Saturday, 25 April 2009

Second Symphony, First... Movement

Tarot for the Day:
Two of Excuteria (Torches) - The Navigator
The path through darkness; the solution to the intractable problem; a passage to a new perspective.

It's nice and easy to start with movement.  For a start, it fits in nicely with the traditional "movement, shooting, combat" trinity of all wargames.  But it's also a good place to start, because it's the area of the rules that, in my opinion, needs the least work.

The division of movement into crawling, sneaking, walking, evading, running and sprinting (and, arguable, swimming and jumping) works well.  These are abstract "types" of movement that have a concrete interpretation both in terms of how far each movement travels, but also in terms of how each movement affects events surrounding the character.  The concrete interpretation, though, is fluid within each category of movement.  For example, in the existing rules, bionic limbs can add distance to movement.

I see this concrete interpretation being given even greater flexibility, dictated by the size and build of the character, his abilities and his equipment.  So a larger-than-man-sized character might well move one or even two yards further when moving at certain speeds.  A smaller character, such as a ratling, might well move a smaller distance.  I'll look at this in more detail in a few posts time when we come to discuss characters in detail.  Suffice to say that the old "run means 6 yards" definition will still apply in the main, but with much greater opportunity to add or subtract from the distance covered at all speeds.

But movement speed also affects things like how easy a character is to hit and how hard it is to do other things at the same time.  This is all good and I have no plans to change this.  One area where the current rules make allowance but in a very non-specific way is in the question of Awareness and that's something the new rules will tackle.

The faster a character moves, the less aware he becomes of what's around him and the more likely another character is to be aware of his existence.  This is already mentioned in the current rules, but without rules to cover the full range of eventualities.  I'll cover this in more detail when I talk about Awareness.

Another area of movement that I've really given a lot of attention to is terrain, and this links in closely with the question of stance and pose.  As they exist, the rules leave most interpretation of terrain and terrain effects to the GM to determine.  This is great, but I want to give the GMs more guidance on where and how to start thinking about the effects of terrain in a logical and consistent way that enhances the realism of the game.  And how a player interacts with terrain is very much dependent on the position his characters are in.  A character who's lying down will find it easier to hide behind low terrain.  A character who's standing up will find it easier to climb over high terrain.  So all of these things are getting robust, specific rules.  There's plenty of room left for GM's to come up with imaginative problems, but the question of how many Actions it will take a character to climb over a six-foot wall will now be answered precisely in the rules.

This was quite a short post.  My next one will be much longer, as I discuss shooting and all the various problems people have had with it over the years and how I hope to tackle that.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Step One...

Tarot for the day: 10 of Adeptio (Laurels) - the Agent - Responsibility, duty and the obligation to a higher power or great number of people.

I'm preparing the materials for the Ten4Ten event, New Secrets/Old Lies, which include a full pack of the Imperial Tarot.  So I thought I'd start prefacing my posts with a random draw.  Today's seemed appropriate for the task in question.

When I first sat down, almost two years ago now, with the idea of revamping Inquisitor, my expectation was that it would be a fairly quick, simple job: a few tweaks here, a clarification or two there.  In retrospect, it was a little bit like taking on the captaincy of a deep-space battleship (I would imagine!) on which one has served for a long time as a junior rating or officer.  As I walked the familiar corridors and inspected the drives that had carried me so far, I expected to find them more-or-less in decent nick.  The ship had, after all, carried me through a thousand engagements mostly unscathed.

Yet looking at it with the captain's eyes, I began, gradually, to see a different ship entirely.  This ship did not have the protection I thought my crew really deserved.  It's gunnery was powerful, but inflexible.  Its drives were reliable but lacked manoeuvrability.  Its organization was structured, but confused.  In short, it was not the ship I had imagined it to be.

Like many an inexperienced skipper, I began trying to handle one problem at a time.  But each time I fixed one perceived issue, another appeared or got worse.  As I firmed up the superstructure, the drives began to struggle.  As I overhauled the weaponry, I found that the mountings weren't strong enough.  As I called the Bridge to order, I found essential posts unmanned.

It took a few months, but eventually I made the executive decision that the noble ship Inquisitor had to head into dry dock, not merely for emergency repairs, as I had imagined, but for a full and comprehensive overhaul.

But, having said that, I was quite certain that I did not want a whole new ship.  The spirit of the ship was strong.  Its place in the fleet was unique and inviolable and, in any case, it had a respectable history that deserved to be respected.  I not only felt that she was  not ready for the scrapyard, but moreover that she was still a powerful and important vessel with much to offer, given the time and opportunity.

Abandoning my extended metaphor, then, Inquisitor needs more than just a few tweaks to bring it up to date.  It needs a complete service and a line-by-line, rule-by-rule analysis.  As a result, I can't give you a full breakdown of every rule change I anticipate making or every new idea that you'll find in Inquisitor 2.0, but I can give you a taste of some of the most important changes.

Pace is the speed that play occurs.  At the moment, well-informed players with a confident GM and about six models on the tabletop can bash out a game in 45-60 minutes.  I want this to reduce slightly, to perhaps 40-50 minuts.  But, more importantly, I want to clear some of the bottlenecks in the game that occured whenever someone says the words "full auto" or "charge" so that more of the original game time can be dedicated to more shooting and more combat and more death-defying leaps and heroic interventions.  Whilst making games quicker is something I definitely want, I am much more interested in giving the existing game-time more time for action.

This means focussing on those bottlenecks and slashing the number of dice-rolls.  So shooting and combat rules will be at the heart of the changes.  Other areas will also be affected, including Awareness, Psychology and Movement, but shooting and combat are where experienced players will, I think, see the most radical amendments.

One of the strengths of the original game is its flexibility.  Yet whilst you can perform almost any action (or try to, at any rate), other areas are laughably inflexible.  Those areas can be spotted easily by trying to see to what extent players have added to them over time: character archetypes, weapon profiles and abilities (especially psychic abilities) are the areas that most suffer from a lack of flexibility.  Certainly, a player can make up what he likes (and that's commendable) but I feel that in many cases, players are simply finetuning or adjusting existing rules rather than doing anything radically new.  The Core Rules, I feel, ought to possess the flexibility to give players reliable guidelines for their finetuning, leaving the new ground to be broken by those striking into truly fresh territory.

I've already hinted at the desire to increase the user-friendliness of the game when talking about the Vision.  Games of Inquisitor often look like elaborate board meetings, with paperwork all over the place.  This is less to do with the rules and more to do with how we lay them out and present them to the players.  Whether it's possible, I have no idea.  But I want to see players with at least three characters on one piece of paper, clipped to the front of their rulebook.  With summary sheets and an exhaustive index at the back of the rulebook, this should mean that one plastic folder should be all a player needs to have to hand to play Inquisitor 2.0.

Next time, I'll start to talk about the new rules in detail, starting with the skeleton mechanics, before moving on in subsequent posts to talk about the specifics.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

By the Authority of the God-Emperor...

In my last two posts I covered the origins of the Inquisitor 2.0 project and how I came to realize the extent of what was needed in the new rule-set.  So it's probably about time I introduced myself, set out my credentials and also let you into the Vision (can you hear that capital "V"?) for what Inquisitor 2.0 should ultimately be.

I like to describe myself as a "veteran", because "prematurely middle-aged" is too much of a mouthful.  But I'm a pretty typical English guy in my 30s, with a wife, two kids and no proper job.  So in that respect I fit really closely with the "game designer" archetype.  My improper jobs include author (Planetkill, The Willows Magazine (now defunct) and Afterburn SF), occasional artist and full-time miniature painter.  But before I did that, I served for seven years in the British Army and took a degree in Oriental Studies at Pembroke College, Oxford.

I have a recurring nightmare that I'm recalled to the Army and have to cut off my pony-tail.

But, more importantly, I've developed a strong background in game design, focused on the Inquisitor game.  My first major effort was the Secrets & Lies campaign, followed by articles for Fanatic magazine that included the Architecture of Hate campaign for Games Workshop (soon to be re-released on the new Specialist Games website) and others.  I was also a founder of (and still am the Features Editor of) Dark Magenta magazine where you can also find the Dark Fortress campaign.

Offline, I also founded the York Garrison wargaming club (and you can read my blog of the club's saga here) and the Inquisitor Grand Tournament (which really needs its own website...).  I play Warhammer 40,000, Warhammer Fantasy Battle, Battlefleet Gothic, Dark Heresy and am keen to have a few games of Legends of the Old West.  But there's only so many hours in a day.  My latest campaign event is New Secrets/Old Lies, a development of the Secrets & Lies system that will run-out at York Garrison's Ten4Ten day on Sat 23rd May 2009.

So, that's me.  I hope I've illustrated my geek credentials in sufficient depth.  Let's now cease with the navel-gazing and move on to the more-important message: the Vision.  This is what Inquisitor 2.0 is going to be when it's all done: not one book, but four.  Each book will exist as a separate PDF because you will want to bind them separately and refer to them at different times.

The Core Rules will be your constant companion at the tabletop.  Meticulously indexed and cross-referenced, rules should be easy to track and easy to understand with copious examples and illustrations.  The rules themselves will be broken into "basic" rules and "advanced" rules.  These divisions aren't a judgement on the players or GM, but rather a natural separate between the rules without which you cannot play the game (basic rules) and the rules you may or may not wish to include to add depth and detail to a game (advanced rules).  The main text of the Core Rules will incorporate all of the basic rules.  The advanced rules, then, will be separated off into sidebars on the outside edge of each page, next to the basic rules to which they adjunct.

For example, the rules for Risky Actions are advanced rules (you can play a game quite happily without them), so they are sidebarred next to the basic rules for Actions (you can't play the game without them).

The GM will be able to dip in and out of Advanced rules as and when he feels like it.

The second book, then, will be the Armoury.  There shouldn't be any need to refer to the Armoury in the course of a game because the rules for everything a character is using should be written on the character sheet or the player should know the rules for his own equipment without having to look it up.  But this is the book you will pore over when planning a campaign or designing a character.  Exactly how much armour does he have?  What does it weigh?  How will that affect his Actions?  Weapons in the armour are almost infinitely customizable and I'm certain that players will spend hours fine-tuning their main characters' equipment.  There's no "magic bullet" solution to give the perfect weapon.  Every upgrade has its price.  But there are certainly a few Easter eggs in the Armoury: combinations that deliver remarkable performance in the right circumstances.  Hunting these down should become a popular passtime.

The third book is the one you'll have by your bed or take into the toilet.  You'll be spilling your lunch on it or reading it when you should be doing something else.  This is the Dark Millennium.  The Warhammer 40,000 universe is constantly evolving.  Dark Heresy has pushed the boundaries further even that the original Inquisitor did.  And the 5th edition of Warhammer 40,000 has thrown lots of new ideas and inspiration onto the fire.  The Black Library is constantly pouring out new plots and with Rogue Trader on the horizon from Fantasy Flight Games it seems unlikely that this will stop any time soon.

The original Inquisitor was ground-breaking and Inquisitor 2.0 needs to be no less so in this respect.  So there'll be loads of new background, short fiction, wisdom and reports to wade through and dissect.  And, if I'm lucky, we may even be able to roll it out with a bag-load of brand new artwork.

Finally, there's the book that will sit by your modelling station or painting desk: the Hobby book.  The Inquisitor hobby is a close cousin of the rest of the 40k hobby, but is fundamentally a magpie activity.  Players of Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 are spoilt for choice when it comes to miniatures, conversions and terrain.  The Inquisitor range from Games Workshop is much smaller.  But the realms of possibility need to be opened up to those who think that a small range means reduced options.  So the Hobby section will not only look at the basic techniques of perparing and painting a model.  It will also have a detailed section on converting models and sculpting new parts, plus a long section on how to plunder the 28mm ranges from Games Workshop for exciting variations.  It will also feature photographs of dozens of models and collections from across the community.

That is the Vision.  I hope you can see, now, that it merits the capital "V".

Next time, I will start talking about the Core Rules: what was wrong, what's changing and why.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Some will ask "why?" Others, "why not?"

In my last post, I described how, through the combined efforts of game-players at the Conclave and, the Inquisitor game began to regain some of its early prominence.  The question therefore begs to be asked: why mess with a winning formula?

There are essentially two answers to that:

First, existing players of Inquisitor, as they pushed the rules to their limits across a thousand permutations of character and a thousand permutations of scenarios and campaigns, found that the rules as written were acting as limitations.  This shouldn't have been the problem it appeared to be.  The original designer of Inquisitor, Gav Thorpe, had always intended the rules to be a starting point for players to exploit in whatever direction their imaginations took them.  One of the great strengths of Inquisitor and probably its greatest appeal to veteran wargamers has always been that it allows them to do stuff that more restrictive rule-sets don't.  Leap dramatically from a ledge onto an opponent's head?  No problem!  Swing across a gap on a chain? whilst firing an automatic weapon at your pursuers?  Easy!

But whilst these options were open to (and exploited by) the players, there were aspects of the actual core rules left one restrained and constricted.  An obvious example is the mechanics for automatic and semi-automatic weapons: unleashing a storm of hot lead into a small area should have been a recipe for certain death.  And yet in most cases the rules would lead to one, perhaps two hits and the target doing nothing more satisfying than diving for cover.  Similarly, the rules for risky actions, elegant and simple though they undoubtedly were, also left room for deliberate manipulation that might not have been strictly in the spirit of the game but which were still, without question, tantalizingly obvious to the regular player.

So the players themselves thought the rules needed an overhaul.

The second reason for change lay with those who either had played Inquisitor once and not liked it or given up through lack of interest, or who had never played the game at all.  I did some research on a variety of veteran forums and discovered that Inquisitor had a serious image problem.

Many saw the rules-set as simply broken, with too many niggles and flaws.  Others saw it as a poor man's RPG that would be superceded by Dark Heresy.  Still others complained that it was neither fish nor fowl: an ungainly hybrid of RPG and skirmish wargame that failed to work fully as either.  Most, it has to be said, had either never heard of the game or, if they had seen it in passing, had never seen any reason to look closer.

So it wasn't just a rules revision that Inquisitor needed.  It was a complete image overhaul.  And, as I looked at the way we - the Inquisitor-playing community - were increasingly approaching the game, it became apparent that the game that Gav had written and the game the community was playing had diverged.  Whilst the rules were still valid - if flawed - the rest of the book (the sections on gameplay, campaigns and characters [and notorious Ready Reckoner]) and many of the subsequent articles (random character generators, experience system and campaign books) were completely out of step with what the players found worked best.

Hence, the realization gradually dawned that it wasn't time for Inquisitor 1.1 or even Inquisitor 1.5, but rather: Inquisitor 2.0.

And I decided - unilaterally and without really consulting anyone - that I would be the one to write it.  In my next post, I'll get to do my favourite thing: talk about myself.  I'll present my justification for having the lead on the project, what I've done since I started it and - most important to all of you, I'm sure - what my vision for the finished product will be.

The Battle for the Emperor's Soul

I need to start by giving due credit to Phil Sibbering for making the oblique suggestion that I start this blog.

Inquisitor was first launched into the public eye way back in 2001, when I was on tour with the RAMC in Bosnia.  It enjoyed the usual brief flurry of excitement that follows the release of a new game and then pretty much vanished below the surface.  By the time I got back to the UK, keen to get to grips with this new way of wargaming, the adrenaline was gone.  A few desultory articles hit the pages of White Dwarf and, briefly, we enjoyed the Indian Summer that was Exterminatus Magazine.  But, basically, the game had vanished.

I thought this was a great shame at the time.  I was attending a wargaming club in Camberley, Surrey, and managed to raise a brief excitement over a campaign played with 28mm models but, within a few weeks, it had essentially vanished once more.

And yet it had so much going for it.  It had action on a grand scale.  It had scope.  Most of all, it had a fantastic sense of story and drama: something I felt that the quest for "balance" had drained from most popular tabletop wargames, and which was largely the preserve of role-play games.  Now, there's nothing wrong with RPGs and, indeed, I'll make regular reference to these as this blog continues, I suspect.  But most of the action in an RPG happens in your head.  In Inquisitor, it happened right there, on the tabletop in front of you!

As time went on, I was happy to discover the Conclave.  This haven of sanity had preserved something of the interest in the game but, as I discovered, at that time the actual play of the game had given way to a circle of people writing communal background, stories and characters without any tabletop presence.

I can't take sole credit for the change, but I don't mind saying that I was one of a small group of people on the Conclave and the now-defunct who really wanted to see the game become something meaningful once more.  The first manifestation of this was the growth in people showing off their models: 54mm conversions and constructions especially designed for playing Inquisitor.  Next, there came a few, tentative battle reports and suggestions that in clubs and hobby stores, people were actually dusting off their rulebooks and once more grappling with the battle for the Emperor's Soul.  Then, back in about 2004, someone suggested meeting up at Warhammer World for a few games on the tables there.

That first meeting - I wasn't there - only gathered three or four players.  But it was the first of a process that would soon become a regular-but-informal schedule of such gatherings.  The numbers grew rapidly to 6, 9, 12 and beyond.  And it was out of these meetings that the impetus for Inquisitor 2.0 emerged.

I'll explain what the project hopes to achieve in my next post.