Friday, August 26, 2011

And There I Go Again

I guess that I'm writing a new game... I started with some notes, and before I knew it I had about 15 pages of ideas on the new edition of Army Ants! Here are some of the things that have come from this:

- It's essentially the Resolute game system, although I've limited the number of core abilities (I have a list of ten I'm working from right now), and everything else is an application linked to one of those abilities. For example, stealth will not be a distinct ability; it is an application of your intuition.
- Its big deviation from Resolute is the lack of a referee; the role of narrator is shouldered primarily by one player, but other players take turns narrating scenes depending on what's happening. I've got notes in place for a system whereby you randomly generate events as you go (inspired by reading about the Mythic Game Master Emulator, although I still haven't ponied up the $ to actually get a copy of that and read it). I like how it feels so far, but until I actually play test it with other people, I won't have an idea of how it actually works.
- I'm going through all my previous edition of Army Ants and taking the stuff that worked from each edition, and trying to make it all fit. I want this to be the COMPLETE game; I want to include every foe, every predator, every vehicle, every weapon, and every option from every edition of the rules I've published in one book. The Resolute engine presents information in such a condensed form that I can pack a lot of information on a single page. I'm thinking of the 160-page range right now. That's a total guess. I want it to be a digest-sized book. I've always wanted an Ants RPG printed in digest size; it's my big chance!
- The book has to be available as both a print edition and a PDF.
- When it's finally ready, I'll also be releasing the complete Army Ant comics as a digest-sized book, assuming I can get all of that into one book (it's over 300 pages). If not, I'll have to break it over two volumes. Don't know about the logistics of that yet.
- There is NO chance this is done anytime soon (as in 2011). Look for it some time in 2012. I want to do a better job marketing this as I go, and this blog is the first step. I know that it's a bad idea to announce a project when you don't have more than a few pages of notes and a spark of inspiration, but I've written enough games at this point that I am pretty confident it will eventually get done- and I'm not looking for kickstarter money or anything (yet... although that's definitely a possibility... hmmmm). I'd really like to hear about anyone's experiences with kickstarters, and how that turned out (either as a consumer or creator).

Thanks and happy gaming.

The Ants as Characters

The ants represent ‘normal’ in the game. The ants are the common insects by which all other species are measured; the weirdness or oddity of other species is proportionate to the relative normalcy represented by the ants.
However, this also means that the ants are the most malleable. For instance, all potato bugs have some mysticism inherent in them; furthermore, they cannot use such things as cybernetics. Their attunement to the spiritual world makes them incompatible with technology that would augment their abilities. However, you could conceivably have a psychic ant with a cybernetic arm and who carries a satchel he stole from a spider that allows him to control flame.

Design-wise, an army ant grunt starts with a limit of +5 in any ability; although he can buy any ability he wants. If he wants to go further than this, he has to make some decisions. I see the grunt ‘class’ (speciality?) as I saw the adventurer archetype for RTSR… it’s a jack of all trades approach that allows you to only go so far in each thing you do.

I see the scale of the game somewhat smaller than RTSR and the supers game… a top-level ant is only going to hit about 50 CPs. This is exceptionally experienced and knowledgeable. I don’t see 50 as a hard cap for the game necessarily, but it could end up that way. I like the idea of 50 CPs being the normal cap, but every augmentation you take (for example, cybernetic arms, replacing an eye with one you recover from an undead beetle, or wearing a mystical pendant that increases your evade) increases your cap by 5 CPs. With the three augmentations, you’d be able to increase your character up to 65 CPs.

This means that ants should have fewer rated abilities available to them. You’d buy all sorts of special things as applications of your abilities that allow you to progress further. For example, your might is normally limited to +5 (9 CPs). However, if you purchase cybernetic arms (2 CPs), you get to increase your might further. Hmmm.

Actually, the better way to go with this might be to build in an automatic limitation to your ability (so you don’t take cybernetic arms for 2 CPs; you take it for free, but get a limitation that piggy backs with the benefit). For example, if you use mysticism to increase your might, you draw upon ancient spirits to drive your might; so, if you botch a might action roll, your might fails, and you lose 2D CPs from might for the rest of the scene (as a for instance). If you have cybernetic arms, you are now susceptible to electrical damage, or you can actually have your might completely negated by being electrocuted or running out of battery power. There are many possibilities, and I could easily see each having a short table of sample limitations. Since I’m thinking cybernetics, here are some options:

Cybernetics Limitations (Roll D6)

1-2. Power source. You need to re-charge your batteries over time. The referee rolls at the beginning of each scene (target 13), with success meaning that your power source dies, and you default to your +5 max until you can recharge. Each consecutive scene you go without charging your batteries on a power source increases the roll +1; if you have gone 5 scenes without charging, the referee rolls 2D+5 (target 13). The referee gets to determine when in the round your power runs out (or rolls randomly; D6 for the round in which your power source fails). Now, for only 2 CPs you can purchase improved power source, which increases the target to 16 for this roll, giving you longer stretches wherein you won’t run out of juice.

3-4. Surge Susceptible. Whenever you take electrical damage, you have to roll the ability (target equal to the wounds you suffered) to keep from shorting out and defaulting to +5 until you can get repairs made. If you suffer 15 wounds from an electrical strike, you have to roll might (target 15) or have your cybernetics short out until repaired. Repairs require a weapon tinkering roll (target equal to 7+ your rating) to fix. If you have might +7, you or an ally needs to make a tinkering roll (target 14) to fix your cybernetic arms.

5-6. Water Susceptible. Your cybernetic device needs to stay dry. When you come into contact with water, you have to roll 2D + the intensity of water (target 13) or have your cybernetics short out for the rest of the scene (default to +5 rating). A moderate rainfall is a +1 modifier, while being caught in a downpour would be +2, and actually submerging your cybernetics (diving into a river) is +4. The device is designed to keep water out, but the mechanics of it aren’t perfect…

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Epic Fails: Ants Style

Let’s talk about why the ants haven’t been a huge success…

Primarily, there’s been a considerable disconnect between the world of army ants as I see it, and the way I ultimately portray it in the games I’ve written. Here’s why:

1. The scope of gaming is far bigger than military insects going on missions. The world includes mysticism, giant intelligent animals, cyborgs and super soldiers; I see this as Challengers of the Unknown more than GI Joe.
2. I’ve never successfully presented it that way. There are two reasons why: a) I’ve never been able to develop a game system that fully supports everything that I want to do with it and b) I’ve always viewed the core rules as setting up the basics of the army ants, and future supplements (that I start but never finish) fleshing out other parts of the world.

If I was going to do army ants right, here are a few things that I’d have to consider:

- the rules could not worry about ‘balance’ as a primary concern. All sorts of crazy stuff can happen (look at this as low to mid-powered supers gaming), but would have to be flexible enough to allow for all sorts of craziness (Resolute does this- check)
- The core rules would have to give you all of the options. This could not (and should not) be a 20 or even 40 page book; right now, I’m thinking of a page count in the 100-150 range to fully flesh it out.
- Every part of the design has to reinforce the variety and texture of this world. It has ladybugs with a massive intelligence network, spiders who dabble in sorcery, potato bugs who use the martial arts and ancient mystical practices to defy the natural laws of the world; it has a wasp empire with its tyrannical grip over all corners of the land; it has centipede overlords ruling over underground cities where gladiator pits set insect against insect; it has garter snakes of incredible wisdom hidden in the far reaches, primeval lizards prowling lost islands, ancient artifacts hidden in distant ruins, and cybernetic anomalies that hard-wire innovative technologies into their carapaces to boost their natural abilities. I’ve never really been able to delve 20% of this in the games I’ve published for army ants; I’ve only delved about 50% of it in the comics I did. Right now, I’m thinking shifting points of view might be a good way to go; you get a potato bug sensei telling you about the potato bug mystical practices; you get a ladybug intelligence report on current activities in the back yard; you get a field map from a new recruits handbook as your back yard map; that sort of stuff.
- players have to have many options beyond a military force going on missions, although that should be the default assumption of the game. I’m thinking sort of like Star Wars gaming; you can choose to serve the republic/rebellion (depending on the era), but the game and world allow you to play mercenaries, smugglers, bounty hunters, and all manner of interesting vagabonds. Army Ants the game must do the same.

Of course, the failure of the game to take root is also based on my lack of support for it; I haven't really shown it off (I don't think I've ever posted a session from Army Ants to an actual play), and I haven't hounded the message boards with Army Ants stuff. Those things I can fix...

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Have You Ever?

You know that feeling when you get inspired to write/create/forge something? You get all amped up, and start to put ideas on paper, float things amongst your friends, and even step into a bookstore (or comparable online locale) and you feel that inspiration swell to near overwhelming heights…

And then you start to thumb through works comparable to your own vision… it could be a set of RPGs, or a novel section, or magazines racks, or comics collections, or whatever. And then it hits you. You’ll never be this productive; you’ll never be this good; what you want to do has already been done, and probably been done better than you can do it. You’ve had a reality check. Welcome to my world.

Let me tell you about the three ideas that keep pulling at me, and the ‘reality checks’ that keep kicking me in the gut.

As for fantasy gaming, this is where my heart is. It’s the thing I end up thinking about all the time; it’s where I want to spend my imaginary time the most. It encompasses the worlds that I feel most drawn to. It’s what got me into gaming, and it’s what keeps bringing me back. However, there are several reality checks here. In fact, there are probably dozens of them. Here are the two big ones: many great games have already been written and (even more damaging) there is a TON of FREE content that is as good as my best stuff. As I look at what’s being published just among the OSR group, I find the depth and quality of content staggering. As a fantasy gamer with a game I like, I can’t imagine anything that would propel me to change game systems now. There are virtually no new people coming into the hobby, and almost everyone has their fantasy game of choice already; new games that come into the market and are competitive have a license and production values that bring a market (Lord of the Rings, Dragon Age). I cannot challenge either of these.

Supers gaming is probably second; I like it (and sometimes love it), but I end up feeling like the genre itself is too limited, and ultimately becomes self-referential. I know it doesn’t have to, but it feels stale to me. Maybe that’s because I haven’t followed comics seriously since 1993, so I don’t have many fresh ideas about it. There are fewer systems that have nailed supers gaming, although (as with fantasy gaming) most supers gamers now have their go-to system. I was struck particularly last year when I released Resolute Supers 2E within 8 weeks of Icons, BASH Ultimate Edition, and another 2-3 systems that, although different from my game, endeavored to do the same thing: give you a rules-lite, fast and intuitive system for supers gaming. I felt behind the eight ball from the outset. I still feel that way: what can Resolute offer that ICONS cannot? I don’t know… I haven’t actually read ICONS (yeah, bad on me I guess), but the vibe I get from the game and its supplements is a similar vibe to what I was going for with Resolute Supers… so, what to do about that?

Army Ants has always run in third place. Even though I’ve re-invented Army Ants gaming and comics several times over the last 20 years, I’ve never followed through with support for the game. However, Army Ants doesn’t have the reality checks in terms of other systems and games; no one is producing something quite like Army Ants, especially done right. Honestly, I’ve never even done it right; it’s never found the perfect fit of system with setting with writing. The comics have a certain vibe about them that I haven’t quite been able to replicate in a game system; the most recent incarnation (although lightly structured) is closer. It really needs a full treatment.

Sales numbers don’t help me at all. Both Resolute supers systems sold over 100 copies, whereas nothing Army Ants has ever sold more than 30 copies, and most fantasy stuff I released sells in the neighborhood of 30 to 70 copies; however, that’s for core rules. Once I look at supplements, regardless of the system, I rarely sell more than 15 copies of anything that’s a sourcebook or adventure.

I’ll stew on this for a while, but next time I’ll get into some of my thoughts on more of the reasons why…

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Fort Morovar

Fort Morovar is the starter home base for heroes in Timbervale. It was once a goblin stronghold, but humans took it during the Great Reckoning, so now it is home to loggers and frontiersmen who see Timbervale as a great resource waiting to be exploited. Of course, the various races of the forest, the druids that protect it, and the goblins who were kicked out don't see things the same way, but we can't all be happy, can we?

FYI, This is the first post that I'm affixing tags to... I figured as I near 150 posts, that I should really start thinking about organizing this blog for posterity (or at least for people who might want to actually use it as a game resource!). I'll be going back and tagging some previous posts as well (maybe all of them ultimately) for a better user experience.

Your tears of joy are thanks enough.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


Now that the Abyssal Labyrinth is out of my system (although I still plan to put together the Rubik's Cube for it at some point)... I'm on to working on Timbervale. This one is a more of a traditional sandbox setting; it will include the general area, a frontier keep, some small dungeon crawls/ruins, some new spells, some monsters... you know.

To get you into the vibe of the area, here's the unkeyed map of the area.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Chronicle #1 Now Posted

Chronicles of the Splintered Realm Volume 1: The Abyssal Labyrinth is now posted on RPGNow.

The great dungeon of the world of Del Anon, the Abyssal Labyrinth is a nearly infinite dungeon that connects all realms; it was commissioned by the god of death, but ultimately claimed by the Minotaurs. Within, you will find:

- An overview of the dungeon complex
- Descriptions of the five factions dwelling within the Labyrinth
- Random tables to quickly generate monster encounters, pools, traps, and statues
- 20 new monsters for Resolute: the Splintered Realm
- 36 original dungeon geomorphs

The Chronicles of the Splintered Realm are designed for the Resolute game system, but much of the content is easily converted to your favorite system.

Chronicles of the Splintered Realm Volume 1 is 17 pages for $1.
I'm almost done with final edits on The Abyssal Labyrinth, so it should be posted on rpgnow in the next day or two... in the interim, here are two more of the 36 geomorphs that are included within:

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Hand-Drawn Maps

For a long time, I drew maps by hand because, well, that was the only option I had.

A few years ago, I started using Paint to make maps, creating grids and then dropping colors and simple icons into the grid to create 'classic' looking maps that echoed D+D modules from the 80s. I liked these quite a bit... however...

In moving back to drawing by hand, I've discovered a few things:

1. The final map feels more organic and 'lived in'. My computer maps look sterile and pre-fabricated; my hand-drawn maps look like someone actually took a pick and dug out the side of a mountain.

2. I have to think more as I draw, and this leads to better maps. As I'm drawing a twisting passage or plugging in a statue icon, I'm simultaneously thinking about who dug that passage, why that statue was erected, and building stories into the maps as I go.

3. The final maps also end up with cool little fiddly bits that the computer just wouldn't allow for without more sophisticated mapping software. I know that there's better programs that will allow me to do more, but the simplicity of Paint was one of the things that I liked best about it.

Oh, and here are two more geomorphs to get you ready for the Abyssal Labyrinth.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Labyrinth Maps #1

I know I've been quiet for a few weeks, but that doesn't mean I haven't been busy! While I've been pretty tied up with family/work/life stuff, I have still managed to crank out a few dozen maps, some drawings, and a good chunk of stuff for the first two Chronicles...

I figured for today I'd give a preview of the Abyssal Labyrinth with two of the facets (geomorphs) that will be in the set. As you can see, they take more than a little inspiration from Dyson Logos.