Welcome back to TMAT! Life has been pretty busy for all of us here, but I'm excited to bring you all some new content over the next few weeks regarding the end of my Easterling month. For the next three posts we'll be discussing Easterling armies, starting first with a review of the hero choices for Eastern Kingdoms players, and noting their strengths and utility to your army. In the next post we will be examining the unit choices for the Eastern Kingdoms (which is a small list, so it will be pretty short post), followed by a final post discussing tactics and strategies for using Easterling armies effectively.
Before jumping into a discussion on the heroes available for Eastern Kingdoms players we'll first talk about the major difference between LOME and Warbands armies for Eastern Kingdoms, followed by a quick discussion on the strengths and weaknesses of the army as a whole that players should be aware of before playing Easterlings.
LOME v. Warbands Army Builds
Here at TMAT we use two schemes for building armies: the old Legions of Middle Earth army builder scheme (with a rule that modifies army building so that you must have 33% or more of the force composed of heroes, usually deploys in three detachments, etc.) with the old alliance rules in place, and the new Warbands scheme for army building. While we reserve judgment on whether one scheme is "better" generally for army building (as that his a point of contest by the few in the gaming community who truly care), it does make a pretty significant difference for Easterling players. We'll cover this a bit more below, but suffice it to say for now, there is a difference in how the armies available to Easterling players can be formed.
Strengths of Eastern Kingdoms Armies
1. High Defense or High Strength/Mobility: Eastern Kingdoms has two main subdivisions: the Easterlings (who bring the D6 and rank-and-file to the force) and the Variags of Khand (who bring the 2Hers, horse archers, and charioteers to the force). Both can have F4 options, but generally speaking the Easterlings bring the defense to the army and Khand brings the firepower. Either way, you have options at both (which some armies don't have).
2. Good Cavalry Options: Most people will talk about Rohan cavalry (and for good reason - great mix of heavy melee hitters and skirmishers, which is why I own close to 600 pts of mounted models for Rohan now), but even Rohan can't compete with the cav options for Eastern Kingdoms. If you like skirmishers, they have the Khandish Cavalry, which give you a good SV for a dirt cheap horseman (13 pts/model). If you like heavy cavalry with a devastating charge they've got kataphracts that can sport F4 and C4 (uncommon for cavalry, which helps when charging terror-causing units) for 16 pts/model (which is 6 pts cheaper than Sons of Eorl and 2 pts cheaper than Gondorian Knights who sport a lower FV than the kats). And if that's not enough variety for you, they've got chariots: monstrous mounts that can even knock over other cavalry (so running over enemy cav is very easy) and allows the rider to move 10" while still shooting. Tons of fun. So if you like cavalry, Eastern Kingdoms gives you a lot of options.
3. Good Variety of Heroes: Some armies (like Rohan, Grey Company, etc.) have a number of heroes who all basically do the same thing: high-FV heroes with a good number of attacks who kill stuff in melee combat (and usually a "token ranged hero" to help "round out" the hero list). Easterlings actually get variety out of their heroes. Want a magic caster? You've got a defensive caster (the War Priest) and a utility caster (Khamul) who can basically cast magic and fight all game long if you play your cards right (more on that below). Want close combat damage guys? You've got Amdur, the Dragon Knight, Khamul, any of the Khandish guys, and even the basic Easterling Captain can get access to a halberd (read: elven blade). Want some fast attack, far-range heroes? Access to horses, armored horses, fell beasts, and chariots (which also gives them bow options for heroes that allow them to move 10" and still fire - not too shabby). You even get access to a 6+ Fury save on your guys, because D6 wasn't good enough at keeping your guys alive as it is, :) Whatever you like, you'll find it in a hero from Eastern Kingdoms.
Weaknesses of Eastern Kingdoms Armies
1. Magic Defense: While this weakness is not unique to Eastern Kingdoms by any stretch of the imagination (Rohan, Dwarves, and Isengard fall into this list as well), Easterling generals should be aware of the fact that wizards can make a mess of your lines. While some of the characters in your list (Khamul, for example) will do fine against enemy magic, most of your heroes (and basically all of them under 100 pts) only have 1 Will Point to spend on dispelling magic, and those who have more than that (War Priests, for example) are unlikely to use the Will Point to resist magic as it is their means of casting their spells (like Bladewrath). So just know upfront that enemy mages can cause problems for your list, and that you should not be surprised if Saruman or Celeborn turns "Amdur, Lord of Blades" into "Amdur, Lord of Statues." Just be ready for it.
2. Limited Core Choices: Like Rohan and Grey Company, Easterlings suffer from a limited selection of warriors. They sport five warrior choices: Easterling Warriors (who serve as your frontline shield wall, pike support, banners, and heavy bowmen), Khandish Mercenaries (who serve as your 2H option and your bowmen), Kataphracts (heavy cav), Charioteers (light cav with a monstrous mount), and horse archers (for skirmishing). This means that your army is easy to predict: they know exactly what you are capable of fielding (as distinguished from, say, Harad & Umbar who have access to over 10 different types of warriors, ranging from infantry to cavalry to monster choices).
3. Generally Low Strength: Easterlings have trouble striking wounds. Either they have to take the 2Her approach (which is not bad per se as their 2Hers are F4) or just trust to S3 doing the job, because apart from heroes they do not get access to S4 anywhere in the army (and among heroes they don't usually get higher than S4, so you lack the S5+ option that most other Evil armies get). This is not necessarily a problem; just know that in a slug fest against D6 armies you're going to need to roll a lot of 6s or run 2Hers. So if you're looking for a "bashy" army that will kill droves of people every turn, Easterlings will likely not do that for you.
4. Hero Gaps: Armies like Rohan, Gondor, and Grey Company have scales of heroes, ranging from 25 pts to 150+ pts with models basically everywhere in between doing relatively the same things (with the big decision being how many points do I want to pay for a hero who can kill stuff in melee). This means that if you want to change a hero choice to free up points, try something new, etc., you can easily make the switch with those armies.
For Eastern Kingdoms (and Isengard, who also suffers from this problem), they have a decent starting threshold (50 pts for a decent Easterling Captain), a number of heroes who will escalate to 70 pts, then a single named hero at 100 pts, and then a sudden jump to Khamul/Khandish King (I'm assuming you're running him with a chariot, as he's very lack-luster for 90 pts without it) who are at around 130+ with no variance at the top levels. This means that if you're looking to make a switch (say, running a Dragon Knight instead of an Easterling Captain), you can make the switch but you don't free up a lot of points for other things. If you switch to a power unit, you have a massive swing in points, with the heroes at the top doing different things from the heroes at the bottom (so you sacrifice some things to get other things). This means that Easterlings will always lack the modular ability of other armies (especially Good armies; most Evil armies tend to have this problem, except maybe Mordor), especially at a 600-pt threshold.
So with all of this in mind, let's examine the hero choices for Eastern Kingdoms.
1. Khamul, The Black Easterling
Almost every Evil army gets access to a ringwraith or two, and it was the presence of Khamul in the list for Eastern Kingdoms that first got me investing in them. Khamul has always been my favorite Nazgul, and in LOTR SBG he does not disappoint. Khamul is typical of ringwraiths in his profile: F5, S4, D8, 1A, and 1 Wound, and with a 2M/12W/2F profile, he is on the lower end of the Nazgul in regards to his M/W/F store.
That being said, Khamul is arguably the best of the combat fighters among the Nazgul, and if not he is definitely the most reliable. Not only does he have the ability to spend a Will Point to add +1 to his Fight Value (only a few ringwraiths can get to F6), Strength (no other Nazgul can do that), or Attacks (only the Witchking can do that, and that with an expensive upgrade), he can reach 2-3 attacks (if mounted on the charge), and can regain lost Will Points based on how many wounds he deals (note: the rule says how many wounds he causes, not how many are sustained, so targeting a 1 wound infantry model with low FV and low Defense is a great way to get fallen Will Points back, especially if you are mounted and knock over your opponent to double the wounding dice). As a quick reminder, strikes made against a mount do not grant Will Points back, so don't waste your strikes against the mounts if you need Will Points back.
To make up for his amazing combat prowess, Khamul is worse at casting spells than all other Nazgul, receiving a +1 to the difficulty to cast every spell. This is okay in game play; since the most helpful spells for him are Transfix (on a 4+) and Sap Will (on a 4+) the casting difficulty is not terrible, and one Will spent performing one of these actions can be easily made up in melee combat. So if you like casting Black Dart don't run Khamul; choose another army, or team in another Nazgul. If you like Transfix and Sap Will, you won't hurt too much by taking Khamul. And if you like slicing things apart every combat round, Khamul is definitely your man.
Khamul is also very defensible. Like all other ringwraiths, Khamul causes terror (so he requires a Courage Test to attack him) and gives everyone a -1 to Courage while within 12" of him. He is also able to take a horse, armored horse, or any of the three kinds of fell beasts as a mount, so he has quite the variety of mount options to give him added versatility and mobility on the battlefield (not to mention the monster rules when attacking with a fell beast, so you can save Will Points if you want to use a higher Attack S6+ mount).
If you're hard pressed for points, I'll recommend taking Khamul on an armored horse for 135 points; I do not recommend saving yourself 5 points by taking the normal horse, as there is a good chance that stray archery will take away your horse charge bonus before you get to melee combat. If you'd really like to spend 170+ pts on him you can take the fell beast; I usually don't have those points lying around so I don't usually take that mount.
2. Amdur, Lord of Blades
Amdur is the utility hero for Easterlings. He starts at F6 (which is handy for beating most heroes that are in his price range of 100 pts), and is S4 with 2A, which gives him pretty decent firepower (especially if you have pike support for him to boost his attacks). With a 3M/1W/1F profile he has decent survivability (2 Wounds + Fate at D6; not bad for a guy without a shield option) and good combat power. He also sports a falchion (counts as an elven blade), can get back fallen Might by killing heroes, and all Easterlings (including himself) treat him as a banner (not Khandish units - remember this, as it will come up again later on), so he always gets a re-roll if he doesn't like his roll to win the fight, much like Aragorn and Imrahil in this way.
Amdur can be mounted on an armored horse (which, if you like the idea of putting 115 pts into a D6 model that is open to enemy archery can boost his attacks and mobility), and is all around a good hero for the points. If you are not leading your army with Khamul, I highly recommend leading it with Amdur.
3. Easterling Captain
Easterling Captains are the core of every hero selection for Eastern Kingdoms armies. For the cost you get a great captain - they are the only civ that can get a D7 "Bunker Captain" for 50 pts, and has the exact same stat line as the Rohan/Gondor equivalent heroes for cheaper (Rohan gets the Expert Rider rule on their captain which explains why he costs 5 pts more, but if you don't mount him - which is essential to the Bunker Captain's roll - the special rule is of no value anyway). Like other basic captains there is also an option for a bow (I don't recommend you take it), but unique to the Easterling Captain is his access to a halberd, which is treated like an elven blade. So for 20-30 pts cheaper than an elf hero you can get a chance at a 2H if you want in the hands of your S4 hero with 2 attacks. Not bad.
I personally like the Bunker Cap Build (shield captain) because it provides the one thing you can really use in an Easterling army: a hero that will be around to provide a Stand Fast! when your army breaks. They are excellent at holding the line against S4 heroes, tying down power units (especially the Imrahils and Glorfindels of the world who don't want to spend their Might against a little captain when Khamul or Amdur are running around), and anchoring the end of your battle line. I highly recommend at least one Easterling Captain in your army.
4. Easterling Dragon Knight
The Dragon Knight is the epitome of the forward firepower gamble: at F5 with 3A (5A with halberd support) and S4 (with a chance at S6 if you run a War Priest), not to mention 2 Might that can be replenished when you kill enemy heroes (like those really fragile drummers and bunker captains that only require 2-3 wounds to kill), it's hard to imagine why this guy is only 70 pts. In Warband armies it makes perfect sense: as an independent hero he doesn't help you field more units if you run him, so you're running pretty light on models if you run 1, maybe 2 of these guys.
What is more, they are purely aggressive firepower: with only 2 Wounds at D6 with no Fate Points they are extremely fragile to incoming enemy fire, especially at S4 (so uruks are a wonderful counter to these guys). To keep these guys in the field, though, they do have a special rule that allows them to avoid being knocked over on a 4+ (which is nice for avoiding trapping), and they can parry (grants the shielding rule, so 6 dice to defend yourself if your'e in a tight spot).
Drag Knights are a toss-up: if you need a bit more punch in your list they're a relatively cheap way to get 3A on a model (and one of the few ways to get it in an Easterling army), just make sure to shield them from unwanted archery and keep a squad of men near them to keep them on the offense.
3. Easterling War Priest
The War Priest is the defensive anchor and primary augment hero of the Easterling force. For 60 pts you get a shaman-style hero with a battle stave (counts as a spear, so you can keep him in the second rank all game) and he has the traditional "shaman problem" of having stats like a normal warrior: F3 (instead of F4), S3 (instead of S4), D5 (instead of D6), though he is also one of the few heroes to possess 3 Will.
War Priests possess the Fury spell (like other shamans) which grants a 6+ save against wounds dealt to Easterlings (including Khamul and the other heroes, but not including Khandish forces) within 6" of him, and also causes all of the warriors within 6" of him at the start of the Move Phase to pass all Courage Tests (including himself and all Easterling heroes). This means that if your army reaches its break point not only will your War Priest automatically pass his Courage Test to rally and call a Stand Fast, but all heroes within range will also automatically pass theirs, which is handy).
War Priests also possess the Bladewrath spell, which is rapidly becoming my favorite spell. Cast on a 2+ (2+!!! ON A SHAMAN!!!), the spell makes an allied target within 6" strike all wounds at S6 until the end of the combat phase. Naturally this is best put to use by a target who can call a Heroic Combat and get his S6 into more than one combat, but it can also be useful when a lone Easterling Warrior can sneak an attack against an enemy banner, give you the edge against a trapped cave troll, etc. So a very handy spell. So far I'm the only guy in our gaming group who uses War Priests, but I've reached the point where I frankly don't go anywhere without this guy. They're very dependable, and I really like them.
6. Khandish King
|Photo courtesy of GamesWorkshop|
Alrighty, Khand guys - where to begin. For starters, all Khandish heroes begin with an elven blade (so you can 2H with them), which is a great place to start. Since they are all F5+ and S4, this also means you have a good chance at winning the fight and doing a lot of damage if you use the 2H option (wounding D6 on 4+, D3-4 on a 3+, and cracking D7-8 "Bunker" units on a 5+ which is not bad), so I'll mention this here:
If you're using a Khandish hero and you're not using the 2H in combat, you're not playing them right.
If you're afraid of dying you should have bought an Easterling Captain - they're cheaper, better at not dying, and have better looking armor anyway. If you're running a Khandish unit, you're running them because you want firepower, and "firepower" for Khand guys is defined as "2Hing."
The one exception to this is if you intend to attack with the chariot using the monster rules (as the chariot counts as a monstrous mount), in which case the bonus from the 2H probably doesn't help you. Chariots are expensive (adding +30 pts to the cost of the hero), but they can tear up pretty well when they are on the charge. So there's that.
Khandish Kings start at 90 pts, and for being that expensive I'm actually less than impressed with the base unit. They're F6 S4 D6 (so pretty basic profile as far as heroes go), have 2A and 2 Wounds (so decent, but nothing out of the common way), are Courage 5 (which is not bad for Eastern Kingdoms, but most heroes in that range are C5 or C6), and sports a 2M/2W/1F profile (which is odd since most 90+ pt heroes get 3 Might Points).
Now some of you may be thinking, "well guys like Eorl start around that range - maybe he's got a special rule or something that makes his cost make sense? I mean Eorl gets that nifty chance at a free Might Point on a 4+ so maybe the Khandish King gets something similar?" Well, how much do you like Khandish units treating him like a banner? :P Because that's the special rule, :) Now, granted, in a chariot (which, to reinforce, I think is a good purchase for him as it gets him that third attack against virtually everything with F6 to win the combat) that's a huge base extending a 3" banner radius, but to reiterate, this only helps your Khandish units: Easterlings are unaffected. Something to think about (he's the opposite of Amdur in this way).
7. Khandish Chieftain
|Photo courtesy of GamesWorkshop|
Khandish Chieftains are the "budget" option for the Khandish King, and I'm convinced that if you're going to purchase a Khandish hero (especially for the chariot), just get one of these guys. They get access to bows (which you can use while in a chariot, by the by, even though you have a 2H) and horses (if you don't want to use a chariot for +30 pts), so they can fill a few holes in your inventory. What is more, for only 55 pts (that's correct: 35 pts cheaper than the Khandish King) you're F5 (instead of F6) S4 with 2A (same as the King), D5 (so -1D from the King) with 2 Wounds, Courage 4 (so -1C from the King), and a 2M/1W/1F profile (-1 Will). Call me crazy...I think I'd rather buy 3-4 more Easterling/Khandish warriors and just take this guy.
In our next post we'll be discussing the five unit options for Eastern Kingdoms armies. Until then, you'll know where to find me,
Watching the stars,
"Remember, Firenze, we are sworn not to set ourselves against the heavens. Have we not read what is to come in the movements of the planets?" ~ Bane, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone