Thursday, 22 October 2020

Painting a World with Monster Blood

Before I get into the post, it's time for me to once again remind you that if you've been enjoying GRIMLITE and reading about its development, you can support this blog over on the Bastionland Patreon

Onto the post. 

 The world of GRIMLITE is born out of three main sources:

  • Whatever miniatures I'm kitbashing this week - I really like these Frostgrave kits, I should put in more viability for fielding medieval-feeling units alongside my 40k kitbashes.
  • The way that actual gameplay unfolds at the table - Leaders really make or break a lot of games, feels like more of the spotlight should be on them. What makes them so special? 
  • The requirements of the game - I need a big list of Horrors. How should I categorise them?
It actually gets easier as you go. Those first few bits of setting are agonising to create, and they sit there totally unsupported, like unwanted lore stains on a nice clean game system. Then you eventually have enough scraps of a world that you can start to web them together. It starts to actually feel like something. You'll know you're on the right path when you feel like your setting is answering questions without you having to think about it at all.

GRIMLITE isn't quite there yet, but this week I reached the question highlighted in the third bullet-point above. What's the deal with these horrors? Are they just a random assortment of monsters designed to both inspire cool kitbashes and provide a place for the miniatures you already have lying  around? Well, yes, but it's also a good opportunity to let the world speak for itself.

Horrors aren't categorised into Factions like Warbands are. I mentioned before that Factions are really just a best-fit for your warband and don't necessarily represent a larger organisation. To use a 40k analogy, you can be an Inquisitor without having to belong to the Inquisition. Your ambitions are your own, but you can't really rely on support from above. 

For Horrors, they're divided into Themes, and for now there are 5 because that's how many pages I needed to fill to maintain a nice printable booklet form. Sorry for the peek behind the curtain there.

These Themes represent the world of GRIMLITE, or at least the hostile part of it. What are the forces at work that want to see you dead, and why aren't they forming Warbands of their own?

Keen followers of GRIMLITE's development will notice that some of the Horrors pictured here have also been used as Warband members. I really want to encourage this. You don't need to have a shelf full of bespoke miniatures in order to enjoy the game. Sometimes a miniature can perform double duty.

The lines between Themes are fuzzy, but that's very much the idea. Think of them more like starting points for creating Horrors and linking them together rather than clearly distinct boxes. If you find yourself wondering whether a Horror fits into one Theme or another, that probably means you've created something that embodies parts of both. Bonus points to you. 

Let's look at them and add in some brand new Horrors to fill out their ranks. I'll give each one a brand new ability that fits their Theme.

Beasts that just want to survive.

Some creatures just want to eat, protect their nests, and keep their territory free from warring humans. It's understandable, really, but your survival might also involve killing them. Even the more mundane-looking entries like spiders and wolves come with an unpleasant twist. 

This is a desperate, wild world, where you must do everything you can to survive.

Lesser Horror
Bloodhawk (Nimble 5+)
Tearing Claws (T3x1)
Flight: When this Horror moves it ignores all terrain between itself and its destination. Note that it can still only move to a destination that it can see. 

Greater Horror
Furious Behemoth (Tough 3+)
Horns and Hoofs: (T2x2)
Implacable: This unit cannot be killed as long as it is Standing.
Crush: When this unit moves into contact with an enemy it causes d6 Damage.

Beings warped only to fight.

Whatever happened to these beings, their existence is now dedicated to a war against some perceived enemy, which includes you. Maybe a Splice went wrong, maybe their mind was twisted to rage, or maybe they were deliberately made this way.  

This is a fractured, bloody world, torn apart by hatred.

Lesser Horror
Many-Horned Hound (Fierce 5+)
Horns (T3x1)
Impale: x2 Damage if this unit hits with all of its dice in a single attack. 
Scent: Treat this unit as if they can always see the nearest enemy. 

Greater Horror
Crafted Aberration (Nimble 3+)
Grasping Form (T1x3 - see below)
Fuelled by Hate: When this unit fights, replace its number of Dice with the number of Enemies it can see. e.g when it can see 3 Enemies it Fights at T3x3. 
Regenerate: After being Wounded, make one more Roll. On a pass the unit is not Wounded. 

Those wish to subjugate you.

This might sound like a unified enemy, but nothing is really unified in GRIMLITE. Any organisation attempting to stamp their control on the world is sure to face more resistance than submission, but that doesn't stop them trying. More than any other, these Horrors probably see themselves as the heroes.. 

This is a world where no authority can be fully trusted, always carrying a selfish agenda.

Lesser Horror
Red Warden (Precise 5+)
Subsonic Blaster (R2x1 - Push: If the target Saves against all Damage, push them directly away from you. If they hit something solid they take 1 Damage.)
Shield-Hound (+1 to Saves when Standing. If this unit Saves against all Damage from an attack the attacker takes 1 Damage)

Greater Horror
Eliminator-Drone (Precise 3+)
Seeker Missile (R1x4 - Can always fire at the nearest target, visible or not, and ignores Cover.)
Dismemberment Claws (T2x2 - Targets that roll at least one 1 on their Saves are instantly killed)
Regenerate: After being Wounded, make one more Roll. On a pass the unit is not Wounded. 

Things left without a purpose. 

The Company's legacy lives on in creatures and machines that no longer have structure to their existence. Even beyond the Company, powers constantly wax and wane, and those that were created for one thing have nothing else to cling to. Guardians protect, warriors fight, and hunters seek new prey.

This is a ruined world that cannot escape its past, and those that abandoned us. 

Lesser Horror
Sworn Vivifier (5+)
Injector (T1x3)
Deathless: At the start of this Unit's turn, any other units of the same type that can see it automatically Recover. 

Greater Horror
Bound Hulk (Fierce 3+)
Crushing Fists (T2x3)
Rage without Purpose: At the end of its Turn, if this unit cannot see an Enemy, Scream, causing 1 Damage to the d6 nearest enemies, visible or not.
Regenerate: After being Wounded, make one more Roll. On a pass the unit is not Wounded. 

Echoes that should be silent.

The natural cycle of things was broken the minute that the Company started toying with our world in ways thought to be impossible. Few would disagree that our world is dying, but some forces seek to outright hurry that process along. 

There's a lot of overlap with Ruin here, but Horrors of Ruin are focused on acting out their past purpose. Horrors of Death either cling to a more hollow existence or find purpose in death itself.

This is a dying world, where the Company meddled with powers even greater than themselves.

Lesser Horror
Pale Knight (Tough 5+)
Glaive (T3x1)
Shadowfeed: If a Unit has died this Round, this unit acts at QL3+.

Greater Horror
Grave Heap (Tough 3+)
Grasping Hands (T6x1)
Spawn: At the end of its Turn, place d6-3 Restless Dead touching this unit.
Endless: +1 to Saves when Downed.

Friday, 16 October 2020

GRIMLITE Composite Scenarios

Scenarios can tell you about the world around your wargame. 

Yesterday I played GRIMLITE against Zach in the first live test of the new Scenario system I've put in place. It works like this:

A Scenario is essentially made up of two halves: the Mission and the Scene.

The Mission sets the main goal of the battle for at least one of the sides. Maybe your leaders are facing off in a duel, one side is trying to break through to the other side of the board, or both sides are just trying to withstand waves of Horrors until they can be extracted. 

The Scene sets the environment. There's often a special rule at play, random events that trigger at the end of each round, and a secondary objective for one or more side to compete for. Maybe an immortal guardian watches over a powerful relic, precarious towers offer vital intel, or exterminators are purging swarms of horrors (and you if you get in the way). It even gives you some special rewards you can earn at the end of the battle instead of drawing from your Faction's normal list.

Both of these halves also have Twists available if you want to make things really messy. Maybe the Relic is guarded by three immortal guardians instead of one, but they're dormant and you might be able to bypass them altogether, or maybe your Breakthrough mission involves giant turrets that can be controlled by either side. 

Grab a Mission and a Scene and smash them together for an interesting two-layered Scenario. 

Both of these halves have notes for how to alter them for solo or coop play.

This all fits with my goal for GRIMLITE to be more of an RPG-syle toolbox than a dense swiss-watch ruleset. Short, simple rules followed by a big pile of stuff that you can use them for.

This sort of composite-scenario system is certainly nothing new, but with some expansion I think it could inform the player about the world in a direct way, a method I've obviously enjoyed in the past. Bounty Hunts and Relics and Warzones aren't anything ground-breaking, but they each imply something about the world. This is something I want to push further as work on the game continues. 

Unfinished Horrors waiting to prey on your Warband

So about that playtest against Zach.

I got trounced pretty thoroughly, but through a fortunate finish I was able to grab two Glory against his three. Getting beaten but still having a good time, and never quite losing hope, is a reassuring result.

But the real measure of this game is whether a narrative emerged from the battle, and I'm pretty confident it did. I should clarify that neither of us really spoke about the narrative of our warbands or the battle beforehand other than "right, this is the mission, this is the scene, we're using these Horrors, and let's look at each other's warbands". 

Yet after the battle I looked back on it and really felt like there was a story unfolding, and that story was telling us something about the world.

  • Our Scenario was Breakthrough (I had to get to the other side of the board) and Warzone (There were survivors we could rescue for Glory and some very nasty random events at the end of each Round). From my point of view this made the situation feel very hostile. 
  • My warband was mostly melee, while Zach's was more shooty. In particular his Leader was essentially acting as a sniper for most of the game, and I just couldn't dislodge them. It really felt like I was running into hostile ground knowing that most of my units wouldn't make it to the other side. But if I could just get one or two back there it would all be worth it.
  • The sheer danger of the Warzone, which saw us taking fire from off the board at the end of most rounds, set upon by Horrors, all while trying to coax chaotic Survivors to safety. This is clearly a world where our Warbands aren't great powers, but are caught in bigger crossfires, and often outmatched by the lurking horrors.
  • On the penultimate round one of the usually-pacifist survivors ran decisively across the battlefield towards my leader. I thought this was a stroke of luck, now my leader can guide them to safety on the next Round. Yet the end of round event saw that same Survivor charge into my already downed leader and stab them with a hidden knife. Luckily the Leader survived, but nobody in this world should be trusted as truly safe.
  • In this particular mission there wasn't any Glory to be earned directly for killing Horrors, so we both started the game focusing on killing each other. A few rounds later we both realised we'd underestimated the threat of the Horrors, and where they weren't tying up our units they were outright killing them. Remember, no matter how much you might want to take the fight to your enemy, the world around you is just as eager to kill you. 

I was concerned that the combination of Mission and Scene would make things feel too complicated, but with the rules themselves being so simple it's all very manageable, especially once both players are familiar with the game.

It feels like if we played the same Mission with a different Scene, or vice versa, it would have felt significantly different.

Maybe next time a Breakthrough in Darkness? Would have certainly helped me avoid all that sniper fire.

Or back into the Warzone for a Duel between our leaders? Feels like there's a score to be settled there.

Next in line is the Campaign system. In the mean time let me know if you manage to get GRIMLITE to the table as solo, coop, or competitive. 

Monday, 12 October 2020

Settings for Games: The Importance of Answers

This is the continuation of a loose series of posts about the relationship between a game and its setting. I've written before about how a setting should serve the game, but as I've mulled it over I think it's more of a two-way relationship than I'd previously written. 

Specifically, I think I've overstated the need for a setting that creates Questions. Sometimes you really do need some Answers too.

Critical Answers

I've spoken about how I like artwork that raises interesting questions about the world, but here I'm talking about answers to questions that the GM or Player might have about a setting they're exploring.

We've all bought games, thinking the setting sounded like a cool place to run a game, then read through it and realised we have no idea what a game in that world would actually look like. For me, this comes down to unanswered critical questions.

It's a very specific sort of question.

A setting doesn't need to answer every question a player could have about the world, but there are generally a few critical questions any prospective GM would have about the setting they're preparing to run, and it pays to include answers.

At its most basic level: 

Why are these characters together? 

What might the start of a session look like? 

What sort of opposition will the characters face?

But depending on how the game goes, your critical questions might also include: 

What happens if we fail at our main objective?

We got super rich really quickly, what can I spend it on?

The players have decided this dungeon is too dangerous and they want to go home, how does the world respond to that?

Lots of blogs have written variants on the theme of "Here are 20 Questions to ask yourself about your setting before running a game", so nothing new here, but the key is being able to pick out which questions are truly Critical, and which are not. As usual there isn't going to be a hard boundary here, but best-fit is still useful.

Really it's any question that, if left unanswered, might cause the game to significantly stall while the GM has to create an answer without support from the setting.

To use Electric Bastionland as an example, one of the first lines of text in the book explains that the group have all come into a shared debt, and have decided to become Treasure Hunters to try and pay it off. This answers a number of common Critical Questions in one very short piece of text. I don't like to brag, but I'm quite proud of this little part of the game.

And what's more, that Debt mechanic actually serves double-duty by also prompting...

Flavourful Answers

This is more akin to the purpose of question-based artwork. Answers to the weird little questions that players might ask while engaging in the game. 

In the case of the Debt mechanic: Why are we in debt? And why together?

So the game answers them. You're assigned a Debtholder, but it's not fully explained how you got into debt with them. You get just enough to make your own interesting answer.

Any why are we all in Debt together? Well hopefully the Conductor has read the section on Bastion, because there are three bullet-points designed to answer all questions like this.

Why are you in debt together?  Well everything in Bastion is Shared and Complicated. It's a quirk of Bureaucracy. Welcome to Bastion!

It's a question somebody might ask for purely game-related reasons, but the answer hits them in the face with some setting-flavour before they realise you're engaging them in the world.

This is related to the idea of considering the specific and generic elements in your setting. You can take your generic components like "the city" or "orcs" and add in your specific flavour by thinking about the questions players might ask during a game and tying the flavour to those answers.

Why are we kitted out like Dark Age peasants while the Orcs all have submachineguns? 

Answering that question in-game goes a much longer way to engaging the players with your world than including an opening chapter of fiction describing how the Orcs came to develop such advanced weapons.

The Test

When you're wondering whether a question is worth answering in your game, consider that your players ask it to you and the only answer you have it "You don't know. You'd have to investigate that yourself".

If that sounds like a fun answer to your question then don't break a sweat over it. Add a Flavourful Answer in there if you think you've got something better than what the GM would just invent on the fly, otherwise leave it open.

If it sounds like not having a somewhat solid answer to that question would stall the game? That's a Critical Question. Find a way to impart the answer into at least the GM, but ideally the players too, and as early on in the game as you can manage. 

Wednesday, 7 October 2020


I should stop giving my games stupid joke names that end up being impossible to shake. 

GRIMLITE is clearly a nod to wanting a rules-lite version of certain Grim Dark games. I was experimenting with the name Husk 28 as a nod to some other inspirations but I'm starting to think I should accept that GRIMLITE might be here to stay for the time being.

But despite that, I feel like I have a stronger sense of the game's identity after continued testing and getting carried away with building warbands and horrors. More specifically, I feel like the identity of the game is informing the identity of the world. 

The game started as an excuse to kitbash 40k miniatures with other lines and bring some of that Inq28 feel to a very simple, fast game. Now I feel like I can go further than "40k with the serial numbers filed off". I could avoid all reference to 40k and pretend the influence isn't there, but I'd rather highlight the differences while embracing that initial inspiration.

My settings are always going to reflect the reality of what happens at the table, and in this case that reality is moulded by both the game table and the modelling table. 

As with Into the Odd and Electric Bastionland, this isn't a game that will ever come with pages of lore. I want a setting infused into the actual content of the game. This is more of a style-guide, equally intended for myself and anybody else that wants to explore the game.

Inconsistent Technology

Blending sci-fi and medieval elements is past cliché at this point, but it works and I love it.

It might vary among the factions, but as a rule-of-thumb I like giving my Leader and their favoured followers more of a sci-fi look, while keeping the grunts of the warband in more of a medieval light. Remember, this world is forgotten. The Company brought peace, but that's a slice of sci-fi sandwiched between two more grimy periods: the faded legacy of the pre-Company world, and the neo dark age abandonment of today.

Of course it's all an excuse to mix 40k accessories in with the Frostgrave plastic sets, kit out some Skitarii like feudal knights, and throw those creations against each other.

Modest Scale

Warbands, not armies. Chapels, not cathedrals. Today, not ten thousand years of lore. This forgotten world, not an unknowable galaxy. 

Even the most formidable opponent can be brought down with a piercer shot and have their throat cut as they lie on the ground. 

They might be robots, mutants, or aliens, but there's a certain modesty implied here compared to towering Primaris super-soldiers. My Paragon (4+, Tough) is basically a bulky bloke with chain and plate armour. Even my leaders have a certain fragility to them, with oversized power-fists and plasma-guns looking slightly out of scale next to their very mortal bodies. 

Personal Focus

You are not a nameless individual among a billion humans, doomed to die a pointless death. Even your most humble followers will likely stick with you through multiple battles. Name them, watch them grow, and remember their deeds. 

Likewise, even though your warbands will be one of four types, the term "Faction" is misleading. There's no grand council of the Inheritors, no centralised Welder government, and no Splicer Queen. Think, instead, of these warbands options are more of a "best fit" for your particular group of individuals. They don't really owe allegiance to any higher power than your Leader. It's small-scale feudalism in a fractured world. 

The Company abandoned us, so why pledge loyalty to any besides your closest companions? Why trust a name on a piece of paper when you can trust the one person you know that has a machinegun?

The campaign is more likely to be a personal vendetta or quest rather than some chain of missions in service of a planet-wide operation. Your world is firmly rooted in the 5-9 models that you've built and brought to the table.

If you've been exploring your own version of GRIMLITE, be sure to let me know, and if you're curious then you can watch live gameplay on Twitch and catch up on Youtube.

Tuesday, 15 September 2020

Specific vs Generic: Ornaments & Bricks

The settings that really grab my attention have a way of drawing you in with little details. Servo skulls in Warhammer 40k. Carrion Priests in Spire. The noise of a TIE Fighter in Star Wars. Here it pays to be very specific, and if you get it right then the reader/viewer/player should feel their imagination racing to life around this one small piece of your world.

To counter that, a setting that's overloaded with specific elements can feel restrictive, intimidating, or tonally inconsistent within itself. Sometimes a world that's thoroughly planned out is less interesting than one with gaps. There are times when it pays to stay generic. We hardly need to know more about the' Empire and the Rebellion than their name to start to understand them. 

It's a bit like what I wrote about here, but more focused on the overall structure of a setting than the artwork. Let me apply an over-important theory to this.

Specific elements are your Ornaments. These are the things that give your world life and identity. In Electric Bastionland this could be any of the Failed Careers or Oddities. You aren't a Fighter or a Rogue, you're specifically an Avant Guardsman or a Counterfeit Taxidermist. 

Generic elements are your Bricks. These are basic pieces that aren't interesting on their own, but imagination unlocks their potential. In Electric Bastionland most weapons are Bricks. They have a damage die, maybe they're Bulky or do Blast damage, but that's about it. There's no list of fifty weapon types with subtly different mechanics here. The differences between a Sword (d6) and an Axe (d6) exist largely within your imagination. 

Really I was thinking of Lego with this analogy. Think of the Specific Ornament elements as those fancy pieces like a crocodile or set of wheels. They're designed to catch your eye and do a mostly specific thing. These are the pieces that might give you the idea to build a crocodile-car, but it's only the generic bricks that allow the idea to become a reality.

With Electric Bastionland most of the Ornaments are weird characters or objects, but they're held up by a bare-bones system and a vague approach to setting specifics. Bastion is a specific city, but beyond a few core principles it's actually more of an expansion on the generic idea of a city.

When the system and world are both so simple it's easy for me to give the Avant Guardsman a trained attack bear when all of the required mechanics fit neatly on a single line and I don't have to worry about the canonical impact. If I got fancy and designed a new specific sub-system for bear-training, and slipped in a paragraph about the impact of bear-training guardsmen on the city of Bastion as a whole... well you can see how things would get out of control after a while.

GRIMLITE is slightly different. As with so many other miniature games, it's very much designed to be an excuse to kitbash miniatures together and face them off against each other. Here it pays to be vague, but if I use nothing but generic lego bricks then why should anybody care? What's the point in me making this game for anybody but myself?

This is where the balance comes in. There are specific elements in there, but they're also functioning as bricks. Maybe this analogy is falling apart, but where a wargame tied to an official line of miniatures might want a very specific visual identity for their units, I want to keep things vague enough that you and I might both have very different miniatures representing the same unit, but both are equally valid.

This wouldn't be the case if I was overly specific, like this:

Argastes, Rust Priest (3+)
A lithe, brown-robed priest overrun by the nano-corrosion that he serves. His melted-face is hidden behind a skeletal mask and his legs replaced by a mass of iron tendrils.
Oxidiation Pistol (T1x5, one-handed: A sleek, glowing pistol with optic sights)
Shock Pick (T1x3, two handed, connected to Power Pack. Bears the symbol of his order, a half-corroded skull)
Ever-Server - Bipedal Rust-Acolyte and Scroll-Bearer: Once per battle ignore one wound as Ever-Server conjurs an immaterial shield from his texts.
Tactic: Invoke the Nano-Prism - All your units attempt a Free Recovery.

And equally, things quickly become entirely uninspiring when you get too generic, like this: 

Priest (3+)
Gun (T1x5)
Melee Weapon (T1x3)
Accessory: Once per battle ignore one wound.
Tactic: All your units attempt a Free Recovery.

So the actual entry looks like this, which I'm hoping gives enough inspiration to spark your imagination but doesn't tie you down to needing the exact miniature that I had in mind:

Argastes, Rust Priest (3+)
Oxidiser (T1x5)
Shock Pick (T1x3)
Assistant: Once per battle ignore one wound.
Tactic: Arise - All your units attempt a Free Recovery.

The Oxidiser is perhaps the best example here. The name conjures ideas around what the weapon could be, but it really doesn't limit how that weapon might look. I have it as a weird pistol, but you might model yours as a slender beam weapon or a chunky, experimental energy cannon.

It's a tough tightrope to walk, and I think every game should carefully consider how it balances its Specific and Generic elements.

Thursday, 3 September 2020

GRIMLITE Demo and a Break

 For those that missed the stream, my solo run-through of GRIMLITE is now up on the YouTube Channel for viewing.

Also, don't be alarmed when I'm quiet for the next week, as I'm taking a break, returning on Monday 14th September. As such there won't be a Bastionland Broadcast next week, returning on Tuesday 15th with a new episode of Bastionspiration.

However, Bastionland Podcast will update in my absence, with a new Niche Explorer episode dropping on Monday as normal. 

Monday, 24 August 2020

Bastionland Podcast - Niche Explorer

The Bastionland Podcast is back for a second series! This series is dubbed Niche Explorer, and I'll be welcoming a new guest each week to dip into their particular niche of tabletop gaming.

For the first episode I was joined by Joseph McCullough of Frostgrave fame, where we talked about miniature wargaming and its relationship with RPGs.