Saturday, June 9, 2012

Understanding the Game: Using and Fighting Spell-Casters, Part 1

So if you've followed my army lists at all, you know that I really, really, REALLY like using spell-casters in my Lord of the Rings armies. Most of my friends shy away from these units, but they really are useful and fun to use (albeit limited in scope and usually expensive). I'm going to go over some of the ways to both use and fight spell-casters, focusing on some of the heroes we have seen/might see on this blog.

The heroes we will look at today fall generally into four categories: Nazgul, Unlimited Casters/Wizards, Combat Mages, and Auxiliary Support. Each of these casters has a different purpose in the army and is used to supplement the needs of the force.

1. Using Spell-Casters: Nazgul

Nazgul are both blessed and cursed as spell-casters: they have the potential to be very, VERY cheap, they can cast several powerful spells with relatively easy casting values, and have a minimum of 7 Will points to use to cast spells. Since their ability to fight and stay alive is tied to their Will (as well as health), special care must be used when choosing to use Will and where to position Nazgul. Since a Nazgul really enters into a realm of its own when the enemy force is broken, keeping a Nazgul alive throughout the game is a must.
There are three spells that should be used by any Nazgul commander because of their ease in casting (should use 1 dice) and the devastating short-term or long-term impact that they can have: Drain Courage (2+), Transfix (3+), and Sap Will (3+). Each of these requires a very specific target, however, in order to work properly.

Drain Courage is useful when targeting minor heroes with Courage 4-5 (or less, of course). These heroes have the ability to call a Stand Fast! when the going gets tough, which can keep lesser units from fleeing the field - what you definitely don't want. With only 1-2 Will points (perhaps) to resist the spells cast by your Nazgul, it is possible that these spells may not even be resisted - especially if the hero is in the middle of a hoard of enemies. Why this is the case will be seen later under the section discussing the Transfix spell. When the army breaks, the minor hero (or heroes) might be in a serious trouble if they are within 12" of the Nazgul, as their Courage values will be at least 1 lower than normal and probably 1-2 lower than that.

Transfix is a spell that should be used against any foe that specializes in killing units (usually heroes, but elite warriors can be targeted too if they are in a valuable position). The Transfix spell reduces the Fight value of the victim to 1 (that's lower than almost all basic troops), reduces their Attack dice to 1 (even if they shield), prevents them from rolling Wound dice even if they win, AND prevents the unit from moving or calling heroic actions (in the case of a hero). A hero only needs to be stung once by this spell before he chooses to resist it every time. Be sure to have a group of warriors nearby to charge the hero (or already have charged the hero) to capitalize on the hero's weakness, trapping if possible.
Sap Will should only be used against enemy spell-casters and other auxiliary heroes who rely on a Will store greater than 3. Since spell-casters use Will to make up for their expenses, reducing their effectiveness is a must for a Nazgul. This spell also becomes one that MUST be resisted, as failing to resist leads to a Will store of 0...ouch. From experience, even if your spell-caster gets a free Will point each turn, the Force of Good will feel the pain of not having more than 1 Will point (which means the caster either resists OR casts). Casting Sap Will against heroes with 1-3 Will doesn't make that much sense, as a Transfix or a Drain Courage is likely to deplete their Will Store already. Since Sap Will seeks to eliminate Will points, blocking a Transfix or a Drain Courage spell meets the same objective with greater damage done either in the short term (with Transfix) or in the long term (with Drain Courage).
It is with this backdrop that I need to talk about the Witch King. He casts spells at the same level as unnamed Ringwraiths and begins with the same stat-line as other Ringwraiths except that he has already paid for 3 extra Will points. Where the Witch King pulls away from other Nazgul, however, is his baseline access to the spell Your Staff Is Broken! With this spell, the Witch King can take away the benefit of a "staff of power," the source of free Will points for wizards. Though this is rarely going to be used by the Witch King, there are two other benefits that come from equipment that can be given to the Witch King.
The first is the Crown of Morgul. For 30 points, you can turn this Nazgul spell-caster into a slayer with 3 Attacks. With a base Will store of 10 (and a max of 20), your hero can now fight in a lot - I mean, A LOT - of fights. 7 rounds of combat later, you'll see lots and lots and lots of dead units (especially if he has 2 Might/10 Will/2 Fate for a grand total of 120 points). Though his Fight value is still only a 5, this combat strength is great for supplementing a small army and making them more impressive. The other benefit that the Witch King can receive comes from taking a Morgul blade. If you win a fight, you can declare before rolling your wound dice that you are using the blade - if any wounds are not saved by a Fate point (or some other means), the unit dies outright, no matter how many wounds he still has. Bummer for heroes (or Trolls and Balrogs if you're fighting a Force of Evil)...
Fighting Spell-Casters: Nazgul

Nazgul have a single Wound, which means that the most straight-forward way of killing them is to shoot them from afar. Defense 8 (and obstructions from line of sight) tends to limit the effectiveness of this strategy, but it remains an option (and I've seen it done before). Thankfully other strategies can be used to defeat these foes: simply engage them in battle, force them to use their Will points up, or exhaust their store to incapacitate them. Each of these runs its own risks, but the options are varied depending on your strategic advantages.
Engaging a Nazgul in fight-after-fight is one of the most straight-forward ways of killing them. If you have warriors who have high Courage values (or the Bodyguard special rule), you can engage a Nazgul unit and wear down his Will store by mere engagement. Most likely, enemy units will only wound your Nazgul on a 6, unless they have a two-handed weapon to increase their chances (like Elrond's Elven blade does here).

Spell-casters can force a Nazgul to use his Will points in a defensive manner in very limited situations. These could include casting Immobilize against a Nazgul who is already in a fight with a major hero (or a lot of smaller heroes) or casting Command on a Nazgul who could be forced to move into charge range of melee troops (or ranged weapons). A Sorcerous Blast or a Nature's Wrath spell, of course, will force a Nazgul to resist a spell to avoid taking damage (or dealing damage to other units), but having units with these abilities can be very, very costly. On the whole, the user of a Nazgul should weigh what the cost of ignoring enemy spells is - usually, accepting the spell's effects will not be damaging to your character. Remember that survival until the last turn is critical for your Nazgul!
Once a Nazgul has a limited number of Will points (if the unit casts a lot of spells or fights a lot), you can sometimes let them run their course and weather their storm. At some point, every Nazgul will be down to 3 Will points or less and will (read "really should") consider strongly whether he should cast any more spells or venture too close to your battle lines (especially if you have cavalry in your army). The Nazgul will seek to remain shielded from the enemy while staying close to the action to affect the courage tests of the enemy units if/when they break, but besides that, he is a dead weight to his army. If you can weather his wrath, this can give you an opportunity to clobber enemies with surviving heroes and elite troops. It's risky, but it definitely works against cheap, unnamed Nazgul.
Think you know what it means to use a spell-caster? We're just getting started! Nazgul are good spell-casters if you need a cheap caster for your army. If you're running an army of Uruk-Hai and you're tired of buying 60 point captains who flee from every engagement, consider paying 60 points for a Ringwraith with 1M/7W/0F to benefit from his Courage 6 and neutralizing of enemy heroes - perfect! In the next post, we'll talk about what spell-casters you can use if you have a good chunk of money sitting around (or you're playing a big game one afternoon), so watch this blog!


  1. Would you consider Khamul the Easterling as a Nazgul-style Spell-Caster, or a "Fighting Spell-Caster"? His ability to regain will points by killing engaged enemies makes him susceptible to the tactics recommended here, though just engaging him in fights may not deplete his will points. In fact, a few well-placed combats (especially if he chooses to employ Immobilize before engaging, say, a hero) could lead to minimal damage to the will point stockpile, and a heavy cost to the army.


    1. In my mind, Khamul (like the Witch King, the Knight of Umbar, and the Dark Marshal) are all "nazgul-style spell-casters." Though they are not weak by any means in combat, the fact that they are dependent on their Will store for life places them in this category.