14 Jul 2013

Vampire Counts Tactica - Army Special Rules and Magic

Hey everyone, I'm Learn2Eel and today I want to continue on with my Vampire Counts Tactica! They are my new primary Warhammer Fantasy army and through them I am learning a lot about the game, particularly the sheer importance of the movement phase. For those worried about my Necron Tactica, fear not; I have decided to cover both of these armies at once, so as not to be bogged down if I am struggling with a particular series. I hope you enjoy this article!

Vampire Counts are an army that is very much defined both by their army special rules and their magic; the two go hand in hand with the armies' chances of success in any given game, and memorizing them all is key to victory. The deathly legions are altogether a different foe to the living, lacking the intelligence to flee or the will to remain as the general - or combat - proves unfavourable. That they can never run and cause Fear in all enemies while being Immune to Psychology themselves makes them somewhat forgiving in a sense to beginners, but mastering the uses of these traits does require a deft touch. Understanding how to dominate armies through use of resurrection and forcing fear tests is absolutely pivotal in your efforts to be a triumphant commander, and nowhere is this more apparent than in keeping your general alive; should they die, the army begins to crumble back to the ghastly hollows from whence they came. Truly though, the magics they use to bind their servants together is awe inspiring to say the least, with a well balanced army book Lore that is certainly a necessity in some capacity to any army list; leaving home without at least one wizard that knows the Lore of the Vampires is not only almost impossible, I simply would never recommend trying it. You need the boosts from the augment spells, as well as the capability to resurrect dead models; without them, the army is nothing more than a blunt tool that cannot hold together nor strike the foe down.

Army Special Rules

Undead - What defines this army is also what makes it so appealing to play; every single model in the army, without fail, is part of the ever growing ranks of the dead. This functions very distinctly in gameplay and needs to be kept in mind at all times; all Undead are Unbreakable but Unstable, meaning they will never run away but will suffer more unsaved wounds as a result of lost combats. This means that you must identify which units are designed to tie up enemy units and suffer lots of casualties, and those that are intended to minimize damage and destroy many enemies at a time. The reason for this is that a combo-charge of two such units will likely result in a smart player merely targeting the easily killed models, resulting in a lost combat and the more valuable unit using an excess of valuable wounds as a result. Unless you have found a way to give your weak troops a strong defensive boost, do not ever perform a combo-charge unless it is absolutely necessary; such tactics could lead to the death of a monster or unit of knights with little difficulty. For units that are designed to bleed wounds, taking massive numbers - given their usually ridiculously low cost per model - is recommended, as well as taking cheap upgrades such as standard bearers to add at least four to your static combat resolution and reduce the number of wounds suffered from Unstable. That the army will never run away - at all, as they must also always hold as a charge reaction - means that positioning your units correctly can be both more important but less taxing, as you won't suffer at all from tactics designed to force your units to flee. For a player new to the concepts of Warhammer Fantasy, Vampire Counts can offer a bit of an easier introduction as they ignore a lot of what can break an army at any time, such as a mistimed Fear or Terror test, panic tests or a failed Leadership check. It is also for these reasons that a Battle Standard Bearer is by no means a necessity in the Vampire Counts army as it would normally be with other forces, though it does provide other benefits that justify its inclusion.

Additionally, all Undead are Immune to Psychology as a result of being Unbreakable, meaning they never take Fear or Terror tests; against enemies such as Daemons of Chaos or monsters, this is indeed a great advantage that allows your army to both stay put when needed and not suffer deductions to their Weapon Skill. All Undead themselves, in turn, cause Fear; you need to remember this in every combat, as it gives even your basic infantry - such as Crypt Ghouls - a big advantage if your opponent fails the test. It can also mean the difference between ten lost Zombies and five lost Zombies, if you are lucky; Fear tests are indiscriminate of the unit causing them, thankfully, and so you need to factor in the potential benefits of this in each combat and how to boost its potential. There is yet another drawback to being Undead though; unless they are Vampiric, no Undead model can march unless they are within twelve inches of the army general - and this is not boosted by placing the general on a monster, as would be the case with Inspiring Presence. This places particular importance on keeping your general alive - amongst many reasons - as a mobile force is undoubtedly an effective one, and if you want your army to be engaging the foes you choose, then you need to keep your general near units of particular value.

The Generals of Undeath - For any army in Warhammer Fantasy, losing your general is a pretty hefty blow; typically, they are an expensive character that can take up as much of a quarter of your total army points, and confer additional victory points for their death to an opponent. If that wasn't enough, Undead generals are doubly important and effectively define the force that they lead; if you lose them in the early or middle game, it is almost a guaranteed defeat for the Vampire Counts army. The reason for this is that the Vampire general binds the Undead force together and, with their death, the army begins to crumble back into dust and lifeless flesh. At the end of the phase in which the general perishes, and at the start of any subsequent one of your turns afterwards, each of your units that is not Vampiric must take a Leadership test and, for every point they fail by, they suffer wounds with no saves allowed - similar to their instability in combat. The difference here is that the latter is based off of combat resolution solely, whereas the former actually tests against the typically pitiful Leadership of Undead units; save for the characters, the majority have a Leadership of five or less, meaning they will lose an average of two wounds at the start of each turn. Though many Undead units are taken in large units, this does not discriminate against your elite units such as Black Knights or Terrorgheists; the latter in particular, with a Leadership of four, will lose three of its wounds assuming an average roll per test taken, resulting in its quick and untimely true death.

Come at me bro!
Combined with the inability to march outside of the generals' "inspiring presence" bubble, the protection of your general is of paramount importance; giving them strong saves and a tough bodyguard is near mandatory. Thankfully, a lost general can avert a disaster if you have other magic users in your army; any other spell user with the Lore of the Vampires in the army can take up the reigns on the turn after the generals' death, and while this won't avert the initial wave of "panic", it will stop the effects from continuing. Regardless, Vampire Counts are designed around your general, and so, unlike many other armies, investing your spare points into them is absolutely a good decision, if not a necessity. It is also important to note that the army general must take the Lore of the Vampires, which is just fine anyway as even a Level One wizard taking Invocation of Nehek is very helpful.

Vampire Counts Battle Standards - As per the Undead rules, the value of a battle standard is understandably lessened in a Vampire Counts army; they do not benefit from Hold Your Ground, as they have no Leadership tests to be made. Instead, you pay the same price as other armies to lessen the number of wounds lost in combat which, for an army that is based around resurrecting dead models, can actually be very important. Like with any other battle standard, it adds one to the units' combat resolution; additionally, and uniquely - like Tomb Kings - it also reduces the wounds taken by units within twelve inches of it to instability from both a dead general or a lost combat. In this sense, it can be seen as providing an extra two points of combat resolution for a unit that usually won't win combat, and for others, it is just a bit of extra help to mitigate the damage a bad result can deal. Though it is hardly necessary and the spare points can be better employed elsewhere, it is nonetheless a smart and safe choice, particularly when the bearer is in a unit of great importance and few models - such as a Black Knight unit.

Vampiric - Having been given the Blood Kiss or possessed of some dark magic, Vampiric models are undoubtedly the elite amongst the Undead; typically gifted with great strength and magical power. In the Vampire Counts army, Vampiric models are not restricted much like other Undead; they can always march, which particularly allows Blood Knights and Vargheists to streak across the battlefield unsupported, and they do not suffer wounds as a result of a lost general. Remembering this is key to keeping not only your characters alive, but certain units that would otherwise be forced to ply their trade near the general; Varghulfs and the like really benefit from such freedoms. Some Vampiric models - usually characters only - also have the Hunger special rule, which allows them to regain wounds on a D6 roll of a six at the end of each turn provided they kill an enemy model in that turn. Though it usually won't make too much of a difference, it is a helpful and fluffy characteristic to remember.

Resurrection - Much like their fellow Undead brethren, the Tomb Kings, Vampire Counts are capable of resurrecting dead warriors and either replacing those lost in battle or adding them on to units. Given that the signature spell of the Vampire lore is built around this special rule, knowing how to properly apply it is key; firstly, when wounds would be restored to a unit, models that have suffered wounds regrow wounds first - though this only applies to multiple wound models. After this, the champion, and then the musician - but not the standard bearer - are resurrected as part of the unit, followed by rank and file models up to the starting total of the unit. Any models that cannot be placed due to proximity with impassable terrain or enemy units are instead treated as excess and ignored, placing some importance on the positioning of your units to receive the signature spell. Barring specific exceptions, models added to the unit cannot take it above its original size, and nor can characters or mounts be healed - if they are joined to a unit, rank and file models are replenished instead. Of course, this is because such models can be healed through the Lore Attribute, but that is another matter entirely. Regardless of the effectiveness of each unit in the army, the ability to resurrect any models you lose - unless a unit is completely wiped out - is an invaluable tool that effectively allows Vampire Counts to field the most 'numerous' armies in the game. Additionally, that they can heal wounds and restore dead models allows them to tie up enemy units better than any other army barring perhaps their fellow Tomb Kings, and it is such that many Vampire units should not be looked at solely for damage potential but for their capabilities in holding enemy units up indefinitely.

Lore of the Vampires

All your base are belong to me!
The Lore of the Vampires is a balanced magic lore with a focus on augmenting your typically pitiful units into respectable melee blocks, and providing either light or gradually more deadly damage to enemies both directly and indirectly. It is also the nexus through which dead models are resurrected, with entirely new units being created potentially or a signature spell that restores a good number of both wounds and models to friendly units within a nicely scaling bubble. As taking at least one wizard with this lore is mandatory, you may as well make the most of it; the most useful spells are undoubtedly the augments, including the signature spell, and it is not unheard of to take a mass of spell casters all rolling for the first two spells or taking the signature if they fail to get them. The army is very much magic reliant and so taking options designed to dominate the magic phase - or characters, in the case of Count Mannfred - is a very valid option.

The Curse of Undeath (Lore Attribute) -When considering that Undead characters cannot have wounds restored from the Invocation like other models, players will understandably be pleased to see that the Lore Attribute offers exactly what the Signature doesn't. Each time a Vampires spell is successfully cast, you can either restore a single wound to the wizard or restore a single wound to another model within a twelve inch radius of the caster. Considering that the characters in this army are what binds it together and keeps it running at peak efficiency, this is incredibly useful for keeping your typically tough characters alive for that much longer. That it can also heal wounds on models such as Crypt Horrors or Terrorgheists makes it quite the valuable tool; the latter in particular, which becomes more effective based on its current wounds, benefits significantly from this. It also provides a good reason to invest in higher magic levels even on your combat characters; a good armour and ward save is always helpful, but the ability to restore wounds may outweigh them against certain enemies.

Invocation of Nehek (Signature) - For most magic lores, the signature spell is often a decently powerful spell with varied uses; good as a back-up option if you roll up a spell that doesn't suit your circumstances. For Vampire Counts, however, it is the lifeblood of the army and at least one is required at any points level. The resurrection potential inherent in the army draws almost solely from this spell, and it thus isn't surprising that many players will take multiple hero-level wizards just to get multiple instances of the Invocation. In the context of the army, it truly is one of the most useful signature spells that can be found in any army book, or even amongst the rulebook lores; the value of a minimally equipped level one wizard, such as a bare Necromancer, is justified by this spell. It is an augment with three different tiers suited to your needs, each of which targets all friendly units within a certain radius and possesses a casting value congruent to the distance in inches covered. The first has a radius of six inches and subsequently needs a six or higher to cast, while the second and third are twelve and eighteen inches - and casting values - respectively.

Wounds are restored to each unit within the bubble as per the Resurrection rules, with exceptions based on the specific unit type for each affected unit. Infantry receive D6 plus the casters' wizard level in wounds, while all other unit types receive one plus the casters' wizard level in wounds. Vampiric units, such as Vargheists and Blood Knights, can only ever have one wound restored to them in each casting; given that they are units consisting of more than one model or wound, this is a very important limitation to remember if ever you feel particularly reckless. The restrictions on unit type also encourage higher wizard levels when you place spell casters in or near elite units such as Black Knights or Crypt Horrors, though if you want to spread the Invocations throughout the army, you always need to consider the limits of power dice generation.

I'm Vanhel. Can't you tell?
Vanhel's Danse Macabre - The Undead are often described as slow and plodding, and this is true of any that fall outside the range of their general or lack the Vampiric special rule themselves. Given that mobility and positioning are key elements to Warhammer Fantasy, as well as selecting your engagements, it comes as no surprise that one of the strongest spells available to Vampires is one that affords a free movement to a unit. With a low casting value of six, Vanhels is arguably the best spell in the Lore of the Vampires; targeting a single friendly unit within twelve inches, it affords them a free out-of-sequence movement of up to eight inches. Though the most obvious use of this is to get a friendly unit closer to the enemy very quickly, two of the trickier uses of the spell involve units such as Hexwraiths and Terrorgheists. Hexwraiths are allowed to 'sweep' through a unit a second time when moved by Vanhels, while the extra mobility buffer can get a Terrorgheist into position to stay out of combat and shoot at the enemy untouched.

However, Vanhels provides another benefit that can't be ignored; it grants re-rolls to hit in combat to the unit it affects, and when combined with units such as Ghouls or Blood Knights who have either poisoned attacks or high strength attacks, it can boost any given units' combat potential significantly. To really make the most of the spell, and the fact that outside of a magic item you can't take it twice in an army, you can also boost the spell so that it instead affects every unit within twelve inches, doubling its casting value to share the joy of boosted movement and re-rolls to everyone. If you have the dice spare and the caster is in the middle of your formation, casting the boosted version is certainly a great idea; just be aware that most enemies will know full well the power of this spell, and of denying its use at every turn.

Hellish Vigour - A contrast to the arguably lesser effect of Vanhels, this is a spell that provides a combat boost to your units and will prove more valuable for certain units than others. Whereas Vanhels suits units such as Ghouls or Blood Knights more because of poison or high strength attacks, Hellish Vigour, by providing re-rolls to wound, is more suited to units with medium Strength that bear Killing Blow attacks, such as Grave Guard or Black Knights. Still, regardless of the unit, providing any of your forces - even your lowly Crypt Ghouls - with either Hellish Vigour or Vanhels turns them into a far more effective combat unit, and should you cast both on a unit, they will become incredibly cost effective in melee. This is the theme of the Vampire Counts book, the synergy of resurrection as well as augments and how they interact with each given unit; the army is naturally magic dependent, and can be a destructive tide of numberless bodies fighting above their place.

Much like Vanhels, Hellish Vigour has a lowly casting value of eight and affects a single unit within twelve inches; however, should the spellcaster be positioned appropriately, a boosted version that instead targets all friendly units within twelve inches may be more suitable. This does double the casting value however, and typically the Undead army will have one true combat block that can actually do the killing; lest they be backed by both augments as well as a Corpse Cart, Zombies or Skeletons likely won't worry most enemies all too much. Still, it is an invaluable augment to be cast on any of your combat units when the need is there; when boosted by buffs, the Vampire forces become more than just bodies to be sacrificed to greedy enemies.

I can smell you.
Gaze of Nagash - As might seem mandatory to any spell lore native to an army book, the Gaze of Nagash is a decent magic missile that sports both a low casting value of nine and some decent damage potential. With 2D6 Strength four hits, you can knock a wound or two off of a monster, or slay a few elite warriors outright. It isn't anything special, but it doesn't have to be; it is there as a decent spell that gives your wizard some extra punch, and it may even coax an opponent into defending a valuable unit so as to cast your more important augment spells. A range of twenty four inches is very serviceable, and unless you need to get some early kills, the boosted version is unnecessary for this very reason; boosting the casting value from nine to twelve isn't too big a gap, and it does double the range. However, on typical game boards, this typically won't be necessary; of course, it is important to note that for a wizard hanging out in the backfield or on larger boards - or irregular deployments - this does come into play a lot more, as a forty eight inch range is certainly useful at any stage of the game. If you aren't a fan of the other powers in this lore, the Gaze is a simple and cost effective spell that you really can't go wrong with.

Raise Dead - As one would expect from an Undead army, the Lore of the Vampires allows you to not only resurrect your fallen warriors, but create entirely new units of the recently deceased; Zombies or Skeletons, all driven by a dark hunger. The basic spell provides you with 2D6 plus three models worth of Zombies, which are then easily added to with successful castings of Invocation of Nehek - giving your army a free and potentially large denial unit if you have the spells ready. The casting value of nine is low enough for this spell to work in tandem with Invocation and the augments, though typically such spells are better saved for units such as Ghouls and Wights (Grave Guard and Black Knights). However, if you either possess the Master of the Dead upgrade or feel that Skeletons will make for a steadier tarpit, then boosting the casting value to fourteen to bring out the bony warriors is certainly a strong possibility. Ultimately, which unit you create may just come down to what models you have available; as you would expect, there is no way to place models you don't have, and proxies likely won't be allowed in this case. When the chosen unit is summoned, it must be placed within eighteen inches of the caster, facing in any direction and in any formation - so long as the front rank is five wide - and no victory points are conceded by the units' probable demise. Though they may not damage much, they are a unit that your opponent likely can't ignore; Archers and the like would certainly be vulnerable to a raised unit, particularly if they lack the numbers sufficient to deal with the Undead. A strong spell that I would always take provided I had the models to use for summoning; my personal preference on which unit to summon would be Zombies, as they do not require an upgrade to take beyond their starting size and adding models is done at twice the rate to which models are added to Skeletons.

Curse of Years - No magic lore would be complete without a remains in play spell, and no Undead general would be satisfied without a way to bring the mortals into the embrace of death through time. A hex that can be used on an enemy unit within eighteen inches, the Curse of Years affects every model over the unit and continues to degrade their bodies as the turns go by. It initially is not a scary spell, as each model must roll a D6 and on a six they suffer a wound with no armour saves allowed. However, as each magic phase - friend or foe - draws to a close, the D6 result required to inflict a wound decreases by one; at the end of your opponent's magic phase, a five is needed, and at the end of your subsequent magic phase, a four is required. Provided there is a unit left, or that your opponent wisens up, the maximum score is understandably a two, but by that time the unit would likely have been all but annihilated; for armies such as Warriors of Chaos that employ expensive heavily armoured troops, this spell can be an absolute nightmare if it isn't dispelled early on. Luckily for most opponents, the casting value is twelve and as such it isn't too difficult to dispel; the problem for your opponent is that it isn't particularly difficult to cast either. Essentially, if it isn't dispelled either immediately or in your opponents magic phase, you can reliably expect to wipe out almost two thirds of an entire unit provided they lack ward or regeneration saves, or if they have multiple wounds. For armies that employ large blobs of elite warriors or even puny slaves, this can be a potent horde deterrent that opponents would be foolish not to dispel. Of course, as with Gaze of Nagash, I would always say that the augments - particularly Invocation of Nehek - take precedence in this lore, particularly as your characters and monsters can do a lot of damage themselves.

Wind of Death - Remember what I said about Curse of Years and a mandatory remains in play spell? Well, the Lore of the Vampires has not one, but two of them; exciting, to say the least. Unfortunately, this is also where the high casting value of fifteen starts to make you wonder whether you will have enough dice to cast your necessary augments, including the Invocation. For an army that often requires multiple spell casters to maintain its numbers, casting 'super spells' such as this and Curse of Years can be pretty taxing; you get a nasty damage spell, of course, but you must ask yourself whether it is worth sacrificing dice likely better spent on the augments such as Vanhels. If you do have the spare dice though, this can be quite a powerful spell; it is a magical vortex that is initially maneuvered by the wizard and propelled forward quickly, but is then left to wander in random directions. Any unit that is touched by the template takes D3 automatic hits with a Strength of three for each rank passed over, with no armour saves allowed; though not as brutal as the Purple Sun of Xereus, this is still a handy spell that can shear models off of deep infantry, such as Skaven or Goblins. The Strength of three is middling, but ignoring armour saves certainly isn't; I would say that it isn't too reliable at killing off more elite models such as Chaos Warriors, though the relatively low casting value of fifteen reflects this.

And then........And then.....An "SHUT UP"
As you would expect, a misfire for the initial artillery role results in the vortex being centred on the caster and scattered randomly, and any subsequent misfire causes the vortex to disappear. If you are feeling really dicey and have spare power dice - try Storm of Magic with either Heinrich Kemmler or Count Mannfred if you want to know the true meaning of magic dominance - then you should consider the boosted version with a whopping casting value of twenty five. It functions almost identically to the regular vortex, save that it is double the size and inflicts hits at Strength four, boosting its damage potential by a sizeable amount. Of course, this also serves to make it much riskier if it affects your own models; wights in particular dread the presence of the Wind of Death. However, it is as this point that I begin to question whether the Purple Sun would be a more attractive option; Initiative values are typically low in Warhammer Fantasy, and a vortex that slays outright is just so much more frightening to units such as Ogres or monsters. Ultimately, this is a random nuke spell that I feel is the weakest in the lore because it doesn't really offer great damage for its high casting value; it isn't a bad spell by any means, but you need to save your power dice for the many augments that have to be cast for the army not to crumble and die.

Did you find this an enjoyable and insightful article? Please let us know in the comments section below - we appreciate any and all feedback!


  1. Woot! Vampire Counts for the win! I can't wait to see more of your tactica pages covering my Vampiric brothers. Kain would approve if he exsisted.

    "I stay open for no man during these dark times. Things come from places that no saying man would welcome..."

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