Friday, June 15, 2012

Designer Diary: Dealing Damage in Space Hulk: XT

The first element of Space Hulk that drew my attention to its need of a revision was dealing combat damage. Admittedly, it is not difficult to remember that a Storm Bolter achieves a kill on a 6, the Assault Cannon on a 5+, and the Heavy Flamer on a 2+. In any edition, as far as the basic game is concerned, combat is relatively simple and straightforward. This very quickly becomes more convoluted as extra rules and expansions are added, however.

The core of Space Hulk first edition was designed around Genestealers, Terminators and Terminator Sergeants. Basic rules, and done, with no need for messing around. This worked admirably well, forming a core of simple gameplay that powered a smooth, squad-based tactical game. But then came new weapons… and new units for them to shoot at. Soon, this handful of numbers grew and expanded into page-long spreadsheets that had to be updated on a regular basis with every addition of new rules or weapons. To top this off, some of these official spreadsheets had editing errors. What had once been perfectly adequate groundwork for Space Hulk’s combat no longer fit the needs of the game as it should have.

This may sound familiar to you. Any old D&D players out there? Here’s a hint: THAC0. It worked perfectly well for a time, back when armor went from light (10) to heavy (0). As D&D grew, more items were added, and soon you had to deal with heavy, magical armor that went all the way down to -10. While there is nothing wrong with having to subtract a negative modifier from a die roll, it is not needed, either. All it did was make the game a bit more cumbersome. And so, with a slight update, Armor Class became an entirely positive number, that simply went up with enhancement. Same odds to hit, easy to convert from one to the other, but much more sensible for the direction the game had taken.

This is essentially what I have done in Space Hulk: XT for ranged combat. In first edition, you would need to view a chart to see that a Storm Bolter needs to roll a 6 to kill a Terminator, a 5 for a Tactical Marine, and a 4 to kill a Genestealer Hybrid. Every weapon you wanted to fire would be similar to this process. Instead of this, in Space Hulk: XT every model is assigned a Toughness value. When attempting to shoot a model, you will roll dice as determined by your weapon, add any modifiers, and compare it against the target’s toughness. Should you equal or exceed this value, you have scored a successful hit. So firing a Storm Bolter (2d6 attack, +0 damage) you would need to equal or beat a Terminator’s Toughness of 6, a Tac Marine’s 5, or a Hybrid’s 4. This means that the core gameplay will remain unchanged: the terminology applied just gets simpler.

Very few values do not fit within this altered rules structure. What few do not are weapons seldom used, or against targets that only rarely make an appearance (i.e. extremely specific things like an Autocannon fired against a marine at a range of 12 squares or less). As a tradeoff for these few differences that affect gameplay only slightly, the addition of new weapons and units becomes much simpler. Rather than adding a new unit and having to decide how each different weapon will affect it, one may simply assign an appropriate Toughness value based on the weapons already present in the game.

In summary: instead of looking at a chart to determine how a certain weapon will affect a certain model (on a Tuesday, if the sun is out, and you are wearing blue), you roll a die, add your weapon’s damage, and compare it to the target’s toughness. And done!


Coming on Monday: the conundrum of melee combat.


  1. Are you planning on simply re-writing rules, or are you trying to make a fully playable SH? As in, a print-and-play-with-your-own-stuff game?

    1. A full print-and-play version of the game would be inviting the wrath of the GW ban-hammer. However, Space Hulk: XT will consist of a fully playable rules set, all the counters, tokens and cards you will need, and the most extensive missions compilation for SH to date. Other bitz like alternate board sections may eventually find their way into the project too. Stay tuned and you may be happily surprised by the end result.