Monday, May 30, 2011

Sandbox Inspiration

I forgot to mention one of the key sources of inspiration to get back into the saddle with Army Ants- sandbox gaming! I’ve been following a number of discussions/blogs on sandbox gaming, and it got me thinking about Army Ants- and how you could run a sandbox campaign in a literal sandbox!

I knocked out a few pages of notes a few weeks ago on how this would work, and ended up loving it. Sandbox style play lends itself quite well to the Resolute ruleset, seeing as the ability to wing a lot of stuff on the fly is one of the strengths of Resolute. A lay-over of Army Ants onto the Resolute rules was very simple. I decided to even further streamline the rules, so when you take a look at the final rules for Army Ants and the final rules for The Splintered Realm, you’ll see that the fantasy rules are more granular and crunchy, while the Army Ants rules are more sparse and direct. Seeing as the world of Army Ants has fewer opportunities to boost abilities (no potions, magical items, or classic casters), I was more comfortable working out a number of situations where you’d get a modifier using shifts (straight up bonuses to the ability) rather than boosts (wherein you increase the CP value, and re-calibrate the rating as a result).

I know that the rules for Army Ants are breezy, so I wanted to let you know a few things in case you had questions after looking the rules over:

1. Specialties are gone. Okay, they’re gone from the core rules- everyone is a grunt. They are NOT gone from the game. One of the first expansions will be an Ant Forces book that will give a starter group of specialties and rules for rank and promotion. These things are central to how I see the game, but they didn’t fit in the core rules as it played out. I had four specialties for inclusion in the core rules, but I cut these in favor of an introductory adventure. It’s okay if everyone is a grunt for the first few game sessions; it’s not okay if you have nothing to do, or the referee has no idea how to design a quick mission. That was a higher priority.

2. Moxy is the Army Ants version of Resolve. Resolve is a much more complex and multi-faceted ability; moxy is simpler and will ultimately be used in different ways. This really reflects the world better, too- in fantasy gaming, your ability to persevere and overcome adversity through willpower is what makes you a hero; in the world of the army ants, you just have to have a set of brass ones and go for it. The differences in the two abilities and how they ultimately play out over character growth are important differences in the two games themselves.

3. The format of the core rules (something I see primarily as an 8-page micro book assembled from one sheet of paper) will be the standard for the system. This gives me a very distinct design limitation; my hard cap is right around 2000 words. This is enough to fully explore one aspect of the world of the ants, and that’s perfect. I have had ideas for YEARS for expansions that didn’t really justify a longer book (over 5000 words) and which didn’t fit nicely together with other, comparable ideas. This format meets all of the needs for the game at once. Right off the bat, I know I want to do a lifepath character generator built around boot camp, a book on the wasp empire, one on the sandbox, one on mysticism and the underground city of potato bugs, and one on the Army Ant version of the Vietnam War. Ultimately, I’ll be working out a vehicles book and a technology book. Somewhere along the way I’ll put out a referee’s guide. Each of these has a different flavor and will allow me to build the game slowly over time; and the foundation I have in place right now is exactly what it needs to be to make that happen.

Needless to say, I don’t see me getting bored!

The Army Ants March Again!

In doing the final edits for Resolute, and in keeping up with what's going on in pdf publishing, I hit the perfect storm of a few things:

1. I wanted to keep an 'introductory' rules-lite version of Resolute out there. I wanted something that worked like a microlite version, but slightly more well defined.

2. I had been getting a hankering to work on Army Ants again.

3. Weird West came out, and the concept for the printable book blew my mind.

I put all three together, and ended up with Michael T. Desing's Army Ants, the Resolute Edition Core Rules... here's my press release info:

The little game of big military insect adventure is ready to rock your world! This streamlined game uses the popular Resolute game engine (based on 2D6 + ability) to resolve all situations. This core rulebook includes rules for making an ant grunt, rules for how to resolve common situations, and an introductory adventure to get you started right away.

Your download includes both an e-book reader version, and a mini-print edition. With the mini-print edition, you can print out the entire game on a single sheet of paper (double sided), cut it in half and fold it together for a pocket-sized edition to share with your friends! The mini-print edition is 4.25”x5.5”.

Let me know what you think. I adore it, and I hope you do too!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Build Strategy: Scouts

Scouts use stealth; this is their prime purpose. Although nothing in the rules says that scouts have to approach the archetype as a ranged attacker, the way stealth works creates a situation that benefits the ranged scout over the melee scout. Since stealth automatically drops when you enter melee with a foe, you will only see the benefit on the first turn you take; as a ranged attacker, you can continue to take bonuses from your stealth over time. I’m going to assume that you are building a missile-using scout.

• Arms. You’ll want to put some points here, and tailor this to maximize your missile weapons rating, letting both armor and melee slide. Look carefully at the break points for tailoring abilities; for example, the bump from arms +2 to arms +3 is only 1 point, but this allows you to tailor arms +1, meaning that as far as your missile weapon goes, you effectively see a +2 swing… the same is true at the break point between +4 and +5, and between +6 and +7; at +6, you can have up to +8 in your missile rating, but at +7 you can have +10. This is a relatively minor investment (16 CPs) to get what is, in effect, an ability worth 30 CPs.

• Evade is helpful, and a few points will go a long way when synergized with stealth. You can make a modest investment here and see big rewards, as long as you don’t get into melee combat with a foe.

• Intuition. Your stealth is going to often mean that you end up, well, scouting for your team. As such, you will need intuition to pick up the details and make sure you get things right. Additionally, being able to go first allows you to make better decisions about using your stealth and getting into tactical positions.

• Between might and precision, there’s no choice; it’s precision all the way. You could conceivably build a scout who uses thrown weapons in place of missile weapons, but the return just isn’t worth it to have the better utility of might; let’s do the math. You invest 16 CPs to get arms +7 (tailored to +10 in either melee or missile), and you invest 16 CPs to get either might or precision +7. With a thrown weapon, you have a range of 7 units (based on your might); with a missile weapon like a bow, you have a range of 17 units (precision + weapon rating)! You can hit someone up to 170’ away without taking a penalty to your attack roll. That’s crazy good. Against a foe with normal movement, this guarantees you 3 attacks before the target can even get in melee range, and then the target takes a penalty on its attack in the fourth round; if you’ve had your stealth up and you’ve done a good job hiding, you’ve just dished out a LOT of damage to that charging foe.

• Stealth. This is your signature ability, and you have to make the investment in it. You see all manner of benefits from stealth; your foes can’t see you, you get bonuses to attack rolls, you get bonuses to evade rolls; it’s a very powerful ability. You’ll never regret a high investment in stealth. Putting over 1/3 of your total CPs into stealth is not beyond reason, and is probably a good guide. At 30 CPs, you should have at least stealth +5 (9 CPs), and you can justify stealth +6 (12 CPs). In fact, you could be very aggressive, investing at level (so 15 CPs in stealth when you are built on 30 CPs), knowing that when you get to 32 CPs overall, you will put a 16th CP in stealth to get it to +7.

• Resolve may be useful in a pinch, but generally speaking, you don’t have as many options as magicians (for example), nor are you expected to save the team (like disciples), so you can afford to skimp some here.

• Other abilities and applications: Since scouts don’t need as many abilities as other heroes, they have some points available to pick up some other needs in the team. It’s always nice to have someone with burglary (and since you are going to be the point man anyway, it could be nice to detect that trap before you walk into it)… these give you a chance to further define your scout. A scout who takes burglary is far different in approach from one who takes nature (linked to intuition).

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Build Strategy: Magicians

Magicians stand at range and drop spells on their foes. As a magician, you have exceptional utility and deal good damage at range, but you tend to have little recourse when a foe gets into melee combat with you. As a magician, you should consider:

Arcane Bolt. This is it for a magician. You make your basic ranged attack with this ability, and you also link your spells to this ability. Most magicians are going to arcane bolt rated as high as possible; I’d recommend no lower than one rating below this. For example, as a magician built on 40 CPs, you can invest up to 20 CPs in arcane bolt (+8 rating). This is not a bad idea, and +7 (16 CPs) is a fair compromise to free up points elsewhere. If you start to drop to +6 (12 CPs) or lower, you are going to see your spells hit less often; and since many of your spells are usable only once per scene, you want to do all you can to make sure they’ll work when you use them.

Arms is where you’ll skimp. Your spell is the way you attack, so you won’t bother investing in precision or might later on, which means that having a big sword or crossbow is not going to serve any real purpose for you. Although you’d like a big suit of armor to protect yourself (who wouldn’t?), it’s hard to justify the expenditure here.

Aspect requires at least a moderate investment. Enemy casters will likely see you as a threat, and your wand or staff rating (for base spell damage) links to aspect, so this is something you have to consider. Your aspect should not be rated higher than your arcane bolt; remember that bonuses from successful attacks carry over to damage, so putting the emphasis on the active rather than resultant ability (arcane bolt over aspect in this case) is going to generally be the better choice.

Evade is VITAL for you. The whole idea is that you don’t get hit; if foes are striking you regularly, especially with physical attacks, you are going to start losing wounds quickly. Your spells don’t do you or your fellowship any good if you’re face-planted. Evade is your best defensive ability.

Intuition is similarly important. Many of your spells allow you to dictate the pace of combat; you can control enemies, stop them in their tracks, or remove them from combat altogether. You’ll want to do this early, so that the rest of your team can react accordingly; if you can stun the ogre (or bind him in place) for a few rounds, the rest of the team can focus on his pet wolf first; if you can’t, they’re going to have to wait on the wolf and take out the ogre before he starts pummeling them.

Might and precision are not worth any investment at all. Points here are effectively wasted; yes, it would be nice to be able to fight your way out of a web or shrug off the effects of the poison, but as a magician, you shouldn’t be putting yourself into positions where those things can get you anyway!

Resolve may be important as well. Resolve allows you to re-cast a spell you’ve already used, cast a spontaneous spell from your spell book, or beef up a repertoire spell that you have as an application; all three of these uses are incredibly valuable, and are well worth the investment of a few points into resolve.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Build Strategy: Disciples

Disciples give you access to magical auras, and these can give benefits to your entire group.

Disciples are tricky to build, because you have to accept one basic truth; you make sacrifices in building your character for the good of the team. With the possible exception of healing, you will never see a personal return on your investment in your auras; and, if you aren’t planning to spend points on auras, you really shouldn’t bother making a disciple. If you invest 9 character points into evade (for instance), you are going to give yourself and all of your allies a +5 character point investment into evade when you have that aura active. You are inherently weaker in order to make your team inherently stronger, and your abilities are inherently more valuable the more allies you have. However, this doesn’t mean that disciples cannot be effective and fun characters, but it does mean you have to really strategize as you build. Here are some suggestions:

• Auras. Your first aura should be healing; you are a member of the only archetype in the game that has the ability to heal, and your team is going to need that. Keeping your healing at your level is not a bad idea; this allows you to restore 10% of your team’s total wounds every turn you take; this is significant. Beyond healing, you should consider one other aura, and you need decide which aura you’re going to take, and make sure the rest of the team knows! If you invest in evade +4, you have allowed every member of your team to have 4 CPs in evade (a +3 rating to any ally with no evade at all) when your aura is up. That’s pretty solid, and will be a big help; however, if one member of your team invests in evade heavily and has evade +8 (20 CPs), your +4 bonus is completely lost on that hero; he gets no benefit at all from your aura. Conversely, if he stopped at +7 (16 CPs), he has just freed up 4 CPs to spend elsewhere, still gets a +8 rating when your aura is up, and still is superior in this ability. Don’t bother with more than two or three auras; since you can only have 1 up at a time anyway, you will either run healing (if your team needs it) or an ability-based aura (either to enhance an attack or defensive ability).

• Arms. Auras are built under the assumption that while your aura is up, you are still doing something else; that something else is probably attacking with a weapon. Where you tailor this depends (as so much does for a disciple) on the needs of your team. If you are teamed up with two fighters, it makes a great deal of sense to minimize your armor and melee weapons, putting as many points into missile weapons as you can. Conversely, if you are the fighter for your team (the other heroes are magicians and scouts), you are going to be expected to go toe-to-toe with adversaries; you’ll need melee and armor to do that.

• Aspect: As with fighters, you cannot afford to completely dismiss aspect, unless one of your auras is invulnerability, in which case you might be better off just letting that ability cover this.

• Evade falls into the same category; put points here unless this is one of your primary auras, in which case you want to strategize your investment to get maximum returns when your aura is up.

• Intuition is not a place you can skimp. Getting to activate your auras before others act, or heal others before they take their turn, can turn the tide of a battle, or allow an ally to get one more attack in. You want to be in a position to call the shots during a scene and be proactive, and winning sequence (through your high intuition) positions you to do that.

• Might and precision, unfortunately, become the place where many disciples have to make some sacrifices, and this is why many disciples end up as mediocre combatants; you simply don’t have enough points to be great here. You can connect auras to attack abilities like precision and might, but you often struggle to see huge returns here; most heroes have already made a big CP investment into precision or might as their attack ability (or just don’t need it at all), and the bump they get from your aura may be marginal. You can go from a mediocre to good combatant with auras, but your team could suffer. As with arms, pick the ability (between precision and might) that best supports your team, and invest there. Even a modest +3 rating in one of these gives you a fair chance against most foes, allowing you to strike with some consistency.

• Resolve is vital for you; being able to double up a turn to pulse healing one extra time or being able to add your precision to your whole team’s evade aura for 1 turn are incredibly valuable ways to spend resolve; furthermore, you should consider picking up leadership linked to resolve; since you are already built to support the team, it falls to you to coordinate their efforts, and this would be a small investment to really make you integral to the team’s success.

• Applications. You just aren’t going to have a ton of extra points to invest here. Disciples tend to already spread themselves thin, and putting 2 CPs into an application linked to a below-average ability just doesn’t make a lot of sense (with the possible exception of leadership, which I’ve already discussed). Applications help to round characters out, but you are already pretty well-rounded through your auras.

A Quick Reflection on Archetypes

As I’ve worked on developing notes for approaches to building heroes of each archetype, I’ve discovered something else I really like about Resolute. In other systems, there are often rules for the armor and weapons that different classes have available to them; wizards don’t get to wield heavy armor or weapons because it ‘messes up their casting’, which is a bogus justification to maintain game balance. Resolute’s point-build system and the way it ties to abilities balances itself; as a magician, you aren’t going to invest many points into arms to get armor and weapons, because then you can’t be a very effective magician. If you decide to go against conventional wisdom and build a magician who has heavy armor and decent weapons, you are going to have to make sacrifices elsewhere that are probably going to come back to bite you; in short, the rule of survival of the fittest kicks in; you don’t see many magicians in heavy armor, because they died! They weren’t effective at doing what they needed to do well, and couldn’t make the cut.