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!

1 comment:

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