Monday, November 8, 2021

Inspiration Shift: Miniature Skirmish Wargames

Been a while so I'm forcing myself to write up what I've been thinking about, regardless of the state it ends up in.

Getting a bit slogged in detailing out the many factions in the Offbeat Megadungeon, I was easy prey for alternative inspiration, which came on swift and silent wing in the form of Chris McDowell's GRIMLITE/The Doomed miniature wargame ruleset. Which I learned of from some podcast interview (Mud & Blood I think), disconnected from the digital RPG socmed sprawl as I've been.

I've only ever been vaguely interested in miniature games; the material investment has always outweighed the draw. Usually I'm drawn more to crafting terrain, and I've been comfort-watching a lot of youtube vids of such.

But a very stripped-down, fast-playing, small-team ruleset seems really appealing, at least for just playing around with the game design. As Chris puts it, GRIMLITE is no-measuring, no stacking, no tracking. 

Searching around the space for similar games, the ones most interesting to me have been Five Leagues to the Borderlands, Chromehammer, and Emmy's The Dolorous Stroke (though it's pretty heavy on tracking).

There are a few concepts I want to explore that this kind of ruleset lends itself to.

  • Verticality of the physical game space, even more than what I've seen of Necromunda. Makes the most sense in a Cyberpunk mileau. Difficult to set up and visualize for digital playtesting though.
  • Crunchy position-manipulating tactics, ala Into the Breach and Fights in Tight Spaces. I saw this happening a little bit with 5 Leagues, but also seems to be good for Cyberpunk (think John Wick)
  • Just making a bunch of fun abilities that alter a core ruleset.
  • Some ideas around self-balancing point-buy systems.

Also the "narrative" (which seems to me more like "procedure- and roll table-heavy")  campaign structure of this style of game seems to fit with and lend itself really to the kind of solo play i've been getting into during the pandemic (5 leagues is specifically solo, and there's a solo campaign version of Chromehammer).

I've spun up a promising mashup of GRIMLITE and 5 Leagues that I've had fun with designing if nothing else. Keeping it in my pocket for now but might share in a later form. But here's an excerpt of the core melee exchange rules, primarily inspired by 5 Leagues. 

Note: Units have between 3 (basic) and 5 (Leaders) Combat Dice, but various traits and weapon tags alter this amount, often depending on certain conditions and whether you're attacking or defending in that exchange.

Melee Exchanges

  • A Melee Attack initiates a series of up to three Exchanges

  • The Initiator is Attacker in the first Exchange (Certain weapon tags may alter this)

  • In each Exchange...

    • Attacker and Defender secretly decide how many of their Combat Dice to commit for that Exchange, removed from their Total CD available for the rest of the Melee.

      • If you have a Readied Ally Unit in base contact with you AND/OR your Attacker, gain +1 CD when Defending

      • You may (or may need to) commit no CD, or have negative CD. In this case, your roll is treated as a 1

    • Attacker and Defender roll their committed CD, select their highest die, and compare them. 

      • If the Attacker has the higher die, they cause 1 Wound to the Defender

        • On a 6, you may trigger certain effects from Traits/Tags

      • If it is a tie, the Attacker chooses to either Backstep, Press, or Shove (ending the melee)

      • If the Defender has the higher die, they become the Attacker in the next Exchange. They may also choose to Dodge, or Disengage (ending the melee).

        • On a 6, you may trigger certain effects from Traits/Tags

  • After the final Exchange (the third, or if the Melee is ended early)

    • The Defender Disengages

  • Shove: The Defender moves away from the Attacker by the Attacker's base width

  • Press: As Shove, but the Attacker also moves up into Contact

  • Dodge: Move up to 90 degrees around a base you're in contact with

  • Disengage: Move your base width away from a base you're in contact with

  • Backstep: As Disengage, but Unit that was in contact may choose to step back into contact with you.

Definitely crunchier than GRIMLITE, and even 5 Leagues, but these exchanges are kind of the core concept of a game like this, and from playtesting, they're tense and engaging enough to justify a bit of complexity for what I'm aiming for.

But then the miniature elephant in the room - I'm not going to get a bunch of physical minis. particularly since this is probably yet another passing fancy that I'll be dropping for the next thing in 2D6 weeks.

Tabletop Simulator would be good but it is sooo clunky  in some specific ways (and non-aesthetic, counter to one of the primary appeals of mini games in the first place). I wonder if there are other more suitable digital tools for this kind of thing.

Google Slides actually worked really well for quick playtesting, at least for simple setups. Just copy the current slide and go from there for the next action/turn. Here's a half-baked playtest of my nascent rules. Which went pretty well so far - I like the tough-decision-making of the dice-commiting mechanic, and the dynamism of the forced movement baked into the melee procedure.

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