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.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Mortal Empires, Part XIII - The Treaty of Wurtbad

Previous: Mortal Empires, Part XII - Hochland and Nordland

With the northern provinces of Middenland, Hochland and Nordland united under one banner, Franz was finally able to turn his attention to the southern lands of the Empire. While the northern lords had been frittering away their strength fighting each other, the southern lords were fighting for their lives against enemies beyond the Empire. Stirland remained under the most duress, fighting for its life against the resurgent vampire counts of Sylvania. Alberich Haupt-Anderssen, the Elector Count of Stirland, was unable to save the Moot, the ancestral home of the Halflings, and was forced to evacuate the populace to Wurtbad, the provincial capital. Haupt-Anderssen conducted several defenses of Wurtbad to repel the Von Carsteins, and while the city held, Haupt-Anderssen's position remained desperately tenuous. 

Stirland's plight was made worse by the erratic behavior of their southern neighbor. Ruled by the infamous Mad Lord Marius Leitdorf, Averland vacillated between solidarity and hostility depending on the mercurial moods of the Elector Count. Leitdorf was a formidable swordsman and able general in his more lucid moments, however, and he was able to resist the encroachment of the vampire counts for a long time. His failure to unite with the other provinces spelled his doom, however. His army was caught in the open by the armies of Mannfred Von Carstein, and utterly destroyed. Leitdorf was mortally wounded, and given a choice by Mannfred - turn or die. Hans Gruber, a surviving member of Leitdorf's personal guard, stated that the Mad Lord spat in the vampire's face, and shouted, "To me, Daisy!", before finally expiring at the vampire's feet.

The Mad Lord of Averland, Marius Leitdorf, atop his trusted steed, Daisy Kurt Von Helboring II.

Gruber was released by Mannfred and bidden to ride ahead to Averheim and deliver an ultimatum to the city. With their army destroyed Averheim was defenseless against the ever-growing army of the vampire counts, and desperate pleas for assistance were sent to all Electors within the Empire. Franz and his armies were tied up in the campaign against the Norscans, however, and were unable to march south to relieve them. The other Electors were similarly constrained. Stirland could spare no men from its own defense, while Wissenland was being raided by orcs and goblins of the Crooked Moon tribe. Talabecland, Ostland and Ostermark were in the process of being destroyed by the Varg. Averheim was on its own.

Mannfred Von Carstein, the most cunning of the Vampire Counts.

All was not lost for all the inhabitants crowding desperately into the city, however. The armies of the vampire counts differed greatly from the mortal armies in several respects. For one, the vast majority of the rank and file of the vampire counts needed no supplies, and did not sack or loot or commit murder or rape, unless specifically bidden to by their masters. Sustained by the dark magic drawn to the lands under the vampire's control, skeleton infantry and cavalry were given mobility and purpose by the eldritch rituals of necromancy. The price for this power was paid by the land itself. Forests and pastures withered and died, and life was leeched away from the countryside and its inhabitants, leaving darkness and desolation in its wake.

Secondly, only the leadership caste of the vampire counts could be reckoned as true vampires. The vampire counts kept their numbers down deliberately and actively fostered the relative well-being of the humans under their control, as they understood better than most the relationship between themselves and their prey. As the land withered and died, the night kin spared enough of the land from despoilment so that the humans could maintain a meager subsistence. The Von Carsteins did not want the end of humanity, because the demise of humanity also meant the demise of the vampire race. What they did want was the end of human resistance to their rule. To this end they permitted limited autonomy from their herds, gave incentives for talented and loyal humans to advance in wealth and position, and kept their atrocities hidden from public sight, lest it incite open rebellion.

The land under the Vampire Counts.

The Burgomeister of Averheim understood this, and with no aid forthcoming, he bowed to the inevitable and opened the gates to the forces of Mannfred. In return Mannfred spared the citizens from a bloodbath, and allowed the townfolk to go on with their lives. The occupation exacted a bloody tithe, though, in the form of the luckless citizens who were chosen to satiate the blood thirst of the vampire leadership. But by guaranteeing the safety and continuing prosperity of the merchants and aristocracy, Mannfred was able to preserve the infrastructure of the city and at the same time make them complicit in the systematic slaughter of the powerless.

By the time Franz was able to return to the south Averheim had fallen, and the Von Carsteins were in Stirland, preparing to march on to Wurtbad. He wasted no time in reinforcing Wurtbad, and what remained of Stirland was confederated into the Empire. It was at this time that the young Emperor would make one of his most controversial edicts. Faced with seemingly endless numbers of Norscans pouring into the north Franz dispatched a message to Mannfred, proposing a non-aggression pact. Franz faced widespread opposition to this decision, but his prestige was at an all time high, having successfully consolidated Reikland, Middenland, Nordland, Hochland and Stirland into the rump of a nascent Empire. When asked by Volkmar as to his reasons, the Emperor stated simply: "If we fight both the Norscans and the undead, we will lose everything."

Franz showed no surprise when an envoy of the Vampire Counts appeared at Wurtbad to convey a letter from Mannfred himself several days later. The envoy was a stunning ethereal beauty with dark mysterious eyes, raven curls and a ghostly porcelain complexion named Isoulde Von Carstein. Mannfred adopted the long standing Sylvanian tradition of giving their vampire progeny his last name, and Isoulde was no exception. She gave Mannfred's reply. Not only would he grant the Emperor's request, but he was also willing to forge a defensive alliance between their "two great nations in this Age of Reckoning", provided that the existing boundaries were adhered to. What astonished both the court and Isoulde herself was the warm and familiar reception she received from the Emperor. Dispatched to the Empire as a diplomat, envoy and spy, she was caught off guard by Franz's warmth and openness, which contrasted starkly with the suspicion, fear and loathing emanating from the remainder of the Imperial court.

Franz knew that acceding to the vampire's terms meant abdicating control over Averland. But with Talabecland, Ostland and Ostermark still being threatened by the Norscans, and Wisseland plagued by greenskin raids, he saw the wisdom of sacrificing the province in return for time. And thus in 2504 IC, the Emperor signed the Treaty of Wurtbad, later known in history by its critics as the infamous "Blood Pact". In a small country estate just south of Wurtbad the Emperor would meet Mannfred Von Carstein in person for the first time, and the two of them would affix their respective seals on this agreement. They also spoke at length, out of earshot of their advisers. Most of what they spoke about was lost, but both were unanimous in their declarations to their advisers that they would meet again.

Many Averlanders would see this as a betrayal of the Emperor's duty to protect his subjects, especially against occupiers as hateful, sinister and murderous as the vampires. But as Franz's coterie of Electors were learning, the Emperor was being guided by a sight which they were not privy to, but had thus far led them to victory after victory in the battle field. They were willing to follow his lead for the immediate future. In return for the continued security of Stirland, Haupt-Anderssen agreed to confederate with the Empire, joining Todbringer and Ludenhof as the third Elector to bend the knee to Franz.

Another confederation. Stirland joins the fold, giving me another general, Alberich Haupt-Anderssen. I have a surfeit of generals now - six in total - but only three armies. As written in the fluff I've concluded a defensive pact with the Vampire Counts. I don't know how long this will last - this faction is notorious for breaking treaties, especially when your military strength is weak - but the focus now is to really go after the Norscans and drive them out of the Empire before we get stabbed in the back. Or before we stab them. I called the "treaty" the Treaty of Wurtbad, based on the historical Treaty of Westphalia, which ended the 30 Years War in the 17th century. The Empire part of Warhammer is based on wars of the Holy Roman Empire in the 1600s, when Germany as a united entity did not exist, and armies of disparate nations, factions and denominations marched all over Europe. The dress, weapons and units of the Empire is lifted from this period, but given a liberal sprinkling of the fantastic. The Thirty Years War was ceaseless, never ending war over religion and power, and by its end, according to the text books, over a quarter of the European population had died as a result of it. In fact, the saying, "Sigmar is with us" is a direct conflation of a common Germanic battle cry during the 30 Years War - "Gott mit uns", or "God is with us" - and the sad thing is that both the Catholics and the Lutherans/Protestants used it while killing each other.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Mortal Empires, Part XII - Hochland and Nordland

With the Norscans driven back for the moment Franz took the time to meet with the Elector Count of Hochland, Aldebrand Ludenhof. A tall thin man with a passion for hunting and falconry, Ludenhof and Todbringer became bitter enemies in the aftermath of the Imperial elections, leading to a series of bitter clashes in southern Middenland near the town of Carroburg. The Norscan invasion put an immediate halt to their squabble, and Todbringer was forced to cede the town in order to withdraw his forces to defend his provincial capital. With the liberation of Middenheim Todbringer was eager to march south and re-capture Carroburg from Hochland, despite the fact that he had nominally agreed to make peace.

Another rendition of Karl Franz in action.

Franz made all this moot by meeting Ludenhof and extracting from him an oath of fealty. Appealing to the Count's sense of duty, he was able to persuade the Elector to serve the greater good and join the Imperial cause. Ludenhof was no fool - his province was sorely pressed from the east by the Varg, and with a combined Imperial army in the west, over a third of which were vengeful Middenlanders looking to avenge their humiliation at Carroburg, he knew that to fight was folly. The issue of who would have control of Carroburg was also solved by Franz, who placed it under Reikland administration. While this displeased both Todbringer and Ludenhof, the two Elector Counts were much more willing to let Franz control the town than each other and thus the issue was settled.

Ludenhof was able to extract one concession from Franz, a request that took the Emperor by surprise but one he readily acceded to. A passionate collector of hunting birds, Ludenhof had always wanted a griffon to raise and one day ride into battle. He was given a single griffon egg from the Imperial Zoo, and with that, Hochland became part of the Empire again. He was also awarded a position as the Emperor's Eye, the title of the Empire's spymaster, much to the discomfiture of Todbringer.

The province of Hochland.

Franz's overtures to Nordland, however, failed to garner similar success. Despite several entreaties for an armistice, Gausser continued his raids into Marienburg territories, much to the anger and disgust of Franz's court. After several weeks of fruitless diplomacy Franz finally lost his temper, and declared Gausser a traitor. Franz marched onto Salzenmund with a combined Reikland, Middenland and Hochland army. The garrison put up a spirited defense, but fell in a few short weeks, once again thanks to the demoralizing and deadly assault of the Emperor on the back of Deathclaw. After securing Salzenmund Franz moved on to the coastal town of Dietershafen. Here he fought Gausser's army which had hastily marched back from Gosling. Gausser was soundly beaten, and forced to retreat. His tattered army was pursued and finally destroyed in the woods south-west of Dietershafen. Gausser himself was denied a final audience with the Emperor. He met his end at the hands of Imperial assassins somewhere beneath the eaves of the Laurelorn Forest, and his remains never found. His family was stripped of their lands and titles, and a family loyal to the Franz dynasty, the Hasselhoffs, was proclaimed the new Elector and entrusted with watching the bays and coves of the Empire's most northern province.

The Empire (in red) after confederating with Middenland and Hochland, and conquering the rebel province of Nordland. Franz's army composition can be seen in the bar below the map, comprising of Franz, an Empire captain, a Warrior-Priest, 8 units of Reiksgard, 7 units of Free Company skirmishers and 1 Helstorm Rocket Battery.

More confederation! Hochland accepted my offer to confederate with the Empire, so I added Aldebrand Ludenhof to my list of generals along with his armies and territories. Ludenhof is not a Legendary Lord and can die, however, so I have to be careful with him until he reaches level 20. Once he reaches level 20 he can unlock a skill called Immortal, which as the name suggests, makes the lord death-proof. The same applies for all heroes, so it's incumbent on you to look after them until then. Once they hit 20 and acquire the skill, however, you can be as reckless with them as you like. Even if they should die they will return in 4 turns (less with special items, traits or followers). High level heroes seriously boost the power of your army, so you should always be consciously leveling them.

The Empire has a vested interest in forging an alliance with Nordland because Franz has a quest which requires him to do just that. Quests award Legendary Lords bonus experience and unique magical artifacts, and are well worth doing. Nordland refused all offers of peace in this playthrough, however, and so I just decided to wipe them out. The quest aborts the parts of quests which are no longer achievable, so I didn't lose anything by doing this.

We're now a medium-sized power, ranked 9th or 10th overall. This is the furthest I've ever been in Legendary in the sequel so I'm very chuffed at our progress. Franz has also hit the level cap (40) and acquired his epic weapon, Ghal Maraz, by completing his quest lines. He can now pretty much go toe to toe with any other Legendary Lord in the game, with the exception of maybe Archaon, the Chaos Lord of the End Times. Franz is equipped with a Potion of Healing in order to give him extra staying power in battle. I'm also training up an Empire Captain mounted on a Pegasus to become his wingman. Franz is tough enough to solo regiments on his own, but when he has friends he just cleaves through the enemy. 

My next goal now is to level up the rest of the generals. While none of them will ever become the beast Franz is, they can come close. Balthasar Gelt is a support general whose spells can be devastating, but needs heroes to anchor his line. He can hold his own against low to mid quality enemy units, but can't go toe to toe with enemy lords in combat. Volkmar the Grim is a traditional general in the sense that he stays with the bulk of the army and provides leadership. He has a special mount known in Total War circles as the "Popemobile", which is essentially a war chariot. I've never actually used him that much, but will tinker with him and his army build as we keep expanding. He combos very well with Flagellants, which are a type of unbreakable fanatic infantry. They will fight to the last man, but they are slow, unarmored, and vulnerable to missile fire. They're also expensive to replace, and they die in droves in every battle, so I'm not sure if I like Volkmar's army composition design. Maybe when the Imperial treasuries are flush he'd be great, but for now his army upkeep almost rivals Franz, who has a lot of expensive units in it. 

At this point of the game our main enemy are the Norscans, who are just ripping up the north-east parts of the Empire. By some miracle Stirland has been keeping the Vampire Counts at bay, and are still in the game. Things look good for the Empire, but this is largely based on fighting the Norscans only and avoiding any other wars. I've only been playing for 3-4 combined hours on the weekends to prevent my gameplay from outrunning the written account, but I'm pretty confident we can spank the Norscans and drive them back north. I'm just worried that the Vampires will turn on us before we complete this task. We shall see!

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Mortal Empires, Part XI - Crisis in Ulricsberg

Ulricsberg is the name of the massive plateau of white rock rising from the Drakwald Forest in the heart of Middenland. It is on this place that the city of Middenheim was founded, and for centuries the City of the White Wolf has remained inviolable, proof against pestilence, war and famine and an enduring symbol of Ulric, the ancient God of War and Winter. Middenheim is ruled by the Elector Count Boris Todbringer, once a bitter rival to Franz, but slowly being won over by the young Emperor's string of victories and his uncanny ability to counter every move made by his enemies to destabilize his fledgling rule.

Middenheim is home to one of the most famous Imperial Knight Orders - the White Wolves. Sadly, the White Wolves are not represented in-game.

When the news arrived in Bretonnia that Middenheim had fallen the first reaction was stunned disbelief. The Reiklanders, celebrating their relatively easy triumph over the undead legions of the Red Duke, could scarcely believe their ears. The rivalry between Reikland and Middenland was an ancient one, but the Reiklanders had always respected the mettle and courage of their more "uncouth" and "barbaric" neighbors. A vast tide of Norscan raiders had supposedly swept past the Nordland fortress at Salzenmund, and taken the city garrison by surprise. The bulk of the Middenland army was fighting in the south against Hochland over the township of Carroburg, and could do nothing. By the time an armistice was signed and the troops withdrawn the city was in the hands of the Norscans. This was a double humiliation for the Middenlanders - not only were they forced to cede Carroburg to Hochland, but their ancient capital of Middenheim had been lost.

Todbringer's self-recrimination knew no bounds. But his shame at being the first of his line to lose Middenheim paled in comparison to the fury he felt at the betrayal of the Elector Count of Nordland, Theodoric Gausser. Gausser, infuriated at the election of Franz, had deliberately ceased all patrols in the north as a gesture to spite the new Emperor. The lack of eyes and ears in the north was not lost to the Norscans, who took full advantage of the discord in the Empire to strike a mortal blow. The Norscan tribes of the Varg and the Skaeling swept south in unprecedented numbers, raiding and pillaging throughout the Imperial provinces of Ostermark, Ostland, Hochland and Middenland. The fact that Nordland was spared the Norscan's wrath did not go unnoticed.

Gausser's treason did not end there. He declared Nordland's independence, and launched an attack on Gosling, a northern city in the province of Marienburg recently annexed by the Empire. Volkmar was one of the few who knew of Franz's visions, and he asked the Emperor if he had foreseen this. Franz replied no, and said that in every vision he'd seen Gausser had rallied to the cause and fought with the Empire. Franz, not wishing to execute a man who he believed would become a staunch ally, was reluctant to move against Gausser. Volkmar counseled the Emperor that Gausser's actions were treasonous, and must be answered. The Grand Theogonist also warned Franz that since they could not be sure whether the Emperor's visions were divine or diabolical in origin, they could not rely on them to guide their actions.

Middenheim is another city described in exquisite detail in the modules printed to support the first run of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay.

In any case the two men agreed that the first course of action must be to liberate Middenheim from the Norscans. The Imperial armies were swiftly mustered and headed back east at all possible speed. To defend Lyonesse, Franz assigned Balthasar Gelt, the new Patriarch of the Colleges of Magic. The new Patriarch of the Colleges of Magic was largely regarded as an impudent upstart by more established masters. Nonetheless, his defeat of the former Patriarch Thyrus Gormann at the ritual duel in Altdorf secured his position as the Head of the Colleges for the foreseeable future.

Franz met Todbringer in Altdorf, and it was there that the Count of Middenland swore eternal fealty to the Emperor in return for Reikland assistance in re-capturing Middenheim. Franz also demanded that Todbringer end his feud with the Elector Count of Hochland, Aldrebrand Ludenhof. Chastised and humiliated, Todbringer had no choice but to comply. To ameliorate his wounded pride, Franz appointed Todbringer as Reiksmarshal - a position left vacant after the death of Kurt Helborg in the first battle of Grung Zint.

Franz marched northwards with Todbringer from the Middenlander's last redoubt in Weismund. At Middenheim the combined Reikland and Middenland army captured the city in a lightning strike against the Norscans, who showed little aptitude for siege craft. The Middenlander's perception of Karl Franz as a weak and soft "southern river" lord was irrevocably changed when they saw the Emperor crashing into the Norscan lines like a vengeful thunderbolt from the skies. Coupled with the liberation of their beloved city Franz had finally done enough to win the hearts and minds of the Middenlanders, who would go on to become staunch allies in the wars to come.

I've unlocked the last Legendary Lord, Balthasar Gelt, so nominally I now have three armies in the field. We can't afford a third army, however, so Gelt doesn't actually have an army with him. He is effectively just leading the garrison at Lyonesse. I've also been able to confederate with what remains of Middenland, who have been pounded by the Skaeling and the Varg and only have one city left after losing Middenheim and Carroburg. In Total War you can consolidate with like-minded factions by either becoming so friendly with them that they welcome confederation, or by swooping in to rescue them from certain destruction, which is what we did in this case.

When you confederate you gain control of the old faction's cities, armies, heroes and generals, and this usually leads to some culling because army upkeep balloons out of control. I also gained another Legendary Lord - Boris Todbringer - effectively giving me four generals. As stated above, I could only really afford two full armies, and so I had to switch Volkmar out so Todbringer could help liberate Middenheim. Legendary Lords can't die, though, so any experience gained is never wasted, and you're free to sub in and sub out at any time (except when they're wounded). The priority is to create high level generals that can win crucial battles. I found in earlier campaigns that wherever Franz went we would win, but everywhere else was vulnerable. The goal then, is not just the acquisition of cities to fund armies, but also to create a few formidable generals who can win with those armies. This will allow us to open new fronts and free Franz from having to do all the heavy lifting.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Mortal Empires, Part X - Mousillon

The city of Mousillon, once a thriving port town on the west coast of Bretonnia, has an evil and sinister reputation. Shunned by the common folk it is largely deserted, and those that dwell there have an ill and foreboding aspect. Mousillon is the home of the Red Duke, a proud knight of old who once led men in the Crusades against Araby. This was over a thousand years ago.

Mousillon, the City of the Damned.

Nowadays the Red Duke still holds sway over Mousillon, for the once proud Duke of Aquitaine is a feared vampire of legend. When the Age of Reckoning began and the world fractured into hundreds of squabbling factions an Undead army burst forth from Mousillon and marched on the lands of men. Led none other by the Red Duke himself, the dread host captured the cities of Lyonnesse and Gisoreux. The Duke, in his endless rage, declared war against the living, and punctuated his declaration by the wholesale slaughter of thousands.

The Red Duke.

The nation of Bretonnia was also in the grip of its own civil war, and the threat of Norscan reavers left the king of Bretonnia, Louen Leoncouer, unable to act. With his base in Reikland temporarily secured Franz was free to move against Mousillon, however, and after obtaining the king's permission Franz mobilized a force of Reiklanders to head west into Bretonnian lands. The city of Gisoreux lay at the south-western end of the Gisoreux Gap, while the city of Marienburg, so recently annexed by the Empire, lay in the north-east. Franz did not want an Undead host marching through the pass to threaten his occupation of Marienburg, and resolved to destroy the Red Duke once and for all. In this he had the assistance of the Grand Theogonist Volkmar himself. Franz could now field two armies, and the second he entrusted to the venerable head of the Cult of Sigmar. Moving together in tandem Franz and Volkmar defeated the Red Duke and drove him back from Gisoreux. They pursued the Duke back to Mousillon, and together they captured that squalid ruin and destroyed the remainder of the Duke's army. The final act in this swift campaign was the liberation of the port city of Lyonnesse. In a matter of several weeks Karl Franz had destroyed another enemy of humanity, adding yet more laurels to his name, and earning the gratitude of the Bretonnian provinces.

Franz and Volkmar's westward route in the Mousillon campaign. The two armies muster in Altdorf, take river barges to Marienburg and then head south-west through the Gisoreux Gap to Gisoreux. After capturing Gisoreux they march on to Mousillon, before finally liberating Lyonesse from the Red Duke's clutches.

Things are looking up in this campaign. Our borders have stabilized, allowing us to strike west against Mousillon without fear of being attacked at home. I've unlocked another Legendary Lord, Volkmar the Grim, and have the financial resources to field a second army. I've recruited a bunch of heroes - captains and warrior-priests - and seeded them in both armies. If these heroes don't die they will grow to be powerful melee units. I've also got a Light Wizard as a reward for completing the Bloodpines quest earlier in the campaign, and he's coming along nicely. Wizards can be used in a wide variety of roles, but I use mine to delay the enemy with the Net of Amyntok spell or make troops unbreakable for short periods of time.

The world map, as it appears in the Total War interface. Volkmar has just finished off Mousillon by capturing Lyonesse in the north-west.

Franz's army composition has changed now that we have the capacity to recruit Reiksgard. Before he used to field a balanced army with swordsmen and crossbows - now his army is composed purely of Reiksgard knights and skirmishers. At the beginning of each battle I split the knights into groups and place a mounted hero in each group, and then deploy the skirmishers ahead to disperse the enemy army. We can then pick and choose when and where to strike. The cavalry are fast enough to evade bad match-ups, while no one is safe from Franz flying high above the battlefield on his griffon.

Volkmar's army is more conventional, using line troops and missile units to present a traditional battle line. The wizard is more useful here, so I've placed him with Volkmar rather than with Franz. Every Imperial army should have a warrior-priest - not only can they become quite tanky once they gain several levels of experience, but they also have the ability to replenish lost troops faster between turns. This isn't important yet, but will be when facing multiple armies in the middle game. Ideally I would love to have artillery in Volkmar's army, too, but I've run out of building slots in the Reikland to unlock it. Gaining Lyonesse gives me a third provincial capital after Altdorf and Marienburg, and the priority for this city will be to unlock artillery for the Imperial armies.