Sunday, September 25, 2011

The First Broad Strokes Of A New 40K

G. Korzhev. During the War
So we want to make a new 28mm Sci-Fi wargame. Where do we start? Well, I think we start as an artist, with a blank canvas in front of him, would begin. With the broad strokes. The big decisions. We start by setting the underlying assumptions upon which everything else we do will be based. The limits that we will initially impose on ourselves, so that our creativity doesn't take us off into left field and away from our goals.

I believe that the first and foremost consideration is this: M42 must appeal to current 40K players. It can't be too alien, or different from 40K. It can't be completely unique or a special flower. No, for us to succeed M42 must be recognizable and familiar to someone who's used to the game it's meant to replace.

Which is not to say that there can't be important differences or improvements between 40K and our project. But I think we have to recognize that 40K has set (or more properly put... found) the tone for 28mm sci-fi so distinctly and enduringly that to completely break from it is not something we want to do. Else we lose that broad appeal as Infinity and others have done. So we need to boil 40K down to it's most basic essence as a game, and decide what to keep when all the small details are stripped away.

Here's what I think that most basic essence of 40K's gameplay is:
  1. It's Turn Based In The Traditional Sense
  2. Each Turn Has 3 Phases: Movement, Shooting, and Assault
  3. It Uses 6-Sided Dice
  4. It Uses A Comparative Stat Table For Most Tests
  5. It Uses Traditional Fantasy Archetypes In a Sci-Fi Action Setting 
  6. It Has Core Rules Which Are Supplemented With Faction Rules
  7. It's Played With 28mm Miniatures
  8. It's Squad Based
  9. Each Model Is Moved Independently In No Particular Formation.
  10. Company Sized Battles
Now aside from the scale and the fantasy, I've just described Flames Of War as much as I've described 40K. Which I think has to be considered in the success of that 40K competitor. The particulars, the details, are different, but they share these fundamentals in common. In the same way that Star Trek, Firefly, Andromeda, Farscape, and other shows can all be boiled down to "People In Spaceships visiting unusual worlds and learning important moral lessons.". They differ in characters, tone, setting, and in their moral messages, but in the end they're still people in spaceships going places that nobody has seen before. Because it's interesting and allows the most freedom in storytelling.

You can break that proven formula and do a show about sci-fi lawyers talking to angst-ridden teenage robots, but is that going to have the same popular appeal? Probably not. Or Caprica would still be on the air. Anyone who watched Stargate: Universe saw quite clearly that the best episodes were when the crew got off the ship onto an alien world or had a space battle. That's when they did something viewers cared about. Something traditionally Sci-Fi.

We all cry for something new and different, but as a creative you have to find that difference within the constraints of what has popular appeal. Or you'll starve for attention. Me? I don't want to starve, I want to this project to have every chance of success.

So let's go through each of these essences I've stated and talk about them a bit:

It's Turn Based In The Traditional Sense

People like traditional turns. I know that there are other, newer, and cooler options out there like "I Go, You Go" or a limited number of unit activations. But personally I'm just not that interested in them. That wouldn't be 40K at all; and by making this decision up-front, we can concentrate on getting the most out of a traditional turn structure that everyone is familiar with instead of having to educate 3/4 of our audience/contributors on what the other options look and play like.

Each Turn Has 3 Phases: Movement, Shooting, and Assault

Personally, I would like to get rid of the movement portion of the assault phase as Mantic has tried to do. But again, I think that doing so would alienate too many potential players. Having played Flames Of War now, I can also see some ideas (charge reactions, consolidation into combat) that would balance things out much better than what we have now. Some of that existed in earlier editions of 40K, we'll look at what might be re-introduced and made better.

It Uses 6-Side Dice

When I did my post on The Back 40K about dice rolling in 40K, Farmpunk wanted to explore using D10s for a new system. I think that idea is less than optimal for a couple of reasons:
  1. Everyone is already familiar with 6-sided dice.
  2. 6-Sided dice are easier to roll and to read quickly.
  3. The result granularity of 2d10 isn't much better than 2d6.
The first two points are pretty obvious. I can do a more detailed post on the math for the 3rd point later, but here's a quick visual chart to chew on:

(click for larger view)
Basically, GW's 3 dependent d6 rolls (with 1 as auto-fail and 6 as auto-pass) give us 40 possible results. But those are weighted pretty heavily towards the fail end of the scale. So much so that not even a Chapter Master with a melta pistol can do better than a 70% chance of wounding a grot.

Now, if we consider a system of 2 dependent d10 rolls (with auto-pass/fail on the chart instead of the die roll), we get 42 possible results. But again, these are almost comically weighted towards the fail end of the scale.

I believe that 2 dependent d6 rolls (with auto-pass/fail on the chart instead of the die roll) gives us the best way forward. That's only 18 different results overall, but we get nearly the same granularity on the success end as the d10 system (with a 100% result for that Chapter Master). We do get less granularity on the failure end, but that's where we need it least. After all, do we really need to split hairs over a 1/216 chance (1/432 with FNP) to do something? I don't think so. 1/36 will do just fine.

Now, I will leave open the possibility of using d4, d8, d10, and d12 for one-off tests like Leadership. But that would only be in cases where the choice of die affects the distribution of those results. We might, for instance, decide to use a d12 for LD tests because it gives us more useful leadership values with which to build units. Since the results of a single die roll are not curved.

It Uses A Comparative Stat Table For Most Tests

I don't know of many games that use a mechanic like this. But there's plenty of room for improvements that would be all-ours. As well as opportunities to use this mechanic for things like Leadership tests where it's not used now.

It Uses Traditional Fantasy Archetypes In a Sci-Fi Action Setting

Humans, Elves, Dwarves, Undead, and whatnot... IN SPACE!!! What's not to like? Every Sci-Fi series of any note follows these same archetypes. They just dress them up in futuristic details based on speculative science.

It Has Core Rules Which Are Supplemented With Faction Rules

Pretty straightforward. I don't know how else to go. I do like Flames of War's campaign-theater based army books though. Similar to what Forge World tries to do with it's Imperial Armor series.

It's Played With 28mm Miniatures

 That's the models we all have. It's the scale that lets us see all the details. 'Nuff said!

It's Squad Based

Squads move and fire together instead of tracking individuals. I think that Warpath has shown some ways to make the squad an entity of it's own. Such as making the Sergeant model the eyes of the unit instead of just an extra close-combat or special weapon. I think that's a good way of moving the focus off of the individual models in the squad and concentrating on it's abilities as one unit. Let's take that idea and improve on it!

Each Model Is Moved Independently In No Particular Formation.

And this is where Warpath, IMO, fails by reducing individual model movement freedom so much that you might as well be playing with fantasy-style movement trays. So much of the fun of 40K comes from how you snake your squads around the field to counter various threats. The shapes and formations you use matter. They should matter in our game too. 

Company Sized Battles

40K is not a Skirmish Game, and we shouldn't be one either. There's plenty of alternatives for that. No, our game should enable large company-sized battles similar to what you get with 2000 points in 40K. Maybe even larger. But at the same time we need to figure out ways of scaling the fun down to the 40K equivalent of 1000 points or less without the game losing it's competitive balance. Which would make one-day competitive events with 6-8 rounds not only viable, but within the means of more players. Since they wouldn't have to build huge armies to join in the fun.


So that's what I think the underlying constraints to M42's design should be. Within these parameters, we can optimize, re-think, and fiddle to our hearts' content. But we need to make sure that our final product isn't too different from what the 40K community knows and enjoys right now.



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