Friday, August 19, 2011

Understanding the Game: Heroes and Courage Tests

So here we are again (first time in exactly a month, I know), understanding the basic information for the Lord of the Rings Strategy Battle Game. Today, we're going to talk about courage tests and heroes. In discussing these things, we'll also be talking about spells and monstrous creatures, since they are tied to the topics of heroes and courage tests.


In the Lord of the Rings world (and in the history of military warfare), the morale of an army often determines the difference between victory and defeat. A great host can become dismayed by a smaller one and flee the field instead of standing to fight. To simulate this in the Lord of the Rings game, we have a value for each character called "Courage."
There are three circumstances when a courage test is required:
  • When an army is "broken." To determine if the army is broken, count hte number of models you have in your army at the beginning of the game. When your army has lost 50% of its units (rounding up), it is "broken." As an example, an army with 45 units will be broken when at least 23 are killed.
  • When a unit is attempting to charge a "terrifying" unit. Some units (particularly Trolls and great Elven lords) are intimidating in combat and to approach such a unit is absolutely...terrifying. As such, models who wish to target these units (including heroes) must pass a courage test in order to attack them. Models with spears who are supporting someone else do not (after all, there's someone they can hide behind if things go poorly).
  • Whenever a special ability tells the unit to take it. These instances are very rare, but they do exist. We'll go through one such rule later in the discussion about heroes.
When a player is asked to take a courage test, they roll two dice. To pass the test, the following simple formula is followed:

Courage value + sum of the values of the two dice 10

The courage value for a unit changes based on the mettle of the unit. Goblins and Orcs (who don't really care to stay and fight valiantly) have a courage value of 2. Uruk-Hai and Men have courage values of 3 (this is deemed to be an average courage value). Dwarves have a bit more grit than men and Uruks, and so their courage value is 4. Elves are incredibly noble and have a courage value of 5 (they rarely flee). Heroes of great fame and importance (like Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, and Boromir) have courage values of 6. Other heroes are so dedicated to their cause that they refuse to flee from a fight and have a courage value of 7 (Gandalf, for example). A hero with a 7 courage value must roll 2 1s (or "snake-eyes") on his dice in order to fail a courage test...which doesn't happen often.
Courage tests are critical to the way the game works, since units with lower courage values tend to be less expensive. This means that a horde from Moria (2 heroes, 2 cave trolls, and 46 Goblin Warriors) would cost the same amount of points as an army of Dwarves (2 heroes, 7 Khazad guards, and 24 Dwarf Warriors) but outnumber them by 17 units. This gives them an advantage in numbers, but if enough of their army is killed off, they could quickly leave the field. To prevent this from happening, most armies rely on heroes. We'll talk about them now.


Heroes provide an aspect of fun and uncertainty to the game. Generally speaking, there are 3 types of heroes: KILLERS, SPELLCASTERS, and AUXILIARIES (GW calls them different things, but I find these terms to be a bit more comprehensive). Sometimes heroes can be a mix of each, so be looking for heroes who can function as Killers and Spellcasters (like Elrond) or Spellcasters and Auxiliaries (like Shamans).

Killers come in many forms, but generally they can be found in these two roles: "captains" and "leaders." Captains can either be unnamed heroes - "Uruk-Hai Captain" or "Captain of Gondor" - or they can be named heroes who provide support roles to the army - like Hama of Rohan or Madril of Gondor. These heroes can only provide a little "oomph" to your ranks and rarely win the game for you. Leaders, however, tend to be able to cut through the enemy and kill their foes quickly. Gimli and Legolas are excellent examples of these types of heroes, as Gimli can cut through enemies close to him and Legolas can shoot them down from afar (though he's pretty good in close combat too).

There are a few defining aspects of "Killer" heroes: the first is their amount of attacks and their Strength value. In general, a captain will have a strength value, an attack value, and a defense value that is 1 value higher than the basic warrior. A leader can have defense values and attack values that are even higher.

There second defining aspect is their amount of "Might" points. Might points allow you to change the rolls of your dice (rolls to hit, rolls to wound, rolls for courage tests, and rolls for terrain tests - more about that in a later post). This allows a hero to wound his targets more often than his fellow comrades do. For each Might point that you spend, you increase the value of a dice roll by 1 (so if you rolled a 5 to wound and you need to score a 6 to actually wound the target, you would pay 1 Might point to improve that roll of a 5 to a 6 and nail the guy). Neat, huh?

Might points can also be used to call "heroic actions," one of which can be called each phase at the expense of a single might point. At the start of the Move phase, your hero may declare that he's calling a heroic move. Should he do this, he and all friendly units within 6" of him may move their full distance before their opponents do. This is great if you don't have priority and you want to engage the enemy before they engage you. Each unit can only benefit from one heroic move during each Move phase. During the Shoot phase, a hero may call a heroic shoot, which allows all units who can shoot within 6" to shoot before the enemy does (again, good if you don't have priority). Finally, in the Fight phase, a hero can call a heroic combat. This allows a hero to resolve his fight first and then allows him to move up to his full distance after fighting to join another fight. Any warriors who are in base contact with the foe of the hero can move as well, provided that they end their movement within 6" of their hero.

Should both players call heroic actions in the same phase, you must roll to see which hero's actions are done first. When there are multiple heroes for each side, roll a dice for each of them to determine which hero moves when.

Example of a Killer: Do you remember when I told you that courage tests could be required via a special ability? Boromir is a hero that does that. He's an epic killer because at 105 points, he has a Fight value of 6 (wins ties against all basic troops and most heroes, tying select heroes and monsters), Strength value 4, Defense value 6, 3 Attacks, 3 Wounds (that's health, if you recall), and Courage value 6. He has 6 Might points (more than any other hero or unit in the game) and has the "Horn of Gondor." This item allows Boromir, when outnumbered two-to-one or worse in close combat, to force the unit with the highest courage value that he's facing to take a courage test. In the example above, he would force one of the Uruk-Hai to take a courage test at Courage 3. If the courage test is passed, the fight continues as normal, with each side rolling to see who strikes. If the courage test is failed, Boromir wins the fight automatically and begins wounding the opponents in base contact with him. Pretty neat, huh?
So the question does one kill heroes like this? Four ways tend to work for me...

1) Shoot them...just shoot them. There's not trick to this one: a hero who specializes in killing people up close will not (or should not) begin the fight able to do so. So, concentrate your archers on killing that one hero before he's able to "do that thing he does." This strategy worked in the movies against Boromir, if you recall...

2) Counter them with another hero. This tends to be a bit more risky, since your hero could lose and therefore suffer a huge loss to your army trying to hurt his. I wouldn't recommend this strategy if your hero has a lower Fight value than his, since his hero will then win all ties and will probably be able to wound your hero easily. If Aragorn were to fight Boromir, for example, both have Fight values of 6 (so roll-off to determine a tie), both can have 3 attacks and both have 3 health. Boromir has 6 Might points and Aragorn has 3 Might points + an extra Might point each turn, so they would be pretty evenly matched. If I were facing Boromir and had Aragorn in my army, I might choose to do this. NOTE: sometimes, you can use a monster - like a Cave Troll - because they're strong enough and have excellent stats to win the fight and crush the hero they're fighting. The disadvantage comes in that they will not have Might points to help them win or kill the hero they're fighting. We'll see another disadvantage later...

3) Stall them with one, expendable unit. This generally not a good idea, but if the choice is between losing one unit or losing several, taking the chance that your one unit could win (which I've seen happen before) or possibly not die is sometimes worth trying. If I were playing with my Dwarf army against Boromir (since we're using him in every example), sending one Dwarf warrior with shield (7 Defense, so Boromir wounds him on a 6) to stall him could work to slow down the hero or force him to spend Might points during that turn to do his maximum damage.

4) Use a different type of hero...a spellcaster. Spellcasters are wizards or anyone who uses magical abilities to augment their friends, reduce the effectiveness of their foes, or cause devastation to a group of enemies. Generally speaking, these units are not good at fighting, though if your army sports spears/pikes, you can make up for the weakness of these heroes. 

Each hero has a "Will" point value (just like you have a certain amount of Might points, so also you have a certain amount of Will points). You can use Will points like you do Might points for altering a courage test roll (1 Will point = +1 to one dice used in a courage test) OR for casting/resisting spells. Each spell has a certain value and a certain result if it's cast. We'll look at Gandalf's spells to see how to do this:

"Cast Blinding Light"       Cast on a 2+     All characters within 6" are only hit by archery on the roll of a 6. This spell lasts as long as Gandalf has at least 1 Will point in his store.
"Terrifying Aura"             Cast on a 2+     Gandalf causes Terror. This spell lasts as long as Gandalf has at least 1 Will point in his store.
"Immobilize" (12")           Cast on a 3+     Target character's Fight & Attack values are reduced to 1, may not wound opponents or perform any heroic actions, moves, or shoot.
"Command(12")            Cast on a 4+     Immobilize information, may move the unit 1/2 of its move distance
"Strengthen Will" (12")   Cast on a 4+     Friendly unit regains 1 Will spent earlier in the battle OR a unit who started with 0 Will gains 1 Will (max 1).
"Sorcerous Blast" (12")  Cast on a 5+     Roll a dice: the target is moved that many inches away from the caster. All units who the target passes through are knocked to the ground and take a Strength 3 hit. The target is knocked to the ground and takes a Strength 5 hit.

Three of these spells are augment spells: Cast Blinding Light protects the units near him (and himself) from enemy archery, while Terrifying Aura should prevent weak-willed units from charging him. Strengthen Will makes friendly units able to pass courage tests more easily or resist spells - this is great for allowing a banner the opportunity to resist a "Compel" spell or a "Black Dart," as we will see later. These spells are permanent and last as long as Gandalf has at least 1 Will point left. The next 2 spells are enfeebling spells: they both reduce the effectiveness of a single unit (generally a hero or monster) for an entire turn. Most fighting heroes have 1-3 Will points, which means they won't be able to resist every spell (explanation of how to cast and resist spells coming up soon). The final spell is one of the signature devastation spells. This spell could kill some units and is particularly helpful if the enemy works in ranks (spears anyone?). 

To cast a spell, you select how many Will points you're going to use: each will point gives you one dice to roll. At least one dice that you roll must pass the required casting value of the spell (Immobilize would be a 3+, Sorcerous Blast would be a 5+, etc.). If one dice makes that roll, the spell is cast. Isolate the highest dice rolled and allow your opponent the opportunity to resist the spell IF it targeted one of his units. Use Might points if you wish to alter the roll of your dice, but you must select how high you're going to make your dice before your opponent chooses to resist. NOTE: augmenting spells can't be resisted because they don't target an enemy unit.

To resist a spell, select how many will points you're going to use: each gives you one dice to roll to counter the spell. Roll your dice: if at least one dice ties or beats the high dice of your opponent, the spell is resisted. All will points expended to cast and resist are lost, regardless of whether the spell was cast, failed, or resisted. NOTE: if your opponent fails to cast the spell, no resistance is necessary.

Some heroes have special abilities with regard to will points. Gandalf and Saruman each have a staff of power, which gives them 1 free Will point each round (but this can be taken away if their staff is broken by a certain, rare spell). Some units (all Hobbits and certain select heroes) are "Resistant to Magic," which means anytime they are targeted by a spell, they get 1 free dice to resist the spell, which they can use even if they don't use - or don't have - will points to spend. Some heroes like The Dark Lord Sauron and Galadriel gain a free will point each turn by their innate understanding of magic - this can't be taken away from them, but each has a limited Will store to compensate for this great advantage.

Spells are always cast in the Move phase, which means that they can have their dominating effect before the enemy gets a chance to shoot or fight. Only one spell can be cast or attempted each turn, so you need to be careful with how you use your magic-wielding heroes. Generally speaking...
  • Augmenting spells are great to use at the beginning of the game if they're effects are long-lasting (like Cast Blinding Light or Terrifying Aura).
  • Enfeebling spells are great if used on heroes or monsters, since preventing these units the ability to wound their opponents is a great plus.
  • Devastation spells are great if used against warriors, not heroes, because then they can't be resisted (unless they have gained Will points via a friendly spell, like "Strengthen Will"). These spells often take some effort to cast and require that the hero be in the right place at the right time. We'll see this more as we now look at Auxiliary heroes.
Every now and again, you meet a different kind of spellcaster: a ringwraith. Nazgul are the stereotypical evil spellcasting units, since they come with at least 7 Will points and can often be raized to 12-14 Will points (and the Witch King can have as many as 20 Will points). For 55-200 points, there is a Nazgul to fit any army - and I mean any army. The common spells of the Nazgul are as follows:

"Drain Courage"             Cast on a 2+     Permanently reduces target's Courage value by 1 (multiple spells have a cumulative effect)
"Sap Will"                      Cast on a 3+     Target's Will store is immediately reduced to 0.
"Transfix" (12")              Cast on a 3+     Target character's Fight & Attack values are reduced to 1, may not wound opponents or perform any heroic actions, moves, or shoot.
"Compel" (12")              Cast on a 4+     Transfix information, may move the unit 1/2 of its move distance
"Black Dart" (12")         Cast on a 5+     Target takes a Strength 9 hit.

As you can tell, these spells are different from Gandalf's spells, though a few are the same. Transfix and Compel are enfeebling spells that are identical (respectively) to Immobilize and Command. This makes the Nazgul good at making powerful heroes (or powerful units without any Will points) easy targets for lesser infantry. Nazgul lack augmenting spells, but add 2 other spells to their enfeeble list: Drain Courage and Sap Will

The first is an easy spell to cast and will often not be resisted by the few Will points that heroes have. Losing 1 Courage (out of say 5-7) isn't per se a bad thing, BUT the Nazgul "Harbinger of Evil" special rule reduces all Courage values an additional point for being within 12" of the Nazgul. This means that a hero who gets stung with a single Drain Courage spell can go from a 6 Courage to a 4 Courage...and if the same spell is successfully cast again, even Aragorn will be struggling to stay in the Fight.

Sap Will is different and tends to be only useful against enemy spellcasters with a lot of Will points: this spell reduces someone's Will store from its current level to a whopping 0. If you are Gandalf and fail to resist this, you will not only have problems casting/resisting spells later in the game, but you will also lose the ability to give your units Cast Blinding Light or give yourself Terrifying Aura. Against heroes with 3 or less Will, this is kind of pointless, because most of their Will is going to be used to resist your spell (since it's going to have at least a casting value of 4).

Finally, Nazgul have one devastating spell, but unlike Sorcerous Blast, Black Dart is a precision spell, targeting a single unit with a stroke of (almost) instant death. Inflicting a single Strength 9 hit will mean that most units (anyone that has Defense 7 or less) is going to be wounded on a 3+. If you have at least 2 Might points with your Nazgul, you can guarantee a wound (but that would be sad if you had to use them both). This is often used to pluck wounds off of heroes, but in all honesty, unless you're going to kill a hero with the wound, it's not worth the Will spent to cast it. Keeping in mind that you probably have 10 (or a little more) Will to cast spells, if you spend 2-3 on your Black Darts, you're not going to get more than 2 or 3 off before you're nearly out of spells. As such, don't plan on spending too much on Black Darts unless an enemy hero is in serious trouble.

Nazgul add an additional level of complexity for spellcasters: at the end of a round when a Nazgul has fought in close combat, he needs to pay 1 Will point. This means that generally, Nazgul should be shielded by lesser minions from fighting, unless they want to engage in combat. Any fights that a Nazgul does, however, will reduce its ability to cast spells, so at the end of the day, it's going to be the choice of the general on what he wants to do to do with his general.

Auxiliary heroes are generally not good at casting spells (if they have them at all) and are not good at fighting. The benefits they provide to the team is their presence for one critical turn. Allow me to highlight a few spells or special abilities that qualify heroes as "auxiliaries." 

Heroes who have a 12" Stand Fast! radius. For armies that have low courage values, it can be really annoying when you're about to crush your opponent and your army decides to turn-tail and run because the force is broken (half are killed, remember?). Heroes can inspire your troops to fight to the bitter end by calling a "Stand Fast!" during the Move phase. If a hero is not fighting at the beginning of his movement and passes his courage test to say in the fight, he may (at any time during his movement) tell his men to stand firm and all friendly warriors (not heroes) who can "see" him within 6" pass their courage test to stay int he fight automatically. Some heroes have a Stand Fast! radius of 12" (like the Goblin King pictured above), which works great for keeping the bulk of your army from fleeing, allowing you to capitalize on having larger numbers.

Some heroes keep your units from taking hits. Goblins, Orcs, and Uruk-Hai employ shamans in their armies, who can cast the "Fury" spell, which allows all units of their race within 6" to pass their courage tests and when they are wounded, they get to roll a dice and avoid the hit on the roll of a 6.

Other heroes protect units from taking missile fire, enable units to cause terror for a short period of time, or cause units to pass their courage tests. The Elven lord Cirdan can cast spells for all three of these things, which can be a really prized value if your army is fighting an archer-heavy, low courage army. In some respects, this can have some cross-over with heroes (like Gandalf or Galadriel) that you would consider "spellcaster" heroes. Like I said before, the three categories for heroes are not concrete.

One final aspect as we leave our discussion on heroes is their Fate points. We've talked about how Might points and Will points work, but Fate points work a little differently. If a hero takes a wound, he can spend a Fate point to roll a dice: on the roll of a 4+, the wound is avoided (prevented, saved, etc.). Basically, this adds an element of survivability for your heroes. Some heroes (like Boromir) are great at cutting through the enemy, but they lack Fate points. Other heroes (like Balin and most captains) have 1 Fate point to save them from danger. Other heroes (like Dain Ironfoot of the Dwarves or King Aragorn of Gondor) have 2-3 Fate points and a high defense value, which makes them really hard to wound and once they are wounded, they can still shirk off the damage and keep themselves alive. Fate points are critical to Auxiliary heroes, since their primary purpose is to stay near a large body of troops and stay alive to continue to provide benefits to the army.

Because we've talked a lot about heroes, I'd like to take you through the different members of the Fellowship and show you what their benefits are and how to use them in an army.

Units: Gandalf the Grey and Aragorn/Strider with bow or armor

Aragorn and Gandalf form an amazing fighting pair (though a very expensive pair). For 350 points, Gandalf is an amazing spellcaster, who not only attacks people with a Strength 5 weapon, but also has 6 Will points (1 free per turn), 3 Might points, and the ability to re-roll his 3 Fate points if he misses them on the first try. Gandalf teams survivability with an amazing set of augmenting, enfeebling, and devastating spells. Aragorn makes up for Gandalf's low Attack value of 1 by having 3 Attacks, 3 Might points (1 free per turn), Fight value 6, and a bow to hit enemies from farther away (and use that free Might point before he's in close combat). Aragorn is, for his point cost, the best melee hero available to the forces of Good and can easily destroy his point value's worth of units if he can be protected from enemy spellcasters.

Units: Legolas, Prince of Mirkwood with Elven cloak and armor and Gimli, Son of Gloin

For under 200 points, you can't find a better combo of fighting power than Legolas and Gimli. Legolas has a health 3 Might points, 3 Fate points, Fight value 6, Strength 4, and an Elven Bow (Strength 3, 24" range) with a 3+ Shoot value. He comes into a field all his one with his "Deadly Shot" special ability, which allows him to shoot 3 times with his bow in the Shoot phase each turn OR shoot one shot which will hit its target automatically (whether obscured by terrain, other units, or if the target is in close combat with a friend). This allows you to then only roll to wound, which can be great for making sure units who are carrying banners or heroes who are riding on horses meet their maker. Giving Legolas armor increases his defense value to 5, which will make Strength 2 bows (most of the bows in the game) wound him on the roll of a 6, which is great for keeping him alive. Gimli is a melee powerhouse, but also has a throwing weapon to use (best used in the Move phase to kill someone before you go smashing through the rest of the enemy). With Fight value 6, Strength 4, and Defense 8 (yes, 8!), Gimli can take a beating and deal a beating so long as he's not attacked by a lot of spells. He is also a flexible hero since his "Axes of the Dwarves" special ability allows him to either have 3 attacks at his normal rolls OR have 2 attacks with his two-handed weapon, which gives him a +1 to wound but no penalty to win the fight. This is great for tackling units who have a high Defense value, since you will wound Defense 5-6 units on a 4+.

Units: Boromir of Gondor and Frodo with Mithril armor and Sting

Boromir has already been talked about in detail, but his greatest weaknesses are whenever he's not in close combat with the enemy. To ensure that he gets there, it is often advisable to have him remain behind a rank or two of units, so that enemy archers won't be able to shoot him (no Fate points) and enemy spellcasters won't be able to see him (1 Will point). It is critical, therefore, to wait to spring him into action until just the right moment. Call a heroic combat whenever you have a chance so that if you didn't get to fight multiple units during one time in the Fight phase, you will get to in the next part. 

Frodo makes up for some of the short-comings of Boromir and costs almost the same. His mithril mail gives him an impressive Defense 6 (just as good as Boromir), which means that any archery that has a Strength value of 2 or 3 will need to roll a 6 to wound him. This is great for providing some cover for Boromir or another hero (Legolas perhaps) who has a lower defense value. With 3 Fate points, it's going to be hard to break the strength of the Ring-bearer. Sting gives Frodo a Strength of 3 and coupled with a Fight value of 3, Frodo can go toe-to-toe with most basic troops and cut through Goblins. His best ability, however, is being able to put on the One Ring. When Frodo has the Ring on (put it on in the Move phase), he can move through other units and can't be shot at, attacked, or targeted by magic UNLESS that attack or magic is performed by a Nazgul. In return, he can't shoot at people with his rocks or attack people. At the beginning of each turn that he wears the ring, he needs to roll a dice and score a 3+ for the Good player to move him, but on the roll of a 1 or 2, the Evil player will get to move him (but can't force him to take off the Ring, as will be explained next). To take off the Ring, Frodo must pass a courage test (and with Courage 6, that's generally not hard). Should he be the last Good unit on the table and have the Ring on, he is removed as a casualty. BUT, the Ring allows him to get past enemy units and rush through enemy ranks, thereby allowing him to focus on surprising enemy spellcasters...if his little hobbit legs can get him there.

Units: Samwise Gamgee, Meriadoc Brandybuck, and Peregrin Took

Merry and Pippin, at least during the Fellowship of the Ring, were not expert fighters and it shows in their profiles. For 10 points each, you have a Fight value 3 hero (standard), with 3 Defense (standard for unarmored units) and Strength 2 (sub-par strength value). Though not inherently good heroes, they still provide the ability to call a Stand Fast! for a small group of warriors (perhaps an archer squad) and if they remain stationary during the Move phase, they can throw rocks at an amazing Shoot value of 3+. These rocks are only Strength 1 weapons, but they have the opportunity of contributing to the fight from a decent distance away. For their minimal cost (a little more than a basic trooper), these little Hobbits could prove excellent leaders, but generally, they are not taken into combat (most armies would prefer to have another stout Dwarf warrior or Elven archer instead). Sam gains from the benefit of having a Might point and 2 Will points, which means he (along with Merry and Pippin to an extent) can also focus on distracting or stopping enemy spellcasters. If they can threaten to take away the enemy's ability to cast spells for that turn (and possibly the next, since each has at least 1 Fate point), these little Hobbits can, for a small cost, allow greater heroes (Boromir and Gimli, for example) to get their money's worth out of the enemy. As a side note, you could pay 10 points each to equip them with Elven cloaks (see the description for Legolas above), but in most cases, that cost is a bit extraneous.

So...think we've covered everything in the game? Not quite. :-P In the next post, we're going to go over terrain, and with that comes an in-depth look into some of the strategies for the armies I've collected thus far.