Saturday, February 23, 2013

Riders in Black: Part 2

As promised, the second post in this series is going to be a magical tactica post. To be clear, most of this post is going to focus on what spells should be used by Ringwraiths in all-hero games. The end of this post will discuss how the spells can be used to assist conventional armies that have a Ringwraith or two in them (for those who don't want to count the number of units you field on one or two hands).

1) Types of Spells

There are three kinds of spells that I've found with Ringwraiths (though I've only played two unrecorded games with my Ringwraiths): "weariness," "enfeebling," and "red button." Each has a time during the game to use and some require more work than others to work properly. Not each type is created equal and spells within each type are not equal either, since the value of each will be determined by the units in your opponent's army and your mission objectives.

2) Weariness: Preparing your enemy for slaughter

Drain Courage
This spell (cast on a 2+ by most Ringwraiths) is perhaps the least appreciated spell in the Nazgul's arsenal. It's rules are simple: if the targeted unit fails to resist the spell (or just lets the spell go), the unit's Courage rating is reduced by 1. Multiple castings of this spell on the same target stack on each other and this is the power of the spell. With several Ringwraiths casting this spell (and rarely failing), a single hero will be hard pressed to be able to keep his Courage rating high. Let's take a look at an example...
Gandalf begins the game with Courage 7, perfectly capable of charging any of these Ringwraiths if he chooses - and he stands a good chance of living if allowed to fight with his basic profile. Once Gandalf is within 12" of the Ringwraiths (spell-casting range), he will be reduced to Courage 6 because of their Harbinger of Evil special rules (which don't stack). If these 2 Ringwraiths cast Drain Courage on Gandalf and are successful in casting them, Gandalf has two choice for each spell: he can let the spell go and suffer a hit to his Courage rating or resist with a Will point (or two, but likely he won't use more than 1 Will on any of these spells). If he lets them go, his Courage will soon be so low that he will struggle to complete a charge against the Ringwraiths without burning his valuable Might points. If he resists them, he will have less Will to resist other spells (like Transfix). Either way, your Ringwraiths win if they can keep their distance.
Drain Courage is an easy spell to cast and can be useful in keeping heroes from being able to charge your units unless their dice do the work for them in their Courage test. It's important to keep in mind that you can't completely stop someone from charging you with this spell, since a roll of 10+ will successfully charge your units no matter what you do. You can still, however, drive the probability of success so far down that at least a few heroes (let alone units) are able to charge your lines.
Sap Will
Sap Will is the most effective way to defeat an enemy unit with magic: if successful, this spell reduces your opponent's Will store to 0. Without Will points, your enemies will be powerless against your spells, unless he is "Resistant to Magic" or otherwise gains free Will points (more on this later). Within the gaming circles here at TMAT, we've discussed banning this spell from being used against units who depend on their Will store to remain in the game (other Ringwraiths, Castellans of Dul Guldor, or Sauron the Necromancer, for example). We've decided that, at the end of the day, the need to make a rule on the subject isn't necessary. First off, only if you allow evil to fight evil will this become an issue (and most of the time, we play Good vs. Evil games...though that historical trend may change with the new TMAT tournament). Second, part of the nature of choosing your army when you enter a tournament that allows Evil vs. Evil is knowing that you could face a Ringwraith or some other unit that has Sap Will and could kill you outright. Finally, if both players have Ringwraiths with roughly equal Will points, it may be in their best interest to not bother each other (like, if they need to focus on the enemy power-house heroes and monsters).
The utility of Sap Will is dependent on your target: the more Will points he has, the greater the drive to cast it. If your opponent has 0-2 Will points, let me submit that casting this spell is worthless. Since Sap Will is cast by most Ringwraiths on a 3+, you are likely to get a roll that requires 2 Will points to comfortably resist, which would end up being all of the target's Will points. You can get the same result by casting Drain Courage constantly or Transfix (more on this in the next section). Against targets that have 3-4 Will, Sap Will is great to cast once and only once (basically, until you get the target down to 2 or less Will points). Wizards who have 6 Will points each are prime targets for Sap Will not only because they have so many Will points, but also because they use Will points to cast devastating spells.
"Your Staff Is Broken!"
This is the rare spell of the bunch that only the Witch King of Angmar wields: on a 4+, the Witch King can take away the benefit of a "Staff of Power," wielded by a wizard (Gandalf, Radagast, or Saruman). I don't think I need to say that your use of this spell is going to be rare, but I also need to note that it should only be cast after you have sapped the Will of your target (making it unlikely but still possible that he will be able to resist the spell without Might points because he'll only have 1 dice to resist a spell that will be cast on a 4+).

3) Enfeebling: Taking the teeth from the dog

Transfix is the work-horse of most spell-casters in the ranks of Evil (and its twin, Immobilize, by spell-casters from the forces of Good) and remains the most effective way of dealing with heroes, monsters, and elite units. The spell is handily cast by most Ringwraiths on a 3+ and cripples an enemy instantly: the target cannot move/shoot/ cast magic, the Fight Value of the target is reduced to 1 (which will lose a tie against any of your heroes), rolls no more than 1 dice to win the fight, and doesn't strike wounds even if he manages to win the fight. There are few heroes in the game who can't kill a Ringwraith during the course of the game if he can attack one at his normal profile, so Transfix is great for keeping heroes from gaining their points back.
When you mount your Ringwraiths, Transfix gives you a greater benefit: not only does it make you more likely to win your fight, but you can also make sure that your mount is immune to attacks from your opponent. This is a comfort if you depend on your mounts for additional attacks throughout your army.
Compel is a specialized form of Transfix: this spell is 1 grade harder to cast (4+ in most cases) and does the exact same thing as Transfix except that you also get to move the model half of its Move value. Generally speaking, this spell is not very useful in an all-hero force, unless you need to bring a model in charge range of your power hero (like the Witch King). Compel is also valuable against units that provide strategic benefits: move a banner-bearer 3" and he won't be aiding any fights unless he was touching someone before he started moving. Except in these rare cases, use Transfix.

4) "Red Button:" Instant death for an unlucky soul

Black Dart
The Black Dart is the universal hard spell for a Ringwraith to cast and by far is the most dangerous spell in their arsenal. If successfully cast (requires a 5+ for all Ringwraiths), the target receives a Strength 9 hit, perfect for dealing with most heroes and warriors. Since most units are going to be wounded on a 3+, your ability to kill a few units is certainly a possibility, though I'll emphasize that it's not a guaranteed wound, so don't be surprised if you get a bad roll and fail to wound your target.
Black Darts are best used against warriors instead of heroes. A basic captain will have 2 Wounds and a Fate point (maybe more, in the case of Erestor or Hasharin), which means you will need to spend 2-3 turns trying to kill this unit if you wound him each time you cast the spell (longer if you mess up the casting or wounding rolls or if he successfully blocks the spell with his Will point - or 2 Will points in the case of Eowyn or a Dwarf King). During those 2-3 turns, you could instead be casting Transfix (with a single dice instead of two or three dice), keeping him from killing any units and possibly killing the hero with the strength of your other models (Ringwraiths or warriors in a conventional army).
I'm not going to recommend that you never use Black Dart against a hero, but if you are going to need to work to make sure that the spell's effects are felt, make sure that you feel the results immediately. There are five categories of models that top the list of models that should be wounded with a Black Dart (in no particular order):
  • Warriors with banners - these warriors not only lack Fate points (as a general rule), but also improve the capabilities of warriors and heroes alike. The benefit also of these units is that you can pay for much of your cost by killing these units if the banner is lost. If it isn't, some other unit who was intended for a purpose is denied his equipment in order to wield the banner.
  • Warriors that have Strength 4 and the Bodyguard special rule - units like Dwarf Khazad Guards are dangerous: not only can they automatically pass their Courage tests if their sworn lord is still alive, but if they can win the fight, they will wound your Ringwraiths on a single dice (6+ with hand weapon, 5+ with two-handed weapon). Though a single Khazad Guard is not likely to kill your Ringwraith quickly, in large numbers, these guys are quite dangerous.
  • Warriors that have either Strength 4 or the Bodyguard special rule - As noted above, both of these elements are capable of driving a Ringwraith to death (in the Bodyguard rule's case, this doesn't even require winning a fight in most cases). Units to be wary of include Rohan's Rohan Royal Guards and Sons of Eorl, both providing one of but not both of these requirements.
  • Heroes who have 1 Wound and perhaps a Fate point - Heroes like Damrod, Dunedain, or Rangers of the North are blessed with Might points to help their rolls be more effective. On top of this, their Courage ratings are typically good and they have Strength 4 to ensure that they wound your units on a single dice. Taking them out swiftly can make the difference between life and death for your units (and they tend to be pricey, so more valuable in gaining your cost back than basic warriors).
  • Warriors with Strength 4+ ranged weapons - Like Strength 4 units mentioned above, these units bring the advantages of Strength 4 or greater (wounding on a single dice) but do not require charging your heroes. Given enough time and enough fire-power, you can suffer heavy casualties (or spend much of the defense you need for close-combat later in the game).
5) Integrating these strategies into a conventional army

Ringwraiths are great tactical units and can support conventional armies just as well as supporting each other. My recommendation is that you look at using only three spells when supporting a "normal" army (maybe four if you have more than one Ringwraith in the army):
  • Drain Courage: during the early phases of the game, Drain Courage not only protects your Ringwraith (and other terror units) from being charged, but also reduces the ability to cast Stand Fasts! during the late periods of the game. You can also reduce the Will available to resist more powerful spells later in the game.
  • Transfix: classic spell, useful for taking care of dangerous heroes and capitalizing on the numbers you can bring to bear on your foes.
  • Sap Will: follow the guidelines above, but this spell allows you to neutralize power heroes and tactical heroes. You can get a lot of mileage out of your Ringwraith by killing one or two epic heroes by sapping their will and then transfixing them.
  • Optional - Black Dart: the problem with Black Dart is that to be likely to cast it in the first place (that is, over 50% chance of casting it), you need to spend at least 2 Will points. Cast that a few times and most Ringwraiths will be spreading themselves thin and will have only dealt a wound or two. If, however, you have multiple Ringwraiths in your army, you can get away with casting it a few times (once or twice each) in order to pick off elite units or banner-bearers (or gang up on a hero who is attempting to race around your ranks into your wraiths).
In Part 3 of this series, we'll be looking at combinations of Ringwraiths, focusing on supporting a conventional army. Until then, happy hobbying!

1 comment:

  1. Good post - I see a lot of my strategy for using Nazgul there, :) My experience is more with fighting Nazgul (Khamul and the Dwimmerlaik especially), so while I really enjoy using a caster, I almost always budget around 8 Will just for combats. This limits my casting ability, as I only have a handful of Will points available for casting.

    I would be tempted to experiment with a ringwraith that was more of a caster (the Undying, for example) just to see the difference in game play.