Tuesday, June 30, 2015

40k Formations and Flames of War Briefings

The venerable 3rd edition Force Org chart.
Seventh Edition Warhammer 40k has been moving away from its standard Force Organization chart.  You may remember this venerable method of organizing armies, introduced way back at the start of 3rd edition, it consists of 1-2 HQ, 2-6 Troops, 0-3 Elites, 0-3 Fast Attack and 0-3 Heavy Support.  In essence, it usually represents a smallish infantry company, with a core of foot troops backed by some heavier vehicles or transports -- although over the years it has also been shaped to allow players other, more unusual types of "armies."

As a system of selection, it is both quite permissive -- allowing a players to pick freely from these slots -- but also restrictive in the overall types of forces permitted.  So you could make a ludicrous force of ten scouts and six Dreadnaughts, you could.  But Imperial Guard players who wanted to make a Tank Company or Space Marine players who wanted to make a Reserve Company Devastator force, found these impossible -- unless GW deigned to make a fudge to cover their specific force.

A typical FoW briefing.
Compare this to Flames of War's approach to army "briefings." FoW separates a force's nationality from its Company type.  So you could have a British Infantry force, a Mechanized force, or a Tank force, each with different Core and Support options and ratings.  A unit that might be Core of a tank company (like a tank platoon) might be the support of an Infantry company, and vice versa.  There could be further diversity by representing different types of tank or infantry companies, from different periods of the war, theaters, or parent organizations.

Flames of War's approach has led to hundreds of lists, many simulating specific historical units which existed for only very short periods of time.  This approach is more open than 40k's -- allowing for a huge variety of company types -- but perhaps too dependent on the constant release of new briefings.

A 40k Formation.
40k, however, has begun to try something new: Formations and Detachments.  Starting in 6th edition, it released an "Allied Detachment," which was a cut-down Force-Org chart allowing you to field allies.  They also began releasing Formation - which allowed you to take groups of models outside of the normal Force Org chart, provided you took them in the specified numbers and with the specified upgrades.  In return, you got a small rules bonus for the models in the Formation.

7th edition has exploded its use of Formations and Detachments enormously.  The old Force Org chart has been renamed the Combined Arms Detachment, which can be combined freely with other Formations, Detachments, and even individual loose units (in what is is known as a "Unbound List.")  Moreover, the last few Codices have been releasing Formations of Formations, in which different Formations are combined.  Many of these Formations are drawn from 40k's extensive background.  The Space Marines now have a Demi-Company, which can be doubled into Battle Company, a Scout group, a First Company strike force, and so forth.
A 40k Formation of Formations

As a person who likes to fiddle with games design, I'm struck by how much these new Formations are coming to resemble Flames of War's myriad company briefings.  Now a variety of force organizations from 40k's universe are beginning to see in-game representations.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Thinking About Amber DRPG

Amber DRPG.jpgThe Amber Diceless RPG has been one of my favorite games for years. Recently I've been trying out its successor game, Lords of Gossamer and Shadow, with my local RPG group.  As part of designing the campaign, I've been thinking about what makes a good Amber game work.  (When it works; sometimes it doesn't.)

1) Deep Character Investment: I've found that players often develop a deeper investment in their Amber characters than they do in characters from other games.  The system encourages you to think deeply about the characters' background, their upbringing, and their goals and wants. But, more than that, the very simplicity of the system encourages deep characterization.  Amber characters have only four stats, and maybe one or two of a handful of powers, but players are encouraged to visualize everything about them, from what they are wearing, to the worlds they visit, and have almost no limitations in inventing these details.

2) Infinite Setting: The characters can go anywhere, and do just about anything they wish. It is extremely common for Amber groups to separate, pursuing different goals, in entirely different worlds.

3) The Ties that Bind:  Despite the open setting, Amber characters are always drawn back to each other and to the important NPCs.  Most player groups quickly obtain a full set of Trumps, permitting them to call each other and teleport to each others' locations. So a widely scattered group can almost always reform for a plot point.  Amberites are also all family.  The important NPCs have similar powers, are usually blood relations.  Player characters cannot help but be pulled into the plotting and adventures of other Amberites.

I'm not sure how this will play with my current group, but I hope they will have a good session.