Monday, October 11, 2021

miniature cave terrain and simple-but-deep tactical combat thoughts

 I've been caught by a tangent (no - a good and natural evolution of my locus of interest) into thinking about better (than i've seen) miniature terrain to represent strange cave formations, ala Veins of the Earth (or, y'know, real caves).

although i've never used minis for any games, i've always had a side interest in terrain crafting; it seems like a lot of fun to produce some really usable stuff without a huge amount of effort, primarly with XPS foam, hot wire knife, and simple painting techniques. I don't have much experience with any of it in the last 15 years or so. 

I got sucked down a youtube hole of watching game crafting videos. But nothing really hit the notes i was looking for. 

I think we avoid realistic, strange cave shapes in RPGs because they are difficult to visualize. But physical terrain solves that problem. Except everyone still seems to be locked into a very strict concept of modularity, with standardized sizes and shapes.

This is the closest I've seen to what I'm picturing in terms of modularity, but its still way to "rigid" or rectilinear

 I thought it would be quite easy to make a versatile set of shapes that could help represent strange cave forms that I was picturing in my head.

then i realized that using sketchup actually mirrors a lot of the same simple techniques; rough lines cutting through shapes. so instead of going out to home depot to grab some XPS, i'm doing my usual thing and over-thinking/planning stuff that should be simple to just do, and started playing around in sketchup.  creating shapes that are easy to make, but  work really together to create more interesting, vertical, strange real-life cave shaped spaces.

still images are difficult to convey how well it works in 3d.

This one is obviously really "prefabbed" and not modular, but its interesting thinking what you can do with just a few layers stacked to represent a cramped corridor full of vertical challenges. and even though it's only piece, it could still work in any orientation, even sideways. 

ok but why

But if i were to actually create and use this stuff, it would involve a change in my headspace around gameplay style, and probably ruleset.

In my mind, using minis and physical terrain would need to be justified by soemthing engaging. Your not going to build out a complex 3d space just to move through it on the way to another point of interest.

Maybe rules that make the physical act of exploring strange cave spaces interesting enough to justify being the focus,  spending time on ((and holding the attention of players to) just getting yourself up a slippery flowstone outcropping. maybe even physical representation of rope. There's some spelunking challenge rule stuff in VOTE but it's kinda weird. I hold out hope for there being something worthwhile here, but moving on...

If combat is the justification for building out a space, in any good players in an OSR style game are going to make sure as heck that they don't get ambushed while in a weird position (and just throwing ambushes in for the sake of play is really outside of OSR style). Which again obviates the impetus for building out a space.

The obvious alternative is fun tactical combat as the focus - in other words, combat-as-sport, or a cinematic challenge style. I've dipped into this some with Knave Souls, (and a bunch of unshared thinking and designing of more complex combat rules hacks for various systems), but it got me thinking about simple, combat-focused RPG that still support OSR play. 

I don't follow or know much about skirmish games, and i expect this is probably pretty well accomplished by soemthing liek age of sigmar or whatever.  (of course 5E is right out, too much baggage.)

So I'm thinking: "What if halfway between BX (or Knave, etc) and 4E... or Into The Breach?"

crunchier, more dynamic, small-numbers combat at a relatively small and cramped scale.  Lots of shoving, attacks pushing and advancing, relevant facing and flanking, impact from verticality, monsters crawling around walls, etc.

But... no complex character builds.  the kind fo crazy abilities built into the rules of 4E would instead be things that arise situationally and are arbitrated on the spot, or maybe granted by magic items. niches arise from item loadouts and ability score differences. (I should look into ICRPG - I know it emphasizes power growth through items).

so combat may be a forgone conclusion, but the spirit of creative problem-solving is still there, just involving the physical, literally visualized spacial situation. pleyrs need to coordinate their tactics and come up with plans to beat a combat situation using the particulars of strange environments and their items creatively. 

That's the idea at least.

this implies a kind of brutal dark soulsy VOTE style setting; Long-lost cavers now adapted with  trogolodytic mutations trying to kill or be killed by weird forgotten entities in dark holes. I think Kingdom Death: Monster or whatever its called might be a bit like this, but has its own tightly integrated stuff that wouldn't be relevant to a more general rpg system.

Bonus:  here is one such a survivor before and after his adaptations and evolving loadout after spending months in the dark places where the pressure of the earth above you molds your very form


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