Muster the Banners – How to construct an army in Middle Earth Strategy Battle Game.

So we’ve talked a bit in other articles about different armies, and I’ve used examples of builds with different point values, but I’ve not explained why. In ME:SBG people play at a variety of points levels, and this makes a huge difference to events, because there are different metas at different levels, and different armies do well at different levels due to the options they have. This leads to various trends washing over the Middle Earth Community, often a product of new releases, with Dunlendings getting some time in the sun due to their options at 5-600 points, and Beornings currently being popular, again often at 5-600 points.

In this article I’m going to talk about how armies are built, and why, and what is useful at different game sizes. I’ll talk a little bit about events, because that also has a big impact within the Middle Earth community and influences the culture around pick up games.

How you construct an army

In Matched Play, armies in Lord of the Rings are built around heroes, the characters of Lord of the Rings. This means that each hero you select allows you to take a certain number of followers (almost always warrior models), and this forms a warband with the hero as it’s captain. Each warband is deployed as it’s own group, normally within 6” of the captain, when the models are placed on the table at the start of the game. A hero can have no warband if you wish, and there are advantages to having more warbands than your opponent as you can see their full deployment before you place your last models. 

If you are wondering what happens with siege engines like catapults, they are their own little warband that can’t be joined by anything else unless you are buying extra crew or whatever from the options in the army list entry for that unit. 

In Narrative and Open Play you can basically do what you like, and the scenarios across the ME:SBG supplements feature a lot of forces not legal in matched play. If you want to just play scenarios and do your own thing, this is a totally valid way to play and there is nothing wrong with it. Tournament players are a minority of players, but a very vocal and online minority, whereas narrative players and people playing at home, doing their own thing, are very quiet about it online, but are thought to be significantly larger in numbers (with people who collect stuff, paint it and just display it being another large and generally quiet group). 

If you are playing Open or Narrative at the club or store, you need to talk to your opponent first about what to do in terms of scenario, and that’s always more complicated than ‘600 points ok?’ but often a rewarding way of playing. Sauron leading a force including Balrogs in the First Age is too cool not to do, and Open/Narrative is there for you to do it. 


In Matched Play army construction there are a number of different types of heroes, who can take a certain number of followers. The highest tier hero you have is automatically your army general, because the design team got sick of armies with Sauron or the Balrog being led by an Orc captain hiding behind a big rock for the entire game. Some armies have special rules here that let heroes take more followers than they normally would, and I’ll give a couple of examples. 

Tier 1 – Heroes of Legend – 18 Followers and the Hero gets the Last Stand rule, automatically passing their first Courage test when the army becomes Broken. This is your Aragorn King Elessar, Theoden, Saruman, Balrog, Galadriel, Elrond, etc. Tier 1 heroes are generally big expensive linchpins for your entire army who will be in the thick of the fighting, and get a big group of friends befitting their status. 

Tier 2 – Heroes of Valour – 15 Followers. This is models like Ringwraiths, Durbuz King of the Goblins, Galadriel’s husband that everyone forgets about, Eomer, Theodred, Gandalf the White, etc. These are still big and important characters (some more so than some Heroes of Legend) and in sub-1000 point forces often the biggest hero in the force. 

Credit: PierreTheMime

Tier 3 – Heroes of Fortitude – 12 Followers. These are your jobbers, your captain and captain equivalents, the characters you have to google, that guy who was in that thing, you know, them, and people who don’t get introduced by name in the movie. These minor heroes are often the glue holding big armies together, and in 4/500 point armies you may have your force led by one of the 2-3 heroes at this level that you’ve chosen. There are a number of captain equivalents with names but with more Heroic Abilities and Might for not many more points at this level that are generally worth looking at, a lot of whom are things like named Orc characters like Mauhur or Gorbag. Such models are very points efficient and great for leading a small force. Forgeworld have added a lot of these models in the various supplements. 

Tier 4 – Minor Heroes – 6 Followers and cannot be the armies leader. These are generally unnamed magic casters, a few monsters, and minor combat characters. Good for putting a small warband on the table and often with a special ability. Orc Shaman on Warg plus a gang of Wargs is a staple warband in a number of Evil forces. 

Tier 5 – Independent Hero – Some guy with no followers. May not be army leader but can be added to another heroes warband. Grima Wormtongue is an example (though you actually want to stick him on to an enemy character to use his ability) as are things like Drummers in Evil forces. 

Some Heroes change tier in some armies. The Witch King gets bumped up a level to a Hero of Legend in Angmar armies, all Uruk Hai heroes in Assault Upon Helms Deep Legendary Legion lists can take six extra followers, etc so it is always worth reading the army special rules and any Legendary Legion special rules when choosing your army. 

Creating Warbands

The key word in this is synergy. You have a hero, what improves his performance, and what models does he improve the performance of? What naturally goes well together? What Heroic Actions can he perform?

A lot of bog standard captains have the Heroic March action, which doesn’t win fights but is great for getting models around the table using the At the Double! Rule, and even better when combined with a War Drum. 

Mordor Orc Shamans have the Fury power, which means that models affected by it automatically pass courage tests, so it’s useful for small warbands going off on their own or who you need to keep in the fight. It also great to have in the middle of a larger warband, to soak up the benefits of automatically passing courage tests. 

Theoden, King of Rohan, gives +1 Fight to Royal Guard cavalry within 12” on the turn that they charge. Various models also have Sworn Protector (Theoden) such as Gamling and Hama, meaning if Theoden is alive they automatically pass Courage tests. So when constructing your army putting some Royal Guard Cavalry in Theoden’s warband is a great synergy. Royal Guard also have Bodyguard, and will automatically pass courage tests if the Hero with the highest tier is still alive, in this example Theoden.

The King’s Huntsman, a Rohan Captain level hero, has the Heroic Accuracy Rule, meaning that he can reroll failed In The Way rolls, and can shout Take Aim!, allowing friendly models within 6” to do the same. This means he synergises well with some Rohan Warriors with bows, and as he is a Minor Hero, a little warband of 6 Warriors of Rohan with bows goes well with him. The Huntsman also has a special ability where he only fails In The Way rolls on a 1, and if he slays an enemy Hero or Monster has his Might points restored to their starting level. This means a warband led by him at the back is a great little unit to try sniping enemy heroes. 

Synergies are something to carefully think about with some heroes, for others it’s obvious. A fighty character on a horse or warg is going to naturally pair well with similarly fast troops who have an emphasis on combat. 

The key thing to ask yourself is what does this hero do? What are their heroic actions? What do they contribute, and what makes them better at doing that? Give your army entries a good read. 

Credit: Games Workshop

Army Bonuses and Legendary Legions

In the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit Armies books there are a series of factions. If you only take models from these factions you gain Army Bonuses. These range from OK to really good. 

If you take an army of Rohan models you get the “Ride for Ruin and the World’s Endling!” rule which gives friendly Rohan Cavalry +1 strength on the turn that they charge. This is great for Rohan Cavalry armies. 

These Army Bonuses are replaced with Legendary Legion special rules if you choose a Legendary Legion. These are found in the various supplements published by Games Workshop like Gondor at War and Defence of the North. 

Legendary Legions are themed lists representing a certain battle or campaign or a specific force, and replace the Army Bonus with specific Legendary Legion rules. Legendary Legions restrict the models you can take to those that match the theme, and vary in how good the rules are (it’s worth noting that several Legendary Legions have had to be toned down a little due to how efficient they were in tournament play). 

Legendary Legions are a great choice for making a themed army, and reward you for it. Games Workshop has introduced a number of little factions (Dunlendings and Beornings for example) through Legendary Legions, and these have proved fairly popular, often supported by some Forgeworld model releases for niche armies.

For example Riders of Theoden from the Gondor at War book have both the “Ride for Ruin and the World’s Ending!” rule and the “Death!” rule where Theoden decides to declare it once per game and every friendly Rohan hero within 12” can declare a Heroic Combat or Heroic Strike without using a Might point. This synergises well with taking combat heroes, and Rohan has a lot of those, but the list is restricted to Rohan Cavalry and selected characters only. 

Some factions have quite restrictive Legendary Legions, and no Isengard Legendary Legion lets you mix Armoured and Scout Uruk Hai, none contain Saruman, and none contain Feral Uruk Hai, pushing you towards either a Siege list, an Uruk Scout list or a pure Warg list. In comparison most Rohan Legendary Legions let you take Riders of Rohan and either Eomer or Theoden or both. 

This again boils down to reading your factions rules, and seeing what your Army Bonus does, and thinking about whether a Legendary Legion suits what you want more.

It’s worth noting that in the Lord of the Rings battle report Warhammer+ have put up, that they are using the Riders of Theoden and Army of Gothmog Legendary Legions but aren’t using the special rules (I imagine to avoid confusing people new to the system). Both the armies look stunning and the more modern sculpts are great. 


If you don’t go with a Legendary Legion, then you can select Allies (some Legendary Legions mix factions, like Assault on Lothlorien, which let you mix models from the Moria and Mordor lists). 

Depending on your faction, it limits the benefits you get if you select certain other factions. 

First you have to be Good or Evil, and you can’t mix them. Again, there are tiers for allies. 

Historical Allies – You keep your army bonuses for each of the factions (so Rohan have “Ride for Ruin and the World’s Ending!” and Gondor have “You are Men of Gondor.”). This tends to follow the movies and books and the allies matrix give this fairly sparingly. 

Convenient Allies – You lose your army bonus.

Impossible Allies – Your lose your army bonus and models only benefit from Heroic Actions and Stand Fast from models selected from their army list. 

You can have more than one ally, but the tier for the whole force is the worst one (so Rohan, Gondor and Lothlorien are Convenient Allies even though Rohan are historical allies with both).

Allies can be a great way to add variety to your collection, or to add something your army lacks (so Easterlings can get chariots by taking Variags of Khand as allies, or the Shire can add Rangers for more combat power). Sometimes people construct their own little theme list even if it is impossible allies (Shire + Fangorn being one example, with giant tree monsters surrounded by hordes of hobbits), so don’t feel you need to stick with purely historical allies when adding models from another faction.

Different point levels

There is a huge selection of different point levels to play at. The meta and relative balance of lists changes depending on the points level (so a list with big expensive heroes is disadvantaged at a lower points level where they can’t take them, a list with captain level heroes is disadvantaged at high points levels when people start wheeling out Balrogs and Sauron) and the event scene seems to mix up the points levels as a response to this, to ensure there isn’t one faction dominating the competitive scene. 

Games Workshop published the Matched Play Guide, which is to be honest the best tournament pack they’ve done for any of their games and I think the key evidence for this is that the community actually use it and don’t spend ages trying to reinvent the wheel to create a balanced tournament environment. This guide includes a guide for running events at a selection of point levels. 

If you want to think about it in 40k terms, imagine if the 40k tournament scene operated from 500-2000 points and what would come with that. 

Intro game

Probably the easiest format for an intro game is 12 warriors and a captain. This lets you learn the rules for movement, shooting, fighting and introduces you to might points, heroic actions, and what you can do. These are small skirmishes generally about 200 points, depending on how expensive your troops and captains are. At this point you are almost playing Battle Companies and this is the level for teaching a new player, not for having a super interesting game.

400 points 

These are fairly small games with a couple of heroes and accompanying warbands per side. I’ve seen very occasionally small one day events use this level, but it’s both low model count and without much points for the exciting stuff. For some armies this level is a box of infantry and a couple of blisters of command or something special, making it very easy to collect at this level. 

5-600 points

This level is generally your smallest points total for an event, and lets you get in four games in a one day event. At this level you can generally take a reasonable hero (a Theoden, Boromir or Faramir, a Gothmog or a Ringwraith) and a couple of captain level heroes, and have the points for something interesting (cavalry, a monster, etc). These levels tend to be where you see some of the Legendary Legions like Dunlendings, Beornings, Ugluk or Lurtz’s Scouts, etc because these are forces with either a lot of good captain level characters, or which benefit from a low model count environment. 

If you are new to collecting Lord of the Rings, then this level is where you want to start at. One of the new Middle Earth starters will get you most of the way there, and you can add some more characters and cool stuff to get the rest of the way. If you want to do events or pick up games, this is a level where you can play a game on a 4” by 4” in 90 minutes to 2 hours. 

7-800 points 

Getting to the limit of what you can play on a 4” by 4” table, and with enough points for 4+ characters or some big hitters, it’s at these levels that Saruman or Gandalf or centerpiece monsters start seeing the tabletop. There are a number of lists that do well here, and it’s where the lists that are more suited to skirmish start to drop away. 

1000 points 

This is where you see the big guns and play games over two hours on 4” by 6” tables, which mean fewer games in an event and whoever is organising it has to find bigger tables. This means it’s not the most common event points level, as oppose to 40k where 2000 points is pretty much the standard. 

At this level you are fielding wizards, multiple monsters, big combat heroes, wedges of cavalry and it looks like a massive battle on the tabletop. 


So that’s how you construct an army in Middle Earth Strategy Battle Game. A good initial goal is to collect 500 points, and I would recommend reading your army list to get a good idea of how your army works, what synergies your heroes give you, and plan your army accordingly. If you want to play Matched Play, sit down and think about the cool things you want your heroes and their warbands to do. 

Lord of the Rings is the most solid of GW’s rulesets, with each version of the rules since the initial release refining the system rather than reworking from the ground up, and it’s a rewarding and fun system to play.

Constructing an army is different to other GW systems, but it’s not rocket science. The first army you construct won’t be perfect, and you’ll learn about putting single mounted models in foot warbands to run off after objectives or provide a counter charge threat, or deploying warbands alongside each other to get benefits from buffs or spells from one hero on another’s warband, but it will be part of learning more about how the game works. As always, drop us a line at if you have any questions or suggestions.