well i suppose he could easily have lore denethor's stats and the ability. i cant see him having much else, i mean he was no warrior when it came to the war of the ring, his willpower was debatable….so i guess his defense should be high (more from a bodyguard than anything else)….perhaps he gets a personal defense buff when at least 1 gondor character is in play?
Oh boy would I love to argue this.
Denethor had great Will Power that none of Sauron's underlings (including Black Numenoreans and Nazguls) would've been able to influence Denethor through Palantir. In fact, even when Sauron himself tried to 'mind control' Denethor, he was unable to penetrate through Denethor's mental strength and most he could do was show vague illusions from time to time (which proved enough).
Denethor wore ringmail under his shirt any given time so his body won't go out of shape, so it is not unreasonable to assume he was once a great captain of Gondorian army in his youth and still maintains some of that physical prowness.
I mean, even his arch-enemy (or whom he regarded as his political arch-enemy) Gandalf admitted that somehow blood of Numenor ran true and strong in Denethor's veins, so Denethor couldn't have been cowering weakling sitting in chair all day eating tomatoes while his son leads suicide charge (a single line of cavalry against batallion of Orcs. Great tactics btw).
Having said that, I was hoping for Leadership Denethor with 1/1/3/3 stats to maintain starting threat of 8 to counter rather costly starting threat of Boromir and Imrahil. And have something like 'response: When you raise your threat as result of card effect, spend 1 resource from Denethor to reduce your threat by 1' or 'response: When you raise your threat as result of card effect, place X damage tokens on Denethor to reduce your threat by X, X cannot be higher than threat you would have gained from the card effect'. That way Denethor can hold back the 'threat' of Mordor as long as he can by either using any means he have (resource) or sacrificing his mentality (damage tokens) and it would somewhat make sense to use the Palantir card along with him.
I think you are correct to assume Steward's Fear won't be the 'challenging' scenario you are looking for.
It is the beginning of a Cycle and I expect somewhat similar difficulty to Hunt for Gollum or Redhorn Gate in respect to card pool we had when they were released (which wasn't mind-blowingly difficult).
As you suggested, the only way (or the only way I can see) FFG can satisfy both end of players (extremist such as yourself and casual players) is to make nightmare decks for each Cycle / Delux Expansions.