The following document comtains information on the History, Tactics, and Painting aspects of Dark Elven armies in Warhammer (In that order)
History of the Dark Elves
The birth of the Dark Elves began with Malekith. Destined to be the second Phoenix King of the High Elves, discovery of his secret experiments with dark magic caused him to be passed over for another. Malekith however vowed revenge and soon rose to a position of power second only to the Phoenix King himself. Then, through treachery Malekith had the Phoenix King killed and claimed the throne for himself. However, at his moment of victory he was forced to take the test of the flame of Asuryan. The flame would not suffer his polluted body to pass through it. Malekith then fled to his secret stronghold in the north of Ulthuan. Here his sorcerers binded Malekith's scarred body with a magical suit of Armour that gave him great strength. Thus, Malekith was proclaimed the Witch King
A great civil war broke out on Ulthuan, the followers of Malekith against the followers of Caledor, the new Phoenix King. Despite many victories, the truth of Malekith's treachery eventually came out and much of his army deserted him. In a final battle Caledor defeated the Witch King, sending him and his armies fleeing to the marshes of Maledor. In a final gamble Malekith gathered his sorcerers in an attempt to call upon the Chaos gods for help, intending to undo the spells that bound the Realm of Chaos to the Northern Wastes. However, something went horribly wrong and a surge of mystical power came hurtling back to strike the Witch King and his followers. The land of Ulthuan was wracked by earthquakes, tidal waves and other such disasters. Tens of thousands of elves perished, drowned by waves, buried by earthquakes, and struck by magical lightning.
The power of the Witch King was weakened but not broken. In the last hours as the seas rushed in to devour his realm, he and his followers cast dark spells. The palaces of the sorcerers broke free of the land forming huge floating palaces on which they escaped. These were known as the Black Arks of Naggaroth. The cataclysm left the High Elves too weak to pursue their evil kin, who made landfall in the bleak north of the New World. The Dark Elves named their new land Naggaroth, the land of chill. The fell kingdom of the Dark Elves had been born: death and destruction were the legacy it would bring to all the races of the Warhammer world.
Dark Elven Tactics
Dark Elves are perhaps the most versatile force in the Warhammer world. They have a staggering number of unique troops. Close combat specialists such as witch elves, cold one knights, and the black guard. Infiltrators in their scouts and dark riders(sort of). Ranged weapons such as the repeater crossbow and repeater bolt thrower.Even a cheap range of flyers (harpies and dark pegasi). Unforunately, as they are elves they are expensive making it vital to strike the right balance between your different troop types. Thus, despite the availability of troops to face any situation, high point cost will make it vital that you calculate what troops you really need and how many are reqired. This document should help you to make the right decisions, first is a list of character/troop types and their uses. I have also included a couple of specific strategies of my own which come afterwards. Finally, are some Dark Even army lists of my own.
Dark Elven Characters
Dark Elf General: The highest level character in a Dark Elven army is obviously the general. He can play a number of different roles that will often depend heavily on his choice of magical items. With his obvious advantages of high Weapon Skill, Iniative and Attacks he can be quite a fearsome HTH fighter.If you want him to fill such a role you must find a way to negate his low Strength and Toughness. A classic example of such a HTH general would be armed with and Ogre Blade, Armour of Meteoric Iron, Amulet of fire and mounted on a Manticore. Alternatively he could take on the role as leader due his high leadership and special general abilty (units within 12 can use his leadership). Also, by keeping him relatively safe you reduce the chance of his death which can cause a massive rout. Items such as the Crown of Command, Sword of Fortitude and Horn of Urgok would be useful in such a generals hands.
Dark Elf Battle Standard: The ability of your battle standard (Units within 12 can reroll break tests) can only be exploited fully if he is positioned well and survives throughout the battle. The latter can often be difficult due to his low toughness and only 1 wound combined with the substantial attention your opponent may give to this poor elf. A good idea is to place him in a small unit, centrally, slightly back from your main fighting force where as many units as possible are within 12. Remember, if unit is within 12 from both your general and battle standard they test on their generals leadership and can reroll break tests, great for your central fighting forces. Another use for your battle standard is to provide a major unit with two magic banners.
Dark Elf Sorcerer: Like all elves, Dark Elf sorcerers are very expensive. Despite their special ability of choosing their Dark Magic spells first, it is often difficult to find worthwhile spells. This is because despite being destrucive Dark Magic has an extremely high power cost. The Book of Ashur should negate this disadvantage allowing you to choose spells that suit your style of play. If you are planning an aggressive strategy Grey magic is very usefull. If you are planning to be defensive I would advise taking Amber Magic. High Magic is also advisable with some of the best value spells around. Other good items for you sorcerer are the Skull Staff (+1 to dispel, detects magic items for only 35 pts!), good old Dispel Scrolls and some form of protection (e.g. Amulet of Fire). Try to put your sorcerer in a small support unit that wont be in any particularly difficult HTH combat. It is vital to keep your sorcerer safe, if he is killed your opponent will gain total control of the magic phase and gain some hefty Victory Points.
Dark Elf Heroes: Rather too expensive and their stats aren't really good enough to make them really effective HTH fighters. In larger battles they can be usefull for taking magic items that assist the unit they are in e.g. Crown of Command, Ruby Chalice.
Dark Elf/Witch Elf Champions: As Dark Elves have reasonably high leadership these troops are not really necesarry for all your units. However it is a good idea to include some, especially in a unit that is operating at a distance from your general/battle standard. This is because it gives the unit a little more bite and allows a magic item, such as the battle stone of le Marquis.
Witch Elf Heroes: These are real HTH combat monsters. The same stats as normal heroes but with frenzy and poisoned weapons. This gives them double the attacks and +1 Strength on their attacks. However they suffer the same problems as all elves, Low Toughness and Strength. To counter this give them some nasty magic weapons such as an Ogre Blade or Dragon Blade. Also include a Champion in her regiment to fight(lose) any challenges so she is free to tear apart large amounts of common file troops.
Dark Elf Assassins: These are great value. For only 8 points more than regular Dark Elf Champions they get the ability to hide and then, even when their unit is charged, strike first at an opponent of their choice. They also get free selection of equipment, making them a great choice for as many HTH combat units as possible. I find it is better to strike at weaker characters (Champions and Wizards) as they may find it difficult to cope with enemy Generals/Heroes. Of course, if your Assassin just happens to be wearing the Black Gem of Gnar, popping up into base contact with the enemy General should suit you just fine!!
Dark Elven Troop Types
Cold One Knights: These, in my eyes are a must for every Dark Elf army. When playing offensively they provide a devasting charge to lead your assault. This could be at the center of your opponents army or at their flank. Even in a defensive strategy they are valuable as once the enemy reaches your line after being peppered with cross bolts, they provide the perfect mop up unit for finishing off your opponents depleted forces. Their low toughness is countered by their very respectable armour save, they have a good Strength 4 (well, good for elves), and their beasts alone can make 2 attacks.
Unfortunately, all good things come at a price, they are very expensive making it vital that you choose exactly the right unit size. You could opt for a couple of small groups(5-7). These will be easily beaton by any reasonable infantry with rank bonus so keep them for attacking enemy light cavalry, and supporting your infantry. By charging such a unit into the flank of an opponent who is already in battle with one of your infantry units(rank bonus) you can greatly swing that outcome of that fight in your favour.
The other option is to plump for a single, large(10-12), well eqipped unit that can crush anything on its first charge eliminating the need for rank bonus. It is a good idea to include a well equipped General or Witch Elf Hero in this unit as well as a champion to fight off challenges. The right magic banner is essential, I would recommend the Dread Banner as it will cause your bloodied victims to almost certainly flee. This will ensure your expensive unit doesn't get held up finishing off a beaten but stubborn foe. The Blood Banner and Banner of Might are also good choices.
Black Guard of Naggaroth: I like to field a smallish(18) unit of Black Guard on a wide front. They are very solid troops who can hold their own without the need of a character, which makes them rather cheap despite their original price(15 pts). Their Weapon Skill 5, Initiative 7, heavy armour and halberds means that they can usually cause enough damage, esp. on a wide front, to overcome a usually devasting charge or high rank bonus of their foes. Many a time has an opponent of mine sent his main unit to assault the Black Guard, expecting an easy win, only to find his unit bogged down long enough for another of my units to overcome their foe and make a timely flank charge.
Dark Elf Corsairs: These are perhaps the most versatile of your troops. With options for extra hand weapons, a magical banner for every unit, repeater crossbows and an unlimited amount of units. Also, they have an unmodifiable save of 5+. Smaller units can act as a bodyguard for your general and/or battle standard. Such units (around 10) can also be used to guard against flank attacks, chase off skirmishers while constantly softening up enemy regiments with their crossbow fire. The Banner of Wrath or Firestorm Icon will further improve their ranged attack potential. They also make a good large central units, with their good save and extra attacks meaning they will often be able to win the combat resolution. Consider The Banner of Might, Standard of Shielding (4+ unmodifiable save!) or the Battle Stone of Le Marquis to make them a real HTH combat monster.
Witch Elves: With frenzy, poisoned weapons and additional hand weapons these ladies are a formidable HTH opponent for any foe. The big problem is getting them into combat in reasonable shape, and making sure they strike first. This can be difficult, especially if very large units (20-30) are chosen. A clever opponent will direct every missile weapon in his arsenal at them, and as soon as they get close run them down with heavy cavalry. Consider the Ruby Chalice or Standard of Shieldind to help keep them alive longer. The Scarecrow banner is also worthy of note preventing some horrible creature from swooping down on them, sending them fleeing before they get a chance to hit back. Grey Magic is especially usefull for getting them into the assault as soon as possible. If you plan to invest a lot of points in a large Witch Elf unit, consider placing a row of harpies in front of them. With their higher toughness and 2 wounds these beasts should be able to absorb most of the damage before flying away leaving room for your Witch Elves to charge.
Dark Elf Scouts: Dark Elf Scouts can be a big headache for your opponent. From their advanced position they can pick off enemy War Machine crew, Chariots and deplete opponent ranks with great effectiveness. This is because of their high Ballistic skill 5. They also prevent enemy units marching, distracting your opponent from his main objective. Indeed, often an opponent will abandone his original plan, simply to take out these relatively cheap elves (only 2 points for their special abilities). If you are playing very aggressively, consider using Harpies and Dark Riders to assist your scouts early on if they come under attack. This way you can take the battle to your opponent from turn 1.
Dark Riders: Considering the numerous special rules of these light cavalry, they are great value. Skirmish, Shoot and Fire, Fire and Flee and their awesome free march move allows them to fill a number of roles in your force. If given spears they can charge vulnerable enemy units from turn 1. Combined with Harpies, Dark Elf Scouts, Shadowblade or a charcter on flying mount you can have your opponents flank reeling from the beginning of the game. Alternativley they could be given repeater crossbows and sent forward early to harass enemy units and prevent them from marching. Another idea is to use them is a missile screen for your main force. Combined with a champion holding the ruby chalice they will be almost impossible to hit. It is best to keep units small (5-8) to capitalise on their maneouverabilty.
Executioners: Elves that strike last! These expensive troops will generally get killed before they have a chance to strike back. Though you could try to protect them with expensive magic items (Standard of Shielding, Ruby Chalice), it generally isn't worth it. Toughness 3, average save and striking last is simply a recipe for disaster. The only way I can see them having a real chance is to take Grey Magic/Ice Magic(Bridge of Ice/Shadows) or Celestial Magic(Sapphire Arch). Even if you do there's no guarantee you'll get those spells.
Dark Elf City Guard: If your looking for a cheap, defensive unit the City Guard are your best choice. Mixed ranks allows them to both fire upon the enemy, and fight back when charged. 1 or 2 medium sized units are appropriate, to build up the bulk of your army and give you flexibilty to cope with a range of enemy ploys. These are an economical basic unit.
Dark Elf Spearmen: These are too expensive for what they're worth due to a sad combination of equipment. While many race's field Spearmen as a basic unit(e.g. High Elves) I would advise the more economical City Guard.
Dark Elf Crossbowmen: With a range of only 24 these troops wont get many shots in, and when they do get close they get murdered in HTH combat. If you want those repeater crossbows try Corsairs or City Guard.
Dark Elf Warriors: While most Elves have to cope with that miserable Strength 3, Toughness 3, and high points cost, at least they have some flashy special ability that distracts us from these sad truths. Warriors however, with hand weapons, armour and shields are put in armies simply to fill in space. If you want basic core units go with the City Guard instead.
Other Army Components
Harpies: Harpies are a good additional unit for any Dark Elven force. Cheap flyers are hard to find, so these "flying infantry" are very usefull to have around. Use them to pick off enemy War Machines, skirmishers and missile regiments. Combined with Dark Riders and Scouts they can also severely maul weaker infantry on the enemy's flank. When playing defensively use them to protect your own war machines against enemy flyers. You could also exploit their higher toughness and 2 wounds by using them as a misile screen in front of your main units. When you draw close enough to the enemy, simply allow them to fly away revealing your main regiment's deadly charge.
Repeater Bolt Throwers: These deadly weapons of war are great for softening up stronger enemy regiments before your units charge. I generally take 2-5 of these machines and spread them out so they don't all get chased off the battlefield by a flying, terror causing monster in one go. Your best targets are heavily armoured knights as there is no save allowed for victims. This should help overcome the lower strength of your elves (no save modifier) who might otherwise be stretched to crack the tough shells of these troops.
Monsters: I have actually never taken a large monster in any of my armies. Their high points cost is hard to justify with the often average amount of damage they cause. Also, they are a lot of points in one model and it is all to easy for a single spell or cannon shot to take them out. If you want flyers, go with the harpies and let your units do the killing.
Allies: The only things really missing from the Dark Elf forces are good Wizards and high strength War Machines. You could try Orc Rock Lobbers or Goblin Doom Divers for larger battles. Wizard wise consider Undead, Skaven or Chaos(Tzeentch) allies.
Special Characters: It is generally not worth investing in these costly characters, especially since many of their magic items are set for you. This doesn't allow you the versatility of changing your items to suit your enemy (besides, most of those items suck). Perhaps the only one I would use frequently is Shadowblade. If you are planning to be aggressive from turn 1 he is very effective as long as he receives some support (Harpies and Dark Riders).
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