Thursday, September 18, 2014

Isengard, Part I - Hero Summary

Hey Reader!

So, my teammate for the upcoming Hunter's Red October Tournament 2014 is running an Isengard force for the tournament, so in preparation for the THRO Tournament, I'm going to do a short series of tactical posts on Isengard.  Now Tiberius has done a fantastic write-up on Uruk Captains on our blog (and I'll be borrowing heavily from those when we talk about Uruk Captains below) as well as some amazing commentary on Saruman (which I'll be highlighting under his entry), but I want to spend another three-part series (coming out every Thursday for the next three weeks) looking into some of the things you can do with Isengard as we gear up for the tournament.

In this post, we will be focusing on the purpose of the various heroes available to Isengard, and next week we'll be looking at the warrior selection options.  In the third post we'll talk a little bit about tactics, using 600-point lists as a guide when looking at the tactical element of this list.

Isengard - History and Strategic Overview

Isengard, located at the intersection of four major geographical landmarks (the base of the Misty Mountains, the Gap of Rohan between the Misty Mountains and the White Mountains, the Isen River, and the Forest of Fangorn) is a stronghold of power that requires constant defense and readiness.  Those who live in this region have seen constant warfare, and the result is a civilization that thrives on power and brute strength.  Not surprisingly, this carries over into the models available for the Isengard civ in LOTR SBG.

In general, Isengard warriors and heroes have three common traits: high firepower, high defense, and limited magic defense.

1.  High Firepower

Isengard gains a huge advantage in combat from high Strength all around, mixed with a decent to strong Fight Value.  This means that if you win the fight (which is assisted by high Fight Value and an assortment of banner choices), Isengard units have a chance of dealing wounds that is better than most.  Couple this with several warrior choices with extra attacks and a lot of heroes with 2-3 attacks, and you've got yourself a recipe for high damage output in a given game.

2.  High Defense

For Isengard, the "low" end of Defense tends to be D5 - for most of their heroes and warriors, they have the option of getting up to D6+, and those who are D5 or less have a solid Fight Value and/or Will Points, for solid melee and magic defense.  Like most civs archery (especially S3 archery) can be a problem for Isengard (which will be covered in the tactics posts as Part III of this series), but in comparison to other civs Isengard does a fantastic job in the Defense category.

3.  Limited Magic Defense

This weakness is not unique to Isengard - many other civs, including Rohan, the Easterlings, and Angmar (to name a few) have few defenses against Magic, and often result in heroes either failing to resist spells outright or resorting to the use of Might Points to avoid being transfixed, immobilized, etc. (which, if you're new to the game, is not what you want to be using Might Points on).

While the weakness is not unique to Isengard, it is compounded with Isengard because of the advantages above.  If a character is sporting a high Strength and Fight Value, being reduced to F1 with no chance of striking wounds is a serious problem for an immobilized hero.  If a high-Defense unit gets hit with a Black Dart (at Strength 9), it doesn't matter how high your defense is - a D4 Dunedain Ranger is wounded the same as a D7 Uruk-Hai Captain (on 3s).  Add in the chance of being knocked over by Nature's Wrath (which makes pikemen useless for a given turn if the front line is fully engaged on the ground), being moved by Compel or Command, and the risk of paralysis, and you've got yourself a number of problems as an Isengard player.  So being aware that the list is weak against magic will help when determining the tactics used on the field (and we'll talk extensively about that in Part III of this series).

4.  Consideration for Heroes: Divergence of Cost

An additional broad thought for Isengard is that there is a divergence of cost in their heroes.  While their warriors provide a nice spread between cheap infantry (brigands and dunlendings), standing infantry (uruk scouts, uruk warriors, and dunland warriors), elite infantry (feral uruks and uruk berserkers), and expensive novelty warriors (ranging from trolls to siege equipment), Isengard heroes are usually either 60 points or less (uruk captains, orc captains, Sharku, Grima, etc.) or close to 100 points (with Saruman being the major choice that stands out).

This means that unlike other civs (especially the human- or elf-based civs), you lack the mid-range 70-pt options that usually provide your anti-magic, 2Wound - 2Fate heroes, and your durable heavy armor fast attack options, Isengard heroes are heavily on one side of the cost spectrum or the other.  This is important when building lists, as it means that a switch between one hero and another can mean serious revisions to an army list.

With this in mind, let's take a look at the heroes available to Isengard.

Isengard: Heroes

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Tiberius has spoken at length on both the Saruman the White profile from the White Council and the Saruman profile for Isengard, and over time I've come to understand why Saruman is one of his favorite Isengard heroes (probably a toss-up between him, Mauhur, and his more recent affinity for Lurtz).  Saruman is a unique hero choice because he defies the conventional rules for Isengard models.

First, he gains high firepower not through a large number of attacks (like all wizards he only has 1), and for being 170 points he is only F5 for his Fight Value (which is on-par with the 60-pt captain models).  In what should be the F6 option for an Isengard force, Saruman does not sport it (which, again, is in-line with the other wizard profiles, so it makes sense).

Instead, Saruman sports a higher level of firepower through an unconventional means: heavy magic.  If you want a solid evaluation of Saruman's spell-casting ability, you should check out Tiberius's evaluation of him from June of 2012; it's very in-depth and gives a good perspective on the versatility of Saruman as a hero for an Isengard contingent specifically.  Suffice it to say here, Saruman increases his firepower both by nerfing the attacks and Fight Value of his opponent (through Immobilize or Command), not to mention the Sorcerous Blast option for S5 damage and S3 residual damage on units that have been knocked over (and while I'm thinking about it, would anyone like to explain why Saruman the White from White Council gets Sorcerous Blast on a 4+ and Saruman for Isengard gets it on a 5+ cast?  Did he just get older?  I don't understand...).

Second, he gains "high defense" in three ways.  First, while Saruman is only D5 (like all other wizards), he has two ways of keeping an opponent's Strength from coming to bear against him, increasing his viability on the battlefield.  First and foremost, Immobilize and Command keep you from using your Strength in a given round (which is a sure-fire way to keep Saruman from being wounded).  More than that, via the Terrifying Aura spell, Saruman can force his opponents to pass a Courage Test to charge him, reducing the number of models that can attack him at a time.  Add into that a high Fight Value and 3 Might Points, and Saruman can probably win a fight against your everyday assailants.

Perhaps his most effective way of keeping himself from damage, though, is the Palantir.  Unlike spells and rolls that require you to roll well and/or your opponent to roll poorly, the Palantir grants certainty: for one round, before rolling for priority, you seize priority for the round.  I've seen Tiberius use this very effectively, where the granting of priority ensured a good use of Sorcerous Blast, a quick retreat, and the engaging of the remainder of my now-on-the-ground frontline by a savage troop of uruk-hai that also conveniently cut me off from both archery and melee options to engage the wizard.

Of course, even if you do end up catching him, he still has 3 Wounds with 3 Fate, so it's still not an easy thing to kill him.  For more thoughts on how to tackle Saruman, Tiberius has a post on how to fight wizards which is worth the read.  In summary, though, Saruman is a solid hero, and well worth taking.

Third, he doesn't suffer from the Isengard problem of low magic defense.  With a free Will point each turn, he basically receives the Resistant to Magic rule (so long as he doesn't cast a spell) that he can "use" before depleting his magic store, and he starts with 6 Will Points and 3 Might (so plenty of ammo to dispel an incoming spell).  He also has counter-magic that can hinder spell casters, so Saruman stands as the exception that proves the rule regarding Isengard models.

Photo courtesy of GamesWorkshop
Lurtz is an anomaly among heroes.  Tiberius has done a fantastic write-up on uruk captains, so in lieu of repeating everything he said, I'll just mention in passing that Lurtz is a good deal for 60 points (and I'm going to assume going forward that my reader has read that post, so if you haven't you really should: it's really good).  At 60 points he is almost exactly like an uruk captain with armor and shield (who is only 55 points) but you get both an orc bow and a third Might Point for the 5 more points you pay.  The result is a more versatile hero that can serve as damage dealer, ranged attacker, and shield bunker.  Not my favorite uruk hero, but worth looking at if you're building an army.

Photo courtesy of GamesWorkshop
Okay: I need to preface this profile by mentioning that Ugluk was my first uruk hero, he is my favorite uruk hero, and nobody understands him, :P  It breaks my heart every time I see an Ugluk model on eBay being sold individually because I know that people bought the blister for Vrasku and they just want to dump one of the best Isengard heroes around...and the meta side of me is shouting, "NOOOOOO!!!"  But I digress, :P

People have their reasons for not liking Ugluk as much as other captains.  He doesn't get 2 shots at S4 at 24" like Vrasku does (which is cool; I use Vrasku too), he doesn't get to shield to increase his viability as a D5 hero (like Lurtz does), he doesn't have 3 attacks at S5 (like Mauhur does), he doesn't have D7 with a shield to keep him alive when the dice go down from a S4 enemy hero (like a D7 Uruk Captain does), he can't wound hobbit shirriffs or wood elves on a 2+ (like an Uruk Captain with 2H can), which makes everyone wonder by this point, "...Yeah: why do you like this guy so much?!?!"  And now comes the reason why I wanted to start a series on Isengard: to flesh this out for the blogosphere after years of playing with him, :P

First of all, per my last post on Ugluk, remember that each uruk hero (sans Lurtz) is really only designed to do one thing for your army.  Some players use this as a crutch: they only make the hero do that one thing.  I tend to see the advantage of the hero as a smokescreen for how I use heroes, especially when it comes to Ugluk.  As everyone knows from a casual glance at his profile, Ugluk is a support character who gives an army a 12" Stand Fast! for only 60 points (instead of Saruman's cost of 170 pts).  So when most people look for heroes, they think, "Okay: this guy is designed to keep my whole army from running when I break," so they see Ugluk as a mid-game/end-game hero.

I disagree - this is the smokescreen for how (and why) people should use Ugluk.  Yes: when the going gets tough he's a good support hero.  But before that happens...what is he good for?

Doing damage under the radar, obviously.

You know what's funny: I've played a lot of games with Ugluk, and even though my D7 Bunker Caps have been killed, Vrasku has been killed, the one game I played with Mauhur he got you know who tends to survive?  Ugluk - because no one sees him as a threat until the army is broken (in fact, I think the only guy who has ever killed him is Aragorn, if I'm remembering correctly, and Aragorn kills everybody).  We use this to our advantage: Ugluk doesn't look like much when estimating threats, so heroes don't usually match up against him.  This makes him an excellent flanking hero, doing damage on the periphery of the main body while your heavy-hitting heroes (a D7 Bunker Cap, Mauhur, a 2H Captain, etc.) all attract attention through doing damage, hammering through the center, taking on the big heroes, etc.

And in combat, Ugluk is nothing to sniff at: he's F5 with S5 (which is hard to get beyond the Isengard list) with 2 attacks and 3 Might (which is a good spread, especially for only 60 pts), and he doesn't have a shield, which, as I mentioned in my last post on Ugluk, I have come to appreciate because it reminds me to keep him going on offense, hammering into enemy spear support or flanker units to neutralize a potential threat.  This works a little better in a scout-based army as opposed to a heavy uruk list (which we will discuss further in Part III of this series), but when it comes to raw damage output, Ugluk is a solid purchase.  And, what's more, your opponent doesn't see it coming (such has been my experience to date - though, now that I've said it before the world, everyone is going to target him now just to say they killed him, :P ).

Grima Wormtongue
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Okay...I did a series on Hobbit heroes for the Shire List, and I'll be honest: I found it easier to do the write-ups on Freddy Bolger and Lobelia Sackville-Baggins than I did for Grima.  Here's why: even though the utility of these two heroes is very limited (and why they only cost a handful of points), at least it's static: what they do is a guarantee for you.  Grima, on the other hand, costs 25 points (which is more than Damrod for Gondor or a Dunedain for Arnor/Grey Company, for example), and requires you to purchase Saruman (so you're looking at almost 200 points between the two of them.

What Grima does for your army is he makes it harder for heroes to use Might Points, as heroes within 6" of him must pay 2 Might instead of 1 to make them effective.  This is not a bad skill per se, though I'd argue that for 25 points (which could be 3 uruk scouts, 2 feral uruks, almost 2 berserkers) it's not a worthwhile purchase.  It may also be that I'm used to running the Dwimmerlaik and he gets the same bonus for Might, Will, and Fate (not just Might) on a 4+ roll within 12" (which honestly, based on how I play Angmar, is basically the radius of my entire army), I'm underwhelmed by Grima's utility.  More than that, he's only D3 with 1 Wound and 0 Fate, so if Saruman ever dies or if Grima ever attempts to voluntarily attack an enemy model, he will likely be dying outright in combat.  I could caveat him a bit more if he was a cheap leader for a warband, but he doesn't even offer that to you (as he's technically an independent warband, though he actually deploys attached to an opponent's warband).  So, all that to say, you are free to take him, but I would recommend shying away from him, as I think you have better options at your disposal.

Thrydan Wolfsbane
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The other expensive hero in the list (85-95 pts), Thrydan is the third option for Isengard (you heard that right: they get three choices with this ability) for a 12" Stand Fast! in your army.  He also sports a 2H weapon that does 2 wounds for every wound inflicted, which is handy for bringing heroes down quickly.  Like the uruk heroes he is S5 and D5 (though only F4, so not as good on the Fight Value, but still decent), and is one of the few heroes to sport 2 Will Points (as all of the orc and uruk heroes have only 1).  This makes him a solid choice for a "hero hunter" or a character designed to crack through heavily armored opponents (killing D7 warriors on 4s with the 2H, not to mention doing 2 wounds which antiquates models that only have 1 Fate).

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Sharku is dirt cheap: he's 45 points (50 points with a shield, and 60 points if you also add the warg), and he gives you the 2 Attacks and 3M/1W/1F of an uruk captain at a discount.  That being said, he's not an uruk, so he's only F4 at S4 (with Courage 3, so not as reliable for charging either), but if you're looking for a fast attack option, Isengard has one, and he come with 3 Might Points.

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Perhaps the hero most commonly chosen from Isengard, Vrasku is the best archery option for an Isengard army.  At 60 points, he boasts the fighting profile in melee combat of Ugluk (2 attacks, 3 Might, S5 at F5) with 2 shots at range with a S4 crossbow for solid 24" protection.  Like all crossbow wielders he cannot move and fire in the same turn, but if you need a low-end artillery piece that can shrug off D6 heavily armored warriors, Vrasku will do reliable damage (well, as "reliable" as archery is in LOTR - sometimes rolls just go bad) from a distance.

Something that should be said about Vrasku from my experience playing with him: my old adage on this blog still applies to Vrasku.  Whenever you see the word "archer" you should always read the word "swordsmen": I've seen some commanders keep Vrasku in the back for the entire game as their frontline gets pummeled to bits, and they get frustrated by the fact that they "can't line up a shot with Vrasku this round - he's not contributing!"  Yes...having been in that frustrating place, a very quick insight for you:

Get him into melee combat.  Bull rush him in if you have to.

Why?  Think about it: he's F5 (which means even though he has a 3+ Shoot Value he actually has about the same chance to win combat against the vast majority of standing infantry if he is in melee or at range) and S5 (which is higher than his crossbow damage rating) in close combat with 3 Might Points (just in case a roll goes bad) and 2 attacks (same as the crossbow).  So you don't actually lose anything by rushing him into combat, except perhaps the chance that if they beat your roll to win the fight they can strike wounds against you - though they would have shot at you anyway, so at least now the damage is based on them beating your roll instead of them just rolling well.  And with Might Points, at least if they roll well and you don't roll as well, you can still contest them for it.  Centaur's thoughts; take them as you will.

Photo courtesy of GamesWorkshop
Mauhur is a newer addition to our gaming group, and while I've only used him once I really like him.  He's the only named uruk hero that has 2 Might (instead of 3), but in exchange he gets the desirable 3 attacks (instead of 2), which I've almost always valued more because of the static bonus (especially since there is no shielding option for him).  He also has a base 8" move, which means that he gets an extra 2" of movement for free compared to the rest of his colleagues, and gives you the chance to upgrade your scouts to marauders (more on that in Part II of this series).  On the whole, as Tiberius notes in his post, if you're looking for a damage dealer I recommend this guy.

Uruk-Hai Captain
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Tiberius has done a marvelous job of commentary on these guys in his post, so I'll let them be in this one.  A few quick pointers on these guys, though, just to reinforce:

1) Crossbow: If you're looking at the crossbow option, just take Vrasku.  You get a better Shoot Value, an extra Might Point, and the model looks cooler, :P  If you're going for a theme of an all-heroes-with-crossbow army then pay for Heavy Armor with the Crossbow (up to 60 points), but otherwise just take Vrasku.  You'll thank me later.

2) Heavy Armor: Unless you're running a scout-themed army (which I do), you should always buy this upgrade.  Getting to D6 will make you a lot more survivable against S3 infantry and archery, so you should invest in this.

3) Orc Bow: Don't buy it.  Just don't buy it.  Not worth the cost, keeps you from buying a shield, and it's not worth the 5 points (as you could get a crossbow which has double the damage and 6" more range for the same cost).  If you really want an orc bow on a captain, purchase Lurtz.

4) Shield: Always a good option.  The fact that captains only have 2 attacks means shielding gives you more dice than most heroes, so it's a good option for a "bunker" captain who is simply designed to hold down an opponent.  Throw in the fact that a shield/heavy armor captain is D7, and you've got a solid defense against most attackers.  Don't take it though if you take a crossbow or the next selection...

5) Two-Handed Weapon: Okay - people need to use these more on uruk captains, :P  Tiberius mentions these guys in passing in his post, but I want to camp out here for a bit.  First of all, S4 2Hers are pretty rare in the game, let alone S5 (read: you've got Dwalin, these guys, Thrydan Wolfsbane...and maybe 1-2 others) with a 2H, so if you want to talk raw damage output, you should buy one of these guys.

Don't believe me?  Here's the math: you wound D6 and D7 models on 4s (which, with 2 Might, means you've got a good chance at dealing out wounds), you would D5 and D4 models on 3s (so that's most of Rohan, virtually all of Grey Company including the heroes, all of Harad and Umbar, most of Moria, almost all of get the drift), and if you face D3 units (Shire and Wood Elves), you're rocking...wait for it...2s to wound (which, again, if you've got 2 Might and 2 attacks, means you're landing 2 wounds in that fight, period.

Now you say, "But I'm -1 to win the fight when using the 2H."  Yes you are: which is why you attack with some other random uruk (heck, you can attack with an orc if you like; it doesn't matter), so that his dice wins the fight (with your Fight Value of 5), and your 2H wounds the guy.  Suddenly, not a problem.  So, I'm just saying: people need to buy these guys.  End rant. :)

Uruk-Hai Shaman
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Shamans have been growing on me, especially since more and more of our armies are sporting terror-causing units (often in range of a nazgul that reduces Courage), and Fury is a nice spell for dealing with that.  Uruk shamans have a profile similar to the warrior profile for uruks (following the Rule of 4, which we'll discuss in Part II in-depth), though they have 2 Wounds and the 1M/3W/1F profile.  They also offer the Transfix spell on a 5+ (which, since you have 1 Might, means you can cast it once on a 4+ really) for neutralizing heroes, and they also have a spear, so you can keep them in the back.

When it comes to using this spell, though, something worth considering: only cast it once.  As I mentioned in my last post on uruks, timing is everything with uruks (and that applies more broadly than just to the tracker side of the list that I run).  Use this spell on the turn that you really need it to go off, and root that guy in place.  Following up on the wording used for a gamer from the Warhammer Fantasy channel I follow on YouTube, I'll call this the LOTR application of OnceBitten's Rule of One: find the one spell you need to get off and throw enough dice at it to make sure it goes off.  In this case, I recommend through 2 Will Points into casting this one, increasing the chance you get a 4.  Best case scenario, you roll Box Cars (two 6s) and you don't need to spend the Might Point to make it work.  More accurately, the math says you'll likely get a 4 or so on one of them, and you promote it.  Your chances go up a lot if you use all 3 Will, but 2 will likely be enough.  Anyway, Glenstorm's thoughts on using this spell.

Orc Captain
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These guys are dirt cheap (40 pts) and are very similar to the traditional Rohan/Gondor Captains that cost a shy bit more than they do.  They also give you an option at an orc bow (don't purchase it: 5+ Shoot Value with S2 at 18" on a hero?  Don't do it...), a shield (I highly recommend this), and a warg (eh, I'm ambivalent on the warg), so he remains a very cheap hero if you need to fill out a few more points.  He can only get to D6 for Defense and is limited to F4 and S4 for damage, but all around he makes for a good low-end captain.

Dunlending Chieftain
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Like Thrydan, this 55-pt captain is only F4 (as opposed to the uruk F5), but he has a 2M/3W/1F profile, making him a much better anti-magic defender than your average uruk captain.  You also have 3 ways to build a chieftain, each of which brings you to 60 points: you can give him a bow (further showing why you don't need the orc bow option on the uruk captain or the orc captain) for S2 at 24" damage, you can give him a shield (in case you want a D6 captain that can bunker for you), though both of these advantages are nominal and offer little to enhance your army.

Personally, if you're going to purchase an archer, pay the same 5 points to get a crossbow, and if you're going to spend 60 points on a shielding bunker cap, get the uruk as he gets to D7.  My personal recommendation is to spend the extra 5 points on one of these guys to get the 2H option, as you get a S5 attacker with 2 attacks (just like the uruk captain option), and the only real difference is you drop to F4 from F5 and you add 2 Will Points.  So you'd take the Dunlending over the uruk option if you are facing terror-heavy or magic-heavy armies.

Uruk Drummer
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Drummers are new, but I'm glad Isengard got them.  A drummer is like a soldier (very similar profile with only F4 S4 D5), and at mid-40s they are pretty cheap additions to an army, but they allow all uruks near them to move an additional 3" on a given turn such that they are not charging, which, as you'll see in Part III, is a good addition to any army.  I don't run drums, but virtually everyone else in our group does, and I can tell you from being on the business end of drummers that they are worth taking.  Good hero choice here.

And now to talk about a hero choice that GW now no longer offers as model...

Sharkey and Worm

Okay...before I begin, we all admit that these guys are a novelty piece to use in a Shire-based scenario alongside ruffians, :)  If for some reason you wanted to spend 60 points on a wizard who does not get a free Will Point, a liability of a henchman, and a D4 hero that has only 2 Wounds and 1 Fate, you'd do it for the following reason:

Immobilize on a 2+ up to 4 times.

Other than that...I'm having trouble, :P  Again, the nice thing about Shire heroes, even though they're not very good, is that at least the bonuses they give are static and don't change.  For these guys, similar to Grima above, you'd really run them as part of a theme, not because they are inherently useful on their own.  If you really want the Immobilize spell knock yourself out, but otherwise I wouldn't purchase these guys, especially if I had a chance at one of the 60-pt captains above.


In my next post, we'll take a look at a number of the warrior choices available to Isengard generals, and we'll also set the stage for the tactics post and how to effectively use combinations of models in an Isengard army.  Until then, you know where to find me,

Watching the stars,


"Will they follow me?" ~ High King Peter
"To the death." ~ Oreius


  1. Great stuff - I always enjoy your in depth analysis - and I have just painted up Lurtz, Mauhur and Vrasku... :)

    1. Sweet - I look forward to seeing them! Mauhur has been growing on me in recent months, so I'm seriously thinking about getting one, :)