Faction Design: Vampire Pirates in the Age of Sigmar

If you’re reading this blog odds are that you’re aware that I have a tendancy for exploring smaller factions to expand into fully fledged fan battletomes as part of an ongoing attempt to expand my knowledge and talents at games design and to provide something for narrative players to enjoy when exploring the expanded factions. To date I have produced a custom tome for
Suneater Ogors (fantatics who seek to restore the world to the Wylds, a destruction faction with priests of destruction and a cool alternative to factional terrain)
Ironweld Arsenal (Full factional expansion of the Ironweld with knightly households, steam punk technologies and a gritty industrial approach to humanity in the Age of Sigmar

So as part of a conversation with a friend after my Slaanesh steamrolled his Stormcast for the umpteenth time, he brought up an issue of whilst losing he also wasnt having fun (Not entirely shocking I admit) with the abilities brought to bear seemingly strikingly uncontested or one sided and that the two factions which narratively should be pretty similar in power levels simply didnt feel right. Now there’s little denying my Slaanesh are potent, and they are fantastically fun to play with and the narrative behind my Pretenders I really enjoyed converting and writing for. Still those sentiments stayed with me, about how to make a faction that feels fun for players on both sides of the table, that the game can be competitive but alot of fun for all involved. These days I dont have to look too hard to find a faction that fans are eager for, with the rich scope of the AoS setting there are countless possibilities but a huge fan favourite are the Vampire Coast of Warhammer Fantasy, and more recently Warhammer Total War fame.

Theres alot of fun behind the concept of Pirates in a vampire setting, but getting to explore a faction which is heavily dependant on Vessels to carry them to battle as an integral part of the force would present a games design challenge that I havent undertaken to date. The existing Vessel faction comes by way of the Kharadron Overlords, but I have always found the vessel/infantry split of their forces massively leaning toward the infantry to the point some armies dont include any Airships at all. With my faction I wanted to avoid this, the line between an Undead Pirate and a well dressed Undead entirely comes by way of the Pirate Ship.

With this core issue in mind I’m looking to explore a new and novel way of presenting the army, rather than having your infantry as Battleline I have designed two ship templates that each have a crew compliment included in their cost, this presents a balance of battleline and behemoth and makes sure that when fielding the army it feels like a fleet and not an infantry army with ships tacked on.

To enforce this idea the well known Death save (deathless courtiers etc) will not be generated by Heroes auras, but instead comes tethered to the ships themselves. Anchors for the souls of the Crew that are bound to them these Vessels form a spiritual nexus that strengthens those nearby. Not only this but if the ship is destroyed the crew begin to unravel, a punishing mechanic for failing to defend the fleet and representing the concept of the crew being dragged back to the Depths.

This is further accentuated with the Factional Command ability, able to swing crew from their vessel when it makes a successful charge you have the option to position your key units behind the enemy front lines, forcing screening units to deploy far deeper (and thus more condensed) or risk battling on two front.

With the Ships the first comes by way of the Countess Isabella a robust freeguild ship raised from the depths bearing a full broadside of barnacle encrusted cannons.

The comes the Lahmian Rebuke, a shadowed cutter of a ship forged of darkened wood and bone that specialises in ploughing into enemy ships to cleave them in two as the vampiric slavers take their fill of the crew.

For the Crews, the Countess provides what you’d find to by the more classic Battleline unit, with the Cutthroat Mutineers and mixture of light shooting attacks and medium melee they are a fantastic harassment unit. Meanwhile the Drowned, drawn from the souls of innocents simply caught up in the tides of the Maelstrom and tormented by the waters of Shyish they now seek to share this with all they encounter. They lash out with clumsy attacks but able to drown foes, and their spongey skin makes them highly resilient to damage in combat able to lock down enemies for prolongued fights. Finally the Lahmians are an elite, dexterous and highly savage melee unit.

Finally looking at Heroes, I dont want this to be a faction of combat monsters and one man armies, it would diminish the themes of the fleet and ultimately prove counter intiutive to the narrative themes I am trying to imbue. Instead each hero should provide a helpful, tactically useful but also narratively appropriate boost to the fleet, with each ship able to carry a single hero in addition to its crew compliment it allows you to spread your influence wider across the battlefield.

The Captain, ancient vampiric lords who have ascended the fleet across the centuries they have two abilities that emphasis disrupting enemies rather than simply butchering them. The first comes by way of a duel, calling out heroes nearby to face them or face the shame of the refusal, narratively this can lead to cinematic clashes of sabre and steel with the Captain picking out his prey to lock blades with. Tactically however it has a fantastic edge to it, forcing your foe to direct all of their attacks for the combat phase at the captain you can use it to pull a weaker foe into combat (or force them to fight last as punishment) or force a far stronger opponent to put all of their attacks into a single hero (As the captain, full of spite and brine faces down a Kraken). Similarly his command ability focuses not on amplifying damage but allowing the Abyssal Fleets player to choose when their units fight in the combat phase, disrupting well laid plans of enemies and even managing to circumvent some of the combat delay abilities of other factions (After all as the ability says, only a Fool waits to die)

The other Heroes each focus on providing specific, useful but not overly potent abilities to ensure synergies and interplay are the heart of the army.

Finally comes the Abyssal Collossus, a walking mocking image of a man forged of broken ships and the raw destruction of the Maelstrom. A potent spirit standing twice the height the houses of the freeguild, able to be manned by a Hero atop its crows nest providing you a mobile command post across the battlefield.

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