In today's post we will be examining the Army of the Dead, a force that has existed for a while in the game, and has had a new addition with the Gondor at War book. So now that we have miniatures coming from Forgeworld, it's fitting that we should look at the Army of the Dead and what they offer your army.
The list is not as extensive as Rohan, Gondor, or the Fiefdoms (which we've shown recently on the blog - check out the links to those, as they are great reads!): there are only four profiles total for the army (2 heroes as of the release of Gondor at War, 2 warriors). So we will begin with a quick discussion on the profiles available to you, and then move on to the 6 strengths and weaknesses of the list (didn't plan for there to be six of each - just kinda worked out that way, but I'm not going to argue with it).
I. Profiles for the Army of the Dead
Let's start with a look at your two warrior options, and what is available to them.
Warrior of the Dead
|Image courtesy of|
The Warrior of the Dead is a heavy infantry warrior at its finest (and among the most expensive, sitting around 16-42pts depending on what upgrades you purchase). And at F3 S3 you might think to yourself, "Is it worth it to purchase this guy when I could get 1-2 infantry from almost anywhere else for the same cost with better damage stats?" And you'd be right: the F3 is a concern, and one that you're going to need to work around with your army.
But to this fighting profile the Warrior of the Dead adds the Spectral Blade rule that we will discuss in-depth below, allowing you to wound your enemies against their Courage Value instead of their Defense Value. This is a useful way to deal with, say, dwarves that are D7 but only C4.
The Warrior of the Dead is also resilient, starting at D7 and becoming D8 when given a shield (which, I'll note, is an auto-include in my book, which is why I say the cost is 16pts/model - there is zero reason to take one of these guys without a shield, and it adds a lot to your survivability against S3 warriors/archery and S2 archery, which is most people in the game). Tack Terror on to every single one of these guys, and you've got yourself a warrior that embodies asymmetric warfare.
With the ability to take spears, shields, and a banner, you can run these guys like a "regular army" with supporting troops backing up a sturdy frontline, and you'll last against most everyone for a good long while with them. And with C6, you'll rarely lose these guys to failed Courage tests (though mine tend to fail when they are guarding objectives in critical matches - such is life).
|Image courtesy of GamesWorkshop|
Basically take the same unit mounted on a D6 horse (so 10" instead of 6" of movement), and you have the Spectral Rider. Again, this army is very straightforward: we are hard to kill, we hit you against your Courage stat, and you have to take a Courage test to charge us.
The difference is that these guys get two attacks on the charge, knock you over if you lose, and wound against your Courage stat (because kicking you while you're down is just what these guys do, besides taking names and chewing spectral green bubble gum).
To accompany these, we also have two hero options...
Herald of the Dead
|Image courtesy of GamesWorkshop|
The Herald of the Dead is new, and comes with 3 Will Points and a pennant (which, while it looks like a banner, does not grant the rules of a banner or count as a banner for the purposes of scenario objectives. Instead, the herald gains a special rule: if the King of the Dead is near them he can spend their Will to call Heroic Actions.
This is HUGE, as the entirety of your army (sans the Legendary Legion from Gondor at War or allying in another contingent) has only one Might Point on the King of the Dead (who we will look at next), so being able to call Heroic Moves and Heroic Combats reliably is a major boon for this force. Highly recommend you take at least one of these guys.
The King of the Dead
|Image courtesy of |
And finally, we have the king himself (including a new sculpt from Forge World!). He's much like the normal warrior, except that he's D8 without a shield and can't take one (so your force is still D8 all around). He sports 2 Attacks and 2 Wounds (unlike the 1 for each warrior), and he's F5 instead of F3 (which is nice). He also has two special rules that play to the army synergy: he has Harbinger of Evil, so opponents are -1 Courage within 12" of him (which is a huge area on most boards, FYI), making it harder for opponents to charge him or your other troops, and making it easier for him and your warriors to wound people.
Second, he has a special rule wherein when he deals a wound, if it's not blocked by a Fate Point, the target loses all of their wounds instead of just one. So he's an insta-kill if he wins a fight against Fellowship Boromir, is an excellent captain hunter (as a wound each on his attacks will kill the captain outright), and an excellent answer to those F4 mumakil that people like to run.
Now even though you have these hero options, you still have the special rule for your army that allows you to field a warband of at least 8 Warriors of the Dead without a hero leading it, though you still need the King of the Dead to lead the army.
So let's take a look at what the Army of the Dead does well.
II. Strengths of the Army of the Dead
The Army of the Dead is a very asymmetric army: armies that are generally tough to deal with are relatively easily for the Army of the Dead, but armies that are generally easy to handle can be hard for the Army of the Dead. They possess six strengths that make them a very forgiving list to play, especially if you are new to the tactical side of the hobby.
We'll start with the four most obvious strengths, and then go to two that I discovered when running this army at a tournament.
1. High Defense
So, since all of your warriors start at D7 and can take a shield to jump up to D8, it goes without saying that the Army of the Dead is a forgiving army because it takes a lot to wound them. At D8 and C6, even in mirror matches against another Army of the Dead you're being wounded by most people (anyone S5 or less) on 6s or worse, so you don't tend to lose a lot of models quickly unless the enemy has siege weapons in large numbers.
D8 is also a critical number because a S4 warrior with an axe or pick who uses the Piercing Strike rule (more on that under weaknesses below, because you'll see people using this special strike all the time against your army) don't actually get anything special from this, which is a lot of the "killing models" for most armies. Since you are D8, odd-numbered Strength values don't change the difficulty to wound, so Khazad Guards, Iron Guard, Helmingas, Morannons, etc. are not getting any bonus from becoming S5. So on its own, this is already a good reason to collect this army.
2. Spectral Weapons
Since the army is comprised of spirit models, your models attack with spectral weapons instead of normal weapons. This presents a trade-off: it means you cannot use special strikes with a weapon (though spears may still support an ally in base contact), but instead of attacking against the enemy's Defense stat you attack against their Courage stat.
At S3, most targets will be wounded on 4s (as most models are C3 or less), and if the King of the Dead is within 12" he has the Harbinger of Evil special rule, so everyone is -1 Courage within 12" of him (which, if you've ever played with a radius that large on a board, is huge), so even C4 models (which is a lot of the remainder, including low-end heroes) are now C3. And with the King of the Dead starting at S4, we now have wounding C5 models for him on 4s as well.
But this becomes even bigger when you consider the special rule that the King of the Dead has: if he deals a wound to a character that is not blocked by a point of Fate, the model loses all of their wounds and is removed as a casualty. More on this a bit later, but suffice it to say for now, newer generals will deal a decent number of wounds every turn purely because it is easier than most armies.
All models in the army cause Terror, so low-Courage armies (orcs/goblins without Fury, human armies without war horns, etc.) will fail some of their charges against your forces. And with a high Defense value, if opponents choose instead to stay at range, you're probably still fine against them.
This also has a high disruptive ability: if enough models fail Courage tests to charge, the number of men rooted in place who cannot move to allow spear support, banner support, casters, etc. through the lines can bottleneck an army, making it easier to deal with the troops that do pass their Courage tests to charge. So this is not just a defensive advantage: it's a tactical one.
Speaking of tactics, all of your units treat water as if it's normal terrain. This is extremely situational, but it can be very useful on maps where there are rivers, lakes, or other water terrain features. Since water features are difficult terrain at best (and give the potential of drowning at worst), a lot of armies will (rightly) use such terrain features to anchor their flanks: no one is going to attempt to swim this, and if they do, they won't be in large enough numbers to beat us.
The Army of the Dead gets around this by literally getting around it: you just float to the guy you want to charge and charge him. Simple as that.
5. Hero Slaying
Now we get into two strengths that I didn't really realize until I was playing several games in a row with the Army of the Dead, and that is its hero slaying potential. Since all of your warriors and heroes wound against Courage instead of Defense, killing heroes on the whole becomes a lot easier.
As mentioned above under the King of the Dead, he's particularly useful against those mid-range heroes (100pts or so) and captain-level heroes, as their relatively low Fate means a good chance of killing them in a single turn. They also tend to be C5 or less, which means that, after Harbinger of Evil, the King of the Dead is wounding on 4s.
But even your average warrior is pretty good at slaying a hero - even C6 elves are being wounded on 5s by a warrior (assuming the King of the Dead is near), and praise Eru Illuvatar if you ever get to fight goblins or orcs - you'll be killing heroes and warriors all day long.
6. Monster Slaying
Do you know what really bites? When your D6 Cave Troll is being wounded on 4s because he's only C3, and those Warriors of the Dead wound against Courage instead of Defense. Do you know what bites even more? When your half-troll gets wounded on 3s because he starts at C2 and is within range of the King of the Dead's Harbinger of Evil.
And do you know what bites even more? When your big bad dragon (who is close to half your points) is being wounded on 4s by the King of the Dead, with a "Fate Save or Die" on every wound, and every other warrior giving you a, "Courage Test or Flee" on every wound they cause (which is only on 5s, mind you).
III. Weaknesses of the Army of the Dead
Ironically, though, some of these strengths can also result in weaknesses, in addition to the four glaring ones they have. We'll start with those, and then move to the more subtle ones that I discovered when I ran these guys at a tournament.
1. No Ranged Options
The Army of the Dead has no ranged options. This makes sense, and is probably for the best as their units all have spectral weapons, so it would stand to reason that if they hard archers they'd also have spectral weapons, and spectral weapons at range is just wrong.
This means you'll need to close to melee, so having at least a few cavalry models is generally a good idea. But even then chasing down archers (especially Rohirrim with throwing spears) is not easy, so just be aware that range is not your friend, and you'll need to work around this.
The easiest way to get ranged weapons: historical alliance with the Rangers of the North. This can also give you access to Halbarad, who sports a nice 6" radius banner. For more info on the rangers in Middle Earth SBG, see our post here.
2. Low Might
Before teaming in another force, you have only 1 Might on the King of the Dead. That's it. So to say that you are low on Might is an understatement - it would almost be correct to say your force has no might, as once it's gone it's gone.
Now there are ways around this within the list: Heralds help with this (as noted above), and with the new Legendary Legion in Gondor at War we have a huge improvement on the Army of the Dead through the inclusion of the Three Hunters. But just know that within the list, you're looking for help as regards Might Points.
Another solution to the problem: team in rangers, as all of them have Might, so you can spread your Might across the battlefield for relatively cheap points.
3. Low Fight Value
I started the hobby with Rohan, and have played Shire, Easterlings without the Black Dragon upgrades, and orcs of various shades, and I'll tell you: at least in our current gaming meta, F3 bites. You're tying with some hobbits and most humans, losing to uruks, dwarves, rangers, elves, and all non-goblin elite troops, so if you opponent gets a 6, that's it.
Now, to be fair, resilience makes this slightly easier to swallow, as opponents who win a fight against you are typically looking for 6s or higher to wound you. So even if you lose a lot of fights you're still going to be okay in most cases. Taking a banner can help to reduce the impact of this, but you get the idea: go in mentally prepared to lose a combat purely because you didn't have a high Fight Value and they rolled equal to or higher than you.
4. Low Numbers
This should be apparent from the high cost of the basic model in your army, but your force will generally be smaller than your opponent. So you'll rarely have fights where you get multiple warriors ganging up on one target - be ready for that.
This is not always true, though, as the King of the Dead is cheap (100 pts) and is your most expensive model, and since you are not required to take heroes to lead warbands, you can field a lot of these guys for relatively cheap. In a 750-pt match you can field the King of the Dead + 1 banner with shield + 38 warriors with shields, so you'd be all infantry but you'd have 40 D8 models that wound against Courage and probably won't run from battle, which is pretty solid, and would give you 4-5 warbands, so you would have decent deployment depth as well. But on the whole, plan on being outnumbered.
5. Slow Move Phases
This is something I didn't expect: your Move Phases get drawn out when playing with Army of the Dead because all enemy models are taking Courage tests when they charge. To show the math on how much time this takes, here's what a normal Move Phase looks like for moving a model:
Measure Distance + Move = Time
Here's what it becomes with Army of the Dead:
Measure Distance + Roll + Resolve Roll + Move or Adjust Other Moves Because Someone Now Can't Move = Time
So even if you're facing a relatively small army, you're going to run into problems with not being able to get in as many rounds as you're used to getting in if you're in a timed game. So plan on not having as many rounds to rush someone off the board, reach objectives, capture objectives, etc. depending on the scenario.
6. Wood Elves and Hobbits
Okay, this is a strange one, but it's one of those crazy things I realized when I started practicing with this army, but you have a hard time against wood elves and hobbits. Sure, they're wounding you on 6s (and often something else on top of that), but your wounding chance goes down considerably against these armies where it would have been higher if you'd taken virtually any other army in the book.
Consider: if you're facing wood elves from Lothlorien, Mirkwood, or a Gildor Inglorien troop of Noldorin Exile wood elves under Rivendell, you've got D3 models who are C5. So you're wounding on 5s where other armies are wounding on 4s or better (because two-handers are a thing, and make for nice wounding odds against wood elves). And since any Shire player who has read anything knows that you take Merry (who comes with a horn) your Shire character are C4+ while being primarily D3. And Maggot and his dogs are being wounded on 6s by you while being wounded by most people on far better than that.
And while yes, their archery won't do that much to you, a good wood elf player can field your model count or better with his/her force, sports stronger heroes, far greater amounts of might, and the higher Fight Value, so his odds of winning are still really good. He's just benefiting from not losing as many guys in melee as he is used to losing (plus having more guys in melee than he's used to at the outset because he hasn't lost anyone to enemy archery).
Shire is even crazier - with the ability at 750pts to field easily 80+ models, the Shire models outnumber you 2:1, have the ability to get S4 models for 5pts (Battlin' Brandybucks with axes doing Piercing Strike baby - you can have 15 of these punks for only 75 pts, and don't suffer the penalty to a reduced Defense because the Army of the Dead doesn't wound against Defense), and can easily tie you on Fight Value, so they are still winning a good number of combats against you (and trapping you will increase your casualty count, which is very likely).
And while their archery is low-Strength, the math on 80 throwing stones (66% chance of hitting means you get 53 hits, which means you get 8-9 of them as 6s, which means 1-2 wounds against D8 models) is actually terrifying, especially when you consider that some of these guys (probably 15-20 of them at least) are archers with S2 bows which have an easier time wounding you. So with the ability to pluck off wounds before you reach combat, combined with the ability to swarm, hold objectives with larger numbers, and decent Courage to pass charges, you've got a lot of trouble on your hands.
So all told, the Army of the Dead is a fun army to play - it's very forgiving, which makes it a great starter army. It focuses on melee and doesn't use too many crazy rules or mechanics (no spells, weapon types beyond spears, measuring range for archery or penalties for moving through water, no In the Way rolls, etc.), so it is a very good introduction to the core mechanics of the game. But it has its drawbacks, as do all armies in the hobby.
I hope you've enjoyed this write-up - our next one will be on a similarly forgiving army (albeit without the melee damage capability that the Army of the Dead has), as we dive into the Easterlings of Rhun. Until then you'll find me,
Watching the stars,
"Firenze! What are you doing? You have a human on your back! Have you no shame? Are you a common mule?" ~ Bane, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone