Thursday 29 October 2020

Kitbash Attitude

Working on GRIMLITE keeps me thinking about the connection between RPGs (especially the type that I enjoy and make) and miniature wargames. 

I'm especially interested in looking at ideas that might seem out of place in a miniature game. It feels like the design space is much tighter than that of RPGs, and I'm only really interested in making a game if it does something different to what's already out there. How far outside that typical space can we push?

How much RPG-stuff can be crossed over? What must be left aside?

I wrote a list of the key strengths of RPGs for me, and gave some thought to their place in GRIMLITE as a miniature wargame. There's lots of blurring between these topics, so think of it more as a series of prompts then an analytical breakdown of each one in order. 

Rulings Not Rules

Perhaps the biggest difference I've encountered between miniature games and roleplaying games is the desire, almost need, for watertight rules. Some RPG players like these too, but here it's right at the forefront. Can you ditch this rules-focus for more expectation that rulings will be made as needed?

There's a long history of wargames that have one player acting as GM or Referee, making ruling calls for the two or more opposing players. This is even more precarious than the GM-Player relationship of RPGs, as you've got to be firm but fair and make sure both sides feel they are being treated equally.

To be honest, it's never really appealed to me. I like miniature games to focus on the relationship between the players, typically one-on-one, and the idea of inserting a neutral party in the middle doesn't feel right for what I enjoy at the table.

But that really makes the next point a problem...

Tactical Infinity

For me, the core selling point of an RPG when talking to prospective players is "you can try anything!". This is perhaps inseparable from the point above, and a folly to consider allowing it in a competitive game without a GM. 

And yet...

The idealist in me believes that two players could be trusted to make judgement calls for actions outside of the rules. For solo and coop this is easy, but when we're also trying to beat each other? I feel like I could do it when I'm playing with somebody I trust. I mean I have done it during GRIMLITE games on both the physical and virtual tabletop. 

Perhaps the difference is that those battles were always framed as a playtest. We all wanted to win, but we were having fun toying around with the system too. Would that spirit disappear if we were playing a finished game where the rules were cast in ink? Is it unthinkable to hope for this attitude in a pick-up game with a stranger at the local club?

I think it's possible with the right framing...

Play to Find Out

This is a line originally from Apocalypse World, and it's been interpreted in numerous ways. Regardless of any of these, I like it as an alternative to play to win or even play to have fun. You should definitely play too win to make any victories feel earned, and fun for me is really an outcome rather than a process. But ahead of all that, I'd urge anybody playing GRIMLITE to adopt the Play to Find Out attitude. 

This is the story of your warbands. For miniature games I'll always favour an exciting, memorable story over a perfectly balanced tactical contest. I don't want to remember the time I triggered a powerful synergy of three different special rules to mathematically crush your army. I want to remember that time we had three Greater Horrors appear on three successive rounds and ended up just trying to get off the board alive. 

There are ways to encourage this, but it's a balancing act. You want to reward victory and have consequences for failure, but too much and the players will only be thinking of those carrots and sticks instead of what's unfolding in the miniature reality on your table. 

For GRIMLITE it sucks to end the battle with most of your Warband dead and no Glory to show for it, but if even those casualties can give you advantages in the next game. Getting lots of Glory is great, but if you can scrape even one or two Glory then you'll have some good options for rewards. 

I've previously looked down on campaign-based wargames that had permanent death be an impossible or very unlikely result. I thought they were overly precious and concerned with maintaining balance, but I'm starting to see the error of my ways. Characters dying makes for memorable moments, but it comes with a hefty dose of punishment that can leave more of a mechanical sting than a dramatic one. So in GRIMLITE it's now quite rare, and often avoidable entirely if you have a Glory or two to spend. 

But isn't this all contradicted by...

Big Impact

This is when you make a tough decision, then get to see massive consequences sweep across the game. Tabletop RPGs aren't like some old CRPG where you can't fight the King's advisor that's secretly the villain until the designated moment. Want to stab them right here and now? Sure, but this decision will drastically alter the course of the narrative. It's a great feeling!

I'm working on some systems for GRIMLITE now that will ramp this up. At the moment battles feel quite separate from each other, with the thin campaign layer draped on top. 

Horrors are especially ripe for exploration in this area. At the moment there are only a few Scenarios that reward killing Horrors, but what if leaving them alive meant they were more likely to reappear later? What if killing the Horror was actually the risky choice, with that warband member suddenly facing the wrath of those that worshipped the monstrosity? 

These touches are tricky to include without adding in lots of elements to track, so I'm exploring a number of approaches, none of which I've been entirely happy with so far. Stay tuned.

On Balance

Originally, I really wanted to fully embrace the ideas in this brilliant post. Fully narrative wargaming, no points, no army composition limits. That OSR attitude of putting a Purple Worm on the first level of your dungeon or rolling 3d6 down the line for your Ability Scores. Or, as Emmy suggests in that post, just making the character you want, to hell with costs and restrictions. We're all reasonable here, right?

Truth is I just can't hack it. Not yet, at least.

I like picking things from a menu with certain restrictions. Maybe I need to work on my own attitudes here, but building warbands completely freeform feels like I'm cheating, and not in a good way. I didn't feel the same sense of ownership and permanence to the miniatures as when I built them within some sort of mechanical framework. 

Random generation would help with this, but it's not worked for me so far. I tried warband advancement that was purely random (roll d66 on this big table of stuff after each battle) and while it was fun to spin the wheel of fortune, I did miss the feeling of being able to steer the direction of my warband. If my theme is "small, elite squad of Exiles" then randomly recruiting some 1pt grunt feels like it's working against that. In moderation it's a fun "restriction breeds creativity" thing, but I don't want it happening between every game. 

Joseph McCullough spoke about how Frostgrave was designed as a both way to use his dust-gathering monster miniatures, and an excuse to buy new ones. I hate the idea of somebody getting excited about adding a new miniature to their warband and having to wait for the right roll to come up. As it stands now your options are restricted, but you can at least work toward getting that new creation onto the table.

Again, Horrors are where I really get to go wild with things, and encourage players to do the same. 

Horrors break the rules. They should be horrifying. Some Scenarios require a warband to kill them, so you shouldn't make them all entirely invulnerable, but other than that it's a free-for-all. As the neutral enemy of both warbands I'd always lean towards making them too scary rather than too weak, but the best balance is to have both options. Not all Horrors are created equal, and I like the idea that some encounters are especially bad, rather than aiming for some ultra consistent experience.

Fear and Laughter

When I think about the two things I expect to see in a particularly good RPG session, I think of Fear and Laughter.

Not every game needs to have Horror elements, but even the standard dungeon-crawling fear of death is rocket fuel for any table. We've got to work together here or we're all dead. Tread carefully, watch the darkness... wait, what do you mean I hear breathing from around the corner?

And of course laughter is almost inevitable when you're having a good time, even when your game is playing it straight. In fact, I've always enjoyed the idea of the game that takes itself fully seriously while the players have fun laughing at the shocking consequences, unexpected twists, and of course the unceremonious PC deaths.

I'm glad to say this is one of the RPG strengths that's super easy to translate to Miniature Games. The Scene Events and Shock tables were basically designed to create those moments. Your prestigious fighter getting mauled by an overgrown rat and crawling away in panic, your Grav Gun pushing a nasty Horror right into the middle of my warband, or both leaders simultaneously stabbing each other to death through a nasty roll on the Shock table. You're horrified at what might happen to your precious warband, but when it happens you can't help but laugh. 

But now onto what I feel is the strongest connection between these two styles of game for me:

Kitbash Attitude

The first miniatures I bought at the start of my 2020 revisit of the hobby were a box each of Genestealer Neophytes and Adeptus Mechanicus Skitarii and assorted bits from bitzbox. As far as I can tell I didn't build a single miniature from those sets using the proper instructions. 

In fact, the idea of having a miniature that already exists on somebody else's table genuinely saddens me. When I look at other people's creations from the incredibly versatile Frostgrave sets, I cringe when I see that somebody chose the same combination of parts as me. I want my miniatures to feel like my own. I can't make miniatures that look amazing, but I want them to look like my own unique creations.

Work-in-progress with bits from six kits across three model lines. They're janky, but they're mine.
They don't have names or a proper identity yet, but they'll get them when they're ready for the table.

It's sort of adjacent to the idea of anti-canon. This is a creative endeavour. Don't look for permission from above to carry out your ideas. If you want to do something, do it. Make the thing you want that doesn't exist. 

In the OSR there's a joke that everybody ends up making their own Frankenstein's Monster of a system by chopping bits off existing games and stitching them together. I love this spirit of not being satisfied with what's out there. Not waiting for permission to become a game designer, or in this case not waiting for Games Workshop to release that creature you're imagining. Get some sprues from different miniature lines and slam them together. Make something weird and put it in your game. 

You made a bunch of bug-men with big guns? Give them some names and get thinking of how to get them on the table.

Let your Horrors emerge as a mess of plastic and putty, painted in whatever way you like. Throw away that official painting guide. I've never felt like my painting was good, but I felt a real sense of achievement when Grant mentioned that my painting style said something about the game. 

I'd never thought of it that way before, but he might be onto something. 

Of course you can be creative within the official Warhammer 40,000 or Age of Sigmar Canon, but those games sit under the shadow of a greater authority. You can't bring your Imperial Guard to the table in a Games Workshop if you've used the Frostgrave Soldiers 2 set to make an all-female Valhallans squad. You can't show up and run your own Inq28 system, even if you're using all GW miniatures. 

I understand it from a business perspective, but it certainly sets the tone of what's permitted here. It's a different focus. 

But I want that untamed creative spirit. I want to feel like we can do anything on our tables. That RPG spirit of "you can try anything", whether we're talking about rules or modelling or painting. 

Chop up the bits you like.

Stick them together.

Get it to the table.

Tuesday 27 October 2020

Intergalactic Bastionland - The Sprawl

The Sprawl

While the Stars themselves appear to be infinite in number, most reckoners would say the vast majority of stuff going on in the Living Stars is happening in the vast network of floating places and people that string the stars together. Out of the restrictive light of the Stars, but pushing back the lurking claws of the Dark. This in-between world is where you'll likely spend the majority of your time up here. 

Yes there's a Star in this picture, but I wanted to wear this particular influence on my sleeve.

Key Principles of the Sprawl

  • Things are strangely familiar.
  • Everybody is on a Journey.
  • Everybody needs something.

How does this Work?

Yes, it's literally a galaxy-wide scattering of wandering planets, artificial outposts, and orphan moons. Anything but Stars (maybe some dead Stars drift out here without disrupting things too much). 

Remember, it's helpful to move away from thinking of the Living Stars as "Space as we know it". There are pockets of gravity, air, moisture, even warmth. It's still dangerous and difficult, but nothing compared to the lifeless vacuum of our own skies. 

Your Journey

I spoke a bit about Journeying through the Stars a while ago. Let's deal with the vague and then some specifics.

The Sprawl keeps its inhabitants moving. Even those trying to establish a stable life find that their life begins to drift even without their input. Most people embrace this as a way of Sprawl Life, romanticising their own particular Journey.

A physical destination isn't essential, some folk get really abstract. 

And what happens when you reach the end of your Journey? Well it really goes one of two ways. You're either in a position to discover that a new Journey now lies ahead of you, or you aren't. The latter is rarely a happy outcome. 

Riding the Sprawl

Look, this is a hard truth to accept at first, so make sure you're sitting down.

You probably don't own a ship.

Disappointing I'm sure, but look at the opportunities! The real joy of riding the sprawl is getting tangled up in it. You aren't bound to your home ship, doors locked to the outside world. You've got to get stuck in. Meet people, earn favours, hitch hike, stow away, hijack, whatever it takes. Much better than worrying about the fuel gauge on your own shuttle, right?

d8 Sprawl Locations

1: Slab

  • Resembles a flat square of city that was lifted from its home and left drifting in space. 
  • All life is gone, all salvage stripped, even the air has been taken. Only a hazy glow remains.
  • Al pack of colossal war engines (STR 18, 12hp, Armour 3) roam the ruins, blasting any intruders with Black Light (d10 Blast). Rumoured to be built out of old ship parts, so that thing you need is probably in there somewhere.

2: Prismurk

  • A jump gate in parts. It's been under reconstruction for some time but one worker has insisted on performing the work alone, with only their machine assistant.
  • The worker, Gellan, will viciously refuse any help with the task, but does have a bunch of other errands you can do to help free up his schedule. 
  • Gellan's machine assistant, Bisi, appears mostly to check Gellan's work and fix any errors he's made. 

3: The Silver Slumber

  • Kindly-appearing simian-aliens offer you free transport on their incredibly slow, uncomfortable, boring ship.
  • Once you're on the way they offer to put you into Slumber for as unreasonable a price as they think you'll pay. 
  • If they hit trouble they'll wake up their slumbering passengers to help, but anybody woken from this sleep is disoriented for their first waking hour. 

4: Ovard's Ovules

  • Experimental Engineer Ovard Flax will boast of his rental ships having a near 100% safety record, but cannot provide any sort of proof of this.
  • Each Ovule is a one-person vessel with enough thrust to ride bumpily onto the next closest place in the Spawl.
  • For an additional fee Ovard will launch you from the Thruster Cannon, giving you a boost to a further location. He stresses beforehand that this cannon isn't subject to the near-100% safety record, but it'll probably be fine. 1-in-20 chance that you get blasted to the wrong location. 

5: Mess Street

  • Might appear like a mini-Bastion at first. Shops, bars, hotels, and every type of Alien you can imagine, all in a ring-like structure. 
  • When you enter one of the buildings you soon discover they're all selling the same overpriced, low quality goods, and their individuality is all a front for one company that owns the whole street. 
  • If you ask around you can get to the lower-street, which is where all the really interesting places are. 

6: Big-Rutt the Cleanser

  • An open-topped outpost shrouded in rain clouds.
  • A huge, tentacled creature called Big-Rutt will writhe into every nook of your ship, cleaning it and giving it a general service while it's in there. This is something to do with organic fluids and thousands of tiny mouths but you're better off not knowing. 
  • The mostly human staff here are charged with feeding and tending to Big Rutt between jobs, but while they wait they run a little gambling den on the side and have a small shop selling "things that Big-Rutt ate and were not claimed". 

7: Uglow

  • A lovely, lush little planet eternally under the calming glow of its multiple luminous moons. 
  • Anybody sleeping here rests so well that any other sort of sleep just doesn't cut it. They are Deprived for the next week unless they return for more sleep at Uglow.
  • Helpful birds seem to know when to wake you up. 

8: Little Dreg

  • A chunk of planet, blasted out from whatever Star is previously orbited. 
  • Its ruins are popular with travellers, especially those looking for other open-minded travellers wanting to consume the psychotropic fungus that grows in the darkest corners of the ruins.
  • The largest ruins are sealed up, and other travellers will warn you away from them.

Monday 26 October 2020

Intergalactic Bastionland - The Light

As you might have guessed, a lot of my attention is on GRIMLITE right now, but I do still let my mind drift back to Intergalactic Bastionland from time to time. It's still bubbling away, but it's still very much in the stage where it's trying to find its identity before I go into doing some proper testing. 

So this is how the game feels in my head right now, but be prepared for that to change.

Intergalactic Bastionland is all about travelling. It's likely your start or endpoint will be in the Light. These are the places that lie fully within the glow of a Living Star. There's a sense of safety at first, but depending on the Star in question, it might not last for long.

Key Principles of the Light
  • Everything is alive.
  • It welcomes travellers that follow the rules.
  • Those that serve the Star have variable interpretations of the rules.

The Star's Agenda

People that have spent time in Bastion often refer to the city having a personality of its own. Writers call it a character in their story, and people that the city has chewed up and spat out curse its cruel nature.

All of which are valid, but really it's just bricks and mortar and pigeons and a whole lot of people that are out for themselves.

The Stars, though. They are alive. Their personality and agenda goes beyond the words of poets and can be felt and seen everywhere under their light.

Sure, they're inconsistent and inhuman, but there's no question that the light of a star carries its agenda. The difficult part is working out which part of their agenda is currently being enforced. They're always more layered than they first appear.

At the furthest reaches of the light the influence is subtle. Places might feel familiar, with a slight tone of their star's philosophical hue. The closer you drift, the more you explore, the more extreme the influence becomes.

Haze - the Star of Grey Mists - wants to provide a place safe from prying eyes. Secrets are obscured by swirling clouds, conspiracies are given a safe haven. In time, visitors begin to forget even their own appearance. Here we must all gradually lose our identity in the mist. Everything is grey. Only then are we free to act on our truest desires. 

Cherat - the Sunrise Star - is a place of new beginnings. Yes, it's always sunrise, wherever you stand under Rau's light. Don't question that, but embrace the optimism. The future is coming, and we can be a part of it. The problem with an eternal sunrise is that hope turns to impatience. What comes next is always just another beginning. Anything caught in the present must make way for the future. Perhaps you've already been here too long.

Roah - the Howling Star - catharsis requires a place where you do not need to understand your message as long as it's loud. If you do it right, others can't help but join in, building to a furious crescendo. Fantastic for binding together a group of angry individuals as a pack, headed out into the void to enact their vengeance on the rest of existence. 

Enforcing the Rules

The light itself can only push visitors in the right direction. Each individual location within a Star's glow needs rules to hold it together. The nature of this enforcement can lead to the original message of the star getting warped beyond recognition, but Stars embrace this as just another aspect of their domain.

Loyal residents may enforce their own view of a Star's agenda individually or in organised groups. Some stars reward this with gifts, others simply observe. Most Stars also have their own ways of ensuring things run to their liking: Beings born out of light, visions of the star's belief. Some even talk of stars bending their light into a physical form and walking among their visitors. 

Veil Warden of Haze
8hp. Concealed Sword (d10 on turn revealed, d6 afterward). 
  • When two secrets begin to become intertwined, groups try to encroach on each other's space in the mist, or somebody seeks to retain too much of their own identity, the Wardens form a blockade.
  • When the Warden takes Critical Damage, the attacker's allies must all make a CHA Save. If any of them fail, the character with highest individual roll cannot be found. As the veil falls from the dying Warden's face it is revealed to be that character, now dying. The Warden is nowhere to be seen.
  • Suffers d12 damage if their veil is forcibly removed.

Horizon Herald of Cherat 
  • Looms on the horizon, a reminder that all must make way for the coming day. Those that see them are compelled to move away. 
  • Those that move towards them are granted a vision of the future, then lashed with a stroke of dawn-light (d10). 
  • If they are killed, the sunrise begins to swell violently. All in its light suffer d6 damage each turn until they can get into the shadow, but worse things dwell there.

Howling Embodiment of Roah

STR 18, 14hp. Roaring Maw (d10 Blast), Flame Form (Ignore damage from non-extinguishing sources).
  • Roar even louder than everybody else. Those who join in recover all HP and Ability Scores, those who do not suffer d6 damage per Round until they join in or flee the light.
  • Beckon followers into the flames, where they suffer d6 damage at first, then no further harm. 
  • Blast off into the Stars, safely carrying all those that dwell within their flames. The target of this vengeance is normally somebody that a visitor has been shouting about loudly for long enough.

Pervasive Shadow

Stars can only avoid shadow if they remain solitary, empty orbits made inhospitable by any means at the star's disposal. Even then there always reaches a point where darkness begins to mingle with its light. This darkness simultaneously seeks to undermine the work of the star, but can't help but be shaped by its philosophy. 

So most Stars accept the Dark as another tool at their disposal, allowing it to dwell on the fringes of their light, clinging to every object in the Star's domain, waiting for an opportunity to intrude into the world of light. Sometimes a Star might allow this intrusion to happen with careful distribution of its illumination. Every heaven needs a hell, and sometimes the hounds need to be unleashed. 

Unveiler of Haze
DEX 16, 10hp. Ripping Claws (4d6), Shadow form (Armour 3 vs material attacks).
  • Can smell secrets, drawn to them like a starving animal.
  • On Critical Damage, tear a secret from the mind of the victim, then vanish into the shadows to decide how to use this against them.
  • Always willing to cut a deal that involves learning more secrets.

Long Shadow of Cherat
CHA 17, 10hp. Shadow form (Armour 3 vs material attacks). Claw (d6). 
  • Drawn to those that have outstayed their welcome. 
  • Beckons victims to come to them. If they refuse, they lose d10 CHA. If they accept they are pulled into the Dark, where the Long Shadow tends to them well. They will only release a prisoner if they are assured they are going to carry out vengeance on Cherat itself.
  • Anyone looking at the Shadow feels tired. Each Turn they must pass a CHA Save or be reduced to 0hp and Deprived until they rest.

Futiliser of Roah
STR 5, DEX 5, CHA 5, 3hp.  Shadow form (Armour 3 vs material attacks). 
  • Not hostile at all, but calmly explains why what you're doing is futile, and that you should give up. If you agree and leave the light of Roah, restore all HP and Ability Scores. If you refuse, the Futiliser will just follow you. 
  • When one is banished back to the shadows another is never far behind. 
  • If you agree to quit, but go back on your word, they summon something much worse from the Dark.

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.