So, I play Dark Elves in the Warhammer thing. You probably knew that by now. You also probably knew that it was a close thing: that I had designs on a Vampire Counts army, but botted when a mate of mine offered to sell me his evil pointy pirate men for less than half retail price.
The other alternative was Vampire Counts. It may still become a Project, if the new edition of Warhammer tempts me into playing them again. Even if it doesn't, I think there might be some Frugal tips and fiddles in here for the discerning player, so let's have a go.
I (would have) picked Vampire Counts because:
- I've played the army before and know I get on well with them.
- Undead are cool.
- They'd look good on the terrain I've built for my Cryx army.
- There are elements of their background that I have something of a soft spot for.
- Above all, there are lots of ranges of undead minis for medieval/fantasy games that are cheaper than Citadel.
Let's start with the background bit, get it out of the way quickly.
I've always had a soft spot for Heinrich Kemmler, the Lichemaster. He's wise. He's powerful. He's mad as a broom. He's got a big hat.
He first appeared in a scenario called the Battle of La Maisontaal Abbey, pitted against Bretonnians and Skaven (both of which are played by mates of mine). He's also in WFRP, in an adventure set in a town called Frugelhofen (that's fate, that is!).
(Incidentally, Frugelhofen also featured in the excellent Warhammer Townscapes, a pack of cardboard buildings that seems to go on more or less forever. I have a PDF copy and will eventually be transferring it onto card so I can build some terrain on the very cheap.
White Dwarf 309 - 311 featured a run of articles called Return of the Lichemaster, which posited something very like the old Undead army for old Heinrich to lead, and pitted him against the Wood Elves of Athel Loren. I hate Wood Elves and any excuse to zombify them is always welcome.
The appeal in this is the army of Undead Wood Elves, raised from the barrows of Athel Loren after his last defeat and let loose upon the Old World again.
Let's look for some models.
Mantic do a range of plastic Ghouls, Skeletons, Revenants (armoured Skeletons, with cavalry currently available only in metal), Wraiths with a variety of weapons, and Skeleton Catapults.
The main attractions of Mantic minis are twofold: they look quite nice (especially the Ghouls, which I vastly prefer to the Citadel minis), and they're bloody cheap, working out at something like half the price of GW's models in most cases.
They also have some Elf Cavalry that would make rather nice Blood Knights in this undead Elf horde, and a range of rather tasty character models - although those aren't much cheaper than the GW equivalent.
(Incidentally, Mantic are a great choice for the Elf or Undead player on a budget, and they're working on a range of Dwarves at the moment too. Keep yer eyes on them. They're quite cool.)
I discovered Mantic through Carpe Noctem, a Vampire Counts forum I used to frequent. Most of the Warhammer armies have a large online community or two, and most of those large online communities have forum threads or articles about sourcing models on the cheap. It's a good place to start looking: CN's led me to Mantic, Wargames Factory and Heresy, back in the day.
That's Skeletons and Ghouls out of the way - what about the other Core choice?
Citadel Zombies aren't terrible value for money, all things considered, but there's always another option.
Zombie Celts Mash-Up Box!. Suitably wild, barbaric-looking zombies that you pretty much have to kitbash. Opportunity to get some more human-looking ones in there too, for variety's sake and that "raised from all over" feel. Nice. Most of the other zombies I found were either metal (and too expensive to field in numbers) or just very old-fashioned sculpts that looked like refugees from a mid-90s Citadel catalogue.
Our mates at Heresy (they're lovely people, you know) do some Ghouls, which are lovely models (I had fifteen in my old Vampire Counts army) but a bit pricey to buy in the sort of numbers the modern Vampire Count needs them in.
However, they also make a range of cheap, nice-lookin' characters.
This Apprentice Wizard would make a fine Necromancer or even a passable Kemmler with a bit of work and the Evil Pointy Hat.
I'm also very fond of this Vampire, and if I couldn't afford a Kemmler miniature (quite likely) I think he'd make a cool General. The top hatted head is my favourite, naturally.
He also comes in a grab bag with a winged Hero choice, perfect for that Flying Horror (or whatever the ability's called) upgrade. My first thought was 'Varghulf' but he's a bit small for that, and anyway, I can always use DARK SLAVE MINIATURES' Treeman for that.
Oh yeah. Big blighted Treeman dude. That suits the army more than a bat monster any day of the week. It would also work nicely as a dark, foresty equivalent to the Bone Giant (Mantic make catapults and armoured Skeleton heroes, so why not think about using this same collection for two army lists? You get more variety of play that way, without having to shell out on two sets of miniatures, although it might come out as more like one and a half if some of the models don't work for both).
I'm now forced to turn back to CITADEL MINIATURES for a bit, as they're really the only people who make Heinrich Kemmler and Krell. Their models are soooooo expensive these days and, to be honest, put me off the theme a bit, but they're out there if one can afford them and they sometimes go for not too much on eBay.
There are no rules for these guys any more, but I've been looking at the Vampire Counts book and it shouldn't be too hard to mock them up using the options in there. It won't be perfect, but it'll be 'awesome, very tough Necromancer' and 'badass Wight King'. Shame they don't do Krell's back banner any more, a battle standard would have been handy.
Citadel also make those Lord of the Rings Army of the Dead minis (quite an economical way of doing Spirit Hosts) and Flagellants (they're just mandatory for anyone doing lots of human-ish WFB models).
What to do about Bats (of all sizes) and Ushabti (if I were to go for the Barrow Kings option and fake up a Tomb Kings army using gothic-looking miniatures)?
Gargoyles! Something different (albeit a bit Warcrafty, but there's no shame in that). Took me a while but I eventually found some not-too-bad-looking ones from Reaper, Reaper again, West Wind, whose Gothic Horror range is full of fun Vampirey stuff (an atmospheric skirmish scale game with literary inclinations that unfortunately played like a mouldy sandwich with a small dog's insides, but does have the distinction of being card-based years before Malifaux), and this lot here as well. Oh, and Fenryll do some as well, although the jury's out on whether I actually like them.
Some of these aren't much cheaper than GW Furies would be, admittedly, but I'm kind of into this looking-for-alternatives now. Mounted two to a base, these could serve as Bat Swarms or Fell Bats or Carrion (although the Citadel Carrion are gorgeous, and if I could pick some up for cheap I'd use those like a shot).
This was done in a couple of hours, just thinking about what I'd do with the army and doing a few searches for things like "28mm treeman miniature" and "28mm gargoyle". The result would be a very different-looking Undead army. Wouldn't be suitable for offical GW events, but to be honest I'm cooling on those a bit after some conversations that reminded me why I never liked them before.
As a slow, controlled-expenditure project, I would probably start with a core of Mantic Ghouls and Heresy characters, and then factor in Mantic regiments and monster units alternately. A sort of creeping death, rather than the "buy in, buy in big" approach I took with the Dark Elves.
That's if I did it.
I'm not going to.