Monday, December 31, 2012

Ants Play Test #1

Mary and I statted up some characters and invaded a camp of fleas who had taken a fly double agent hostage. The camp was mostly populated by level 1 fleas, although there were a few level 2 guards. Mary and I both made level 5 characters, so it shouldn’t have been much of a challenge for them. In general, they did well. Mary’s ladybug covert ops specialist managed to stealth into the compound (she improvised a stick into a pole for vaulting the fence, and she had her die explode on the stealth roll, so she was hidden very well inside the compound, among a stack of supplies). My ant commando didn’t fare so well; he managed to leap the fence too by vaulting it, but he failed his stealth roll, and was quickly under attack by the tower guard. He charged the tower, dodging fire and climbing up to capture it. While he threw down grenades and drew fire, Mary’s character snuck around, took out the other tower guard with her rifle (and silencer), and climbed atop the command post, sneaking in through the air vents.

It took my character about six rounds to take out all of the fleas, and he took only minor damage. However, the ladybug didn’t fare quite as well. She dropped in through the air ducts and double-botched with her rifle, so it jammed, and she had to resort to her sword (lucky for her she picked one up at character creation!). She lost about 2/3 of her hits before managing to take down the two flea goons that stood guard.

Here’s what I discovered about the system thus far:
- It’s pretty well balanced. The session flowed quickly, there was some variety to the action, and the mechanics reasonably supported what we’d expect to have happen.
- Grenades work better than I expected. They give ‘grenade like’ results. You drop a grenade on a pack of fleas, and several of them fall. I know it seems logical, but I was concerned that grenades were going to either be over-powered or under-powered. They worked just about right. If the fleas had been much tougher, they might have survived a grenade blast with major wounds; as it was, they fell quickly.
- I’ve got weapon damage for rifles rated a bit too low. Both of us were using weapons that dealt D6 base damage, and that felt a little weak- and we were fighting low-level foes. Against tougher foes, battles are going to come down to attrition, and I want to avoid prolonged battles every single time you have combat. The battle between the ladybug and the two tougher fleas went about 7 rounds. Not terrible, but a bit longish.
- We played with an exploding dice mechanic, and I liked how it worked. If you roll max (i.e. 6 on a d6) you get to take 5 and roll again. This gives more variety, and makes even ‘impossible’ rolls possible even when you’re only rolling a D4.
- We also played with the Moxy mechanic (which is sort of like this game’s Resolve) whereby you get to take automatic dice explosions on rolls. This worked well.
- Our characters ended up with comparable builds, although that was intentional – Mary was a ladybug covert operations specialist and my character was an ant commando – quick, light, stealthy characters with light weapons relying on secrecy. You’re going to end up with comparable stats.

Overall a fun session. For the first time out of the gate with a new mechanical system, it was quite polished compared to most first play tests that tend to crash and burn.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Kickstarting ... Care to Comment?

I've decided to do a Kickstarter for the next edition of MTDAA. I'm layering it under games, although it's both a game and comic that I'm trying to get support for. If you'd check out the page and give me some feedback before I put it live (it will be a few weeks before I do), I'd appreciate it!

I am still tinkering with how I want to do rewards, but this is the fundamentals... and I am hesitant to film a video, but I know that's important, so I'll have to suck it up and do it!

Thanks all.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

And the kitchen sink, too!

In the 90s, I published 23 issues of Michael T. Desing’s Army Ants comics… although the comic started out (for the first four issues) as a straight-out homage/parody of GIJOE, by issue 5 I’d begun to bring in elements of fantasy (Vault of the Drow-inspired stuff), issue 7 included a trip to ‘dinosaur island’, issues 8-9 included a battle with a cyborg arch enemy, issue 10 was a superhero parody, issue 11 included a fantasy tale of the distant past, and by the mid-teens I was deep into a storyline mixing the Karate Kid, pro wrestling and Star Wars. I have drafts for issues that never happened that included armored battlesuits and mechs.

The core game rules have always been approached from this ‘military first’ concept, with plans to build the world further as I went.

I never went.

This edition should fix that, shifting the focus to a “Challengers of the Unknown” with the ants representing normalcy in a wild, wide and chaotic back yard. Here’s a glimpse of how the game should appear… and an articulation of design goal #2: the game must be broad enough to allow for adventure far beyond ‘military’ adventures. The heroes may be a military unit, but they are a military unit in a world with a much wider range of adventure:

                You’ve just stepped into a world populated by military ants who defend their hill and queen against unending threats to their security. This back yard harbors ladybugs who operate a massive intelligence network, spiders who dabble in sorcery, potato bugs who wield the martial arts and ancient mystical practices to defy the natural laws of the world; it has a wasp empire forcing its tyrannical grip upon 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 its far reaches, primeval lizards prowling its lost wilds, ancient artifacts hidden in its distant ruins, and cybernetic anomalies that hard-wire innovative technologies into their carapaces to boost their natural abilities. It has fleas roaming the countryside, picking through the scraps of the unending war and forging mechanical oddities. It has mosquito mercenaries and a fallen fly kingdom. It has a trashcan city, a desolate sandbox, and a deadly fire pit. It has a deep well with hidden secrets. Its rain storms presage incredible floods, and its winters turn the back yard into a barren waste.
                It’s a crazy place.

You know, the more I think about it, the more that I think the introductory adventure should be an exploration of an old kitchen sink sitting amid a scrap heap... 

Friday, December 28, 2012

Back to basics: the ants

I haven’t blogged in a bit – again – but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been busy. At school, we’re plowing through staging a production of Les Miserables, and having a great time. (Also saw the movie today, so we’re pumped to get back to work on it next week… I digress) In my limited down time (and I’ve had a little bit this week), I’ve been on to the next project. I’ve got a smattering of an idea for how to re-work many of my long-term concepts for Army Ants into a new game engine, and I’ve been doing some reading of my old Ant stuff. As I did with Mythweaver, I’ve gone back to the beginning (which stretches nearly 20 years now) and have started to inventory the good, bad and ugly of previous editions of the game. I’ve done my ‘ultimate edition’ of Mythweaver that takes the best of everything that’s come before – now it’s time to do that with Army Ants.

Right away, I know that this is not going to use the same game engine I’ve been tinkering with for the last few years – the Resolute system that has been the backbone of Mythweaver and Resolute. This project is going back to basics, to many of the key concepts from the first edition of Army Ants (the first RPG came out in 1997). In fact, it’s going further back than that. 

The first RPG I ever wrote was in a spiral notebook, and it was called ‘Battlefield’ (maybe 1984?).  The game was built backwards – it started with a map I drew of a fortified island controlled by a mercenary warlord. It had a castle fortress, a volcano that had been engineered as a missile silo, a small airfield, a missile base, a beach, a small jungle. We wanted to create a huge mission group (dozens of soldiers – fighter pilots, bombers, airborne rangers, a platoon of marines) that would launch a multi-pronged attack on the island. The rules existed only to allow us to do this. I spent about a week coming up with the rules for how we’d make it work, and we spent some of Friday night, and all day Saturday, besieging the island with our squads of troops. There were no miniatures involved- this was all pen and paper role playing- and we were just as concerned with the individual abilities of each commando (they all had names, personalities, inter-group dynamics) as we were with the larger tactical units. In fact, we spent much of our time in the prep sessions creating characters for each fighter pilot, each grunt, and each saboteur who would take part in the assault.

I don’t mean to over-glamorize this, or to sell myself as a prodigy game designer at 13 years old. It was an ugly, clunky little game that we had to hold together with duct tape and chicken wire to get through the weekend, but at the end of it all, we all felt that we had ‘simulated’ in some way this assault, and were satisfied that the mechanics had fully supported our immersion. Yeah, I know. We didn’t talk that way, or think that way, but this is what ‘that was awesome!’ meant.

So there’s design goal #1. The game – whatever it looks like – has to allow you to do that. You have to be shift back and forth between individual missions, and the game must fully support every aspect of a large-scale military siege, but do so in a way that allows you to attack an entire fortified island on a number of different fronts in a single weekend. It’s NOT a wargame. It’s an RPG that allows you to take your RPG characters into a wargame scenario, and continue to roleplay through it. While some systems I’ve published have included some mass combat rules, this game has to include mass combat as a central part of the narrative.

To go a step further, the large battles in the original Star Wars trilogy operate under exactly the sort of the dynamic I’m looking for. You have these huge battles happening, but it’s all just the backdrop for the smaller character-driven stories happening within it. You aren’t worried that you have just lost 8 combat interceptors and you are going to take a penalty to your next tactical roll – you are worried that 8 of your allies (I just had breakfast with those ants!) are now a smear mark on the side of the canyon, and the other characters swear solemn oaths that they will be avenged!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Solo Adventuring and the Magician Archetype

I've grown quite enamored of my solo play experience over the last few weeks. I haven't posted much about it online, as I have been keeping it as a primarily luddite experience, but I've made a few discoveries about the 'best' solo character.

I've long felt that either a defender or thief would be the best solo character, followed by a fighter and then a magician. As a defender, you can heal yourself, and you have some combat capabilities that would keep your vertical or allow you to hold your own in a fight. This seemed the best for solo play.

As a thief, you trade the healing and some spell power for versatility; you are stealthy, and you can deal awesome damage with your backstab. You can move about dungeons with aplomb, as your abilities align well with many of the challenges you will face in the underdark. Pick up a few healing potions, and you should be good to go.

As a warrior, you don't have much variety - doors will have to be broken down, and traps will have to be survived, but you are tough, and you can stand up to pretty much anything.

I assumed magicians were too squishy - get surprised or hit a trap, and you're done in one shot. Come across a creature that resists your big spell? The party's over.

However, my little half-goblin magician has been a pleasant surprise. At first, I was somewhat annoyed at the spells that I kept ending up with (I am honoring the dice results, no matter how much I don't like them, and I'm allowing them to tell the story). I was hoping for something that would make my character more valuable in combat. It didn't pan out that way...

The first roll was that he had repair as the only spell in his spell book. At first, that sucked - then I realized that this allowed him to basically rummage through the entirety of the dungeon beneath his cruel master's tower with abandon - break down a door, knock over a table, or set off a trap? No problem. Drop a repair spell on it, and it's good as new - the boss will probably never even notice that anything happened.

Next, I randomly rolled summon, and then randomly rolled for the creature type - a shadeling. Ick. Except of course for his immateriality, that allows him to move through doors and scout ahead, effectively becoming a wizard eye and a little thief all in one.

During play testing, I kept feeling like I must be allocating points for magicians poorly, because they always ended up as mediocre damage dealers in the actual plays. Nope. I just didn't understand the class I had written. They (not thieves) are the ultimate jacks of all trades. In addition, I undervalued the importance of being able to identify magic items when you find them, and of being able to dig through books you find for bits of useful information. My cleric would still be praying for guidance about how to get to level 2 of the dungeon, my thief would be trying to figure out how to sneak by the stone colossus; my fighter would have died throwing himself at the colossus; my magician, however, used his shadeling to check the walls and floors until he found a chamber underneath another one, and hired some goblins to come in and dig a new passage to level 2. Problem solved!

My magician just found a scroll with burglary on it (woohoo), and he's been thinking about giving his shadeling a little bit of toughness, stealth, and maybe even reflective armor as it gets more powerful. None of these are the big hitter spells or effects that I imagine when I discuss magicians (no fireballs here), but - slowly and surely - he's becoming a formidable character.

I haven't run across a challenge yet that the little guy wasn't up for. He's only earned his way from 10 CPs to 14 CPs (so still level 1), but he's managed to work his way out of some hairy situations, and he's on the verge of recovering an amulet that will bump up his Lore considerably, and maybe not only make him versatile, but help him deal some real damage to boot.

As far as solo play goes, I have to say magician FTW.

Monday, November 12, 2012

On Being A RPG Luddite

In the most recent Sandy's soapbox at, Sandy discusses the resurgence of love for 'classic' approaches to RPG playing. Go ahead and read the column. I'll wait.


Back? Good.

Anyway, I've approached my most recent round of play testing in this way. I created a character, created all of the game material, drew my maps, and took all of my notes using pencil and paper. Instead of using an online dice roller (as I had been for the last few playtests I'd done), I cracked out my dice and started rolling. It's been an interesting experience- the visceral sensation of rolling dice vs. using an online roller is substantially different. The sound of the die bouncing, the physical sensation of rolling, the click of dice hitting each other - these are integral to the drama of play. With the online roller, you get an instantaneous result as soon as you click the button. The die can roll, letting fate linger for an extra fraction of a second. Those fractions of a second add up, each one adding to the value of the experience.

Also, there's something more concrete, more real, and more permanent when using pen (or even pencil, as in my case) and paper. I find myself debating decisions more fully before committing myself to writing something down. I'm building the character, the campaign, the dungeon (which is starting to spill outside of the dungeon into the larger environment as well), and each creature or item one piece at a time. Each of these is a greater commitment with pencil and paper: partly because it's harder to just delete and do it again; partly because I type more quickly than I write; and partly because the process of writing it down brings with it a sense of craftsmanship. When I'm typing, the letters always look the same, the blocks of dungeon background appear identical whether I took my time or whether I clicked away like crazy. On the naked page, with pencil in hand, the attention to detail and care that went into the creation of that page show through.

I have folders full of hand-written notes from RPG sessions that I've kept for years, and which every few months I'll peruse in search of an old idea that I'd almost forgotten about. I'm looking forward to adding the notes I create today to the stack. Maybe I'll look back on them in 20 years, too.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

A Brief Update

After a hiatus of several months, I'm 'between shows' at school (we just posted the cast list for our spring musical, but we'll be amping up to that slowly over the next few weeks), so I've been doing some play testing... I am going back through the draft I had going for the first Mythweaver Chronicles, and I'd like to actually wrap that up some time soon. Again, no promises, but things look much better for getting some Mythweaver stuff done than they did a few months ago when I last posted!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Best Laid Plans...

I had planned on working diligently through the end of August on Mythweaver stuff to give myself a big backlog for when my beginning of school year tidal wave hit- I'd be ready to keep a steady online presence for a few months. As you can see from the fact that I haven't updated the blog in two weeks, it hasn't panned out that way.

The tidal wave effectively hit two weeks early. I haven't even been able to think about gaming stuff with the 'real life' stuff that's been coming my way. I plan to keep working on RPG stuff on and off, but I'll warn you now it will likely be more off than on for the next while. I am close to done on a few projects, and I'll use the time I have to put finishing touches on things so I can get a handful of releases out there ASAP.

Thanks for your ongoing support!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Monster Mash: Infernal Hellhound

Here's a nasty doggy to spring on your heroes... I'm going to have a few of these tracking my wife's character tomorrow when we play. I expect she'll make short work of these, but you never can tell.

Infernal Hellhound (70 CPs)
Bite (hit +7/ dmg +10); Evade +4; Soak D12+4
Bite +5; Intuition +7; Invulnerability +4; Might +5; Prowess +7; Speed +3; Stealth +3

Summoned from the heart of Pandemonium, the Infernal Hellhound tracks its prey with relentless fury.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Monster Mash: Chaos Pixies

Now for a low-level threat.

Chaos Pixie (8 CPs) Pixie blade (hit +1/ damage D6+1); Evade +1; Soak D6
Flight +1; Intuition +1; Lore +2; Prowess +1
Chaos (+2), Linked to Lore
1' tall faerie folk dedicated to absolute chaos, chaos pixies delight in confounding mortals. When a chaos pixie dies, it explodes, dealing 8 wounds to all targets in the same unit; targets roll to soak this damage.

Chaos (spell trait): Once per scene, you may cast a spell on a living target in casting range, forcing the target to behave in random ways. If the spell is successful, the target either wanders aimlessly for D6 rounds (roll of 1-2 on D6), attacks an ally for D6 rounds (roll of 3-4 on D6), or performs a bizarre action for D6 rounds (roll of 5-6 on D6).

A little poetry...

I'm working on my novel set in the Splintered Realm, and FINALLY figured out how to weave in the story of the Great Reckoning and the way in which the world came together. It's turning out as a sort of Rime in three parts. Here's the first part (at least in draft form) to show you how it's coming together... the novel draft itself is in the 52,000 word range right now, and I'd like to get it up past 55,000 before I try shopping it around. By the way, if you know a good agent- let me know!

I. The Great King’s Folly

There was a king
O’er mortal things
Whose palace bright did shine.
T’was coveted
so many said
For leagues a hundred nine.

He’d settled lands
And forged war bands
That stretched from sea to sea.
But this regent
Was not content
To rest ‘pon victory.

He knew above
A queen of love
Kept more for her than he.
This Queen of all
Lady Yahall
Ruled all things, even he.

Arvathon’s gaze
Through clouds and haze
Espied her Citadel.
His jealous heart
spurred wheels to start
To draw us all to hell.

For to his side
Spurned on by pride
The king did counsel call.
And told each one
When year was done
Her husband he’d be called.

Their kingdoms true
No longer two
Would now united be.
Earth and above
With binds of love
Would death itself set free.

So word he sent
And up it went
A call to marry her.
For seven days
Off’rings ablaze
They waited her answer.

And down it came
On tongues of flame
No consort could he be.
The Queen Above
All men did love
Such favor he’d not see.

But undeterred
Knowing she’d erred
The king resolved anew,
To seek her hand
Anew he planned
To make a husband true.

He’d earn his place.
He’d see her face.
He’d yet make her his bride.
In mounting rage,
Seen not this age,
He vowed to save his pride.