Welcome to this weeks episode of Optimal Game State.
In today’s episode we’re going to do something a little different. With Halloween around the corner I thought we’d look at a horror themed scenario. In this case, we’re going to look at one of the old Warhammer classics Terror of the Lichemaster.
In this article, I’ll take some time to look over the background and how the mini-campaign played out. It’s actually in the format of a 3 battle Campaign Arc that we’re familiar with from Warcry. Then in the last part, we’ll see how a close a version we could put together using the Warcry rules.
“Terror of the Lichemaster” was a mini-campaign written by Rick Priestley for the Warhammer Fantasy wargame. It was first published by Games Workshop in 1986 for the second edition of the game and introduced the character of Heinrich Kemler a powerful Necromancer and his undead champion Krell.
Kemler appears on and off throughout the various editions and only meets his eventual demise when Games Workshop finally ends the old world. This is the start of his story. As an aside, Kemler is named after the real life villain Heinrich Kramer, author of the Malleus Maleficarum. The older GW works tend to have references and jokes like this and this book is packed with them.
At this point Heinrich Kemler, once known as The Lichemaster, is a broken man. In his earlier years he was a powerful necromancer and spent years seeking powerful artefacts and lore. More recently he was badly beaten by a group of his rivals, other Necromancers and Vampires jealous of his abilities. Now he travels as a confused hermit begging for a living in the Grey Mountains. It is there in the shadow of Frugelhorn Mountain that he finds the tomb of the legendary Warrior Krell, an infamous champion of the Gods of Chaos. Pushing himself to the edge of death, Kemler uses his dark magic to raise Krell.
It succeeds, raising Krell as a Wight Lord. Seeing Kemler on the brink of death, Krell invokes the Chaos gods to restore him and offers Kemler even more power should be swear to the same Dark gods. The Lichemaster then becomes this weird aberration, he is a Necromancer sworn to Chaos. The Chaos gods grant him seven more days of life and more days and more power for each soul he should dedicate to them. His first task then, is to travel down from the mountain and kill everyone in the nearby village of Frugelhofen.
This is second edition Warhammer so the game has a lot more roleplaying elements that a straight war game. So you have a lot more about the background and motivations of the factions. It also encourages the use of a Gamemaster, a third party to help run the games. It also has elements of historical wargames, the three battles already have set armies to play rather than letting you bring your own army. So it’s an opportunity to play through the story rather than a way to test your enemy. The campaign is a series of 3 battles, a battle against a dwarfs at a mine, an attack against a farm, and finally the attack on the village.
Warcry campaigns are ongoing ones that are specific to the warband themselves. So you can play hundreds of games and keep developing you warband and someone who has picked up there first box can still play against you. Within that format, you have the Campaign arcs. Each campaign arc we’ve seen has has it’s own approach, but broadly these are a chain of connected games. The Path of Ven Talax is the one in the core rulebook that has two players playing across 3 games. As this is part of a campaign, players will receive the normal benefits from winning or losing in terms of glory, renown, and magic artefacts.
As Warcry games are pretty fast you can get through 3 games in an evening or maybe at a more casual pace on a Weekend. Having a chain of games like this that are narratively connected is a great way to have a little more fun. One thing I particularly like about this format is the battleplans are pre-planned and already known. So each player can work out what would the best warband would be and how to organise that warband into the three battlegroups.
Lets have a look and see how the campaign played out
The first battle is The Assault on the Mine. In this 20 skeletons along with a leader Raniac the Black, attack a group of dwarves that are working in the mountains at a mine. There are 6 dwarves in total, Gimbrin Finehelm a champion wearing plate and wielding a double handed sword along with 5 dwarves in mail with a shield and axe or sword. Three of them also have crossbows.
The terrain is pretty complex, this box actually came with a set of cardboard buildings to set up. So you have 3 buildings for the mine camp, a bridge over the stream, the aqueduct, mine entrance, even the rail carts for the mine. This is a pretty complex map and would be a pretty impressive project.
Deployment is relatively straight forward, this is a closed off ravine so the undead start at the open end. The dwarves start at the camp, apart from the one dwarf who was set as a lookout. The victory condition for each is relatively simple, the Dwarf goal is to survive while the goal of the Undead is to kill them all. There are some specific rules for the scenario like the fast running water, difficult terrain of the spoil tips and the buildings which can be destroyed. On particular twist is only revealed the gamemaster and the undead player, the undead must stay within 12 inches of the leader and if the leader is destroyed the rest of the undead will be destroyed.
The second battle is the Attack of Bogel’s Farm. This is the next destination on the way to the main village. The defenders are essentially the Walton family, or in this case the Bogels. Hunk is the Dad, Lorabeth the mum. John-boy and Willy are the sons and Corabell is the daughter. They also have Fritzy their dog and Samgaff a halfling farm hand. To double down on the jokes, they are attacked by Mikael Jacsen and 10 Zombies.
The terrain has a road to the village and a bridge over the stream. The farm house sits on a hill next to some woods. The undead can start at any point on the map to the north or west of the village and at least 16 inches away from the farm. The Bogel family start in the house, Samgaff is in the dairy next to the farm and the dog is tied up in his kennel.
The undead simply wish to destroy everyone to make sure no one can warn the village. The Bogel’s just look to escape. If they can move off the board along the road, they can escape. However, if an undead should follow them off the board in the following turn then it’s assumed they are caught and killed.
There aren’t any details on what is considered a victory or not, so you play it out and see who escapes and who is killed by the Zomies.
The last battle is at Frugelhorn Village. Forests off to the west, a river runing north to south, a mill, a bridge, and lots of buildings to for the village.
At this point we check the results of the previous two battles. If the dwarves won or any of the Bogels escape, they’ve already reached the village and they are prepared. The Village player sets up his army anywhere not within 12 inches of the table edge. Otherwise, the village player must set up within the village, in addition the Lichemaster’s forces get a double move on their first turn.
The undead forces include Kemler and Krell along with 20 skeletons and 10 zombies. Any survivors from the earlier battles also appear with each group rolling a D4 and arriving on that turn.
The defenders are a colourful mix. There are 40 basic villagers, 20 with hand weapons and bows and the other 20 hand weapons and shields. Any survivors from the previous battles will also turn up. We then have 5 heroes.
- Albo Schutz the store keeper and former inter-valley wrestling champion wearing plate armour with sword and shield.
- Grimwald Calco is a Brettonian anarchist with throwing knives and bombs, who is giving a V from Vendetta feel.
- Antonio Epstein is said to be half-Italian half-Reiklander who lives in Albion. He’s apparently on his way to a fancy party in the south. Italy is later named Tilea in the setting, and not many people go to the scary land of Albion which is the misty Druid run stand in for Britain in the setting. So his background is a little weird. It’s likely this is another joke as Anthony Epstein was the British scientist who discovered one of the Herpes variants. Classic GW, I’m certain I’ve missed tons of other jokes in this.
- Then we have Riolta Snow, a beautiful Elf Archer on the tour of the world who also appears in the Lustria adventure the Magnificent Sven.
- Last we have Gim Grundel, a halfling wearing a cooking pot for a helm.
The defenders also have some magical items, all from the storeowner Albi Schultz. A Shield of Adamantine, a Sword of Adamantine, a Ring of Courage, and a Power Sphere which can be used to drain magic from the undead or a caster. If the village was warned, these items have been handed out as desired. Otherwise, they are sitting in a chest in the village to be picked up.
This is a battle to the death and it’s a winner takes all situation.
One of the tricky aspects with these arcs is you do want some sort of reward for winning a battle. We want the games to feel like they mean something. This can be a problem with a chain of games. If the winner of the first game gets an advantage in the second game, then they’re more likely to win that second game and so on.
In a big campaign with lots of players you can pair the winning players from the first round against each other and the losing players get to play each other. With only two players though, we don’t have that luxury.
So, we have a few approaches we can take.
- The first is to give rewards for winning each battle and let them give an advantage in subsquent battles.
- The second is to give rewards for winning each battle, but only have them impact the final battle. This still runs the risk of one player winning both the first two games and having a massive advantage in the third game, but at least the first two games should be even enough.
- A third option is to have narrative rewards that won’t benefit the warbands but do have some sort of feel good factor. Maybe an overall score or story beats, like saving the villagers. Then score the campaign over the three games but maybe have the climatic battle as one that offers more points.
Although Terror of the Lichemaster does take the second approach, it is notable that the army list are already fixed and they aren’t fair. Matthew at Oldhammer did some math and the games by design are unbalanced. In second edition points, the Dwarfs almost double the undead, the Bogel family are nearly 4 times the points of the undead attacks, and in the final attack Kemmler has about a 50% advantage. The goal here I think is more to experience the story as it plays out rather than necessarily win.
Alright, lets see what we can do with Warcry.
The battle for the mine is our first port of call and the Red Harvest terrain is perfect for this. On the original map the mine was only a small part of the battle but with the smaller size of Warcry boards we can get away with focusing in a little more. For the undead team we need a leader of some sort, I picked out a Wight King just to have something a little big chunky. On the other side we have the Warden King and some Ironbreakers although I imagine you could get away with the recent box of Fyreslayers just as well. In the original battle Gimbrin Finehelm had 5 other dwarfs with him. That would make a relatively small warband just over 500. For the undead you could pack out Skeletons until you reach the same point cost. Now if you do make it a one thousand point battle, you will need to get a little more creative with the skeletons as otherwise you’ll quickly hit your 16 fighter limit.
For the Twist we went with the Dead of Night which seems thematic but shouldn’t impact the warbands. The clash of blades deployment has one group coming in from a corner and the other the opposite corner, if we imagined the entrance to the mine was one side with the dwarf defenders enclosed on the other it makes sense. Last we have Cut off the Head. In the original of course this was something the dwarf player wasn’t aware of, killing Raniac the Black would destroy the other Skeletons. Similarly, I think if Grimbrin went down, the morale of the other dwarves might break so it make sense.
The second battle is at the farm. Again for the undead side I’ve tried to mirror the old warband which would have been Mikael Jacsen and 10 Zombies. On the other side we should have the Bogel family. In this case, I think the new Wildercorps Hunters would be perfect. The leader is the Dad, there’s a mom with a spear in their somewhere. Give the kids crossbows and you can even add a dog for Fritzy. Bonus points if you have a bloodbowl halfling to add as Samgaff.
The scenery in the back here is the Elven Woods from Archon Studios.. I figure some nice trees around the place and drop a farmhouse in the middle and we’re good.
For the battle, I went with Gaze of the Dark gods for the twist, more for the name than the mechanics. The deployment is Central Massacre, I want to put the farm in the centre and have the Bogels as the defenders for the mission. There was actually a victory available that I felt mirrored the story pretty well. The attacker selects a side of the board for the defender to escape from. The defender picks 3 treasure carries and they are trying to get off the board, if at least two do they win. So this will be the Bogels trying to get the warning to the village.
Last up we have the battle of the village. I picked out King Velmorn here who I would run as Kemler using the Necromancer model. That’s because I want to run Jedran as Krell. He’ll then be able to use his ability to protect Kemler. The only ability we lose out for not using the Necromancer profile is the Necrotic Syphon. Against them we’d like to put a band of heroes, so here I’ve pick out the Stormcast Questor warband. Depending how you go about it you can make it more or less competitive depending on what models you have. I would also suggest adding in the Grimbrin if he won his battle and Hunk Bogel if he survived. Similarly, you can add extra Zombies and Skeletons if the undead won their side of the earlier battles.
In the background we have some terrain from Gamemat.eu there plenty of similar stuff out there, we just want to get some village vibes going..
For the twist I’ve gone with Warning Cry, but we’re going to cheat a little with it. We’ve gone for the Escalation battle plan which has battle groups arriving on round 2 and 3. In this case we’re going to let the undead side deploy at the start as they’re marching in. Then the defender can pick one of their delayed deployments to arrive immediately for each battle they’ve already won. More of a story thing than anything else. The Victory is no Quarter which is all about trying to control quarters.
And that’s it! Right now we’ve got some broadstrokes around how we’d redo the Terror of the Lichemaster mini-campaign in Warcry. This should be enough of a start for you to work out your own version.
Hopefully you enjoyed this, if you do please check back next week as my current plan is to keep working on this project as I think the models from the Cursed City box are perfect to the heroes who defend the village in the original book. Alas they don’t necessarily match existing profiles, so we’ll have to do some custom work.
If you’ve any ideas or suggestions on how to improve this, please do post them as there’s good chance I’ll do a followup video.
If you have any comments or feedback please post them in the comments section below. Check us out on the Optimal Game State website, Mastodon, and YouTube channel for more discussion about the Games Workshop Specialist Games.