D&D and Heroscape and doggone Howard Tayler

I am, as I have mentioned before, a great big raging nerd. In particular, I’m a gamer: I love playing games of every kind, including board games and roleplaying games and miniatures games. “What’s a miniatures game?” ask all of the non-geeks in the audience; well, I’ll tell you: a miniatures game is when you get a bunch of toy soldiers and spread them out on a table covered with little toy houses and trees and hills and such, and you fight a fake war. Yes, I play with dolls–but they’re manly dolls, with swords, and occasionally there are dragon dolls as well. There is nothing wrong with this.

One of my favorite games is a game called Heroscape, which combines all the coolness of a minis game with all the ease and simplicity of a board game. I got into Heroscape a couple of years ago when they made a superhero set, and it looked like a good way to introduce one of my more complex hobbies to my son, and it turned out that even at five years old he could grasp all the rules and play it and love it. This is awesome, because most minis games are so complex it takes a PhD in math to get your head around them. So: mission accomplished. But what surprised me about the game was that I kept wanting to play it with my regular game group, all grown men, and we loved it just as much as my son. It’s a great game with a surprising amount of depth, and I was really impressed.

Since then I’ve spent hundreds of dollars on the game, collecting vast armies and tons of plastic terrain pieces and having a grand old time. It really is a blast. And then the game was acquired by Wizards of the Coast, the company that makes Magic: The Gathering and Dungeons and Dragons and Axis & Allies, among several others, and they announced a new set of Heroscape based in the D&D world. As a fan of D&D, I was very excited, for a lot of reasons:

1) Heroscape as a game system is FAR superior to the D&D wargame (a minis game based on the roleplaying game), so this was a better use of their characters and monsters.

2) The pre-existing D&D minis game, while it didn’t have great rules, had hundreds and hundreds of awesome miniatures, so with some good designers to convert the stats they could produce legions of new Heroscape sets at a pretty rapid rate.

3) Heroscape scales very well between small skirmishes and large-scale battles, but it has never really dipped its toes into more story-based, scenario-based gaming, and a combination set with D&D was an ideal opportunity to do that. I was imagining something along the lines of Mage Knight Dungeons, an offshoot of a classic minis game, that took your wargame characters and let them explore dungeons and hunt for treasure and gain new levels and powers and all that good stuff, just like a mini-RPG.

So the set came out, and I had mixed feelings: the figures were great, and the character design was some of the best I’ve ever seen in Heroscape, but the story aspect was really missing. Instead of creating a new system for story-based adventures, they just created a handful of skirmish scenarios and overlaid them with a thin story, which still doesn’t work very well because they’re balanced for skirmish play, not for story play. The glorious game I had imagined, with tons of treasure and a levelling system and, if I could be so lucky, a campaign system that lets you keep your characters for multiple scenarios, was nowhere to be seen. I was very sad.

But! The character design was, as I said, awesome, and the backlog of existing miniatures was, as I’d hoped, allowing them to shoot out new sets at a very impressive rate. The first wave of expansions just came out, and I was discussing them with Howard Tayler, and he solved my problem with just a handful of very simple words:

“You want a story-based, character-based campaign system set in the world of D&D?” he said. “How about…D&D?”

“But the systems aren’t compatible,” I cried. “The rules are different, even the maps are different–one uses a square grid, and the other a hex grid. I don’t have time to convert them all.”

“They don’t need any conversion,” said Howard. “You can play an entire game with the Heroscape terrain and the D&D rules, and it works perfectly.”

And you know what? He’s right. Fourth Edition D&D is so close to a minis game already that you can essentially just drop them onto the Heroscape board and play it as normal, one-for-one, with no conversion necessary. This is AWESOME. I can’t stress how excited I am by this idea.

And I’m leaving town tomorrow, and I’ll be gone for a month, and I won’t get a chance to try it until I get back.

So thank you to Wizards, for combining two of my favorite games into an exciting hybrid of coolness that I can play together. And thanks a lot, Howard, for pointing this out to me right when I can’t do anything about it. I look forward to a month of anxious frustration; a month of dreaming and waiting; a month of obsession and desperation until finally I can come back and geek out and play with my new ideas.

Stupid Howard.

On the other hand, maybe I can get him to play with me….

11 Responses to “D&D and Heroscape and doggone Howard Tayler”

  1. Jayowen says:

    For some odd reason it occures to me that @WilW would like this game too.

  2. Alan Kellogg says:

    Actually, what D&D 4e shows us is an essential cowardice in the human soul. An existential sloth. Anything that is new and untried is not to be given an honest hearing, because it is untried and new.

    Roleplaying games have not been given an honest audition you get right down to it. Some, Ars Magica for example, give it a decent shot, but games like D&D fade in the face of ardent opposition on the part of people who insist the game has to be just like another kind of game.

    In short, WotC let themselves cave under pressure from a bunch of flap gummed fussbudgets.

    At the moment I’m going over the RPG Dangerous Journeys: Mythus and relearning some thing’s I’d forgotten. Namely, that Mythus is a game about living in a fantasy world, not a game about killing things and taking their stuff. If Lorraine Williams had only left well enough alone, how might the RPG hobby have turned out by now.

    Have fun in your game playing, and don’t be afraid to adapt incidents to story.

  3. Stephen says:

    I played Heroscape pretty heavily for about a year. Stopped about a year ago, a little frustrated, feeling the games weren’t different enough very often. I felt very much like it very often boiled down to a lucky d20 roll.

    For example, rolling an 18 with Braxis on the Silver Surfer could change the game quite dramatically.

    That said, bring it on!

  4. Stephen says:

    By the way, we created a few game types we thought were pretty fun. One was a “destroy the tower” game, where each team had a tower with about 10 hp and a defense of 4. First team to destroy the other’s tower wins.

    Or, there was the “power node” game type similar to onslaught in Unreal Tournament 2004.

    That gets back to another complaint of the game: between setup time, army picking, and gameplay, it always took 2-4 hours. I rarely have that much time on a Sunday night (which is when we usually get together to play games).

  5. Arlene says:

    I’m resisting the impulse to poke fun. Everyone has their past times, right? :)

  6. PJ says:

    Hey Dan, what’s your stand on Games Workshop stuff? Warhammer 40k in particular?

  7. Alan Kellogg says:

    Is Heroscape popular because it’s a good game, or because it’s a way to avoid socializing and using our imagination?

  8. admin says:

    Wow, Alan, you are a serious gloomy gus today.

    PJ: I quite like GW, and own two 40k armies, though it’s been ages since I’ve played (read: I haven’t played with hobby-grade minis since my children learned to walk). I’m mostly a Heroclix/Heroscape guy these days, but I did play the Warhammer MMO for a while.

  9. I was resisting the urge to mock you for switching over to the vastly inferior 4E and not making the switch to Pathfinder system like the rest of us hardcore gamers and then realized that I sounded to much like one of those guys that were still stuck on 1E or worse GURPS. I applaud you for figuring out how to meld to systems together HUZZAH!!!

  10. admin says:

    Actually, Derrick, we tried to switch to 4E and just couldn’t stand it. It’s a fantastic system for turned-based tactical combat, but our group really hated it for roleplaying. Ideally, it should be converted to a computer game, like a Final Fantasy Tactics kind of thing, but it has the potential to be a pretty good campaign skirmish minis game as well. We shall see.

  11. PJ says:

    Cool! Which races did you own? I’m currently Space Marines, but I’m leaning more and more to Guard armies (love those tanks).

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