Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Mortal Empires, Part XX - Druchii Incursions

With the Chaos invasion well in hand, Franz turned his attention to two other pressing matters. The first of these were the greenskins marauding in the southern parts of the Empire. Displaced from the Badlands in the south by the remorseless advance of the Vampire Counts, the orcs were now trying to carve out a new demesne in the Southern Grey Mountain range near the Dwarf hold of Karak Norn. Haupt-Anderssen and Ludenhof were tasked with destroying the greenskin menace, and the two generals agreed on a strategy. Haupt-Anderssen would hold the line near Nuln, and destroy any greenskins that strayed too close to the Empire's borders. In the meantime Ludenhof, whose fame had rocketed after his victories over the Chaos hordes, would advance into the Grey Mountains with the ultimate aim of liberating Karak Norn. 

Malekith, the Witch King of the Dark Elves.

The plan worked flawlessly. Ludenhof's Army of Hochland was a seasoned, determined and cohesive unit made up of veterans who had been fighting together for four years. They were accustomed to victory, and feared no enemy. The disorganized greenskins were routed over and over by the same tactics used against the Chaos hordes. Grimgor Ironhide and Wurrzag, two notorious greenskin warlords, were beaten in subsequent battles by Ludenhof. Karak Norn was liberated. Haupt-Anderssen destroyed the remnants of the orc armies south of Nuln, putting an end to the greenskin threat for decades to come.

The second issue Franz faced was the more pressing one. The Dark Elves fielded professional armies armed with missile troops and ballistae, and their scouts and fast cavalry rivaled those of the Empire. The Dark Elves also fielded powerful sorcerers and witches, in addition to massive monstrous beasts such as Dragons and Hydras. They were an entirely different foe to the ones the Empire had grown accustomed to, and an urgent rethink of doctrine was called for after Marienburg was almost lost to a lightning strike by a Druchii army. The Army of Hochland suffered its first loss in many battles against the Druchii.

To counter the Dark Elves Franz directed the forges and armories to produce dozens of great cannons. The first cannons were poor imitations of the weapons first made by the Dwarves. By Franz's era however, cannons were much more accurate, and when coupled with the cantrips and enchantments bestowed upon the ammunition by the Colleges of Magic, cannons were able to target fast moving targets and bring them down. The cannons just had to be aimed in the vicinity of the target, and the ball would home in towards the enemy as long as it possessed the right enchantment. Franz also laid down a great bounty, promising a substantial reward to anyone who could recreate the designs of the genius, Leonardo Da Miragliano, who was responsible for inventing the steam tank. Only eight of the twelve original tanks remained since the passing of the inventor, and these great behemoths of war had proved their worth time and time again on the battlefield. In the steam tank Franz recognized a weapon that could change the face of warfare forever, and establish the Empire as a great power for the foreseeable future.

The Imperial Steam Tank supporting a cavalry charge.

Cannons in Total War 2 are the equivalent of sniper rifles in their ability to target flying creatures. In real life there is no way in hell a 17th century cannon from the Holy Roman Empire, with their smooth bores and uneven sized cannon balls, could single out a fast moving target, much less a flying one. They were used to blow apart stationary fortifications, slow moving columns of infantry, or engage in counter-battery fire against other artillery. In Total War 2 and in the Warhammer tabletop game, however, they have laser like precision, and are the anti-large units of the Empire, which is why I had to resort to magic as a means of explaining their uncanny accuracy. 

Unrealistic or not, we started producing cannons by the bucketload, and giving two to three to every army facing the Druchii. The results were fantastic. The cannons could snipe one to two Dragons while a third could be engaged by our flying Lord. Once the giant fliers were dead we could defeat the army through conventional means, i.e. spreading their infantry all over the battlefield and destroying them piecemeal. Cannons are also amazing for counter-battery fire, and can chew up infantry formations as well. The only problem is keeping them alive - cavalry, fliers and monsters all make a beeline for cannons, which means that I've had to include infantry formations to act as guards.

The ideal unit against armies with lots of large monsters is the steam tank. Not only does it have a more powerful cannon, but it's also tough, armored and can charge into melee. The only downside is that they're expensive to recruit and maintain, and so I need to beef up my economy if I'm thinking of fielding multiple tanks in the future.

Next: TBC

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Mortal Empires, Part XIX - Star Crossed Lovers

Previous: Mortal Empires, Part XVIII - Bastion of Mankind

The entry of Mannfred Von Carstein's forces tipped the battle against the Chaos hordes decisively in the Empire's favor. The undead armies were slow, unskilled and easy fodder for the supernatural skill and strength of the Chaos soldiers. But the undead numbered in tens of thousands, and they were relentless. They never tired or became discouraged, but simply marched to their deaths without fear or reservation. Even then a corpse had to be dismembered to stop it from being raised again in the unholy rituals enacted by the night aristocracy after every battle. They swamped the Chaos armies, bogged them down, and wore them down through pure attrition.

Mannfred Von Carstein.

Karl Franz met Mannfed Von Carstein a second time in the ruins of Bechafen, after the Empire attacked a Chaos horde engaged with the undead in the rear. Once again whatever conversation the two had is lost to history. After the talks, however, the dead and the living simply stayed out of each other's way as they engaged the Chaos hordes sweeping southwards from High Pass. On occasion an Imperial army would apply the coup de gras to a Chaos army routed by the undead, or vice versa, but at no point did both armies ever directly work together or fight side by side. Mannfred's movements were conveyed to Franz by means of his envoy, Isoulde Von Carstein, whom Franz had met previously in Wurtbad

Franz greeted Isoulde with warmth and familiarity which surprised both the envoy and Franz's circle of advisers the first time they'd met. Noting the Emperor's reaction, Mannfred instructed Isoulde to encourage the Emperor's interest in her for his own purposes, and the next time she met Franz she was more open, flirtatious and receptive. Franz, for his part, seemed to expect this. Franz was honest, open and sincere in his frequent talks with her. He seemed to know a great deal about her, and his candor was soon reciprocated. The two of them began spending a lot of time in each other's company discussing philosophy, politics, literature and strategy, much to the dismay of the priests and witch hunters of Sigmar. Isoulde was over a century old, but retained the wits and sharpness of her youth, as well as her looks. She also possessed the unnatural strength and speed of her kind. Eschewing any form of armor or protection she was a terror on the battlefield, and serenely unchallenged by the mightiest human warriors who dared bluster to her face. In the battle of Norden Franz was knocked off Deathclaw by a mighty Dragon Ogre and stunned. Only the intervention of Isoulde saved him from being impaled while he lay prostrate on the ground. Isoulde and Deathclaw held off an entire herd of Bestigors and protected the stricken Emperor until the Reiksgard could decisively intervene.

Isoulde Von Carstein. OK, no, it's actually Kate Beckinsale from the Underworld vampire movies.

It was no wonder that Franz, still in his twenties, unmarried and unbetrothed, would be drawn to Isoulde. Such a liaison would be unthinkable in a different time, but the two were careful to avoid acting inappropriately in public. On the campaign it was a different tale however, and soon the two of them were sharing their nights under the same tent. Franz's reputation was such that he was now beyond the reach and reprimands of the Cult of Sigmar, and the Reiksgard, loyal only to the Emperor, took great pains to conceal his nocturnal activities. Still the whispers continued and grew louder, and those who resented Franz for the Treaty of Wurtbad and his perceived desertion of the Dwarf Empire were given more fuel to their fire. Volkmar was particularly wrathful, and he gave the Emperor a dire warning. If ever the day came when the symbol of Sigmar's Hammer caused the Emperor to recoil then Volkmar himself would drive the stake through Franz's heart. Such talk was high treason and punishable by death, but Franz merely nodded his head and assented. 

Balthasar Gelt was less worried about the Emperor's eternal soul and more about his physical well-being. The Supreme Patriarch of the Colleges of Magic was frank and open about his fear of Franz's assassination. Franz waved away all the warnings of his advisers, however, and Isoulde soon became a familiar sight in Franz's court, always appearing after dusk and disappearing before the dawn. She displayed the ability to move around during the day, appearing in major battles at Franz's side, but only when it was overcast, raining or snowing. Even then it was apparent that this effort taxed her and diminished her powers. On the days when the sun shone brilliantly overhead she was conspicuously absent. The fact that she made the effort to appear during the day made Franz love her more, however, and the bond between the two grew ever stronger. Many were convinced that the Emperor was bewitched. In a moment of candor with Gelt and Volkmar, however, the Emperor confessed that he knew Isoulde from the past lives he had lived in his visions. The same visions and experiences which allowed the Emperor to see the future and anticipate his enemy's moves had also allowed him to live several lives in the company of his paramour. He declared that he knew Isoulde in her various incarnations, and while she had betrayed and killed him in some, she had also broken free of Mannfred's influence and grown to love him in others. This was cold comfort for Franz's advisers, who did not know what incarnation of Isoulde awaited Franz in the future.

The intervention of the Vampire Counts in the north-east theater has been decisive. I've been trying to keep a handle on Chaos numbers by leaving one army alive so as to prevent a full wave respawn, but failing spectacularly because vamps would end up killing it and triggering the respawn anyway. But with the Vampire Counts in the fight it's been easy to smash the Chaos incursion. They don't have a chance against the fast cavalry army. They're only dangerous when they attack a city, because in sieges we don't have the space we need to make the fast cavalry style of battle work, and Chaos can leverage their core units - their tough as nails infantry - into battles that favor them, i.e. climbing walls and spanking other infantry. I now have three or four Witch Hunter heroes in play in the theater, however, and they are pivotal in separating the Chaos armies and slowing them down. These heroes have the Block skill, and successful application of Block significantly slows down an army. This means you can separate and string out the enemy advance and then destroy each army in detail, which is what we have been doing. Delaying the Chaos armies also allows the Vampire Counts to catch and destroy some of them, too.

Next: Mortal Empires, Part XX - Druchii Incursions

Monday, March 12, 2018

Mortal Empires, Part XVIII - Bastion of Mankind

2506 IC was the complete reverse of 2505 IC. All the gains made by the Empire in the previous year were wiped out in the face of the Chaos invasion and the encroachment of the Dark Elves. Franz and Todbringer were forced to retreat from Norsca to defend Nordland and Marienburg. All the territory liberated from the Norscans by Ludenhof in the eastern Oblast and Kislev was destroyed by the marching Chaos armies. Erengrad had to be abandoned. By summer the Empire had been driven back to Wolfenburg, the capital of Ostland and the staging point for the offensive the year before. But in retreat Ludenhof exacted a heavy toll on the Chaos hordes. By the time they approached the walls of Wolfenburg no less than three Chaos armies had been destroyed by the Elector Count of Hochland. Using hit and run tactics mastered by the light horsemen of Kislev, and combining these with the gunpowder armaments of the Empire, Ludenhof was able to surround Chaos armies and pick them apart with firepower. The warriors of Chaos were formidable fighters, able to withstand a cavalry charge and hack mounted knights to pieces. Ludenhof's answer to this was to avoid combat entirely. His entire army was composed almost entirely of outriders and pistoliers, and their combat doctrine consisted almost entirely of riding into range, unloading their blackpowder weapons, then riding away to reload. Ludenhof, now mounted on his two year old griffon and accompanied by Imperial captains on pegasi, struck surgically and swiftly on the battlefield, eliminating enemy fast cavalry and daemonic artillery and then flying away before the enemy could exact retribution. Once the enemy was reduced to their slow but powerful foot infantry they could do nothing except rage at the fast cavalry surrounding them, who stayed beyond the range of their wicked halberds and blasted them into oblivion.

Pistoliers and outriders were the mainstay of the Imperial armies fighting in Kislev and Ostland.

At Wolfenburg Ludenhof was finally brought to bay by two more Chaos armies, but he simply retreated behind the fortified walls and waited for relief. Ludenhof and Franz were in constant communication, and Franz's army, returning from Norsca, caught the Chaos armies in the rear. Sandwiched between two armies the Chaos armies were thrown into disarray and routed. It was a great victory for the Empire, but tempered by reports from scouts near High Pass that more Chaos armies were sighted coming down from the Chaos Wastes.

Ludenhof about to apply the coup de gras to a decimated Chaos army. Ludenhof's army is composed almost entirely of pistoliers and outriders.

Worse news was to come. Franz and Todbringer left Norsca in ruins in their campaign of 2505 IC, but in 2506 IC those ruined settlements were taken over and settled by marauding Dark Elves. The establishment of Druchii ports across the Sea of Claws was grim news for the Empire, as now Malekith and his slavers had several staging points close to Nordland and Marienburg. The frequency of raids grew exponentially, and this was soon followed by full scale invasions into the Empire itself. Marienburg was besieged twice, and was only able to repel these attacks through the tenacity of Volkmar and the great sacrifice of the flagellants and penitents flocking to his army. The coastal towns of Norden and Dietershafen were sacked and razed. Salzenmund was besieged, and only Todbringer's timely return staved off disaster. The Dark Elves were not Norscans or Chaos - they brought disciplined soldiers supported by missile troops, repeating ballistas, fast cavalry, scouts and dark magic. They also brought their own flying troops. Grotesque harpies darkened the skies, and most terrible of all, great black dragons belching poisonous fumes shattered the Imperial lines wherever they went.

The Empire and its list of generals.

By the end of 2506 IC the Empire had held onto the key cities of Salzenmund, Marienburg and Wolfenburg, and destroyed several Chaos, Dark Elf and Norscan armies. The victories appeared to be for nothing, however, as yet more Chaos armies appeared in High Pass, and more seaborne Druchii armies sailed up and down the Sea of Claws. The skill of the Empire's generals and the valor of the common soldier was keeping the enemy at bay for now - the only question was whether they could keep it up in the face of seemingly unlimited numbers. But help would be coming from a most unexpected quarter. As weary Imperials waited for another wave of Chaos incursions, outriders were astonished to see the Chaos armies being set upon by the dead. Mannfred Von Carstein had arrived.

I made a mistake in advancing so far to the north-east. I'd basically allowed myself to take the full brunt of the Chaos invasion in the Old World by advancing all the way to Volksgrad, because that's the avenue through which Chaos enters the Old World. Eight armies in total just plowed through the territories we'd recently acquired, and I was forced to fall back all the way to Wolfenburg. By retreating to Wolfenburg, however, I'd left a channel open to the south by which the Chaos armies could enter Vampire lands. After repelling them at Wolfenburg the Chaos armies decided they didn't want anymore of Franz and Ludenhof, and started sacking Vampire cities instead. The Vampire Counts didn't like this at all, and started bringing up armies to fight Chaos as well, so we actually ended up working together. We wiped out the first wave completely, but this was my second mistake. As soon as the last Chaos army was defeated eight more spawned in the Chaos Wastes. The exploit which Total War players use in both the first and second titles is to almost wipe out a wave, but leave one army alive and limping somewhere on the map. This stops a respawn, and keeps Chaos numbers manageable until Archon arrives for the final invasion.

I am essentially being double teamed by Chaos and the Dark Elves, who are allies. I thought Chaos hated everyone, but apparently not in Total War 2. I am just hoping that my alliance with the Wood Elves and High Elves is enough to deter the Vampire Counts from stabbing me in the back. There are three points of attack I have to defend - north-west, through Marienburg; north across the Sea of Claws; and north-east, in the Oblast region. Everything I have is committed to these theaters, and there is a long and empty expanse to the south without anyone guarding it at all. In addition the Dark Elves, being the second most powerful faction in the game, are fielding top tier armies composed of their best units. These include Dragons and War Hydras, and they are frequently led by generals also mounted on Black Dragons. One on one Franz can kill Dragons at a cost of perhaps one-third to one-half of his health. But more and more Franz is finding himself outnumbered at least two to one, and usually three or four to one. It's fortunate that the AI is still dense and you can implement hit and run to isolate individual Dragons, kill them, then run away to repeat the process. But you can't make a mistake. If Franz gets double teamed he will die.

Not all armies are led by Franz, however, and so I'm finding myself ceding ground whenever I don't have Franz on the field. Ludenhof can fill in for Franz at a pinch, and he's probably my second best general. Todbringer is tough, but he can't fly, so he has wait for the Dragons to pick their spot before he can counter. Same applies for Volkmar. Gelt is great at sieges because his spells can decimate defending infantry garrisons, but they're not very efficient at taking out large targets. He struggles against the monster heavy armies. Our armies can smash Norscan and Chaos armies with ease using our fast cavalry composition because they don't have many missile troops, artillery or flying monsters. The Dark Elves have these, which makes them much, much tougher to crack. Even when we win we take heavy losses, and they have more men (elves?) than we do. At the moment we're at a stalemate, and I'm in a bit of a loss at what to do next.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Mortal Empires, Part XVII - Chaos Rising

During the winter of 2504 IC Franz took the opportunity to meet with delegates from the High Elves and the Wood Elves, and to sign trade agreements and conclude formal military alliances with these resurgent nations. The advantage of flying mounts was the unprecedented mobility they conferred, and Franz was able to leave his army wintering at Wolfenburg to fly back to Altdorf to be present at these negotiations. He was now accompanied by a personal bodyguard of Imperial captains on pegasi. Inspired by the Emperor's feats of arm, Ludenhof, Haupt-Anderssen and even Countess Von Liebwitz were breaking in their own griffon mounts in the hopes of emulating him. Ludenhof, a keen lover of hunting birds of all kinds, was personally raising the griffon he was given by Franz when Hochland bent the knee in 2503 IC. The griffon, now over a year old, was rapidly developing a close rapport with its master. Even at such a tender age Ludenhof was able to ride the beast for short periods. Other aspiring lords took note, and followed his example.

Todbringer was a notable exception. The old Elector was a valiant warrior and a formidable general, but terrified of heights. He feigned indifference at the sight of lords on their mounts. The Grand Theogonist also eschewed flying mounts, but for different reasons. Volkmar the Grim rode into battle atop his mobile pulpit, which itself was a formidable relic of power. Volkmar's armies attracted thousands of flagellants, penitents and fanatics, and the presence of the War Altar of Sigmar drove them into greater paroxysms of fury. The Supreme Patriarch of the Colleges of Magic, Balthasar Gelt, was already an accomplished flyer, and rode a pegasus of his own. With their leadership able to cover vast distances on the backs of these flying steeds, the Empire was able to meet quickly and often on matters of importance. Magic was another means of communication, but it was unreliable and prone to being blocked or interfered with by spellcasters inimical to the Empire. It could also be intercepted and read, or even altered. Handwritten messages under seal were still the preferred method of communication, conveyed either by horseback, raven or pegasi. The Empire husbanded its meager stable of flying mounts for two purposes - as winged steeds for lords and heroes in battle, or as mounts for important messengers.

Imperial lands in the summer of 2505 IC, stretching as far west as Gisoreux in Bretonnia to Erengrad in the north-east Troll Country. 

The alliances with the High Elves and Wood Elves gave the Empire some much needed security. Wary of the Vampire Counts Franz hoped that these new agreements would act as a deterrent to Mannfred's ambitions while the Empire set about the task of ridding the Old World of the Norscan scourge once and for all. The Dark Elves also rebuffed every diplomatic sally sent by Franz. By all accounts they were the undisputed masters of the sea, and raided and pillaged wherever they pleased. Ulthuan was a nation under siege, and its trade routes to the Old World were in constant peril. The destruction of the Dwarf Empire came as a complete shock to the Forces of Order. Even the High Elves with their millennia long enmity acknowledged the role of the Dawi as a bulwark against the Orcs, Chaos and all the other agents of darkness and entropy. That burden would now fall on the Empire. Indeed, the Empire was serving as the last bastion of free Dawi, and the provinces of the Empire were hard-pressed to provide food and shelter to accommodate the thousands of refugees streaming from the World's Edge Mountains. The Dwarves were joined by Tileans, Estalians and men and women from the Border Princes all fleeing the dominion of the Vampire Counts.

At the onset of spring 2505 IC Franz began a new offensive against the Norscans. Using Wolfenburg as a staging area Ludenhof and Franz attacked and captured cities in the Troll Country and the Oblast region. These settlements were poorly defended and easily taken, and Franz was able to secure the port of Erengrad, a crucial harbor in the Sea of Kislev. Ludenhof split from Franz and headed east towards Kislev. With the aid of the cossacks and exiled Kislevites his army liberated the towns of Praag, Kislev and Volksgrad. Ludenhof drew up ambitious plans to rebuild the shattered nation of Kislev, and re-tasked the Imperial engineers who had rebuilt the central Empire in the previous year towards this undertaking.

In the north Todbringer crossed the Sea of Claws in ships built during the winter furlough, and took the fight to the Norscans in their own lands for the very first time. Todbringer was merciless in his desire for vengeance. Norscan settlements were torched, and their inhabitants butchered. No quarter was given, and non-combatants suffered terribly for the sins of their marauding menfolk. In late summer Franz also reached the lands of Norsca by the overland route through the Troll Country. Between Todbringer and Franz the Varg and the Skaeling reaped the Empire's retribution as settlement after settlement fell to the avenging generals. The aim of both generals was simple. They would wreak such havoc on the Norscans that future generations would think twice about ever reaving in the south again. As winter approached Franz and Todbringer found their advance slowed to a crawl by the inclement weather on the Norscan peninsula. Both armies had prepared suitable winter quarters, but all plans to continue the offensive were discarded when the first true Chaos armies appeared north-east of Volksgrad in Belyevobota Pass.

The Chaos invasion begins.

The Norscans were known worshipers of the Chaos Gods, but for the most part were humans like the citizens of the Empire and Kislev. True Chaos armies were another thing entirely. Warped by the corrupting power of the Chaos Wastes the rank and file of Chaos might have been men once, but who knew what vestiges of their humanity remained inside their all-enclosing armor of black meteoric metal, and in the hideous deformities they bore proudly as favors from their dark gods. The Skaeling and the Varg were beaten, but it seemed that they were merely a vanguard in a larger invasion.

Chaos appeared in my campaign around turn 190, which is 70 turns longer than in the first Total War game. This marks the first time that I've seen Chaos in Total War 2 in the Mortal Empires campaign. It looks like Chaos armies have appeared all over the map, not just in the traditional spawn point north-east of Kislev, because I can see Chaos armies marauding in other continents. When Chaos comes they come as four distinct factions. The Warriors of Chaos and the Warherds of Chaos appear in the Chaos Wastes as they did previously in the first Total War title. In Total War 2 they are joined by the Servants of Chaos, who appear in the seas north of Ulthuan and east of Naggarond. Another faction called Puppets of Chaos also joins the fray, but to date I don't know where they spawn. I'm betting they spawn either in the Lands of the Dead or in Lustria.

Just a note on time and dates. The Warhammer world has a 400 day year, and its weeks are 8 days long. Since game time in Total War 2 is reckoned in turns, I've taken the convention that each turn is a week. Thus 50 turns in game equals one year in the fiction. Karl Franz was crowned in 2502 IC in Warhammer lore, and over 150 turns have elapsed, so by that estimate it is now sometime in 2505 IC, three years after Franz's coronation. My reckoning goes something like this:

Turns 1-50 = 2502 IC
Turns 51-100 = 2503 IC
Turns 101-150 = 2504 IC
Turn 151-200 = 2505 IC

Chaos appeared around turn 190, which would make it the winter of 2505 IC by my crude calendar system.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Mortal Empires, Part XVI - End of Empire

The Age of Reckoning was a time of unprecedented strife. By the winter of 2504 IC however, the splintered factions were coalescing into powerful nation-states that would dominate the wars to come. The Empire, although diminished, was one nation again. Ulthuan was united under the banner of the High Elves. Naggarond was consolidated under the rule of the Witch King. Bretonnia also ended its civil war, but was hard-pressed by the Wood Elves emerging suddenly from Athel Loren. Flush with the magic flowing over the world the Wood Elves ended centuries of isolation and swept over the southern provinces of Bretonnia as well as the human nations of Estalia and Tilea. The Tomb Kings held sway over the Land of the Dead. In the southern jungles of Lustria the Skaven of Clan Pestilens spread pestilence and famine in their wake, obliterating the ancient nations of the Lizardmen. But as powerful as these nations were becoming, they were all eclipsed by the rise of the Vampire Counts. From their stronghold in Sylvania Mannfred Von Carstein's hordes poured over all lands in a ceaseless, relentless tide of death. The Treaty of Wurtbad allowed Manfred to strike hard and fast at the Dwarven kingdoms while keeping his northern border free of Imperial incursions. Franz, with his nation beset by Norscan raiders, signed the treaty as a matter of expedience. He believed that the mighty Dwarves in their mountainside redoubts could hold the Vampire Counts at bay while the Empire dealt with the Varg and the Skaeling.

The Dwarven Kingdoms, led by their King, Thorgrim Grudgebearer.

He was wrong. No news came from the Dwarf kingdoms for many months after the Vampire Counts cut off the Empire from the Dwarf capital of Karaz-a-Karak. Disturbed by the lack of messengers Franz dispatched bold adventurers to make their way through the vampire lands to make contact. None returned. Attempts at scrying by the Celestial College of Magic were defeated by powerful wards. A pall of silence descended over the World's Edge Mountains, and as the days and weeks passed the Dwarves living in the Empire and in the Grey Mountains grew ever more anxious about the fate of their kinfolk. The first inkling of their fate came when famed adventuring duo Felix Jaeger and Gotrek Gurnisson emerged south of Nuln, claiming that they had traveled from Barak Varr in the Borderlands. The tale they brought back was a grim one. One by one the Karaks had fallen, engulfed by teeming armies of the dead. The Border Princes and the Badlands were now vampire country. Orcs and Dwarves alike were being killed or subjugated, their blood considered too coarse and unpalatable by the vampire lords, and drunk only as a measure of last resort. The Vampire Counts, flush in their dominion over the world, could pick and choose their prey, and could have extinguished both races as they saw fit. But they had ambitions beyond simple sustenance, and saw the value of maintaining a work force which possessed both brute strength and stamina, as well as artisan skills.

Gotrek Gurnisson and Felix Jaeger.

Franz was under tremendous pressure to declare war against the Vampire Counts. The Empire had close ties with the Dwarven kingdoms, having been trade partners and military allies over the centuries. Many Dwarves lived in the Empire as artisans, stonemasons, engineers and blacksmiths, and had become naturalized citizens. They clamored and petitioned for the Emperor to intervene. But Franz was unyielding. He would honor the Treaty of Wurtbad as long as Mannfred respected the Empire's borders. For this he would be denounced and vilified by many Dwarves who called him craven and oath-breaker. The Treaty of Wurtbad was called the Treaty of Blood by furious Dawi, so-called because it was paid for by the blood of Dwarves. Lenart Tortensson, the Dwarf hero who commanded the artillery so masterfully at Talabheim, resigned his commission and deserted with his entire artillery corps. All over the Empire many of the Dawi did the same.

In truth Franz could do very little. His armies were heavily engaged in the war against the Norscans. The only army defending the southern Empire was Haupt-Anderssen's, and it was stretched to breaking point patrolling the expanse of the southern border. In addition Franz's settlements on the west coast of Bretonnia were suddenly attacked without warning by marauding Black Arks. The Druchii, colloquially known as the Dark Elves, inhabited the cold, wind-swept lands of Naggarond in the New World, having been banished there after being defeated in an ancient civil war from their utopian homeland of Ulthuan. Since that time they had cultivated a fearsome reputation as slavers, raiders and reavers, sowing fear and terror to all the coastal cities of the world. They were also the second greatest power in the world by 2504 IC, having secured control over the northern continent of Naggarond and parts of the Southlands. The attack on Lyonnesse and Moussillon was a declaration of their intention to invade the Old World, and add it to their list of conquests.

Faced with these threats it would have been madness for Franz to declare war against the Vampire Counts. He did everything he could up to the point of declaring war. When a horde of marauding greenskins surged into the southern Grey Mountains he sent Haupt-Anderssen to relieve the Dwarven fortress of Karak Norn, temporarily leaving the southern borders undefended. He pardoned the Dwarven deserters from his armies and let them go where they wished, on the condition that they maintain the peace. His greatest contribution lay in the care and housing of Dwarven refugees emerging from the south and east. The Dwarves were a hardy and stubborn folk, and many of them banded together into formidable groups and marched through vampire lands to escape to the Empire. Felix Jaeger and Gotrek Gurnisson were responsible for the creation of one such "underground railroad", which combined overland routes over mountain passes with secret Underways delved centuries before to create a highway from the lands south of Black Fire Pass into the south-west Empire. Another route extended beneath the World's Edge Mountains and ran directly north from Karaz-a-Karak and emerged near Karak Ungor, the northernmost remaining inhabited hold of the World's Edge Mountains. Imperial pickets were astonished to see a massive Dwarf army emerging through the snows from the east while wintering at Wolfenburg. The army, as it turned out, was a massive column of refugees guarded by a small detachment of Ironbreakers who had fled westward from Karak Ungor. The biggest surprise was in the number of women and children in the column, numbering in the tens of thousands. The Dwarves were a long-lived but infertile race, and the number of males outnumbered the females by ten to one. Dwarven children were almost rarely ever seen outside Dwarven holds, and the sight of so many convinced Franz of the scale of the calamity that had befallen the Dwarven Empire.

So, after 150 plus turns the game world has shaken out like this. The Vampire Counts are the strongest power in the game, followed by the Dark Elves, then the High Elves, then the Wood Elves, then Clan Pestilens and the Tomb Kings, and then finally me. Making the pact with the Vampire Counts saved me from the same fate I suffered in previous campaigns - that is, the Vampires crushing our armies, taking Altdorf and wiping me out. I've concluded treaties with the High Elves and the Wood Elves, and take great care in making sure these two are happy. Without these treaties I'm sure that the Vampire Counts will declare war on us in a heartbeat whenever it suits them.

The Dark Elves declared war on us and took our two cities on the Bretonnian coast. It was a blow because Lyonnesse was a built-up city, but I was never going to hold it for long because it was so far away from the Imperial heartlands. The Vampire Counts wiped out the Dwarves and most of the Orcs, which surprised the hell out of me. In 95% of my campaigns the Dwarves have always been one of the last empires standing. Maybe they were nerfed post-DLC? The Orcs are hanging on, but have been driven out of the Badlands in the south and are rampaging through the Grey Mountains south of the Empire. They haven't declared war yet, but I don't like a desperate rogue faction near my undefended southern borders. We're going to have to wipe them out. Luckily the undead are also squeezing them, so it may be an opportunity to expands a little bit southwards and increase the buffer between Altdorf and the Vampire Counts.

Next: Mortal Empires, Part XVII - Chaos Rising

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Mortal Empires, Part XV - Counter-Offensive

By the end of 2504 IC all Elector Counts who had been part of the Empire under Luitpold had either pledged their allegiance to the new Emperor, or were dead. Franz had finally re-unified his father's Empire - there were no other Elector Counts remaining who could make a claim for the throne. The territory controlled by Franz was smaller than his father's, however - Averland and the lower reaches of Wissenland remained in the hands of the Vampire Counts as per the Treaty of Wurtbad. Ostermark was a smoldering ruin. Nordland's coastal towns were constantly being ravaged by Norscans crossing the Sea of Claws and the Gulf of Kislev. The central Empire was dominated by an unprecedented host of Varg and Skaeling, in numbers never before seen in history.

The Norscan invasion of 2502-2504 was without precedent, and ravaged much of the north and central Empire.

Franz's great counter-offensive began from the staging town of Weismund in central Middenland. The army marched east towards Hergig and linked up with Ludenhof's Army of Hochland. From there the combined army swatted aside a pair of Varg armies and liberated the city of Hergig. Franz then headed south towards Talabheim. Crossing the River Talabec under the cover of mist and fog the Imperials made landfall on the southern bank at dawn and established a beachhead. Despite desperate attempts by the Varg to drive the growing number of troops back into the river Franz was able to hold thanks to the stout defense of the Middenlanders, and to a terrific cannonade from the north bank directed by Lennart Torstensson, a Dwarf artillery officer from Nuln. By noon most of Franz's army was south of the river. Swinging south and then looping around to the west the Imperial army hit Talabheim from the south, and drove the Varg garrison out of Talabheim. The Norscans showed time and time again their inexperience in siegecraft, being drawn to feints and demonstrations and failing to understand where the true point of attack would be. They also seemed to lack basic engineering skills, failing to repair breaches which they had wrought themselves. The Imperials took full advantage of these lapses at Middenheim, Hergig and Talabheim to win easy victories.

With Hergig and Talabheim once again in Imperial hands Franz took several weeks to rest and refit his army, as well as to impose order and secure his supply lines. In the meantime Ludenhof led the reinforced Army of Hochland north-east to recapture the capital of Ostland. A long and protracted siege ensued at Wolfenburg. The Varg had finally adopted the rudiments of siegecraft, and heavily fortified their position. Nonetheless the siege was finally broken when Franz's army came up from Hergig two months later. Franz astride Deathclaw was becoming a legend in the Empire. The sight of the Emperor flying overhead drew raucous cheers and raised hats from the soldiers. Wielding the mythical hammer of Sigmar, Ghal Maraz, and warded by ensorcelled artifacts and armor he was nigh unstoppable in battle. He was now supported by Imperial captains riding flying pegasi from the Grey Mountains. It takes a special form of madman to ride these flying mounts, but there was no shortage of volunteers in search for fame, riches and glory. At Wolfenburg Franz and his captains began the final assault by landing atop one of the walls and clearing away the troops stationed above. One of the captains was poorly secured in his saddle, however, and fell to his death, much to the discomfit of the troops watching below.

Franz was determined to weld the triumvirate of Hergig, Talabheim and Wolfenburg into a formidable bastion that would hold the center of the Empire together, with each town mutually supporting one another in defense. Supplies and troops were poured in from Reikland, Middenland and Wissenland to this end to rebuild the cities. Human and Dwarf engineers worked tirelessly to restore the walls. Famine and disease were the biggest issues, and great pains were taken to dispose of the dead and bring forward sufficient grain for the coming winter. Franz established Wolfenburg as his furthest north-east stronghold, and from here Franz and Ludenhof led sorties to destroy marauding Varg armies, and to shepherd terrified refugees to safety. The north-eastern approaches of Ostland became a bloody battlefield, with armies marching and counter-marching ceaselessly and townships and hamlets changing hands on a weekly basis. Beyond Ostland, the nation of Kislev lay in ruins, and its people were reduced to nomadic bands of armed cossacks, or desperate refugees fleeing south-west towards Hochland. Franz halted the Imperial advance at Bechafen. The capital of Ostermark was a shattered, smoking ruin, and Franz did not deem it prudent to rebuild the city. Instead his army rounded up whatever survivors they could find, and returned to Wolfenburg for winter quarters.

Major battles in the central Empire. Franz's counterattack took Hergig, then Talabheim, and finally Wolfenburg. The Imperials advanced as far east as Bechafen, but found it in ruins. With the onset of the snows Franz retired to Wolfenburg for winter quarters.

While Franz and Ludenhof campaigned in the north-east Todbringer oversaw the rebuilding of Middenheim and Salzenmund in the north-west. The Count of Middenland was also responsible for repelling reavers attacking the northern coast. Todbringer, still stung by the loss of Middenheim under his stewardship, was determined to make amends for the lapse. He pursued and destroyed reavers making landfall with ruthless determination, giving no quarter to the Northmen. In the south Haupt-Anderssen, unwilling to trust Manfred Von Carstein, controlled an army which routinely patrolled the border between human and vampire territory. His route took him from Wurtbad, his own provincial capital, to the newly confederated city of Nuln. He was kept busy by sporadic incursions by the undead. Whether it was due to the overflow of dark magic spilling from vampire territories, or deliberate probes by Manfred looking for human weakness the raids kept Haupt-Anderssen busy and wary of a larger attack. Having distinguished himself with the defense of Wurtbad in 2502 IC he was obsessed with creating a strong line of defense from Nuln to Grunburg to Kemperbad to Wurtbad. All settlements along this "Greater Stirland Wall" were heavily fortified. Walls and palisades were erected, artillery emplaced, munitions stockpiled and militia raised and drilled ceaselessly. Haupt-Anderssen was strident in his belief that a vampire attack was a matter of when, not if. He clashed frequently with the Countess of Wissenland over the direction of supplies and munitions, seeking to divert most of the wagons destined for the central empire to the south. Emmanuelle Von Liebwitz repaid the favor of the Emperor by studiously ignoring the Count of Stirland and sending the supplies to where they were intended to go.

We've chased the Norscans out of most of the Empire, but to finish them off we would need to cross the Sea of Claws and take the fight to the Norscan homeland. I've made peace with the Varg three times, and they've broken the pact each time. Their word means nothing. The Skaeling are a little bit more reliable, but from the first game I know that regardless of whether a peace holds or not the Norscan tribes will immediately declare war again once the Warriors of Chaos come sweeping down from the north-east. So as painful as it is, I have to cross the Sea of Claws and torch a bunch of Norscan settlements to break up their staging area. I don't think I'll be able to create lasting settlements there - I've tried in previous campaigns, but was foiled by the long build penalties due to the land being inhospitable to our faction. But I need to do something, otherwise I'll just be locked in an eternal cycle of repelling raiders from the north. I'm worried about a backstab coming from the Vampire Counts. With so many of our armies heavily committed in the north Haupt-Anderssen is the only line of defense we have if the undead turn on us. If I commit to an attack on the Norscan homeland the situation gets even worse. Franz and company will be on a different landmass and many, many leagues away from the border with the vampires.

The good news is that having fought so many Norscan armies we know how to defeat them and what composition works the best. Franz and Ludenhof are both rocking large amounts of fast cavalry who have displaced the skirmishers we ran with earlier. The Norscans bring lots of foot infantry, no artillery and fast cavalry in the form of either chaos hounds or marauder cavalry. The game plan is always to take out the fast elements first, then run circles around their slow infantry and shoot them up, much like those old Westerns where Indians ran rings around wagons. The armies become dispersed and get taken out piece meal by our own heavy cavalry and by our Lords on griffons. Ludenhof is mounted on a griffon as well now, and he acts as Franz 2.0, using the same tactics as the Emperor. A traditional battle line works well too, but I prefer the cavalry armies because we take much less casualties and preserve our strength for multiple battles.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Mortal Empires, Part XIV - Empire in Flames

The Treaty of Wurtbad allowed Franz to concentrate the bulk of his forces on the battle for the north and north-eastern provinces of the Empire. Before returning to the front he paid a visit to the ancient city of Nuln, the capital of Wissenland and traditional seat of the Imperial Gunnery School. The second largest city in the Empire, and Altdorf's rival politically, economically and culturally, Nuln also served as the biggest manufacturer and exporter of munitions and blackpowder war machines. Its reputation as a city of learning predated that of Altdorf's, and its sewer system and the great bridge spanning the River Reik were considered marvels of technology.

The city of Nuln, provincial capital of Wissenland and premier supplier of munitions and blackpowder weapons.

The Elector Count of Wissenland, Eben Von Liebwitz, was an old adviser of Luitpold who had seen the ascension of Luitpold's young son as an opportunity to expand Nuln's influence at Altdorf's expense. His ambition came to naught, however, when he was slain in an ambush by the Crooked Moon tribe south of Pfeildorf. To make matters worse his son and heir died in the same battle, leaving a power vacuum in Wissenland which left the province in disarray. Harried by vampire encroachment from the south-east and greenskin raids from the south-west the Wissenlanders were more than eager to consolidate with the growing Empire. The biggest squabble lay in who would succeed the fallen Elector. Without a clear heir a mad scramble for the throne ensued, and it appeared that the aristocrats were quite willing to let Nuln fall to the greenskins or the vampires rather than relinquish their claims.

Franz chose Emmanuelle Von Liebwitz, a distant niece of the late Eben, as Wissenland's new Elector Countess. His choice was controversial, and widely disputed. It was rumored that Emmanuelle, already an ambitious woman in her early 20s, seduced and bedded the young prince shortly after his 16th birthday. Only the two of them know the truth in this matter, but it is agreed that the Emperor's judgement, usually so sure in matters of war and statecraft, lapsed badly in the presence of Emmanulle. Franz could not deny her anything. A woman of astounding beauty, she was adept at navigating the torturous corridors of court intrigue. She was also an indifferent ruler, given to indulgent excesses and frivolity at the expense of the mercantile and agricultural classes. Her claim was weak, and her appointment opposed by many powerful families. Only the existential threat of the vampires in the south and Franz's successful reunification of four other provinces made it possible for the Emperor to have her confirmed as the next Elector.

With Wissenland provisionally secured Franz headed back to the front. The news from the other independent provinces was grim. No word had come from Wolfram Hertwig, the Elector Count of Ostermark, for weeks on end. The first inkling of his province's fate came when Varg armies appeared south-east of Talabheim. Outriders dispatched to Ostermark came back with dreadful news. The capital city of Bechafen was in ruins. Essen was occupied by the vampires. Norscan warbands and the undead roamed the countryside unchecked. Of the Count's ultimate fate no more news would be forthcoming.

The deluge of grim tidings continued unabated. Ostland's capital Wolfenburg fell to the Norscans, as did Talabheim shortly afterwards. Helmut Feuerbach, the Elector Count of Talabecland, died in the siege. Ostland's Elector, Valmir Von Raukov, died attempting to lift the siege of Praag. Even Ludenhof was forced to evacuate from his provincial capital of Hergig, prudently conserving his meager forces while waiting for the Imperial reinforcements to return from Nordland. It was truly the End Times. Never had the Empire been in such dire peril, nor had it ever lost such a number of its great towns in such quick succession. Middenheim, Talabheim, Wolfenburg, Averheim and Hergig had all fallen to enemies in 2502-2503. Not for nothing was this time known as the Age of Reckoning.

The provinces of the Empire, in a happier, alternate universe. This map is also dated 2522 IC, 20 years after the events in this post, so this may still be possible.

Reiklanders have always claimed that their province was the breadbasket of the Empire, and subsequent events would prove the truth behind this boast. The north and north-east may have been ravaged, but the industrial and agricultural centers of the Empire - Reikland, Stirland and Wissenland - were largely intact. Armed and supplied, Franz led a combined army comprising of Reiklanders, Middenlanders, Wissenlanders and Stirlanders to relieve Ludenhof's army of Hochland, who was fighting a rear guard action west of Hergig. Even Nordlanders were represented, albeit reluctantly as conscripts. Franz's conquest of Nordland earned him the enmity of the province, an enmity that would soften only after Franz showed his commitment to the defense of their home. Even then they would never really love him, not in the way that the Reiklanders and some of the other provinces would come to venerate the young Emperor after his many successful campaigns in the future.

Wissenland was about to be eaten by an Orc and Goblin army, so when I offered to consolidate they took it without hesitation. This time though I inherited no generals, just the city of Nuln and a couple of heroes. Still, Nuln will become a great defensive bastion to protect the south side of the Reikland, so I was happy to acquire it. As for the other provinces they no longer exist, having either been swallowed by the vampires or taken by the Norscans. The only Imperials left are under Franz's control. The Empire is finally unified, albeit in a somewhat diminished form.