Fallen Enchantress #3: Warg Mages
Much to my surprise, I’ve been having a grand time with Fallen Enchantress. Magnar’s Empire has grown from a tiny walnut into a massive tree of enslaving doom, and most recently booted the stuck-up Gilden out of his birthright territory. Unfortunately, now my Empire is facing new troubles — and while a few are intricate Gordian Knots just waiting for my sword to descend with a satisfying thwack, others have arisen courtesy of Fallen Enchantress’s less-endearing eccentricities.
With Farhammer conquered and enpurpled, Magnar’s Empire is in the middle of a period of excruciating, unendurable, tedious peace. Oh, they’re still technically at war with the goody two-sandals Gilden, but Lord Markin’s brainstorms for taking back his eastern jewel have so far included such brilliant plans as “March through hostile Resoln territory” and the much-lauded “March through hostile Resoln territory.” There is a small uncontrolled strip between myself and the Gilden city of Fargan’s Keep, but it’s roadless country, overgrown with forests and crisscrossed by movement-hindering streams, so Lord Markin has been sticking to Plan A with all the tenacity of a windup toy bumping up against a wall. Not that Magnar is complaining — I might wish for better AI pathfinding, but Magnar is perfectly content to let his two bitterest enemies chew each others’ legs off.
Magnar fills his time by hunting down and massacring the odd army of wasteland beasts that roam the sandy desert between his empire and Resoln. That, and research.
Four of his cities are dedicated to churning out magical research, and soon he’s learned the secrets of warg taming and improved the equipment and size of his armies, which means I can now group up to seven soldiers together at once. With this new knowledge I’ve designed what I hope will be Magnar’s ultimate weapon — companies of Warg Mages. By taking the existing Ash Mage template, which are fire-spouting, bathrobe-wearing wimps, and handing out thicker robes, taller staves, and warg mounts, I’ve created a unit that should be able to melt the remainder of Gilden’s iron golems to slag. The only problem is that I don’t control any warg pits, and it seems that the nearest one is located deep inside Gilden territory.
No problem! It takes Magnar and his champions a few years to scramble through the uncontrolled wild territory between Farhammer and Fargan’s Keep, but when they arrive they find it defended by nothing more than a paltry few bands of city militia. And as everyone knows, militia have a mighty fear of gigantic demons named Pox.
Fargan’s Keep proves difficult to hold. Not only are the people unreasonably upset about being enslaved and having their skies darkened by black magic, but the city wasn’t founded on enough magic essence to let Magnar mind-control everyone into behaving. In fact, the citizenry are so unenthusiastic that the projected time to dig a single well stretches into the decades. Worse, the half-dozen armies that Lord Markin has been building and rebuilding to march into Resoln territory are now headed straight at Magnar.
For the first time, Magnar finds himself on the defensive. The few improvements that dot the countryside — an iron mine, an ogre camp, and a mana shard — are immediately razed by the very nation that built them in the first place. Time and time again the Gilden smash their forces against Fargan’s Keep (which isn’t even a Keep, much to Magnar’s annoyance), and time and time again their forces are crushed and enslaved. Since the Gilden don’t bother to coordinate multiple attacks in a single turn, Magnar’s stranded troops are able to rest and resupply for weeks at a time, making the defense a much easier task than anyone could have guessed.
The only casualty turns out to be Magnar, over and over again. I’ll explain.
Although a few Gilden armies are well-oiled machines manned by iron golems and elite infantry, many are filled with nothing but hordes of low-cost archers. Their low cost means they’re wearing light armor, which in turns means they have astronomical initiative values. So most battles go something like this:
First, Pox the Demon lets out a great roar to scare a few enemy soldiers. I’m not sure what effect this has (I never figured out how to check), but since it lets out an immense billow of purple gas, it’s fun enough to look at. Then Gilden archers fire across the battlefield, right into Magnar’s poor heart. Or where his heart would be if he weren’t an ancient necromancer slaver. Still, it hurts. Even though there’s a range limit on special abilities like throwing knives, ranged weapons like mage staffs and bows have no limit, and if there’s a decrease in accuracy or damage with range, it isn’t particularly significant. This means that piles of archers can do incredible damage without having to position themselves — in fact, since there’s no move-or-fire mechanic in place, they can even run to the far edge of the battlefield or kite enemy infantry and still fire. Throughout the years of the siege of Fargan’s Keep, Magnar collapses under a hail of arrows over and over and over again, and is revived once his army is victorious. Suffice it to say, although Magnar’s army has little trouble keeping hold of their new acquisition, and is engaged in some of the most lucrative slaving in all of the Desolate East’s history, Magnar isn’t enjoying the party.
Once Lord Markin runs out of money, Magnar takes his army west to confront the armies’ source. There he finds Gildenshard, capital of the Kingdom of Gilden, with their leader trapped inside. There’s also a warg pit nearby, the goal of this entire campaign, and that night Magnar dreams of the dozens of companies of Warg Mages he will build once the Gilden city falls.
The assault goes well enough. It’s the best army that Magnar has fought against yet, mostly because of the presence of Lord Markin and two of his champions, who manage to kill Pox and many Ash Mages with their powerful spells. In fact, Magnar’s army barely ekes out victory, but the price is worth it: with Gildenshard conquered and Lord Markin in the ground, Magnar’s victory over the Gilden is—
Well, darn. Turns out that Lord Markin is able to survive fireballs just as ably as Magnar survives arrow wounds. With the expanded visual radius of Gildenshard, I can now see that the Kingdom of Gilden is divided in half by an impassible sea, and they have at least two more cities on the north end. And once again, the only route between their territory and my own is blocked by Resoln. Good game, Lord Markin.
The war comes to a standstill for a time. The Gilden are busy rebuilding (their military strength has plummeted thanks to my campaign to steal their wargs), and without some sort of replacement for Pox I don’t feel comfortable pushing into hostile territory. Once I’ve tamed a pack of wargs, I form two companies of Warg Mages. Finally.
However, while Magnar was campaigning, his researchers back home have had a breakthrough that dwarfs the production of my Warg Mages. They’ve figured out how to dance with dragons. That’s what the technology is called, anyway. In practice, it means we can now build improvements over dragon caves, which lets us slowly recruit these:
I can only recruit one per dragon cave, and I only have two caves. Some basic arithmetic later, and I’ve got two Fell Dragons lumbering west to join up with Magnar’s army. I figure they’ll make a nice addition, filling the slow-but-heavy niche that Pox had occupied for over a century before getting blasted to pieces by Lord Markin. Soon my grand army is assembled: Magnar, his four champions (each upgraded with warg mounts and the best equipment money can buy), two Fell Dragons, and two companies of Warg Mages. Since everyone is either mounted or possesses wings, we’re able to pass through Resoln territory in a single turn, thus avoiding a political incident. Death is come to the Gilden’s doorstep.
The Gilden haven’t been sitting on their rumps during our years of reconstruction — they’ve made peace with the Empire of Resoln, which allows them to sneak a few armies through Resoln and into the east. The battles between these armies and my defenders at Mithrash and Khaffara are tense, though ultimately the spoils aren’t worth the Gilden’s effort. I grow ever fatter on the labor of new slaves and Lord Markin only picks up a few extra strands of grey hair.
However, the other half of the war turns out severely anticlimactic, and it highlights what has become my main problem with Fallen Enchantress — balance. Although the Gilden march their best armies out to defend their last two cities of Sandraka and Tan-ta-Kreet, my Fell Dragons prove unbeatable. More than unbeatable — untouchable. A dozen battles proceed in an identical manner, first with this:
And a split second later, this:
With every battle my Fell Dragons are scratched at by enemy arrows, but their flaming breath, not to mention their poison cloud ability that affects the entire enemy army, absolutely wrecks everyone in their path. Armies many times more expensive than mine are scorched from the face of the Desolate East; iron golems shed hitpoints at astounding rates; and even the magic of champions doesn’t manage to accomplish anything significant. This entire time, my Warg Mages — my pride, the result of decades of research, planning, campaigning, and resource hoarding — sit in the back row twiddling their thumbs and wondering when they’ll be allowed to return to Hagadez. Against particularly numerous enemies they sometimes get the opportunity to pick up their inferno staffs and unleash Magnar’s justice, and when they do it’s every bit as powerful as I’d hoped when I was designing them, when I was fighting a war to afford them, but it’s nothing but clean-up work at this point. The only units doing any lifting at all are the two Fell Dragons. It even gets to the point where I stop bothering positioning my champions, since they never need to attack anyway.
With little effort, Sandraka falls. Across a river, so close that my troops can surely see from one city into the other, is Tan-ta-Kreet, last bastion of the Gilden. Lord Markin is there with all his champions, an improved version of the army that killed Pox at his beck and call. It should be the climactic effort of my nation up to this point. It should be amazing.
The river slows me down for a turn, but on the next I walk right into the city and conquer it without taking a single loss. Most of my troops neither move nor attack.
With nowhere left to disappear to, even with all his magic, Lord Markin is killed and the Gilden vanish from the Desolate East.
This is my biggest problem with Fallen Enchantress: the units are balanced to a point, but then there’s a sudden jump and the creatures that occupy the final tier are so godly that nothing can stand against them. When you have them and your enemy doesn’t, there’s no competition; it’s the Edmonton Oilers versus children figure skaters, the original Dune versus the McDune knockoffs, RPS versus IGN PC. And that inability to compete might not even be your fault — after all, the Gilden didn’t have access to any special resources nearly as powerful as dragon caves.
Still, the Empire of Resoln is massive, and boasts twice my military strength. Which means that next time we’ll find out what happens when two unbeatable forces clash.