The tracks in the dark mud were fresh and deep, but a child could have followed the trail the orruk had left, such was the havoc the monster had caused in its rambling course through the forest. Shorn branches and trampled undergrowth lay scattered in its wake. It was obviously lost, for it had crossed its own path several times over the five days that Arthos had been tracking it, but the brute seemed in no rush to return from where it came. It had stopped to crudely hack down a large old oak, simply out of boredom and malice as far as he could tell, and it had gouged a string of crooked, savage glyphs in the side of a cliff. Its name perhaps, he thought, or some crude profanity. And here, as he stood up from examining the monstrous bootprints, it seems to have stomped past the secluded shrine to the forest spirits, stopped, came back, and booted the small mound of bones and trinkets into the surrounding bracken before continuing on.
He knew there was no danger of losing the beast’s trail, so he carefully picked through the brush to find the scattered fragments, rebuilding the cairn and balancing the old weathered skull on top. Scattered finger bones, as many as he could find, were returned to a wicker bowl plucked from a nearby tree. The delicately woven spider’s web of red string that had hung above the shrine was mangled beyond his skills to repair, so he hung it inelegantly from a low branch and unconsciously touched the iron of his axe to ward off indignant spirits. He stepped back and frowned, decidedly unimpressed at his own work. The site would need a proper blessing, but he didn’t know any of the priestesses songs, and in any case he doubted that the forest would thank him to hear his attempt.
Arthos was but one of a score of beast hunters that called the secluded village of Carnhold home. It had raised many hunters like him over its long years, for the perils of the forest were countless and the small community was always in danger from both wild animals and more evil creatures. From the great bears and dire wolves that occasionally strayed too close to the borders of the village, to the twisted, malevolent servants of the old gods that made their lairs in the darkest parts of the woods, a beast hunter had to know the tracks, smells and habits of each. And they had to know how to kill them. And as far as Arthos was concerned, preferably without getting himself killed in the process. Even the smallest glade spite had venom that would sear the flesh from his arm, and although the village remained in the forest only with the blessing of the Lady of the Grimwald, Arthos knew that she did not play favourites among the creatures of her domain.
This beast was dangerous quarry. The plains orruks rarely ventured into the great forest, the closest border leagues away, and even more rarely came alone. Arthos could only guess what drove this one so deep into the woods. He had yet to see the brute with his own eyes, but he could tell from the mayhem it left behind that it was easily twice the height of a man, and carried some form of massive, jagged blade. Arthos didn’t shy away from lone combat, but he had no intention of trying to fight this monster on his own. The primal intelligence of these orruks made them a more vicious threat than even the most ferocious wild animal, and he would need the help of his fellow hunters to bring down one of this size.
He scaled a nearby cliff that looked out over the wooded vale. Miles in the distance he could see the spot where the village lay. No sign could betray its whereabouts to an unknowing eye, but he knew the folds and crests in this land like the creases of his palm. He couldn’t let the beast stumble upon the quiet settlement. There were warriors there, but the destruction and death the monster could cause before they brought it down were unthinkable. He raised his horn to his lips and blew a long, low note. It would surely draw the orruk to him. He just hoped that help would arrive first.
My Skirmish warband is complete, or Stage 1 is at least. Arthos is the last of the four to get a paint job, and I’m rather pleased with it, if I do say so myself. It was a nice change as well to just sit and paint one model. I’ll be back to batch painting next week, but I’m going to go with smaller batches of two or three and see if that’s more enjoyable.
I still can’t paint metal to save my life though. I just can’t get the damn consistency of the paint right, and the highlights always turn out way too thick. Maybe that’s why I enjoy the T’au and Sylvaneth so much; no stupid metallic colours!
I’ve included Arthos in my warband to act as the narrator for the fiction we hope to create off the back of our Skirmish games. While my Branchwych will still be the ‘hero’ character, I was struggling to find relatable motivations for giant immortal tree spirits, outside of the very broad “protect the forest” ones, so Arthos is in there to give a human perspective to the conflict. The model is one of my all time favourites as well, so that helps. I’m really enjoying how very small he is beside all the dryads, Kurnoth, Ironjaws, and Stormcast. A puny mortal caught up in a conflict between gods and monsters.
Rules-wise, the profile for a Vulkite Berserker Karl fits pretty perfectly, and while he could maybe even take down an Ironjaw if the dice are favourable, his one wound will make him very fragile indeed. A bargain at a mere 2 points though. If we do a sequel, he might get a level-up to a proper hero profile.
We’ve been talking about making neutral Ghurian monsters recently, and it’s got me thinking about scaling threats. What I mean by that is that when we think of monsters for AoS, we immediately jump to the dragons and giants and greater daemons that we see populating the average game of Warhammer. But at the Skirmish level, a dangerous monster could be a single wolf, or heck, even a lone goblin. Think 1st-level D&D monsters. A whole party needs to gang up to kill one bugbear. While in a pitched battle you might have Ironjaws and Stormcast hacking each other apart and getting blasted into dust by magical conflagrations by the dozen, when you zoom in, an Ironjaw is a foe far beyond any regular human. And a lone Stormcast would be a terrifying demigod of unassailable might. Mark’s already doing this kinda thing with his wolves, so I might start to dabble at this end of the scale, and try and come up with some human-level monsters.