Thursday, February 27, 2020

Play Test Report

I play tested the rules about multiple actions. I am trying out something that’s quite the departure for me; as a bug, you get a number of attacks each round equal to your level. Predators don’t get this benefit.

I created a level 5 red ant ranger and had him go off in search of an assassin bug who was holed up in a hut. There were four guards out front of the hut, four gnats who were keeping watch. My ranger, Nix, made is sneak check easily, and got within range. With his scope, he has a range of 8, so he was able to target them from 8 cm. He got five attacks, and hit with four of five shots, taking out all five gnats with surprise.

This got the attention of the assassin bug, who returned fire. They both had light cover, so the two exchanged several gunshots for a few rounds, but Nix was clearly superior. He took 14 points of damage out of his 50 hit points during the fight.

However, the gunfire attracted a tree frog, that attacked with surprise at the end of the round. This combat was a lot of fun; Nix got a few shots off before the frog hit him with a tongue strike and started dealing automatic bite damage. His weapon jammed and then he dropped it (with a series of 1s) and he had to pull out his survival knife. He started hacking at the frog, and ended up finishing it with 11 hit points left.

I really liked the multiple attacks per round, even for enemies. I like that a single powerful foe can fight an entire team at once; a level 3 bug can fire three times per round, giving him a lot of versatility in selecting targets.

I also like that there is a different ‘feel’ to the game between battling other bugs and predators. Other bugs pepper you with many small attacks, whereas predators are slower, but when they hit it packs a wallop.

I feel like damage doesn’t ramp up as much in this game as in the fantasy and supers games, so having the number of attacks increase offsets this. I like the subtle way that combat ‘feels’ different for this game rather than the fantasy game. It plays very fast. 

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Let's Talk Scale

One of the challenges I have always run into when designing RPGs around the ants is the idea of scale. One of the strengths of the setting is the scale - the idea that everything is happening in measurements of millimeters. This works in the smallest increments; it makes sense to have the ant heights in mm instead of feet - so a cm becomes the rough equivalent of ten feet which is great for ranges and distances in combat. It’s actually a pretty clean conversion from human to ant scale in this way.

However, it breaks down when we start talking about travel, flight, and vehicle speeds. Because the scale is millimeters, this also means that a meter is the rough stand-in for a mile (very rough, because it is actually about one sixth of a mile - making it quite a bit off). Since a wasp can fly about 40 kilometers per hour, we end up in trouble - that wasp can travel 40,000 meters per hour, making it as fast as superman within the game scale. In effect, the game world (which is maybe a few hundred meters across) is easily traversed in a short time by many insects. I always feel like I need to make the game world bigger.

However, I had not also considered the similar scale compression of time. An insect doesn’t live long. A red ant can live for 2-5 years, so a year is roughly two decades to the ants - and some other insects have much shorter life spans. In this compression, a month is two years, meaning a week is six months, a day is a month, and an hour is a day. A human lives an average of 70 years, so 70 x 365 = 27,375 days. An ant lives an average of 3 years x 365 days x 24 hours = 26,280 hours. So, in ant scale, an hour is equal to a day. Giving a speed in meters per hour may as well be giving that speed in meters per day. It would be ridiculous for us to give speed in miles per day; I am going 1500 miles per day! That sounds fast - it’s just normal highway speed. The default distance has been changed to the millimeter; the default time has to be changed to the minute. The one-minute turn is not only the default measure of game time; it is the default measure of insect world time as well. 

Back to our wasp. He can fly 40,000 meters per hour, so he flies 650 meters per turn. It’s still fast, but at this scale it sounds like helicopter fast, not superman fast. According to Google, an ant can walk 3 inches per second, so that’s about 7 cm per second, or 420 cm per minute. An ant can walk 4 meters in one minute. So, with a move of 4, you can travel 4 meters in one turn. However, 4 cm in a round (one second) is actually a little on the slow side; an ant should be able to move twice that in one round pretty easily.

What if the default setting of a round is that an ant gets two actions? More? What if a creature gets a number of actions equal to its level? Dang… a level 6 bug gets 6 actions per round? That seems crazy… but it’s also aligned with the source material. In action movies, the hero is taking five or six attacks to the mook’s one. This means that winning initiative, especially at higher levels, becomes vital. 

However, it also means that at higher levels you should have abilities to neutralize enemy attacks, automatically block, or to do some damage reduction. At higher level, you are going to have to get your opponent to exhaust a variety of resources in order to start landing your good shots. Against minions, you can mow down squadrons in short order; against an enemy commando, you are going to have to get past his luck, his tenacity, and his cool under fire in order to start hitting him.

Time for some play testing!

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Army Ants: Twilight

I've been working on this project for a bit now, and it's nearing completion. I'll be rolling out a promotion in March (my tentative release date is March 1st), but I wanted to talk through some design things as I solve the mechanical challenges of the game. I suppose I'll start with how this is different from or a reaction to the other MTDAA games, and what the plan might look like going forward.

First of all, this is not another re-release of the same game setting. My previous four MTDAA games have all been set in the same fundamental time period - the height of the Ant/Wasp War. For this game, I'm moving the time frame forward a few months, to the aftermath of the war, and the Twilight of the Ant Confederacy. 

My most recent games have been throwbacks, where the central design question has been 'what if I used the B/X engine as I have interpreted it, but applied it to some of the most influential games of the early 80s'? I've answered that question for D+D, for MSH, and now for Twilight 2000...

I never actually played (or owned) T2000, but my friends were fascinated by ads for it, and my first rpg designs (as I've written about several times) were how I assumed that game would work. Those games were messy and quirky and all over the place, but man did we have fun. So that's where Army Ants: Twilight begins: what if I was the designer of T2000 in 1984? Alternatively, what if I was to design the GI Joe RPG that the world needed so desperately but never received? I mean, my childhood would have been complete with an actual GI Joe RPG.

This game is also going to be fundamentally different from other games in this way: I'm borrowing the model that I was developing (and lost steam for) for Sentinels of Echo City and the Stalwart Age... the book is both an ongoing narrative and an RPG. In this case, the narrative does not support the RPG, and the RPG does not support the narrative; they are inextricably linked. The narrative is shifting from comics (where the story has been old to this point) to prose. I think it will make sense as it moves forward, but that's the plan. Finally, the plan is to have the books be in full color. I want these to reflect the best visual design work I can muster, while still being similar in organization and tone to my other recent releases.

Here's the cover design...


Sunday, December 1, 2019

Ant Warden

So, let's do an update!

I submitted my dissertation draft on Tuesday night, meaning that (for the first time in three and a half years) I don't have anything I HAVE to do. I have literally had this massive project hanging over my head for about 1000 days. Any creative work I've been able to eke out in that time has been only to get away from the huge project that loomed. 

Now, it's done. It may need some revisions and a few tweaks, but I am very confident that about 90 days from now, I'll be Doctor Desing.

I'm pretty excited.

But I also felt something like a floodgate open in my head. Stuff that has been long percolating in there started to spill through. The first two pages of a new project, the Ant Warden, follow.

I have no idea what I'm going to do with this. But I absolutely love it.



Saturday, August 10, 2019

Double the Excitement

I really enjoyed working on Issue 1 of the Echo City Sentinel, and I knocked out a second issue a few weeks ago, but left it on the back burner so I could stagger releases a little bit. As I was getting it ready today, I was also going through notes for Tales of the Splintered Realm, and realized I have a bunch of stuff I want to release, but it doesn't really all work together nicely in any sort of 6-8 page form. So, I stole the format for the Echo City Sentinel, and started a new series of 1-page modules for Tales of the Splintered Realm.

From my perspective, this is all win. I can keep releasing content more regularly, and I can get a supplement done in a few hours. I hope to leave room for a little art in the future, but that one page goes quick. I do like that the designs of the two games allow for quite a bit of content to be delivered in small spaces; each of these is only one page, but I think that there is enough meat on the bones to make them useful.

I plan to keep cranking these out. These were fun and quick to make.

Go get your copies! Get them now, and pay me later if you feel like it. Or don't. It's all good.

The Echo City Sentinel Issue 2

Tales of the Splintered Realm Module M1: Way of the Warrior

Monday, July 29, 2019

Random Supers Thoughts

1. I am mulling over what to do with The Stalwart Age #3. The draft of it is done, but I ran into a problem with it in terms of alignment with the core rules; I have something happening about 10-15 years earlier than it is suggested in the core rules; I suppose it could take a decade for the effects of an event to reach the masses, but I don't know... I don't want to give anything away, but I'm not sure if I want to go ahead as it is, make some major edits, or just rework the story completely. I'm at a bit of a crossroads with it.

2. Someone left a 3-star review on Echo City Sentinel #1... since it is free, and one page, and doesn't promise to be more than it is, I'm not sure why it gets a 3-star rating; but it's all good. I do wonder about 3-star ratings sometimes; many of the 3-star ratings have been with no review. I would welcome the feedback to know why people thought a product was lacking. Oh well.

3. I've been toying with some alternate character generation rules, and I really like where they are going. In thinking about how battlesuits work, I was thinking of a modified set of rules for character templates; if you want to roll up a character who is a bruiser, I could easily create a simple set of rules that makes sure you will get a bruiser, but also leaves the opportunity open for random things as well. It would allocate dice in different ways, and change the odds of getting certain abilities. For example, here's the brick archetype I'm thinking of:

Brick:

Origin: Roll normally. You could theoretically be a prodigy with a biomech suit that makes you a brick...

Traits: You have 1d6 random traits. Roll 1d10 below for your traits. You automatically receive either invulnerability or imperviousness, in addition to the 1d6 other traits.

1. Body Armor
2. Weapon, Melee
3. Pummel
4. Shockwave
5. Large
6. Alter Ego
7. Leaping
8. Tolerance
9. Energy Body
10. Roll randomly using the tables in the core rules

Attributes: When rolling for attributes, roll the following dice (either re-roll 1s or roll 1 additional die and keep the best dice allocated):

STR - 4d6
INT - 2d6
PWR - 3d6
DEX - 3d6
CON - 4d6
CHA - 2d6

So you want to roll up a character 'like' the Thing? Good news: use this quick guide and you'll get something like what you want... with probably a surprise or two you didn't expect.

So, to play test this:

I roll for origin and get 3. My character is a construct. I'm already thinking golem... and those +1d6 hit points are going to be useful.
Roll 1d6 for imperv (1-3) or invuln (4-6), and get 3; imperviousness it is. I roll and get 5; 1d8 imperviousness is going to be nice.
I roll 1d6 for total traits and get 6! Wow. That's a lot of traits; I roll and get:
4 shockwave
5 large
6 alter ego
8 tolerance
9 energy body
10 random trait (11 channel, 5 matter conversion)

He's a brick... and so much more. This is a lot to process, but it's still pretty unified feeling. As for traits:

STR - 4d6 and get 20 (!)
INT - 2d6 and get 7
PWR - 3d6 and get 13
DEX - 3d6 and get 13
CON - 4d6 and get 13
CHA - 2d6 and get 8

Dang. This boy is going to be pretty tough. No pummel, so he's going to be using found weapons. I'm going to min/max the CHA 8 to 6 to bump CON up to 14.

Okay, I've got my theme; he's basically an ice elemental. His matter conversion allows him to turn anything inorganic he touches into ice. This allows him to create a lot of found weapons, and to use these in combat (since his pummel is lame at the default 1d4).

He has tolerance to cold; it's not complete immunity, but it's close with his imperviousness stacked on top.
He is a big boy, roll d8 for hit points.
His energy body is going to be an ice body. His shockwave is actually a roar.

Ymir's Fist, Hero 2
AC 15; HD 4d8+1d6+8 (hp 35); Feat +8; Melee attack (+9/1d4+7)
STR 20 (+7); INT 7 (-); PWR 13 (+3)
DEX 13 (+3); CON 14 (+4); CHA 6 (-)
Traits: Alter Ego; Energy Body (deals 3 cold damage vs. melee); Large; Matter Conversion (inorganic to ice); Shockwave (1d6+7 to 30'; Feat for half); Tolerance (cold)
Talents: Focused (+10% xp); Second Wind (recover 1d6+2 hp once per turn, 2x per day) 
Drawback: Fear of fire (complex)

He's a magical creation generated by an ancient Norse ritual that bound a northern spirit into the body of a random dude who was part of an archaeological expedition, trying to get undergrad credit. He got a little more than he bargained for... the spirit comes out when it wants to, against the will of the student.

So, I get to play a character kind of like the Thing... but in a lot of ways, not really :)