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Monday, November 23, 2009

War in Middle-earth

As I have posted earlier, there was a WOTR League this summer at Imperial Outpost Games here in AZ. The League ultimately failed, not because of any lack of effort on Sean and Anthony’s part, but because the game appears to not have been thoroughly play-tested. We found many ambiguous rule descriptions and the game just did not have the “Mass Combat in Middle-earth” feel that we were looking for. Plus the lack of Army Lists ALA “Legions of Middle-Earth” made for some truly abusive and cheesy armies that were perfectly legal in WOTR. All in all, the game just did not “feel“ like Middle-Earth…

Because of this, I decided to go back to the WAR IN MIDDLE EARTH Rules I had put together for large LOTR SBG Games and see if we could fix some of the problems we were having in WOTR.

The various complaints we had are summarized below (along with the House Rules we adopted to address them) Note that these are still being play-tested and are subject to change:

Magic is very overwhelming.
In the LOTR Strategy Battle Game (SBG) magic is limited by the amount of Will the caster has available. The caster must choose when to expend his limited Will to affect the battle. In WOTR the casting of spells has no Will limits. Instead each caster has a “spell mastery level” that list the maximum number of spells he can attempt to cast each turn. The number of spells cast each turn is limited by having to roll against the difficulty of the previously cast spell. So with the simple tactic of casting lower difficulty spells first, a player can maximize his chances of getting off the full number of spells for the caster. Plus, if he fails to cast a spell this turn, the caster can just attempt it again next turn.

In short, where LOTR SBG requires tactical decisions on when and where a caster will attempt to impact the battle with his limited spells, WOTR has the caster blast away each turn with just a die roll limiting the ability to impact the battle. Since WOTR has no “exhaustion” affecting the casters ability to continue casting, they became very potent, since Heroes eventually run out of might to resist…

House Rule: Add Will back into the game.
There are two approaches to this:

1. Add Will to heroes/characters exactly as in LOTR SBG (including Ringwraiths spending Will when in a combat)

2. Add double the base SBG Will (pluses remain but are not doubled) for all except the Ringwraiths. Ringwraiths keep SBG level Will, but do not spend Will in Combat.

In some ways I think I prefer the second option, since the battles in WOTR represent more extended conflict timelines than the ones in LOTR SBG, and it encourages using the Wraiths in combat rather than just skulking about casting spells…

The Heroic and Epic abilities are also overpowered.
I feel that the intent was to duplicate the numbers of “kills” that Legolas and Gimli racked up during the Battle of Helm’s Deep. But Helm’s Deep was attacked by 10,000 Uruk-hai. So Legolas and Gimli’s kill counts, while impressive, were just a drop in the bucket (0.85% in fact). WOTR games are going to be played with maybe 300 miniatures in an army. So while it might be “cool” to have my Elven Captain issue a Heroic Duel against the Morannon Orc Captain and slay him and 19 of his troops, the end result is much more devastating to the enemy force (6.67% in this example.)

The other problem with the kills inflicted in Heroic and Epic Duels is that they ignore the armor of the targets. So my Strength 4 Elven Captain has just killed 20 Defense 7 troops that normally he would need 6’s to wound in normal combat.

All in all, very discouraging to purchase, paint, and set up all those models only to have heroes wipe out huge numbers of them with a couple of die rolls.

House Rule: Convert “auto wounds” on Troops in Heroic/Epic Duels and Special Abilities to “rolls for wounds”.
This only affects Troops. Heroes are still auto-wounded in Heroic/Epic Combats, but the ability of a Hero to slaughter troops is diminished. This is assuming that each individual warrior in a Company is representing tens (maybe hundreds) of individuals…

Rare and Common Troop Choices do not make any sense.
WOTR adds the concept of Rare and Common Troop Choices. When our group heard this we were elated. We felt this would help to limit some of the “All Elite” Armies (Str 4, Def 6/7) that are fielded. After all, armies might have “elite” units, but the majority of armies are filled out with common troops. We thought that there would be more of the Common (Defense 4/5) Troops on the table and that the Heavy Armor and Shield (Defense 6/7) troops would be the Rare Choices. Mordor would actually field Orcs. Dwarf Rangers might actually be seen. Uruk-Hai Raiders, Wood Elves and Galadhrim; the possibilities look endless.

But when we got the game we were disappointed. The first thing that seemed wrong was the fact that you only needed one (1) Common Choice for each Rare Choice. That seemed like saying that the US Army was 50% Special Forces/Rangers, and 50% Regular Infantry…

We also are presented with some very strange “Common” troop choices: Orcs are a Common Troop Choice. So are Morranon Orcs. But Morannon Orcs are Strength 4 and Defense 5/7; whereas Orcs Are Strength 3 and Defense 3/5. So once again, we have Morannon Orcs appearing on the table (as a common choice) and Orcs are not seen anywhere...

House Rule: RARE is RARE.
The ratio is changed to 1.5 Common to 1 Rare. This means it takes 3 Common to get 2 Rare. This gives us a 60/40 ratio between Common and Rare. (You could also use 2 to 1 for a 67/33 ratio, but that makes for very vanilla armies…)

House Rule: All Defense 6/7 Troops are a RARE Choice.
This only affects Troops. The intent here is to make players field some of the Defense 3/4/5 Troop Choices alongside the elites. When you are forced to field the lower defense troops, maneuvering to protect them or get them into the flanks becomes more important. You can’t just attempt to steamroller your opponent and count on your armor.

You now actually have to make decisions about where you elites need to be deployed to maximize their impact. Do you go for the juicy soft targets, while hoping your own common troops can hold out long enough? Or do you attempt to pit elites against elites, and try to tip the scales with soft troops on the flanks?

Note: Dwarfs are an exception here (since almost all their warriors are Defense 6+. They remain as they are in WOTR, but must field 1 company of Rangers for every company of Dwarf Warriors with Shields).

Another exception here we are considering is eliminating Terror from the Elves. Their Named and Legendary Heroes will still cause Terror, but not the common Warriors. Each Company’s points would probably be reduced by 5 to compensate.

WOTR has no army limits like “Legions of Middle-earth“.
Instead it has generic lists for each major race/faction. But these lump together heroes from separate ages and makes for some of the most egregious abuses in WOTR. Nothing prevents a player from fielding Gimli and Aragorn (with his sword Anduril) alongside Elendil (with Narsil, the sword that was broken and reforged into Anduril) and Erenion Gil-galad. Well nothing but points, and maybe self respect. IT’S ONE FREAK’IN SWORD!!!!! AND GIL-GALAD AND ELENDIL DIED 2500 YEARS BEFORE ARAGORN WAS BORN!!!!

House Rule: Use the “Legions of Middle-Earth” supplement as a guide when creating your army.
This one is fairly straight forward. Use some common sense when utilizing troops that are in WOTR but have not had SBG profiles published yet…

House Rule: Heroes are Special.
This one is fairly straight forward. Since so many were using 8 Heroes and 48 Troops, we decided to limit the number of Heroes you can field based on army size. You can have one Named Hero or Legendary Formation per 750 points of Army. It works for Warhammer Fantasy and Warmaster…

The Fog of War
The final complaint we have heard about the WOTR game involves how the battles do not have the feel of inertia and confusion in a battle during ancient/medieval times. Every unit in the army responds flawlessly to the generals wishes. No orders are lost or marches delayed. Communications are perfect between units.

House Rule: “For want of a messenger…”
All Heroes have a Command radius equal their LOTR SBG Stand Fast Range. Heroes can issue orders; move, charge, etc., to their Formation and to any Formation within range (measured from the edge of any company in his formation).

Units with no Hero and outside command range from a Hero must pass a Leadership/Courage test in order to move/charge. If the unit fails the test it may not move/charge during the turn, but are otherwise unaffected.

A unit which has failed its Leadership/Courage test may re-roll the test (at -1). If the re-rolled test is passed the unit may move at half speed or initiate a charge as individuals take the initiative and convince their comrades to proceed. If the re-roll is failed; roll a D6 and on a 1 – 3 the unit stays put, on a 4 -6 it becomes disorganized and retreats (at half speed) either towards its starting table edge or away from any enemy forces in charge range.

Banners extend the command range by 3 inches.

This should add some Fog of War, encourage the use of Heroes (and Banners), and actually make courage useful for more than just resisting spell effects.

So, let me know what you think.