Warhammer Magic Guide: Lore of Death

This entry is part 6 of 7 in the series Warhammer Magic Guide

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

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About Duncan

Ellisthion is currently loving 5E D&D, whilst still running the original 1st Ed AD&D Temple of Elemental Evil. He's also spending way too much time playing Dota 2.
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  • Veritas95626

    I’m sorry, but I gotta say something here. Death magic synergizes with High/Dark Elf armies  just as well, if not better, than Life magic does. I have single handedly made every one of my opponents fear Soulblight’s boosted version. It is very much so a game changer and if I only have 5 dice that turn, then all of my dice are going to Soublight boosted version. The minus one strength is a lot more effective than you would think. Combat is where High Elves shine and then fall. They may have the opportunity to wipe things out, but almost any hit will turn into a wound, and so the strength is a god-sent blessing. And with the base of S3 for High Elves, the -1 toughness turns combat into our realm of control. This spell wins me games. Whenever it is in play, I am winning.

    • Ellisthion

       But that

  • Veritas95626

    I’m sorry, but I gotta say something here. Death magic synergizes with High/Dark Elf armies  just as well, if not better, than Life magic does. I have single handedly made every one of my opponents fear Soulblight’s boosted version. It is very much so a game changer and if I only have 5 dice that turn, then all of my dice are going to Soublight boosted version. The minus one strength is a lot more effective than you would think. Combat is where High Elves shine and then fall. They may have the opportunity to wipe things out, but almost any hit will turn into a wound, and so the strength is a god-sent blessing. And with the base of S3 for High Elves, the -1 toughness turns combat into our realm of control. This spell wins me games. Whenever it is in play, I am winning.

  • Veritas95626

    S9 or T7 is nice, but it doesn’t effect the whole army. With Death magic, High/Dark Elves can simply sit back and make you come to us by sniping your characters or your War Machines with relative ease due to Spirit Leach and high leaderships for High/Dark Elves. Death magic plays to an Elf army’s strengths and reduces their weaknesses. It turns us from a Glass cannon to a wrecking-ball in close combat, and it helps us get rid of our biggest problems, which is typically enemy characters(Unless you have a handful of White Lions with you.) and enemies who survive close combat(unless they’re goblins, like you said.) a -1S -1T hex makes a huge difference against Ogres in which I go from wounding on 5s and 6s with normal spears to wounding on 4s and 5s. That’s the difference of a combat. And trust me, a good High Elf player with Death Magic won’t have a problem with heavy cavalry if he brings a decent number of White Lions or Sword Masters. With Soulblight we preserve ourselves in combat without having to stick with our poor ability to wound higher toughness opposition such as Ogres, Chaos Warriors, or Orks. And as far as Monsters or Monstrous Infantry goes, if it gets down to it, a good Purple Sun will deal with both of those. Death, with proper power dice, helps a High Elf army deal with the things that it finds hard to deal with while also focusing on where High Elves do best, which is combat. Call it a powerful lore, I call that synergy, which is defined as the interaction of elements that when combined produce a total effect that is greater than the sum of the individual elements. Death on its’ own is a great theory-hammer lore, and High Elves are decent on their own depending on who they’re fighting. But when combined and done well, it turns into something that can’t be stopped by my peers except for when they kill my mages. Which is why I bring a level 1 shadow mage.

  • Guest

    Thanks for writing. However, I believe you made a mistake on your Spirit Leach/Doom and Darkness entry.

    According to the Rulebook FAQ:

    “Q: When taking a Leadership test, sometimes you have to take it on
    your unmodified leadership. What is your unmodified leadership?
    (p10)
    A: Your unmodified Leadership is the highest Leadership
    characteristic in the unit. Do not include any modifiers from
    any source, for example, Strength in Numbers, Inspiring
    Presence or the Doom and Darkness spell.”

    So I don’t think Spirit Leach wouldn’t utilize Doom and Darkness, nor the General’s Inspiring Presence.

    http://www.games-workshop.com/MEDIA_CustomProductCatalog/m1920636a_FAQ_Warhammer_Rulebook__V1_5.pdf

    • Ellisthion

      Hmm, that’s very good point. A point that would have saved my BSB in one game… thanks for pointing that out!

    • Veritas95626

      Hm. Alright, thanks for that! My peers and I always just assumed that Doom and Darkness changed the unmodified leadership until the spell wore off, which according to the FAQ is obviously wrong. Thanks for pointing that out.