Thursday, March 26, 2020

Solitaire Framework: Tell Your Friends!

I decided to write up the rules I was working on for the Solitaire Framework as a system-agnostic, pay-what-you-want module in 1 page. I posted it today.

This is, all humility aside, a great little product. It is a great little engine, and you have NO reason not to get it. You can solo game in minutes, and have a clear set of steps to take you through.

Let me know what you think. And tell your friends. Seriously.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Solitaire Framework

I am finalizing this set of rules for the next issue of MTDAA Twilight, but I thought I would share some of my game design notes and thinking around a key concept: the Solitaire Framework.

There are several excellent solo adventure frameworks available. I've scanned through a few of them, but I wanted to go in a little bit of a different direction. In designing the framework, I wanted it to do the following:

1. Be very flexible. It is something that always works, and which you can always use.
2. Be simple. I want it to be easy to remember and to adjudicate. While the entire set of rules for the framework should fit on one page (that's what I'm working towards right now), everything should be there for ongoing solo play, or for play without a GM.
3. Be intuitive. I want it to 'feel' natural. I want it to make sense, and to comport with the other mechanics of the game.

I have been set on the idea of five possible likelihoods of an event on the framework. These likelihoods get descriptors, since that is both intuitive and simple. An event can be rated as:

Very likely.
Possible (possibly).
Very Unlikely.

Draft 1:

My first draft used 2d6, with the following possibilities:

Roll 2d6:
3+  Very likely (35 in 36) 97%
5 + Likely (30 in 36) 83%
7+  Possible (21 in 36) 58%
9+  Unlikely (10 in 36) 28%
11+Very Unlikely (3 in 36) 8%

However, the math is ALL over the place. It feels great, but it is UGLY. No way was this going to work. There is no way to get a 50/50 split in a 2d6 roll, so that is an immediate deal breaker.

Draft 2:

My next draft used a d20, with the following possibilities:

Very likely. Roll of 2+
Likely. Roll of 5+
Possible (possibly). Roll of 10+
Unlikely. Roll of 15+
Very Unlikely. Roll of 18+

This made sense, was intuitive, and was easy to remember. But the math doesn't work - a very likely event only has a 5% chance of not happening, while a very unlikely event has a 15% chance of happening. Possible doesn't really have a 50/50 chance; it is actually 55%, making it slightly likely. Once I move the numbers, it becomes less intuitive (at least to me)

Draft 2.5: 

Very likely. Roll of 3+
Likely. Roll of 6+
Possible (possibly). Roll of 11+
Unlikely. Roll of 16+
Very Unlikely. Roll of 19+

Now the numbers make sense, but I find them less intuitive. These don't feel like natural breaks, even though they are. I know it works, but I just don't like it. I scrapped this approach. Next I went to straight up percentages.  These are much more intuitive, and easy to remember:

Very likely. 90%
Likely. 70%
Possible (possibly). 50%
Unlikely. 30%
Very Unlikely. 10%

I waffled on the likely and unlikely percentages; I thought of going to 75/25 or even 80/20, but the 70/30 put these equal distance between the two options on either side. The other benefit was that this could then be reduced to a straight up d10 roll. Very unlikely has a 1 in 10 chance. Very likely only fails on a 10. This is intuitive, easy to remember, and makes sense. However, I then realized I could simplify even one step further. Here is the variation on the framework that I am currently working on:

Draft 3:

We go with an old school, classic, straight up 1d6 roll:

Very Likely     5 in 6 (83%)
Likely              4 in 6 (67%)
Maybe             3 in 6 (50%)
Unlikely           2 in 6 (33%)
Very Unlikely   1 in 6 (17%)

On a 1, it always happens.
On a 6, it definitely does not happen

The other thing is that this allows me to easily plug in a set of rules that creates follow-up effects from exceptional rolls, with no additional tables, charts, or graphs. It's simple, easy to remember, intuitive, and creates a lot of variety. Checks all my boxes:

- If an event was unlikely or very unlikely, and you roll a 6, The result is 'no, but'. Ask a follow-up question to see if the opposite happens. That follow-up question is always maybe.

- If an event was likely or very likely, and you roll a 1, the results is 'yes, and'. Ask a follow-up question to see if something additional happens that is positive, helpful, or useful. That follow-up question is always ‘maybe’.

The other thing is that this 1d6 roll becomes the unifying mechanic of the system. All you need is an assortment of random tables with 5 options for anything you want to use. Five of the results are the 'most common' results to quickly generate options, but the 6th option is something unusual, resolved through the framework.

For instance, if you are exploring a termite complex, the random encounter table for the complex is the five types of termites one might encounter in the complex. For example:

(1) 1d6 termite drones
(2) 1d6 termite workers
(3) 1d4 termite soldiers
(4) 1 termite drinker
(5) 1 termite architect
(6) Apply the framework

Option 6 is always apply the framework. Now, it could be anything. Is it another insect? (maybe) If the answer is no, is it a predator? (maybe) If no, is it another team of army ants? (unlikely) If not, is it some form of robotic guardian that the termites have invented that has broken loose from the lab and has killed dozens of termites in its rampage of destruction (very unlikely, but the other things haven't been here, so I guess it's possible at this point). 

The basic rules of the framework, then, are as follows:

The Protocol:

1. Apply logic to the situation. 
2. Ask the most likely questions first.
3. Allow the dice to guide your questions.  

One more thing: I can retrofit this to the levels of the other insects in the game for chances of random drops and gear. Does the creature carry anything of value? The likelihood is equal to its level: A minion has no chance of carrying anything useful, while a level 4 foe has a 4 in 6 chance of carrying something that the ants could want.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Art for Issue 2

I'm plugging away on issue 2, and expect to release it on April 1. Here is a piece of art I did that will end up somewhere in there...

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Termites Designs Colored

Here is an update with the colored drawings, both with and without a background (with background will be the one that goes in the game). A few observations:

1. I like how I draw. I really do. It took me a long time to get here. But now, when I draw something it almost always looks like I have it in my head. My style and this game/world align perfectly. My style is a little off for a supers game, and doesn't always work for a fantasy system, but it is spot on for the tone and style of what I want here.

2. These designs are the 'anti-ants' in effect. My first army ant designs had mandibles and black eyes. The first handful of sketches looked too evil to me, so I quickly got rid of the mandibles and made the eyes red (or simply white in black and white, but I knew they'd be red if I ever colored them). Basically, these guys look the way I expected the army ants to look when I first conceived of them.

3. I'm actually learning how to color. Like, for real. These are pretty mono-chromatic, but that's intentional. And, I used the colors of actual termites as inspiration. So, they are kind of organic feeling, because they're based in organic insects. Color wise, they are also anti-ants.


The rough sketch of the termites. From left:

Drone, Elite Guard, Soldier, Handmaiden, Worker, Architect.

Another Outpost

I put together a second termite outpost map. The idea with these outposts is that they all have similar characteristics, but the layouts are different, and what they are up to at each is vastly different.

One outpost might be doing cryogenic experiments on frogs, and another might be dissecting ladybug brains to experiment with psionics. One might be trying to open a portal to the shadow lands to bring out spirits of fallen bugs (that's a thing, by the way) and another might be trying to develop bio weapons that allow suicide buggers to blow up based on a biochemical reaction.

They crazy, yo.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Termite Outpost

So I am loving these little maps. I decided for issue 2, I'll be including rules for solo play, and a set of game stats for various termites. I'm thinking of them as this game's version of the Drow - mysterious and creepy and chaotic, messing with forces they would be better off leaving alone. And they have their own version of Lolth. So that's something.

This is the termite outpost map that I will use to model the solo play rules with random dungeon generator charts.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Against the Termites

In the MTDAA comic series, the Wasp Empire was the threat. They were a tyrannical force that was, in no small part, inspired directly by the Empire in Star Wars. However, they have fallen. And, learning from Star Wars, it's not very effective if they just come back again. I've known since I started design work on this game that there was going to be a new enemy, the Termites. Late in the MTDAA webcomics run, I started to bring Termites into the backstory, setting the stage for their eventual role as a major player. That time has come.

I have wanted to do a mega-dungeon environment for a long time - and I've taken a few stabs at it. I had a concept for one, the Citadel of Tomorrow, for Sentinels of Echo City, but I've never gone beyond a few pages of notes and a list of ideas for it.

So, I'll give it one more try. Insect mounds are organic and (excepting hives) generally disorganized. I happened upon Kevin Campbell's maps again via Dyson Logos' blog, and decided to try my hand at a level in his style. Going with the Greyhawk dungeons 'three different dungeons in one' approach, I have decided that the termite mound has three different chimneys, and three unique towers that all interconnect at points. I am working first with the least of these three, Tower C (which will get a cool name eventually). I'm going to be play testing some solo rules and some things for upcoming expansions while delving this mound.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Why Ants?

I think it's a fair question. Of my three 'properties', Army Ants is the most niche. It's got the smallest audience. It doesn't have the potential broad appeal of fantasy games. It doesn't have the competitiveness (and money-making ability) of supers gaming. It is, consistently, my lowest-performing major 'brand'.

So why the heck do I keep coming back to it?

It's a fair question, and one I ask myself a lot. Why wouldn't I work on something that people are more willing to pay for? Why wouldn't I develop a game that has a larger potential market? I think that there are two primary reasons...

1. Themes and Story. This is the big one. Army Ants keeps confronting me with the same themes that have always been interesting to me: the role of the individual in a society, sacrifice and friendship, grit in the face of adversity. Good vs. evil. These are hard-wired into the heart of the Army Ants world, and I get to continually refine these in new directions.

In addition, I conceived of an Army Ants 'super narrative' about twenty years ago, and I've never had a chance to tell the whole story. When I sit down to write about it, I'm not 'making things up'. It's all there, already largely formed in my subconscious. I'm just telling you a story that's already happened.

2. It's me. My fantasy game will never (ever) be more than a shadow of the grand-daddy of them all. I think it's a great, simple, clean knock off. But, at the end of the day, it's a knock off. It gives me a chance to re-create the game I loved growing up. That is powerful. But, every time I walk into a game or book store, I cannot help but marvel at the quality and quantity of content for D+D that I will never be able to replicate. The supers game is the same way, but with a different set of limitations. My game world (which is a big part of what I think makes a supers game tick) is never going to be more than a mashup of and reaction to the big two comic book universes. At the end of the day, that game is attempting to emulate someone else's material, not to forge my own.

Army Ants doesn't have any of those limitations. Nobody is doing Army Ants better than me. There is no external yardstick that I'm inevitably falling short of.

The other nice thing is that with Army Ants, I'm lingering in the shadows of some of my favorite worlds. Tolkien was mocked by the scholarly community for writing about hobbits and dwarves. Richard Adams and Stan Sakai have crafted stories around rabbits. Dave Sim did 300 issues about an aardvark. These are some of the people I most admire as a creator, and it feels like Army Ants is my world. It's where I want to spend my time. 

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Launch Day: Part Two

So, I'm not done with Army Ants news for the day. Hey, I promised the ants were on the march. For the next year or so, I plan to re-release the entire comics run of the MTDAA series, including some unfinished pages and a little bit of new connective tissue. I'm calling this Michael T. Desing's Army Ants remastered, and I will be sharing it on Tumblr. 

In the process, I am going back and re-scanning the original pages, or the best copies I can find. I am going to re-letter the entire comic using a font instead of the hand lettering, sharpening up the pages and doing touch-ups as needed. Since I am going a page a day, I can take the time to really clean this up to have a polished looking master set of pages at the end to do some sort of deluxe print edition. I've posted page one, and I hope you notice the difference between the versions.

MTDAA Twilight Has Arrived

What if the B/X engine was used to create a mashup of a certain 1980s para-military post apoc game, another game set in a world of rampaging mutants, and the coolest elite military unit comic of all time?

It would probably look like this.

Michael T. Desing’s Army Ants: Twilight is two things: first, it’s an ongoing narrative about a group of ants at the end of the Ant/Wasp War, © Michael T. Desing. It is also a roleplaying game for two or more players, released under the Open Game License.

As a reader, you will hopefully decide to follow the exploits of a team of army ants on their greatest, and possibly final, adventure.

As a player, you will take on the role of an army ant or an allied bug, traversing the wilds. You will join with a team of other bugs to overcome the challenges that the referee places before you. You will use these rules, an assortment of dice, and your imagination to craft a shared tale of your adventures.

This core ruleset, which is also the first issue of the ongoing series, is released as a PWYW book in glorious full color, the way the 1980s would have wanted.

As part of the "Army Ants are on the MARCH" promotion, all other Michael T. Desing's Army Ants titles are also PWYW through March 31! Now is the time to get caught up on all things army ant.

Saturday, February 29, 2020

One Day More

Michael T. Desing's Army Ants: Twilight launches tomorrow, and I have a few little tricks up my sleeve yet to come. I finished edits today, and I'm very happy with this game. It is a tight little game - this is the game I wanted to write 25 years ago, but I just didn't have the chops to do it yet.

I look forward to sending it out to the world tomorrow, and I'm excited to hear what you think.

Friday, February 28, 2020

The Ants Are Ready to MARCH

From now through the end of March, all MTDAA releases are up as pay-what-you-want downloads. If you have some holes in your MTDAA library, now is the time to fill them. This month will also see the release the the MTDAA: Twilight RPG, which uses the same system (and fundamental layout) as Tales of the Splintered Realm. It's a B/X retro style version of MTDAA with shades of Twilight 2000 and Gamma World. I expect it to be out early next week; I'm in final edits right now, and want to make sure that all the tweaks are sufficiently tweaked before I tweet. Or something like that.

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...