Saturday, August 20, 2011

WOTR, The Version II Series: Elves.

TLDR? Elves are horribly over-costed in WOTR and if I saw a game between two generals of equivalent levels of familiarity with the game (I hesitate to associate WOTR with anything so serious as skill!), I'd back the one who wasn't playing Elves every-time. However,  if you do want to play Elves I suggest you focus on the tougher infantry with Gladriel and some other cheap heroes to benefit from her might. I would also suggest you consider house-ruling.
 This little piece was spurred by a wee rant on another blog about the Elves in War of the Ring (WOTR):
Take the Elves for instance. I mean, remember that time in the Lord of the Rings book when the Elves showed up, and were so terrifying that everyone on the battlefield either fled before their approach or soiled themselves as they stood paralyzed with fear, unable to do anything other than stand around getting hacked to pieces?

Neither do I.

But apparently Games Workshop does. I think the only real unpleasant surprise for me in my first outing against the Elves was when I discovered just how good they were at doing all the characteristic things that are supposed to be the trademark domain of the Forces of Evil.
It goes on but I thought this was a nice lead in to discussing WOTR in some form other than battle-reports, of which I have become wearied of late. My thinking is that this topic would combine well with my ongoing house-rules project (more on this at the end) as well as some 'wish-listing' for a Version two of the rules, whether or not this ever eventuates.

Now as to the charges leveled over at Imaginary Wars:
"I'm not going down those stairs again... There's a great fighter about, one of those bloody-handed Elves." (LOTR, book 6, ch II, p885) 

I guess the Orcs feared too many carbs and fatty foods?
When I read the bit about remembering when opponents of Elves stood around paralyzed by fear, my mind immediately went back to that, which I first read as a kid. The fact that the mere reputation of the Elves inspired such fear into vicious Orcs did more than anything else in either LOTR or The Silmarillion to impress upon me how fearsome Elves were. Think about it, that's Sam that they shrank back from. They feared fighting a Hobbit gardener and man-servant from the Shire. To evil Orcs, Elves were a racial enemy, one of millenia long conflict and ones who were such a terror that it took the immediate presence of a greater terror (the Orc here says not even a Nazgul could drive him down, but that's easy to say when they are all miles away!) to drive them into battle. Just because they are the 'good guys' to us, does not mean they aren't the stuff of nightmares to the likes of the Orcs.

What about them being good at actual fighting though? Well, it is the movies, but I always keep going back to this:

At this point, I agree with the author at Imaginary Wars, the GW WOTR game does not do a good job of modelling the Elves. Because if that battle had taken place using the WOTR rules, those troops (High Elven Cohort) would have had to contend predominantly with the heavily armoured Orcs of the Morranon Gates. Worse, everyone of those Orc units would have had either a Nazgul or Gothmog at their head. About the only thing that would be right about the match ups would be that there will be heaps more Orcs (they cost 25pts with shields vs 60 pts for the High-Elves) .

Unfortunately, while the Orcs would be outclassed in melee, throwing 8 dice to the 11 of the High Elves, they are every bit as tough, being defense seven as well. Since in WOTR the infantry always strike at the same time, any melee will be a war of attrition that the Morranan Orcs will be winning since they get to throw in over two troops for every Elf.

Luckily for the Elves, they cause terror and can use their magic to make those Orcs test at -2. Sadly, while a Wraith costs 125pts (and can cast that spell too!),Elven casters who can penalise courage range from 75pts (the one cheap one) and then from 175 pts upward. Notice a pattern here? In fact, since the Orcs and Wraiths are relatively inexpensive, the poor Elves could almost as easily find themselves terrorised by the Orcs they are facing. With a Wraith or Gothmog to lead them, the Orcs pass their test to resist terror on average (needing seven on 2d6).

I saw the intro to FOTR, this goes well for the Elves, right?

But the other thing we saw in that clip was deadly bow fire scything the Orcs down. So an Elven gun line (or rather, bowline) should be pretty nasty right? If only someone had conducted extensive field testing.... Being the empiricist that I am, I tested the math (basically, 12 shots of bow fire kill a single model vs def 7) in the field. If Elves use a magic spell, they can pretty much throw that 12 shots with a single company, but the player of that Elven army snorted pretty derisively at the thought of using a spell to generate two more dice of nearly useless bow fire. That company of Elves would need an entire eight turn game, on average, to kill a single unit of Morranan Orcs (the equivalent of the Minas Tirith Warriors I used) and those Elven archers cost twice as much as what they kill - with the help of a spell! - The real problem of course is what their slightly attrited enemies will do to them when they close for melee. Click on the link to see how little time it took me to wipe the Elves off the table once I reached close combat.

Now that's a worst case scenario. The legions of Mordor would be the toughest and most difficult to handle, points for points, force in this game - even if we ignore the slew of special rules those Ringwraiths (the same three pop up quite regularly...) and Gothmog will be sporting. Another example would be the army that spurred the rant against the Elves. I know this army well, Angmar is the other army I usually play in WOTR. Now this army doesn't have quite so many Wraiths to throw around as the Mordor list, and no other Epic heroes, so there will probably be half as many courage 5 leaders as in a typical Mordor list. Angmar also does not have the incredibly cheap high-defense Morranan Orcs that Mordor enjoys. The 'state of the art' for that list are the Warriors of Carn Dum (a common choice) with def 4(6), which are effectively as tough vs Elves in melee but worse, twice as bad, vs close ranged bow-fire. The Angmar list might well have quite a lot of normal defense 3 Orcs in there. Now those Orcs are far less efficient than the Morranan Orcs (or the Warriors of Gondor) so the Elves might have an easier time there and their bowfire will actually be hitting on respectable 5s, three times as good as in the previous match up.

Andy went to a lot of effort to set up this pic of me destroying his Elves.
However, I still wouldn't back the Elves in that situation. In fact, even getting to start the game in a great big fortress doesn't seem to be enough to save them from their enemies. 

The persistent problem Elves have in this game is that no matter how clever the guy pushing them is, no matter how intelligently their heroes and units get chosen, they just cost at least twice as much for their troops and you can't get around that.

The blunt truth is that vs the armies that get ordinarily taken in this game - based around common choices with a leaving of decent Epic heroes to raise their courage and add some other abilities, Elves get ground down almost every time.

Doing this doesn't even require engaging them in melee, though since my Gondor list effectively ignores terror, that is certainly the way I go with them. Other lists can just shoot the Elves to death or kill them all off with magic. That's what I did in the game above, I killed the Elves guarding one of the flanks in melee (even the best Elven heroes can't protect two places at once) then I was faced with the traditional Elven Bunker in the middle. It was a nasty little Elven bunker too, both Jason and I have actually managed to lose 100s of points of Epic heroes each to that unit and consequently neither of us can boast a 100% unblemished record vs them! So, being the wiser for the experience, I just used Wraith magic to keep out of melee and kill every last member of that 240pt + heroes formation with magic.

Elves just can't stop enough of that kind of attack and all the over-priced fight values, terror abilities or courage sapping spells cannot save them. Different lists will do this in different ways but the Elven player faces an uphill battle if their opponent plays as competently as they do.

Fun fact: Elves were my first choice army for WOTR, dodged the bullet there!

So that's it then? No serried ranks of the firstborn? No wise heroes who have witnessed the first stars in the sky?

Well no. I think there are better and worse Elven lists. A popular choice is to use the very cool High-Elven figures and the Galadrim stat line, or just use Galadrim as the core. That at least give you a base of the most consistent  troop-type in this game: heavy infantry. Despite it's eye-wateringly high cost, the High-Elven Cohort is also popular to go along with these guys, including their Commander who is a pretty respectable duelist in his own right. Some bow might be part of the mix but the reality is that these guys need to their shields to avoid dropping like flies vs the bow of any other army. Orcs with bows would be 20 pts and they do a number on 50pt Galadrim Archers. The best part of the Elven list would be their heroes. Thranduil is exceedingly good value, possibly better even than a Wraith. However, the heroes that combine best with the other Elven abilities would be Galadriel (spell-casting version), Radagast (yes, I'll grant that one) and the Twins - Elrohir and Elladan. With Galadriel's constant feed of might, these two are a very efficient way to throw out the Epic actions. At the 1000pt level, its hard to fit in more without totally losing out on troops. I'd caution anyone who thinks going to 2000pts is the answer though, it isn't. It only makes things harder. The one thing Elves can have going for them is a real bunker and some disruption of the enemies plans but given too many more points, any other army - even Rohan - can bring a pack of stuff to swamp Elves with.

There is a darker path too - a path no self-respecting gamer should tread, the infamous combination (it takes about 2000pts to do this) of Galadriel, Radagast, and as many heroes with Epic Shot as can be fitted into one unit. This kind of thing can sit there all day and pump out the hurt while healing what little damage it takes, or can it? See, and this is not to say I think you should take that combo, any halfway decent (ok hard and competitive) 2000 pt list could have rained in a lot of artillery, or used a lot of spells, or thrown a lot of Heroic Charges, and that would have gone on round after round. To be honest, I think that some people just go caught unprepared by this list and suffered according.

But what's with the Version II in the title? Well I don't think a V2 is anywhere nearby but I do think that some things can be changed about the Elven list without altering points.

The first suggestions are to address the issues with melee and shooting I outlined above:
Elven Longbows, change to add ability to always ignore shields.
Elven Glaives, change to add new priority: infantry with glaives strike before other infantry, cavalry with glaives strike before other cavalry.
At least this way those core troops will stand more of a chance of giving as good as they get. Enemy heavy infantry are still relatively too cheap though, defense 7 troops for 25pts when the equivalent Elven unit is 60pts? C'mon.
Heavy infantry, set a price floor:
1.    No def 6 (including shield) troops below 25pts in cost, 30 pts if they have crossbows/berserkers/pikes/special charge ability etc
2.    No def 7 (including shield) troops below 30pts in cost, 35 pts if they have crossbows/berserkers/pikes/special charge ability etc
 Elves pay a lot for their high fight so it would be good if the likes of a back-country hick like Thrydan couldn't make themselves fight 10 for duels
Epic Strike, change to give the hero his base fight + 2. (ie this will lift it back up from 0, if used).
 The Elves still suffer greatly from enemy magic, especially Wraith magic, so I'd also suggest these changes:

Will of Iron, change to work on a 3+.

Nazgul now Mastery 2 base, with these specific changes:
 The Witch-king of Angmar    Remains Mastery 3, Gains ‘No Man may Kill Me’ (each hit in a duel is negated on a 4+) – except vs female heroes. His special ability works in rear arc.
The Betrayer    Rerolls for just for his company.
Khamul the Easterling    Save changes to only negate hits, and not reflect them onto other units. 
The Knight of Umbar    Boosts apply only to him and his company.
This package of changes is aimed at giving us the type of Elves that held the lines on the foot of Mt Doom or scared Orcs with their mere reputation or racial memory. A better fix would be to stop costing bow upgrades, glaive upgrades, courage and fight so expensively. However, in the interests of being still able to use my much loved WOTR rulebook up until a V2 ever eventuates, I'm not going to go through and re cost every unit.

TLDR? Elves are horribly over-costed in WOTR and if I saw a game between two generals of equivalent levels of familiarity with the game (I hesitate to associate WOTR with anything so serious as skill!), I'd back the one who wasn't playing Elves every-time. However,  if you do want to play Elves I suggest you focus on the tougher infantry with Gladriel and some other cheap heroes to benefit from her might. I would also suggest you consider house ruling.

In fact, my next game of WOTR, barring more snow, is vs the Elves. Those Elves will be packing some houserules though.

Thanks for reading, TLDR version or otherwise, and comments welcome. 

Addendum: Re: a version II - they have renewed the license and there IS a hobbit movie next year, so it is not beyond the realms of possibility....


  1. As the man who will be pushing those Elves i am obviously all for the House Rules :)

    Seriously though Elves really did get it tough in the Non-Houseruled version of the game. My thought is that they were made so expensive to show the relative rarity of them as opposed to the base cost of the unit abilities. I guess GW didn't want to see them as common as Moria Goblins?

    Im not sure also if a V2 rulebook will ever appear...the LotR license musnt have long to run and its not exactly a money spinner (now) for them. I would hope that a Net community can pick it up and support it like what happened for Epic: Armageddon.

    Looking forward to the game tomorrow :)


  2. It will be a good game. Elves are an interesting force.

    Whatever the reason for the exceedingly high cost, they need to revisit their mechanics. I know part of the problem is that other heavy inf is so cheap - so it is kind of the end of period phenomenon that you get in FOW too. Recosting other troops helps a little with that but I also think that I should make a Northmen/Dale/Esgaroth list mixing in a range of troop types from the Gondor/Arnor list but forgoing the def 5(7) heavy infantry. The household troops could be def 4(6) (Numenorians statline?) and there could be a range of archers, huntsmen, claymore troops some light (might have to be allied Rohan) and heavy cav and use the lesser Epics. Against a less high-tech foe than Mordor/Gondor/Isengard, the Elves might do slightly better.

    Could be a project. Getting ahead of myself though - I have FOW to muster the enthusiasm to complete in a couple of months and the much more exciting prospect of sourcing and fielding more orcs.


  3. I think Angmar will be a good match up (with houserules), and entirleyt appropiate as Im 'doing' Rivendell (Gladrial is just visiting...)

    The FOW analogy is apt, Elves are about as Early War as you get lol. Now if I had an Army of Firstborn it would be worth the current points you pay!

    Some sort of "Men of the West, North and a little bit East who Who Dont Wear Plate" would be cool Jamie...but your right. Dont you have SU100's to convert and ZiS-3's to paint? :)

  4. I feel like I've been forced into a rebuttal! ;)

    I'm totally willing to believe I'm wrong about the Elves; certainly the jury is out until my friend and I face off again a few more times (at least). But in my defense, what other conclusion should I arrive at when the Galadhrim lose 18 (?) basic troops while simultaneously eradicating over 120 enemy models?

    I think a lot of War of the Ring's balance comes from who's playing. For instance: where I am, there is only ONE guy playing using 3 Ringwraiths (and the usual suspects at that!). The rest of us have been very careful to pay attention more to models' write-ups than to their stats and special rules. (I have never seen ANY team-evil player in my area field Morannon orcs!)

    It's been my belief for a while that the game devs for WotR points-costed all the units on strictly on a basic formula that assumed all special abilities / rules were created equal and used quantity of the special abilities instead of quality to determine troop points values (I mean, why else would the ghosts of Angmar cost the same as Elves? ).

    I *DO* think War of the Ring BEGS for house rules, but I suspect it begs for house rules more according to one's environs.

    Time will tell (of course); I sure don't mind hearing I'm more likely to win every game I play against Elves!

  5. Well YMMV, the guy playing Elves may be a very sharp cookie. Also, sometimes a certain list becomes a bit of a nemesis, if you look at my batreps from last year you will notice a fair few mentions of the many losses I suffered at the hands of Kruger's Beige Wizard. It took me sitting down and making a really hard Gondor list (and its sad really, I started using Aragorn and it is now hard to put him to one side) to get that monkey off my back but the reason he won so much was just that he played that list well, all units pulling together.

    I don't know about environs - I see house-rules as a way to accommodate different play-styles within a more level playing field than the current lists give us. My theory, and it is just an internet theory, I know, is that over time lists will gravitate towards certain things over others. Less diversity = less fun IMO.

    As an aside, the one guy who runs the three Wraith, Gothmog & Morranan list here used to be the Elf player. Things like that really make me want to house-rule. He put a lot of effort into those Elves.

  6. You forgot to mention that Morannon Orcs have S4, vs the Elves S3, which makes them about equal...


  7. Hi Anonymous,

    Are you pointing out that a 20pt Morranan is the equivalent of a 50pt Galadrim with Shield (except the minor extra dice the elf gets and if neither units are terrified)?


  8. Yes, that's about it...

    (I used to be anonymous)