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