Saturday, October 12, 2013

Revisiting Magic: Ringwraiths in LOTR SBG

For our readership who is aware of our upcoming THRO 2013 tournament, I wanted to take some time to talk about magic in the army that I'm taking to the tournament. I've decided to do this (showing part of my hand for the tournament) for two reasons: first, the strategy I've developed for using magic against conventional forces is more an issue of artistry than anything else and I want to offer this up to the blogosphere for critique. Second, I spent a few minutes during my last game at the TMAT GT 2013 talking about magic theory with a buddy of mine who hadn't played against magic very much and needed my honest opinion about whether to attempt to resist a spell or not. Instead of having this discussion in every round, I figured I'd get my general strategy on the table now.

Targets of Interest: A Brief Taxonomy

Those familiar with the armies in the Lord of the Rings Strategy Battle Game (and the new Hobbit Strategy Battle Game) know that the kinds of warriors and heroes in the game vary a lot. Warriors can be cheap (like Goblin Warriors or Hobbit Shirriffs) or more expensive (like Uruk Berserkers and Wood Elf Sentinels). Heroes also can be blissfully cheap (like Rangers of the North or Easterling Captains) while others are heavy investments (like Aragorn/Strider or Elrond). How do we, with all this diversity, break up your potential foes into a reasonable set of groups?

The answer, for a Ringwraith commander, is rather simple (I don't include Fate points in the discussion below - I'll explain why later):
  • All Warriors/Heroes with 1 Wound and no Will points
  • Heroes with no Will and 2+ Wounds
  • Heroes with 1-2 Will and 1+ Wounds
  • Heroes with 3-4 Will and 1+ Wounds
  • Heroes with 5+ Will
  • Heroes that fall into any of the other classes that have specific anti-Nazgul benefits
Too simplistic? Perhaps, but let's go deeper into each of the six targets above and talk about how to deal with them. As a reminder, I'm using the following army as my frame of reference:

The Witch King of Angmar with horse, Crown of Morgul, 2M/10W/2F - 130 points
Khamul the Easterling with armored horse - 135 points
The Undying - 120 points
The Dwimmerlaik - 120 points
Ringwraith on horse with 2M/9W/2F - 95 points

Target: Warriors (and heroes with no Will and 1 Wound)

Warriors in this game, like cities in the world that are the target of a nuclear weapon, suffer the same result: they die. If a Ringwraith uses a Black Dart on any unit without access to Will points and only have 1 Wound, it doesn't matter what the unit is or what he does - he's dead. This is particularly true since most units of this sort are D7 or less, which means they're all wounded on 3s. Dealing with critical units of this class can be easily performed with Black Darts, but only by certain units.

In the army I've chosen, two units serve as Black Dart factories: the Undying and the Dwimmerlaik. The Undying is an obvious choice, since he regains Will points if any magic caster (friend or foe) casts a spell within 6" of the Undying. If the Undying uses 3 Will points to cast the spell (70% chance of success) and two other Ringwraiths cast spells within this range (say, the Dwimmerlaik and the unnamed Ringwraith), the Undying has a net loss of 1 Will point and so begins the next round with 19 Will.

The Dwimmerlaik has a whopping Will store of 16 Will, which means you should probably cast spells more carefully, but you can probably get off 3-4 Black Darts with 2 Will points each and then cast simple spells with 1 Will point each. These supporting Black Darts allow you to finish off strategic units (like those with the Bodyguard rule or a banner).

The result is that warriors who are capable against Ringwraiths should expect to be targeted by Black Darts. In the end, if the dart is successful, there isn't much that can be done (a Fury save or Foresight save could be used if available).

Target: Heroes with no Will and 2+ Wounds

Heroes who lack Will are the best targets for a Ringwraith to defeat: they are helpless against the magical barrage of the Ringwraiths and they are probably built for combat. What spells are best against these units? The options I choose to employ are Transfix and Drain Courage.

Transfix is a "gimme" spell for any spell-caster: it turns any power-house unit into an incapable fighter (at the very least, not dealing any damage this turn). If the mounted wraiths in this army are within charge-range of these sorts of heroes - and preferably if your opponent has already moved - transfix and a charge are a perfect combination. Generally, you want the Witch King and Khamul charging warriors, but never pass up a chance to charge a transfixed hero.

Armies who field heroes with no Will points (like a Dwarf Shield-Bearer or Theoden) should expect a nasty round if a charge is allowed if transfixing is deemed the best option. There is, however, a second option (and potentially a more sustainable option): Drain Courage. This spell is underrated by many players and is unique in that it remains in play after it is cast. If a Dwarf Shield-bearer is charged by the Witch King, for example, 2-4 Will points will likely be needed to transfix and charge him (one or two turns). Alternatively, the same Shield-bearer begins as Courage 4 and will become Courage 3. Spending two Will points against the Shield-Bearer makes him Courage 1, reducing the probability of the Shield-Bearer charging one of the Ringwraiths to ~25%. A hero like this can be killed at leisure and will probably take a maximum of 2 Will points to pull off.

In the end, if a general facing this army chooses to bring a hero without Will points, there will be an uphill battle to keep such a hero alive and capable. Dwarf Shield-bearers are a bit of a bad example of a target to Drain Courage against, as they allow friendly units to reroll failed Courage tests, but I hope the point is understood. Your options for this hero are next to null, but you can take advantage of their weakness by buying another hero time: will Balin's 3 Will points or Gimli's 2 Will points be hit hard if there is a 0 Will Courage 4 Shield-bearer hanging around? Any Will that isn't spent targeting your power heroes like Gimli or Balin and instead target unnamed heroes like a Shield-bearer is a good day for the Dwarves.

Target: Heroes with 1-2 Will

Heroes who begin with very little Will are not as opportune targets for Ringwraiths, but they are still excellent targets. A hero who has only 1-2 Will (especially with the Dwimmerlaik present) will be strained to resist a single spell. As a result, it lies in the power of the commanding general to determine which spell to resist. If we only look at the two spells provided above (Transfix and Drain Courage), if a wraith uses Drain Courage as the first spell, does the target ignore this spell awaiting a Transfix spell? Or does the hero resist this spell and take what comes later?

Generally speaking, I don't think there's a good answer to which spell you want to resist - you will be threatened with both. Against this particular army, as stated above, it may not matter which spell you try to resist - the Dwimmerlaik may make any resistance to magical spells impossible. So my recommendation: don't worry about it. If the spell is cast, it's not likely that you're going to be able to resist it. So live with it - try to resist, of course (choosing to resist a Drain Courage spell only if you are in charge range and resisting Transfix if you're going to be charged), but don't worry about it.

Target: Heroes with 3-4 Will

Against heroes with 3-4 Will, one step is added to the strategy used for heroes with 1-2 Will: cast Sap Will. I've generally been reluctant to cast Sap Will against 3 Will heroes, as most of his Will is going to be wasted resisting the spell. Against this army, though, this spell almost ensures that in a single turn, the target is out of Will. Since Sap Will is cast on a 3+, most successful casts will have a high dice of 4+ - requiring about 2 dice to resist effectively or the use of a Might point. With the Dwimmerlaik making these pips harder to use, you could get rid of 3 Will points (2 to resist +1 additional) or 1-2 Will points and 1-2 Might points (1 Will to cast, 1 to promote, 1 additional Will/Might if you get lucky). In either case, a good hero will be nearly wasted just resisting the spell! After that, you treat the hero like he has 1-2 Will left (or none) - easy.

My recommendation for dealing with this: hide your heroes. :-P Mounted heroes who have 3 Will (Eomer of the Pelennor, Imrahil, Elrond, etc.) are going to be hard to hide from a magic hero, but heroes on foot who can get Elven cloaks (Aragorn, Gildor, and Arwen for example) are much easier to hide and can keep the enemy from casting spells on him until he's really close. Beware though mounted Ringwraiths, as they can not only see units more easily from their height, but their movement gives them the ability to move wide around your ranks to see you and then inch close enough to be in casting range.

Target: Heroes with 5+ Will

Very few heroes meet this criteria and they're almost all wizards. All of them use Will for something, whether it's casting spells or bribing enemy heroes (boo, Golden King, boo). Against heroes like this, Sap Will is still your go-to move, but in this army, you have another option against wizards: Your Staff is Broken. The Witch King casts this spell, which isn't great, since his Will store should be mostly used to fight battles, but you can completely remove magic ability from an expensive spell-caster. Against heroes like Galadriel, Lady of Light or the Dark Lord Sauron, you're out of luck (their free Will isn't tied to a staff of power), but against Gandalf, Saruman, or Radagast, you've got a chance. This spell, also, shouldn't be cast until the enemy's Will store is gone, making it very unlikely that he resists the spell.

Target: Heroes with anti-Nazgul Benefits

There are many heroes who can rock the world of Nazgul, so at this part of the post, I'm going to walk through each army list from the Free Peoples and Kingdoms of Men sourcebooks and talk about dealing with heroes that Nazgul fear - if I skip an obvious choice, it's probably because he shows up in another list.

The Free Peoples
  • Rivendell & Eregion: Gildor Inglorion - Gildor is a hero with a lot of Will (4 points), the Immobilize spell, and an Elven cloak. An Elven cloak is an expensive upgrade for any of your units, but against Ringwraiths it's essential: it allows you to strike first and since you'll have an army of Fight 5 units with good bows and shoot values, you can probably keep the horses of your foes at bay. Nazgul who want to deal with Gildor need to focus on getting the units in front of Gildor out of the way (dart-dart-dart, perhaps) and then get a turn where you are looking directly at him and BOOM, you take his Will out. After that, he's pretty weak with only Defense 4.
  • Lothlorien & Mirkwood: Legolas - This shouldn't be a surprise: he can take an Elven cloak, he has a 24" bow that can even pass through the defensive protections of the Shadow Lord, and he's got plenty of Might and Fate to ensure that he stays alive when the Dwimmerlaik's around. Dealing with Legolas is tough for any army, but trying to get a charge might be done by using the Witch King and Khamul together - one of them should be able to race through a gap and take down the archer if you can keep your mounts alive. If you can't, Defense 5 doesn't last against Black Darts from the Dwimmerlaik.
  • Durin's Folk: Balin, Son of Fundin with Durin's Axe - Balin is one of the best heroes in the game, with all the necessary skills of a great champion - reasonably cheap, high Fight/Defense values, throwing weapons (great for getting kills in the Move or Shoot phase), and 3 Might points. Unlike many other killing heroes, he also has 3 Will points - perfect for stopping one heavy damage spell from a Ringwraith or several small spells. The danger with facing Balin (or any Defense 8 hero for that matter) is that even if you transfix them, you may not be able to kill them. This means turn after turn of hacking at them or an equally long time keeping them rooted while you deal with everyone else. Though we'd all be tempted to use a Black Dart against a hero like this, perhaps the best way of dealing with this particular Dwarf is with speed - if he can't catch you, he can't kill you. Buzzing around the flanks with your cavalry, charging into warriors and retreating before the power house arrives can work wonders (may not always work, but it can be less costly).
  • The Shire: Farmer Maggot with Grip, Fang, and Wolf - To be honest, there aren't any units in the Shire list proper that are dangerous - most heroes/units have a single Attack, no one has Fight 4+, and the defense in the army is rarely higher than D4. So why Maggot and his dogs? First off, so long as Maggot is alive, they're all Courage 5, which means they're quite likely to be able to charge you unless you spend yourself to keep them from tagging you. Second, the dogs have 8" movement - perfect for catching non-mounted wraiths - and Maggot has a two-handed weapon. Though a two-handed weapon does make him less likely to roll the winning roll, it's great for killing a wraith if you can get Shirriffs, Militia, or the dogs into the same fight. Dealing with these guys can be simple - charge the dogs while mounted or kill Maggot first, but a good commander will screen them with keen hobbit bows to make sure you need to work to get to them.
  • The Fellowship of the Ring: Gandalf the White - Of all the wizards in the game, there are none better (or more costly) than Gandalf the White (except for maybe the Dark Lord Sauron). This particular version of Gandalf is dangerous for several reason: first and foremost, he can choose between mounting a 12" movement steed or walking on foot with an Elven cloak. Second, he's a Courage 7 hero with a free Will point that casts a 12" Stand Fast - perfect for keeping your army together unless the wraiths really target him with their the expense of other heroes in your army. Finally, like Saruman the White (but not the Colorful?!?!?!), he can cast Sorcerous Blast on a 4+, which is not only a handy way of dismounting ringwraiths, but is also a means of dealing damage or assisting friendly units in dealing damage. One thing I should mention here is that a Ringwraith on the ground is the worst thing ever, because if you're going to lose a Will point for each combat you're in, you'd better be able to kill someone.
  • The White Council: Glorfindel, Lord of the West with Armor of Gondolin - Yes, I delayed posting on Glorfindel in the Rivendell & Eregion post because I thought Gildor needed mentioning. Glorfindel is a beast against any army - very high Fight value, very high defense with the armor, great Might/Will/Fate store, plenty of attacks and wounds AND the Resistance to Magic rule - what more could you ask for? I don't know what you do with Resistant to Magic and the Dwimmerlaik's special text, but Glorfindel should be a noted threat in any case. A Ringwraith's best strategy against him (and anyone with the Resistant to Magic special rule) is as follows: cast easy, one-dice spells against him before casting anything big. The reason is simple: you don't benefit from Resistant to Magic until your Will store is out. As such, if you cast a spell that only requires 1 dice to cast - say, Drain Courage - and he can resist it with one of his original Will store, eventually, he'll run out of Will and will be limited to using a single dice. This is when you want to pull out your big guns and make it hard to stop your barrage, even with a free Will point each attempt.
  • The Wanderers in the Wild: Treebeard - There's no way getting around how powerful this elder of Middle-Earth is - he's got 6 Will points, Defense 8 with 8 wounds, and he chucks rocks on a 4+ from 18" away. Yes, there's no good plan for fighting him. The only strategy I can recommend is that, due to his point cost, you can get 2 Ringwraiths for his cost. So suck up a few turns of him throwing things, sap his will, and then charge him on one turn when you can get him away from his team-mates. Besides that, there is no plan...I mean, seriously - there's no plan.
The Kingdoms of Men
  • Minas Tirith: Boromir, Captain of the White Tower with the Banner of Minas Tirith - Yes, Boromir is the envy of all Middle-Earth, being able to become Fight 7 while wielding a banner with no penalty and having 6 Might points and plenty of Will and Fate. But the greatest benefit from this captain of Gondor is the benefit he gives to Guardians of the Fountain Court. The handy warriors are cheap for elite troops (you can get at least ten with shields for the cost of one Ringwraith) and have the Bodyguard rule. Their normal Fight 4 becomes Fight 5 - tying most Ringwraiths - when they're within range of the banner, and they've all got spears in their base equipment, so that makes them able to back each other up and fill in the gaps later. If they have a rank or two of Warriors of Minas Tirith in front of them (or Osgiliath Veterans) to keep Black Darts away, you could really be in for trouble in the Fight phase, when rank and file troops tie your powerhouse heroes. My recommendation for dealing with this hero is simple: Compel once per turn. If you could cast Compel more than once each turn and keep moving someone, I would here but alas... At any rate, Compel moves this 6" movement target a total of 3", effectively removing the benefit of the banner from most of the units he means to help. In order for this to work, though, he needs to be able to move directly to one side of the battle line, exposing the other side to your wrath.
  • The Fiefdoms: Angbor the Fearless - This cheap hero of men is one of the cheapest units in the game who has 3 Will points. He also has a high Courage rating (Courage 5), which makes him a devastating anti-Nazgul hero. In addition, as a Clansman of Lamedon, he has a great two-handed sword, perfect for taking Strength 4 blows to the next level and wounding on 5s (Ouch!). As great as he is, so long as you can see him through the ranks of units that will no doubt be supporting him, dealing with him in magical space is easy: sap will once or twice, Drain Courage the rest of the way. You could transfix him and kill him, but you will likely have other heroes that need your reckoning. Once he's low on Courage and out of Will, he's an average defense, average attack hero - not too bad.
  • Kingdom of Rohan: Theodred, Heir of Rohan - You could pick either Theodred or Eomer, Knight of the Pelennor for this one, but since Theodred is cheaper, I'm going with him. The type of horse that is picked has no bearing on the worth of this hero - D4 and D5 are not different against black darts and both are probably going to die in close-combat too. Theodred is average priced for a captain, but has a store of 3 Will points that you can use. This, added to the fact that you can mount him and give him throwing weapons (best way to utilize cavalry mobility) or a bow (best way to skirmish with infantry), makes him a persistent threat that can be hard to deal with. Yes, he may not be able to charge you if you drain his courage away, and yes, he may not be as great in close combat as other heroes, but he has the ability to wait you out until the rest of his army gets there - and potentially, suffer no damage from your own magical barrages. I would deal with him like I do any mounted hero: black dart the horse, then refer to the top for what to use against heroes of certain Will amounts. 
  • Arnor: Aragorn, Isildur's Heir - Are we at the end yet - NO! Got two great heroes left! Aragorn, Isildur's Heir is a great tactical and combat hero, giving his famous archer force movement bonuses when going through any kind of difficult terrain and serving as an army banner. In addition, he has access to an Elven cloak (if you want to pay 10 more points on him), has a bow, and gets a free Might point each turn. In close combat, he's a beast - his high Fight and Might values allow him to defeat all but the greatest foes and if he's equipped with an Elven cloak, it is unlikely that he will be targeted with magic until he's in range to do something great with it. When surrounded by rangers, he becomes even more dangerous, as a Ringwraith commander can't weight-out the arrows while they work magical fiendishness against the heroes of the enemy. My response against this hero? Drain Courage. You really don't want to mess with him, so make him spend his free Might point (keep the Dwimmerlaik close by so that he may not get that either) on passing Courage tests instead of calling heroic actions or promoting Attack/shooting dice.
  • Numenor: Elendil, High King of Gondor - The Numenor list isn't built for defeating Ringwraiths - your warriors are capped at Defense 5, they have above-average Fight values (which do nothing for you against this army), and their two named heroes are geared for melee combat almost exclusively. I can't pick Isildur, because as fun as it is to put on the Ring to avoid enemy archery, the Ring doesn't help you against the Nine - in fact, life becomes worse for you if you put it on. As such, I need to pick Elendil. In his own right, he's a dangerous hero - very high Fight and Defense values, great Might and Will stores, and can call free Heroic Combats (my kind of hero). But, at the end of the day, you deal with him the way you deal with everyone else: black darts are a good option (since his Fate store is low), but you can just as easily drain his courage down.
So...all that to say, there are heroes you should rightly fear (and we haven't even touched the warriors you should fear) but I hope you see how using Ringwraiths as the sole units in your army can make you a powerful force. I hope to demonstrate this when I write up a commentary on Ringwraiths after the tournament, using the games as an exemplar. Until then (and looking forward to the tournament next weekend!), happy hobbying!

1 comment:

  1. Nice post - my two favorite Nazgul are in your list, :) Also, excellent write-up on guys to watch for when playing with a ringwraith list (and I own a number of them! :) ). I hope that all of the players in the tournament will look into this post so that we can avoid long discussions on the clock regarding magic. Thanks for posting!