Wednesday 24 February 2021

GRIMLITE - Birthing a Horror

I've just split GRIMLITE into two documents. The first is the booklet-sized rulebook, complete with faction rosters and campaign rules, and the other is just the Horrors/Scenes that can be printed separately and mix-and-matched together. 

The selfish reason for this is because I'm sick of reprinting the whole thing whenever I add a new Horror/Scene, but I also just want to write a lot more of them. I'm aiming for 36 of each, doubling what's in there right now, but I've no idea if this is realistic.

They're straightforward enough to write, but I want each of them to feel unique. Each should break a rule somewhere, or do something that makes them stand clearly apart from the others. I have a big notes document where I scribble down these ideas, with Horrors usually starting as a quirk of how they'll play, with the flavour moulded around this concept.

So let's do now now, because apparently I need to write 18 more.

Looking down my list of concepts there are three that I'd like to work on:

  1. Horror that attacks only through its Minions, never itself.
  2. Horror that uses its Nexuses like 3 stages of a boss encounter, with a colossal "Final Form".
  3. Horror that has Nexuses as giant limbs reaching up through the ground, its body only emerging when all three are destroyed
Let's go with number 3, which for now I'm calling the Voidweed.

For any given Horror we need to think about:
  • Deployment
  • Stats
  • Minions
  • Nexuses
  • Nexus Effects (I should give these a proper name like I did for "Responses")
  • Responses
  • Rewards
  • Solo/Coop Changes if needed

So if the Voidweed is be interacting firstly through its grasping limbs, the core of the beast is hidden away underground. Let's call it the Bloom, as we want this to be evocative, but also broad enough to allow a range of modelling options. I'm imagining some sort of fleshy rose-headed monstrosity, like something from a grimdark Little Shop of Horrors. 

But for deployment this is nice and simple. Keep the Horror off the board to begin with.

If we're using the Nexuses as the straight up fighting ability of the creature, I feel like the Bloom should be a little weirder and more indirect. Maybe they have some weird scent or spore effect. 

We'll give it Tough, as I imagine this thing being wrapped in briars and thorns, so hard to fight in melee. The guideline for Horror attacks is around 6 damage potential, so we'll give it some T3x2 thorns, but its real power will lie in its special power.

Some of this can be added into the Reactions table, but I like giving this sort of Horror a power that triggers at the end of the player turn. If you're not careful it can be high-maintenance, especially if you had multiple on the board at once, but the Horror is already a focal point of any battle. They're allowed to call for a bit more attention. It's nice knowing that you're only ever going to have one of these to deal with, and in this case the Bloom isn't even going to show up until later in the battle, so let's make something weird.

Enraging Scent: When this Horror successfully Saves against all Damage from an attack, the attacker must immediately make a Free Attack against their nearest visible Ally.

Don't think I've done something that triggers on a successful Save like this. 

Of course it's unfair, but the key here is that you can think your way around it. Put your attackers into positions where they can't attack an ally, or at least put a disposable grunt next to them to take the hit. It's tricky, but Horrors aren't meant to be easy. 

Strictly speaking, not ever Horror needs these, especially if the Minion's role is being fulfilled elsewhere such as the multi-Horrors (Weird Hunters, Twin Leapers) or those that weaponise their Nexuses like this one (also Eliminator Drone).

I think Minions help a lot with avoiding the Horror just getting rushed, but I want the Nexuses to be the main focus. Let's just put something really simple in here, a weak grunt protecting each Nexus.

Not every element of the Horror needs to be fancy. Keep the main thing the main thing. 

So this is the meat of this Horror. It's easy to just make the Nexuses act like a minion, but the concept here was that these are three limbs of a larger being, sprouting out from the ground all over the battlefield.

To begin with, I'm thinking that we'll use the Response table exclusively for these. It won't give any extra fanciness to the Bloom (it won't be around for most of the battle) or the Minions (they're not a focus here). 

Best of all, we know that these limbs will never be on the board at the same time as the Bloom, so we don't have to worry about their complexities rubbing up on each other. 

So let's make them nimble as a contrast to the Tough Bloom, forcing the Warbands to get up close and personal with it. We'll also give them the ability to burrow around the board and entangle or throw their enemies around. 

Nexus Effects
Because the Nexuses are looking relatively complex I think we should keep this simple. Let's use it to spur the minions into action, responding as their precious vines are chopped down. 

I was previously thinking we'd use this purely for the Vines, but I think it would be good to keep this quite simple, seeing as both the Horror and Nexuses have ended up being somewhat mechanically fancy. 

Maybe we'll use this to represent the smaller vines that are presumably sprouting up around the battlefield and making life difficult for everybody, alongside some simple effects on the Vines.

Sometimes these just write themselves. I like to draw on the abilities of the Horror/Nexus/Minions as well as the themes of the battle, so here we're clearly thinking some sort of plant theme. 

I'll go with the classics, trimmed-down versions of the special abilities of each of the Horror/Nexus and a reformed version of the Minion for hire (nice way to reuse those miniatures!).

Solo/Coop Changes
Here I'm not so much worried about tuning the difficulty, but taking into the account that the player(s) will be unopposed outside of the Horror, which sometimes creates weird situations where objectives are either completely without challenge or impossible. For some Horrors I'll throw in some extra Minions if I think the lack of an enemy warband will make things too easy to manage. You want things to feel a bit out of control.

So for this Horror I don't think we need any changes. There's enough going on here with the Minions and Nexuses all running around. 

Here's the finished monstrosity.

Crawling and climbing into our world from somewhere much darker.

Keep the Horror off the board to begin with.

Voidweed Bloom (Tough 3+)
Lashing Thorns (T3x2)
Enraging Scent: When this Horror successfully Saves against all Damage from an attack, the attacker must immediately make a Free Attack against their nearest visible Ally.

Deploy a Thornguard next to each Nexus.

Thornguard (Nimble 5+)
Eternal pruners of the Voidweed.
Pruning Blades (T1x2)

The choking limbs of the being below.
Deploy 3 Vines evenly around the board. They can be fought like a normal unit and are Destroyed when Taken Out. 

Voidweed Vine (Nimble 4+)
Choke (T1x4 - Uses this attack against Downed enemies only)
Hurling Grasp (T1x2 - Treat any Shock result that benefits the Target as Thrown instead. Uses this attack against Standing enemies only)
Burrower: Ignores a single piece of terrain when moving.
Creeper: When the Vine rolls a non-beneficial Shock Table result it treats it as Crawl instead.

Nexus Effects
  1. All Thornguard make a free Move and Attack.
  2. All Thornguard make a free Move toward the remaining Vine.
  3. All Thornguard become Fierce. Deploy the Bloom in the centre of the board.
  1. All Downed warband members take 1 damage as vines entangle them.
  2. Each Vine lunges out with a snaking vine (R1x3).
  3. Any unit touching a Vine takes 1 damage. 
  4. All Vines move toward the centre of the table.
  5. All Downed Vines make a free Move.
  6. All Vines make a Free Recovery.
  1. Penitent Thornguard (Fierce, Nimble 5+) [Max 3, 4pts]
    Pruning Blades (T1x2)
  2. Creeper Cloak: When you roll a non-beneficial Shock Table result, treat it as Crawl instead [Max 1, 2pts]
  3. Enragement Bomb: [T1xSpecial - Use per battle. If the target is hit they make an immediate Free Attack against their closest visible Ally [Max 1, 2pts]

Thursday 18 February 2021

GRIMLITE - A Narrative of Doom

If you're interested in seeing how the recent changes to GRIMLITE at working out in play, you can see me running through a game here.

In short, the game feels much more about Horror now. Both the monstrous Horrors that chase you around the table and the lurking atmosphere that this world doesn't have much hope of a happy ending. I've got some of that tone across in the Factions, but I wanted to add in some of those little flavour bombs that can happen between games.

Some miniature games have entire secondary game systems for what happens between battles, but I've always known that wasn't the right direction for GRIMLITE. The whole "No Stacking, No Tracking" philosophy had to extend to this side of the game too. 

It's more about Flavour. For a while I considered making it pure flavour, like you just rolled to see what happened to your Warband between battles and got a little bit of fluff. But I wanted it to connect to the game without giving you another thing to track at the table.

So these events should focus on what you're actually doing before each battle, building your warband. They generally aren't going to make you outright weaker or stronger, but give you an additional option to consider or, more likely, a restriction to force you to build your Warband differently to how they looked last time.

Let's see how it looks in its first iteration. 

This forgotten land is still changing, always being pulled between five forces. Not the factions, but the very elements of reality on this husk world. 

They pull towards five dooms, shaping our torture on the way.

HUNGER - Survival is all that matters now. There isn’t enough for all of us, so take with both hands and gorge deep.

HATRED - Nothing gives purpose like an enemy, and there’s plenty of blame to go around for our current condition.

CONTROL - The world needs strong leadership, and complete submission from those below.

DEATH - The only constant we can rely on is the welcome embrace of death. We should be thankful, and hurry along to our journey’s end.

RUIN - This world has been left without a purpose. The natural decay into rust and embers must be allowed to proceed at its own pace.

Element Trackers

Make a Track for each of the Elements, beginning at 0 and with a maximum of 6.

World Events

Between each battle, roll a die to determine which Element is in force at this moment.

1. Hunger
2. Hatred
3. Control
4. Death
5. Ruin
6. Whichever is highest on its Track. Players break ties.

Turn to the Event table for that Element, with each Warband rolling a die and adding the number on the Element Track to determine the event. 

These Events often put a limit on how you build your Warband for the next battle, so they are best used for campaigns that want to embrace this extra challenge.

After all Warbands have rolled, add 1 to that Element’s Track.

When a Track hits 6 then that Element’s Climax is initiated. This Scenario is carried out just as with a normal Climax and has a special objective that all Warbands are trying to achieve. The Warband that achieves it wins the campaign. If no Warband achieves the Objective then the campaign ends as a loss for all Warbands.

Unless specifically mentioned, Element Events only affect the next battle.


1: Poor Harvest: Your potential recruits have left or died. You cannot buy units from your Faction list for the next battle unless they were in the previous battle. 

2:Thieves: Your suppliers were cleaned out. You cannot buy equipment from your Faction list for the next battle other than what you had in the previous battle.

3:Traitor: A random Follower in your Warband has abandoned your cause for a better deal. Your opponent can recruit them in the next battle if they wish.

4: Resource Hoarding: Nobody is sharing anything. Any units you are rebuying from the last battle must keep all equipment they were carrying.

5: Feral Beasts: Choose 1-3 Beasts to deploy anywhere on the board as Unbound units. They treat all other units as enemies, even other Beasts.

Beast (Fierce 5+,T2x1)

6: Brief Respite: For just a moment there is enough to go around. You eat among friends and  all Warbands in the campaign gain 1 Renown.

7: Uneven Portions: Those that eat last at your table are beginning to feel unfairly treated. Any QL5+ units you bring to the battle only perform 2 Actions on their first turn.

8: Encroaching Wilderness: The trails between settlements grow wilder every day, making them especially difficult for the heavily armoured. In this battle you cannot field followers with Tough unless they also have Nimble.

9: Savage World: Every day your followers get more feral and desperate. You may replace any Skill with Fierce.

10+: Extinction: A Settlement you planned to visit has been overrun with choking vines and hostile creatures, cutting off a vital supply. Permanently remove access to 2 Follower types and 2 pieces of Gear from your Faction list.

This is all in the latest version of GRIMLITE, and I'm interested to see how it plays out as a long form narrative. I suspect it may be a bit brutal in places, so there will be plenty of tuning-up to be done.

It's tricky to have a large variety of events that don't add more complexity to the actual battle, and I've let a few things slip through the net there (the Feral Beasts and Uneven Portions Events), but I'm hoping they don't tip the balance to making things too complicated. 

The intention is that most Campaigns will end with a regular player-initiated Climax, with the winner of that final showdown being the ultimate winner of the campaign. But I like the idea of this building threat in the background. It'll probably be fine, but it's lurking there in case the dice feel cruel or you delay too long in your own ambitions.

The actual Elemental Climax Scenario is going to be a single scenario, with a twist dependant on which of the Elements reached the top of its track. Expect that to show up in the doc in the next week or so.

Thursday 11 February 2021

GRIMLITE - A New Breed of Horror

So after being tied up for most of January, I'm back onto GRIMLITE.

Since their arrival in the game, Horrors have felt pretty central to GRIMLITE's identity. Fighting your friends is fun, but throwing down a terrifying monster between the two of you makes things even more interesting. 

But I sort of wanted them to be more horrific. Not just big scary things to be avoided, but even more firmly planted at the core of your warband's story. 

So let's look at how Horrors have been shoved into the spotlight for this latest version of the game. I'll get there soon, but it all starts with Glory Tokens.

I'd been thinking a lot about the Glory Tokens that acted as both battlefield objectives and currency to spend between battles. They worked okay, but it felt a bit familiar and safe. Dare I say boring

GRIMLITE diverges from the norm in so many other areas. Am I missing something more interesting I could be doing with this structure?

I guess it all comes down to victory and rewards.

To quote Sean McCoy from this post talking about introducing a High Score system to Mothership:

Finally, the hardest beast to kill: Your character’s Level. I love levels, I love the sound of a “Level 3 character.” I like the way they make me think of video games and progressing to new levels. But I think there’s a new phrase from video games we can steal to have a great impact on Mothership: The High Score.

So, instead of Level, which is just sort of an abstract measure of power used as a holdover from D&D. Let’s just cut straight to the arcade and call it your “High Score.” And let’s have that score increase by 1 every time you play a session.

This tracks something that, to me, is really interesting. It just very simply tells you how long the character has been played. This is a survival horror game, how long has your character survived? And can you beat that number next time? Got a level 0 character? Oh tonight is your first night. Meeting a level 53 character? Whoa, you’ve seen some shit.

Obviously Mothership isn't even the same type of game as GRIMLITE, but it sums up an attitude I've wanted to explore for a while now.

Maybe some victories are just victories.

Winning at the Olympics gets you a medal, you don't suddenly unlock a new pole-vaulting technique. But you still want that medal, right?

Tying victory to your Warband's growth in power, and failure to its potential decline, sounds like it would generate some good drama. It sometimes does, but in practice I've found it far too unreliable. At times I even found it was outright sucking the drama out of a situation. Glory was so valuable that I found myself playing safe, doing the "play to win" thing rather than the "play to find out what happens" thing, stressing about the rules. Everything I wanted to avoid with GRIMLITE.

So how do I want to treat victories in this game?

Winning should be, to a certain point, its own reward. You're playing to win because you want to beat your friend at the game, and you want your beloved miniatures to succeed.

BUT you want your warband to change over time, and ideally their history of success/failure should dictate this as you move through the campaign.

To summarise the changes:

  • At the start of each battle you build your warband using your Renown, starting with 20pts. You pick from:
    • A Leader (free, you keep them throughout the campaign but have to pay for their gear and upgrades)
    • Some followers and your gear from your Faction list.
    • Units that have fought in at least one battle can buy Faction-specific upgrades.
    • Yes this means you can effectively build an entirely new warband (except your Leader) for each battle, but let's be realistic, you'll be keeping some favourites on board even if they've been reconfigured.
  • When a unit is Taken Out during a battle they still roll afterwards to see if they're truly dead. If they are, then you retire the miniature for at least one battle. Afterward you can bring the mini back, but you'd better do some explaining that this is a new person. 
    • If your Leader would die then somebody else dies instead, saving them. Not much fun fighting without your Leader.
    • Note that death does not affect your Renown, so no matter how many of your units die you've always got your full Renown to spend on the warband.
  • After the battle, BOTH Warbands receive extra Renown based on whether or not the Horror was killed, regardless of who did it (see further down this post).
    • Yes, both. So if we play 10 battles against each other, then we're both going into the next battle with the same amount of Renown points to spend on our warbands.
  • Being the one to kill the horror or achieve the secondary objective gives you two juicy rewards, but these are about horizontal growth, not vertical.
    • If you're playing a proper Campaign you get some Prestige. The first one to 10 Prestige gets to initiate the final climactic battle and attempt to win the Campaign outright.
    • When you're spending your Renown on your Warbands, you can buy from your Faction list AND the secret unlockable extra items that are made available by killing specific horrors and achieving the objective in specific Scenes. If you're the one that killed the Chameleoid then you can buy fancy stealth cloaks and bio-spike guns, but they'll cost you. 
    • So players are always going shopping with the same amount of money in their pocket, but some are learning about secret shops hidden in cellars and alleyways. 

There's a shift towards a looser style of play in some of those changes, but I figure I need to start walking the walk with regards to Kitbash Attitude. I want to embrace the stuff that I love about this sort of game, and break the obstacles that get in the way. This is not a tournament game. 

I want you to be afraid of the Horrors, but I don't want you to be afraid of permanently stalling your warband by having a few bad defeats and bad luck on the Casualty rolls.

Remember, this is all about the Horrors. All these changes above sound nice and generous, but really they're just allowing me to make Horrors that are actually horrifying. 

So now we've got all that reward stuff of that out of the way, and we're all going into the game with a fresh attitude of "play to find out what happens". Well, that means now we can really unleash the Horrors and makes them truly nasty.

Previously, Horrors sat separate to the two scenario halves, and felt like a sort of icing on the cake. The Mission gave you the main objective you were focusing on, and the Scene gave you a smaller secondary objective and a random event at the end of each turn. 

Some involved killing Horrors to gain Glory, but often the Horrors were just there to threaten you and get in the way. Again, this worked just fine, but I want them to feel more impactful, like the Horror might be the most important thing about the scenario you're playing.

In the new version, Scenarios are still split in two, but this time into the Horror and the Scene.

The Horror half gives you a (usually) singular Horror that you're trying to defeat, like a beefed up version of the Greater Horrors from past versions. 

They might also have some Minions that are closer to the old Lesser Horrors. 

But most importantly, three Nexuses are deployed. These could be nests, graves, abyssal breaches, but they're something that's keeping the Horror alive and corrupting their environment. 

Horrors cannot be killed until all three Nexuses are destroyed. So we're going hard into that boss-fight feeling.

Oh, and rather than the Scene giving you random events, you now roll a random event for the Horror at the end of the Round, giving them one last sting in the tail. 

It gives a lot more design space to make a monster feel unique. So far there are 6 and they all do their own thing.

The Devourer is the simplest, being the introductory Horror. Its gluttonous hoarding has attracted a swarm of vermin to the area, and destroying these stashes only makes the Devourer more furious. 

The Warped Hunters are a trinity of unique alien jerks that act as each other's Nexuses, so you can only kill any of them once you've wounded all of them. They're so arrogant that sometimes just wounding one of them will leave the rest of them shaken, or could motivate them to raise their game.

The Abyssal Colossus doesn't start on the board, but emerges from the first of the Abyssal Breaches that you destroy. Unfortunately there's no way to close these breaches without being blasted with its unnatural energy, so choose somebody tough or expendible.

The Winter Harvester (pictured above) revels in death, and the death of any unit makes this Horror and their Pale Knights stronger for the rest of the Round. The Knights guard their graves, and giving them a proper death is the only way to seal their souls away and eventually take on the Harvester. This one is probably busted, too difficult, but it's good to have something to aim for.

The Chameleoid spends half of the battle off the board, with the Nexuses representing illusory shadows that could be acting as their hiding place. You never know for sure when they're going to appear or vanish back into the shadows.

Twin Leapers are a pair of sting-tailed nightmares that are dangerous just to be next to, even when Exhausted. Worse still, whenever one of them acts, the other springs into action, and destroying their nests only releases their Twisted Spawn. When this whole family are on the board together things can quickly get overwhelming. 

Be sure to let me know if you try out this new version. As always, expect the living document to keep changing as I work on this, so make sure you're on the most recent version.

Good luck...

Monday 1 February 2021

Intergalactic Bastionland - The Dark

The Dark would not exist without The Light.

You might assume this is the other way around. That darkness is some sort of neutral state of reality, and objects cast light into it as an exception to that resting nothingness. Maybe that's how it works over there, but not here among the Living Stars. 

Here, Darkness is a thing. It's a tangible, treacherous, terrible thing. 

Most Stars have accepted the presence of shadows within their light. Encroaching patches of darkness simultaneously oppose and, perhaps unknowingly, enforce the Star's philosophy, forming a strange cosmic symbiosis. 

But this is the raw stuff. Not just an opposition to the light of the stars, but an opposition to everything. 

There's a theory that Stars grow out of concepts. When we have an idea strong enough to give it a name, a Star is born. As the concept grows, so does the Star, sometimes splitting, sometimes merging, but burning out yet more light into a galaxy that's rapidly growing oversaturated with thoughts and colour and concepts. 

The same theory posits that this overabundance of stuff has pushed back what was once ordinary run-of-the-mill darkness and vacuum, condensing it into the capital-D Dark. 

So this is all very vague. What's actually in there?

Well, let's get the most confusing part out of the way first. There is light in there.

No, listen, this makes sense.

It's more like the dust of dead light. Barely luminous residue that hangs in the air, giving a dull, powdery view of things. It doesn't travel far. By the time your eyes capture it you might even start to lose sight of what you're looking at.

Oh yeah, and there's air in here. Remember, this isn't space, this is the Living Stars. As with the light, this is used-up old air. A billion last-breaths, barely exhaled, clinging to you like a cold shiver.

In fact, the deeper into the Dark you go, the more you might question the name. Others have called it the Fall, the Waste, or, more flatteringly, the Truth. 

But then others call it Hell, so take that with a pinch of salt.

So what's the point of the Dark? Well that's the core of it. The Dark doesn't have a point.

While Stars are all about ideas, concepts, philosophies, and agendas, the Dark sits as the other side of the disc. 

It is explicitly, aggressively about nothing. A lack of rules, lack of structure, and it whole-heartedly doesn't care about you

This sense of meaninglessness can repel some, but it does attract a certain sort. The sort that wants to live or die by their own hands. People that see any sort of rules or philosophy as stifling. Those that can accept an existence that could be wiped out by a crushing wave of anti-force at any moment. 

If you're thinking this would suit you then I'd encourage you to think again. Plenty of travellers have come crawling back to the Light after experiencing the true dread of a life within the Dark. It truly takes a specially warped sort of mind, and if this is even making you consider thinking twice, you're probably too wrapped up in the security of rules and structure to tough it out. 

An alternative theory is that the Dark is everything that has been forgotten. If the stars are fuelled by concepts, then they should die as frequently as they are born, as words are forgotten, poets die, and dreamers wake. Without this fuel for their fire, what's left coalesces into the Dark. The remains linger without purpose, the embers of its power lying dormant. Not much on its own, but over time these merge into a growing force without a direction. 

A force without an identity.

Except that it was something else. It clings on like an echo that won't fade to silence, gradually building towards a screaming feedback loop. All noise, no meaning. 

But that's just a theory. It probably won't come to that.