Chapter 3.4.1: Tweaking – Introduction
Competitive Unit Congress
GreyOwl's Customizing Compendium
There are several reasons people shy away from customs. The two most prevalent and compelling reasons are portability and balance.
What I mean by portability
is the ability to take the customs you use and play them beyond your normal circle. One of the great aspects of Heroscape is the community that grows around it. There are local gaming sessions and tournaments that appear all the time. However, it is highly unlikely that you would be able to take a collection of customs to a new gaming group and have them accepted by the group. Tournaments are strictly out of the question.
But that also applies to custom rules, point levels, and drafting habits as well. The tournament scene and social gaming gatherings don’t prevent people from playing their own maps, scenarios, modded figures and terrain, drafting methods and/or restrictions, and custom rules when they play within their regular group (family members, friends, or local gaming club). So there shouldn’t be any reason people should feel squeamish about working customs into their collections for their own personal pleasure.
The second point, however, is a more pressing concern. With the official game, two people should be able to draft the same point level of armies and be reasonably assured of a fair contest. When you throw customs into the equation, you can’t be guaranteed that one 700 point army will offer a fair contest with a different 700 point army.
This is because customs creators simply don’t have the time or personnel necessary to extensively playtest the units they design, so they can only assign costs as best they can. Since nobody beyond Craig van Ness, truth, Grungebob, and the others who have worked behind the scenes really know how costs are determined for the official figures; intuition, experience, and cross-referencing with official units are the only options available. C3G actually has an advantage over other customs designers due to the rigorous playtesting, active participation from members and non-members alike, and extensive experience of its membership.
But the concerns and realities extend beyond mere costing. There are also balance issues related to the stats and special abilities as well. Some special powers sound pretty good on paper, but actually break down when combined with other units or simply put into an actual game. This is where tweaking becomes useful.
I’m probably leaving the impression that the customs world is a huge, sloppy mess. In my own personal experience with customs, I really don’t find that many that I have really felt needed tweaking other than in costing. The Superhero customs community has, I believe, gained more experience in creating customs than the experience of customs creators for Classic Heroscape. This is due to the fact that the official Marvel set had been discontinued very early, which prompted a greater need for customs. Superhero customs creators help each other with their designs, so there is a lot of discussion that takes place when a designer creates a custom.
So don’t read this thinking you’re going to have a mountain of units to tweak. I just want you to have the tweaking option as a tool for making things play the way you want when they don’t work, and that’s the purpose of this chapter.
The thought of tweaking might make you break into cold sweats or turn you completely off. I think most people would prefer being able to play a unit “as is” without making any changes. But there are a few things you should consider before you write it off completely:
People tweak the official game as well.
The first link is to a fascinating project called the Competitive Unit Congress. These are people who think there are official units that don’t get gameplay because they perform so poorly during a game (I’m looking at you, Templar Cavalry!). This group proposes and votes on modifications on units to make them more competitive. That does sacrifice the unit’s portability (you won’t likely find others, and certainly no tournaments, who would accept them), but those who adopt the changes likely see more play from those figures. Whether you agree with the project or disagree, that thread is a very worthy lurk.
Many customs that have been created are actually tweaks themselves.
Most customs designers actually draw inspiration from one another. One of the reasons people get into designing customs in the first place is to have a set of figures that they want to play. They may, like you, want to play Batman, but might not find a version of Batman anywhere that perfectly fits their own image of him. So that person will likely say, “Ah, I really like Batman X’s movement, but Hawkman Y has a cool special attack that I like that would work really well for Batman.” So that designer will take bits and pieces from various customs, and splice them together.
Many times, a customs designer will actually like a particular custom (or one spliced from several others), but may have a new mechanic that nobody else has used to add to the mix. So a lot of the customs that you see haven’t been created from scratch. It isn’t very efficient to reinvent the wheel every time. So when you decide to tweak a particular custom, you’re actually drawing inspiration from an existing custom to essentially design your own. Even if it’s as simple and changing the Life or Defense value, you’re making your own custom.
To play is better than to not play
If you want to play a particular figure (or figures); and you wait for the perfect version to arrive, you aren’t playing that figure. So the only thing you can do is simply wait. But if you’re willing to take something that’s already out there and make any changes you think needs to be made, you get to play that figure and have fun with it. It may take a few games before you can dial it into something you want, but at least you’re able to get enjoyment from it now
rather than later.
It isn't necessary to wait for a customs developer to build your perfect custom. They have their own ideas, design philosophies, and ways of playing. But you can take those ideas, mold them to your own vision, and play them the way that you want to play.
Tweaking is educational.
Ok, I’ve probably lost a lot of people with that one. “If I want to learn, I’ll go to school!” No, I mean that when you start tweaking and watching how the changes impact your games; you will begin to gain experience into why things are designed certain ways, why things are worded certain ways, and how different elements of a figures stats impact the game. You’re gaining experience. In fact, you may find after tweaking, playing, and re-tweaking; that the original designer was right all along. That’s also valuable experience.
My second link above is to GreyOwl’s Customs Compendium. I’ve already linked it in his chapter, but this is really a great read if you want to learn from the pros what works and what doesn’t. Even if you don’t ever design customs yourself (I’m in that category), the information here will give you insight into what goes into a customs design that you can use when you begin tweaking.
Customs are, by definition, unofficial.
This, I think, is really a great perspective. I can understand the hesitation to tweak official figures, but customs aren’t official anyways. So, that should free you from the concerns about making any adjustments to the customs realm, as these figures will likely stay within your own gaming circle anyway.