Thursday 28 May 2020

GRIMLITE Playtest Report and Thoughts

Last night saw my first playtest of GRIMLITE. Ram kindly tested out a preliminary version while I was awaiting my minis, but now I'm fully equipped and ready to go.

First some changes I've made to the game.

Free Movement now lets you move any distance (!), with a single vault, climb, or sidestep permitted along the way. The caveat is that any Moves after your first each turn require a roll. If you fail the roll then your opponent can leave you stranded mid-move and you can't attempt to move again this turn. The aim here is to remove the focus on measuring inch by inch, while still creating situations where you leave yourself in a vulnerable position.

Hard Range Limits mean that short range weapons have a range of 6" as always, but long range weapons can now fire any distance over 6" but cannot fire at 6" or less at all. It takes a little getting used to, but I like that it makes a longrifle feel very different to a carbine, not outright better.

Modifiers have been tweaked slightly to help make Touch/Short/Long ranges all feel interesting. Touch weapons now get +1 when attacking an Exhausted or Downed opponent, meaning they can be outright more effective than ranged weapons as long as you pick your target. It also makes choosing who to activate first a tougher decision now. You can charge in with your leader to get a first strike, but they're leaving themselves open to counter charges for the rest of the Round. Recovery has also had its modifier tweaked to +1 for having an ally nearby, rather than allowing you to use the Ally's QL score. It's more consistent with the other actions, which all have a single +1 or -1 modifier, and it makes keeping your grunts together more appealing, which feels right.

Tactics are special powers you can use once per Round. I wanted to give each warband a sort of unifying thing that made them feel different to each other, evens if the individuals were very similar, and I love those Cosmic Encounter style game-breaking abilities. I'm not sure how I feel about these, and they're very much there in draft form, so don't be surprised if they vanish.

Weapon Mods are something I've gone back and forth on in the past. I've tried out the following methods for weapons in this game:

  • List of pre-made weapons. 
  • Broad weapon types with modifiers you can apply to raise their Attacks or Damage.
  • Bespoke weapon creation where you just stat them up and then calculate their cost. 
Now I'm back on a variant of option 2. The issue with the previous modular system is that it was feeding into the idea of build mentality. There were outright better and more cost effective ways to use the combination of base weapon and modifier, so it felt like it was putting too much focus on building your warband well rather than playing well. I realise that builds are always going to be a part of a wargame, but it's not what I wanted the focus to be. Now I have very broad basic weapons you apply modifiers to, but the mods are a lot more specific in their use. There isn't one that just gives you more Damage or more Attacks, they're all situational to some extent. Best of all, they're completely optional, so if you want to keep your warband simple you can use them as little as you like and you're not really missing out on much effectiveness.

With the rules out of the way, let's talk miniatures.

I've really enjoyed assembling and painting these little guys. I used to find painting stressful, trying to make sure my squads looked uniform with each other, being over-faced by a wall of grey plastic, but working with warbands of 5-6 misfits takes a lot of the pressure off. There are some pieces I'm happy with, others I'm merely okay with, but that's fine.

Really I'm leaning into claiming that my style is characterful rather than amateurish. I'm never going to be good at painting details or being especially patient, so my current method is:

  • Prime spray black.
  • Rough Zenithal Highlighting where I drybrush the model in grey where the light would hit, then drybrush white at the tips where the light would be most focused. This gives a rough greyscale-shaded look as a starting point.
  • Base coat the colours I want on there. As I'm going for a sort of Blanchitsu look I'm trying to limit the base coats to one colour. 
  • Drybrush to highlight the base colour and pick out the metallic bits.
  • Black wash pretty much everything. Been playing with other washes but I've found black works well for the look I'm chasing. Sometimes I'll use different washes on different parts of the model but generally the whole thing gets some form of wash. 
  • Pick out a very restrained amount of details, usually things like lenses or eyes. This is usually the only place I allow a more vibrant colour.
  • Restrained drybrush of everything with a very bright highlight. Focusing on the edges here. I've played with pure white, white/silver mix, white/blue mix. Whatever it is keep it bright and not too saturated with colour.
  • If I hate it then MORE WASHES then another final drybrush highlight.

This technique is all very broad-strokes, so it works for me. I'm not saying I've nailed the John Blanche aesthetic but I think they have a certain charm. As a general goal I'm aiming for "this looks more like something out of an illustration than something out of a videogame"

Let's look at the cast for tonight's battles.


Disciples of decay and entropy, idolising the past and mourning the dead future.

Tactic: Arise - All of your units attempt a Free Recover.

Argastes - Rust Priest (3+)
Pick (T1x3)
Assistant: Reroll one Fire or Fight die on your turn. Sacrifice them to ignore one Wound.

The order's miserable leader, always accompanied by his inhuman assistant.

The Bronze Knight (4+)
Ancient Sword (T3x1)
Shield: Reroll a single Resist die once per Turn.

Techno Hunter (Precise 4+)
Longrifle (L1x5)

The loyal lieutenants of the order, both dedicated to hastening the end of existence. 

2 Cyber-Guard (5+)
Voltguns (S3x1)

Not strictly members of the order, but these hired guns will join any cause where they're able to scavenge for rare bits of tech to add to their increasingly mechanical bodies.

AKA the Splice Boys

A cult of personality based around bolstering humanity with alien stock.

Tactic- Farsight: Undo anything that happened so far on this Turn and begin the Turn again.

Dyrak - Splice Prophet (3+)
AKA Sporty Splice
Blaster (S2x1)
Rending Staff (T3x1. If a 6 is rolled x2 Damage)

His alien brain has seen the future, and it mostly involves slicing people in half with his chainsaw-staff.

Warped Engineer (4+)
AKA Posh Splice
Grav Warper (L1x5. Instead of Shock, Move the target d6”)

Reaper Grunt (4+)
AKA Scary Splice
Storm Cannon (L3x1. x2 Attacks if you have not Moved this Turn)

Dyrak's most prized creations. Able to haul heavy weapons, grunt at each other, and mow down enemies of the cause.

3 Spliced Brethren (5+)
AKA Baby Splices
Shotguns (S2x1)

New recruits to the cult. Their helmets hide the fact that their bodies are going through some growing-pains after receiving their first splice. If they survive the battle they might not survive the next step of the splicing process.


The Rusted Order seek to capture a cache of genetic information that the Splice Coven have hidden somewhere in their shanty town. The Coven player will secretly note which of the three crates contains the cache, and the Order must try and take it off the board before they take more than 50% casualties.

I was the Splice Coven and Sarah, my partner, was the Rusted Order. This is why my warband has humiliating nicknames and hers are treated with due respect.

Sarah has played RPGs and Boardgames but never a miniature game. This will be a good test of my supposedly simple rules. I left the Tactics out of these first couple of battles to just try out the core of the system.

The heavy gunners set up at the highest point on the board, guarding the (empty) grey box. 

A lone Spliceboy guards the (empty) green box in a more remote corner of the battlefield. 

Dyrak himself guards the blue box, which I've secretly chosen to contain the Cache. He keeps a lackey nearby for support.

Most of the Order set up in cover in a relatively central position.

The Bronze Knight and a lone Cyberguard deploy on the left flank, worryingly close to the blue box that contains the Cache. 
Things got off to a dramatic start. Dyrak leapt to the top of the steps and blasted down at the cyber-guard below, Downing them before they even had a chance to act. On the Shock Table he rolls "Vengeance: The next ally to activate acts as QL2+ against your attacker."

This is a perfect opportunity. The Order's Techno-Hunter scurries to a vantage point and lines up his Long-Rifle with an avenging shot against Dyrak.

A hit! Five damage is nasty, but is rolling at 3+ to resist. This will be fine. He resists four of the damage, taking him Down. Sucks, but at least he's not dead.

Now for the Shock Roll. The roll is a 1... a Killshot.

Dyrak's alien brains are blasted across the roof as the sniper scurries back into cover, having successfully avenged his ally.

With their leader dead, the Splicers focus their big guns on the Hunter and his nearby allies. This was a revenge-motivated outburst, and both the Reaper and Engineer were both ineffective against the well-concealed hunter. The Order capitalised on the distraction.

A cyberguard sprinted up the stairs to check the blue box, discovering the Cache in the very first location they checked! He tries to flee back down the stairs but fails his Move roll, stranded at plain sight.

A splicer fires an ineffective shotgun blast at him. At this point I really wish I'd saved my big guns and remembered the objective.

Argastes himself manages to run up to the stranded cyber-guard. The question was asked:

"Can I just pass the objective to this guy?"

I mean it makes narrative sense. We allow it.

Argaste's coat prevented him making good use of the stairs, so we sent his Assistant up there to grab the Cache.
The table edge is in sight. Argastes attempts a final move...

 Well, a Round 1 win for the Order. I can confirm that this scenario is bullshit but I only have myself to blame. Of course it's lucky to get the correct box on the first try, but when you have free-movement like this then it's really not ideal to have the entire board edge as the extraction zone. A specific exit point might have made for a more interesting post-grab chase.

But as that was so quick we can at least try a rematch, flipping the roles! I don't mess with the scenario for now.


This time the Splicer strategy is simple. Keep your eyes on the prize.

There are fewer photos from this battle because I am focused.

Reaper Grunt surveys the field from the shipping container as you can see above and releases a hail of bullets on the Cyber Guards that are on the other side of the battlefield, taking one down and killing the other. Things are looking good!

The order mostly spend their turns shuffling their defences around. Dyrak makes a run into the building holding the green box. Argastes is there... Dyrak should totally charge him and use his Ripper-Staff. No! I'm objective-focused this time, he moves to check the Green Box.

It contains the Cache! Do we have a psychic link or are we just very lucky at guessing where this thing is hidden?

He rolls to scramble back down the ladder but fails, leading him stranded at the top.

Argastes springs to life, levelling his Corroder at the Splice Prophet, hitting for 5 damage and...

You suck Dyrak. But then maybe I shouldn't leave you directly in the sights of the two most powerful guns in the enemy's arsenal. Still, the objective was out!

Argastes strides forward, placing his rusted boot on the objective. To get the Cache the Coven will have to go through him.

The Coven descend en-masse towards the objective. Now fully exposed, the Warped Engineer levels his Grav-Warper towards Argastes and tears his mechanical body to shreds. A Splicer grabs the Cache from amongst the rubble and gore and flees off the board in a somewhat Pyrrhic victory.

This felt much more like a real battle, even though it was still much too short.

Lessons Learned?

  • Free Movement works well, but relies a lot on the common sense and sportsmanship of the players. This is something I want to encourage, but I'll work on some guidance for how to make it work. Terrain is also key to this, and it would be interesting to see how it feels on a less dense board. I really like the "roll for your second movement" as a sort of push-your-luck element and there were a few times it created tough choices. 
  • Activation Order is much more interesting than I had considered. Choosing well between striking decisively with a powerful unit or holding them back for more reactive action felt incredibly important. I like this!
  • Deadliness is strong here. Again, I can't judge too much based on one game, but I feel like most games have measures in place to prevent your leader getting one-shotted. I like that I got punished for putting my leader in dumb positions, but some of it was definitely down to unfortunate rolls.
  • Shock only came up twice across the battles, but both cases were pivotal in creating a narrative moment (the Hunter headshotting Dyrak to avenge his fallen ally). I was worried it would feel like a tacked-on bit of clutter to the system, but I really enjoyed the way it felt.
  • Scenario design really needs to be catered to the small board and free movement, so I've got a bit of work to do there. 

What's Next?

Now that I'm happy the core is at least playable I'm going to work on some scenarios and see if I can get the Tactics to a point I'm more happy with. 

And next time I'll write about RPGs, I promise. 

Friday 22 May 2020


Following on from this week's confessional.

I mentioned some of the things that I enjoyed about miniature gaming in my youth, along with those that detracted from the experience.

This is all very similar to RPGs. I loved the potential of RPGs, but never found the system that quite matched up with what I wanted the game to be. So I had to make my own.

I actually tried out Kill Team a while ago with some friends, using their minis. I had fun, but that was probably in spite of the system. I loved the small focus but there were lots of fiddly rules interacting with each other, tokens all over the board, and things all felt a bit like taking turns to roll to miss.

I mentioned that the One Page Rules seemed really interesting to me, and if you're looking for a straight-up simplified version of the GW stuff they're fantastic.

But I wanted something a bit different. There were some things that I knew I wanted right away:

  • Focus on the minis and the board, not your army list, cards, or tokens.
  • Play on a small board with dense, multi-level terrain. 
  • Less focus on a tight tournament balance, more high-impact narrative stuff to create dramatic moments in game. Embrace some wacky randomness if it creates fun moments. Play to see what happens as much as to find out who wins.
  • Despite the above, keep the mechanics super simple. Banish the twin evils of Stacking and Tracking.
  • Individual minis or maybe tiny squads of two or three. Kitbashing assumed and no giant grunt squads to test my painting stamina. 
It really all links back to this manifesto, it's actually proving useful here! Could I make a miniature wargame that followed these principles? Can I make good on the promise to "Break the barriers between your imagination and your game" in a slightly different medium?

Behold the link below in all its raw glory.

Barely Tested Edition

Note the above document is a very living thing, filled with unfinished sections, and you'll probably see me making changes to it on a regular basis.

But I can talk through some of the ideas behind the design. Remember that these ideas are very much unproven at the moment, but I want to at least talk them through.

As mentioned, I want to minimise how often you needed to look down at your paperwork during the game, so each model gets a single Quality Score that they use for rolls and at most two Modifiers that let them reroll a specific type of roll. Your Sniper is 4+ and Precise, easy to remember. You roll 4+ to try and do basically anything, and you can reroll when you're Firing.

I want weapons that could be summarised in a sort of code. Oh a Shotgun, that's 2x1. A Longrifle is 1x4. I originally had an equivalent of Armour Penetration but dropped it and didn't look back. A concession here is that your Drukhari Splinter Rifle might be mechanically identical to my Hot-shot Lasgun, but this isn't a game about forcing each weapon variant to be 5% different to the rest of its class. This is about what actually happens at the table.
Ranges are either Melee, 6" for most guns and 12" for Rifles and big guns. This feels short, but you should have a small board, lots of terrain, and some interesting movement options to make it work.

You're either Down (lie the model face down) or Dead. No tracking wounds, no special cases for characters, no ongoing modifiers for having a damaged leg. Instead, there's some drama to be found in the Shock and Trauma tables that you roll on when you get Downed or Recover respectively. Maybe you gun down your attacker as you fall to the ground, maybe you crawl to cover, maybe you die outright to a headshot! This is the stuff that I remember from a good game.

Turn Structure
Movement is all random. Heresy! You get three chances to move each turn, which rounds out the randomness a bit, but you can replace your second move with Firing and your third move with Fighting. This means you can pop out of cover with a move, Fire, and then duck back into cover as long as you roll well enough. Maybe you'll get stuck out in the open. Maybe you'll make that miraculous charge to cut down the enemy gunner. It also means you can duck out of melee, shoot your attacker, and then flee around the corner, so the alternating activation system drives some really interesting decisions about the right time to engage an enemy and when to bide your time.

So I've said that I'm not aiming to have minor unit differentiation just so that I can say every unit is mechanically unique, but I do want your Warband to feel special. I'd rather do this through big, bold effects rather than a +1 here and -1 there. Tactics let your Warband do something unique and rule-breaking once per Round. Shift your models around through the shadows, infect all nearby enemies with contagion, temporarily turn your grunt with a blade into a melee monster. These are miles from balanced right now, and while total balance isn't a goal I don't want there to be one clearly superior option. I'd rather they were incomparables, things that do something weird and not easy to compare to other incomparables. I'm still torn on this idea, as technically it's something you need to track buuut...

On Tracking and Stacking
I mentioned these twin evils previously. To clarify, I feel like they're responsible for a lot of the times I've felt wrenched out of the fiction of a game and plunged into the jagged rules-pile. I find that a much less fun place to be, so that's why I've got the "No Stacking, No Tracking" rule.
You get Rerolls to various things based on Unit Mods, but never more than one Reroll per roll.
Actual +1s and -1s are deliberately limited. There is exactly one case where you get +1 to a roll and one where you get -1, and they both affect different rolls.

  • Firing is -1 vs cover.
  • Fighting is +1 vs an enemy without a melee weapon.

There's nothing to track on each unit besides:

  • Are the Up or Down? (literally stood up or laid down)
  • Have they activated this turn? (I wish I could think of a smart way to track this, but for now I just put a little token next to their mini. This pains me, but it's useful to be able to see at a glance whether an enemy has acted yet)
Then for your entire Warband you need to know whether or not you've used your Tactic. I'd put a little token next to it when you've used it, just like when you've used up a unit's Turn.

I want to create some interesting scenarios here. "Grab the Objective" is all well and good, but if I'm embracing the drama then I feel like I could get a bit wacky with these.

I always liked the little events that would happen between battles in Necromunda campaigns, or between dungeon crawls in Warhammer Quest. I have a little nod to this in the Casualty and Survivor tables that all models roll on at the end of the game. Maybe you learned from your near-death experience, maybe you got captured by your enemies, or maybe you stumbled on a deal on a powerful new weapon.

All four sample warbands are now represented in my collection primed and ready for a clumsy paintjob.


Argastes - Rust Priest (3+)
Blaster (M/6" 1x4), Blade (2x1)
Assistant: Reroll one die on your turn. Sacrifice them to ignore one Wound.

Brass Knight (4+)
Talon (1x4)
Shield: Reroll a single Resist die once per Turn.

Techno Hunter (Precise 4+)
Longrifle (12" 1x4)

2 Cyber-Guard (5+)
Stormgun (6" 3x1)


Dyrak - Splice Prophet (3+)
Pistol (6" 1x2), Scythe (2x4)

Reaper Schloster (4+)
Machinegun (12" 5x1)

Engineer Weirs (4+)
Disruptor (6' 3x2)

3 Spliced Brethren (5+)
Shotgun (6' 2x1)


Solias - Man-Poacher (Precise, Evasive 3+)
Rifle (12" 1x2)
Tracer: When you hit a target with Fire you can have an Ally within 3” Free Fire on them too.

Carnage Demon (4+)
Cannon (12" 2x4)

Hanz Skorpion (Nimble 4+)
Stormgun  (6" 3x1)

2 Relic Hunters (5+)
Rifle (12" 1x2), Blade (2x1)


Flavia Helstrom - Liberator (Nimble 3+)
Piercer (6" 1x3), Blade (2x1)
Wingpack: You can Move through air as long as you land on a solid surface.

Beaky Prowler (Nimble 4+)
Breacher (6" 1x5)

Augmented Gladiator (4+)
Stormgun (6" 3x1) Blade (2x1)

2 Verminhead Zealots (5+)
Talon (1x5)

Knowing my painting skills I fear this is the best they're ever going to look!

Next time I'll talk about the results of initial playtesting and see if I feel brave enough for a painting update.

Wednesday 20 May 2020

Miniature Diversions

The last few months have been pretty intense for RPG stuff. I wanted to give Electric Bastionland a lot of love to help with its birth into the physical world, so I've created:

Why am I listing out all these things? 

Is it to help alleviate my guilt for the distraction that's currently tugging at my brain?

Yes. One small downside of the otherwise fantastic experience of working full-time on RPG content is that I sometimes feel bad for thinking about things other than RPGs. It's like a weird reversal of every other career I've had. 

For the past few days I haven't been thinking much about running games, describing locations, or... I'm so distracted I can't even think of a third RPG-thing.

Well now I'm facing up to the diversion. I'm confessing, but I'm also not going to let myself suffer. This is me channelling that distraction into something useful. Maybe not useful, but I need to release the stream of consciousness. 

It all goes back to where I started in the hobby, and how it fits with the way my brain works. 

Almost exactly 25 years ago. I was 10 years old, and during a show-and-tell at school one of the boys in the year above had brought in a bunch of what looked like toy soldiers. One squad were desert-themed troopers with guns. Their enemies were weird reptilian-insect aliens. They were tiny, full of detail, and something about them was just innately compelling.

There were magazines too, showing more of these little models in increasingly complex dioramas. I could stare at these things for hours, imagining the situations, the characters, learning about the weird fantasy world. At the risk of stating the obvious, this was pre-internet. The closest thing I'd seen to this sort of thing before was literally toy knights and soldiers, but this was clearly different. The magazine even showed a bunch of scruffy-looking grown-ups playing the game! These weren't kids' toys. 

The next day I bought a copy of White Dwarf from the newsagent on my way home from school. I was in.

The game itself was almost secondary. I certainly don't think I would have given it a second look if the physical artifacts weren't so compelling. I needed to get some of these. But they aren't cheap. The decision of what to buy weighed heavy. 

I suspect my logic was that swords are cooler than guns, so I committed to fantasy. In hindsight I wish I'd gone for the much more interesting 40k.

But which army? When it comes to this sort of decision I'm usually a contrarian. I like to pick the underdog, the least popular option, something that will surprise people when I tell them.

So I picked Skaven. I knew about orcs and elves and dwarves but I'd never heard this word before. Weird little rat guys with some ninja elements, a weaponised hamster-wheel, and a giant rat demon that could lead them into battle. Sold!

At this point the idea of going to an actual Games Workshop might as well have been migrating to another country. Luckily, we'd visit my Grandma every Saturday and there was a shop nearby that sold model railway stuff, airfix models, so maybe they would have some.

Success. For the bargain price of £5 I was able to get ten plastic Skaven Clanrats. I also grabbed a starter paint set and was ready to go!

Those same plastic clanrats that I painted twenty-five years ago are now glued to my desk lamp after they were liberated from my parents' cellar. Their static poses and blotchy paintjob taunt me as I write this post.

I had fun painting them but was a little disheartened. This was more difficult than I expected. Now, 1990s Skaven Aficionados will notice that three of those miniatures are actually metal Stormvermin. Not just metal, but full-on lead! These were the spoils from my first pilgrimage to a genuine Games Workshop, about three months later. To the distant land of Dudley, West Midlands, to the incredibly exciting Merry Hill Shopping Centre. 

I've since revisited Merry Hill, and comparing it to my childhood experience was a stark experience in rose-lens-shattering.

But at the time the excitement was intense. I remember scouring my issues of White Dwarf in bed the night before, struggling to get to sleep. I'll admit I even remember having a stressful dream about getting to the Games Workshop and it being closed down.

My brain sometimes acts in ways I don't understand, and I still find it difficult to explain why I get excited about such trivial things. Other people seem much more focused on living in the moment, spreading their attention between hobbies, friends, and work commitments in an even way. Mine tends to latch onto something and gnaw away to the detriment of everything else. Even in my mid-thirties my mind seems to revert to this childhood anticipation when I'm looking forward to something, and emulate an adolescent sulk if those plans fall through or get changed. I still feel a sort of excited anxiety when I know I have something due to arrive in the post. Looking back at that childhood mind I wonder how many other people feel like on some level they've hardly changed at all.

We arrived at the shopping centre, which in my memory is colossal in scale, but the twist is that we weren't just there to go to Games Workshop. We were Christmas Shopping. I always enjoyed Christmas Shopping with my family. It was a day out, we got to look around big shops, and on at least one occasion we got to have KFC afterwards. However, this year I couldn't focus on the usual seasonal joys. I just wanted to get to the Games Workshop. I'm sure I was unbearable to my parents, hurrying them through each shop we visited, peering around each new corner of the shopping centre until we were there.

It lived up to my expectations. I hadn't realised there would be display cabinets filled with expertly painted and converted armies! I knew you could try out a demo game, and intended to, but today all the tables were pushed together into a giant battlefield. An eager red-shirt could see I was ripe for indoctrination and took me to the table, my dad shadowing me with infinite tolerance.

"We're doing one huge battle today, so you'll just have a small part of the army. When we get to your turn I'll tell you what you can do and you decide"

Great. I have some Dark Elves, the hot new army of the moment. I have somebody riding a Dragon and a unit of crossbowmen. The enemy are just a bunch of humans, we've got this. Aah! It's my turn!

"Okay so this guy is riding a Dragon, so he can probably fly far enough to reach most of these enemy regiments! Or if you want you can fly over and attack these cannons at the back of the army"

I'm ten years old. I'm a tactical genius. Of course I attack the weak, unprotected cannons.

"So you can either charge the crew and attack with your claws or land in front of them and breathe fire all over them"

Again. I'm ten years old. Of course I choose to breathe fire.

"Okay roll these dice, and these, now they roll. Okay, you burned two of the three crew to ashes!"

I'm great at this!

"Now its the Empire turn. The last crew member turns their Hellblaster Volleygun towards the dragon and fires all nine barrels! That's... fifty hits. The dragon is blown to pieces."

At least my demo game was short, so I got more time to look around the shop before my mum and sister returned. Armed with weeks of saved-up pocket money I got the Stormvermin pictured earlier, on the recommendation of the redshirt, and a copy of Warhammer Armies: Skaven, my bible for the next few months.

With the limited income I had, I couldn't dream of getting my hands on the Warhammer Fantasy Battles box until Christmas, but I bought every copy of White Dwarf, before then. I was never very good at reading novels, but I could re-read Battle Reports over and over. Once Christmas rolled around I had a giant box of plastic and rules, and happily spent Boxing Day snapping sprues and wedging goblins into bases with blu-tack.

Then to the game itself. I'd either play with my dad or my best friend. Goblins (with the few Skaven allies I had) vs High Elves (with some allied Dwarves that I'd gotten a small regiment pack of). It was fun, but it never quite lived up to the promises of White Dwarf battle reports. It didn't feel quite as alive.

My terrain was an old brown bedsheet thrown over some books to make hills. I had a few trees from an old model railway set and the essential toilet-roll-tower. Worse than that, my armies were a field of naked grey plastic. I worked away at painting them but I was slow, my attention would drift, and I never liked the results. I wanted to have painted models but I didn't want to paint 60 goblins and 40 elves.

But I almost forgot the Doomwheel! The weaponised hamster-wheel that drew me towards the Skaven in the first place. It was all lead, and I've always been clumsy with my hands, so putting it together was an ordeal. It would fall apart on the battlefield and I even had to resort to using putty to hold the rider in place. Later on I bought a Screaming Bell and I don't think I was ever able to get it to feel stable. Maybe we just had crap superglue in the house, but I was working with what we had.

The game itself was easy enough to learn, but it took a long time to play a battle. Maybe we were slow with checking rules, but it felt like we'd spend a lot of the game slogging over the battlefield, then have a grinding clash before one side fled the field. It was fun, but it wasn't generating war stories like I'd hoped.

This isn't a review of Warhammer Fantasy Battles 4th Edition. I'm sure it ran more smoothly for other people, but this whole post is about how miniature game have made me feel over the years, not so much the nitty-gritty of rules systems.

But forget painting, what about converting? That's where the really exciting stuff would come from. You'd see conversions in White Dwarf that looked unlike anything you could get off the shelf, and you could try whatever weird combination of miniature parts you wanted.

Rat-centaurs with skaven-bodies? Goblins with bat wings? I had lots of ideas, but soon those ideas hit a wall of lead. If I couldn't even assemble a miniature properly out of the box how was I going to create a conversion? The flimsy Stanley-knife pilfered from my dad's toolbox didn't stand a chance of chopping through thick lead. And where do people get the money to buy a whole regiment of models just to use their heads for some other unit? My plastic clanrats came in three pieces. Rat, shield, base. With so few spare-parts going spare my bits box was barren, so I soon gave up on the idea.

I carried on with the hobby but never felt like it ever lived up to my initial excitement. I stopped collecting around my mid-teens, but there were fond highlights before then:

  • Getting Warhammer Quest and playing day after day one summer holiday, using whatever miniatures we could find to represent the array of enemies you could encounter, and embracing the randomness of the between-dungeon event tables.
  • Playing Necromunda on the amazing 3D terrain that came in the starter box, including our attempt to recreate the Purge scenario from White Dwarf, where multiple gangs face off against a menagerie of underhive monstrosities. 
  • Finally getting to play Blood Bowl after only knowing it as an out-of-print game I'd see in old Citadel Catalogues. My Dark Elf team were the closest I've come to having a full painted squad of miniatures that I'm really proud of. 
Noticing the pattern there? 

I always felt like if you weren't playing full-scale battles you were somehow getting a lesser version of the Warhammer experience, but I had so much more fun with those "lesser" games. I could spend a little time painting a handful of miniatures to a decent standard and then I was halfway to a Necromunda Gang or Blood Bowl team. Terrain was often included in the game, like the fantastic tiles and doorways of Warhammer Quest, the pitch and dugouts of Blood Bowl, and the aforementioned towering Necromunda cityscape. My lack of craft capability wasn't holding me back here. My tabletop didn't look like the pages of White Dwarf, but it wasn't bedsheets and bog-roll either. 

This drift away from huge craft projects and long games towards tighter, more personal experiences is probably the seed of what led me to RPGs.  

Twenty years later. I've just turned 35 and I'm facing the next few months mostly confined to my house.

I've occasionally looked at what's happening in the miniature gaming scene, stared in awe at a particularly beautiful diorama, and lamented how bittersweet my experience with the hobby had been. But now we've all got extra time for indoor activities. I've got a birthday amazon voucher burning a hole in my pocket. Maybe I'll buy a squad of minis and some paints and relive my youth.

I go down the online rabbit hole. INQ 28. Narrative wargaming. New Necromunda. Kitbashing. Blanchitsu.

Everything is plastic now, and I have a proper craft knife.

My box of ten Clanrats had 30 pieces including the bases, but these new squads have over 100 pieces. There's no shortage of spare-parts.

Some of the factions that were previously just weird bits of lore now have full ranges of minis.

There are places you can just order individual components for your conversions? I can just buy a Plaguebearer head or a set of wings or a pick-and-mix of weapons?

You can get entire boxes of Necromunda-style modular cardboard terrain?

People are giving away stripped-down one-page versions of all the GW games?

YouTube and Twitch are full of painting tutorials and modelling guides.

All the people I like on Twitter and Discord are sharing their projects and supporting each other.

Okay, I'll get two squads and kitbash them together.

And some paints obviously.

And maybe some spare bits for a few weird conversions.

I don't really need that cardboard terrain. I do like it though. Oops, I bought it.

This all arrived last week, and since then I've been tinkering with an ultra-lite warband-level ruleset, because of course I'm writing my own, and creating an increasingly heretical band of misfit miniatures.

Tech-Apostate Argastes, his Cyber-Familiar, and the rest of the Rusted Order

Rat-headed Maniacs. 

Unnamed Augmented Gladiator and Hanz Skorpion

Flavia Helstrom, Bounty Hunter

This week I'm priming them, hopefully painting at the weekend. I've told myself I won't playtest my ruleset (codename GRIMLITE) until I've got them painted.

Expect normal RPG service to continue, but I wanted to be open about this diversion. Like I've previously stated, my mind sometimes struggles to let things go. During the writing of this post I snuck downstairs to stick a few extra bits to one of my minis. I have twenty (mostly) unique little guys to clash on my cardboard shanty town, and I feel like I did when I was ten years old looking through White Dwarf issue 187. This blog was born out of my passion for games, and it's something I'm often not very good at putting into words. This resurgence of an old passion inside me felt like something I should share.

Next time, what exactly do I want out of a miniatures game, and can GRIMLITE do that?

Tuesday 19 May 2020

Intergalactic Bastionland - The Living Stars

In Electric Bastionland the Living Stars serve as a relatively blank slate. A source for weird alien stuff to drop into Bastionland and a canvas for locations that don't fit anywhere else.

It wasn't always going to be that way.

Originally I was going to give them an eight-page section just like Bastion, Deep Country, and the Underground. Principles, Spark Tables, Touchstones, and procedures for mapping and conducting there. I had that section partly written when I realised there was just too much redundancy there. If you had an idea for a weird city, that could go in Bastion or one of the Failed Cities. If you wanted a weird wilderness then Deep Country has more than enough room for it. If you want weird space-time-bending locations then the Underground is already built for that.

I wanted Bastionland to a place where you could find a home for any of your ideas, and having the Living Stars as a quarter of that setting felt like it was muddying the waters too much, so I decided they would be more useful as an open canvas.

But I knew I'd come back to them.

Just like the other parts of Bastionland the Living Stars can be seen as a sort of mirror to Bastion itself. While Bastion is chaos under a veil of order, the Stars are a rigid skeleton of order fleshed in chaos. However, the more I think about this part of the setting, the more I think they could be seen as mirror to the whole of Bastionland instead.

The general concept for the Living Stars is:

  • It’s not like real space.
  • Everything is changing and moving.
  • Each star represents something, has an agenda, and the means to act on it.

But just like Electric Bastionland, it's going to be broken down into three separate areas with their own part in the whole. At the moment they have loose placeholder names.

The Sprawl
The space between Stars is anything but empty. A web of paths between Stars, dotted with stopping-points, wandering planets, cosmic debris, and fellow travellers. Some of them might be useful, some want to make your journey more difficult, but they all want something.
  • Things are strangely familiar.
  • Everybody is on a Journey.
  • Everybody needs something.

The Light
The places that exist in the full light of a Star. Worlds, structures, things that don't quite fit in either. They're all connected to their Star, maybe even born out of it. Whatever the Star represents is reflected in these places. The rules are clear, though born out of an alien logic. You're fine here as long as you follow them. Those that find the right Star claim to have found a sort of heaven
  • Everything is alive.
  • It welcomes travellers that follow the rules.
  • Those that serve the Star have variable interpretations of the rules.

The Dark
Out of the Light, off the beaten-path of the Between, it's all bad. There's no sugarcoating this. No silver-lining. If Bastionland has a Hell, this is pretty close. You'd better have a good reason for being here and a solid plan for getting out.
  • Everything is terrifying.
  • Anything living here was banished here.
  • Nothing wants to be here.

The Rest of Bastionland
The Living Stars exist above Bastionland, but it's isn't quite that simple. Remember that the Living Stars don't behave entirely like our own version of space. It's a three-dimensional space, but it's not always clear which way is down as in "back down to Bastionland".

  • Bastion's position beneath the Stars isn’t quite clear.
  • The Underground connects Bastionland to the Stars, but not the Stars to each other.
  • Wondering if this person is from Bastion? Don't worry, they'll tell you. 

Friday 15 May 2020

Intergalactic Bastionland - The Spark of an Idea

I've probably talked about this too often for it to be a secret anymore.

The project currently sat on one of my front-burners is...

Currently in the form of a very messy draft document.

So what's the general idea?

GIANT DISCLAIMER: This is the initial spark of a game. Just as Electric Bastionland grew and evolved out of what was originally a number of "Odd World Supplements", I expect this idea to shift and mutate as I work on it. If this is something I take to completion I think we're talking 2021 earliest.

Elevator Pitch

If Electric Bastionland draws from Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, Intergalactic Bastionland draws from Rogue Trader. Again, this isn't about drawing on the specifics, just as Electric Bastionland's specifics have little in common with WHFRP, this isn't some clunky grimdark wargame/rpg hybrid, but draws on some of the ways that reading over the original Rogue Trader makes me feel. It was a space setting with a lot of bonkers imagination and felt open to narrative creativity.

It's Space, but built for a game rather than for realism.

There's big-scale cosmic stuff, but the game still focuses on people fixing problems with talking or weird schemes.

This isn't my "Electric Bastionland in Space". Playing this should be a distinct experience to playing EB.

Do for helmets what EB did for hats.

You definitely don't start with a ship.

Sources: Planescape, Guardians of the Galaxy, Outer Wilds, Red Dwarf, Star Control 2, Cosmic Encounter.

  • It would work on its own if you’ve never touched EB.
  • It would work as a supplement if you’re already playing EB.
  • You can take your EB characters into the Living Stars or generate new Intergalactic characters and drop them into Bastion.

So What's Different to EB?
  • Core Rules: Nothing. The EB system is solid and I want to keep things directly transferable.
  • Structure: EB is about trying to pay off a huge debt with the crap you got from your Failed Career. IB shifts the focus to one or more Journeys. Less scrabbling around in the dirt, more hitch-hiking your way from one weird alien environment to the next. With alien settings I feel like you need a grounded element, so at the moment I'm doing that by tapping into those feelings of travel, journeys, and the places between destinations.
  • Characters: I'm experimenting with leaning hard into Pre-Gens. This is contentious but I've seen it done well in games like Silent Titans and Lady Blackbird and it lets you go a bit more crazy with the characters. Imagine if each Failed Career was a totally unique character that could break the rules in more interesting ways.
  • Setting: EB was all about teaching the Conductor how to sit down and create their own Bastionland. IB won't have a canon, but it will be focused more on library content. Ready to go one-page locations and NPCs. Lots of them.

The Big Questions
  • If this game is more based on ready-to-go library content than Conductor prep procedures, could it explore the Collaborative Play ideas I've been messing with?
  • Would Collaborative Play this be the primary mode of play or a secondary an option?

And finally, have a sneak preview of a couple of very early ideas for... stuff. No further context provided.

Tuesday 12 May 2020

Collaborative Appeal and Challenge

So if you have Electric Bastionland, this post and maybe this one then you have everything you need to start running a game with two players and no conductor. It's a bit like cramming two people onto the driver's seat of a car and having them share the wheel and pedals while taking turns on the gear stick.

It might not be entirely smooth, it might not become the new standard method for driving, but with the right person it will be memorable.

Still, I came out of those posts wanting to explore the idea a bit further.

My Other Collaborative Games

Way back before I started designing Into the Odd, I'd mess around with collaborative games I could play on forums or IRC channels. There were three similar games:

Teen Island: Lord of the Flies meets Breakfast Club as twelve highschoolers are stranded on a desert island. Coordinate them to stay alive and eventually take a raft home.

Booty for Booty: Lead a pirate crew to on the high seas until you get enough Booty for your captain to retire.

Space Team: Go out on a mission in deep space and return with as many surviving crew as possible.

I don't want to share these right now, as I'd like to go through and tidy them up to make them more fit for consumption. Stay tuned.

Now these really weren't RPGs. They were much closer to a solo or cooperative boardgame, but at this time I didn't even realise that sort of game existed. When I played it with a group we'd just take turns in the driver seat or talk through the decisions together and laugh at the results.

The four pillars that all three games had in common were:

  • Tense resource management with harsh consequences for running out of food/fuel/grog.
  • Random starting points. You'd roll up a random crew/group just like an OSR character. You get a bad group? Deal with it. 
  • Lots of random events, usually as d66 tables. Teen Island and Booty for Booty each had three of these, Space Team had a huge mess of nested d6 tables that was actually pretty clunky.
  • A clear victory/failure point. You could have your whole team die, or you did whatever the main objective was (escape the island, retire as a rich pirate king, complete your space mission). 
These games were messy, clumsy, not especially elegant, but they captured something I want to tap into for my collaborative RPG ideas. 

Me and You Against the World

In Teen Island when your Gluttonous islander sneaks out in the night and eats your entire food stash, then the next day a storm hits and tears your camp to pieces, it's funny. Maybe I'm a masochist, but then it's even funnier when you have somebody to share it with.

Likewise, when you finally make it off the island against all odds it felt great. You beat the harsh, uncaring wilderness with a team of useless adolescents now honed into a survival force.

It all comes back to making sure the element of Challenge is there.

I touched on this last time, but to summarise:
Obstacles are supported by Integrity. If all signs point to this place being guarded by well-equipped elites then give them the appropriate mechanical backing. 

This is a fine starting point, but Obstacles and Challenge aren't quite the same thing. Obstacles are usually small-scale, short-term, but a sense of challenge spans across the entire game.

A method I'm messing with to get a real sense of challenge is a shifting of focus. In Electric Bastionland your challenge is "can you make enough money to pay off your debt without dying?". That's designed around going into a location designed by a Conductor and overcoming a series of obstacles, but it doesn't work as well when you don't have a Conductor to place an appropriate amount of obstacles in front of your reward. It's not always that linear, but the Conductor does a lot to give the game a sense of pace and progression that can feel missing in a more collaborative experience.

To consider a new focus I want to identify some of the pitfalls I can see looming.

  • One player slips into being the GM and managing the pacing all by themselves.
  • The players keep their characters' lives too easy and things get boring.
  • Things go too far into resource management and you're playing that game rather than thinking about the situation your characters are in.

So I'm going to try out a new focus, the Journey. It's an Oregon Trail classic for a reason. 

Add the below to your mess of collaborative play rules that I've been putting out, or wait until I eventually turn this into one document, which might be sooner than you think.

The Journey

The group share a single Journey, choosing one from the list below or creating their own. It could be reaching a physical location, or be more abstract in nature. 
  1. Find a truly safe place.
  2. Preemptively destroy an invading force.
  3. Confront the place in your nightmares.
  4. Find the ultimate weapon.
  5. Destroy your evil clone(s).
  6. Discover the lost shrine to peace.
Throughout play you can flesh out the details, such as the nature of your evil clone(s) or why you seek a shrine to peace. 

In addition, each player has their Private Journey, which is kept secret. This is left blank to begin with but should be noted down at some point within the first hour of play. 

  • You track your Progress against each Journey. 
  • Each Journey begins with 0 Progress.
  • Gain d6 Progress when you reach a Milestone and discover where you must go next.
  • Lose 1 Progress when you rest, delay, or otherwise stray from your Journey.
  • No Milestone is straightforward. They can be physical locations or more abstract achievements.


When it feels appropriate, you can move from gaining Progress to Arrival at your Journey’s destination. This the final push, make-or-break. 

When you Arrive, roll d20:
  • If you roll equal or lower to your Progress, then success is in sight. Just one last Milestone to reach.
  • If you roll higher than your Progress, then your Journey ends in failure. There’s no going back. You should consider a new direction for your life. 

Wednesday 6 May 2020

Now Taking Print Orders

If you missed out on ordering your print copy of Electric Bastionland the webstore is now open for new orders!

Audiovisual Bastionland

The Audio Commentaries that were part of the Kickstarter stretch goals are now complete! There are six episodes you can listen to over on the Bastionland Podcast.

Episode One welcomes the Rowan Rook & Decard team to give an overview of  what exactly Electric Bastionland is trying to be.

Episode Two features the real talent of the project, as Alec Sorensen joins me to discuss the artwork.

Episode Three welcomes Arnold Kemp from Goblinpunch to discuss the Failed Careers and how to give players compelling characters at creation.

Episode Four is all about rules, so John Harper joins me to discuss how Electric Bastionland compares to some of his games and the impact of its sparse rules.

Episode Five focuses on Running the Game, where Ben Milton joins me to discuss what makes for good GM advice.

Episode Six finally gets to the world of Bastionland, with Sean McCoy discusses the different ways a game can present its setting.

I want to make these podcasts in seasons, rather than an eternal weekly release, so expect some information on my plans for Season 2 soon.

And if that's not enough detail for you, I'm working my way through the entire book one spread at a time over on the Bastionland Broadcasts Twitch Channel, every Tuesday at 9pm BST. I put the streams up onto YouTube a few days after broadcast, and you can catch up on the first right below.

Monday 4 May 2020

Collaborative Exploration - Asking the Stars

Beyond messing around with this and doing a whole lot of reading I've not delved too far into collaborative RPGs, but so far the two biggest elements I enjoy that feel under-supported are Exploration and Challenge.

It's tough, because I've spent so long trying to work out how best to support those elements in a traditional one-GM many-players structure, so I've always felt they were innately tied together.

Maybe they don't have to be. With things like Ironsworn I'm certainly seeing a growth of support for these two areas.

So how would I encourage a feeling of exploration in a collaborative game?

The games where I've felt a real sense of exploration have had a few things in common:

  1. Mystery: What's around that corner? Can I get into that tower on the horizon? Why is this town abandoned?
  2. Obstacles: You can't just decide you want to go into a dungeon and hit a button. Maybe you have to ask around, maybe they're all hidden, maybe they only open at certain times of day.
  3. Spectacle: Seeing things that you couldn't have imagined yourself. 

See, when you have a dedicated GM it's easy, right? For Mystery they have the answers all hidden away, for Obstacles their entire job is to challenge you just enough, and for Spectacle they spent all week prepping this awesome place for you to explore or bought a pre-made adventure with amazing artwork.

But I think we can get a taste of that if we throw ourselves fully into the ideas of Fate,  Integrity, and Co-Deduction.

Let's revisit those three ingredients that support Exploration.

  1. Mystery is supported by Fate. We're going to rely on random chance to at least give us the spark of ideas or answer key questions. Playing with minimal rolling is great, but use the dice rolls at your disposal to let things go in unexpected directions. 
  2. Obstacles are supported by Integrity. If all signs point to this place being guarded by well-equipped elites then give them the appropriate mechanical backing. Deep down, do you think the diplomat will fall for your ruse? Sure, you can roll, but maybe it's just a bad idea and you need to think of something smarter.
  3. Spectacle is supported by Co-Deduction. If you bounce an idea back and forth enough times you'll come up with something that neither of you would have created alone. 

A key thing to remember is that this isn't about simulating what it's like to play with a GM. It's a different type of play that maintains some of the same feeling.

So if you're playing a collaborative game with two players, see if this is useful.

The Watcher (secrets/truth)

The Unknown

When you enter an unknown situation, you will co-create new truths using one or two methods, or a combination of both.

Pursue the Truth
  • Ask the other player a Deductive Question about the current situation. See below for what makes a Deductive Question.
  • Instead of answering yourself you can roll a single d20 and Ask the Stars for an answer.
  • Continue back and forth until the truth begins to take form. The players use these truths to explain the situation.

Deductive Questions
  • Closed: with “yes or no” answers.
  • Exploratory: not trying to reach an immediate conclusion.
  • Interesting: Both yes and no lead to interesting places.

Ask the Stars
  • Each player rolls a d20, the brighter die for the Symbol and the darker die for its Position
  • A die may also be rolled for a more straightforward yes/no answer.
  • This may create more questions than answers, so players can choose to Pursue the Truth to hone down the results.

Recording Truths
  • When a truth is agreed on it should be recorded. This may be on a character sheet, map, or general notes.
  • Some truths are recorded as seeds before they fully develop when the time is right.
  • Truths are not permanent and can be rewritten as they change.

Symbols and Positions
  • Symbols and Positions are used by the stars to communicate truths.
  • Their meanings depend entirely on the context and no interpretation is incorrect if it feels right.
  • Literal interpretations are just as valid as symbolic, so a blade can represent division, but also “just a blade"



The Reptile
The Hawk
(the past/patience)
The Lost
The Painter
(the present/calm)
The Statue
The Glutton
The Enemy

The Mask
The Flock

The Blade

The Voyager

The Watcher

The Elder

The Child
The Spear
The Council
The Speaker
The Legion
The Hand
The Mind

The Elder (wisdom/manipulation)

Sample Readings

Reading a Character
  • The Lost (chance/travel), Veiled (ignorance/acceptance)
  • We lean into the combination of chance and acceptance, somebody who completely submits to the whims of fate.
  • A wanderer without a ship, hitch-hiking their way at the whims of strangers.

Reading a Location
  • The Glutton (pleasure/excess), Bright (honesty/pride).
  • Excess and pride suggest a flaunting of wealth. A glutton with no shame.
  • Maybe a grand mansion-style orbital station where visitors are welcome to bask, but not indulge.

Reading an Attack
  • The Reptile (instinct/fear), Open (faith/trust)
  • Let’s take these images very literally, an open set of crocodile-like jaws. 
  • The attacker lunges and grabs you, dragging you down into the mud below. They pull a blade and try to press it against your throat, their weight pressing the air from your lungs. 
  • You can stray from the standard type of reading as you grow more confident.

Chaining Details
  • Here we’ll use the Answer and Position columns to ask, “Is this Outpost abandoned?” 
  • We get Yes, Feasting (plenty/decay)
  • It’s abandoned, and both sides of Feasting fit well. Let’s repeat with the question “Has it been abandoned for long?” this time with a Symbol to help. 
  • We get No, The Spear (direction/desire)
  • The outpost was abandoned suddenly and urgently, taking only the bare minimum with them. There are plentiful supplies, but why were they in such a hurry? Let’s roll one more Symbol/Position combination for a clue. 
  • We get The Flock (freedom/nature), Shadowed (intimacy/dependency).
  • Checking through the ship’s logs, some sort of parasite was spreading through the population, and leaving was the only option.

The Child (innocence/learning)

Obviously there's a long history of RPGs using Tarot cards as an oracle for generating ideas, but here the use of a table to generate combinations is deliberate. You certainly use two decks of cards for this, but I still feel like the act of throwing the bones feels more appropriate here. 

You could straight-up replace the symbols and positions with tarot cards if that's your thing, but I found some of them too focused, some of them too vague. A lot of their meanings are centred around seeking advice, and felt like it was worth creating a distinct set of sparks for the specific purpose of generating game content.