LA Ulm by Baumgarm
The following isn't so much a coherent guide (unlike the fine one Zinegata wrote) as it is a compilation of the advice and tips I wrote up for a fellow player. They found my ramblings useful and suggested I post them here. I hope you find this collection helpful in handling one of the trickier, but more interesting, nations of the Late Age.
LA Ulm Pretender Advice First off, you are required by law to have an awake or dormant D2B3 or D3B3 pretender to jump start your Vampire Count summoning; a D2 pretender with hands can hold a skull staff, but does require you to detour to construction-4 first. Of course, you're going to want to go there anyway for sanguine dowsing rods, and you aren't hurting for early research speed. Also, since Ulm's pre-Vampire Count, pre-sanguine dowsing rod blood hunting is pretty inefficient, having an awake or dormant pretender blood hunt it up early on makes a lot of sense.
Secondly, you don't really care about your bless and should just take whatever bless effects you get from designing a pretender with a specific goal (vampire summoning, diversity, blood stones, etc.). Why do you not care about your bless? Because your recruitable sacreds (the Black Templar) are cap-only and so expensive, both in terms of resources and gold, that they're almost impossible to mass. You have sacred commanders, but none are something you're going to go out of your way to thug with, and the only sacred combat caster is the Black Priest; not enough to deserve the earth- or air-bless you usually consider for sacred mages.
Thirdly, since you have impractical sacred troops as well as recruit-anywhere H2 Inquisitioners, you don't necessarily need a high dominion either. You're going to be recruiting Black Priests anyway and they are incredibly good at preaching away black candles, if that becomes a concern, so LA Ulm is one of the few non-blood sacrifice nations that can get away with a low(ish) dominion. I'm not saying you SHOULD aim low, merely that it's not suicide if you're willing to spend the mage-turns weeding out the black candles. Scales 1) Your going to have a ton of S1s doing the majority of your research. You want magic scales, possible even magic-3. LA Ulm can out-research anyone in the game; they can hit crucial research goals dizzyingly fast. Magic scales add nitro to a muscle car.
2) Most of your expanding will be some number of towershields and/or pikes beating stuff up and blocking for some number of crossbows. Since the crossbows are low-resource, and you don't need that many towershields for delaying indies, you can get by with low production scales (though sloth is probably unwise). Prod-1 is a safe bet. Prod-3 is too much; this isn't MA Ulm and you don't need that many resources.
3) Your rocket-powered research engine is constrained by gold, not forts. Also, your masses of crossbows are largely constrained by gold, not resources. Also, you'll be blood hunting (eventually you will be bloodhunting a LOT). You want growth. Order wouldn't be a bad idea either.
4) Your heroes are nifty (an immortal thug with B2, an F2S2B2 spy, and a guy that can summon a steady trickle of those ghoul guardians) but not game-changing. Luck scales are a nice-to-have (Order + Luck = lots of money events to feed your mage-industrial complex, Magic + Luck = lots of free gems), but not a requirement. Doing the standard Order-2 or 3 and Misfortunate-2 is a defensible choice.
As such a couple of decent contenders for Pretender are:
1) An awake Blood Fountain with at least D2 and at least B5; B5 gets you blood boosters and lets you cast the very nice Ritual of Five Gates once your vampire engine means you don't need your pretender for blood hunting anymore. (e.g. an awake D3B5, Dom 7 gives you +5 scales and very solid, early blood hunting to get those vampire counts summoned quickly). Downside is that you'll have only your prophet for throne-claiming.
2) An awake Idol of Sorcery (e.g. S2D3B3, Dom-5, +5 scales). You trade the blood hunting efficiency of the blood fountain for a pretender that can cast teleport (with a crystal coin). Raise the astral if to S5 or S6 if you're worried about Mage Duel, but if you show up to a battle with two dozen astral commanders (like LA Ulm does) then the odds of this guy getting targeted are pretty low; save points by gambling or keeping him out of fights against other astral powers.
3) An awake Alchemist. (e.g. E2D3B3, Dom-4, +5 scales) This guy is kinda crappy, like most Dom-1 pretenders, but unlike the previous options, he can move around. He can forge Blood Stones (very nice earth booster) and summon Demon Knights (very solid demon summons).
4) An awake demilich (e.g. S2D3B3, Dom-6, +4 scales). Essentially an immortal Idol of Sorcery (that can wear hat, handy to enable teleporting at Construction-4) that costs you one positive scale. Fears no Magic Duel or suicide battle within friendly dominion.
5) A dormant Allfather boosted to D2+B3+ (e.g. a dormant S4A4D2B3, Dom 5 gives you +5 scales). High Air opens up some wonderful spells and some useful forging options. Plus, it gives you someone who can take an army sailing if you really need that to happen. You'll be delayed in getting your vampire-engine running without an awake blood hunter, BUT this offers you a lot of magical diversity as well as a superb pretender chassis.
Sadly the vampire queen is NOT a good choice. She is simply overpriced at 150 design points; just about any magic paths she can get, the Allfather can get for cheaper and with a better chassis to boot. I really hope the devs drop her down to 50pts or less, because she is the most thematic choice available for LA Ulm.
LA Ulm Recruits
Illuminated One (S1). These guys are your lab rats, your communion slaves, and respectable communion masters as well. You'll have scores of these guys, so when the time comes to fight a big, bad battle, these guys will show up en masse and do terrible things to the enemy.
Second Tier (S2B1). You will only recruit these when you absolutely need a blood hunter. You'll also have one to forge a single starshine skullcap (the S1s can take it to forge more). Make excellent communion masters, but you'll usually want S1B1 Fortune Tellers instead.
Fortune Teller (S1 + 1xBDNS). Likely your default recruit from your capital and your only source of nature magic. Efficient(ish) researchers with that nifty fortune telling ability too. Make excellent communion masters: the N1s will cast the big nature buffs and drop personal regeneration to bolster your communion slaves' survivability, the B1s will cast reinvigoration every so often to reset your slaves' fatigue, the S2s will cast the big astral spells or cast the little astral spells really well, and the D1s... well, the Vampire Counts will handle most of the big death spells, but these can cast Nether Bolt and Nether Darts. They're also your best choice for death site searcher (either manually or casting Dark Knowledge; your vampires have better things to do).
Black Priest (E1H2 + 1xFAES). These can cast the exciting Iron Darts and Iron Blizzard spells, and those are excellent spells indeed. They're also your sole source of Fire, Air, and Earth, so they'll be doing a lot of site searching. Normally an A1 with a forge discount means forging owl quills, but LA Ulm doesn't really need the research boost. If you have a pretender who can forge an air booster (or you trade for one) then one of these guys can forge winged boots for cheap. They'll also cast the big air buffs during a battle (with the help of a crystal matrix). F1s will be site searching, casting magma spells, and forging fire brands. With a crystal matrix, they can cast the big fire spells. E2s forge earth boots and then, if you go that route, dwarven hammers. Also cast the those delicious earth buffs, blade wind, destruction. S1s will forge your crystal items (namely crystal coin and crystal matrix) and make excellent communion masters (earthpower for slave reinvigoration, iron skin for slave durability, then casting enormous earth spells via communion).
Vampire Count (D2B2). These guys summon a steady stream of high morale chaff (good for patrolling and eating lance strikes/crossbow bolts). They will become your prime blood hunters (0 upkeep blood hunters are great, 0 upkeep immortal B2 blood hunters are incredible). They will join your communions to cast the big death spells. They will also do your basic death summoning (banes, ghosts, specters, behemoths, longdead horsemen, bone fiends). They're immortal, flying, and stealthy so they make a really annoying defense force that isn't afraid of attrition-via suicide (such as Lammashtas spam or bone grinding). You can empower one of these up to B3 and hand him a skull staff to give your pretender a break from summoning all the vampire counts. Or you can have your have a B5 pretender to forge you a brazen vessel at construction-4... or a B4 pretender forge a blood thorn at construction-6. They also make very solid thugs.
Wolfherd. This guy is crap and he's cap-only. However, he can summon a pair of wolves each turn forever. Wolves are good at three things: eating lances, patrolling, and holding up castle walls (they can sneak into a besieged fort, prolong the siege, and if it's going to fall then they can sneak back out). In large numbers they're actually bad for you to have in combat because they'll die so fast they make your army that much closer to auto-routing from overall hp-loss. Early on you want patrollers for your blood hunters and you don't yet have vampire counts to generate thralls en masse. Therefore, recruiting two or three wolfherds early on can make sense, but after that each one you recruit is a fortune teller or black priest you didn't recruit, and that's bad.
Ranger Captain. A scout that can lead troops. You can do sneak attacks with these guys and a bunch of rangers. They'll also be the one leading your stealthy wolves in and out of forts since your wolfherds will be too busy summoning more wolves. Communions - Basics This is the be all, end all of Ulm. Your tiny, crappy mages can voltron together into a large, enormously scary force that destroys armies. Two communion slaves provides a path boost of 1, four provides a boost of 2, eight gets you 3, and so on. Also, all spells with a range of "self" cast by a master also effect the slaves. The big spells to be aware of are path boosters (e.g. Power of the Speheres, Sumon Earthpower, Light of the Northern Star), survivability boosters (e.g. Iron Skin, Mistform, Personal Regeneration), and fatigue reducers (e.g. Summon Earthpower, the blood spell Reinvigoration).
An interesting thing to keep in mind is that while the masters only get a boost in each of the paths they possess, each slave gets a boost in EVERY path. Of course, slaves can't cast spells, but it does make a huge difference for calculating how much fatigue each slave gets. Two S1 slaves and an E2 master casting Bladewind means the master counts as an E3 (E2 + 1 boost) and will cause the master to take (80 / (# of slaves +1) = 80/3) 26 fatigue. Each slave counts as an E1 (E0 + 1 boost) will take (80/3 * (E1 casting an E3 spell) = 80/3 * 3) 80 fatigue, so after 3 castings the slaves are > 200 fatigue and taking damage.
EDIT: I have been informed that the communion slave fatigue mechanic has changed. I've struck out the incorrect lines and urge you to check out the new formula posted lower in this discussion by Ben_Sphynx. Thanks for the fact-checking everyone.
Now let's have 4 S1 slaves + 1 E2S1 master that casts Power of the Spheres. The master is an E5 (E2 + 2 boost + PotS), would throw a HUGE bladewind and generate (80/5 * (E5 casting E3 spell) = 16 * 1/3) about 5 fatigue for himself. Each slave counts as an E3 (E0 + 2 boost + PotS) will gain (80/5 * (E3 casting E3 spell) = 16 * 1) 16 fatigue. As such the master can spam Bladewind about 13 times before the slaves are in danger. Toss in Summon Earthpower and the slaves are only taking 8 fatigue/casting AND have reinvigoration 4, meaning the battle is almost certain to end before their E6 master exhausts them. In fact, the slaves are so inexhaustable, you should add more communion masters to spam the spells that make the enemy die.
It also bears mentioning that for every 2 levels a mage exceeds the path requirements for a spell, the mage gets a penetration boost of +1 (penetration boosts treat enemy MR as if it were lower, so an MR 10 vs a mage with a penetration boost of +2 is treated as an MR 8 when resisting that Mage's spells). So, if an S2 is casting Mind Burn, the mage has a +0 penetration boost so his target would make a normal MR-check to resist the spell. An S4 would have a pen. boost of +1 and an S6 would have a pen. boost of +2. The way the rolls in Dom4 work, a -1 or -2 to a check that was kinda close can make a spell go from working about 55% of the time to working 75% or more; small bonuses can result in big boosts to overall effectiveness.
Another thing to keep in mind is that communions boost the Holy path on mage-priests (note that Power of the Spheres does NOT boost Holy path). In this way a Black Priest can pretty easily be boosted up to H3, H4, or even H5 to cast Divine Bless, Fanaticism, Smite, and really, really huge Banishments. And since Holy spells cost zero fatigue, your Banishment/Smite spammers don't cause any extra fatigue to your communion slaves. Communions - Ulm Tactics The simplest Ulm communion is a big pile of those S1s. Masters will be able to spam Mind Burn, Paralyze, or Soul Slay. Those spells have infinite range and never miss, so all of your mages can stand in the very back of the battlefield, being perfectly safe and perfectly effective. On top of everything else, those spells cost very little fatigue.
So, you show up with 12 S1s: eight masters and four slaves. One master casts Power of the Spheres, another casts Light of the Northern Star. Now each master is an (S1 + 2 boost + LotNS) S4 (the one that cast PotS is an S5) and all of your slaves are (S1 + 2 boost + PotS + LotNS) S5s. The masters cast Mind Burn, getting themselves (20/5 * (S4 casting S2 spell) = 4 * 1/3) 1 or 2 fatigue per casting, they are doing extra damage with their spell (damage scales with caster level), AND they have a penetration boost of +1. Each slave is gaining (20/5 * (S5 casting an S2 spell) = 4 * 1/4) 1 fatigue per casting, so 8 fatigue/round (1 fatigue * 8 masters casting). What that really means is you have 8 mages casting a spell that will maim or kill most enemies each time it is cast, and they can continue to cast it for longer than the combat is going to last. That's the sort of communion and research you can have before the end of Year-1 (probably before Winter of Year-1), making Ulm very, VERY difficult to invade early on. I know, I tried it several MP games ago: me as LA Pangaea and another guy as LA T'ien Ch'i tried to rush LA Ulm, and Ulm fought us to a standstill despite being outnumbered and fighting across multiple fronts. It was a terrible and embarrassing war which ended up costing me and T'ien Ch'i the game.
Now, ALL of your other mages are capable of joining a communion, either because they have S1 or B1 (to cast Communion Master or Sabbath Master, respectively) or because you can forge a Crystal Matrix for them. This means that those D2B2 Vampire Counts can easily get boosted up high enough to cast Darkness or really huge Shadow Blasts (remember, those 100 precision astral spells always hit, even cast under Darkness). This means you can have a bunch of Earth mages inexhaustibly spamming earth spells (Magma Eruption scales both in area and damage, so you really like handing an E1F1 Black Priest a Crystal Matrix). LA Ulm can be one of the most effective skele-spammers since any D1 mage plugged in to a large enough communion can cast pretty much forever. And H4 or H5 Banishment spam is very, very effective because Banishment scales in terms of damage and area of effect AND you get that penetration boost for being +2 or +4 paths higher than the H1 needed to cast the spell. Any path you have access to can be boosted up to scary levels, so even those humble E1A1 Black Priests can be dropping Storm and/or Mass Flight later on in the game, and those F1s can drop Flaming Arrows.
The blood spell Reinvigoration deserves special mention. When cast it causes the master's fatigue to drop to zero and since it's a "self" range spell, it does that for all the slaves as well. A good idea is to have one of your blood mages (Vampire Count, B1S1 Fortune Teller, or a Second Tier) scripted to cast it on round-5 of a fight. That way the slaves accumulate 5 rounds of fatigue, then have it all wiped away, leaving them fresh to soak fatigue for the remainder of the battle. It gets you a LOT more mileage out of your communion slaves and it only costs you a single blood slave to cast.
Finally, Stellar Cascades. This spell is MIGHTY for LA Ulm. It comes online at Evocation-5 (which you can hit in early-to-mid Year-2) and, like Mind Burn and Paralyze, it only costs 20 fatigue, requires S2 to cast, and has 100 precision. The spell does 25 fatigue damage to everything within a wide area and is unresistable. UNRESISTABLE. The aforementioned 8 master, 4 slave S1 communion could cast this spell indefinately and it will cause the entire enemy army to pass out while your troops walk up and slit their throats. The only thing the enemy can do is try to kill your communion with fliers or spells like Earthquake or Rain of Stones, but all of those spells are hard to cast, hard to research (no one will research as fast as you so you'll have Stellar Cascades long before they have the counter to it), and there are things you can do to counter their counter-attempt. And since you'll be able to churn out 6-10 S1s each turn, you can include these sorts of communions in just about every army you field. Played right, LA Ulm is SCARY! Other Misc. Things 1) Vampire Counts are quite thuggable. They've got flying, regeneration, invulnerability-25, 0-encumbrance, and stealth to start with so they don't need much at all to take on PD. Really, just a firebrand, though an Amulet of the Giant and/or an Antimagic Amulet help out. Eventually they'll be able to cast Soul Vortex (with a death gem or a Skull Staff) too, making them much harder to deal with.
2) All those Illuminati mages you're recruiting are spies. Normally you won't care, but since you'll be swimming in them, it is pretty easy for you to sneak a bunch of them over and shut down a fort with unrest.
3) Magic Duel. You have more S1s than anyone else and you can recruit your S1s faster than anyone else. Therefore, engaging in S1 attrition via Magic Duel can be a sound strategy. This is especially effective if the enemy astral mages are expensive, cap-only, and/or have lots of non-astral paths. T'ien Ch'i, for example, pays 220+ gold for their mages, all of which can have S1 and they'll be very sad when you trade one of your 75gp Illuminated Ones for one of their 225gp, cap-only, slow-to-recruit Celestial Masters.
4) Horror/Lammashta Spam. Horrors and Lammashtas target enemies that have been heavily horror marked. If a nation rolls up with large mages (e.g. the giant nations, Atlantis, Mictlan), script 3 or 4 guys to cast Horror Mark then have your Astral-Blood guys or your Death mages spam some Horrors or Lammashtas, respectively. These really nasty summons will instantly fly over to the horror marked victim and do horrible things to them, and then they'll be surrounded by the enemy army and start fighting them. This sort of tactic is very disruptive, and for added fun, all of those monsters are ethereal and have fear (the Lammashtas are also invulnerable). On the off-chance you summon too many such monsters and they defeat the enemy army, you will have to fight them yourself. However, your Ghoul Guardians have magical weapons that will ignore ethereal/invulnerability, and your Black Priests will probably be spamming Iron Darts/Iron Blizzard, which does terrible things to both but does double damage to magic beings such as Horrors.
5) You'll almost certainly want to spam labs out in the wilderness before you start building your 2nd fort. That runs very counter to how just about every other nation is played, but it makes a lot of sense for LA Ulm. Getting that first wilderness lab built on turn 3, and building another every turn or every other turn for a while is what makes LA Ulm the research and communion powerhouse it is. Everyone else has to wait 4+ turns and spend 1500gp to get their 2nd mage factory built; you just need 1 turn and 500gp.