Friday, September 25, 2009

Tactica: Duelists



Hello all, it's time for another Dogs of War tactica. This time I would like to discuss perhaps the best unit in the entire army, namely Duelists. If you think of Dogs of War, the terms 'elite' or 'powerful' are not typically associated with the army. Nevertheless, Duelists occupy a key spot in the Dogs of War army and are a true multi-tasking unit, and to top things off, they are also a Core choice. In short, you can have as many units as you can afford. There are no restrictions as with Special and Rare choices, and no army-specific constraints such as the 'mainstay unit' rules. Quite simply, Duelists are the best unit available to the Dogs of War general for a variety of reasons which I will discuss in greater detail below.

As I mentioned, Duelists are a Core choice for Dogs of War and are an infantry unit. Unlike the rather static blocks of pikemen, Duelists are much more mobile as they have the Skirmishers special rule. Statistically, they also stack up favorable to other generic Dogs of War units as they have both a Weapon Skill (WS) and Initiative (I) of 4. In an army where 3 is the average stat, it is quite an improvement. Their other statistics are all average and their leadership is also the average 7 for most humans. What makes them such a useful unit then?

Their equipment options for duelists, one option in particular, make them an indespensible unit for the army and one of the few mercenary units that actually stacks up fairly well against other armies out there. Duelists come standard with a hand weapon but may purchase an additional hand weapon, pistols, and throwing knives. Duelists are also extremely fragile (as are most skirmishers) in that they have no armor, but may opt to purchase bucklers for a scant bit of protection in combat.

Of the 3 main weapon configurations, purchasing throwing knives is perhaps the least desirable choice (unless you are doing this for fluff or thematic reasons). For a few points more than throwing knives you can purchase a pistol for your Duelists. Armed in this manner, Duelists become quite a fearsome unit as they provide a bit of punch (albeit short-ranged) in the shooting phase while also getting an additional attack in the close combat phase again, thanks to the ruling regarding pistols in the most recent Warhammer FAQ. What makes the pistol-armed Duelists so special? Let us briefly examine the profile of the pistol. You have a range of 8", Strength 4, and as with all firearms, you also benefit from the Armor-Piercing special rule. Lightly armed troops and even medium cavalry will come to fear a big volley from a Duelist unit. To make things even better, a unit armed with pistols may ALWAYS stand-and-shoot, regardless of how close the enemy chargers are, thus an opponent will have to weigh their options before recklessly charging the Duelists. The major downside with the Duelists' shooting, is that they languish at the average ballistic skill (BS) of 3, which means you'll be hitting on 5s at best, on a Stand-and-Shoot. Nevertheless, their potential damage should give opponents pause unless they're charging in with a Deathstar unit.

In combat, Duelists armed with pistols or an additional hand weapon are no slouches. They will be throwing out 2 WS4 attacks each which means most enemy troops will need a 4+ to hit them. If charged, you cannot expect the Duelists to survive in combat as their lack of real armor means they will be dropping fast. Even equipping a buckler only provides the bare minimum of armor saves, and let's face it, there are so many S4 or greater attacks in the current Warhammer environment that those points would be best spent elsewhere. Where Duelists excel in combat is against small or lightly armored units, or weak individual characters such as wizards, or in certain cases getting a flank or rear charge in support of other units such as pikes, ogres, and cavalry.

Where Duelists can truly excel is in the role of baiting enemy troops into bad (read failed) charges. Duelists work well as screening units, keeping lightly armored units such as pikes and ogres safe from direct missile fire for a few turns. As part of the screening role you can employ the Duelists as bait, only to flee when charge, hopefully setting up good charges for your main combat units on your turn. Allow me to provide a few examples of using the Duelists to devastating effect as baiting units:

There are two parts to effectively using this tactic and it requires 2 of your units - it can contain more units, but at its heart, 2 units are at the heart of it.

You need both a screening unit and the hammer unit.

Ideally the screening unit will be a group of skirmishers --- for me this is almost always going to be pistol armed duellists. While we do have other skirmishing units available (Lumpin Croop's, Mengil's Manflayers etc), the RoR skirmishers are far too expensive to be used as front line shields for the hammer units.

I do use Lumpin Croop's in my army (much to the annoyance of my opponents), and they have never failed to perform. Their role is one of harassing and annoying the enemy, hopefully putting wounds on small weak units (fast cav, and generally anything T3 within their range, and of course as marchblockers).

Why duellists? Why not? They are one of the best units available to a DOW general. There are several different equipment options available. Lets break these down briefly:

Vanilla Duellists - comes with a handweapon - not really good for much of anything - these guys will struggle to kill anything

Duellist w/2 handweapons - 2 WS4, I4 attacks are great, and they can chop up small weak units with relative success, although they lack staying power

Duelist w/Pistol - I realize there is some debate as to whether this version should count as having 2 attacks in close combat - I certainly think they should, and most opponents will see the light of reason. Now we have a duellist with 2 WS4, I4 attacks in close combat, but perhaps most importantly, we have a fairly powerful and often underestimated ranged attack (several of my opponents learned this when my duellists proceeded to tear their units apart in the shooting phase). One key ability the pistol armed duellist possesses over other ranged units (bows etc) is that you can always stand and shoot with a pistol (-1 to hit still applies). Opponents will often reconsider charging for fear of potentially getting whiped out on the charge. Yet for me, close combat is not the primary role for the duellists, unless the situation is just too good to pass up (judgment call).

Duellists w/Buckler - give you a wimpy 6+ save vs shooting and 5+ in CC - While the 5+ in CC could give you some survivability vs your average S3 footslogger, it really isn't worth it IMO, as their primary purpose for me is to be shooting the enemy and acting as tempting bait.

Duellists w/Throwing Knives - the other missile option for these guys - with a range of 6" at S3, is it really worth it over the pistol? NO! Unless you're going this route for fluff reasons, leave the knives at home and pack on the black powder.

Duellist w/maximum equipment - This will easily bring your duelists past the 10pts/mini margin and frankly isn't worth it either. Yes, they will be a shooting and CC threat, but with their average T3 and 6+ AS while out in the open they just will not survive, despite being at -1 to hit from being skirmishers. Your points are really better spent elsewhere.

As DOW, I would say we have access to perhaps the most diverse array of troops among the various Warhammer Fantasy armies (if not always the best or flashiest troops). Its always fun beating down opponents with their power units, decked out with magic banners, and expensive characters and their various magic items. No sir, we win with skill and a few common magic items.

In my army I use what I will refer to as 'hammer' units. I'll explain my reasoning behind these choices, and possible alternatives.

Hammer unit 1 --- 20+ Leo's Leopoard CompanyHammer unit 2 - 3 Maneaters.

What do both of these units have in common?

Both are immune to psychology.

This is crucial on various levels. Both units are also very capable of beating most units that they will face.Leo's Leopard Company - now I know many will say to just use vanilla pikes, or even go for Ricco's, Alcatani, or Pirazzo's, but I have found the Leopard Company to be winners. Their cost (most expensive pike unit) can be prohibitive, but I have found them to be worth it. My first few outings with DOW were without duellists and after Leo's demolished one of my opponent's units, they began drawing heavy fire in subsequent games, leaving them to be less than effective. Be well aware, with only light armor, pikes will die in droves to handguns and xbows, to say nothing of warmachines. Hence, the duellist screen. Yes, opponents, can still target them from hills etc. I try to make sure my opponents have so many things to worry about, that if they focus too much attention on eradicating the pikes, other parts of my army can and will make them pay dearly.

Now, back to the immune to psychology ability. You will get shot at and you will lose pikemen, but you will not be running away from these losses. I also find the ability extremely valuable, as I play against WE (who uses a lot of dryads, treekin, treemen), VC (undead - duh), Ogres (more fear). I can't have an expensive block of troops failing a fear check and leaving a gap in the battle line.Pikes oddly enough work best vs infantry, light cavalry, ogres, and units of that size/toughness. Pike will struggle vs 1+ or 2+ save knights (even with the +1 str bonus). I find that the sheer number of attacks + the fact that you go first (except versus HE and magical ASF) allows you to easily wipe out the front rank if not 2 ranks of most infantry units.

I should also mention I place my paymaster in my Leopard Company unit - if the paymaster dies (likely in CC) then you will have pikes + hatred vs the unit that killed him - very nice! We also can't ignore Leo himself, a fairly generic captain, although he 'technically' gets an additional attack as he carries a pistol. Leo also carries heavy armor so he has a bit more staying power than the rank and file pikemen of the unit. I also arm my paymaster with the following wargear: pistol, heavy armor, shield, morningstar. This makes the entire pike unit able to throw out 2 pistols shots at nearby units to either boost the duelist shooting or put a few wounds on another unit. These two shots may not seem like much but anything casualty you inflict on your opponent is worth it. Most opponents also don't expect to be shot at from an infantry unit, so its just another little surprise I use. These two shots will also hit most of the time - Leo is BS5, and the paymaster comes in at a respectable BS4. Again, they can always stand and shoot as well which can take out a couple of enemies before you unleash the massive number of pike attacks in CC.

Hammer Unit 2 ---A unit of 3 maneaters. I have seen lists use units of 3 with a braces of handguns (pistols for the maneaters) to great effect and I might build of unit of these in the near future. My unit of three contains 2 maneaters with cathayan longswords and one with a great weapon who is placed in the middle. Maneaters already come with an impressive statline and several nice abilities (immune to psych, stubborn, cause fear). I find the WS + I boost of the longswords nice because it lets these guys compete with most hero level characters in terms of speed and the extra WS ensure you should be hitting most enemy units on a 3+, and with a S5, you can expect to usually wound on a 3+, and often a 2+. The one maneater with a great weapon is there to have a S7 chariot killing machine (4 S7 attacks is nothing to scoff at). With a S7 this guy will also put fear into heavily armed cavalry with a nice -4 modifier to their armor save.

On to the actual implementation of the tactic: I deploy my duelist units as screens directly in front of my hammer units to prevent them from getting shot up as much as possible. During the first few movement phases the duelists units advance so that they are anywhere from 5-8 inches in front of the hammer units. I also try to keep the rest of the batteline roughly even with my hammer units so that flank charges on the hammers do not present themselves.What do I do with each unit?

The duelists will engage enemy units within range using their pistols, hopefully inflicting a few casualties. I will rarely charge with duelists unless I see a strategic advantage in doing so which will help me in the following turns. There is no point in wiping out an enemy unit only to get yourself out of position in their turn. If the duelists are in range to shoot then anyone but dwarfs should be able to charge them. Depending on the enemy and the opponent, you will likely get charged. If its a weak enough enemy or if my shooting phase has inflicted a decent amount of casualties, I might stand and shoot. Typically, I will choose to flee (remember - 5-8 inches away from the hammers). I typically roll fairly high, so my duelists will flee through either of my immune to psych units who will ignore the fleeing troops. Make sure you do not have any other friendlies in their path who might be affected. It will also take some careful positioning so that your duelists flee through your hammers and not in a direction which will cause other units to panic. Depending on the type of unit that charged the duelists, the enemy will either get a failed charge or carry on through to your hammer unit. I should mention I leave a tiny gap so that my hammer unit can see the enemy unit in question so that they could be a legal charge target.Preferably, I want my pike unit charged, whereas I want a unit getting a failed charge and stopping short of my maneaters who will of course charge that unit in my turn. Thus I usually leave the duelists screening the maneaters a bit further out than the ones screening my pikes.

As outlined above, the combat prowess of these units ensure they will win most fights, and hopefully the duelists will have put some wounds on the opposing enemy units. If everything works well, the duelists will rally in the subsequent turn and will again work their way forward to support the battleline. It can of course happen that you do not flee far enough with your duelists resulting in their death. If the duelists die, then they die.

The pikemen who will have their static combat resolution (paymaster helps here as well) in addition to the wounds they cause in combat will likely break most units. The maneaters undoubtedly can dish out lots of punishment which should mean that they will face few if any return attacks depending on the situation of course. As they cause fear and with a starting US9 they should auto-break a lot of opponents (in the unlikely event someone rolls insane courage). I've used this tactic quite successfully. My opponent can either charge the duellists, shoot them (which is their major weakness), or try to maneuver around them. If they are ignored, I continue to put pistol shots into whichever enemy is in range.

Keep in mind that none of this is occurring in a vacuum - the rest of the army is there as well as the rest of your opponent's forces + the terrain. Every unit in my list works in concert with the other units of my army. I try to make sure that any of my opponent's units which I try to draw into these baits have been shot at by either my xbows, cannons, halflings, duellists, and if possible by either of my wizards. The tactic isn't going to be a guaranteed success, as anything can happen at any point in the battle. You also shouldn't limit yourself to one strategy. It takes a combination efforts in all phases of the game to be successful. There are many issues within the metagame which can help make you a more successful general, but that is for another tactica.

As good as the pistol-armed Duelists are, they are not the only option in fielding Duelists as multiple such units can get expensive. If you are worried about protecting your war machines such as Mercenary Cannons and Hot Pots yo could take a small unit of bare-bones or two hand weapon equipped Duelists to protect your vulnerable war machines. These Duelists can then serve to either harass, redirect, or directly engage units such as scouts, miners, waywatchers etc.

Duelists are suited to virtually every army build for Dogs of War armies. They complement infantry heavy armies as well as more mobile armies, as their skirmishing rule allows them to keep up with the fast moving elements of an army. Beginning generals may find them hard to use but with experience and practice you will learn how to employ them to devastating effect. Hopefully the above tactica has been helpful to you.
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