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Warhammer: The Old World Wood Elves lore and rules

Learn all about the secretive inhabitants of Athel Loren and their tree spirit allies in our guide to the trickiest Old World faction.

Warhammer the Old World Wood Elves Glade Guard, elven archers in green and brown leather and cloth garb

The Warhammer The Old World Wood Elves might be the most complicated and challenging faction to play in the game. This guide introduces you to their history, their army list, and how to get the most out from them on the tabletop.

More than any other Warhammer: The Old World faction, the Wood Elves are an elite and fragile force. Their freedom of movement is better than any other army, but being caught by a superior foe in the Combat Phase will spell almost certain death. You’ll need to be fully familiar with the Old World rules to succeed with them..

Here’s what you need to know about the Warhammer fantasy Wood Elves:

Warhammer the Old World Wood Elves Athel Loren - spindly wooden dryads walk between the trees of Athel Loren

Athel Loren

The Wood Elves of the forest Athel Loren were once a colony of the great, unified Elven Empire that spanned the oceans of the Old World. After the sundering of the Elven people into the High and Dark elves, and the ruinous War of the Beard against the Dwarfen Mountain Holds, most Elves retreated from the Old World to their home continent Ulthuan – but some remained.

Athel Loren has always been a dangerous and mercurial place, inhabited by deadly and jealous forest spirits. The Wood Elves found accord and balance with the spirits of the wood, finding common cause in defending their woodland kingdom against the many incomers that would plunder its resources.

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Where other Elves seek dominion over the world, the Wood Elves wish only to live in harmony with their home. They are as changeable and dangerous as the seasons, as apt to punish interlopers into their forest homes with an arrow between the shoulder blades as they are to set them on a safe path home.

The Wood Elves are ruled by two semi-divine entities. Alarielle is the avatar of Isha, Elven mother goddess of nature and healing. Orion is the avatar of Kurnous, god of the hunt, who is born each Summer and leads the Wild Hunt with the destructive force of a wildfire, dying before the fall of winter.

The spirits of the waking wood accompany the Wood Elves in war. These include tiny and mischievous spites, rage filled dryads, lumbering Tree Kin, and the timeless Treemen.

Warhammer the Old World Wood Elves Waywatchers, elves armed with bows wearing camouflage

Wood Elves army list

The Wood Elves army list is, like all elf armies, elite – there’s no such thing as a mediocre elf. It has a unique distribution of capabilities that make it very different from other armies, even other elves.

Wood Elves maneuverability

The Wood Elves list has many more Open Order units and Skirmishers than Close Order units. This helps to make Wood Elves maneuverability second to none, but does mean that most Wood Elf units are at a disadvantage in a straight fight. Capitalizing on their superior freedom of movement to deny the enemy favorable combats is crucial for turning the balance.

Wood Elves have an unparalleled ability to navigate through terrain, with most units having the Move Through Cover ability. While your units can ignore the movement penalties from terrain, you as a player should not, as the asymmetrical advantage you have over your opponent turns every terrain piece into a tool that can tip combat in your favor.

Warhammer the Old World Wood Elves Eternal Guard, elves in light green scale armor wiedling shields and long spears

Wood Elves survivability

Wood Elves survivability comes from their maneuverability. If an opponent can’t charge you, they can’t hit you. If they can charge you, many units have the abilities Fire & Flee and Feigned Flight, which allow units to loose arrows and run away, or run away and automatically rally.

Wood Elves are squishy, wearing light armor or none at all, and with toughness three they are natural victims. When engaged in combat, their best chance of survival is to kill their foes in the fighting rank before they can strike back. That’s quite possible, given Wood Elves’ high Initiative and Weapon Skill and the Elven Reflexes bonus, but only if you set up fights against foes you’re confident you can kill.

Butt-naked Wood Elves have a lot to fear from shooting weapons. The Evasive ability allows a unit to fall back in good order from enemy shooting, hopefully outside their range. Screens of hard-to-hit skirmishers can protect less maneuverable units, or you can hide them inside area terrain. For some of your fastest units, it’s possible simply to move beyond the firing arcs of enemy ranged units.

Warhammer the Old World Wood Elves Dryads, spindly tree

Tree spirits are not squishy. Regular Dryads have T4, a 6+ save and 6+ regeneration – only slightly less hardy than a Dwarf warrior before he picks up his shield – while monstrous Tree Kin have T5, 5+ save and 5+ regeneration. Full-sized Treemen are absolute units.

Tree spirits all make reasonable tar pits to soak up abuse from enemy units, though they’re all too expensive (and offensive) for this to be their only role. They all also Flammable, which seriously hampers their reliability against certain units (and the inevitable Ruby Ring of Ruin).

Warhammer the Old World Wood Elves Glade Guard, elven archers in green and brown leather and cloth garb

Wood Elf archers

Wood Elf archers are the best in the Old World. The army must contain at least one unit of Glade Guard, BS4 archers wielding the superior 32” range Asrai longbow. What would be the cream of the ranged crop in most other armies is just the base line here.

Deepwood Scouts have the same stats as Glade Guard but can Skirmish, Scout, Fire & Flee, and are Evasive. Elite Waywatcher snipers have all of that, plus better ballistic skill, the ability to Ignore Cover, and the option to be upgraded to Ambushers. Glade Rider Light cavalry and Warhawk Rider monstrous cavalry come with bows as standard, combining ranged capability with superior maneuver.

Warhammer the Old World Wood Elves archer - a leaping Elf with braided hair, an antler coronet, and a bow

Each of those units, and a bevy of bow-wielding characters, can be upgraded with enchanted arrowtips; Arcane Bodkins to pierce armor, Hagbane Tips to poison tough foes, Moonfire Shot that can harm ethereal foes or strip the regeneration from flammable enemies, swiftshiver shards to double your rate of fire, and Trueflight Arrows to Ignore Cover and the penalty from moving and shooting.

In theory, there’s no foe that Elven archers can’t take on. Hagbane Tips can poison T6 units, single-use magic items like the Hail of Doom arrow can turn a single shot into a cluster bomb, and the Wailing Arrow can force the unit it hits to take a panic check if it suffers an unsaved wound.

Despite this massive toolbox, Warhammer: The Old World does not make it easy to wipe out or break an enemy battleline with shooting alone. If you build an all-shooting army, expect to play a high-stakes game of maneuver and keepaway for the whole battle.

Warhammer the Old World Wood Elves Warhawk rider, an elf stands on the back of a huge hawk

Wood Elf fliers

Wood Elves fliers take the ‘elite, fragile, and maneuverable’ identity of the Wood Elves to the extreme… for the most part. Warhawk Riders are primarily ranged combatants that should be used to hunt warmachines, small units of light cavalry, lone characters, and threaten rear charges in a pinch. They’re a useful psychological weapon – not just because they cause Fear, but because they’ll divide your opponent’s attention for the whole battle.

Great Eagles are cheap flying monstrous creatures with reasonable combat punch – they can bully light cavalry and warmachines on their own, or lend their sharp talons and Close Order bonus to another fight. They’re also available as a mount, and are a great budget option to give your wizard freedom of movement around the battlefield.

Warhammer the Old World Wood Elves Dragon, a huge green forest dragon ridden by a pair of Elves

Unlike the other fliers, the Forest Dragon is an absolute beast. Wood Elf Nobles are extremely elite fighters, but T3 and lack of armor mean that if their opponent survives in a challenge, they’ll get their kidneys pulled out. Sitting on the back of a dragon is a good way to limit that risk. At 410 points before upgrades this is a massive points investment, but it’s really good.

Wood Elves melee units

Wood Elves melee units are high quality, and accordingly expensive. You will need to avail yourself of Wood Elf trickery to avoid them being shot to pieces before they ever make it to combat, and it’s vital that you bring them to bear in the role they were intended for – there are no generalists.

Eternal Guard wield upgraded spears that can make supporting attacks in all directions and have AP-1. Combined with the initiative bonus from a thrusting spear, and Elven Reflexes, these will strike simultaneously or even before many charging units. They’re a defensive anchor that can receive the charge better than the rest of your army.

Warhammer the Old World Wood Elves Eternal Guard command, elves in leather armor wielding huge blades and bearing a battle standard

Wildwood Rangers are a classic close order infantry glass hammer. The Ranger’s Glaive is effectively a great weapon that doesn’t strike last, meaning rangers will reap through any enemy that they charge, and a good chunk of enemies that charge them.

They’re particularly good monster hunters, with a special rule that grants them +1 attack and Multiple Wounds (2) against units that cause Fear or Terror. But if the enemy ever gets to hit back, they will fold like a paper towel.

Warhammer the Old World Wood Elves Wardancers, elves wielding paired blades in acrobatic poses

Wardancers are fast moving, can Strike First in melee, and have Furious Charge for extra melee attacks. They’re an excellent hammer unit, and the Dances of Loec grant them a variety of options for fighting offensively or defensively, prominently the option to get an extra attack or AP-2.

None of their fighting styles mitigate their low strength: they will always struggle to harm high toughness targets, and one dose of troll vomit will make them melt. As such, they’re best deployed chopping up infantry and cavalry.

Warhammer the Old World Wood Elves Wild Rider, an elf wearing a horned mask rides on the back of a steed, spear held high

The Wild Riders are lethal light cavalry with superior cavalry spears, the Furious Charge ability, frenzy, and even an unusually strong mount. They inflict masses of damage on the charge, but between their M9 and Swiftstride ability they will have to declare a frenzied charge at any enemy within 18″. Enemy cavalry and warbeasts can trivially redirect them away from juicy targets. Think of them as a heat seeking missile, not a unit.

Taken all together, the Wood Elf army has the maneuverability to set the terms of battle and the ranged firepower to force the enemy to engage. Defensive units act as pit traps you can tie enemy forces up with, while offensive melee units are deadly ambushers ready to overwhelm an overextended foe. But if they’re ever brought to bear on terms they haven’t chosen, the Wood Elves will crumple like an Autumn leaf.

Fancy an army where the flexibility is in your choice of army composition, not in how your units move around the table? We recommend the Empire of Man.