Shaping the Steelshaper
In my first two articles, I explored the Dweghom melee combat characters, starting with the powerful Hold Raegh and shifting to the magical Ardent Kerawegh. In this, the third article in the series, I turn my attention to the Tempered Steelshaper. As the most recently released Dweghom character, and one without any Restricted regiments released yet, he is in an odd place relative to the other three characters. Like the Sorcerer, he has a ranged attack and brings magic to the table. He combines that with a defense value equal to the Hold Raegh. While he’ll never rival the Raegh in damage output, this high defense value gives him a number of solid melee builds if you decide to put him in a regiment likely to see more close-up fighting. He receives restricted combat retinues, and the magic retinue is fully available to him, while also being able to take both arcane and combat masteries.
Part of what he brings to the table is three spells. Each has a range of 12 inches and Scaling. First, he can give another regiment +1 Clash until the end of the turn. Generally, you want to cast this on a regiment that has a cleave value. While it is beneficial on any unit, it is probably best on Thanes and Dragonslayers in the current releases, though watch for it to see a lot of use on Steelforged. A strong spell, but perhaps not the best choice until more units release. Second and the strongest currently is Unmake Armor. Rather than boosting a clash score to create more hits, this choice targets an enemy and weakens their defenses. More importantly, if you have both melee and ranged units that can strike at a key enemy unit, this spell allows everything to take advantage of the enemy’s weaker armor. I recommend this upgrade in most lists. Finally, the Steelshaper comes with an upgrade called “Temper Plate,” but which gives +1 Evasion. One wonders if this is a typo since tempering is the process of increasing the toughness (that is to say that the metal is less prone to fracture) of a steel or another iron-based alloy. Furthermore, Evasion is an odd ability to find some use in a Dweghom list, since so many units have high armor; it requires the opponent to have an oddly specific list: one that has enough cleave to get through your armor, and then for you to have units that can meaningfully take advantage of the bonus to Evasion. At the moment, its uses are so highly situational and extremely rare that it is effectively a useless spell.
All of these spells support your regiments and make them that much stronger on the battlefield. In this respect, despite having no additional restricted regiments, a single Steelshaper in a regiment of Hold Ballista can contribute admirably on the field.
Let’s look at three options.
Option-1: The Ranged Shaper
Optional item: Tempered Goad
Preferred Regiment: Hold Ballista
This build is not complicated. It takes just enough of a retinue to boost the Steelshaper’s native magic and give him Blessed. Marksmanship gives him two extra ranged attack dice. These become rerollable on attack, so you’re generating a good number of hits with him. Essentially, you’re picking either Hone Blades or Unmake Armor, and then pairing the Hold Ballista with another critical melee unit or two. The end result is that whatever is in front of the melee unit takes receives -1 defense, and is then blasted in turn by the Hold Ballistae+Steelshaper and then swung at by the melee unit. He technically does not need an item in this build, and as a cheap unit, it is easier to part with him if an opponent does get to your Ballista regiment. You’ll want to get the Ballista to 12 inches where they will unleash their full Barrage dice and the Steelshaper can cast his spells. A simple but easily effective build. I’ve included Tempered Goad as an option if you’re running him with a Sorcerer and Automata. The idea is that if you’re largely using Unmake Armor, you’re likely out of range for the spell on a key turn that you can spend his action on Tempered Goad, boosting the Automata’s Aura of Death ability (presumably before they charge at the tale end of the round).
Option-2: The Melee Tank
Mastery: Fueled by the Furnace
Item: Draeghbrud, Flaming Weapon, or Obsidian Grafts
Preferred Regiment: Hold Warriors, Fireforged
You have a lot of choice on the item here. In some ways, this option is much better than the equivalent build that I shared previously with the Ardent Kerawegh. Fueled by the Furnace may give you extra attacks, but it requires you to roll for a wound against your base defense value. A defense value of 4 on the Steelshaper is going to hold up much longer than the Ardent’s base of 3. Since Combat-2 boosts your Clash score by one point, you’re suddenly making much more use of all the attacks offered by Fueled by the Furnace. You do have Magic-1 conferring Blessed for a single reroll per turn, capable of making any sixs in your initial pool of dice go away and to maximize your hits. From there, it is a simple question of how survivable you want your Steelshaper to be. Obsidian Grafts is a defensively-minded build that will work against any wounds you take in a duel or from failed rolls on Fueled by the Furnace. Draeghbrud helps your Steelshaper push damage through against high armor units in front of him. Since you have the option of casting a spell first before Clashing with your own regiment, this is a solid choice. Flaming Weapon remains an old standby, cheaply increasing the effectiveness of your high dice pool while adding a modest Cleave-1.
This build is extremely attractive with Fireforged, who need to get close to do their damage. The Steelshaper can fire together with the regiment on approach, while being able to provide that critical push when an opponent clashes in melee with your Fireforged. If you are not using a Hold Raegh, this build will push similar damage through upon the enemy.
A Steelshaper Warlord?
At the moment, the Steelshaper feels overshadowed by the Tempered Sorcerer. However, as all factions receive their full releases and a fuller meta develops, the Steelshaper will start to come into his own as a Warlord. First, he ideally wants high defense units (4s and 5s) in his entire army. The idea is that the opponent has to spend a lot of effort to remove a single unit, and is spreading their efforts across a field of 2-3 units, only to have a single turn where a full stand of infantry on two or three separate regiments comes back. Keep in mind that healing first affects a charater, so a build with a Tempered Sorcerer using Graft of Fire, or even the Steelshaper himself using Fueled by the Furnace allows you to heal back the character and keep pumping their damage. A Steelshaper Warlord doesn’t need a specific build, as any of those above will work for him. At the present, if you’re using Fireforged, Dragonslayers, Hold Thanes (especially with a Herald of Stone), or are using Roots of Stone/Until we have on defense 3 units.
The Steelshaper can be built for both melee and ranged combat. He’s going to be effective in both and his spells will be brutal in the right army composition. This makes a unique character who will contribute to combat aggressively while also playing an important support role for his army. What kinds of builds are you using with your Steelshapers?