Warhammer Magic Guide: Lore of Death

Death

The Lore of Death is a very powerful offensive Lore, focusing on spells to assassinate enemy Characters, along with the almighty army-destroying Purple Sun of Xereus. It is popular amongst new and experienced players alike, and is undeniably one of the most powerful Lores in 8th Edition Warhammer Fantasy.

Lore Attribute: Life Leeching

The Lore Attribute of Death is one of the most powerful in the game. It allows you to gain more power dice when you cause wounds with Death magic. Power dice are hard to obtain, so any extras can really shift the balance of power in the Magic Phase.

Gaining more power dice can allow you to cast more spells, but the real advantage is being able to overwhelm the defender’s dispel capabilities (although if you roll terribly on Winds of Magic it can be a life saver). Except from a good Purple Sun of Xereus, you won’t get huge amounts of dice, as most of the wound-causing Death spells target a single model, but it can be enough to gain magical superiority.

The sheer presence of the Life Leeching ability can alter the magic phase dramatically, as the defender will be more inclined to focus on dispelling damage-dealing spells than others. Purple Sun of Xereus, in particular, is a huge danger in both itself and potential power dice, so it can often suck out a lot of dispel dice. You should try to use this to your advantage to manipulate your opponent’s dispel strategy.

The disadvantage I’ve found about this Lore Attribute is many players tend to blindly use the extra dice without worrying about Miscasts. If you’ve already exhausted your opponent’s dispel dice, then you should not throw in 6 dice into a spell unless its casting value actually demands it (or you really need the spell to go off). Don’t lose your Wizard just because you had plenty of power dice left.

Spells

Signature Spell: Spirit Leech

Spirit Leach is a nice sniping direct damage spell, designed for picking out individual characters and special models in units. It’s a bit like the 40k Mind War: the caster and the target make opposed Leadership rolls. On the bright side, the caster won’t take wounds if they lose.

The nice thing about Spirit Leech is that the target’s Toughness doesn’t factor in. You can try to wound a Dragon just as easily as an Elf. Nevertheless, it will be most effective if you have a high Leadership caster, so Lord Wizards will be better with this spell than Hero Wizards.

Since this spell uses the “Unmodified Leadership” of the target, the FAQ specifies that both positive effects such as the General’s Leadership, as well as negative effects like the Doom and Darkness spell will not influence the roll. This is somewhat unfortunate since otherwise Doom and Darkness has excellent synergy. Mounts can still use their rider’s leadership.

Spirit Leech is the first of three assassination-style spells in the Lore of Death. These are powerful not just because of their effects, but because they are perceived to be very dangerous: a powerful Death Wizard is feared. See the Conclusion for more discussion about these assassination spells.

1: Aspect of the Dreadknight

This spell is very easy to cast and has good range, but all it does it bestow Fear (or boost for Terror). The problem is is in 8th Ed, Fear sucks, and Terror isn’t what it used to be. I wouldn’t bother casting this without boosting it for Terror, unless I’ve just got 1 Power Die left at the end of my Magic Phase and have nothing better to do.

Basically, Aspect of the Dreadknight is really not a very good spell. Avoid it if possible.

2: The Caress of Laniph

The Caress of Laniph is very similar to Spirit Leech in role: it targets a single model, and can be used to take out important Characters. Unlike Spirit Leech, it focuses on the target’s Strength instead of Leadership, making it better against some targets and worse against others. It will, however, generally cause more wounds than Spirit Leech.

See the Conclusion for more discussion on these assassination spells.

3: Soulblight

Soulblight reduces a unit’s Toughness and Strength by 1, and can be boosted to affect multiple units. In general, this is somewhat less useful than more focussed spells (such as the Lore of Shadow has), but it scales nicely to large games. Reducing Toughness is almost always more useful than reducing Strength, but it’s a nice bonus anyway.

Unfortunately, this spell is a bit too dependant on you engaging multiple targets simultaneously, whereas it’s often better to focus attacks. This spell also doesn’t really line up with the role of the rest of the Lore of Death. As opposed to several other spells in this Lore, Soulblight is simply nothing to be scared of.

4: Doom and Darkness

Whilst not entirely aligning with the other powerful spells of the Lore of Death, the spell Doom and Darkness is a very strong spell in its own right. It is a focused –3 Leadership penalty to a unit, which can dramatically affect the the battle.

Like many good spells, it it versatile in that it can be of use in any phase, and at any turn of the game. Initially, it can be used to aid march blocking, and make Panic from Shooting and Magic more dangerous. Later, it can be invaluable in breaking units in Close Combat, particularly when Steadfast is involved.

Consider this: assuming no BSB, a Ld10 unit will fail an unmodified check 8.33% of the time. Reduced to Ld7, however, and it will fail 41.67% of the time. It’s far from guaranteed, but Doom and Darkness turns Leadership checks from a minor side-note into a huge danger.

A BSB can really mess with things, so if you have Doom and Darkness it is sometimes a good idea to target the BSB within your assassination spells.

5: The Fate of Bjuna

The Fate of Bjuna is another assassination spell, this time using a model’s Toughness. It wounds more easily than either of the two others, and Stupidity is thrown in for good measure. It’s probably the most powerful of the three for taking out enemy Characters, but, suitably, has the highest casting cost.

If you’ve got The Purple Sun of Xereus, the chances are is you’ll be throwing many more power dice at that, and can’t afford another reasonably expensive spell. It’s much more difficult to cast The Fate of Bjuna alongside The Purple Sun of Xereus, unlike with the cheaper assassination spells, Spirit Leech and The Caress of Laniph.

Whilst there’s more discussion about the assassination spells in general in the Conclusion, The Fate of Bjuna is in a situation where it should on really be favoured over Spirit Leech if you desperately need both, to really focus on killing enemy Characters. Otherwise, it’s difficult to warrant the more difficult casting cost over other spells which fill the same role.

6: The Purple Sun of Xereus

If you’ve been reading through this guide without any prior knowledge of the Lore of Death, you will have noticed many references to this spell: for good reason, as it is one of the most powerful spells in 8th Edition Warhammer Fantasy.

The Purple Sun is a powerful vortex that zooms around and insta-kills anything that fails an Initiative test. It is simultaneously extremely effective at taking out large monsters (which tend to have a low Initiative) and large groups of troops (particularly elite ones with good saves). Anything it kills can fuel further spells with the Life Leeching Lore Attribute. Like the assassination spells, The Purple Sun is a reason to fear a Death Wizard.

Usage is simple: try to get in line with a few important enemy units, and unleash it. The boosted version (large template) is fun, but it’s got a very high casting value: you’re pretty much fishing for Irresistible Force. It’s much safer to just cast the regular version.

The Purple Sun of Xereus is vortex, and at the release of 8th Edition it was the only one. With additional Army Books and Storm of Magic, vortices are much more common, but if you have never used a vortex before, the rules can be somewhat complicated. Using vortices is outside the scope of this article, but suffice to say: carefully read both the vortex rules and The Purple Sun rules. Basically, to use The Purple Sun, you place the template in front of the caster, it zooms outwards some distance, and then zips around randomly each magic phase until it’s dispelled or it collapses on its own.

Like many ultra-powerful spells, it is really the realm of Level 3-4 Wizards. If you’re got a Level 1-2 Death Wizard, then their role is really going to be Character assassination, so it’s probably best to skip this spell if your other rolls are more suitable.

Conclusion

The Lore of Death is a very powerful spell Lore, and is very popular for that reason. It offers extremely dangerous Character assassination spells, along with the army-destroying Purple Sun of Xereus.

The Lore of Death is a good one for instilling fear in your opponent. Players are used to having their Characters safe in units, and the assassination spells break this. The Purple Sun is a dangerous damaging spell that wipe out entire elite units. A good player using Death should use this by protecting the Wizard from counter-attacks and by focusing on not just tactically useful targets, but psychologically useful ones. If an opponent considers a particular unit or character as very important to his army, then target it. If in doubt, hit the enemy Wizard to dominate the Magic phase, or go for the ever-present-in-8th-Edition BSB. Anything to force your opponent to change their plans.

Regarding the assassination spells, there is some redundancy in them. It’s rarely worth having all three, but having two can prove useful, depending on the composition of the enemy army. Characters are almost always a soft spot in an army, and the assassination spells allow you to break the balance of power. Support characters, like Wizards and BSBs, are much more important targets than kitted up combat characters. If the army lacks core support characters, then you will get more out of the more unit-focused spells.

The Lore of Death works well with any Wizard Level, although different Wizards will generally use different spells. A Level 1-2 Death Wizard will generally focus on the assassination spells, to try to shift the balance of power between the Characters in the armies. Meanwhile, a Level 3-4 Death Wizard will rely on the power The Purple Sun of Xereus and the utility of Doom and Darkness, whilst having character assassination as just another trick up their sleave.

The Lore of Death is an extremely effective Lore that sees use in every level of Warhammer Fantasy. It is strong both at a competitive level by experienced players, and at a casual level by new players. The Lore of Death doesn’t specifically synergise with any kinds of army, but but it also doesn’t rely on any complex strategies to be effective. I would highly recommend it as a general-purpose Lore for use against any army.

Hits: Spirit Leech, The Caress of Laniph, Doom and Darkness, The Purple Sun of Xereus

Misses: Aspect of the Dreadknight, Soulblight

Series NavigationWarhammer Magic Guide: Lore of Life
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About Duncan

Ellisthion's all about 5E D&D at the moment, but has at times has played every edition from 1E AD&D through to 5E, plus Star Wars: Saga Edition, Paranoia, and more. He DMs a lot, and tends to make overly-complicated campaigns and characters.
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