Friday, 20 March 2015

The Dark Horde of Naggaroth: Looking at the Warhammer Fantasy Battle 3rd Edition Dark Elf army list.

In the second of my analyses of the 3rd Edition Warhammer army lists, I am looking at the first army in the Warhammer Armies book: The Dark Elves.
The Dark Elves were another of my favourite armies which I played at the time of 3rd Edition, and I often played against Wood Elves in a clash of kindreds. I often found them to be both an enjoyable, and an occasional frustrating army to use, although I am sure the same could be said of most of the other armies in thier own ways.


The Dark Elves are the exiled kin of the Wood and High Elves, who turned to evil and chaos, fought and lost the Elven Civil War, and then fled to the New World to found the kingdom of Naggaroth. Dark Elf society is geared towards raiding and dark magic. Female Dark Elves have a more prominent role in sociey than other Warhammer races, but not a matriarchal role as in D&D, but the Witch Elves are to the fore of the background and army selection. Design wise they have there own style and evil look, which can be suggested to look like a dark form of High Elven armies.

The army compostion is a mainly infantry, with 70 compulsory infantry required. There are options for horse and Cold One cavalry, with additional options of Beastmasters, Bolt Throwers, and summoned Hosts. The weapon of choice for Dark Elves all through the army list is the crossbow, with the repeating crossbow also an option. 

The Army List. 

Army Selection.

From the page below it can be seen that the Dark Elf army is in line with most of the other Warhammer lists regarding the ratio of rank and file to heroes and hosts. They are subject to Hatred of other Elf Kindreds (Wood, Sea, and High Elves), and Witch Elves are also subject to Frenzy.

 The Dark Elves have access to up to 26 heroes (and/or heroines, although for the sake of convenience I shall refer to them as 'heroes'), which is quite a high number, second only to the the Dwarf army. It must be noted that 6 of the heroes are assassins, which brings the number of heroes which can be used for units to 20. 

As regards equipment the Dark Elves heroes have access to a wide selection of weapon options. However it is their riding options which are of note. Despite not having any in the army, Dark Elf characters can ride in chariots. In addition, Dark Elves can not only ride War/horses and Cold Ones, but a large selection of War Beasts. Leaving aside Dragon options, they can ride Chimera, Griffon, Wyvern, Hippogriff, Giant Spider, and the Temple Dog. The Temple Dog is a great additon to the army, both in gaming term, background, and model wise.

Only the Chaos army has more options than the 6 War Beasts, but the Chaos list cannot ride Dragons. This allows a wide scope of heroes riding monsters, and allows a player to field many different monsters in this army, something which arises again in the 'hosts' section later. 

Returning to assassins, they have poisoned attacks, although they are the same points as normal Dark Elven heroes. In terms of use, they can be very useful for picking off enemy heroes, or War Machine crew members. I always considering using a mounted assassin hidden in a cavarly unit, which would greatly add to his movement and range of operation, but have never as yet, tested this idea.

The army can have up to 8 Wizards, which again is quite high in number. This is at least 2 more than most of the other armies, and equal to the Wood Elves. 
Spells wise they have access to Daemonic, Necromantic, and Illusinist spell, as well as the usual Battle Magic. To represent their racial magical study, all Dark Elf Wizard must have at least one Daemonic or Necromantic per level. Dark Elves don't use Elemental magic.
Magical equipment.

The allocation of magical equipment and weapons is fairly standard for a Dark Elf army with:
  •  Any hero can have a magical weapon, with one ablity per 'Level', for example a Level 15 Hero can have a weapon with three ablities.
  • Wizards can be equiped with up to 3 scolls of level 3 or lower.
  • 4 character may have magical rings or level 3 or lower
  • three characters may have magical armour
  • the Army Standard may have up to 2 abilities. 
Of special note is the option of macigal missiles. It states character models can be equipped with anymagical missiles, but does not give a maximum implying unlike any other army, that there is no upper limit.

Rank and File. 

As mentioned above, the Dark Elf army has a compulsory troops requirement of 70. This is a very high number for any army, only the Orcs and Goblins have more at 80, and the Skaven close behind at 60. Now unlike those two armies, Dark Elves are more expnesive in points which means that the basic Dark Elf army is using up a great amount of it's points value on complusary troops than any other. For example, the Dark Elves (exluding the 1 hero required) has to spend 800 points in a proscribed manner. This is in contrast to the Orcs and Goblins at 450 points, and the Skaven at 350 points. Only the Dwarves come close at 660 points, and they are troops which most Dwarf generals would probably take anyway.
 I found that when selecting a Dark Elf army, by the time you add heroes, Standard bearers, and the odd magical weapon, you have spent at least if not more of a third of your army on compulsary troops. Whilst this gives a good basis for the army, but is does tend to feel like too much of a constriction for the opportunity to choose other things from the army list. This can be a realt problem in smaller point value armies, but as the army lists were designed largely for 3,000 point to about 6,000, it's not too much of a problem, more of an annoyance.

+3 shock Elites. That extra +1 on the Initiative gives an edge when fighting other Elves.
Mounted on Cold Ones which are both smelly (-1 to hit) and scary (causing fear), much like some of the gamers in the 1980's really! 
 Good maximum unit size. Option for upgrading to carry Lances, Magic Instrument/Standard. One unit may have repeating crossbows.
In modelling terms, they look good on the table, and the later Marauder releases about 1989/90 looked good. It's a crazy looking evil Elf on a dinosaur!
Point value expensive, at 39 points they are very expensive. They are equal to the Empire Army's Temple Ritterbruden, but unlike them they don't have heavy armour, lances, or barding. Outside the Chaos army, they are the most expensive cavalry once any equipment is added. 
As I noted with the Slann army  Cold Ones are suprsingly mixed in thier uses.  Despite their fearsome reputation, Cold Ones are difficult to use in 3rd Edition Warhammer, because before you make your first charge you have to write down your intention to charge and target in the turn before, as they need to be 'whipped up into a fury' first. This means you have to wait a turn before you can charge, which exposes the unit to enemy shooting or counter measures (like moving out of range). Also, Cold Ones can't break away from mellee but must fight until the enemy is destroyed, and as a consquence they might end up pursuing off the table.
And they are subject to stupidity too, which never helps!
(I need to do some more painting!)
Apart from the above concerning Helldrakes, they are slightly cheaper than the Helldrakes, and still a +1 Elite. 
Again the Cold Ones rules as above. 
No access to magical standards/instruments.
+2 Shock Elite. Mounted on Warhorse. Options for Magic Standards/Instruments, horse barding, and repeating/crossbows. 
They come equiped with Lances. Good unit size options.

Again expensive, comparable to Bretonnian Knights, but without the heavy armour. 
Other than that they are a good alternative heavy cavalry to Cold One Riders, although not far behind the Doomdrakes on points.
Dark Riders. 
Cheap cavalry, lots avalible, and in big units if required. Lance option and crosbows means you can use the either as shock cavalry, or fast moving crossbow troops. One unit may have repeating crossbows. 

Only one unit may have barding. minimum unit size is 10, and as they cannot skirmish it means that missile shooting may be comprimised. 
No heavy armour option. 
However, they are a good, cheap, alternative cavalry option. 


Scouting rules.
Always good to have Scouts in an army for flanking and generally annoying, sniping, and getting in the way. They can be a good way of hiding high level heroes or assassins.
Good weapon options for scouts, and 25 is a high number to have in an army on a releative par with the other two Elven armies. Only the Empire has more, but that is including the Forstjaeger.
They also have good modelling possiblites, with dark clad Elves sneaking and sniping, fits very well with the sneaky underhand and shadowy concept of Dark Elves. 

None really as it's a good unit. Perhaps the lack of posioned attacks. 

Equipped with crossbows, an excellent Strength 4 weapon, and one unit can upgrade to repeater crossbows. 
Armour wise, light armour, and if required shields.
The double handed weapon option is fine if you are expecting to have to hold ground in combat. Dark Elven Initiative is high enough so that you will still stike first against most opponents.

On the whole the unit is a good, serviceable missile unit.
However when fighting Wood Elf armies there can be a problem. Crossbows have a 30 inch range, and cannot move and shoot. This mean that you have to move into range, wait a turn, then shoot. When fighting Wood Elves with Lornalim bows with 36 inch range, they have a 6 inch range advantage. This mean that they can shoot, then move back or away, and then shoot, sometimes keeping out of ranger of crossbows all game whilst the Dark Elves get shot without being able to return fire. 
This would be a common problem to all other crossbow armed armies, such as the Dwarves, Empire, and Bretonnians. However, all three of those have long range war engines to counter Elven archers. 
The only solutions I could find to this were masses of crossbowmen, or Chaos allies (covered later). 


On the whole good infantry. High Initiative, average/good armour, and two weapon options. 
Good maximum unit size if youare going for big battering ram units. 
One unit may have magical standard and Instrument (or one each for two units).

No spears, so it's always just the front rank usually fighting. Shields as standard, which are usless if you choose double handed weapon/halberds, although they can be used to avoid missile shooting when advancing. 
40 as a complusary number is quite high for an expensive points per model Elven army. The maximun unit size of 30 means you are always going to have to take at least two Warriors unit in any army.
On a miniatures point it is often noted that a lot of Dark Elf miniatures, epsecially the Marauder ones never ranked up very well, and so one had to be careful how you placed models in a unit, and moved them about.

Witch Elves.

Subject to Frenzy
Options for additional hand weapons, poisoned attacks, and one unit may have crossbows.
Something overlooked a lot by Dark Elf players (but not me :) ) was that you could give Witch Elves crossbows and posioned attacks together, meaning that they could unleash Strength 5 Crossbow shots. A nasty suprise, wounding other Elves on a 2+.

With a Cool of 9 they rarely went into Frenzy , except usually when about to shoot crossbows! Despite the additional hand weapons and crossbows, not a lot of weapon options. 
Miniature wise you had to make sure you collected at least 10 female Dark Elves so you could field them in this unit. Not alway a problem given the ranges at the time. Personally, I don't think some of the Witch Elf models were very good, which let the unit down on the games table.

Whelp Masters.
Animal Handlers, which are only present in five other armies. You get 8, which is more than the Wood Elves, and the same as Skaven and Chaos armies. The have good equipment options, and a choice of cheap Warhounds, or more expensive Chaos Hounds. 
As a unit they are good for attacking the flanks of enemy units in support of other, bigger, infantry units, thus negating rank bounses. They also good at chasing after skrimishers/scouts, attacking other small units, stopping enemy reserve moves, and just getting in the way. The Chaos hounds can provide some punch to those roles. 
The whole idea of Whelp Masters also fits in with the background of the Dark Elves hunting in caverns for monsters, or raiding.
Only two beast options. As I mentioned above, the Dark Elves have acces to lots of monsters in the background, via the Chaos Wastes and the Caverns of Naggroth, but you only get Warhounds or Chaos Hounds. The Slann, who are the only other army to have access to Cold Ones, get Cold Ones and Cold One Warhounds. Given the amountof War Beast Monsters avalible, perhaps Giant Spiders or  something else might have been added.

Dark Elf War Altar.
All the rules for War Altars, such as the Leadership bonus and close combat bonus. 
Ability to have a magical standard and/or magical instrument. 
Witch Elf Guards. 
Only four armies get to have one (Dark Elf, Bretonnian, Chaos, and Slann). 

Guards only have light armour, no shields, although the Witch Elves in the rest of the army do not either. 
The Magical standard only has a 50 point limit.
Given they are sujbect to frenzy and hatred, the guards and War Altar might be difficult to control, althuogh with Cool 9 it's not too much of a problem.
On the whole it is a useful addition to an army, although you have to convert one up as they never made a model.

Repeating Bolt Throwers.

It's repeating crossbow machine gun! Shoots 6 shots per turn. And you get 4 of them. 
The model looks cool too. 
Only the Dark Elves also get these, the High/Sea Elf one is a normal Bolt Thrower. . 

Always shoot with a BS 3. 
Short range for a warmachine, therefore better on the defence. 
Bolts don't penetrate the next rank like other bolt throwers, although to be fair if they did it would make it too powerful in my opinion.
You only get 2 crew, and there are no options for adding extra crew. The model was released with a crew of 4, but the army list only has 2 crew. This means that is can be put out of action with a couple of good shots. The High Elf Bolt Thrower model came with 3 crew, can have 3 crew in the army list entry, althuogh it is a 3-man bolt thrower. 

Skirmisher wise the Dark Elves are a little limited. 
They can have two units of Crossbowmen skirmishing, and 2 units of Shadows (who are scouts, and so 'skirmish' anyway). 
The army cannot have any mounted skirmishers.
Most of the other armies, apart from the Undead and Chaos, have some form of Skirmishers other than the standard missile troops, and many have cavalry skirmishers as well.

Dark Elf armies are able to employ both Allies and Mercenaries, of which they can spend one third of the army's total points on each.

Concerning Allies, Dark Elves can call upon four different Ally Contigents. Only Chaos has more friends! 
In relation to the Dark Elves, each Ally Contingent has it's uses:
  • Chaos can provide some monster hitting power with the Minotaurs, cheap cannon fodder with Chaos Goblins, steady tough infantry with Beastmen, and Warmachines with the Chaos Dwarves. The latter, with their Bazukas and Mortars, can act as an aid when dealing with the long range Elven bow shooting I mention in the Crossbowmen entry. I found this combination very useful. 
  • The Fimir, like Chaos, can provide some tough monsters. They also look good. In my army I used this Ally contigent, but subsituted the Fimir models for Chaos Snakemen on 40mm bases. 
  • Skaven can provide a lot of cheap troops to bulk out an army, and WarpfireThrowers too.
  • The Undead, while of less use to the Dark Elves, do provide some Fear causing troops, although, this said, Cold Ones, and many other monsters in the army do the same.

 Mercenary wise, the Dark Elves can call upon three races, the Nippon, the Hobgoblins, and Ogres.
  • The Dark Elves are the only army which can use a Nippon Mercenary force. Apart from how cool it it to have Dark Elves and Samurai in the same army (both armies also having access to Temple Dogs!), the Nippon army provides cheap good quality troops, well equiped, in the form of the Samurai and Samurai. Both of these unitshave longbow upgrade options, providing that extra long range shooting. You can also have a Ninja Assassin in case you needed a seventh assassin in your army or could'nt afford a Dark Elven one, or just wanted to suprise someone. 
  • Ogres Mercenaries offer the Dark Elves some of the finest fear causing, killing monsters in the game. In addition they can have a lot of them (points willing) and they are very well equipped. Added to that, in miniautres terms, Ogres, especaily Jes Goodwins ones, always look great on the gaming table.
When it comes to Magically bound hosts, Dark Elves have some excellent choices. 
They have access to all three types of Host; Monstrous, Ethereal, and Chaotic. 
This allows Dark Elven Wizards to bind a wide variety of monsters, creatures, and Undead. 
As I mentioned with the Slann anaylsis, hosts are oftern overlooked, or not taken due to the binding rules. However, the three hosts allow you to do do three things:
Firstly, Chaos Hosts allows you to take cool and ususual looking monster miniatures which can also do some damage. This can add some colour and interest to an army, and if you're opponent has'nt faced a Cockatrice or Jabberwock before, it might unnerve them or cause them to be distracted by it. Bigger monsters, and Dragons, are also good as counter measures for enemy mosnters. If you know you are going to face a Dragon or Treeman, then bind a  monster and send it off to at worst slow your enemy down, and at best kill it.
Of course smaller creatures such as Harpies, can fly around and slow down an enemy advance by stopping reserve moves, in a similar way to giant Eagles do in other Elven Armies. They can also attack flank of engaged units.
 Secondly Ethereal Hosts can provide great painting modelling opportunites, painting up a Dark Elf in Ghostly colours, or having Wraith models lurking in the shadows. They are also fear causing and can only be destroyed with magic or mgaical weapons. My personal favourite is a mounted spectre.
Finally, monstrous hosts can provide a flexablity. You can bind a Dragon to take on other monsters, or summon smaller creatures such as Giant Bats or Swarms to tie up enemy units. Giant leeches are great for hiding in forests, and Giant Spiders and Scorpions are good medium sized monsters for melee. I would avoid Cold One's and Cold One Warhounds due to the difficulties with the rules, but ordinary Warhounds can make a cheap and interesting looking bound unit.


The Dark Elves can be a tricky army.
 As with all armies you need to understand your troops strengths and weakness, but in my personal experience this even more so the case with the Dark Elves. The basic Elven profile gives you fast moving, high Initiative warriors, with above average Weapon and Bow Skills, and excellent personal characteristics (the Intelligence being especailly useful when riding Cold One mounts).

 However it must be remembered that with Toughness 3 they will not stand up to a lot of damage. Unlike Humans or Goblins, who are cheaper in points, Dark Elves are more expensive and so you will have less troops to lose. The same can be said of their Strength 3, the Dark Elves will be able to takcle most foes, but struggle against tougher foes. For example, when fighting Orcs, Dark Elves will attack first, but require a 5+ to wound, whereas the slower Orcs will only need a 4+.
This is why the Warriors options of Double Handed Weapons and Halberds, and the Crosbowmen double handed weapon option are useful. If facing tough, low Initiative foes, then you can afford to opt for Double handed weapons and lose one point of Initiative. If facing other Elves, then the Halberd maybe a better option. Incedently, I found that 20 is a good number for Warrior units, not too expensive in points, and gives good rank bonuses if 5 deep by 4 wide.

With the crossbowmen, I covered the problem of getting crossbows into range to allow them to bring the Strength 4 of the Crossbow to bear, and a possible solution with the use of Chaos allies or mounted Crossbowmen. In addition, I have found it best to equip them with shields for when they advance. As they will not be shooting crossbows, the gain a 5,6 save from the shield and light armour. With a movement penatly of 1 inch, as armour penalty rules for all Elves state that penalties are that they are doubled, this brings their move down to 4 inches, which is still the same as most other unarmoured or save 6 infantry. In addition, it may be worth considering taking two of the units as skirmishers, which not only allows all of the troops to shoot rather than just the front rank, but also means that enemy shots are at -1 to hit.

Of course, if you are fighting a defensive battle line having Crossbowmen in ranks on hills, or skirmishing on the flanks can maximise your firepower. Always with a Dark Elf army, it is vital that you are mindful of your Crossbowmen in relation to thier targets. Finally, it is always worth considering taking a unit of repeater crossbow, especailly if facing low Toughness foes. Despite the their shorter range (16 inches), lower strength (3), and -1 to hit, they do shoot twice. If used by skirmishers and scouts, that can a lot of shots.

With Witch Elves, they can be used in one of three ways. Defensively, with posioned attack Crossbows, or without the crossbows and as an attacking unit in ranks. The third option is to equip a unit of 20 for both close combat and with crosbows, and send them off to capture and hold a hill. The drawback to this idea is that because they are subject to Frenzy, the might not be reliable to hold their ground. Also, as they don't have shields they will only have a save of 6. This can also be an option of a unit of 20 Crossbowmen, who are less likely to leave their postion, and can also have shields.

The Dark Elves are a flexable army, which can be great well for both offensive and defensive options. If fighting a defensively, you can create a battle line with Crossbowmen and Warriors, with support from Repeater Bolt throwers and excellent counter charging cavalry and Whlp Masters. Having a War Altar behind the army will help as well.
If on the attack, the whole army is releatively fast moving, can fields some good infantry, hard hitting cavalry, maybe a Hero mounted on a Dragon, and have skirmishing crossbowmen in support. Both appoaches can be helped with choices from Allied or Mercenary Contingents. The main considerations are to be mindful of how to get Cold One riders into combat, and how to use Crossbowmen, without either of them being shot down before they can fight.

Miniatures wise, both 1980's Citadel and Maruader Dark Elves are not too expensive or difficult to buy second hand. Since 3rd Edition Warhammer, not only Games Workshop, but many compaines have released Dark Elven models over the years.
The Original 1980's models have a look of evil looking High Elves about them. This was a theme carried on later with the Marauder ranges. It should be noted that the older solid based and C series Citadel models are slightly smaller than the later Marauder ranges. so while they will look ok in units of their own, they don't always look as good side by side. The Marauder range also had more of a sea raider look of them. Of note as well are the old Grenadier range, now produced by Mirliton Miniatures, which were Elizabethean in design with collar ruffs and Renaissance looking armour, and were contemporary with 3rd Edition Warhammer.

In conclusion, the Dark Elves can be a very varied army, despite the large number of compulsory troops compared to other armies, due to the great choice of Allies, Mercenaries, Monsters (both as War Beasts, and Hosts), and a mix of infantry choices. Most of all, the flexablity and choice allows for a fun and stylish looking army to collect and paint, but which can also be a challenge to game with.

The next analysis will be on the Wood Elf army as I have decided to look at each army as they are in the Warhammer Armies book. Next week will be WIP on Slann, plus a suprise. :)


  1. What a great post, Goblin Lee!! And nice to see some of your Dark Elves again!

    I've only played the Dark Elves a couple times using the 3rd edition rules and found that they really needed the WS 5 they were given in the original Warhammer Armies listings. And I laughed reading about your Witch Elves finally going into Frenzy while firing their crossbows - I have never seen Frenzied Witch Elves in a 3rd Ed. game. Other things on their minds, I guess...

    1. Thank you,
      It's been over 20 years since I played using Dark Elves, but enjoyed them. I do plan on re-visiting the Dark Elf army to add Cold Ones Riders and detailing on the shields, but I am pre-occupied with the Slann at the moment.

      When I played Dark Elves it seemed that my crossbow armed Witch Elves always used to just get into postion to shoot and then end up in melee, go into frenzy, and then pursue the enemy off the table! Happened several times. LOL

  2. I just wanted to ask, are you sure that normal crossbows have a range of 24"? I remember them as being 30", same as a longbow. The repeater is definitely 16" though, and should be chosen with care on dedicated missile infantry, but make a great cavalry weapon.

    1. LOL,
      you are right it is 30 inches! I think it is because I always played against Wood Elves with their 36 inch range Lornalim Longbows, and so I always seemed to be out of range.
      The repeater does strike me as a good cavalry weapon as the extra moblity compensates for the loss in range. I never had the cavalry to try it out, but would do in the future if I expanded the army.

  3. With the huge variety of weapon rules its an easy mistake to make, and didn't want you underestimating a great missile weapon!
    Its really helpful article you've written though and should be very helpful for my own Dark Elf army - it never occured to me to make use of poisoned crossbows! Must go paint my witch elves now ;)

    1. Glad you liked the article and found it helpful.

      I must have been thinking of something else and got the ranges mixed up. I've been more focused on Slann with their 12 inch range Blowpipes recently.
      I have edited the Crossbowmen part of the article to apply just to fighting Wood Elves, which is something I used to do a lot with the Dark Elves, but the range issue is something to be aware of when fighting the sneeky Wood Elves who lurk on table edges. LOL

      I really like your Marauder Dark Elves, excellently painted, love the blue colour. :)

  4. Great read Gobbo,
    You're dead on with the army's weaknesses, which are many. I don't play dark elves (yet) but when I have played against them I've always agreed to negate the cold ones' declare charge rule, it's just unfair.
    I don't want to be one of those people who reads an article you've obviously worked hard on just to point out a mistake but, elves suffer double move penalties for armour, thus light armour and shield reduces
    their move to 4. Crossbows are range 30 repeaters are 16.
    I'm looking forward to your skaven analysis. I'm on a losing streak so any help is appreciated.

    1. Glad you enjoyed the article.

      Oh, dear, you can tell I was writing from memory! I forgot about the armour movment restrictions for Elves. It might be because when I played Justin's Wood Elves last year we applied the normal move restrictions as we probably both forgot about them. I'll edit the armour bit too!

      The Skaven article is a little way off. It's an army I have never played with, only against.

  5. Thanks for a really informative read Lee, it must have been a effort to write all that so thanks very much.
    I only really got into WHFB very late in the piece (about 7 years ago) and besides my own Night Goblins and their Dwarf adversaries my knowledge of most other armies is pretty limited, especially for 3rd edition-which I really want to end up playing somewhere down the line.

    1. Cool, glad you liked the article.
      It took me a couple of evenings to copy and paste the artwork and do the photographs, and then write up. I basically wrote the article from memory and off the cuff, hence forgetting the crossbow and armour rules, but being able to recall the challenges of using the army, and how it played.

      I plan to look at each of the 3rd Edition armies, so hopefully that will help. There are several other people who have done some article on their main armies of interest. I stated collecting in 1986 and gaming 2nd Edition from early 1987, so a lot of what I will be writing will be from memory of playing with/against aarmies at that time until the mid 1990's.

      I like your Prince Uther's Champion, you really brought out the character of the model. :)

  6. Hi.
    Where does it say the War Altar is subject to Hatred, or are you referring to the DE hatred of other elves?

    1. I was referring to the specific hatred of Dark Elves to other Elves rather than a general War Altar hatred rule.

    2. Cheers, that makes sense!