Friday 7 August 2020

GRIMLITE - Horrors of Husk 28

GRIMLITE now has a living document. Expect regular changes in there, so apologies to anybody that's actually trying to run a campaign with this thing.

My goal was to make a game let you spend almost no time thinking about the rules, instead being able to focus on what I affectionately call narrative bullshit. The wild things that happen in miniature wargames that stick in your memory.

Basically everything that goes against the idea of a chess-like pitched battle between two carefully balanced sides. I wanted to make sure that intent was clear from the start, so the default scenario needed to be something that exemplified that.

Coincidentally I've been revisiting Frostgrave this week, having mostly ignored it in the past. I'm surprised at how much philosophy it shares with GRIMLITE with its swingy combat and high-impact magic system. In particular I like the focus on gathering treasure, rather than trying to wipe out the opposing side (somewhat OSR in that respect) and the inclusion of a system for neutral monsters roaming the battlefield.

This took me back to my experience with Necromunda, and what I was trying to recapture with GRIMLITE. The games that I remember even after a 20 year hiatus are:

  • Running a Purge where three of us all had gangs taking on hordes of whatever hive-monsters we had minis for. 
  • A clash between two gangs that was interrupted by a squad of Arbites that would fire indiscriminately, but if you killed one you could potentially loot their high-end gear.
  • Something involving frozen Chaos Warriors? I mainly remember them waking up and slaughtering a few gangers before the rest fled.
I can see why Frostgrave went in this direction. This is potent stuff.

I've also been working on the implied setting for GRIMLITE, a world I'm calling Husk 28. A forgotten moon of a broken planet. I liked the idea of a world that had been abandoned by the typical sci-fi corporation or empire, focusing on what happens to those left behind. The Husk, if you like. An exaggerated Dark Ages feel rather than anything too explosive. More post-abandonment than post-apocalypse.

So the idea of Horrors emerged from these thoughts. Neutral creatures that would roam the battlefield and protect the loot the Warbands were trying to seize. These were the things that the caretakers of the planet had previously protected its residents against, but they're gone now. 

This evolved into the idea of Trophies, so the Horrors are the loot. The scarier the Horror the bigger the potential reward for taking them down, provided the other side doesn't steal the spoils. 

Anybody that's played Frostgrave will see similarities here. It's like grabbing the Treasure system in one hand, the Creatures system in the other and smashing them into one blob. Now, go fight the blob and hope it doesn't eat you. 

This new focus on Horrors allowed me break up the more traditional Scenario structure I previously had in there. Now there are loose ideas for Battlefields and Twists that you can apply to have a battle with a more non-standard structure. Ambitious players can pull options from three different systems to create a unique combination each time. So you might have:

The Hells-Gate Compound
Horrors: 1 Devourer, 1 Hellion
Battlefield: Complex - A single sprawling complex of corridors and rooms.
Secure doors can be opened or closed with an action.
Twist: Relic - Both sides are hunting down a powerful weapon that can be used in battle and worth extra Trophies at the end of the game.

Which would feel quite different to:

Terrors in the Dark
Horrors: 1 Arachnid, 4 Vermin
Battlefield: The Shadow - An area of Husk permanently shadowed by the
broken planet.The Horrors here know how to use
the dark, and all attacks against them are at QL6+.
Twist: Mercs - A third Warband is on the board, with control passing back and forth between the players as the tide turns.

But even a relatively simple battle with a few horrors and a basic battlefield should still generate memorable drama. 

As with the RPGs I write, I don't want to create a canonical library of content here. I want players to feel empowered to design their own horrors and battlefields. For now I'm hoping I can do this through show don't tell but I suspect some more prescriptive guidance will appear in the doc later. So for now a look into how I've designed the content that's in there.

Break the Rules

Warbands all operate under pretty simple rules, so the Horrors can afford to be downright broken. I have the Colossus that basically ignores any low-powered weapons and the Witch who can mind-control Warband members. There's no way I'd put these abilities into Warbands themselves, but here it creates a puzzle for the players to solve and is sure to create memorable moments.

Hinder, Don't Invalidate

The key to keeping things interesting is to make them difficult but not impossible. If a battlefield makes Shooting impossible then it's probably going to feel like it's just punishing one warband more than the other, and there aren't many interesting ways to tackle it. However, in the Shadow battlefield all attacks are hindered, which means everybody is in the same terrible boat. 

Be Horrific

Remember these are Horrors. They should scare the players. If they're too soft then the game turns into a Piñata where players take turns showering the ground with trophies before scrabbling over the sweets within. Keep things scary and desperate.

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