Not unsurprsingly I'm struggling to come up with a list that will play how I want and actually work...moreover I'm really wanting to use some of the new super-pretty models, even if they aren't the most optimal choices...
Yeah, it's big and clunky and is a T5 weanie that will give up 240 points easily...but hopefully it will take some enemy with it!
So my 7th edition lists that I enjoyed had a casting-type caster with a modicum of armour/ward protection with a Grave Guard blob, several ghoul blobs, some Black Knights, a Corpse Cart or two with Balefire, and I'd cycle through the Rares, though I was partial to Wraiths.
In 8th I only played with the Vamps a few times, but had a Grave Guard Deathstar, two Ghoul Hordes, some Wraiths, a naked Casty Vamp, with a couple Necros and little support-oriented Vamps to spam Danse and Invocation.
So my style has grown to include some big hordes that are hard to get points from, with casting support characters...not in to the fighty-guys. To start with, I'm going to aim for a very similar theme, and this is actually supported by the inclusion of the Master Necromancers in the new book.
So here's the list I'm going to try my first few games with, and see what works and doesn't from there:
Master Necromancer - 295
-Level 4; Black Periapt; Rod of Flaming Death
Vampire Battle Standard Bearer - 234
-Heavy Armour; Enchanted Shield; Sword of Might; Book of Arkhan
Vampire - 212
-Level 2; Heavy Armour, Shield; Staff of Damnation
Cairn Wraith - 60
Cairn Wraith - 60
22 Zombies - 76
5 Direwolves - 40
5 Direwolves - 40
46 Ghouls - 470
Corpse Cart - 120
Spirit Host - 45
Spirit Host - 45
5 Hexwraiths - 150
30 Graveguard - 410
-Full Command; Great Weapons; Banner of the Barrows
Mortis Engine - 240
Blasphemous Tome - 20
So starting out with the General, I'll take the Master Necromancer. He'll get upgraded to Level 4. I'd like to try the Black Periapt (despite the point increase) and the Rod of Flaming Death on him. Yeah, he's naked, but I hope to keep enemies away from him and "if he dies, he dies". (Bonus points if you can name the movie...I'm looking at you, Dr. C!) The Periapt I'm torn on, but I figure the first turn I'll likely have extra dice anyway (at most I'll summon some Zombies), so it will help ensure I have a few extra dice going in to turn 2, when the shit starts to hit the fan. The Rod of Flaming Death seems like a great way to control enemy Dispel Dice...I can throw a die at it and make them waste DD, or remind them how scary the spell is so they save some DD while I cast other things.
I'm torn on a BSB. A BSB of some kind is a must-have, IMO (just saving a handful of models pays for itself), but I can't decide if I want a rock-hard Wight King, or more casting support from a Vampire. I do have my Dretchen model that I love, and it simplifies the casting process if I have a Vampire here, so I'm going to make a mildly fighting Vampire BSB, Level 1, with Heavy Armour, Enchanted Shield, the Sword of Might, and the Book of Arkhan. I figure with the Book I can throw a die at the Danse from it with 2/3 chance of success, and give her and her unit rerolls to hit...with her high Initiative, it's almost like a poor-man's ASF. For powers, I'd like to try the Fear and Aura combo, but I won't have the Screaming Banner in the list (mainly because I own 90 ghouls, 0 skeletons, and don't want to have to spend a fortune to replace them), so I'm not sure how much mileage I'll get...probably not enough, so will try Red Fury. She'll have a good chance at doing half a dozen wounds, since she's swinging 4 times, hitting on 3s, rerolling misses, and wounding on 2s with her S6. A nice little budget Cuisinart. She'll have a very reasonable armour save of 3+, but with no ward is mildly squishy.
I want a second Vampire as well, this one support oriented. He'll have simply the Dark Acolyte power, as I don't see another power that will really help him in his role, which will be basically moving in to optimal Invocation position to get the maximum number of units. I'll want him at Level 2 to get a few more bodies in to each Invocation'd unit (35 points, so if he brings back an extra ghoul and grave guard in two turns it's paid for itself). The Staff of Damnation can be really potent...if I can get multiple units in the 6" range it will be outright brutal...Hexwraiths in particular are something I'd like to get some extra attacks to! He'll not have much protection or melee-oomph, but a 4+ Save isn't horrible. This guy might easily be replaced by a level 2 Necromancer, but I think he's got enough Ooomph to go in to a fight and hope to win against things like fast cav or small flying units (harpies, etc).
The small unit of 22 Zombies is there to give the Necromancer a bunker. I think it may get pretty comic, actually...since Zombies can be increased past their starting size by Invocation, and since Invocation will be spammed by all three characters...all getting to reroll one of the two dice used to bring in fresh zombies thanks to the Corpse Cart's Lodestone...there's a really good chance that this unit could get to utterly ridiculous size very early in the game, making anyone that wants to charge it really decide if it's worth the turn of crumble it will cause when the Necro dies. Also, the low point cost of the zombies lets me min/max the Core requirement. Yeah, I'm cheezy like that. Of course, if I need to commit the Zombies in to combat, I can easily move the Necro out, Danse them towards the unit I need them to tie up, and let someone chew thru zombies the rest of the game. In a vacuum, I can do 3 Invocations on them, restoring 6d6+7 zombies with my current character makeup per turn: 28 zombies. Elite units can overcome that number pretty easily, but they won't get thru the whole mess in one turn, and if they die, hey, it's 66 points.
The Direwolves are cheap, fast, Vanguard, and able to redirect or go threaten enemy artillery. I'd like to have points for Champions in here...I'd like the shennanigans this would allow a lot, actually! But, no points.
The big unit of ghouls will be in a horde...I mean, why not. The difference in maneuverability between 7-wide and 10-wide is minimal, and at a minimum it will allow for 7 more attacks (when faced with an enemy that's 20mm 5-wide). It's really not that hard to get 9 of them in a fight, giving me 9 extra attacks. With "perfect" spell love from all my augments, that's really 18 extra attacks (the front rank would get 9 more for Extra Attack from Staff of Damnation) that are poison, ASF (Vigor Mortis from Corpse Cart), reroll misses (Danse Macabre) and reroll wounds (Hellish Vigor). So, for you that are math-hammer inclined, that's 45 attacks (if I can get 9 in base). That's 22.5 hits, 7.5 of which are poison wounds. Then 22.5 rerolls gives another 11.25 hits, 3.75 of which are wounds. That leaves us with 22.5 rolls to wound, we'll assume a nice T4 target, so 7.5 wounds...leaving 15 rerolls giving 5 more wounds for a nice grand total of 23.75 wounds. They're only S3, so most of those will be saved, but even Empire Knights would feel the 4 wounds they'd take! Is it likely to get all those augments off? No, not really. But it does show the capability of the unit! And if you think this is mean, wait until you see my numbers on the Grave Guard!
The Corpse Cart looks like a barrel of laughs. In fact, while writing this I realize that I can spend 1 of my 3 extra points to put a Spear on the Corpsemaster for a mild bit of extra oomph. The Vigor Mortis ability of the Corpse Cart is worded interestingly...when the corpse cart is the target of an Augment spell from the Lore of the Vampires, it hands out ASF candy. Well, Invocation of Nehek is an Augment spell from the Lore of the Vampire that targets all friendly units in a radius, so the way I read it just by casting Invocation while a Corpse Cart is near, you'll hand out ASF. Fun! Broken? No, I don't think so...but certainly not bad! Really this thing has a lot of subtle effects...ASF, not so subtle I guess...but the Lodestone will keep from being stuck with the roll of a 1 for Invocation (key, I think!), and the buff to S3 for the 2d6 Random Attacks means that on the Charge this thing can really put the hurt on T3 units. If the Vampires can do some of the 12" area Augment spells, the reroll hits and wounds on this thing can really up the body count!
The Spirit Hosts will be great, I think, as cheap deploys, charge blockers, and super tarpits. Many units will lack magical attacks, and will only grind these things down thru Static CR...which can be partially offset by the BSB. Ideally I'll be able to throw these things in to smaller pain-in-the-ass units like cavalry or warbeasts that lack not only magic attacks but much static CR. These guys will be gold, I'd almost rather have 2 more of them than the Wolves!
The Hexwraiths look really fun, and will really fill out the ethereal-heavy nature of the army. The multiple ethereal threats will really push target priority for enemy spells (I hope) and their ability to march thru units will hopefully be super irritating. The "drive-by" attacks look great on paper, though I think the application will be difficult as wily opponents will not provide the 1" room to place them. I think their ability to go fight high-armour units that lack magic weapons will be their greatest power. They're not terrible expensive point-wise, either, so in a magic-heavy environment their loss won't cripple me on points.
The Great Weapon Grave Guard "Deathstar" isn't quite as potent as it used to be. They'll still be hitting things on 3s, have a decent shot at having ASF cancel out their ASL, and will likely be able to reroll hits or misses. The way Invocation works now they'll be coming back by the handful, too. I like them in Horde formation, as the 7 extra attacks seems to more than make up for the lack of ranks or maneuverability. More math-hammer for you: with Staff of Damnation on, and the perfect storm of buff spells and all 10 models engaged, they'll have 40 attacks, hitting on 3s gives us 35 hits after rerolls. Wounding on 2s thanks to great weapons gives us about 34 wounds at S6, so not a lot of saves going on. Maybe not the killiest unit around, but not shabby either. Of course, getting all those spells off wouldn't happen very often, but hey, it can happen, right?
Last is my Mortis Engine. I REALLY REALLY REALLY want to like this thing. It's one of those subtle tools that can really mess with an opponents head. They'll want to kill it right away, but it's not THAT easy to kill (T5 with 5+/Regen and 5 wounds), and it's not THAT threatening early on. Getting the Regen off will usually require magic attacks, and that's complicated by the ethereal targets breathing down the enemy's neck. The +2 to cast spells will be great, as I'll very VERY rarely be throwing more than 2 dice, so the chance for miscast is minimzed. Once the enemy is close, the threat to their miscast becomes a problem, and they'll want to kill it, but then it's damage bomb is more significant. It's Reliquary will hopefully give a little 6+ regen to my Grave Guard and Ghouls, which will be golden against nearly anything coming my way...and if it's Banshee Scream, Impact Hits, and Reliquary can kill off a few enemies, so much the better! I just realized that the -1 Ldr Vampire Power really synergizes well with Banshee Screams...
So that's the army I'm going to test. I'll be trying this on line at Universal Battle, but honestly I think I'm going to have to buy Zombies, Mortis Engine, and Hexwraiths no matter what. The composition of the army may change drastically, but I've only got a handful of zombie models, and they ability to shit them out so copiously now will require a ton of models...the Hexwraiths are almost an auto-include (at least with other ethereals to complicate target selection)...and the Mortis Engine is just too damned cool. I'm really hoping that I can magnetize it to allow switching to the Coven Throne. Have you considered how mean a Fighty Vamp Lord with Red Fury will be on that thing, with rerolls to hit and wound along with the impacts and the hawt vamp chix it's already got? Hell yeah!
Here's a quick sketch of how I think the general deployment would typically go:
At the front would be the sacrificial Dire Wolves and Spirit Hosts. Of course they would be angled to make charging them as inconvenient as possible, particularly the Spirit Hosts, as they'd likely last a turn allowing for a mean flank counter-charge.
Behind them is "the main line" with the Grave Guard on one side, the Corpse Cart and Mortis Engine in the middle, then Ghouls on the other side. There's a Vampire in each unit, as well as a Cairn Wraith. The Wraiths will be great, as they can run off to pursue things on their own in a magic-light environment, or stay in the unit making them cause Terror and providing a little extra punch to the front rank. The BSB would probably go with the Ghouls to beef them up a bit, as they need the help more than the Grave Guard.
In the rear is the Zombie "bunker", and the Hexwraiths will start behind, marching forward as needed to either cause mayhem with drive-by attacks or to just set up a charge for the main-line.
Note that the key elements are all kept close, hopefully within 6" of the Master Necromancer (who needs a frightening-sounding Eastern European name...anyone got an idea for me?). In fact, the intent is to have all three characters be within 6" of all three main units, so that each cast of Invocation will catch the maximum possible units. The hope is to have the Zombie unit be absolutely enormous relatively early in the game (which is very doable, I think, with 2d6 + Level guys from each cast, with a reroll of one of those d6 from the Cart).
So, I don't know if it's any good, but it's what I'm going to try. Like anyone else with the book, I've got a million ideas...next will probably be a fighty vamp lord with a fighty wight bsb mounted up with some black knights! Or maybe see how many Ethereals I can fit in one army! :)
I'll try to get a battle report of my first battle out soon!!