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Customs Creation - November 2016

Posted November 1st, 2016 at 03:15 PM by HS Codex

Where Rules Don’t Bend
Author: Scytale

Heroscape has a wonderfully simplistic ruleset, making it very easy to describe and understand. It is also a fairly robust system that allows for many kinds of special abilities that break those rules without making the whole system collapse. But that same simplicity can be a detriment—or at least a trap—making excited custom creators believe that literally anything is possible. The reality is that there are things the system really cannot handle, and many more that it cannot handle well.

This article is focused on traditional Heroscape and includes C3V and SoV. Other branches of Heroscape, including C3G and HoSS, have developed their own rulesets for abilities that stretch the normal rules in different ways. And, of course, your own personal customs are subject only to the rules you make for them. However, if you expect the greater HS community to accept your creations and use them in their own games, they need to play within the bounds of the defined rules. As both a C3V Editor and an SoV Judge, I can clearly state that both groups take this very seriously. We maintain an extensive checklist which every unit passes through; while I won’t attempt to speak to all of the points on it, this article will examine some of the problematic areas I see customs fall into most often.

As noted, special powers can break game rules in many different ways without collapsing the system. This works because the core of the game is simple and mostly unchangeable: a framework on which to hang lots of exceptions. Mess with that core, however, and you’re asking for trouble. The core of the Heroscape system is the concept of the "turn.” The order of turns, taking multiple turns in a row, and taking turns with some units instead of others are all examples of how rounds are modified, but all rely on the singular concept of a "turn.” Similarly, lots of powers take place during or between certain phases of a turn.

So what then, is a Heroscape "turn”? It is defined as a sequence of actions of an Army Card and its figures (move, attack, etc). Note that a squad of multiple figures does not take a turn for each figure—the turn encompasses all of them. There is no Heroscape concept of a "turn” of a single figure of a squad. This is easy enough to prove: powers like the Zombies of Morindan’s Horde Movement do not make sense if a turn means anything else. It’s also why powers like the Marro Hive’s Hive Mind is worded the way it is. Bottom line, when working with powers that give turns to other figures, be very careful about how you do so (or just avoid doing so and do something else).

Another pitfall along the same lines is a problematic area I like to call “turn stacking.” A careful examination of official Heroscape units tells a simple story when it comes to allowing a player to take multiple turns: no unit ever takes a turn in the middle of another unit’s turn. Bonding, for example, explicitly occurs “before taking a turn” with the bonding unit. Other powers give turns “after” or “instead of.” That is because doing otherwise opens the door to numerous problems. For example, do duration effects like Smoke Powder continue to work if another turn interrupts the current turn? More than that, though, it’s a slippery slope. If unit A’s turn is interrupted by unit B who takes a turn, which is interrupted by C who takes a turn, which is interrupted by B who takes a turn, which is interrupted by ... It doesn’t take many such powers to create a potentially deep stack of lots of units taking a turn concurrently. It’s a situation that the original designers wisely avoided, and so should we.

Doing actions outside of turns is dangerous as well. One very common one I see is for figures to be able to attack when it is not their turn. It seems like an obvious power for a leader-type figure to be able to order others to attack, so why didn’t classic Heroscape do that (especially for Mogrimm’s Commander’s Strike)? As you might guess, it causes problems. For one of the more obvious ones, powers like Smoke Powder which last “the duration of the targeting figure’s turn” don’t make any sense if the attacking figure isn’t currently taking a turn. It is worth, noting, though, that it is ok to create powers that give special movements outside of turns, as multiple official units already do so. Of course, that exposes the opposite problem: be very cautious when making abilities that trigger off of movement because movement can happen outside of turns.

Powers that increase the number of attack or defense dice rolled are very common, and some units also have powers that decrease an enemy figure’s attack or defense dice. When decreasing dice, obviously zero is the minimum number. This does beg the question of ordering, however. If a unit with 1 defense is within Raelin’s aura and is being attacked with a Soul Weapon, how many defense dice does it roll? The generally-accepted answer is “1,” because we normally calculate the total of all pluses and minuses and then apply the minimum of zero (although this is not explicitly spelled out in the rulebook, this is how everyone plays it). So the ordering of increases and decreases doesn’t matter. This is why powers that explicitly state a different minimum value are a bad idea: if one power has a different minimum value, ordering of powers suddenly matters. If a figure with 2 attack is affected by two powers, one that reduces its attack by 1 and another that reduces its attack by 1 to a minimum of 1, does that figure roll 1 or 0 dice? Depends on which power you apply first. Instead of creating new rules for the game, simply avoid powers that increase or attack or defense with maximum or minimum values (other than zero).

The last one I’d like to mention is the most subtle. I’ve seen numerous powers that trigger when a figure receives a wound “from an enemy figure.” There are lots of games that clarify which figure is the one doing the damage in any situation. Heroscape is not one of them. It is easy to assume that is always obvious since it almost always is, but that’s not how the game works. While it’s easy enough to contrive powers that make it unclear whether or not an enemy figure is doing the damage, there are two examples in Heroscape already: Knockback and Wannok. If one of your figures takes a wound due to the Glyph of Wannok, did the enemy figure do the damage or the glyph? If Shurrak sends a figure off a cliff with Knockback and it takes falling damage, did Shurrak inflict the damage or did the fall? There are other cases I can point to as well, such as Marro Plague that, while is it obvious the damage is due to an enemy, it is impossible to point out which figure caused the damage if the wounded figure is adjacent to multiple Marrden Hounds. It is ok to create powers that rely on knowing when that figure wounds another figure (Bloodlust does so, for example), but basing a power off knowing where wounds are coming from is dangerous territory.

A simple rule of thumb when it comes to pressing the rules: if the original designers avoided doing it, there may be a good reason for doing so. There are many, many rule-breaking interactions in Heroscape that need to be taken into account; so many that trying to work through each and every one is grueling. Keep the above core concepts in mind and you will avoid many of the more problematic cases I see designers fall into.
Total Comments 3


HS Codex's Avatar
No, we're not back. Not yet. We anticipate the hiatus lasting through December. We hope to be able to start back up fresh in January. We do however have some backup articles that have trickled in, as well as additional main articles. We will be posting these through November and December to tide you over until the grand re-re-launch.
Posted November 1st, 2016 at 03:17 PM by HS Codex HS Codex is offline
Sherman Davies's Avatar
Excellent piece, Scytale. I've always thought that if I were inclined to include any individual designer's customs into my personal Heroscape canon, they'd be yours.
Posted November 2nd, 2016 at 12:01 PM by Sherman Davies Sherman Davies is offline
flameslayer93's Avatar

Great piece, and I’m always glad to give it another read!

One note however, Wannok is the source or Wannok Damage. This is relevant for the Tagawa Samurai who’s experience markers are gained when they deal damage.
Posted May 31st, 2018 at 08:59 AM by flameslayer93 flameslayer93 is offline
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