11 Aug 2010

Design notes: The Bigger Bastard Rule

Filed under: Design Notes, Ere Be Stuff

I’ve been a long standing (sitting?) fan of tabletop games, both those with miniatures and the more abstract RPGs where you could be represented by anything from a prepacked figure to coins to gummy sweets.  I’ve been exposed to a fair amount of homebrewed content to a variety of systems. I’ve had goes at writing campaigns for D&D, was in the process of working out a way to effectively update an old piece of GURPS homebrew to the newest edition for another campaign and in my mis-spent youth, spent an abject fortune on Yu-Gi-Oh! cards to use in new and inventive ways, with the patented “Can’t Stop the Spear Cretin” and “Delicious Dragon Destruction” decks reduced at least two people to tears. I played Fantasy Warhammer with borrowed armies with from my more affluent friends. Most recently, I’ve played MMOs and some often stubborn minded choices of character development have led to some fun counters to common problems. The unkillable druid from the pre-expansion WoW days comes to mind as the most fun.

Almost every time I sat down to play at these, at least as a player, my first thoughts were to “How can I abuse these special features?”.  My former partners in crime, one of whom is a games design student and the other an accountant, two professions that still engage these skills today, spent countless afternoons working out ways to change the way we played against the others at the gaming clubs.

So I want to first discuss a story that I’ve bored the others working on tUGS with before. It’s the story of Drew the Skeleton Hero. Back in those days of WHF, everyone liked the big flashy heroes. The vampire riding a chariot, the elf on a dragon, the frankly gigantic demons of Chaos. They routinely pounded an army into the dust without the other units doing much.  On the other hand, the undead we were using were slow but with a potent fear effect that could rout armies by causing whole units to flee from the table. The problem was getting there before being engulfed in dragon fire.  Thus a hero who could not fight to save his unlife was born. He had Boots of Teleportation and an aura effect that boosted the basic move of the regiment he stood with as long as he moved with them. Once they were within range to cause fear, we let most of them enemies scatter and the hero teleported back to avoid dying to bring in the next roving band of cannon fodder. This war of attrition was long but it usually resulted in success. However, it wasn’t enough.

There’s a spell called Danse Macabre that boosts undead movement but is often overlooked in favour of the more destructive abilities. So with a necromancer and our custom hero in place, we set out to nearly double the distance a regiment could charge. At our gaming club, this was sometimes nearly the length of a table. The results were immediate. Armies of low class soldiers keeping a single extremely powerful hero on the table scattered before us, causing instant routs and winning matches.  But as we pointed out to the disgruntled who were fielding their ludicrous heroes who’s abilities amounted to “I Win” had mocked our “puny” hero.  It was probably quite questionable what we did, but in fairness, so were their heroes. The glee in beating them at their own game was indescribable.

Can’t stop the Juggernaut!

This has lead to me to use what I describe as “The Bigger Bastard Rule”.  Given equal resources and time, you sit down and you concoct what is the most unfair, yet rules legal monstrosity you can come up with that is likely to be fielded by your opponent. Then you find the hole in the armour and build a new monstrosity that functions like a normal army but has an ace-in-the-hole to play should the first one come into play. And then if you’re like me, you build a third monstrosity that’s able to take down the second one. The objective is to always be the biggest bastard at the table. Because if you aren’t, someone is abusing the rules to the point where the players aren’t having fun any more. It becomes about Jimmy and his unstoppable army of Killer Death Bots, not everyone having fun.

Sitting down to write what amounts to brand new rules and revisions of older, outdated or unclear rules was a bit of a change for me because it puts me in the mind of “What would I do to break what I just said?” So you sit there with a piece of paper and a handful of dice rolling away until you find out that 99/100 times its not possible for this to be extremely powerful in a single area without sacrificing another area. Essentially, Rock covers paper, scissors cuts paper and paper covers rock. And something about a lizard and some guy from a sci-fi show people have apparently heard of.

I haven’t gone looking extensively for other Gorkamorka homebrew projects for two reasons. For two major reasons. The first is that this is our show in a way. This is our take on how the problems should be addressed from a group of relatively like-minded individuals. Incorporating other peoples’ long since made modifications without regard for our own is pretty pointless as it just upsets the balance even further. Secondly, from what Flamekebab has told me, a lot of the homebrew seems to amount to “Let’s add Doom Fortresses to Gorkamorka!” As a skirmish game, this just can’t be done. If any one Ork commandeered one of the larger Orky weapons from the 40k Universe at large, he would run the planet in days. So sorry, we’re stuck scraping through the sand for bits to make our guns shootier, rather than saddling up and burning the entire planet to the ground.

Perhaps you’re wondering where this all leads? Well hopefully it leads to us being the Biggest Bastards out there.  My prime objective here is to have thought of as many ways possible that people are going to try and break both the old and new material we have available without detracting from the ability to have fun while doing it. By putting everyone on an even footing to start with and letting you choose how to specialise and counter other specialisations effectively without making you unstoppable killing machines. It’s no fun if Jimmy always wins by miles. We want him to win by inches.

So that is my objective. To steal shamelessly from the Dark Knight: Hate us. Because we can take it. And hopefully people will unite in their hatred and actually have some fun with a treasured childhood toy.

Image of the Juggernaut taken from Wikipedia and displayed under Fair Use.

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