Porky’s Wild Bore – Gribbly Greebly, Slimy Grimy… Stuff?
Who? No. Porky.
With more riffing off recent posts in the rolls. This time the main theme is how we can get more out of big monsters and vehicles by actually getting into them.
Think of it like taking a closed space and adding a new dimension or two. On the subject of which Blaxkleric at Fantorical painted up this familiar looking chappie.
Preamble. We live in interesting times, for wargaming and roleplaying too. At one end of the tactical tabletop gaming continuum, miniatures seem to be getting more finely sculpted, and maybe more slender, and player characters seem to be getting more complex, or at least they did.
But is this a natural result of progress in game-related technologies – whether in sculpting or rules design – or just a trend in gamer preferences?
From here on in this post is going to be a little two-track, or even three-track, but various strands will come together by the end.
Focusing first on miniatures, especially for wargaming, it’s quite possible – given how heroic or maybe caricatured companies like Games Workshop and Privateer Press arguably make a lot of their models – that smaller producers and long-term gamers are drawn towards more naturalistic stylings. Why exactly? The smaller producers possibly because it’s a niche; the gamers maybe for the relative freshness or contrast.
Focusing now on player characters, in roleplaying, the argument seems hazier. Increased character complexity could be a strategy for the publisher to increase control, by speaking more directly to the player and sidelining the gamemaster, emphasising player-facing rules to undermine GM rulings, i.e. shifting the core player-GM relationship to more of a producer-player relationship; maybe making play more homogenised, but possibly also making it safer, and securing sales.
In response to the changing nature of tactical roleplaying, over the past few years we’ve seen the development of a movement that’s often called the ‘OSR’ – usually understood as ‘Old School Renaissance’, ‘Old School Revival’ or ‘Old School Roleplaying’. In very general terms, these are gamers who’ve more or less demanded the right to have their characters be not so much gleaming paragons of finessed numbering as outclassed chancers in weird worlds easily hacked apart or worse, and using more of the old materials. With Wizards of the Coast releasing a fifth edition D&D that seems to reflect this (and not too much for D&D since), they’ve quite possibly got pretty much that; maybe three limbs hacked from a standard four.
Still with me? Steady as she goes. There’s a bit more to take in before we get to the point.
And linked with all of this, there’s even been a move in 40K recently towards so-called ‘true-scale’, which usually involves converting space marines to look more naturally – read superhumanly – proportioned. Like jabberjabber’s hard work over at Warpstone Flux.
Some of the parts jabberjabber’s using also reflect the recent interest in the Horus Heresy as an in-fiction historical period, and one which seems very much about adding complexity to a core element – not more player character options this time, but more space marine options. (Which might be a similar thing.) New tech like armours, weapons, unit types, and new names, places and events. Where did brother X of the Y-Legion earn scuff mark Z?
Could the mighty primarchs be seen as kind of min-maxed wish-fulfilment figures?
At the other end of the scale from the single miniature and player character, we’re seeing ever bigger kits from the bigger companies – think superheavy war machines from GW and colossals and gargantuans from Privateer Press – and maybe more generally ever more thinking in terms of bosses in roleplaying, and ever bigger monsters in mainstream fantastical imagery.
How big did the widescreen Smaug need to be? Whatever the answer, the dragon on the cover of the fifth edition basic rules probably had to be in the same ball park, or bigger.
First, in the case of miniatures, this might be because the players of the big games that have stuck with them now have forces large enough to accommodate these monsters. And of course it’s possible there’s actually little left to explore at the single figure end of these worlds without covering old ground.
Second, boss-based thinking does make a certain sense in a level-based roleplaying system: the expectation with levels might naturally be that characters will grow in ability and challenges will grow in tandem. But since when did monsters, or dangers measured in hit points, constitute the only challenge?
Third, going big in fantastical imagery might reflect a similar feeling there’s nowhere else to go.
I don’t believe any of the three situations are necessarily the case, but maybe the in-house creatives do. I’d certainly believe they could.
That is to say, it might just be creative exhaustion. How long have fantasy, space opera, and fantasy in space been going? Or D&D? Or just 40K? How much do they still have left to give us..? How from their own beaten tracks can they travel?
Anyway, those big wargaming kits do tend to dominate the table. They don’t seem to have been part of the plan when Rogue Trader arrived with its GM-ed skirmish gaming and Warmachine emerged from the Iron Kingdoms roleplaying adventures. The standard table isn’t necessarily big enough to allow for ease of manoeuvring, or realistic manoeuvring, especially if we’re talking flyers.
But still, they look ‘cool’. And how many 40K players haven’t seen the attraction – even in the fairly large 28mm scale – of a baneblade, or a stompa, or a knight? In plastic too. With bits for the box. Even ex-Epic players wishing they were still available in 6mm scale might feel the buzz.
They’re big enough you can do things like add a scratchbuilt cockpit, maybe the way Chris Porche at The Artist of War just did it.
John Stiening did it too at 40k Hobby Blog, also in the HoP rolls. And in his bitz box he even found a seat from a warhound titan. (Incentive to spend more, or the final straw?)
Now we’re getting to that point I mentioned.
Back in Rogue Trader days there was a funky illustration published of a group of Squats apparently riding a rhino. That was when a rhino was a big thing, and literally, relatively at least. Most games you wouldn’t see more than a handful of light vehicles, and maybe a walker or two, even the odd armoured vehicle a side, which was initially either rhino-based, a land raider or a battlewagon. In the rules too vehicles were relatively complex things, even into second edition. It seemed quite natural to be interacting with them in complex ways.
So maybe it’s natural today we don’t we see models crawling all over vehicles. The focus seems to be elsewhere, possibly in quantity of interaction rather than quality.
But still, why not? Especially over the bigger vehicles. Even if the line between vehicle and building might essentially be only speed, they could still be terrain when they stop. It might be as easy as treating the sides of a vehicle as walls and its upper surfaces, if greebly, as broken ground, and maybe when moving dangerous terrain or the equivalent.
Maybe you want to pick up one of the big kits but can’t justify the cost or time, or a whole army, or don’t want to go to sub-Apocalypse games. So just forgo some of the rest and use the kit for smaller games as the tabletop itself, or the focal point of it, and even allow access.
Skip the next paragraph if you’re not interested in this.
Because here’s one way it could be done, depending on system. Before the game you sketch a very rough map of the internal spaces and how they line up: there could be one space for a driver, one for each sponson or turret, and one for any passenger compartment or hold, all of which might meet in the centre, plus any passages that might be needed to link them if they’re widely distributed. Assume each space is cramped, big enough to hold just one crew member or an individual of the same size class as the crew member, but with a passenger compartment or hold being as big as its transport capacity – just decide its width in models for bottlenecks. Mark the entry points for the various doors, hatches etc. Now whenever a model gets to one of these access points they can opt to attack that door, hatch etc. directly. Maybe these are each armoured one point weaker than their surrounding structure. If one is penetrated, and it opens onto a crew space or has passengers, any occupants can then be targeted or fought in the next round, and each occupant is considered to be in cover only. If there’s no resistance, or it’s overcome, the attacker can enter and in the round after that attack any adjacent space, or move into it if unoccupied. Crew can give up their role to move too, and passengers. The controls in each space could be made vulnerable, and might have half the maximum armour of the vehicle, allowing the vehicle to be disabled.
That’s a whole new sub-game: a couple of squads vs. one building-sized monstrosity. If you don’t think it’s going to be balanced on any given setup or day, play twice, switching roles.
One issue of course, if you’re playing 40K, or just 28mm dark future, might be just how many of the vehicle kits manufactured by GW are imperial. At Rites of Battle Godfrey has something to say about this general issue, and in relation to the Heresy too.
(A quick note, for the emperors: if you’re using the word ‘purge’, it might be you. Go get some fresh air. Then have a cup of tea, and maybe a biscuit. Talk it over.)
Still, even in 40K it doesn’t have to be all imperial vehicles, especially if you’re scratchbuilding. It doesn’t even have to be vehicles at all – imagine going inside a Tyranid creature…
Coming back to roleplaying then, you might be seeing where this is going.
First let’s deal with complexity in the rules and potential for optimisation, and challenges being combat-oriented.
Are we doing it wrong? How often do our characters catch orc flu or some fantastical flux from all the poking around in lairs and nests? Surely they would. Finding a cure or or even fulfilling a dying wish could add another one of those new dimensions. Maybe the infected character becomes a valuable research subject, a test subject.
If you have ecosystems in your world, the characters could be part of quite a few, acting as venues or factors for stages in the life cycles of other creatures, knowingly or not. Maybe levelling up relates to symbiote growth stages?
But even if your monsters are pure manifestations from beyond nature, where are the littler monsters, the gribblies that get inside and mess things up? How would you get something like that out? Or maybe they come out themselves, in weird ways. Another whole new ball game, and maybe literally.
What kind of parasites are characters picking up even in their food, at the heart of civilisation as much as on the edges of it? What’s in the water? What is the water?
The talented Comi Mec, one of the bloggers at El Canto de las Espadas, has just finished building a picturesque well. Picturesque, but who knows what’s down there.
Staying with infection, and with a nod back to the Tyranid idea, one other obvious approach is reversing all of this. Rather than the beasties getting into the characters, why not have the characters get into the beasties? Like in the cartoons when a protagonist walks right into an antagonist’s mouth. Like the Millennium Falcon going down the space slug in The Empire Strikes Back. Maybe dragons as they age grow into delves?
Maybe delves are far weirder things.
There could even be a natural selection going on, with competition among delves producing new species? Or maybe it’s like the black hole-based fecund universe idea, but with mythic underworlds. (There might be enough inspiration at those two links for lifetimes of play.)
Think of the internal architecture. The organs. The cooties. You want big? It’s so big it might be too big, or as big as it gets, and getting everywhere. Like a biocosmological omni-TARDIS.
Which seems like a reasonable description of the potential scope of the imagination too, and to the extent that they do overlap, also gaming.
Just check there’s actually air, and what’s in it.