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Customs Creation - January 2018

Posted January 22nd, 2018 at 04:00 AM by HS Codex

Customs Creation
Dripping with (Not Too Much!) Theme
Author: Scytale

Balance, theme, creativity, and playability are all key aspects of custom design. My previous article took a look at the aspect of balance. This article will examine how theme can—and should—affect a custom design, as well as the pitfall of becoming too enamored with it.

The original Heroscape designers decided that the theme they wanted for Heroscape was: “all themes!” Fantasy? Yep. Historical? Yes. Sci-fi? Definitely. It wouldn’t have to stop there either (though teddy bears and kitty cats might be stretching it from a classic canon perspective). Any warrior worthy of fighting on the battlefields of Valhalla is fair game.

That said, Heroscape usually sticks to tropes. For example, elves are nimble archers and magic users. While the game has its own take on some things, and breaks convention in some ways (such as a viking with a lizard arm, or a merciful war robot), such exceptions are relatively rare and should be used only with caution as they are likely to confuse people.

Custom designers often make the mistake of believing that theme is driven entirely by a unit’s name and its powers. There is no question that a unit’s abilities are a major part of its design and convey a great deal of theme, but it is a mistake to disregard the other aspects of a unit. Stats convey much more thematic information than you might realize, and not just the left-side ones. A high defense value has to mean something, be it thick armor, impressive agility, or high combat skill. A high movement value on a heavily armored figure either says a lot thematically or is a thematic failure. Be wary of sacrificing valuable theme to force synergy through class and personality values. Even point value carries with it some theme.

When it comes to the unit’s powers, yes, you definitely need to portray theme through them. But this is also a dangerous trap to be wary of; I have seen many potentially strong designs held back by stubbornly focusing on delivering theme through powers that were either mechanically troublesome or simply not valuable. The most important thing to remember when trying to deliver theme through powers is the mechanics, not the flair. If you want to create a custom hero that deftly teleports around the battlefield, what’s important isn’t having a complicated set of powers to manage that, it’s making a unit that feels like it deftly teleports around the battlefield. A simple design that lacks thematic excitement in its details can feel much more thematic if it actually plays as intended, as opposed to an involved design that captures the thematic details you desire but doesn’t play smoothly.

Theme is not more important than than balance, creativity, or playability, but it is not less important either. Trade-offs between theme and the other aspects often need to be made. When doing so, don’t hold a bias toward or against theme, but make the decision that is best for the unit. Keep these two things in mind when considering how to incorporate theme into a custom:
  1. Theme needs to flow through all aspects of the design: figure, name, general, stats, and powers.
  2. It is better for theme to come through when the unit is played than for it to simply appear on the card.
Total Comments 4


bmon's Avatar
Great article Scytale.

I really like how you summed it up in your two bullet points at the end. I think of a figure design like Syvarris. Such a simple design, yet the theme that comes out in the way he plays is very clear - a fast shooting, accurate archer. Strong theme inherent to its gameplay.
Posted January 22nd, 2018 at 03:02 PM by bmon bmon is offline
Tornado's Avatar
Point 2 is pure gold.
Posted January 22nd, 2018 at 06:29 PM by Tornado Tornado is offline
Sherman Davies's Avatar
Another great article, Scytale. That second bullet point is something a lot more customs designers should take to heart.
Posted January 27th, 2018 at 10:03 PM by Sherman Davies Sherman Davies is offline
Scytale's Avatar
Thanks for the kind words, guys. Feedback is so valuable for us Codex writers.
Posted January 30th, 2018 at 05:46 PM by Scytale Scytale is offline
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