Monday, January 20, 2014

A Noobie's Top Twenty Heroes: One Gamer's Perspective

Hello Readership,

Posts like these can easily spark debates about what hero is better than another. This post is written, therefore, for new gamers and not those who have invested time and thought into making a nuanced army work. The heroes I'm going to evaluate today are going to cut across both Good and Evil and will examine what heroes are best for new players who want to use the heroes in the most direct approach. To make decisions easier, I've provided four categories of heroes: Slayers, Spell-casters, Snipers (read "archers," but I needed an "s" word), and Secondaries (read "captains").

A few things on housekeeping for this post: you can see the Top 20 in each category on the "New Players" page here. Some heroes will show up in the top five on that page that are not provided below, either because I'm only aware of part of their profile or because they overlap with some of the heroes provided (e.g. Gimli, Son of Gloin is remarkably similar to Balin, Son of Fundin...putting them both on the list would get boring and not be that helpful). You will also find on that page the computational scores for each person listed there, providing some point of departure for evaluating their performance. Finally, the computational methods for determining ranking will be provided as a formula, so you can experiment with how heroes you don't see on the list compare. If you have heroes you think should be considered, leave a comment!


Heroes who count as slayers are those who can not only kill a lot of units, but can kill units/heroes worth at least half of their point cost in an average game. When facing armies of Goblins or Orcs, this can be challenging because your foes are cheap, but a 90 point hero should aim at killing 9 Goblin grunts or one Goblin hero during the course of the game...which some have no problem of doing at all. Generally speaking, these heroes are found in the Forces of Good or are really, REALLY big. Furthermore, these heroes are limited to killing in melee combat - wizards and archers are in a different category. Heroes who have special rules that I'm not familiar with (like the new Tauriel model) haven't been included here, but check out the listing to see heroes like Tauriel and where they place with a limited knowledge of their combat skills.
  1. Balin, Son of Fundin - If equipped with Durin's Axe (not easily calculated in the computational scheme), Balin has 3 dice to win the fight at Fight 6 and wounds units with D6 or less on 3s or 4s. For 85 points, you don't need to kill too many things in order to pay for yourself. If you do run into a hero or a monster, your Fight 6 and 3 Might points will serve you well. Should you lose the fight, D8 will stop many blows from finding their mark, even though you're lacking in Fate points. For an untrained player, Balin is where it's at. Also, Balin's throwing weapons allows him to pluck of a wound from an enemy hero (or monster or grunt) before engaging in melee combat - a very valuable skill. Dwarf players should also check out Gimli and the King's Champion, as they are incredible killers (like Balin), cost roughly the same, and are generally easy to use.
  2. Mauhur - When you read "Mauhur," please read "any named Uruk-Hai hero." They all cost 60 points, which means that killing half of your weight is pretty easy (most kill their full weight unless they're targeted by a spell-caster or another slayer). I've gone into detail on Uruk heroes before, but it bears repeating that any Uruk captain - named or unnamed - is a killing machine, built for combat. Mauhur is my exemplar because he sports 3 Attacks, arguably better than having the envied 3 Might points (like the other named Uruks do).
  3. Elladan and Elrohir - Decked in heavy armor and wielding Elf bows, you can field two heroes with an amazing profile for just under the cost of Aragorn. These guys are great because for the cost of one expensive hero, you get two powerful (albeit potentially unreliable) heroes. Like most of the other heroes in this list, they're not that durable. All the same, you only need to kill 70-80 points worth of enemy units between the two of them - that's not hard to do. Unlike most of the heroes on this list, the twin sons of Elrond focus more on providing options to kill foes instead of concentrating on one modus operandi (i.e. they can choose to add an extra attack OR get a +1 to wound with a -1 to hit penalty OR they can shield OR they can fire bows...). Their unpredictability when one dies is also a bit of an issue when you are running a defensive list.
  4. Eomer, Knight of the Riddermark - In general, I prefer heroes with Fight 6 (I started with the Mines of Moria set after all). Despite not having Fight 6, though, Eomer is an excellent choice - and though we're going to focus on the cheaper version, the more advanced version gives you the power of S5 on the charge. Though neither have a distinct advantage over a D6 shield wall, any D4 units (or D5 units for the advanced version) should be wary. After looking over the armies that have participated in TMAT tournaments, there are at least part of each army that sport D4 or D5 - and some of the best armies featured in recent tournaments have been predominantly D4 or D5. Against Fight 6 foes or a concentrated spell-caster effort, be careful - to my knowledge, Eomer has only been stopped in TMAT tournaments because of Fight 6 foes or barrages of magic. Other Rohan heroes to look into include Eorl the Young and Theodred - these units either have the same upgrade scale as this cheaper version of Eomer or provide a different tactical benefit (like faster moving, armored horses).
  5. Boromir of Gondor - For just over 100 points, it's hard to argue with Boromir - I rarely have games when he doesn't pay for himself and he can win his first fight regardless of what he rolls. In some cases, though, you don't even need to roll to win the fight, which is great for saving Might points for when you actually need them. Despite his fragility (no Fate), Boromir is a powerful asset for any army - especially if you can protect him. He takes very little skill to use and can swing the course of a battle very quickly if used prudently.

Our loyal readership knows that I love spell-casters. These guys not only add an element of surprise to the game, but also provide an unconventional way of dealing with enemy power heroes or monsters. The magic users I lay out below have some sophisticated rules, but we're only going to focus on the easy stuff. For more information on magic, I did a series on the uses of various spell-casters (links included below).
  1. The Undying - 20 Will points and the ability to regain them if friendly or enemy spell-casters are nearby is incredible. I call the Undying my "Black Dart Factory," because having him with two cheap supporting Ringwraiths can give you enough Will to cast Black Dart each turn with 3 dice for the whole game - that's a lot of killing power. Since he only costs you 120 points, you only need to kill one captain and a few grunts before you pay for half of yourself. Alternatively, you can set your sights on an expensive hero (like Eomer, Aragorn, or a Troll) and snipe them until they die. Easy to use if you protect him - I would personally like to use a horde of Morannon Orcs someday.
  2. Ringwraith with horse, 2M/8W/1F - For 80 points, it's hard to top this unit - he only needs to kill a few units or one hero to pay for himself, and he has the offensive power (and magical prowess) to tackle almost any challenge. Like Barrow-Wights, these unnamed ringwraiths are great because you can get more than one of them. Unlike Barrow-Wights, though, these guys are a bit more resilient and provide more tactical advantages in the end-game.
  3. Barrow-Wight - For 50 points, these guys won't be killing anybody, but you can credit the heroes that die because of their magic to them without difficulty. These spell-casters benefit not only from being able to cast a devastating spell, but they're also really, REALLY cheap. This makes them not only a bargain, but easily accommodated into any army (if you play with warbands...).
  4. Saruman the White - Anyone who can cast Sorcerous Blast on a 4+ is a great bargain. Since Saruman the White is not only cheaper than Gandalf the White and can cover friendly heroes with his Stand Fast, he's a great supporting piece for your battle line. Sorcerous Blast not only provides the opportunity to kill enemy units, but also prevents them from killing yours during a melee round. With practice finding a direction for all of this wizardry, Saruman is easy to wield and can pay for himself if you guard him well.
  5. Radagast the Brown - Radagast requires some skill to use, but three of his spells take almost no skill to use well: 1) you can Immobilize anyone within 12" thanks to his Master of Birds special rule. 2) You can heal a friendly hero (like one of your slayers above) easily with his Renew spell. 3) If an enemy unit is approaching you and is mounted, you can eliminate the mount and potentially hurt the rider. The hardest of these spells is cast on a 3+, so you rarely need to use more than one dice to get them off. The only trick here is that like the Barrow-Wight, you won't be getting many kills with Radagast (besides mounts). You will however neutralize enemy slayers, heal your own slayers, and remove cavalry benefits (mobility and charge buffs) from your foes.

Archers can be hard to use in LOTR SBG - terrain, Defense values, and Shoot values all lead to an unreliable way of dealing damage. Some ranged heroes, though, can really smash an enemy to pieces. Here are my pics and each is not only easy to use, but reliable enough with their ranged weapons that they could shoot all day and be just fine. You can see the computational method in the New Players page, but the rank ordering is determined by the likelihood that the hero can kill either a D5 unit or a D6 unit who is "in-the-way" - it does not rank-order based on cost:
  1. Legolas with armor - There is arguably no rival for Legolas - guaranteed 3 shots a turn hitting on 3s with a 24" S3 bow is incredible. He is also able to reliably shoot into friendly combats or side-step rules like the Shadow Lord's Pall of Darkness or Gandalf's Cast Blinding Light. Legolas is one of the most dependable heroes in the game and frequently kills his fair share of units. Give him an Elven Cloak and he can deal damage without fearing retaliation by enemy archers so much. If you're looking at saving some money, you can go with Haldir instead - two shots instead of three each round isn't bad, but you also give up the ability to pierce through anti-archery rules. Haldir also lacks the Will and Fate profile that Legolas does, so if you can spare the money, get Legolas.
  2. Bard - Bard's stat line is pretty common - basically a Faramir model. From what I've gathered from his special rules, he wields a S4 bow and has the potential of shooting multiple times (based on whether you hit the previous time). Computationally, this isn't as good as guaranteeing multiple shots (like Legolas does) and wounding D5 and D6 units isn't that much better. Still, a dependable (but more expensive) archer hero to make a solid fighting force that much scarier.
  3. Vrasku - The token evil unit takes the form of an Uruk crossbow captain. With an impressive (for an Orc) 3+ Shoot value, shooting twice a turn, and wielding a weapon that wounds most units on a single dice, Vrasku is a very formidable opponent. Vrasku is also cheap compared to other heroes, which means he doesn't need to kill much to pay for himself. Be wary of protecting him, though, as his low defense is not going to be forgiving in a scrap (or a barrage).
  4. Ent - For this unit, you can actually read many units - Treebeard and Buhrdur in particular. Ents are blessed not only with the ability to chuck rocks from a respectable 18" away, but do so at Strength 10, which is enough to wound any warrior (and many heroes) on 3s. This unit scored well because it eliminates the need for an in-the-way roll - both D5 and D6 are wounded the same. While Ents are great for making sure that things get smashed both at a distance and up close, they're also very costly.
  5. King's Huntsman - This sneaks in above multi-shot Dwarf hero Drar because of his ability to focus his efforts on the target that he can wound more easily. Virtually always passing in-the-way rolls on targets that you wound more easily than the standard front-line troops is great and has made the King's Huntsman a very efficient tool in previous games here at TMAT. Though not often run in tournaments, this unit is a ranged tool, though fairly pathetic in close combat.

As great as the Slayer, Spell-caster, and Sniper heroes are, secondaries are the most common and often the most needed heroes in the game. Need a little extra power? Didn't spend enough on heroes? Want another warband? Chances are, you need a captain to lead them. These captains are cheap and can either be used to add additional killing power to your battle line, or they can be used as speed-bumps (or "bunkers") against enemy slayers as a cheap alternative to spell-casters.
  1. Dwarf King with throwing axes - This hero takes a different form: for 80 points, you can buy a generic hero with Fight 6 Defense 8. I buy the throwing weapons not only because they provide you with the ability to wound enemy units before the battle begins, but because an additional wound in the Move phase is always nice. Dwarf kings are also the only heroes (besides Elf heroes) that you can buy generically with Fight 6, which makes them very, very valuable (not saying anything about Dragons or Mordor Troll Chieftains). Dwarf Captains are great units too (and technically the King's Champion is a common hero as well), so look to the Dwarves for great heroes.
  2. High Elf Captain with shield - This D7 hero is not only one of the cheaper High Elf hero options, but provides the valuable D7 and F6 that heroes look to find. A full warband with one of these heroes is just over 200 points, which means that an army that fielded a series of these "bunker" captains could field a large force and still have the ability to halt enemy heroes or monsters in their tracks. Be wary of spell-casters though - these Elves are not good at dealing with spell-casters.
  3. Wild Warg Chieftain - I wrote up a post recently on why I love Wild Warg Chieftains. As far as secondaries go, it's hard to match their killing power. Here at TMAT, WWCs (and other riderless warg units) have the cavalry rules, making them effective on the charge and fearful of the brown wizard. Regardless of who you face, a fast-moving S6 unit with multiple wounds and a Fate point (not to mention several Will points to ensure you resist spells or pass Courage tests) is a powerful asset to any team. For Goblin armies in particular, it's nice to have a hero who can actually hammer through units.
  4. Uruk Captain with heavy armor and shield - It's hard to beat the Uruk Captain - Fight 5 Strength 5 for not too many more points than your average captain is pretty good. With both heavy armor and shield, this captain gets to the desired D7, which makes him hard to wound for most heroes. Though this guy will be no slouch in combat, he can also tie down Aragorn or one of the Elven twins for several turns, buying you time to gain an advantage elsewhere on the battlefield. If you're playing with an army of Good, High Elf captains with the same build are great too - for 85 points, you can have a Fight 6 Courage 6 hero - not as good at killing, but very dependable.
  5. Wood Elf Captain with Elf bow and Elven cloak - This hero is something different: he's a ranged hero who is hard to wound with archery or magic. For only 75 points, you don't need to get that many kills before you pay for half of yourself. I highlight this unit because he's the only hero in any army book that can buy an Elven cloak for 5 points - it's a steal if you don't want to deal with his durability. Hide him somewhere and shoot all day long if you can. In close combat, though, you're still an Elf hero with an Elven blade - Fight 6 and winning 66% of ties is not bad.
To reiterate, this guide is for new players- there are heroes who can do amazing things if you understand their strategic value and if you build your army around them. I use Galadriel pretty effectively with my Wood Elves, yet she doesn't make the spell-caster list. Dwarf Shield-Bearers can slay many units and keep your units from fleeing the field, but their profile is lacking. Thranduil is a superb archer, but other archers specialize in killing any unit instead of counting on hitting monsters/heroes with in-the-way rolls. You will not find a Brawler like Aragorn or Sauron, but you can find units with similar profiles for less points. For more information on your favorite heroes, watch this blog - if we haven't walked through an army list yet, we probably will in the coming year (I plan to do my lists and Centaur is walking through most of his).

Until later, happy hobbying!


  1. Very useful stuff. Just one thing...what is a civ?

    1. First off, welcome to TMAT! "Civ" here is short for "civilization" - it's commonly used in the computer gaming world, but here it refers to army list genres (e.g. high elves, dwarves, Angmar, etc.).