Porky’s Wild Bore – Aren’t you a little short for a Tempestus Scion?
Porky here again. Still in the shed, making myself comfortable and having another riff off recent posts in the House blogrolls. This time I’m looking at how many stats a game needs, how much can be integrated into what we see on the table, the idea of white box vs. black box play, and maybe in general the relationship of miniatures and rules.
Digressions in digressions.
I’ll lead in from a major theme of last week’s post, i.e. bases. Take a look at what Liam at Bluewarp Studios sculpted for a Tau battlesuit.
This is taking WYSIWYG to new heights. There’s not going to be much doubt in an opponent’s mind as to what that weapon does. Hold the thought.
One of the blogs in the rolls is WarStrike, a venue for developing the game system formerly known as M42. According to the current introduction, “M42 is a set of independently produced wargaming rules that allow 2 or more players to stage exciting Sci-Fi conflicts on a tabletop battlefield.” Under the heading “What Models Can I Use?” we read this: “You may use any 28mm (1:64) scale Sci-Fi model that accurately represents a model or unit from M42’s faction rules.” And later: “The M42 project was conceived as a way to create a model-independent set of 28mm Science Fiction gaming rules that would not be tied to any one company’s product line.”
Pretty radical, if you’re talking general fantastical wargaming. But as Cedric told us on Saturday, this kind of portability and mixing and matching is pretty much standard practice in historical wargaming.
To digress for the first time, that suggests historical wargaming is also more open to the homebrew ruleset, in that homebrew wouldn’t usually have its own range of miniatures to hand. There was a reworking of a historical ruleset shown in action at By Brush and Sword, here then here, specifically for a Dark Age ruleset by one Neil Thomas.
But I mention WarStrike because last week a proposal was made to combine Weapon Skill and Ballistic Skill in one stat. Players of 40K might be aghast, whether or not they remember the conflation of the old psychology stats into Leadership, but there are clear arguments for it, not least given the rigour and subtlety in the wider WarStrike system.
It makes me wonder again: what’s the minimum number of stats we need?
The answer depends of course on game scope, and the density of the rules underpinned by those stats. I’m thinking especially of games in the general plane that passes through a) classic tactical roleplaying like early D&D, b) the kind of skirmish wargaming that’s all the rage at the minute, and c) sub-Apocalypse level play in 40K. This runs from ‘one player guiding generally one character through an imagined space’ to ‘the playing piece being a single miniature’.
Let’s first look at a related idea, namely how easy it is to keep track of the stats we do have.
See if you can decide what kind of a threat these conversions at Miasma of Pestilence might represent.
What have we got? One lithe individual with an open posture and two arms extended, dual-wielding, and another with both heels off the ground. We might imagine they’re going to be quick on their feet, and quick in melee, but at least they’re not armed for range, and they’re not too meaty, so possibly not especially tough or strong.
If we knew the basic humanoid stats for the game system, we could presumably bump a couple of these stats up or down based on what we’re seeing. The only thing we might then need to know is what the masks and the chalice do, if anything. So for the stats at least, in theory, we wouldn’t need to check a rulebook or supplement at the table.
Let’s develop that idea. In the comments to last week’s post Dave mentioned a way a silhouette can be generated for a miniature, for targeting purposes, using the size of the miniature’s base. After all, it’s natural when we base a miniature that we use a base size which reflects its size. And if base size can be tied to the miniature’s physical form, maybe base size could also correspond to statline. A given base size could indicate the given set of stats to be used.
You then have an approach to knowing at a glance what a model does. Core statline could be based on base size. Features above and beyond the statline could be found in the details of the mini itself, according to a set of guidelines, as we saw with the miniatures at Miasma of Pestilence. This already happens to some degree: technologies, for example, often follow particular patterns – in 40K think auto, bolt, melta, plasma, or the way that Tyranid biomorphs have corresponding bits on the sprue. A rulebook for a game played in this at-a-glance form could present graphic prompts based on something as simple as a stick figure, and work a bit like a spotter’s guide.
But still, that’s not necessarily fewer stats; it’s just less need to look them up. Getting back towards the track then, let’s ponder how low the number of stats can go.
Another more unconventional blog in the rolls is Hereticwerks, venue for the interactive serial Bujilli. This is an online mix of an epic, episodic narrative and a roleplaying game set in a weird world, and it uses, among other approaches, the old school roleplaying system Labyrinth Lord. An episode goes up, the readers comment with dice rolls and suggestions, and events play out in the next episode.
A good place to start if you want to see it all – and I’d say it’s worth it – would be the episode guide to series one, for episodes 1-19.
I bring it up because as rich and unpredictable as the story is, we never actually need to see Bujilli’s stats. And Jim could easily make all of the rolls for us too, not just the ones we don’t make, and even keep the rules secret. If he did, Bujilli would become a kind of black box into which we pass instructions and from which we receive a new situation, without our knowing very much about how.
There’s a similar effect at the table when a gamemaster rolls everything behind a screen, unseen.
So here’s the killer question: would it make any practical difference to the gameplay itself, and the thinking of the players, if a GM running a game behind a screen just based everything off one stat?
All of this, meaning few or no stats and an at-a-glance format, and especially if it became standard, could help bring in new players too, avoiding the need to be fluent in six million forms of communication, or the wargaming equivalent.
As an aside, wargames without a GM are essentially a kind of white box gaming, with the entire underpinning structure visible, presumably as far as the inscrutable randomisers that are being used, if any.
Incidentally, the approach to fiction at Bujilli, with its free, public weekly update and partial development of the next week’s instalment in the comments, is very different than the limited edition approach to official 40K fiction that Gothmog criticises in this post at Sepulchre of Heroes.
The concept of the limited edition seems common these days even for GW’s game supplements, i.e. for volumes that contain rules.
Getting back to the idea of reading miniatures for their stats, there are probably always going to be some exceptions to any at-a-glance system. And to be honest the most compelling worlds might be made up entirely of such exceptions: it might be a rule of thumb that the harder it is to game a world, the more revelatory that world and experience might be, and the more it’s worth trying.
That’s why in the humanoid galaxy of 40K the Tyranids are such an interesting faction, even if it’s usually only an extra pair of limbs making the difference. The tyrannocyte Nick is converting at IDIC Beer is a good example of a rarer form.
It’s more or less the mycetic spore first introduced in the mid-’90s, in Epic’s Hive War supplement, maybe crossed with the deathwind drop pod. Hive War was back when the Tyranids were arguably weirder, not least for having the heavier slug-like beasts: the original exocrine and haruspex, plus the dactylis and malefactor.
The tyrannocyte is one of three builds in its kit, and this multi-build approach presumably helps GW justify the expense of plastic moulds. But that doesn’t mean the retail price is low enough to offset the love among the players of building their own.
Remember that flying base at Bluewarp Studios, with the jet of flame? Maybe a hobby that supports wild conversion like this can also be a hobby that needs not more referring to rules to cover the variety, but less.
Finally then, is this love of conversion a legacy of the days when the games more fully encouraged it, as in the Rogue Trader era and beyond, and something that will fade as time goes by? Or is it something every intake of young players, even in this mass-manufactured, finely branded age, will discover anew – something that’s central to the hobby itself?