to fulfill that role effectively, as cheap as they are. They aren't points-efficient units and both have their own quirks, but generally they don't really compare to rival Core units from other army books. Crypt Ghouls are very expensive and built as more of a combat block, but are relegated to a supporting role that is reliant on buffs to be turned into a damaging melee unit. Dire Wolves however are a cheap chaff unit that always gets the job done and surprisingly ends up being the best choice available because of how necessary chaff is to an effective Vampire Counts army list.
that's a wrap, everybody! I am intrigued to hear if you guys like these
kinds of summary articles ala my original Chaos Space Marines Tactica'
playing out as introductions to the full-on Tactica Series' themselves. I
also would like to see how each individual unit has been performing for
you in your own Vampire Count armies; have the Undead been effective
servants for you, or just pathetic imitations of their living
counter-parts? Thanks for the support, and I hope you have a nice day!