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...

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