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Customs Creation - August 2016

Posted August 4th, 2016 at 03:45 AM by HS Codex
Updated April 2nd, 2017 at 01:31 AM by Xotli

Codex Customs Parallax Design
Monkey Swarm
Author: IshMEL, with Scytale and johnny139

Welcome to the new Codex Customs Parallax Design! Every few months, three designers will independently create a custom using the same figure. They will then discuss their own design process and critique each others’ designs. It’s our hope that you will glean some wisdom about custom design from the conversation. For our first Parallax Design, I am joined by my esteemed Codex Customs colleagues Scytale and johnny139. The three of us tried our hand at designing an army card for the Pathfinder Monkey Swarm:

The figure presents some interesting design challenges. How do you present a swarm of figures on one hex? Are these monkeys, baby primadons, or something completely different? (As Scytale said, “Whoever sculpted that has either never seen a monkey before or sees them every night in his nightmares.”) Let’s see what monkey business the three of us got up to.

Ticalla Monkey Swarm

Ticalla Monkey Swarm
General: Aquilla
Species: Monkey
Uncommon Hero
Class: Swarm
Personality: Ferocious
Small 3
Life: 6
Move: 6
Range: 1
Attack: 1
Defense: 2

Points: 30

When this Ticalla Monkey Swarm attacks, it may attack up to 6 times. Reduce the number of times this Ticalla Monkey Swarm can attack by 1 for each wound marker on this Army Card.

If this Ticalla Monkey Swarm is adjacent to a tree or bush, add one to its Attack and Defense numbers.

When moving up or down levels of terrain, this Ticalla Monkey Swarm may double its height.

IshMEL’s design notes

For my Ticalla Monkeys, I wanted them to have the feel of a swarm attack, with lots of annoying monkey bites. I had done an insect swarm before, and went with the same “high life, minimal defense” stats, with each life representing one part of the swarm.(*) They are easy to kill individually, but there are a lot of them. Their Swarm attack is a rethemed Hydra Heads. An attack of 1 and defense of 2 seemed right for what I was thinking.

Climb seemed both thematic and necessary. What about their speed? Can a swarm of monkeys outrun a human? Apparently a patas monkey can run 34 mph. So let’s give them 6 move.

I’m perhaps influenced by my recent addition of ersatz jungle terrain to my collection, but I thought that a jungle power would be thematic. Picture them climbing into the trees and dropping headlong screaming onto the heads of their enemies! In general, terrain powers are tricky, relegating units to niche status. There is no reason why monkeys can’t climb pine trees as well, so I opened up Arboreal Tactics to include RttF trees which should give them more maps to be useful on.

So now I have a collection of powers and stats. What about the cost? My cost estimation formula isn’t going to be of much help here. As for comparison units, there are not many. Some of the elf wizards have 5 – 6 life and 1 – 2 defense, but, with the exception of Morsbane, they are all ranged. The Marro hive has a completely different function. Which leaves Marcu. Marcu at 20 points has higher mobility, a single attack of 4, and the ability to self-heal. His weakness reduces his value by 40%; without Eternal Hatred he should cost 33 points.

Are six potential attacks of 1 worth about as much as one attack of 4? Not really. Against 4D, an attack of 4 will cause 0.932 average damage, while 6 × 1A = 0.594. (Or, 4A has a 55% chance of causing at least one wound on 4D, while 6 × 1A has a 45% chance.) But let’s put our monkeys next to the trees where they belong, and give them a +1 boost! Against 4D, 6 × 2A will do 1.776 damage, and has an 82% chance of causing at least one wound. So, pretty good.

Of course, that’s at full health. As the attacks decrease, so will their attack effectiveness. With a defense of 2, these cute(**) little monkeys ain’t gonna last long. You’ll really need to get them next to some flora, ideally jungle for the +1 against range.

As they play now (at least in theoryscape), the job of these monkeys is: to die. At full health they can be a threat, especially with height and/or foliage. Position them right and keep an OM on them (X or not) and your opponent will need to attack them to reduce their swarm ability. While they’re soaking up attacks, you’re putting your real threat into play.

I feel like I’ve captured a “swarm of monkeys.” But have I created a playable unit? Here’s where I often get tripped up—I get caught up in theme at the expense of creating a fun (or viable) unit. This Ticalla Monkey Swarm is a terrain-dependent sacrifice pawn, which might (with luck) throw an appropriately-named wrench into your opponent’s plans. Is that worth 30 points and the investment in order markers? Testing is needed!

* Technically, it represents 2 monkeys as there are 12 on the figure. But a 12-life filler would be rather silly.
** If you find horrific red-eyed simians cute.

johnny139’s comments

This is a great example of how many angles you can approach a swarm unit from in Heroscape—in a sense, the Ticalla Monkey Swarm edges closer to the traditional D&D application of “swarm” units by drawing on the hydra-style multi-attacks. A big pile of enemies that you plow through one by one, getting weaker as it peters out. It certainly draws attention to the problem of using a common hero to represent multiple creatures ... Syvarris killing a dozen monkeys with a single arrow is certainly an odd image.

The vanilla stats and categories of the card are intuitive—a ferocious swarm of monkeys? Certainly. Fairly quick but not particularly strong. The only things that stand out to me are the life, which feels inappropriate for such a tiny figure, even if, as stated above, the alternative feels equally strange. It’s necessary for the card to work as intended, though, so the wonkiness can be forgiven in favor of gameplay. Move, then, is left as the only real criticism I can offer: a creature as iconically nimble as the monkey deserves 7+ move, in my opinion.

Of this power set, Climb is little more than a necessary evil of mechanics, while Arboreal Tactics ranges from trinket text on some maps to a core strategy on others. I think it’s sensible for monkeys to be most at home in the jungle, but I personally imagine it would make movement easier rather than attacking and defending ... though those two ideas, in abstract, aren’t mutually exclusive, as the “jump on the head” example illustrates quite well. Swarm Attack is the obvious meat-and-potatoes of the unit, then.

In a sense, Swarm Attack allows the Ticalla Monkey Swarm to become a hero made up of squads. Six figures, one life each, into a single base. There are pros to this, such as the ability to maneuver more easily, as well as cons, like being blown away in a single powerful hit. It’s a proven mechanic that plays well, and is intuitive: more monkeys, more attacks. Fewer monkeys, fewer attacks.

I’ll confess: at first glance, I didn’t care for this direction—a swarm being one fat hero felt like the wrong call. But, as I consider the options, it’s definitely a valid angle. A “swarm unit” is a bunch of small things acting as one big thing. So why wouldn’t it, when executed in Heroscape terms, be represented as a bunch of squad figures acting as one big hero?

I’m not sure six attacks of 1 on a single, vulnerable melee figure is worth 30 points, and I’m not sure if Arboreal Tactics is the right call. With Climb taking up real estate, I think card space would be better served building toward a more playable unit. Some sort of defense against range, perhaps. But the fundamentals work and the direction is there, so the unit itself has a good foundation.

Scytale’s comments

IshMEL took an interesting tactic with this miniature, making it essentially a sizeable unique squad wrapped up into a single miniature. While it lacks the ability to spread out and cover more of the board like squads can, it is able to pack its punch into tight spaces squads normally cannot fit, as well as maintaining existing board position even after taking hits.

The role seems to be that of a quick striker, able to get in a lot of attacks initially but quickly becoming weak. While 6 life gives it some staying power, with only 2 defense it will fall to focused fire, not to mention becoming impotent when badly wounded. Move 6 is probably fast enough to get it into position to do its thing.

I’ve played around with figures with an attack of 1 before, and it’s honestly more disappointing than effective, even with that many attacks. As an early-or-mid-game unit, I doubt the swarm would do anything but disappoint. At 30 points you don’t really expect it to, though, and as a late-game cleanup filler figure it seems like it could to the job.

Arboreal Tactics, however, throws a wrench into the works. On a jungle or tree-heavy map, this 30 point figure quickly becomes a terror. Attack 2 is far better than attack 1 for a unit with six attacks, and the added defense helps it keep up the number of attacks. Give the buggers a tree and height? Six attacks of 3 is pretty nasty. This power, while seeming to be little more than neat flavor, drastically throws the balance out of proportion, making it far, far more valuable on the right map.

I recommend dropping Arboreal Tactics entirely, cutting down the complexity of the figure and reigning in the wildly swingy balance issue. Otherwise, as a filler unit, the Ticalla Monkey Swarm appears to fit the bill.

Roobeye Tribe

Roobeye Tribe
General: Aquilla
Species: Monkey
Common Hero
Class: Tribe
Personality: Terrifying
Small 3
Life: 1
Move: 7
Range: 1
Attack: 2
Defense: 3

Points: 20

Instead of moving this figure, you may move up to 6 Roobeye Tribes you control up to 7 spaces each.

Range 1. Attack 2.
Figures subtract 1 from their defense dice for each adjacent Roobeye Tribe that is not attacking when defending against Tooth and Paw Special Attack, up to a maximum of 3 subtracted dice.

When moving up or down levels of terrain, Roobeye Tribe may triple its height.

johnny139’s design notes

I’ve always found “swarm” units—a popular D&D mainstay—to be immensely hard to adapt to Heroscape. Heroes? Squads? Nothing is quite “right.” So I found this card a real challenge. I ultimately went with what felt right: an ambiguous noun, that can be used in singular and plural interchangeably. A “tribe” is a group of monkeys. It seemed to fit.

From there, everything fell into place. They’re creepy little animals, so they go to Aquilla. They’re small and quick, with no obvious ranged weaponry, so their stats came naturally (though I gave them a bit of extra defense to make them a better investment). An unfortunate necessity for this direction—a tiny common hero swarm—was Swarm Movement, in order to not have to move each up individually, and Climb, in order to make sure they can maneuver well enough. There is likely a more creative approach, but I didn’t see a reason to reinvent the wheel.

Which leaves a single attack for my creative juices ... and frankly, I was stumped. How did I best want to represent these monkeys? What catches my eye? Well, ultimately, it was the fact they were horrifying. That sculpt looks like a bunch of soulless, ravenous monsters. Imagine their grubby little hands, their sharp nails and teeth, getting everywhere, too many to count, let alone stop ...

So, Tooth and Paw Special Attack. It’s a “combined attack,” in a sense, but using your other monkeys as distractions. It’s only really usable against heroes—in general, with just one attack per turn, they’re going to get crushed by any equivalent number of squads. But I think they’re more evocative that way ... a few piles of monkeys won’t wipe out a Roman Legion. But they can probably swarm a robot to death.

IshMEL’s comments

I love the “swarming a robot to death” image you’ve painted here. An army of these guys swarming across the board will be a terror to behold. The approach here is one I like for common hero designs: the pseudo-squad. A pseudo-squad lets you have squad-like powers (multiple movement, board control, multiple attacks, etc.) while having only one figure design.

A few thoughts:
  • I like “Tribe” as the class.
  • To be effective and maximize their “swarm” movement, you’d want six units at 120 points, which is a big investment (both financially and in army points). But their swarm attack maxes out at 4 units (attacker + 3 others to reduce defense). I would remove the -3 limit on removing defense dice—it will probably never happen that you could completely surround a figure with RTs, but you could really take a Soulborg apart!
  • In addition to being a good “swarm a hero” unit, they will make for a good screen with Swarm Movement, if you’re up against a number of ranged attack squads. Twice as expensive as Deathreavers, but you could get six units across the board in two turns. Not too shabby.
  • For Swarm Movement, I would also add “When moving with Swarm Movement, if a Roobeye Tribe is engaged, it will take any leaving engagement attacks.” (Assuming they do.) It’s good to clarify with movement powers.
  • There’s also a small loophole in the SA: As currently worded, if my defending figure is adjacent to one of my own RTs, it will reduce my own defense. I’d say instead: “When defending against Tooth and Paw Special Attack, the target subtracts 1 from its defense for each other Roobeye Tribe engaged with it, up to a maximum of 3 subtracted dice for Tooth and Paw Special Attack.” Or if you want to be a little more explicit: “When defending against Tooth and Paw Special Attack, the target subtracts 1 from its defense for each Roobeye Tribe engaged with it, other than this Roobeye Tribe, up to a maximum of 3 subtracted dice for Tooth and Paw Special Attack.”
  • Which brings up another question: why make this a special attack? The attack value is the same as the normal attack, and you don’t need a special attack to reduce defense. You can just as easily do something like: “When defending against a normal attack from this Roobeye Tribe, the target subtracts 1 from its defense for each Roobeye Tribe engaged with it, other than this Roobeye Tribe.”
  • I’d reduce Climb x3 to x2. With a move of 7, I’m not sure how the ability to climb up to 9 will come into play.
  • The cost seems about right, in range for a common hero. Given their relatively weak stats, I’d be interested to see how they do at 15 points – you could have six of them for 90 points then.
  • What’s a “Roobeye”?

Scytale’s comments:

johnny139 went with a swarm design for the pile of monkey-things. Swarm Movement makes up for a common hero’s biggest obstacle to a swarm design: only activating one figure per turn. Swarm Movement gives this unit (or rather, a bunch of these units) strong board control. Lots of speed and lots of figures moving.

Unfortunately, I suspect they won’t actually be effective. Their greatest offensive potential lies in Tooth and Paw Special Attack, which gives them a melee special attack of 2 with the potential of reducing defense dice. It should be easy to get some defense reduction, although on the battlefield it’s often difficult to get more than three figures surrounding a single unit. At best, the defender rolls three less defense dice. Against some units that rely on their defense dice, like Sentinels of Jandar, this can be effective. In general, though, it’s a lot of effort to inflict (likely) one wound. Sure, one wound will kill a squaddie, but against most squads you really need multiple attacks, not just a single consistent attack. Against heroes, it’s only one or two wounds each turn. Sure, it will outlast single-attack heroes, but those heroes struggle against most squads and really want to fight other heroes.

Even a weak offense can be ok if the defense is strong enough, but with only 3 defense these guys will fall quickly. In some sense being able to move so many across the map becomes a disadvantage, as it puts six figures in danger even though only one is attacking. There is some potential here as a screen, but 120 points are needed to get the full six-figure movement, but they won’t last too long and they require order markers to get into position.

Ultimately, the Roobeye Tribe only seems effective against certain defense-dependent squads. That’s a pretty narrow role, and even then I suspect they’d struggle in most situations. Board control is important, but it needs either the teeth or the defense to make something of it.

Pukwudgie Swarm

Pukwudgie Swarm
General: Valkrill
Species: Pukwudgie
Common Hero
Class: Swarm
Personality: Tormenting
Small 3
Life: 1
Move: 7
Range: 1
Attack: 2
Defense: 3

Points: 20

Base: Single
Planet: Earth?

After revealing an Order Marker on any Army Card other than a Pukwudgie Swarm Army Card, before taking any turns, you may move one Pukwudgie Swarm you control up to 7 spaces.

If a Pukwudgie Swarm you control receives one or more wounds from a normal attack, roll the 20-sided die. If you roll a 12 or higher, ignore all wounds.

When moving up or down levels of terrain, a Pukwudgie Swarm may double its height.

Scytale’s design notes:

When I saw the miniature being used I just couldn’t bring myself to call them monkeys. Maybe I’d feel differently if I had the figure in hand, but I’ve certainly never seen a monkey that looks like those things. They are clearly a swarm, though, and the miniature is small, so I went from there.

Swarms are somewhat difficult to handle well in Heroscape. Swarming in Heroscape usually means lots of cheap figures with bonus movements (Cutters, Zombies, etc), not a bunch of creatures on a single base. The concept of “swarming” just doesn’t feel right unless many figures are involved, and doing so with a single sculpt just doesn’t have the visual beauty of multi-sculpt Heroscape squads. So I chose not to go the swarm route, instead I chose to make them effective in small numbers.

What role should a host of these little whatsits fill? There are multiple possibilities, but I liked the idea of annoying ankle-biters that mostly just get in the way. In other words, a screening unit.

For a screen to be effective in Heroscape, it needs to offer more benefit than it costs in points and order markers to get into position. This is especially difficult with common heroes, the direction I wanted to go, as their single hit point makes them problematically fragile and they lack natural board control. Even if one figure is difficult to kill, if it takes two to three order markers to position it’s probably not worth fielding as a screen. Instead of using a multi-figure movement power (which would lean back into swarm territory), I instead went in the direction of Deathreavers and Cutters: free movements. Scatter and Scurry rely on board control to work, so I had to develop something new that would allow these “monkeys” to get into position on their own. My solution was a free once-per-order-marker movement.

I preferred to make them common instead of uncommon or unique, which means the unit could not rely on a pile of hit points to survive. Giving them a high defense just did not feel right for such a small figure. Swarms in games are often resistant to piercing and slashing attacks due to not being a single solid figure, so I did something similar with Swarm Resiliency. Swarms are usually weak to burst and blast attacks, though, so I didn’t allow Swarm Resiliency to work against special attacks, even though Heroscape special attacks are not all blasts. Gotta make concessions sometimes.

Climb X2 is, of course, a near necessity for small figures to be able to climb. Works fine for monkey-like things regardless.

Speaking of monkeys, I wanted to find some other species that would work well for terrifying-looking ankle-biters that torment people. A little research into cryptids uncovered Pukwudgies, small grey-skinned humanoids from Native American folklore. They are normally known for playing nasty tricks, following people, and causing trouble.

I did not do any playtesting, so the point value is merely a guess. This unit would require extensive playtesting as the design walks a tightrope: it has to be both cheap enough to warrant fielding multiples and resilient enough to fill the screening role. Even slight mispricing can make them troublingly too good or completely outclassed. Honestly, I don’t know if the sweet spot even exists or if the whole design has to be scrapped. But that’s what playtesting is for.

johnny139’s comments:

I’ll be direct: I think the Pukwudgie angle is a bit of a stretch. Call a duck a duck, call a monkey a monkey, that’s always been my philosophy! It’s not more of a departure than other reimaginings of myth in Heroscape, though, so I can appreciate the creativity even if I don’t quite buy the figure being used in that context. That being said, the tormenting personality is a bit of genius, as it leaves a somewhat chilling gap of knowledge ... feral creatures, serving Valkrill, sharp teeth and claws. What do they torment? And how? Questions better left unanswered, perhaps.

Climb is, of course, unremarkable and necessary. Their stats are equally unremarkable but ultimately irrelevant, as I don’t expect many people would be taking a turn with them: a single attack of 2 from a common hero just isn’t worth the time. The powerset is what illustrates their role, with Feral Movement—as long as you don’t take a turn with the Pukwudgies, they get to move. Grab glyphs, tie up units, set up blockades, just as the traditional units in this vein work. The other relevant power, Swarm Resiliency, serves this end well: park them in place and hope the dice are in your favor. (This also solves the “single arrow kills a dozen” problem, interestingly enough—killing a monkey won’t necessarily kill the swarm. Simple but effective.)

I think, of the three units, this is easily the most playable. Common heroes are rarely worth the investment, in points or in turns, without external synergy, so it makes sense to make them an autonomous unit on the cheap. They’re not as efficient as a wall of squads, which can get you more bodies for your buck, but I can imagine maps or games where they’d be worth grabbing as a supplement.

My criticism thus lies in the ludonarrative: the intersection of the game on the field and the story on the card. A Pukwudgie is essentially a trickster. The sculpt is unsettling and ferocious. They are tormenting creatures that serve Valkrill, an agent of chaos. Yet their gameplay is defensive in nature. They certainly stymie an opponent, and in that sense fulfill the role of a trickster, but it could hardly be called torment. For me, in a strange way, it evokes those strange Magic: the Gathering cards of the early 90s—where the art and the name and the text don’t quite fit together.

The parts of the Pukwudgie Swarm are good. I imagine they play well. And the concept of devilish tormentors, particularly with the figure being used, is evocative. But I don’t think the frame quite suits the window. This is not an original sin in Heroscape, of course, where some units’ cards never quite pass the border into flavorful coherence. They fit, but a square peg into a round hole ... one of the two needs some sanding.

IshMEL’s comments:

I admit I’d never heard of Pukwudgies before, and I had to look it up. I like that you went in a different direction than “monkeys” for the species, and while Pukwudgie’s aren’t a household name, they fit the figure (and design) well as a swarm of little tormenting figures. And “tormenting” is a good choice, given what these guys are going to do on the battlefield.

Feral Movement: This power is the genius of the unit’s design. It solves the problem with filler units: why put an order marker on them? With the Pukwudgies, you just don’t have to. Since you get three freebie moves a turn, you can run them up to your opponent’s ranged units and park them there. Thanks to Swarm Resiliency, if you’re lucky they’ll have an awful time trying to kill them off. Since you’re using them as a screen, you don’t have to worry about using their attack.

I tend to do “bottom up” design, starting with the theme and working from there. You’ve clearly had the unit’s role as screener in mind, and worked from there. This power doesn’t have anything to do with their Pukwudgieness, and they don’t even have a feral personality! That bothered me at first but the more I thought on it the less it mattered. Feral works as a thematic marker for “moving outside the rules.”

That’s often a source of creativity for my own designs: think of a Heroscape rule, and break it. This breaks the way bonding is usually done.

Here’s some proposed changes to the power wording, to clear up a few things:
  • After revealing an Order Marker on any Army Card you control other than a Pukwudgie Swarm Army Card, before taking any turns, you may move one Pukwudgie Swarm you control up to 7 spaces. When moving with Feral Movement, if a Pukwudgie Swarm is engaged, it will take any leaving engagement attacks.

That will clarify the engagement question, and also that if you have an order marker on a dead army card, you don’t get to use the power.

Swarm Resiliency: I get it: a swarm is resilient because it’s lots of slippery individuals that are hard to pin down. Works for me thematically. I’m concerned that this defense may be too powerful. Let’s do some math!

A normal attack of 4 has a 65.5% chance of causing at least one wound on a 3 defense figure. Since Swarm Resiliency will kick in 45% of the time, that means the attack will only work 55% of the time, reducing the chance of killing the swarm to 36%. That’s pretty close to a defense of 6. Of course they’re vulnerable to special attacks ....

It’s the combination of high defense and order-marker-less utility that makes me think the Pukwudgies may be undercosted. Doing some comparison theoryscaping, let’s look at the current screening champions, the Deathreavers:
  • Deathreavers: 10 points a figure. Can use an OM to move 4 of them 6 spaces each. Can use Scatter to move 2 of them 4 spaces each, multiple times per round. 4 defense. Disengagement means they can choose higher priority targets to screen etc.
  • Pukwudgies: 20 points a figure. Can move 3 figs each round without OM, 7 spaces each. 3 defense with 45% chance of total wound avoidance (equivalent of nearly 6 defense against a normal attack of 4). No disengagement.

Given 80 points, would you take 4 Pukwudgies or 2 squads of Deathreavers? Probably you’d choose the greater board control that you’d get with the Rats, but in some circumstances (limited start zones, more ranged heroes than squads, what else am I not thinking of?) the Puks would be a better choice.


And there you have it! We hope you learned something about custom design from seeing these different approaches and critiques. Stay tuned for the next installment of Parallax Design!
Total Comments 3


TheAverageFan's Avatar
Very cool concept! It's always interesting to see all the different takes various creators will have for the same sculpt. You guys should try out the monthly Custom Creation Contest Dr. Goomonkey has.

Posted August 4th, 2016 at 05:31 PM by TheAverageFan TheAverageFan is offline
flameslayer93's Avatar

This was a great find!
Posted October 25th, 2018 at 12:20 AM by flameslayer93 flameslayer93 is offline
superfrog's Avatar
Wow. Thanks to flameslayer for bumping this. I'd love to participate in one of these if the Codex staff ever feels like running another.
Posted October 26th, 2018 at 04:29 PM by superfrog superfrog is offline
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