In trolls we aren't without our DEF buffing warlocks. Calandra, Borka, pMadrak, Gunnbjorn, and Jarl all have the tools to help raise the DEF stat in some way.
Calandra has her Star-Crossed and Bullet Dodger spells to skew our trolls chance of avoiding attacks.
- Star-Crossed - this is the main reason to take Calandra, it basically is a reverse Signs and Portents, which means that enemy models in Calandra's control area roll an extra attack dice, but drop the highest. It's pretty sweet and can be very upsetting for some opponents.
- Bullet Dodger - this spell only works on a model and provides them with +2 DEF against ranged attacks and gives the model dodge. It isn't as great as star-crossed, but it does help protect her base DEF 14 fat ass.
With troll models this is a nice change of pace to have an army that feels like its base DEF 14. Pyg units, Scouts, and SoB also really like this spell as they are DEF 13 base, and really benefit the most out of the troll army. However in Minions/Mercenaries we find Nyss and Boomhowlers, who I believe really benefit the most. Nyss at base DEF 15 love the dice manipulation, and Boomhowlers become even harder to kill. I mention Boomhowlers so I guess I'll use them to segue into Borka.
Borka has iron flesh and access to his NQ tier list Family Reunion.
- Iron Flesh - a basic upkeep that provides an additional 3 DEF at the cost of negative 1 SPD
- Family Reunion - this tier list allows Borka to take Boomhowlers as in faction, provides Advance Moves, access to an army wide Tale of Mists first turn, and discounted Champion models
Iron Flesh alone on Borka is nice it does help in jamming zones once our models get there, but its -1 to SPD does hamper our models getting there. The tier list helps get around this. For every Champion Hero solo in the list one medium based unit gets Advance Move. So Boomhowlers and often a Champion units are the ones to benefit from this placing the Bomhowlers 6" up the board and Champions 5" prior to the beginning of the first players first turn. Now casting iron flesh wouldn't not be the disadvantage it once was. Also combined with the first turn Tales of Mists we have a DEF 15 unit against melee, and DEF 17 against ranged attacks that don't ignore concealment. Not bad, and this tactic can be upkept throughout the game as long as the Chronicler stays alive. The Boomhowlers can also jack up the skew a little more with their fell call, Rage Howler, which causes enemy Warjacks and Warbeasts currently in their control area to have -2 to attack rolls for a round. Thus this makes them Def 17 and 19 against if they become the target. It is situational and 4,5,6 tough is a pretty good alternative, so it can be a tough choice. Borka can provide some pretty high DEF stats when he needs to, but I do feel it often is forgotten in the context in the rest of his tier lists benefits.
pMadrak is next on our list of DEF casters and he provides the spell sure foot.
- Sure Foot - a targeted friendly faction model gains +2 DEF and Steady and every friendly faction model in 3" of the targeted model also receive the same benefits
This is a pretty handy spell and combine it with a beast brick and Janissa's wall you have some pretty agile beasts, Mulg is DEF 17 against shooting and DEF 15 attacking over Janissa's wall with reach. Every other beast 18/16. Add a Krielstone to the mix and you have a very annoying list capable of skewing both ARM and DEF.
Gunnbjorn I've talked about before, so I'll quickly revisit him. Basically his feat provides cover for a turn, so +4 DEF against guns for a turn is pretty sweet. He also has a wall he can place anywhere in his control area to provide that +4 DEF to a selective few outside feat turn. Gunnbjorn isn't much of a skew, but it is important to note that he does provide something outside the basic ARM list.
Finally we reach Jarl who actually has probably the most access to DEF buffs in faction. He has Weald Secrets, Quicken, and his feat.
- Weald Secrets - this spell gives a friendly model/unit camouflage and pathfinder, in this case camouflage is the important bit, as a model benefiting from cover or concealment receives an additional +2 DEF
- Quicken - gives +2 SPD and +2 DEF against ranged attacks
- Rolling Fog - puts down d3+3 4" clouds that don't block friendly faction model's LOS, while in the clouds friendly faction models can move through terrain and obstacles without penalty, advance through obstructions and friendly models if they have enough movement, and most importantly living enemy models suffer a -2 to attack rolls while in the clouds
Basically Jarl is the King of DEF skew in trolls. Using Fennblades as an example with Weald Secrets on them standing in the feat clouds they are DEF 18 against charging living models (base DEF 12 + WS 2 + Set Defense 2 + clouds 2 = DEF 18) and DEF 16 against shooting. Out of feat turn they can be DEF 16 against charges using the Swamp Gobbers or the Chronicler. Quicken also provides some great protection on the approach, but doesn't stack as nicely as Weald Secrets. Boomhowlers can do similar stacking using Weald Secrets, the feat clouds, and Rage Howler. There are a lot of options with Jarl and I believe that again base 15 Nyss are not a bad option when stacking these buffs, they might not have as many additional modifiers but +4 from concealment and camouflage still puts them at DEF 19.
Trolls don't have as many obvious DEF skews as they do ARM skews and they aren't as prevalent as those found in Khador, but with work they definitely have a place in the meta. Especially when everyone is worried about an ARM skew these days. We as troll players also have the additional benefit of having the Krielstone and normal answers to high DEF skew like blast damage aren't as effective as they are with DEF skews like Iron Flesh Kayazy. Many warmachine and hordes players see trolls across the table and reach for their anti-ARM list, and probably won't even notice the DEF synergies that these casters provide, some are more obvious, but a DEF skew is a bit of dark horse for us, so why not take advantage? Lets show the community that Trolls are not just a high ARM stat.