Mannfred von Carstein
"Old age and treachery will always beat youth and exuberance."
- – David Mame
"The dark is my realm! The grave, my throne!"
- – Mannfred Von Cumstain
The only surviving major von Carstein in the fluff (barring Vlad's resurrection in the End Times) and thus the leader of the Bloodline. He is also a whiny traitorous asshole responsible for the death of the Warhammer world.
We all know the von Carsteins. Parodies of nobility, the Dracula Bloodline of the Vampire Counts, origins that aren't exactly clear as it goes back to the origins of all the Warhammer Fantasy vampires (making them the nouveau riche Bloodline, with Lahmians being the Old Money bloodline). During the time that Vlad was consolidating his power by turning the nobles of Sylvania into vampires and bringing them under his thumb, he and Isabella took a few in as an adopted "family". Konrad and Mannfred were their two "sons" and mostly stayed at home during the first vampire campaign against the Empire. While Konrad was the rambunctious son, always dissecting maids in the backyard and pulling the arms off elves in his room, Mannfred spent his time poring over books and compensating for his physical frailties (for a vampire that is, he can still tear armored knights to pieces with his bare hands). Basically evil Tyrion and Teclis.
There are two versions of Mannfred's origin story, but both agree that he was a man of noble descent turned into a vampire thousands of years go. The first is that he was the first vampire that Vlad sired and traveled with him for awhile. The second version is that Mannfred used to be Khaled, a former vampiric retainer of Neferata. Khaled was the eldest child of an Arabyan nobleman and had a younger sister called Anmar. When Neferata tried to take control of Araby, she was taken down by Abhorash and her staked body put under heavy guard. Despite being staked, Neferata didn't truly die and was able to sway Khaled and Anmar with her vampiric charm and promises of power and revenge. After they freed her, Neferata turned them into vampires and they became her retainers for a time. When Neferata rebelled against Ushoran, Khaled tried to stage a coup of his own against Neferata but accidentally killed Anmar when she tried to stop him. Neferata defeated Khaled, who was inconsolable with grief, and as punishment forced him to watch Anmar decompose then imprisoned him after taking control of the Silver Pinnacle. Neferata proceeded to give the imprisoned vampire to Arkhan, and then Khaled somehow found his way into the service of Vlad and instead went by the name of Mannfred.
Wanting to overthrow Vlad, Mannfred covertly informed the Grand Theogonist, Wilhelm III, about the secret of the Count's immortality - The Carstein Ring. The priest then set out an elaborate trap to catch the best thief of this very age: Felix Mann. When they finally caught him robbing the Imperial Counting House, they gave Felix a simple choice: to rob Vlad von Carstein's signet ring, or to be hanged for his crimes. In reward for the theft, he would be paid enough to start a living elsewhere. Felix accepted the theft and, with Mannfred covertly helping Felix by shrouding him from the sentries' attention, robbed Vlad of The Carstein Ring. Mannfred later caught up with Felix, who was trying to abscond with the ring and Vlad's book of Nagash because there was no proof of the deal and he felt double-crossed, and repaid Felix by cutting off his hands and stealing the ring and book for himself.
With poppa vamp killed by the Empire pope of the time and momma killing herself because she couldn't have unlife without him, Konrad took control of the armies of the von Carsteins and raged about causing a shitload of civil wars within the Bloodline that usually ended with Konrad pulling a Strigoi and drinking the blood of another vamp's lifeless body. Mannfred on the other hand saw this as a good time to get the fuck out of Dodge and become a wizard. Leaving a young vampire ally named Jon Skellan with Konrad to stoke Konrad's paranoia and undermine his rule, Mannfred explored the world, mainly seeking haunted places and necromantic circles. He visited Nehekhara and studied the Tomb Kings as they slumbered, and was able to do this mainly because he was smart enough to not steal their stuff and fled when they did notice him (wearing all the clothes to keep the sun off him). He managed to find the Books of the Dead that Queen Neferata had studied long ago, and became her equal as a necromancer. He entered Nagash's Black Pyramid and communed with Nagash's spirit. After Konrad died like a jackass, Mannfred returned and took command of all the roaming undead in Sylvania, returning stability to the region once again and allowing the Empire to think they'd won peace. He manipulated the new nobles into being under his power, as well as vampires from all Bloodlines everywhere in the Old World he could find them.
Once Mannfred had gained a large enough army by nabbing all the undead beasties he could, he shed his handsome teenager disguise and revealed his true face: that of a corpse mummified partially from exposure to the elements with a huge jaw and fangs to match, and bathed at all times in magical currents. He surprised the Empire at a time when it was unprepared for invasion, and set out to succeed where Vlad had failed by becoming the Emperor. Mannfred von Carstein's Undead legions crossed the Sylvanian border in the depths of winter, as freezing cold means squat to the flesh of the dead. With the summer campaigning season over, the armies of the Elector Counts were already disbanded and wholly unprepared for the sudden assault. Mannfred's armies marched through the snow towards Altdorf, putting to the sword any living people they met and raising the corpses to swell the ranks of Mannfred's horde. He got his ass kicked by priests, and from that point on he kept sending his army against every city in the Empire only to lose, badly, and retreat. Since his army was fairly self-replenishing this didn't mean much to him however, except to frustrate him. Mannfred was finally pushed back into swamps of Sylvania, where he decimated the Empire and Dwarf army sent after him but was defeated none the less.
The war managed to spread vampirism to most of the Old World, from man to Dwarf, and the various Bloodlines saw a huge surge in young vampire recruits. Mannfred, who had survived his defeat, began to re-consolidate his power and make new plans. The Empire was ravaged by Kurgan and the High Elves and Dwarfs saved them. Mannfred took his time hiding and studying the battles, learning about the three armies, and decided his next invasion would require the three to be at war with each other.
Once again Mannfred traveled the world and learned more magic, this time outright swearing himself to Nagash to bring him back into the world. This became the main goal of the von Carstein Bloodline, which led them to partially annex the Necrach bloodline, and those not interested defected to other Bloodlines or were killed. Mannfred enlisted Heinrich Kemmler and his servant Krell to aid him. When Aliathra, the princess of the High Elves, went on a diplomatic trip to increase relations between Dwarfs and High Elves Kemmler manipulated Orcs & Goblins into attacking the fortress. When the Elves and Dwarfs defeated the greenskins, Kemmler raised the corpses of the fallen and sent his own army after them. The two armies were decimated, with the Dwarf King slain and the bodies of the defenders shambling after Kemmler as his new servants. The lover of Aliathra was badly injured by Mannfred himself during the battle, and Aliathra was knocked out and taken in the claws of a Terrorgheist. Mannfred took her far from the lands of the Dwarfs into the heart of Sylvania where she was locked away while Mannfred prepared a resurrection ritual.
He expected the Dwarfs and High Elves to go to war, thinking they'd blame each other. Indeed, nobles in Ulthuan and Dwarf whitebeards called for war to redeem their honor. However, Phoenix King Finubar and High King Thorgrim Grudgebearer were decidedly less fucking retarded than those around them. Finubar was a diplomat at heart and knew that the Dwarfs were badasses who'd fight for a lady to their last breath, and as the keeper of the Book of Grudges Thorgrim knew when a grudge was warranted and when it wasn't. Alarielle the Radiant of the High Elves sensed that Aliathra was still alive (not a vampire, vampires magically detect as "dead") and thus she called upon her past and present lovers, Finubar and Tyrion respectively, to get her baby back!
Finubar immediately went to the Dwarfs to secure an alliance against the vampires (see the eventual Dwarf army book update for a continuation on that plot), and Tyrion gathered a fucking glorious all-cavalry army to ride against Mannfred. Mannfred himself was preparing a Frank Frazetta style place to sacrifice Aliathra to complete a resurrection ritual (to bring back Nagash. Sure, the sacrifice is one elf, but that one elf IS the future Everqueen. And the fluff clearly says it's to bring back Nagash). Tyrion broke into his castle, found the unresponsive Aliathra, and rode out with her. As his men were leaving they witnessed a fucking enormous Undead army popping up out of the ground from all directions as far as the eye could see around them. Tyrion leads the elves as they try and fight their way out before some unexpected help comes.
According to the new Dwarves codex, High King Thorgrim didn't really care about elves (which is weird since he gave Aliathra a whole Dwarf honor guard in the Vampire Counts version of the story), but since it was a matter of honor he gathered an army and followed Mannfred all the way to Nagashizzar (though the story neglects to mention how they were able to track him since he was flying away on a zombie dragon after the battle). The Dwarves hit the rear of Mannfred's army just as the elves hit the front. They killed the necromancers that keep bringing back the undead but Mannfred recaptured Aliathra when Tyrion was distracted and used his magic to flee with her. Tyrion met Thorgrim and insulted him like crazy, blaming the Dwarves for the loss of Aliathra. In a surprising show of tolerance and peackeeping, Thorgrim doesn't get grudge-happy and tells the other Dwarves who are itching to restart the War of Vengance to chill the fuck out, knowing that the Dwarves have the moral high ground and that fighting the elves would create more grudges. He then tells Tyrion that next time he tries to rescue Aliathra, the Dwarves won't be there to bail his ungrateful ass out and marches off with his army to retake Karak Eight-Peaks like a boss.
Mannfred gets new fluff in the new Sigmar's Blood book where a third reincarnation of Sigmar will fight Mannfred's armies. Spoiler alert, that ends on a cliffhanger too; The current Empire Pope Volkmar thwarts Mannfred's plan, and the book ends with Mannfred lunging, fangs bared, at Volkmar's throat. Then the just knocks Volkmar out and goes home. See, he saw a guy named Boris Todbringer and remembered that a similar nobody killed papa Vlad. Then he reveals that he needed some powerful people to sacrifice to bring Nagash back, and Volkmar is the last one needed. As it turns out, new papa Nagash sent him a message saying it's time to make step-daddy proud!
The End Times
Mannfred returned once again in a second campaign revolving around Nagash. He made in-roads to resurrect Nagash, travelling across the world to get the necessary artifacts and sacrifices (except for the Faye Enchantress, who was given to him by Drycha, who Mannfred only made a token attempt to kill in return, and Volkmar who was captured while he attempted to purge Sylvania). This continued until Balthazar turned Sylvania in a roach motel, but for undead, with the Wall of Faith (unknowingly due to the manipulation of Tzeentch, through the Changeling). This is a setback for Mannfred's plans, but help arrived from an unexpected quarter. Mannfred's plan meant his agenda overlapped with that of Nagash's right hand lich, Arkhan the Black. Arkhan came to Sylvania to help Mannfred or take over and spearhead the Nagash's Comeback project. Mannfred took exception and the two dueled, resulting in a stalemate before settling on a truce. After Arkhan found a way through the Wall of Faith, they divided the work to retrieve the remaining artifacts willingly. After interference from the Bretonnians, Elves, Beastmen and several bouts of treachery, they succeeded and Nagash walked the world again, stronger than ever before.
Having helped resurrect Nagash, Mannfred got rewarded with more power, the title of Mortarch and a new ride in the Dread Abyssal steed called Ashigorath. But for the thoughtcrime of traitorous ideas against Nagash, he was punished with the resurrection of Vlad von Carstein. Vlad's return caused nearly all of Mannfred's supporters jump ship when they found out Vlad's back. Vlad is also made a Mortarch, and is dispatched by Nagash to keep Archaon occupied while Nagash enacts his own plan to conquer the world, enter the Warp and become the only god in existence. When Nagash launched his invasion of Nehekhara, Mannfred joined forces with Luthor Harkon, attacking Zandri. Mannfred leading the ground troops to attack Zandri's land army while Luthor attacked its navy. Mannfred dueled the Tomb King Behedesh and was nearly killed, but his vampire lieutenant saved him twice over, killing Behedesh before the latter killed Mannfred and ensuring he rather than Mannfred got struck down by the Tomb King's curse. Mannfred took a backseat for the rest of the war, but was horrified when Nagash practically reached godhood and conquered the Tomb Kings at Khemri; he mused that if he'd allied with Settra, he could've stopped Nagash AND the Chaos Gods (as if Settra would ally with Mannfred).
Things kept going downhill for Mannfred as he chafed under Nagash's rule. When Vlad disobeyed Nagash to help Averheim and the forces of Nurgle invade Sylvania, he tried to steal Vlad's power behind his back. When Arkhan named Mannfred (acting) commander, he tried to fight the Nurglites but they proved too strong for him. Even when Vlad returned and they were forced to work together it was not enough and Mannfred fled, booting Luthor off when he tried to hitch a ride with Mannfred. As the forces of Nurgle approached the Black Pyramid, Mannfred was ordered/blackmailed by Arkhan to be his errand boy. He personally sent a message to Neferata from Arkhan and she accepted Arkhan's terms; help defend the Black Pyramid and you will get Khalida. He fought when the Black Pyramid itself was under attack, but deviates from Arkhan's battle plan and moved to the edge of the battle to ensure his own survival. After the Black Pyramid was destroyed and Nagash magic-nuked the forces of Nurgle, Mannfred got epic lulz and headed to ground zero. He hoped that Nagash was gone and that he'd get a chance to take full command of the Undead Legions, not factoring in Neferata had the same plan. Unfortunately for both of them, Nagash was still standing and calling the shots (to add insult to injury for Mannfred, Nagash resurrected Arkhan and Krell, who were slain defending the Black Pyramid).
At Nagash's command the undead marshalled their forces and headed to Athel Loren to ally with the surviving elves, humans and dwarves. Mannfred was demoted further as Sylvania was given to Neferata with Vlad's death because the Tomb Kings were less willing to serve Nagash than the vampires,outnumbered the vampires and practically everyone knew Mannfred would arse up trying to lead them. When they reached Athel Loren, Mannfred delivered Nagash's terms in lolspeak until Malekith glared him into submission. At the meeting to determine what to do about Nagash, Mannfred sat there laughing behind his sleeve at everyone. His mood only got better when he sees an outburst and deduced that the elven goddess Lileath has been turning the Bretonnians into an hero with her sockpuppet goddess, the Lady of the Lake. When Nagash offered the one responsible for Aliathra's death as a token of goodwill Mannfred practically celebrated that Arkhan was getting thrown under the bus. Until Nagash handed Mannfred over to them instead, with Mannfred realizing too late that he, not Arkhan, was going under the bus; few knew of Arkhan's involvement in the Everchild's death but everyone knew of his. He got locked away by the elves in a magical prison with his essence slowly vampirized (oh the irony) to feed Athel Loren. Vlad, once again back from the dead, visited him to to troll him and give some parting words before leaving him to die.
Unfortunately that wasn't the end. Bea'lakor, fresh of his first defeat, sneaks around in Athel Loren to cause mischief. He encountered Mannfred, who says "fuck it" and took a level in jerkass by making a deal with the devil, selling out Lileath to Bea'lakor in exchange for the daemon freeing him. After getting a bite to eat/killing his guards, he decided to join with someone he thought would appreciate him and to save his own skin - Archaon. But not before trolling the forces of order as revenge for imprisoning him by telling the Bretonnians the truth about the Lady/Lileath. Somehow retaking his Dread Abyssal, he flew to Middenheim and became one of Archaon's motley band of auxiliary turncoats.
However, even Archaon wouldn't take Mannfred's sass and Mannfred betrayed Archaon too, sitting on the fence when the Incarnates arrived, intending to join the winning side or step in and take charge after the dust settled. However he had no idea of Archaon's plan to destroy the world. In the end, Mannfred continued a string of betrayal and arrogance that would disgust a Skaven and doomed the world by stabbing Balthazar in the back when the Incarnates were trying to stop the world-destroying rift. The magical backlash depowered the other Incarnates, drove Mannfred insane and, most importantly for Mannfred, killed Teclis. Importantly because Tyrion sees this; Tyrion, whose daughter Mannfred (supposedly) killed and who had now lost a brother due to Mannfred's actions.
Mannfred followed this up by touching the Vortex, either arrogantly trying to take control of the magic or being misled by the machinations of the Chaos Gods. Either way, the magical backlash put Mannfred's mind in a similar state to Konrad's. During this time, Tyrion slew Mannfred for all that he'd done - running Mannfred through with Sunfang and then using its fire to burn him from the inside out. Despite Warhammer-Starscream's death, the damage was done and the Incarnates lost control the rift, which spiraled out of control, consuming the world and everyone in it.
tl;dr: This whiny, selfish vampire is the one responsible for the destruction of the Warhammer world in-universe. He brought Nagash back which screwed over many people, the Tomb Kings most of all. He played a major role in Aliathra's abudction and death, which influenced Tyrion to draw the Sword of Khaine and exacerbated the elven civil war. He drove a wedge between the Incarnates forces by telling the Bretonnians about Lileath. He indirectly caused the loss of Lileath's haven since telling Bea'lakor about Lileath lead to the daemon overhearing Lileath mention the Haven which it which brought it to the attention of the Chaos Gods who destroyed it. He capped this off by stabbing Balthazar which stopped them from diffusing the magic that ended up destroying the world. Damnit Mannfred!
Age of Sigmar
Despite the above, Mannfred is the winner of the Von Carsteins, since he made it to Age of Sigmar but Vlad and most (if not all) of the other Von Carsteins did not (yet?).
However it wasn't an easy road to victory.
Like the other Mortarchs Mannfred founds his own nation, Carstinia, In the Realm of Death, which is essentially a sad recreation of Sylvania. He filled with undead simulacra of the other Von Carsteins, but as his slavering lapdogs instead. Although he created it to stroke his ego, he quickly grew to despise his realm due to it reminding him of his failures in the Old World, and thus he spends as little time as possible there.
Nagash, rightfully pissed over Mannferd backstabbing him (figuratively, by literally backstabbing Balthazar) and enabling the Chaos Gods to destroy the Warhammer world (revealed to have been called Mallus), exiled him to a land where everything decays including himself. Note: while Nagash may have gained godhood and a planet/realm of his own after the loss of Mallus, there are seven other realms. This means at least seven other Incarnates are there who can challenge him; with at least two, Tyrion and Alarielle, wanting to kick his skeletal ass. From there Mannfred engaged in a cycle of finding himself in and out of Nagash's good graces. Nagash is fully aware that Mannfred is treacherous but keeps him around partly because a treacherous minion helps keep him stay sharp and alert, acts as a motivator for loyal Arkhan, a stumbling block for conceited Neferata and partly because he takes pleasure in finding new ways to torture him whenever he fails him. So Mannfred pulls double-duty as lieutenant and whipping boy for Nagash.
So Mannfred languished in this magical version of super-Detroit until Chaos invaded. He led his forces of undead and some allied living against an army of Khornates. However they proved too much and at the battle for Helstone Mannfred fled with his tail between his legs, abandoning his allies to die. While searching for a gateway to Stygxx, he was captured and tortured by Taka Woebringer and his army of Bloodbound. He was found by the Bull-Hearts Warrior Chamber of Hallowed Knights under Tarsus Bull-Heart who rescued him and defeated Taka and his Bloodbound. In return Mannfred promised to guide them to the underworld of Stygxx to bring their message to Nagash. During this time it's revealed that their leader Tarsus was one of Mannfred's living allies, a man called Tarsem, and he eventually remembered who Mannfred was but made no moves against him.
The meeting with Nagash goes as well as one would expect. Mannfred fled a second time after some final words from Tarsus (who surprisingly didn't hold Mannfred's treachery against him), but later appealed to Nagash to free Tarsus' soul, which he did since Nagash claimed to be done with him.
He currently serves as one of Nagash's Mortarchs again. In the leadup to the Necroquake, Nagash charged Mannfred with leading armies in campaigns of terror across the realms to keep them distracted from his plans.
On The Tabletop
Mannfred comes in three variations: Mannfred the Accolyte, who is a Hero level option and represents the version of him when he wasn't the last fucking von Carstein who gets a name in the fluff. Count Mannfred, in all his horrifying glory and his most current iteration pre-End Times as a Lords choice. The last iteration is Mannfred von Carstein, Mortarch of Night, which sees Count Mannfred mounted on an Abyssal Terror, sharing a kit with fellow Mortarchs Queen Neferata and Arkhan the Black.
Of the first two, Mannfred the Acolyte is better to field crunch-wise. He provides Loremaster, which is what you mainly take him for. You want him fighting chaff and nothing but chaff since he needs to actually kill things in CC in order to be used to his full potential, the weaker the enemy the better. You don't really want to bring him to fight Warriors of Chaos. The older version is a MUCH more badass spellcaster, but he sucks up a Lord slot and consumes a lot of points. That being said, in an edition dominated by horde armies this is the guy to bring to cleave his way through half a unit, then in the magic phase use the power he gets from that carnage to blow apart enemy spellcasters and similar easy targets in the distance.
As far as armies go, Mannfred has the distinct honor of being the most von Carstein of the von Carsteins. It's literally in the fluff that he takes every option in the entire Vampire Counts army. He has defectors from all different Bloodlines serving under him, he employs all manner of undead, and he pulls his armies from the ENTIRE WORLD. A Tomb King skeleton draped in animal hide alongside a Bretonnian Man At Arms zombie alongside a Dwarf zombie alongside a WoC zombie works fucking gloriously. Any character in any army other than the named leaders of the other Bloodlines can be found with him, from Vlad to Krell. It's no wonder he's the new Vampire Count
Total War: WARHAMMER
As the faction leader of the Vampire Counts, Mannfred got something of a buff. Like all Vampire Lords, he has access to Lore of Vampires, but also Lore of Death, thus making him a magic powerhouse if you give him the Loremaster traits for both schools. Also, unlike his canon self, he is awesome in this game.
Yet those are not the things you choose him for, the spells are worthless without the winds of magic to use them, and mannfred with his sword has the most in the game. Not mazdamundi, not teclis nor anyone else can match Mannfred in raw spell output. Mannfred needs to be in melee to do this however and his very capable melee stats and, armor and lvl 25 zombie dragon will help him stay alive so he can spam those spells.
All this comes together to make mannfred a highly capable hybrid melee/caster Lord, without any real special abilities but with raw casting power and two of the best lores of magic he is easily one of the strongest Lords in the game.