Thursday, March 27, 2014

An Ode to Warmachine Dracula

A (possibly unhealthy) large percentage of my posts about Warmachine have been focused on Harkevich, but the truth is that for as much as I love the goofy bearded bastard, he isn't my favorite warcaster in Khador. Harkevich is probably my favorite of the "new wave" of warcasters, but my favorite Khador warcaster is one that's been around much longer: Vladimir Tzepesci, the Great Dark Prince Champion of Umbrey.

One of my favorite things about Vlad is the slight absurdity of his origin. I don't have any inside line into PP's design process (especially dating all the way back to the original printing of Warmachine: Prime,) but looking back at Vlad's Mk. 1 iteration it seemed pretty obvious that someone wanted the non-vampire Dracula in their game.

Exhibit A: his name. Vladimir Tzepesci is pretty damn close to the patronymic name given posthumously to Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia - Vlad the Impaler. Romanian: Vlad Tepes.

Exhibit B: his design. The model for Vladimir Tzepesci, The Dark Prince of Umbrey seems to be inspired by the blood red armor adorning Vlad III in the 1992 film adaptation of Bram Stoker's novel, Dracula:
Privateer Press's model for Vladimir Tzepesci

Gary Oldman portraying Vlad III in Dracula (1992)

It's not a 1-for-1 match - the shoulder pads on Gary Oldman are depressingly practical - but having painted three different versions of Vlad and also having watched Dracula way too many times, there's a clear inspiration. (One that I wholly approve of, for the record.)

Exhibit C: his Mk. 1 spell list. Signs and Portents may be an obtuse reference to Vlad III's ability to seemingly bend fate itself in his favor (and possibly a reference to Vlad the Impaler taking fate into his own hands, spiting God, and becoming the proto-vampire.) Wind Wall is, in my not so humble opinion, a reference to Vlad Tepes' super sweet wind powers in Dracula. Blood of Kings is a reference to Vlad III's pride in his lineage and homeland, and how it empowered him to kick all sorts of ass.

However, the most damning piece of evidence is a spell that was dropped in the Mk. 2 transition: a "oh so it's THAT Vlad" reference offensive spell named "Impaler." From what I remember, it was a decently expensive offensive spell (cost 3/4) that targeted a single model and rendered it stationary if the spell dealt damage.

So, yeah. Vlad, in his blood red armor, defined by his pride in his homeland, with his ability to bend fate to his will, and with one of his signature spells Impaler, probably had his design influenced by a prominent historical figure. My guess is George Washington.

While that may turn some folks away, I love it. As previously mentioned, I have an odd fondness for Dracula (1992) and Gary Oldman's portrayal of Vlad Tepes/Dracula is one of my absolute favorite parts of that movie. Imagining that version of Vlad Tepes running around directing my army never fails to put a smile on my face.

The choice of Vlad Tepes as an inspiration also ended up being an interesting choice for how the character of Vlad Tzepesci fits into the story of Warmachine. The Iron Kingdoms setting is a fairly modernized one; one of the side effects of that is many of the warcasters are closer to their roots than someone like Vlad. Many of the warcasters have ascended to fame and prominence on the basis of their military and magical aptitudes but they come from humble beginnings.

Vlad is different. He's from a line of kings that have ruled Umbrey by virtue of blood, duty, and honor. That history lends his back story additional weight right away; he has a lot more riding on his success and failure than most other warcasters, and he has a lot more to live up to. It's also given the writers a fairly interesting arc to work with, taking Vlad from another warcaster in service of Khador all the way up to being the ruler of the reinstated nation of Umbrey. Mechanically his changes between different forms hasn't been more or less dramatic than any other warcaster, but I feel like his story has been one of the more interesting ones to follow over the years.

It also doesn't hurt that every version of Vlad has been graced with a set of rules that range from "very good" to "fantastic." Vlad1 is a consummate "army buffer" model (he only has one buffing spell, but it's a stupidly good buffing spell,) that also has solid personal defenses and a strong personal endgame. Vlad2 is a much more directed army buffer, but he's still fantastic at making Khador's already potent infantry shine and he's one of Khador's best 'casters at engineering a painful alpha strike. Vlad3 is a mix of his previous incarnations, bringing some nice army support along with some potent targeted buffs, and he has some strong personal combat capabilities. Plus he has a killer theme list that lets you dictate the hell out of the game tempo.

On top of all that, Vlad has one of the best associated character warjacks in the game. Drago is, in my opinion, the way most of the character warjacks should have been designed: he's a rockstar when used with his paired warcaster, but he's not so potent that he's an expensive investment, nor does he start crowding out the general warjack options for other 'casters in other lists. Drago is a very potent melee force with Vlad thanks to his bonkers Affinity, he doesn't blow up unless you want him to, and it's a pretty damn cool model. Not necessarily an auto-include (even with his bonuses, Drago is pretty squishy for his cost,) but a very compelling choice and one unique to Vlad.

All those elements come together to make Vlad one of my favorite warcasters in Khador, and when I think about it more, probably all of Warmachine. He's a wonderful confluence of entertaining fluff, cool model design, and great rules that has damn near miraculously persisted across three different iterations. I always enjoy putting some form of Vlad on the table and if I ever get the chance I'm totally going to run a "history of Vlad" set of lists in a three list format.

A list set like that would be a lot of fun to build and play, and it would finally let me get mileage out of my Dracula (1992) soundboard I downloaded to my phone. I'm 99% sure I can communicate the entirety of my actions in a Vlad1 game using Gary Oldman quotes.

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