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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
(I apologize in advance if this is in the wrong section, but I couldn't figure where else to put a home-brew)

Hello, everyone. I’d like to introduce a home-brew digital tabletop game I’ve been chipping away at called Hellstorm: Air Campaigns in the 41st Millennium.

What is it?

Hellstorm is an UNOFFICIAL game set in Games Workshop’s Warhammer 40,000 universe. Focusing on the prosecution of air campaigns on an operational and theater level, it combines the fast-paced nature of air warfare with the scope and scale it deserves. Whether it is eliminating enemy air defenses to clear a path for bombers on the way to level an enemy armored column, terror bombing Imperial cities with incendiary munitions in order to spread fear and panic, or supporting the assault of Titan legions against heavily fortified strongholds, Hellstorm seeks to build on the existing lore and explore the possibilities of aviation in the universe of 40k.

Several years ago, Forge World published a game called Aeronautica Imperialis. While sharing the same setting and general performance of aircraft in keeping with established lore, Hellstorm is NOT an expansion or addition to existing Aeronautica rules. Rather, significant differences cause it to become a different genre entirely. Individual playing pieces are no longer single aircraft but entire squadrons, platoons, and columns. The scale has been increased dramatically, allowing for the strategic use of airbases and mobile air defense networks in addition to aviation. Technology and therefore play styles vary dramatically, ranging from the almost contemporary technology of the Tau to the swarm mentality of the Tyranids.

What do you mean "Digital Tabletop?"

As an unofficial project with no backing or affiliation from Games Workshop, Hellstorm is to be designed first and foremost as a digital, shared-screen game, using its own rules and custom playing pieces. While enterprising individuals may find ways of translating it onto a physical tabletop, the Hellstorm development team will never sanction or promote such actions. This is done for two key reasons:

First and foremost, Games Workshop’s intellectual property is at stake. Clear distinctions must be made to guarantee that Hellstorm is a derivative work rather than a modification of existing products, particularly Aeronautica Imperialis. As such, Hellstorm exists at GW’s leisure, and it is imperative that no significant challenge to their authority is created. Hellstorm will never be distributed in any official capacity outside of basic file hosting, nor will any form of monetary compensation be expected or accepted for its production. All of this is in compliance with GW’s current Intellectual Property Policy as stated on their website.

(It should be noted that if something is called “Hellstorm Official,” it does NOT imply the involvement of Games Workshop, but is only something created and approved by the Hellstorm development team. I would love it if GW actually took up the idea, but until such time as they do, Hellstorm will suffice as a free-to-play project.)

Second, it is difficult enough finding enough players in close proximity to play such games, and so the digital format, with implied use of the internet, is also a key design component. Hellstorm’s ease of access is meant to maximize player enjoyment, especially for those who are unable to play tabletop games due to location, time and financial constraints.

How does it work?

Currently, the intended platform is Google Draw, which combines the necessary features of object manipulation with real-time shared-screen capability. Hellstorm’s format will therefore be a simple compressed file containing transparent graphics. These are imported into Google Draw as required. Dice rolls and random chance are accomplished through the use of online number generators such as Random.org.

What's the objective?

In the end, the design philosophy for Hellstorm is as follows:

To combine existing Warhammer 40,000 lore with knowledge of contemporary military aviation to create an operational-level air campaign wargame, balancing simplified game mechanics with the unique and varied weapons systems of the universe, in an effort to make a fun, fast-paced, and demanding representation of futuristic air warfare across an entire front.

To these ends, some artistic liberties will come into effect, primarily in regards to technology: Stand-off weapons and electronic warfare will be added on a faction-by-faction basis. The firing ranges of rifles and cannons in the original 40k game will be comparable to the ranges of lasers and missiles, creating observable differences in the play styles of each faction using this scale. Special abilities will also come into play, guaranteeing that even the best air-to-air missiles can be countered.

Because of the scope, the sky is literally the limit: Whether you want to fight a single air battle between a handful of squadrons or fight across an entire continent for hours on end, Hellstorm has provisions for every conceivable mission profile. Get stormtroopers in dropships safely behind enemy lines, or invade a planet using space cruisers as untouchable airbases. The choice is yours.

How does it look right now?

Currently, Hellstorm is in the pre-production phase. The intention is to round off at least 3 factions in both aircraft and land units before openly publishing it as the “1st Edition.” Subsequent editions will eventually include all additional races, and as many land units as deemed reasonable for scenarios.

In addition, “expansions” are planned which will include paint schemes for units, rules for special/elite squadrons, and ideas for scenarios and campaigns, all in the best traditions of tabletop wargaming.

This is currently a team of one. I’m completely willing to do most of the heavy lifting in terms of both artwork and game mechanics, but I cannot play-test by myself, nor will I have the time to generate extra content such as scenario ideas on a regular basis. As such, I’m currently looking for people to act as alpha-testers to gauge this in its proof-of-concept stage.

If anyone is interested and willing to take part in this, please contact me via Skype at “quattro.bajeena77” or reply in this topic.

72 Posts
Discussion Starter · #2 ·
Update #1 - Game Tools

It's been an arduous process, but I'm finally nailing down the "engine" that Hellstorm will be working on: Google Drawing.

Those of you who are most accustomed to online RPGs and tabletop will no doubt start rolling in laughter, but do not take this decision for an uneducated one. From the earliest stage where it was to be screen-sharing using Adobe Flash, I've done quite a bit of research into a myriad of tools I never knew existed: Vassal, Maptool and Roll20 were but a few. All of them had remarkable capabilities, right up to the potential of seamless net-play with hard-coded rules and mechanics.

They did not appeal to me for various reasons, the first and foremost being Accessibility. If Hellstorm is to be tried at all, it will not be by players who have the gumption to fight through broken code and squirrely networks to do it. Google Drawing allows brand new players to simply register/log in with a gmail account and instantly get cracking, with no requirements for downloads, installations or server hosting. Games can be saved and loaded in-progress on Google drive, making it a simple matter to load previously created or mid-game scenarios on the fly.

Secondly, Hellstorm requires very fluid motion and total control. This places demands on a player's coordination of pieces on the field, much like Battlefleet Gothic, and therefore adds an element of "physical" skill in addition to general tactics. Google Drawing allows you to rotate objects to within a tenth of a degree, with the ability to "aim" towards other objects on the screen by dragging the mouse, all while it actively tracks the "nose position" of every object no longer selected. To say that this is ideal is an understatement, since all it's lacking is the measurement, easily accomplished with the in-game ruler.

And third: You can upload massive satellite images of terrain and zoom out to a significant degree, allowing both a relatively high quality of playing pieces and a decent enough backdrop to play on. For that matter, any backdrop at all will do: Just load it up and expand it like mad. The quality may start suffering when zoomed in too far, but that's a small price to pay.

There are, of course, a handful of issues, none of them too critical for those with a hint of patience. First and foremost is the inability to "lock" images or set them to untouchable layers: Backgrounds can be pushed to the absolute back, but clicking on them anywhere except when pieces are above them results in its selection. Luckily ground objects in Hellstorm are placed independently on a scenario-by-scenario basis, and so any accidental shifting of the scenery does not impact the game... the "undo" button is nice too.

Another glaring issue, probably the worst offender, is the inability to make playing pieces with detection/engagement rings already surrounding them. Google Drawing's "oval" tool does not seem capable of making a perfect circle by default, and the added grief of making new circle sizes and colors for every game would be a pain. Meanwhile, Flash is unable to produce images larger than 2880x2880 pixels, preventing me from keeping the pieces (and their detail) large enough yet still maintaining the range circles required. This can be fixed by simply resizing independent range circles and aligning them with these units.

... Which brings me to the third issue, which is less critical but still bothersome: At some point, Google Drawing fails to import images to consistent scales. While aircraft and all objects generally below 500x500px hold true, attempts to import an in-game 30" ruler resulted in the image being shrunk. Luckily, Hellstorm is already designed such that the standard playing piece is 2" in diameter, or 1" in radius, meaning a simple calibration of the first ruler placed down is all that is needed: duplicate rulers, and duplicate range circles, are a simple matter once their initial "calibration" has been completed.

All of this did, however, demand a slight change in design philosophy: Previously, the standard aircraft size of 2" was reserved for all light aircraft such as fighters. Larger pieces were to make referencing bombers easier, although this would also increase their "clout" and hit-detection radius. But since the game scale did not change, it would be wrong to calibrate rulers on them. Moreover, it also hampered the most no-nonsense tool Google Drawing provided: The capacity to see where you are moving something before the object has moved. Combined with corner and 1/2 marks, this allows for rapid movement of pieces along a chosen axis so long as the diameter of the piece remains a constant 2".

Google Drawing also has the delightful capacity to use a bizarre collection of non-standard fonts, several of which are very appropriate for the setting and help to differentiate between factions on the map. I was anticipating a very limited variety, and the need to create images for all of these labels required by the game, but this makes the process totally painless, and even customizable: Who needs to wait for me to publish a picture saying "Blood Pact 3rd Mechanized Corps" when you can just type it yourself, AND make it spikey!


Stay tuned for future updates. The Imperial Navy roster is almost complete, including playing pieces, requiring only a few transports for completeness. These will be given to the PDF as needed. After that, they only need enough land units to justify various scenarios, and 2 factions will be complete.

I'm already started musing about a "tutorial campaign" involving the Imperial Navy putting down a rebellion on a haughty world. But that will have to wait for the rulebook to be finalized and whatnot.

Those of you who would like to join up are still free to contact me based on the contact information in the opening post.

72 Posts
Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Update #2 - Airbases

It's clear by now that the scale of Hellstorm requires the judicious use of airbases to make the game playable. Here's a minor update dealing with how the most basic form of airbase functions. We'll use a base belonging to the Imperial Navy and its PDF equivalents.

For starters, airbases are modular in nature. Aside from a colored "plate" indicating what faction it belongs to, the contents of a base are variable based on both the scenario and/or player preferences. Rather than having a single type of airbase, players are often given free reign to mete out their starting points for the creation of airbases of all kinds.

For a squadron-level game, this makes little sense. But when compared to Hellstorm's scale, it becomes something of critical importance: The placement and capacity of one's bases determines the effective combat radius and reaction time of the entire air force. If one were to "place all of their eggs in one basket" and use a single location loaded to the gills with air defenses, they may be lulled into a false sense of complacency in that their one stronghold is easily defensible. While this may be true, it also makes their entire force very immobile: Not only are there no forward bases to leapfrog shorter-ranged units and recover battle-weary fighters, but the enemy will know precisely where all of your assets will launch. Unless your airbase is the only target you must defend, you are at a distinct disadvantage.

That said, the pieces that go into an airbase are certainly worth discussing. Like land units, airbases can have attachments in the form of "triple-A" (anti-aircraft artillery) and SAM sites (surface-to-air missiles). But the real guts of a base are its facilities for servicing and managing aircraft. These boil down to Launch Pads, Runways and Control Towers.

Launch pads are the most common analogue between all of the factions: It approximates any dispersal area used to launch, receive and service aircraft with VTOL capability. Tyranids may have nests, Orks may have tactically placed bitz piles, but the Imperium uses good ol' fashioned pads. A single pad can launch or receive an entire squadron within a single turn; On launch, they appear at minimum altitude just off the side, meaning they are initially vulnerable.

Runways, meanwhile, are a kind of anachronism. In my mind's eye, runways in the 41st millennium are made of a rubbery or plastic substance which is capable of sliding the skids of most Imperial aircraft like they were wheels. While the PDF uses a number of aircraft that actually have wheels, most factions have no such need of a take-off and landing roll so long as their VTOL capabilities are functional. The exceptions arise when aircraft are heavily overloaded and unable to take off using VTOL, or when they run out of fuel and must glide to their recovery at a runway. Runways are, therefore, a nice thing to have in case of emergencies, but are critical only for a few factions. Since stretches of runway can effectively function as launch pads, runways are composed of at least one pad: The longer the runway, the more pads it has. When all of the pads are destroyed, the runway is considered to be put out of action.

Lastly, the control tower is the brains of the outfit. Without its guidance, operations on a base become convoluted in the best cases, and flat out dangerous in poor weather or in the middle of combat. Every base must have a tower: Its destruction hampers operations by doubling the time it takes to service and launch aircraft. If an airbase with one pad lost its tower, it would take 10 turns instead of 5 to fully rearm and refuel landed squadrons, and would take 2 turns to launch a squadron; it would appear on the game board but for 2 turns while waiting to sortie, making it an easy target. Likewise, aircraft that were trying to land would have to wait twice as long, potentially causing crashes due to a lack of fuel. As can be seen, this makes for a specific kind of target that can "strangle" enemy bases without incurring the large costs of bombarding the entire installation flat. For this reason, the Imperium of Man isn't about to play games: All of its towers are heavily reinforced bunkers.

All of these components and attachments can be targeted individually depending on the objectives. An optional rule exists which allows attacking forces to target grounded aircraft, although some might consider it unfair. I am also musing over the inclusion of Imperial quick-launch ramps to allow squadrons instant action after launch, as well as a "camouflage" option that allows very small bases (such as those with only one pad) to totally avoid air assault at the price of being so limited in capacity. Both would cost additional points just like the rest of the airbase components.

While other factions will have their own graphics and terms, these standards will remain fundamentally the same. Nuances will appear on a case by case basis: Already I can imagine Tyranid hives and Ork bitz piles being outrageously cheap, even if fragile, and Necrons having a single "aircraft pool" that has no fixed location but uses "portals" in the place of pads to launch onto the map. But these issues remain for another day. Imperial methods are the most straightforward, and so they will be used for the initial playtesting and tutorial scenarios.

72 Posts
Discussion Starter · #4 · (Edited)
Update #3 - "The Equipment Stable"

Nope. Silly fan project is not dead. Sorry to disappoint.

I figured at this point folks would rather just see the juicy stuff and so I'll drop the hammer on it:

This is currently the "master sheet" which has all pieces properly scaled to each other for the game (zoomed out of course). Naturally bombers and other large units get a bit crunched within their bases, but in the interests of fairness and simplicity of rules, they were standardized... and if I made them to scale with each other, stuff would get Big, but that's 40k for you.

First I'll address art direction. The whole point of Hellstorm was to make it an ongoing hobby-like system where units could be "painted" and "upgraded" as desired. Realizing that most people don't use the program I am, and that "pixel-pushing," while possible, is an arcane and bewildering art, I opted for the next best thing: "official" releases of repainted/upgraded units, either for aesthetics or as elite units with unique characteristics.

To do this, I had to make the playing pieces as "vanilla" as possible while retaining some way of further modifying them. Since my expertise is in vector art, and vector art can use layers, it was a straightforward decision to make initial "base" pictures (like unpainted models) which could then add shadowing/reflective tints to whatever camouflage paint, unit markings, spikes, skulls, orky paint, Eldar runes, Tyranid flesh pustules... you get the picture.

As for getting the pictures themselves, it got a bit tricky. There is no lack of 40k art, but it runs a bit thin in the aviation field, and when it comes to the perspective/breadth required for Hellstorm, it was virtually barren. At first I was doing free-hand vector art of aircraft models, trying to take oblique angles and turn them into flat, top-down views. Proportions, details and all sorts of things harassed me at every turn due to the surprisingly intricate nature of some of these aircraft, despite how flat they appeared. While pressing through each aircraft, I eventually ran across a source of isometric views from FW publications. While of terribly poor quality, text virtually illegible, bending and curving pages ruining lines, etc. they did allow me to refine my artwork to a very great degree... but by that point I had power-housed through half the fleet: I had just begun working on Chaos aircraft, and the resulting jump in quality (no thanks to all 'dems pointy bitz) was staggering, especially compared to that poor Marauder bomber which was my very first attempt. Since it would be extremely tedious to backpedal on things I've already done, I opted for a middle ground where pictures are clearly vector art, almost cartoon-ish, but have sufficient details to warrant their use in a game. Their customizability, while not critical in getting the game out there, is still a built-in feature which should pay dividends later on: I won't "abandon" factions that I've already rounded off when releasing newer editions.

Either way, if you take your good ol' fashioned Leman Russ, you can see the level of detail when blown up. The picture to the left, 200x200 pixels, is the standard size for gameplay, meaning zooming in farther would pixelate the image during use.

Gets the job done, like a Leman Russ should. Even has those empty plugs for sponsons, but I digress.

Moving on, the studious observer will notice the differently colored arrows indicating nose position on all the playing pieces. This moves into the second area I wanted to bring up: Unit classes.

Now to be fair, there is no such thing as a "hard counter" system in Hellstorm. Like in real life, and in 40k fluff, one man's fighter is another man's attacker, and one man's attacker is another man's turkey shoot. Still, as a byproduct of shrinking the images of aircraft to fit within required boundaries, it occurred to me that a quick reference was needed to determine what threats were being dealt with. The classes are predictable, and color-coded based on the "threat" of each:

Red is for Fighters. Naturally Fighters are primarily meant for dogfighting and lobbing air-to-air missiles, but it's always possible for them to lug around some mud-pounding ordnance and do the occasional strafing run. Few games of Hellstorm could pass without a couple of fighter squadrons. One distinction which is not shown via color is the "Heavy" fighter. Each class will have a "heavy" analogue which simply indicates that it's slightly more/less effective at other roles than the lighter counterparts. Heavy fighters have increased range and ammunition reserves, but are often slower and less maneuverable. Normal fighters are therefore comparable to "interceptors" instead.

Orange is for Attackers. These aircraft are the middle ground between multi-role fighters and pure-bred bombers. The distinction comes in the form of increased strafing ordnance and more dogfighting capability than your average bomber. The Avenger "strike fighter" is considered an Attacker; it is very clearly an analogue to the A-10 Warthog, and while it's better in a knife fight than a Marauder, it's no Thunderbolt. Heavy attackers are likewise even better at strafing and have increased range, but at a deficit of dogfighting ability. The Marauder Destroyer is the perfect archetype for this.

Yellow is for Bombers. Some may still retain the ability to strafe, and defensive weapons will be present in abundance, but the primary role of bombers is to drop more ordnance on target in one salvo than any other class. Slow, lumbering, and despite all of their armor, hitpoints and heavy bolters, they are targets without suitable escort (or an absurd and overwhelming numeric advantage!) Heavy bombers are much more resilient and are practically flying fortresses, but are extremely expensive and can be swarmed just as easily. A Marauder is considered a regular bomber, while the Chaos Harbinger is your given heavy version.

Lastly, White is for Transports. Any squadron that can airlift men and materiel during campaigns is given that white pointer. That said, there is a distinction to be made here: Gunships. Some aircraft are meant to support the troopers they just dropped, and so will have air-to-ground ordnance to these ends. Regular transports, however, will often be unarmed and purely mission-oriented. The Valkyrie is a good example of a gunship, with a Thunderhawk as the heavy analogue. Meanwhile an Arvus or Aquila might be considered a transport, while the heavy Onero would be that counterpart.

Land units have these distinctions as well, but it is difficult to mistake a Guardsman for a tank or a SAM battery, so no such markings were included. There are differences between "soft" and "hard" targets, which matters when you need to choose your payloads wisely, but they are very straightforward: A t-shirt is not going to require a lascanon, and a stubber isn't going to cut through a rockcrete bunker.

The actual numbers behind these various units are still in flux. Currently I have them shaped by "feel" and according to fluff numbers available on the internet. However, I must still develop a formula determining the point values of each unit for gameplay balance, and ultimately playtesting is the only reliable way of sorting out the kinks. One step at a time though. More will be on that in the next update.

As for some of the aircraft and vehicles on there that don't look "right" or aren't familiar, don't worry: They aren't.

My aviation background let me read Dan Abnett's Double Eagle in a very critical and scathing light. While there is much to be desired from it in my opinion, one of the things it successfully brought up were second-line, non-Navy air forces and support units such as transports. Many of these units were named, but few were described in any detail, and the one that was (the Wolfcub) sounded like a shameless knockoff of an He-162. Some folks around the internet have already tried to portray these and other unseen vehicles, but I felt I had license here, so I worked them into fluff to the best of my knowledge.

The design of second-line units was the primary consideration: They didn't use thrust-vectored VTOL like Navy aircraft. They had wheels. They were "conventional" by our standards. But that doesn't necessarily mean that they were primitive. It's a staple of 40k that STC bits and pieces have been cobbled together into new forms. It's also a staple that many worlds have their own variants or even cheap knock-offs of existing designs. With all of this in mind, and with vague pointers from Dan's novel, I set out to make a brand new fleet.

First, all PDF aircraft were roughly standardized knockoffs of existing designs. My K3 "Wolf" fighter is clearly based on the Thunderbolt, with redefined airfoils for efficiency and with a trio of "pulse-jet" engines for the sake of keeping pace with more advanced equipment. Plausible deniability was the focus here: Dan's "K3T Wolfcub" becomes a grossly underpowered training variant of this design, pressed into service due to the stresses of that war. The Magog bomber, described only as a four-engine prop, seemed awfully anachronistic, so I gave it a purpose: First, it's a knockoff of the Marauder design. Second, its engines are mounted in standardized "pods" which are equipped on other aircraft. And Third, although much slower, it carries a heavier bomb load than the Marauder, becoming a "heavy" variant. The engine pods factored into the "delta-wing" Cyclone, which served no functional purpose as a fighter in the novel, but would have made a great and very economical attack aircraft... which is precisely what I turned it into. Meanwhile the "six-engined superheavy transport of the Onero-pattern" was described by some fans as being like a large, trans-atmospheric heavy lifter... and yet it's seen used to casually ferry fuel to units in the field. I opted to turn it into an elongated Marauder variant with external cargo pods for good measure, cobbled together with a few other aircraft components. The PDF get their own version based on the Magog.

Second, 40k air combat lore is decidedly lacking in the "sense" department even by 40k standards. Equipment that is only vaguely touched on has all of the potential to fulfill my purposes, and yet falls flat when any hard numbers are provided. The most powerful SAM weapon the Imperium has, namely the Manticore launcher, had an absolutely pathetic range of 30km. In air combat terms this is Diddly Squat. Simply increasing the range out of all proportion to this didn't seem appropriate given the Manticore's size and in-lore role, and so I needed a new system for long range and high-altitude bomber interceptions (a cursory glance at modern SAM systems will break these "classes" of SAMs down very rapidly). Lacking one, I made one: A Deathstrike missile launcher suddenly seems a lot more useful when it's launching an engorged Manticore missile over twice the distance (when the distance has been upped to hundreds of kilometers). It would also make sense that PDFs don't get their hands on such a thing very often, either.

Lastly, the technical quandary in terms of sensors was also brutal. "Auspexes" on aircraft were always described as giving raw returns and over ludicrous and wildly variable distances, one minute seeing a wave of bombers over a thousand kilometers away (practically over the horizon) and the next just barely picking up a squadron merely 3000 meters lower when it was a bare 12km away. Auspex always struck me as a "passive" detection system, like IR or EOS, picking up emissions rather than bouncing emissions back. This makes sense for dogfighting, but it needs more "teeth" to be viable. In steps Dan Abnett's "Modar," which I had to define myself as "Multi-Operation Detection and Ranging." Whereas auspex is passive and short-range, MODAR is active (bouncing various emissions off of targets) and much longer range. Since all combat aircraft can operate without it, and since MODAR only appeared in big installations on the ground, I decided to make it a force multiplier: MODAR returns are transmitted to targeting computers, burning through light electronic and atmospheric interference, increasing automated weapon accuracy, and ultimately allowing you to hit targets harder. MODAR becomes a defensive tool for the Imperium, making it a viable gameplay mechanic that can be countered and even abused by cunning opponents. Now designing that MODAR left me in a massive pickle because it showed up everywhere from hastily erected field-towers to ornate gothic-style cathedrals with "a multitude of radials protruding between the spires." For the sake of getting Hellstorm anywhere (since gothic architecture would kill me) I opted for a good ol' fashioned standardized bunker complex. PDF forces get a slightly less fancy and less efficient one. Problem solved.

All in all, I'm trying to make Hellstorm both coherent and unique. One of my objectives was to clear the gaps and inconsistencies in existing 40k lore (ones which were not closed at all by Aeronautica Imperialis), and so far it seems to be working out quite nicely. But that's not for me to decide: As always, do feel free to pitch in with questions, suggestions, comments and (Emperor willing) a desire to playtest!
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