Thugs and supercombatants are the "special forces" of Dominions: commanders that, rather than merely leading troops and supporting them with magic, can directly engage and defeat enemy forces.
These are usually thought of in two pieces: the chassis (the base unit, like a Vanjarl or Bane Lord) and its gear (such as a Frost Brand and Vine Shield).
While the difference between a thug and a supercombatant is somewhat vague, generally thugs are less-expensive units (in both chassis and gear cost) that are deployed for a specific purpose. They are not intended to take on "all comers"; instead, they are customized to achieve their goal as cheaply as possible. SC's, on the other hand, try to be prepared for everything; this often requires a high-end chassis and expensive gear.
The definition of a thug can be somewhat nebulous, changing depending on the situation and context of what you're discussing. In the broadest sense, a thug is:
As you can probably tell this covers a very wide range of possibilities. In many ways, a thug is a "you'll know it when you see it" sort of concept. Some nations have thugs which can be recruited from their capital; others rely on national or generic summons they can access with their mages.
Building thugs requires three things: a chassis (a base commander, either recruited or summoned), usually forged gear to specialize it for the task it will do, and a script to prepare it on the battlefield.
For instance, a common thug task is capturing provinces defended only by province defense. As an example, a typical chassis for this is the Vanjarl. Their high defense, glamour, and ability to buff with Mistform makes it extremely difficult for mundane chaff to threaten them, and a Frost Brand will let them kill PD quickly. For extra safety, they can be equipped with a Vine Shield for additional protection from melee units; humans have neither the MR to avoid the effect or the strength to break free easily. But more mundane units can thug too; even a humble Ulm Warrior Smith can use buffs like Ironskin and Temper Flesh to survive attacks from chaff.
Thugs designed to fight chaff need a way to survive and a way to kill. Survival often is based on layered defense: high protection, high defense stat, glamour, mistform, regeneration, awe, vineshield, or even astral shield all serve as different defensive layers, and a thug with multiples is far more survivable. Killing mundane troops can be done with AoE weapons like Frost Brand or even a unit's default attacks.
However, thugs can do other things too. A common role is as elite-killers, or "anti-thugs". The classic weapon for this is the Greatsword of Sharpness – whose massive damage and armor piercing is overkill against PD but quite useful against things relying on protection or HP to stay alive. A classic anti-thug might be a Sauromatian Warrior Sorceress with a Greatsword of Sharpness, casting spells like Elemental Fortitude, Quicken Self, or Mossbody before charging into battle.
It is critical to script thugs for the tasks they will perform. Spells like Quicken Self may be extremely helpful against other thugs, but detrimental against troops (where they will result in you fatiguing out faster). Especially when you expect opposition from things other than mundane chaff, understanding your opposition is critical so you can prepare countermeasures.
Thugs can also be "fluffed" – buffed by other mages besides themselves who join battle with them but do not engage directly.
Thug chassis vary in "weight class"; a Warrior Sorceress or Vanherse on the low end is not very expensive, and so often operates with light equipment but in groups even against PD. Heavier thug chassis – a Jotun Skratti, Adon, or even Oracle of the Ancients, for instance – are more expensive, more capable, and thus use heavier equipment to take on harder tasks.
A supercombatant (SC) is, in some ways, a "super thug":
Supercombatants are usually something that will come about in the late game, once the most powerful summons, buffs, and constructions have been researched. Usually only a few specific creatures have the stats and abilities needed to properly fill this role, such as the arch angels, Laestrygonian Tyrants, or some pretender gods. Some nations have recruitable chassis that straddle the line between high-end thugs and light SC's; the most famous are the Niefel Jarl, Dai Oni, Fomorian King, and Basalt King.
SCs are difficult to make work in Dominions 5 - in the prior games they were easier to make and harder to kill. Due to a variety of reasons this is no longer the case. Nowadays an SC needs to be tailored to the threat they are facing - making sure to have high fire resistance versus Abysia or high magic resistance versus Bandar Log for example.
A thug or SC needs to do three things: kill whatever it needs to kill (or scare it off), not die in the process, and move around the map. One of the major advantages of thugs is the ability to mix and match equipment to achieve various goals, in combination with the innate abilities of the chassis.
What you use will depend on what you need to do, how much you want to spend, and what gems and paths you have. Vaettiheim will equip most of its thugs with Frost Brands, not Fire Brands – simply because you don't have the gems or the mages to make Fire Brands.
Here are some of the more commonly-seen items:
Thugs, particularly light ones, spend most of their time whacking province defense and chaffy infantry. This is best done with AoE weapons.
You need a way to kill them, and you need a way to not die in the process.
* Frost Brand (5 is the most basic, clearing PD with a minimum of fuss.
* Fire Brand (55) is an upgrade. Fire damage is better than cold damage on an AoE weapon since it works on summoned skeletons; the weapon itself is armor piercing so it can work against other thugs with high protection.
* Snake Bladder Stick (5) can be used on things that resist poison, and is good at killing large volumes of things that don't resist poison.
* Mace of Eruption (10) comes at Construction 2 and can be used to clear weak chaff.
* Horror Helm (10) provides fear, which can eventually rout enemy PD if you can endure their attacks for a while.
* Magic: Summoned elementals or Soul Vortex can wipe out PD reliably. In some cases, Fire Shield can also clear them out.
You also need to not die to PD or light enemy squads in the area. The best way for any thug or SC to survive is to layer defenses, so that anything that gets past one must deal with another. This also makes you more robust to certain counters: if you rely solely on a high Protection statistic to not die, then some mage will wander by with Lightning Bolt and you'll be sad.
If your base chassis doesn't have good protection or the ability to cast Ironskin or similar, you will likely need some armor. (Even if you do have this access, forged armor can provide even more protection.) Many armor types will provide protection plus other goodies.
* Armor of Knights (5): lots of Protection for a cheap price and low encumbrance, but no other goodies.
* Copper Plate (5): Don't want to die to mages with Lightning Bolt ? Try this.
* Chain Mail of Displacement (10): Already hard to hit? Get protection and make yourself even harder. Good if you're worried about elite troops or anti-thugs.
* Dragon scale mail: High resistance value, low encumbrance, good prot
* Rainbow Armor (55): magic resistance, reinvigoration, not too much encumbrance, but low protection. Useful for thugs or for combat mages.
* Kithaironic Lion Pelt: Budget head and body prot in one item for a cheap price and not much encumbrance.
If you need to chop up enemy big stuff, you're looking for accurate high-damage attacks. Some items that do that well are Greatsword of Sharpness, Moon Blade, Axe of Hate, or Flesh Eater. Items like Ring of the Warrior and Burning Pearl can help you hit.
Often your challenge is not as much about killing the enemy as it is about keeping yourself alive. To this end there are many spells which can be used to make thugs and SCs multiplicatively more durable. This is an incomplete list and you can help by expanding it.
Liquid body and Temper flesh: Both provide all physical resistances, halving physical damage rounding down after protection goes a long way towards keeping someone alive. Temper flesh comes with some fire resistance and liquid body comes with affliction resistance and some other effects but for the most use cases these spells are equivalent.
Ironskin, Stoneskin, and Barkskin give protection in return for a negative resistance. Often you can ensure that the negative resistance doesn't have too many negative implications – but don't Stoneskin if you are expecting to fight Frozen Heart casters, for instance.
Soul Vortex is an excellent spell for fighting armies, allowing a powerful death mage to both kill and be healed by mundane troops they fight.
Invulnerability, likewise, allows a powerful death mage to ignore attacks from mundane sources.
Summon Earthpower enables you to fight without fatiguing out.
Flying Shield: Grants protective force, giving a 50% chance to add 20 protection on any attack. This stacks plainly with regular prot making it able to almost completely negate a lot of attacks on already high prot thugs.
Mistform: Grants quite a lot of extra endurance against mundane attacks.
Phoenix Pyre: The reincarnation effect can be very powerful on SC's with substantial reinvigoration.
A "fluffer" is a weaker mage who joins battle along with a stronger unit (such as a thug or SC) with the sole job of casting buffs on the stronger unit. The fluffer can either retreat after casting its buffs or stay around and hope to survive while the strong unit fights the enemy army.
Body Ethereal: makes the subject ethereal, which provides a 75% chance for non-magical attacks to whiff. This is a good spell to fluff because it only requires 1 but a bad spell to have an SC cast because they can be cost effectively countered by Magic Duel.
Mossbody: Has a 75% chance to negate up to 15 points of damage, applied after protection, physical and elemental resistances. It has a funny effect where if an attack makes it through the extra 15 prot and does damage the mossbody disappears in a puff of poison but this is mostly an academic point when used on already high prot thugs. Mossbody is particularly effective when combined with slash/blunt/pierce resistance from Temper Flesh or Liquid Body; this combination is called "physmoss".
Legions of Steel: +3 prot to all armor is good for anyone wearing armor and invaluable for prot stacking tactics.
(Personal) Regeneration: early in the research tree come the absolutely vital regeneration buffs. Regeneration is great for thugs and SCs early, mid, and late game. Regeneration gives 10% health back every turn, rounding up! This stacks with natural regen (like on trolls) and regeneration from gear (like hydra skin armor). An Awake titan with a bit of armor and personal regen can expand. Later in the game regeneration is used to stop chip damage in long battles from killing thugs and SCs. Regeneration also reduces the odds of getting afflictions by 90%.
Various Prot buffs: Everything from Iron Warriors to Barkskin can be a valuable asset to a thug. Boosting natural prot partially stacks with armor but because it is a flat reduction to damage taken, a linear increase in prot results in an exponential decrease in the likely hood of a DRN rolling high enough to deal damage against very high prot. Protection stacking is a bread and butter method of increasing the durability of a thug or SC.
Quickness: +2 att and def, doubled movement speed, and doubled attack rate are wonderful for any SC but it comes at the cost of doubled fatigue. This spell can be amazing to have on fatigue negative undead thugs or ruinous on one with more serious fatigue concerns such as heavily armored skratti.
Most thugs are designed to kill PD or unsupported armies. They thus focus their defenses on surviving being outnumbered by weak mundane units and their offense on killing or scaring away these quickly. The usual loadout of a Vine Shield and a Frost Brand is iconic for this.
Thugs also derive a lot of their utility from mobility: they often have a combination of magic phase movement (from Cloud Trapeze), flying or fast movement, and stealth to strike unexpectedly and get away safely.
So, to counter thugs, you will want to use something that can catch them and something that can kill them efficiently without dying first (either by their own defenses or with superior numbers).
In contrast to the 'vine shield and brand' loadout that excels at killing mundane troops, other items are superior at rapidly killing single strong targets. For instance, a Sword of Swiftness or a Holy Scourge is inferior to a Frost Brand at killing mundane troops, but will often kill a single beefy target more quickly.
Thus, if you know the characteristics of enemy thugs, it is often possible to design and script your own thugs to kill them more efficiently.
Especially since you can recover their gear (with scouts if necessary), this can be an efficient way of killing thugs and SC's; it can be worth a significant investment to jump on a SC with 50 gems worth of gear, kill it, and take its stuff.
The more expensive the SC, the more you can invest in killing it while recovering your investment.
Especially if you are behind PD that can absorb attacks, mages (often in groups) can do a good job of killing thugs if their spells can target a weakness in their defenses. Cold resistance, for instance, may not seem vital on a thug or light SC designed to kill troops. But even a humble W1 mage behind friendly PD will make quick work of such a thug with Frozen Heart.
In general, good anti-thug spells are those that target gaps in the thug's defenses and are effective against strong single targets (i.e. that have high precision or that summon allies).
Some good anti-thug spells are Incinerate, Lightning Bolt, Frozen Heart, Soul Slay, Leech, and sometimes summoned elementals.
Some thug defenses are readily bypassed by elite non-commander units with high MR, magic weapons, and good stats. For instance, a few Living Mercury will splatter most thugs. Wights and some blessed sacreds can do this as well. Leading small groups of these around, possibly with a mage to buff them, can do a good job of repelling raiding thugs.
There are two ways to catch thugs. One is to use magic phase movement to jump on them after they reveal themselves. This can often be done using A2 mages; many good anti-thug chassis have A2 (such as Vanjarls), but it is often efficient to use even plain human mages. For instance, it may often be worth it to Cloud Trapeze five of those mages (costing 15 gems) onto an enemy SC and Lightning Bolt it into oblivion – especially since you will get its stuff.
This doesn't work with thugs that will stealth and move away after attacking.
Another way to catch thugs is to simply anticipate their movement with very cheap antithugs or counter-thug elite squads who can disperse and meet them in the provinces they are trying to raid. For instance, many fairly weak commanders with a Holy Scourge can make quick work of a Dai Oni thug. Since they are so cheap, you can disperse these in provinces at risk of being raided and have a good chance of catching your target.
If you are anticipating thugs that may use magic phase movement to jump on you, one anti-thug squad can cover two provinces, since you'll fight them whether they jump in the province you are starting in or the one you are moving to.
Zen and the Art of Thugging by Baalz