Wednesday, 23 November 2022

Speaking in Parlance

As you might expect, Bastion doesn't have an official language.

Scoffin at yer nonknowin that Handydown is OFFICIALLY recorded as prime in a number of...

Who let the Mock Linguists in here?

Well yeah everybody can muddle through conversation through pointing and pantomime. That system of exaggerated gestures is as close to a common tongue as you'll get here. 

So basically everybody can co-communicate a bit even if they're from distant boroughs or just got off the Deep Country Express. 

Lookear lad it nay that simple
Yes it is!

Sure, there are regional dialects. People revel in their local slang, lilts, and drawls. I reckon some ham it up to let you know where they're from. If the roof sweeper speaks like they grew up on the Slatefield then you might grant them the assumption of sure-footing and pay them a bit extra. 

But now we're getting into Parlance

It's actually more complex than that.
We're talking about Cants. This is solved.

No! This isn't like Cants or Codes. Those conceal a message. 

Parlances enhance the message and maybe add a little extra. 

Here are six of them. They can be learned, but those in the know will recognise a chancer from the real deal. 

Parababble
Some will be keen to point out that Bastion is full of aliens, all of whom face some sort of barrier to communication. Parababble emerged from communities of Bastiards who found themselves dealing regularly with Aliens. Lots of familiar words, but pronounced at a strange pace, emphasising unexpected syllables and inserting hums between particularly long words. 

Although it doesn't really aid in Bastio-Cosmo communication, it demonstrates to other people that you are the sort of person that roams in such circles. Maybe you're a little bit above all this human nonsense. You know, from the stars Bastion looks so small.

Actually that's not true, but that's a topic for another day. 

Barlingo
A sort of branch of legalese with some bureaucratish and politican mixed in. Allows to very carefully, very precisely, say something truly reprehensible in a reversible manner. 

You can quite plainly proclaim something that you'd never say out loud under normal circumstances and look around to see if anybody agrees with you. If somebody looks shocked or offended the whole meaning can be shifted with the addition of a word of two.

Yargon
This started as a joke. A load of fake, sarcastic technical terminology that you'd throw out when you didn't really understand what you were talking about.

Then some joker actually gave a load of those terms real meaning with a heavy dependency on context.

Now speaking Yargon means you absolutely do know what you're talking about... unless you're doing it in the old fashioned way... or in the newly-emerging ironic way.

Best to just let them get on with the job and see how it turns out. 

Baztic
The ur-tongue of Bastion. So prestigious! You can see its influence in just about every dialect in the city and beyond. Words used in a bygone time, the legacy of our ancestors.

But it's just made up, really. You take some modern words and mess them around a bit. Make sure you stick your chest out when you speak. 

Makes you sound educated and fancy to people who don't know better, but you'll embarrass yourself in front of anybody switched onto such things. 

Punchbunk
There's way of talking as if you're tough. That might work on some people.

But Punchbunk is specifically a way of using slang and innuendo to describe how you're going to hurt somebody with such poetry that the words cause physical pain. They say it started in prisons, where inmates would shout such vivid descriptions between cells that they'd wake up bruised. 

I don't know about all that, but there's certainly an art to the wounding word. 

Trivel
A way of speaking that involves dropping as many references as possible to books, songs, esoteric history, just about any piece of trivia that you might hope somebody else recognises.

But there's no point if everybody recognises it. The dream result is that the other person recognises you've made a reference without fully understanding how it's relevant to what you're saying.

It puts them on the backfoot. They smile and laugh like they understand. Now you're winning the conversation!

As well as that y...

Um. Ahum. Excuse me. Yes. Excuse me. You weren't listening so I'll start again.

I was talking because this is my thing! This isn't your classroom.

Juslookathat! Very rude. Goto the dean all-at-once.

I'm not even a student here! 

Wait, when did we get here?

DEAN! DEAN! NOW! NOW!

Wait, the Dean? Is that the one I saw in

Well I'm afraid you're in real trouble now.

Oh.

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Art by Midjourney

This post was originally sent as a reward to all Patreon supporters, and is released freely on this site the week after its original publication.

If you want to support my blog, podcasts, and video content then head over to my Patreon. 

Wednesday, 16 November 2022

Reasonable Cruelty

For this challenge I'm going to revisit a selection of monster abilities that often scare GMs away, and can feel like unfair relics from the era of killer GMs.

These include:
  • Equipment Destruction
  • Maiming limbs
  • Finishing-off downed PCs
  • Instant Death
  • Level-drain (with a twist where ITO/Bastionland has no levels)
  • Petrification
  • Mind Control
And the final twist, none of the above effects will grant a Save to avoid them. There might be another way, but not from rolling well. 

The only way this will work is ultra-clear information for the players. They need to know that the scorpion's sting is instantly fatal FOR REAL THIS IS NOT FLUFF. If that touches you, you die. 

We can only give them information, let's see what they do with it!

Reasonably Cruel Monsters

Gun-Runt

STR 6, DEX 9, CHA 3, 1hp
Muck Gun (d6, leaves splat of muck as well as damage)
  • Hides under its tortoise-like shell as an instant reaction if anybody gets close, or if threatened from afar. The shell is utterly unbreakable by anything short of a bomb, and forms a tight seal to the ground.
  • Surrenders pitifully if they are unable to retract into their shell. They weep and cry but will turn hostile at the first opportunity.
  • Live only to serve the Green Beast, and would happily die for him. 
Notes: These things are annoying, but not much trouble on their own. They exist to accompany the more interesting monsters and make them even more annoying. 

Sticky-Runt 

STR 9, DEX 6, CHA 3, 2hp
Claws (d6)
  • Resembles a Gun-Runt, but has a mass of tangled fur and tendrils in place of its shell.
  • Anything touching its shell is grabbed by a waxy adhesive, only released by a Runt's saliva.
  • Their saliva also melts through any material, which they gleefully use to destroy captured items. 
Note: Equipment destruction

Collector Beetle

STR 10, DEX 10, CHA 3, 5hp
Jaws (d8) Shell (Armour 2)
  • On an attack roll of 7+ the Beetle tears a limb from the target. It favours arms, especially those carrying impressive weapons. 
  • Torn limbs are attached to the Beetle's hide, animating to grant an extra attack as appropriate.
  • If the Beetle is killed then limbs can be reattached, but require a skilled surgeon. 
Note: Maiming limbs

White Vulture

STR 12, DEX 15, CHA 3, 3hp
Rend (d8)
  • Has no appetite for combat, but watches on and swoops down onto any helpless victims.
  • Before feasting the Vulture spends a whole turn displaying, turning blood red and ruffling its feathers.
  • On the next turn the feast is gruesome and quick. The Vulture is back in the air before the last drops hit the ground. 
Note: Downed opponents

Crushing Spirit

STR 10, DEX 15, CHA 13, 6hp
Crush (d10), part-bone part-shadow (ignore normal attacks, takes d4 to d12 damage from light depending on intensity)
  • Its touch is unavoidable, freezing the victim in the place. On their next turn the spirit crushes the victim to dust, extracting their soul.
  • Even lamplight repels the spirit.
  • It's always plotting a way to plunge a victim into darkness. They don't much care who the specific victim is, but they must feed. 
Note: Instant death

Bloody Tearer
STR 7, DEX 6, CHA 5, 10hp
Black Gauntlet (d8, melee or ranged), Bloody Armour (Armour 2)
  • Bears trophies from infinite wars on impossible worlds, now a reluctant killer for hire.
  • They warn that each death now carries a greater cost.
  • If the Tearer causes or takes Melee Critical Damage, a red orb emerges and drains the life from any combatants. They all reroll their Ability Scores on 3d6, keeping any that are lower than their current score. 
Note: "Level drain"

Cloud Rider

STR 15, DEX 18, CHA 10, 11hp
Wind Blast (d6 Blast)
  • Extremely fast, lives to spread terror. 
  • Their body is fleshy, but always masked by cloud.
  • Instead of moving, the Rider can fill a room-sized area with glowing petrification gas. There's enough time to flee the area, but anybody that stays and breathes even a little of the gas becomes permanently petrified.
Note: Petrification
The Green Beast

STR 16, DEX 7, CHA 18, 10hp
Smash (d10 or d6 Blast), Stony Body (Armour 2)
  • Wants to amass more servants and punish those who rejected him.
  • Uses material bribes before resorting to his mind control. 
  • Anybody killed by the Beast, or one of his sworn servants, finds themselves on the threshold of death, faced by his true form, soft and verdant. The Beast offers life in return for an hour of service. If they agree, the victim returns to life but is under the Beast's control for the next hour.
Notes: Mind control

Art by Midjourney

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Thursday, 10 November 2022

Making MACs

My mechs have are now referred to by a silly TLA because it's the law.

I'm this close to renaming the whole game MAC ATTACK but I wonder if it's a step too far.


(does look pretty cool though...)

EDIT: Since I wrote this last week I went ahead and changed the name because it grew on me and it's a lot of fun to say out loud. 

But either way the game has warped and shifted as I've worked on it. While it's still drawing heavily on Battletech (in feel if not in actual mechanics) I'm now aiming to give it some of its own identity. 

This is a similar process to The Doomed, where I wanted to keep things broad enough that you could throw together a game using primarily GW (or in this case Battletech) miniatures, while allowing the game to have an identity beyond an alternative ruleset for somebody else's world.

So you can bring your Battlemechs, but they'll need translating into MACs. 

All of the sample MACs in the game started out as one of the Battletech miniatures on my shelf. As the factions emerged they took on new identities, so some are now less recognisable than others. 

But what if you just want to bring the miniatures from your Game of Armoured Combat starter box and play this game?

Easy, let's go. 

I'll go through the process of converting one of these Mechs to a MAC, then I'll just write up a few more as a starting point for anybody that wants to try this game out. 

SHD-2H Shadowhawk


This guy is kind of a Jack-of-all-Trades in the medium weight class. Though that cool looking shoulder cannon is actually a somewhat ineffective autocannon 5, and he's kind of slow compared to his peers. For this conversion process I'll be walking a fine line between trying to recreate the Mech as it exists in Battletech vs how I'd like it to exist based on its appearance and fluff. 

I certainly think trying to replicate the Mech 1:1 is futile when the systems are so different. Think of it as an opportunity to create your own version of the classic. 

Starting with the easy stuff, the four Battletech weight classes correspond to the four MAC classes here, so this is a Class 2 MAC. 

Shadowhawk
Class 2, Move 5"

We've got 8 modules to fill, minus 1 for the Reactor. Let's start with the essentials:

  • It has a somewhat stumpy jump, so we'll give it a single Jet.
  • That shoulder cannon could be the railgun-like Accelerator, replicating the long range fire role of the AC5 with a bit of extra punch. You could also make arguments for it being a Cannon or a Howitzer. As I want to keep it as a direct-fire Kinetic weapon we'll make it a Cannon. 
  • We could make the Cannon an XL version, as it's clearly modelled to be the primary weapon of this Mech, but let's keep it as standard for now as we've got more weapons to go.
  • I like that this Mech has a wide variety of weapons, so we'll replicate them as  best we can. Our laser, SRM, and LRM will be a Pulser, Frags, and Missiles respectively. 
  • We're down to our last two modules and with all these weapons we'll pick up an extra Heat Sink to keep things manageable. 
  • For the final module we could go for the safe route and give it a Plate for added protection, but looking at the Design Quirks of this Mech in Battletech I see it has Battlefists. While this is a relatively minor benefit in that  game I like the idea of giving this Mech an extra bit of punch (pun intended) so let's give it a CCW. 
  • The order of the Modules does matter. Modules higher than 7 are protected from initial damage, and certain modules like Plates and Turrets care a lot about which module they're adjacent to. Here we're going to focus on protecting that main cannon so we can keep firing it. 

Shadowhawk (16pts)
Class 2, Move 5"
1. Jets
2. Pulser (B) C1 S2
3. Heatsink
4. Frags (C) C1 S2
5. Missiles (C) L2 A1
6. CCW (K) C3
7. Cannon (K) S2 L1
8. Reactor

So we've got a MAC that can fight at all ranges, whether blasting missiles over the horizon or punching you in the face, but isn't anything special with regards to mobility or armour. Sounds about right for a Shadowhawk. 

You might prefer the idea of bumping up the Cannon to an XL-Cannon, or taking an XL-Accelerator instead to lean into the long-range firepower. Making it easy to swap out individual modules like this is key to what I'm trying to do with this game, so don't feel like your Shadowhawk needs to be the same as mine. 

Now, as promised, here are are few more:

Locust (12pts)
Class 1, Move 10"
1. Servo: Take 1 less Heat for Shifting or Rushing
2. Frame: +2" Move but this module is destroyed by any hit.
3. Flak (K): C1 S2
4. Pulser (B): C1 S2
5. Frame: +2" Move but this module is destroyed by any hit.
6. Heatsink
7. Reactor

Wolverine (16pts)
Class 2, Move 5"
1. Rockets (C): S2 L1
2. Jet
3. Cannon (K): S2 L1
4. Ioniser (B): S2 L1
5. Jet
6. Plate
7. Heatsink
8. Reactor

Thunderbolt (20pts)
Class 3, Move 4"
1. Pulser (B): C1 S2
2. Pulser (B): C1 S2
3. Ioniser (B): S2 L1
4. XL-Missiles (C): L3 A2
5. Frags (C): C1 S2
6. Plate
7. Heatsink
8. Heatsink
9. Reactor

Awesome (24pts)
Class 4, Move 3"
1. XL-Accelerator (B) S2 L3
2. Heatsink
3. XL-Accelerator (B) S2 L3
4. Heatsink
5. Pulser (B) C1 S2
6. Plate
7. Plate
8. Tracer: -1TN when firing at a target you have already attacked this turn
9. XL-Accelerator (B) S2 L3
10. Reactor

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Thursday, 3 November 2022

Breaking the Rules

I've been trying to drill down to the identity of each of the factions in Intergalactic Bastionmechs (I really need to give this a proper name soon). Most of all I want them to each have a special rule that gives them a unique gameplay twist while implying something about their flavour. 

A good way to do this is to have them break one of the standard rules of the game. This is equally applicable to designing RPG abilities, so don't run away if you're sick of hearing about wargames!


I thought I could use this post as a live-fire exercise, working through some of the key rules of the game and looking at how a faction might be able to break that rule.

The Modules you install on your units should do this to a lesser extent, but I want the Faction abilities to feel more impactful.

These might end up being unsuitable once tested, but it's always good to get these ideas out in the open.

Rules excerpts in italics.

TERRAIN
All Terrain falls into one of the following types
[followed by rules for Open, Rough, Cover, Obstructions, Water, Barriers, Buildings]

I'm always wary of including rules linked to a specific type of terrain, as I can't help but imagine situations where somebody brings their Wood Elf army to a desert-themed board and feels like they've invested points into wood-based abilities that are now wasted. Some games mitigate this by allowing those factions to bring pieces of their desired terrain along with them, but that doesn't appeal to me. 

In this game I think it's pretty fair to assume that the board will at the very least include some Rough and Cover alongside a lot of Open terrain, so I'll be looking at them for rules to break.

Open allows for Rushing movement.
Examples: Gentle slopes, light vegetation.

Rough cannot be Rushed through.
Bog, scrub, steep slopes in all directions

Cover can be shot into or out of, but not through. A unit touching an area of Cover is treated as being within that Cover. Firing into Cover is done so at +1TN.
Forests, ruins, smoke

Some obvious things come to mind like "ignore the downsides of Terrain Type X". My mind goes to "Improve the benefits of Terrain Type X" but that's not really breaking a rule, it's just another little benefit which is better tied to a regular piece of equipment.

How about:

Shadowdash: You can Rush through Cover.

So now that unit can vanish into the woods and reappear behind the enemy. 

It doesn't even have to thematically apply to the terrain itself. It could be something like this. 

Guardian Fields: Your units with 3" of an allied unit of a larger Class always count as being in Cover when attacked. 

Let's move onto the next section of rules.  

TURN SEQUENCE
1 - Move Phase
: Moving
2 - Attack Phase: Attacking
3 - Meltdown Phase: Checking for Reactor failure
4 - Cooldown Phase: Losing Heat

Now I subconsciously skipped over the turn sequence, but perhaps there's something here we can break. Messing with the order could be fun. Perhaps something like:

Paradigm Shift: At the start of a Turn you may swap the position of any two phases.

Could have some interesting applications, and of course relies on only one player having this ability to really work. You could tone it down a bit and have it only apply to one side's actions s but I like that this implementation is simple, potentially very powerful, but also requiring careful planning. 

I mean, it's probably majorly broken, but let's enjoy this moment. Even if we break it in testing we can find a way for its spirit to live on.

Another take could be:

Burnout: Once per game you can use this ability at the start of the Meltdown Phase. to Skip both the Meltdown and Cooldown phases.

Giving you one big Hail Mary turn to pull out of the bag when you've had a few mechs lose their reactors. 

INITIATIVE DECK
Assign each Mech and Formation a card and shuffle them into a deck. During the Move and Attack Phases shuffle the deck and draw to see which unit activates, repeating until all units have acted.

So in this game it's generally good to go later in the Move phase and earlier in the Attack phase. So we could do something like:

Overwatch: When any of your units activate in the Move phase you may have them perform no action. If they do, keep their initiative card aside. When shuffling the Initiative Deck for the Attack Phase shuffle these cards separately and place them on the top of the deck before drawing.

Again this one's probably completely busted, but it's another fun starting point.

You could alternatively break the rule in this way:

Tactical Fluidity: When you draw one of your cards from the initiative deck you may instead search the remaining deck for any one of your cards and draw that one instead. Return the original card to the deck and shuffle. 

So we've created 6 potentially interesting special abilities and we haven't even hit the Move Phase yet!

Hope this process has been useful to follow along with. If you're working on a game I can absolutely recommend trying it out for your own rules, making sure you don't skip sections like I almost did! 

Every rule has an interesting way to break it. Finding it is the tricky part. 

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If you want to support my blog, podcasts, and video content then head over to my Patreon. 



Thursday, 27 October 2022

Factions Louder than Words

I’ve been thinking about how Battletech handles factions.

I was speaking in a Discord about how there’s a lot I love about the larger setting, but it took me a long time to really grasp what most of the factions were about, and even then I still don’t feel especially drawn to any of them.

I contrasted this, obviously, to Warhammer/40k where I think I knew which team I was supporting after flipping through my very first White Dwarf. But I've praised the Battletech setting for its groundedness, so I don't think you need to go wacky with this.

A stronger example is one that always lingers in the back of my head - the factions of Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri.

I liked the PC game and played it a fair bit, but I really loved the seven factions (and most of the seven expansion factions). Each was helmed by a charismatic leader, centred on an ideology, and upon starting the game you were faced with each of their portraits and a quote read out in their voice. It's pretty easy to look at these and immediately get what each faction is about. It's not exactly subtle.


As you played through the game you'd still hear from the other faction leaders. Not just through diplomacy, but each new tech advance came with another quote, usually from one of the faction leaders. It's like they were always tempting you with which faction you wanted to try out on your next game.

So I'm shamelessly taking this idea for factions in Titanic Bastionmechs. Does this game need factions if I'm generally just using it to play with Battletech minis? No, but it's been a fun experiment so far.

Slap down a portrait, quote, special rule, and some signature modules and mechs onto a page and see what sticks.

 

Any familiarity to factions from existing games is surely just convergent evolution.


So the skeletons for 10 factions are in the doc now. Lots of gaps to fill in these factions, but aside from anything else they're helping me focus in on a tone for this game.

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Tuesday, 25 October 2022

Into the Odd Adventure Site - The Droner House

You can now venture into The Droner House, perfect if you're looking for a spooky Into the Odd/Electric Bastionland adventure site this Halloween. 

And it's FREE!

You might recognise this from the actual play I did with TKG a couple of years ago, now just barely fit for public consumption. 

Basically a big creepy house where horrible things happened and continue to happen. 

Enjoy!

Thursday, 20 October 2022

Super Carrot World

One of my current notes for Mythic Bastionland is "more reasons to travel around the realm".

I mean there are already some in there.

Travel brings Omens, which lead toward the "Seek out the Myths" part of your oath.

Seers are scattered around the Realm, and are a prime source of information, so you're inclined to visit as many of them as you can. They'll often send you on an errand in return for this into.

And, of course, if the Realm is an interesting place then players will naturally want to explore it. Right?

Right?

That's what I've told myself, based on my own experiences playing videogames. I remember first playing Link to the Past and looking at the printed map. There's a place called "The Swamp Ruins", which I thought sounded pretty cool, so I decided to go and see what was there as soon as I was released into the open world. The journey took me past archers in the long grass and some annoying crows. The ruin itself isn't even a dungeon, just a room with a sliding block puzzle, then a lever room that lets you drain the surrounding lake, revealing a heart piece. All in all it's one of the least interesting parts of the world in that game.

But I remember the experience clearly 30 years later because I chose to go there and I found some interesting stuff on the way.

So maybe I don't want to add in too many artificial mechanisms to encourage the players to explore. Perhaps that attention should be going toward helping the GM make a world interesting enough that the players want to go and see what's on the other side of the map, rather than going there because a Seer told them to.

Don't put the carrot on the stick. Make your world out of carrots.

No, scrap that. Make the world the carrot.

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Thursday, 13 October 2022

TITANIC BASTIONMECHS

What am I looking for in a Mech game?

My wishlist was something like:

1. Field every type of unit from infantry squads up to huge mechs

2. Have unit and weapon types feel different without extra subsystems to learn

3. Have enough Mech detail that they feel like real multi-part machines to be built and destroyed piece by piece

4. Make heat and movement important factors to manage for your own Mechs and exploit in your opponent's Mechs

5. Have a simple, fast turn procedure and straightforward mechanics for each phase, with minimal rules reference needed

6. Allow for fast, intuitive calculation of your chances of success on a particular attack

Having tried a number of Mech games recently I've found a lot to like, but nothing that quite scratched every itch.


By my assessment Classic Battletech succeeds at 1, 3 and 4 but not the others. Of course there's the argument that it all becomes very simple when you're experienced with the system, but I can only speak to my own experiences and the viewpoint of somebody just entering into the game.

Meanwhile the streamlined Alpha Strike succeeds at 1 and partially some of the others. In parts it's way simpler than Classic Battletech but almost does the opposite of what I want. Units feel simple but some of the subsystems feel complex in an out-of-place way.

In short, for a Mech game I think I'd rather have somewhat complex mechs in a very clean system than simple mechs in a somewhat messy system.

So in the spirit of giving these things stupid names, I present TITANIC BASTIONMECHS.


(The name is really a test to see whether GW or Catalyst Game Labs will send me a cease and desist first).

As with any of my projects in this early stage I'm messing with this constantly, but the core seems to work well for now. Probably some explosive bugs in there I haven't found yet and naturally lots of gaps to be filled in later.

THE PITCH

Mechs have a list of Modules including Weapons, Hardware, and Reactors. Hits are assigned randomly to modules. The first hit is cosmetic but the second destroys the module. If you end up without a working Reactor then you'll blow up in the Meltdown phase.

Bigger Mechs get more modules, and their higher numbered modules are protected at first, so you need to chip away at them to get to their juicy reactor.

When you move you place a Speed Die next to your Mech, showing 1 pip for each 4" travelled, rounding up. Moving faster means you'll be harder to hit, but also makes your attacks less accurate.

Rushing, jumping, and firing fancy weapons all generate Heat, tracked on a second d6, the Heat Die. If Heat would ever go above 6 you take a Hit instead, so make sure you manage your heat passively through packing enough Reactors or Heatsinks, or actively by Venting in place of moving or attacking.

When you attack you roll a number of dice based on your weapon, each excelling at a particular range category. The target number is your Speed Die plus the target's Speed Die, with a +1 if they're in cover. Each die meeting or beating the target number causes a hit. That's it!

There are 15 weapons across 5 types. Each type has a special rule so Basic weapons like cannons don't generate heat, Lasers can cut through modules in a single hit, and Explosives cause chain reactions with each module they destroy. The classic tactic of "open them up with lasers then blast them with missiles" carries over here.

Mechs are the focus here, so non-Mech units (Auxiliary Units/AUs) ignore a good chunk of their rules like heat and modules. They aren't quite relegated to tokens, but they're intended to operate in little squads. So for each Mech you can have a handful of tanks or a platoon of infantry. There's even a Protomech knockoff in there.

Things like Scenario Generation and Points Values are in there, but awaiting some proper attention from me at a later date.

Go and check out the full thing as it stands if this sounds interesting to you.

Enjoy!

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If you want to support my blog, podcasts, and video content then head over to my Patreon. 

Thursday, 6 October 2022

Good Crunch, Bad Crunch

You'd be forgivenfor thinking that I want every game to be rules lite. While I love that style of game I can't deny the draw of crunchier systems, at least on paper.

The reality is often a let down. When I'm craving a system that offers depth to explore, variety of options, and surprise moments of delight and despair, I'm often met with a ruleset that demands all of my attention just to keep it running, unable to enjoy the fruits of the mechanical labour.

The context here is that I've been making my first ventures into Battletech, with all its sprawling record sheets, encyclopedic setting, and piles upon piles of modular rules. Why would such a proponent of streamlining games be drawn to this a mountain of crunch?

Because I like it.


See, for me there's Good Crunch and Bad Crunch, but that's really just the clickbait version. A better phrase might be Generous Crunch and Parasitic Crunch.

Generous Crunch gives more than it takes. Even if it demands a lot from the players the overall output is positive. For Battletech look at those famous Record Sheets. They look daunting but they're actually quite simple. Armour dots are filled in as you take damage. Weapons and other components are crossed off as they get hit by Criticals. The Heat tracker looks terrifying but there's not really anything complex to it. Together these make your Mech feel real and generate exciting moments when you push too hard and overheat, or when your leg gets blown clean off. Whatever house rules I'd be tempted to make to Battletech, I don't think I'd mess with this part at all.

Parasitic Crunch takes more than it gives. It can take the form of entire subsystems or even just a writhing colony of tiny little rules that have wormed their way into the system, taking up cognitive load while offering little to nothing positive in return. In isolation it's easy to say "actually this rule really isn't complicated" but that's just a distraction. Always ask "what is this piece of crunch offering in return?" when you're considering whether it should be cut loose. Of course, this is a matter of taste and experience. If you make the push to internalise every part of the Battletech Introductory, Standard, Advanced, and Experimental rules across a dozen books then you've probably managed to wrangle those parasites into action, finally seeing them pull their weight. The balance between accessibility for newcomers and depth for enthusiasts is one that every game has to choose a position on. The multiple tiers of rule in Battletech (not to mention the entirely different system, Alpha Stike) could be a great compromise here.

And so I climb the mountain.

The Quick Start rules lie behind me. A great stripped-back intro but missing some of the juice that comes with Heat and Critical Hits.

The Introductory Rules from the box set are in my grasp, and seem to include a pretty comprehensive core of the game. Some of the little rules challenge me, but I think I can do this.

I picked up Total Warfare in a moment of weakness. The full Standard Rules in an unforgiving 300+ pages, covering the familiar mechs alongside buildings, protomechs, vehicles, infantry, and aerospace units. No, I'm not exaggerating by including buildings in there, as they get 14 pages devoted to rules for entering, exiting, attacking into out of, and fighting within, all dependent on unit type and building type. Also rules for when the building collapses and a special basements table to randomly determine how far down a Mech falls when they accidentally break through the floor. Whether the idea of this delights or terrifies you will determine how you'd get on with this book.

I'm trapped somewhere in the middle. Like a Mech who rolled 10-11 on the Basement Table.

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This post was originally sent as a reward to all Patreon supporters, and is released freely on this site the week after its original publication.

If you want to support my blog, podcasts, and video content then head over to my Patreon. 

Thursday, 29 September 2022

Epic & Battletech

This week I picked up the starter box for Classic Battletech, mainly because I had the sudden urge to paint some lumbering mechs. 

Now I've painted them and about an hour before I posted this I bought 8 more Mechs because I'm hooked. 


Rough and ready table-quality style as always. It's the only style I can do!

But before I talk about Battletech I'm afraid I have to talk about Games Workshop. 

Buckle up, it's another one of those posts where I reminisce about my childhood discovery of tabletop games.

I came into Games Workshop games at an interesting time in their history. Like the last days of the Wild West. 

The focus was clearly on Warhammer 40k and Fantasy Battles, but in the catalogues I'd see adverts for relics from the past. Man o'War, Space Hulk, Blood Bowl. Weird stuff that would tease me from catalogue pages, but remain trapped in the past. 

But this Epic game was still being talked about a little in White Dwarf. 

No wait, was it two games? There were two boxed sets you could buy. One presumably about Titans, one about Space Marines. 

Now I'll confess that as a 10-year old with my head in the clouds, I didn't fully understand the concept of these games being a different scale. At first I wondered if these tanks were just as big as 40k tanks but... photographed from far away.

No, I don't know what I was thinking either, but it would have made for a very heavy box. 

At 6mm scale it covered everything from squads of tiny soldiers up to the famously huge Titans, with a heap of interesting stuff in between. This was before my prized Eldar really had many vehicle miniatures at 40k scale, so it was neat to see a full fleet of grav-tanks and war machines in their style. Dumb stuff like the squat land train and ork battlewagons with claws and death rollers obviously appealed to me. 

Because I was still making my first forays into 28mm I think I put Epic aside in my head. I certainly didn't feel confident enough at painting to tackle those tiny little troopers. Maybe something to come back to in a few years. 

But soon it would be gone. 

Over the next few years GW's rules would get tidied up a lot and the settings given a more straight-faced delivery. 28mm scale would also claim dominance. Of course there was the heavily promoted, streamlined last-hurrah, Epic 40,000 but that seemed to appear and vanish before I could even give it any attention.

Sometimes I'd think about it, though, or dip into the surviving Epic community online.  

Now, it's a running joke among wargamers that as you get older you move to increasingly tiny scales, but after my recent dips into 10mm scale fantasy I've finally taken the plunge into 6mm, but not through Epic. 

I was always aware of Battletech, but it never caught my eye. I knew the Mechwarrior PC games and I knew it was an old, complicated wargame. I became interested when I heard there was a new(ish) rules-lite version of their game called Alpha Strike which let you field a handful of mechs with some infantry and vehicles on the side. Perhaps I could finally scratch that Epic itch. 

But the new Alpha Strike starter set seems to be delayed, so I grit my teeth and bought the Classic Battletech Starter, expecting to hate this lumbering dinosaur of a system from the 80s, but at least get a nice set of Mechs from it.

Imagine my surprise when I actually sort of fell in love with it.

Caveat! I've only tested this out myself to get a handle on the rules, so this might all change when I have to subject another person to this monstrosity. 

The setting really hasn't grabbed me yet. I've tried, and I respect its groundedness, but I just haven't found any part of it that sparks my imagination yet. The mechs are cool, of course, but again they feel firmly rooted in the reality of this setting. These aren't the wild hyper-specific designs of Into the Breach and Lancer. It's much more like reading about WW2 tanks. Variations within a relatively narrow band of designs. When I grab a random mech it's very likely to be a humanoid with a big gun or two and some missiles or lasers scattered over its other bodyparts. Maybe it jumps.   

Again, this isn't a bad thing. It gives the universe a very specific feel, as if it could be real history. I suspect the big appeal of the setting is in some of the personal stories and political intrigue, which I haven't really tapped into yet.

So if I don't really care about the setting and I think the Mech designs are mostly just okay then what did grab a hold of me? 

You know I like simple rules, but that doesn't mean I can't enjoy crunch, and most of the crunch in this game feels like good crunch.

Yeah there are clunky bits where two rolls could have been condensed to one, and there's a lot of memory demanded of players from turn to turn, but let's put that aside.

I love the process of adding up all the little numbers that make up the Target Number for your attack. 

I love the detail of chipping away at each little bit of the mech. I love that SRM and LRMs have special missile cluster rules that are slightly different to each other. 

I love the little dice you put next to your mech to show how fast it's moving and how it's moving, both of which affect attacks.

I haven't tried them out in too much detail yet but I think I even love the whole Heat system.  

If all this were happening in a 40k game with dozens of miniatures on each side? I'd hate it through and through. If I had to play this against a fully competitive opponent, arguing over every little rule that I'm misremembering, I think it would be unbearable. But the idea of approaching it as a more narrative game, maybe one or two mechs per player, is sticking in my brain for sure. 

After doing a little more research I've picked up the Beginner Box, which has a slightly trimmed version of the rules, and hope to give it a try as soon as I can before braving the full rules of the main box.

Not the Standard Rules found in the Total Warfare tome of course. That's a little scary for me just yet, even if I really want to bring some infantry and vehicles to the table. Mechs become a lot more interesting when you have them towering over some more mundane units for scale. 

And, of course, all this has driven me to tinker with my own little mech system. Something with more detail that Alpha Strike's ultra-lean units but more fast-moving than Classic Battletech.

Perhaps I'll share that another time. 

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This post was originally sent as a reward to all Patreon supporters, and is released freely on this site the week after its original publication.

If you want to support my blog, podcasts, and video content then head over to my Patreon. 

Thursday, 22 September 2022

Shame and Hatred

A sidestep from game content today. 

A year ago I wrote about the experience so far of working full-time on games. Everything in that post still applies, but with another year under my belt I thought a little more self-reflection could be interesting. 

I've now been working on games full-time for two and a half years, with six years or so before that somewhat earnestly making games in my spare time. It's been a good year, so I'm pretty confident saying that I can keep doing this for now.

I hold up Honesty and Authenticity as standards I expect from myself and from others. In short, I think people should tell the truth and be themselves wherever possible. 

So let me live by those values and bare my shame and hatred for all to see. 

SHAME - The Backburner

I keep most of my work notes on a Trello board. Among others there's a list of Live Ideas and the Backburner.

 


Now it's easy to imagine Backburner as a euphemism for Bin but it's really not. Maybe one or two of them are getting close to rubbish, but the rest all have ideas that I revisit now and then. 

They vary from highly fleshed out (Blighters, Space & Solitude) to barely more than a vague idea (BACK ON THE MENU, Battle for Bastion). 

It would be easy to look at this list, add up the hours I've spent thinking about them, writing, rewriting, testing, and cost it up as a business loss. I've certainly felt that way at times.

But I no longer fear it. The backburner serves a purpose. Ideas can be repurposed, mechanics stolen, and some projects may rise to the Live Projects board again. 

The Doomed started as GRIMLITE, which I never expected to be played by anybody but me, and pretty soon I'll have some news on the exciting future of that game.

The backburner is not a thing of shame. It is a thing of pride. 

HATRED - Twitter

I hate it. 

I hate the type of conversation that it encourages. I hate the way it makes people perform, people who don't perform that way elsewhere. I hate that it makes me think about people I shouldn't be giving headspace to. I hate that it feels like it's become the online hub of RPGs. 

Most of all I hate that I hate it. I know others feel the same, but it also feels like the problems above have a direct wire into my brain. I should be able to rise above them, but I can't. 

If I just had a personal account I'd be long gone, but doing so would be a business decision now, so I'm still there, or rather Bastionland Press is still there. 

I unfollowed everybody a while back, so I essentially have no timeline to scroll through. This helped. 

There are a handful of people I enjoy keeping up with, so I manually visit their timelines now and then, like how I used to know the phone numbers of my best friends. 

Unfortunately there are other people my brain won't let me forget, so I sometimes find myself checking in on them. Are they posting something terrible? Are they arguing with somebody about something ridiculous? Are they just yelling out for attention? I don't know why I can't ignore them, but I said this post was about honesty didn't I?

At least I'm good at not publicly engaging with that side of things.

There are good elements. The vast majority of times I get tagged it's something worthwhile, so I still look at my notifications and reply or retweet as appropriate. DMs are a handy way of contacting somebody new for a podcast or collaboration. Occasionally I forget myself and post some dumb thing and I get some funny replies. It can be fun. 

I just wish the good stuff was happening somewhere different to the bad stuff. The stuff I don't want to be associated with. The stuff I don't want to feel like I'm legitimising by staying there. 

Of course there are alternatives. You're reading this post on one of them (Patreon or Blogger). For conversation and link-sharing I love Discord, though I've limited myself to just five essential servers. 

Last week I started a mailing list. I whisper to myself that if my email subscribers outnumber my twitter followers then I'll delete the latter, but I won't. Maybe mothball it, but I fear the damage is done. The problems I have with twitter won't be solved by me leaving it, but I do hope I can continue the non-total transition to other platforms. 

This one won't be shaken off as easily as my shame. It's here to stay. 

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This post was originally sent as a reward to all Patreon supporters, and is released freely on this site the week after its original publication.

If you want to support my blog, podcasts, and video content then head over to my Patreon. 

Thursday, 15 September 2022

Universal Hex Profile

Earlier this year I wrote about my first dip into Traveller, but I didn't get onto talking about the Universal World Profiles and Universal Personality Profiles.

In short, it's a code you learn so that you can see B785457-C and know that it means: good shipyard, 7000 mile radius, dense atmosphere, 50% water, tens of thousands of people, feudal technocracy, shotguns permitted, and average imperial tech level. 

I worked through the process on this stream and said that I'd love to mess with the system to try a simpler approach. 

Which I did! But then I neglected to post it here, so let's dig back into it with a few tweaks. 

This works for planets or regions, but I'm applying it to Hexes here because they're at the forefront of my mind right now. 


UNIVERSAL HEX PROFILE - TWEI

Roll 5d6, drop the highest, then read the remaining dice as: 

Topography: Verticality of terrain.
Water: Wetness.
Ecology: Non-human life.
Infrastructure: Buildings, road, other human stuff. 

1=1: Trace
2=2: Some
3=3: Lots
4=N: Null, actively none, perhaps by design
5=H: Hazardous, not through lack or excess but the nature of the thing
6=S: Super, off the scale. Think big then go bigger. 

So 1-3 represent your "normal" levels, with 4-6 representing more exceptional results. If your brain works like mine you can tell yourself that, if using a d6 with pips, the results for 4, 5, and 6 kinda look like N, H, and S respectively if you imagine a load of lines and really want it to work. 

If you want fewer exceptional results then add more dice to the pool, but only keep the four lowest. Likewise, if you want more wackiness then just roll 4d6 straight. 

Examples

12HN: Flat planes with winding rivers and lakes, nasty predators, totally forbidden to enter.  

3N21: Utterly dry mountains, herds of goats, a few trails and the odd hut serving as a vital water supply.  

21SS: Hills, damp ground but no bodies of water, overrun with fungus, huge industry being built to harvest them.

H3NH: Quicksand-like bog, all wildlife wiped out by its toxicity, jealously guarded by hostile inhabitants. 

If we go back to the planetary idea then I guess present-day Earth is 2333

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This post was originally sent as a reward to all Patreon supporters, and is released freely on this site the week after its original publication.

If you want to support my blog, podcasts, and video content then head over to my Patreon. 

Friday, 9 September 2022

The Bastionland Presser

Better late than never, I'm building a mailing list where people can keep up to date with everything happening at Bastionland Press.

Expect an irregular digest of my normal stuff with a little extra now and then.

Go and sign up at https://bastionland.substack.com/


EDIT: I messed up the url but it should work now!

Thursday, 8 September 2022

Heroism

Psst, I'm not actually here right now, so it's just a short one this week.

When I sit down to play an RPG, I'm usually happiest when the following things are present:

  • Solving problems with tactical infinity
  • Exploring an interesting world
  • Seeing a story emerge as a result of our own actions

Into the Odd and Electric Bastionland were designed with these in mind. Mythic Bastionland has some key differences, but I still want to keep those three things in focus.

One of the thorny issues at the moment is how the idea of the players being Knights interacts with that first point about encouraging creative problem solving. 

Knights

The desperate treasure hunters of ITO and EB might start with some novel equipment, but their success usually relies on that tactical infinity I mentioned earlier. Coming up with a scheme to survive the dangerous world despite their limitations.

Do heroic knights need to indulge in such trickery? 

The characters of Mythic Bastionland are framed as being more competent. They're knights after all. They have  a cool knight-name, a steed, and the people of the realm are often glad to see them ride into town. 

They even have special combat Feats they can perform! It's easy to see how they can be read as heroes right from the off. 

Yet you start with no Glory. Your rank is Petty Knight, considered unworthy to lead a warband or have a place in court. You don't have a sword, and you likely don't have proper armour. Even at peak performance you won't become Noble, worthy of a holding, for an entire year. 

I want them to feel a different to the failed professionals of Electric Bastionland, but I still want them to feel vulnerable, and rely on clever problem solving as much as martial power. I want them to do great things, but I also want them to fail. 

Projecting the right presentation of Knights throughout their career is something I'd like to work on in future revisions of the playtest. At the moment it's not quite there, and can create some strange moments.

Strange moments can be good, and create memorable decision points for the players, but they shouldn't be swimming in cognitive dissonance the whole time. 

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This post was originally sent as a reward to all Patreon supporters, and is released freely on this site the week after its original publication.

If you want to support my blog, podcasts, and video content then head over to my Patreon. 

Thursday, 1 September 2022

Primacy of Action

In Mythic Bastionland I talk about the Primacy of Action.

PRIMACY OF ACTION

Even when using the rules for travel, exploration, and combat, remember this, the most important thing

No rule or system within the game should devalue the Actions the players take.

Remember the core of giving players information, honouring their choices, and describing the impact of their actions.

This has some similarity to the Fiction First concept found in many games. I'll avoid trying to define that one too closely, as others can't seem to agree fully.

I'd probably apply this to all of my games, but I wanted to stress the point in Mythic Bastionland because there's a much larger focus on procedures. These are meant to be tools to allow the GM to emulate a living world, not a rigid programming code to a clockwork nightmare outside of the players' control.

I almost called it Primacy of Past, as I want the group all know that previous established facts get priority over the usual procedures of play, but really even present Actions should carry certain weight above the mechanical processes. 

The players always have choice, but they must live with their actions, for better or worse. 

Normally the group is considered to have Supplies. While travelling they might get a result that says "today's supplies are the last", so the following day they have no supplies. 

It might seem obvious, but player action can deplete supplies before this roll calls for it. That roll is a tool to account for the passive consumption of supplies in a level of (low) detail that I feel is appropriate for this game. Let's say they meet another travelling group of knights in the woods and offer to cook them up a feast and share a camp. The GM might say "you can do that, but you'll leave yourself low on supplies, tomorrow will be the last". As this all came out of player action, this feels fair. 

So a few days later the group are out of food.  A typical way to resolve this is using a Task to Forage, which might require a roll depending on their situation. Instead they encounter an Omen that describes a lush orchard filled with delicious fruit. If they press into the orchard then of course they can fill up on supplies here without needing a roll, or even performing a Task at all. It's right there, assuming nobody minds you taking it...

When it's a call between protecting the impact of player action, and protecting the authority of the game rules, I'd choose the former wherever possible. 

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This post was originally sent as a reward to all Patreon supporters, and is released freely on this site the week after its original publication.

If you want to support my blog, podcasts, and video content then head over to my Patreon.