Monday, December 30, 2013

Army Ants Adventure Journal Coming Soon

I think that I've FINALLY decided on the format for Army Ants Adventure Journal, and I'm cobbling together the first issue. I wanted to have it out for January 1, but there is pretty much no way this is going to happen. The magazine is effectively going to follow a hex crawl as a group of ants travels into the untamed north. I'm working up a series of random encounter tables for developing hexes that I'll publish in the first issue, as well as a starter mission to get the team going. The default assumption will be that the team will start at Level 2 (since they are going to need some ability to be independent) as the crawl kicks off.

To that end, I went back to my team from the actual play thread and worked through finishing the first mission from the core rules. I've cross-posted the thread at both and the rpgsite. This team will be the soldiers who march into the Untamed North and explore.

In other news, Mary and I have been play testing another game system (based on the Army Ants game engine, but with a completely different approach) that we're quite excited about. I'll be triple-teaming on things for a bit, getting work done on the Shakespeare Deathmatch KS (my top priority as of Thursday(, Army Ants game and comic stuff, and the new project... bwahahahaha.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

What I've Been Working On

I've been off of school for the last week, and have been spending a lot of time with family, which has been great. We got to see Frozen yesterday, and it was the first movie that we've taken our daughter to that she sat through the whole thing! She quite enjoyed it, and Mary and I liked it, too. My birthday was Thursday (thanks to everyone who gave me a shout out) and that was fun as well.

As far as gaming (which is kinda' what this blog is about), I've been tinkering with all sorts of things. I gave myself a 'free pass' during this vacation - I know that as of January 1, I need to put most of my energies into getting Shakespeare Deathmatch done and that KS fulfilled, and then I can shift gears full time to the next project - whatever that is. I have a few ideas, but I've spent the last few days tinkering with the Army Ants game engine to see how I can port it over to fantasy, supernatural horror, and superhero genres.

I've learned that with some minor tweaks, I can simplify the basic game engine and port it over pretty much anywhere. In fact, it's almost MORE flexible than the Resolute game engine, which I find hard to believe. I was able to scratch out some builds for a variety of supers of various abilities and with some quirky powers, and I had an intuitive fix that the game presented almost immediately. Let me give you a for instance so you can see what I'm talking about... here's a character I'm playing (a basic level 1 D+D style cleric). The big change here is that some of the linked abilities/talents (like spells) instead of always piggybacking on an attribute die sometimes convert that modifier to a dice rating (+1 becomes D6 in this, +2 becomes D8, etc)

Ash (10 points) 16 hits
Body D6; Mind D6; Prowess   D8 (Melee +1); Spirit D6 (Faith +1)
Healing D6; Turn Undead D6

- Healing allows you, 3x per day, to restore dice + Faith hits to a target within 30’.
- Turn Undead allows you, at will, to use 1 turn to attempt to force an undead creature to turn back. Roll Dice + Faith, and the target rolls Spirit + Willpower to resist. If you roll 2 successes (10+ beyond the target’s resist) you instantly turn the target to ash, destroying it completely.

- She carries a light mace (D6 damage) and wears leather armor +1. I’ll give her basic starting gear including salt (D4), torches, a wooden stake (D4), and 3 uses of holy water (D6).

It balances itself in a variety of ways. Here are some examples:
- Since Body sets the rating for your weapons and armor, a character with high body (a fighter) automatically has access to better gear; a character with lower body (a magic user) automatically doesn't. You don't need artificial constraints. It gives verisimilitude that I can't wear the armor or carry the weapon because I'm not strong enough. It doesn't make sense (and never did to me) that I can't wear or carry this gear because it interferes with my mystical energy field...
- Each spell can have built-in limits to offset more power. For example, your basic fire spell can deal D6, D8, D10 or D12 damage depending on how much you invest in it, but you can use that every round. However, your fireball (which deals D6, D8, D10 or D12 per level) is only usable three times per day. It's an awesome spell, but you have limited access to it. Right now, I only see levels for players going up to about level 5, so that would cap things somewhat. As a level 5 caster, you could have a 'cheaper' fireball spell that deals 5D6 damage, or a very expensive one that deals 5D12 damage - or anywhere in between. Again, it's self-limiting. It makes no sense to purchase Fireball before level 2 (since the multiple dice don't kick in until then), and even if you put all of your eggs into your Fireball (investing the maximum points to get the D12 damage rating with it), you still will only deal 2D12 damage at level 2, which is great damage, but not a game balance issue. However, this gives a ton of variety, and three casters with very similar builds (they all have fireball) will have different variations on fireball, and do different things with it. Dragon breath works almost exactly the same way... dragon level x dice. A level 7 dragon (probably a pretty typical level for a dragon) deals 7D6 damage with even the most basic breath weapon - and a really good one deals 7D12 damage. Yikes. 

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Thank You!

Thanks to the Kickstarter backers who signed along for Shakespeare Deathmatch. It's been quite gratifying for Mary and I to see how many people are enthused for this project. We're going to get going on layout and design work in the next few weeks, and we'll keep people posted on the progress of the game through the KS page and our blogs.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Shakespeare Deathmatch Winding Down

We're in the final 24 hours of the Shakespeare Deathmatch Kickstarter. It's a card game where you play a Shakespearean character... what's not to love?

Friday, December 13, 2013

Some Thoughts On Webcomic Design

In re-imagining Army Ants as a webcomic series instead of a series of full comic books or graphic novels, I've made some changes to the approach I take to design and storytelling. I've found that the slower pace of working on the story one page at a time has caused me to slow down and be more purposeful in some of my decision making (which is a GREAT thing).

With each page of webcomic, a few key objectives guide the decisions I make. Each page should:

- Progress the story. The story has to take at least one step forward. I know that the pacing of a story is going to slow down considerably compared to the same story told over 16 pages of comics. I've been deeply influenced by Prince Valiant here. I'm willing to take a (hopefully minor) hit to the continuity of pages when they are read over an extended period of time to have each webcomic stand alone a little better. I was struck by this while reading a Prince Valiant collection earlier this year (and I'm getting a new one for Christmas - Volume 4 I think - looking forward to it!). Each individual page is a good chunk of story, but I feel like I can only read a few pages at a time. It's not the kind of book you sit down and read cover-to-cover (at least I don't). It's something that I linger over for an extended period, making my way slowly through the text. I expect that the next Army Ants collection may elicit a similar response. Right now, I feel like the two collections that are in print read quite breezy - you can move through either volume in an hour or two. The webcomics are simply denser in regards to storytelling.

- Have some payoff. There should be a moment of emotional or intellectual satisfaction for the reader. There should be the opportunity for a laugh, a moment of empathizing with a character, a moment where the reader as an 'ah ha!', or a bit of drama. 

- Illuminate at least one character. There should be an aspect of character revealed/reinforced/developed in each page. You should feel after reading a page that you know at least one of the characters a little better.

- Bonus Points: An Image. Ideally (although this cannot be a for sure thing every strip) have at least one image that is memorable/cool/interesting/well-composed. Yeah, I know. The whole THING should be this way. However, some panels are going to be talking heads or establishing shots (how many times have I drawn a long shot of the wasp hive to establish that as the setting?). I typically build a strip around one image that came to mind, and I want to make sure that this image stands out in some way. Sometimes, the repetition of the same image (as in this page with Phil) is fundamental to the way the story is happening (I use the same framing to establish pacing, sacrificing cool visuals to make that happen). 

As far as technical things go, I've gone full circle back to crafting the comics on Bristol Board, in the following order:
1. Drawing the whole thing in a 2H pencil and roughing in the lettering (images are 10" wide and 7.5" tall). 
2. Go in and write in the lettering with a fine tip marker.
3. Put in balloon borders and panel borders with a broad tip marker.
4. Rough in most of the line work with a broad tip marker.
5. Go back and do detail work I missed and draw in all line work/hatching/shading with a fine tip marker.
6. Go back and drop in large areas of black with a Sharpie.
7. Erase (this usually takes a few sweeps - erase/clean off shavings/find areas I missed/repeat until done).
8. Scan at 600 dpi in black and white and save as a jpg.
9. Clean up and drop in grey areas (if applicable). I sometimes have to save as a bmp first to clean out the clutter from the image to get clean fill with the grey.
10. Save as a smaller file at 700 pixels wide for publication on the web.

This allows me to publish an image that fits nicely on a monitor, but which when I publish in a comics collection later on will allow me to get two webcomics to a page. In only 120 more comics (so about two years - yikes!) I'll have enough material to publish a third TPB. Honestly, the pace I'm at now (I can create an entire page in about two and a half hours) puts me in a position to MAYBE step up the publication schedule early next year to get back to two strips per week. It's nice to know that when I sit down after putting Gracie to bed with a blank page I can have an entire webcomic done before I go to bed.

The final thing that's different is my overall approach to the extended story. I have a 'general' sense of where the comic will be in the next 30-50 strips, a good idea of what's happening in the next 6-10 strips, and a solid idea of what's happening in the strip following the one I'm working on now. Each strip paints me into a corner, and limits my options going forward. It's a fun way to tell stories. For Year of the Ant, I knew far more details of the end of the story when I started it than I do now with Fall of Valhalla. I know how it ends, and I know some of the key points along the way, but many of the details are still up for grabs. It may take 30 strips to tell the story (unlikely, but possible), it may take 50 (more likely) or it could take 100 (that might be pushing it). Right now, I'm letting it tell itself.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Shakespeare Video Diary

We've posted a video - a designer diary entry - on the Kickstarter Page for Shakespeare Deathmatch. We had also worked up a very cheesy video of me reading the prologue that we use to introduce the game, but it ended up even cheesier than I imagined, and couldn't bring myself to post it... maybe someday...

Dang but I'm having fun!

I'm just having a grand old time!

Shakespeare Deathmatch is plugging along well. We've done minimal promotion for it, and have yet to finish a video for it (things we keep meaning to do, but which keep getting back burnered... we have less than two weeks left in the campaign, so it's probably time to get on top of that!) People have been very excited about it, and we're excited to put it all together. It's a tight little game, and I think people are going to enjoy playing it.

Resolute continues to sell. I'm almost at 100 copies of that sold (92 as of this afternoon on RPGNow), and that's with almost no advertising or promotion. Several people have e-mailed me or messaged me about doing a Resolute Kickstarter and releasing a deluxe edition of the rules. I'm quite tempted to do this, and may consider it after the Shakespeare Deathmatch KS wraps up and I get that project done.

Army Ants stuff plugs along nicely. I've finished two more webcomics in the last 24 hours, and I'm back to being ahead of schedule, which is a good feeling. I've got some work done towards the next game release (which I keep waffling on what that will look like) and should be releasing something new after the first of the year. I'm back to leaning towards the Adventure Journal model, since that would allow me to work on several things at once, and reward me for my scattered approach to all things MTDAA right now!

As far as the webcomic goes, I spent some time playing with different pens, different paper, and different formats, and I've arrived at an approach that I absolutely love, and will continue to use for the foreseeable future. The current strip was near the end of the experimental phase, and the next strip (on Monday) is with the paper/pen combo that I like best. I'm still tweaking lettering pens, but for everything else I'm pretty solid.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Army Ants Community Launches

+Michael Radzichovsky has launched an Army Ants community on Google+. I am excited to see what comes of this, and I'd encourage you to swing by and sign up. I know that I'll be dropping by often!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Back It For A Buck Challenge

Today in Board Games hosts a pretty cool Back It For a Buck challenge, whereby they work to increase visibility for a wide range of games from a lot of cool creators. Mary and I are in for the challenge, and we'd encourage you to check out the challenge as well and see what sorts of cool stuff is out there!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Against the Termites: Map #1

In some strange alternate universe where +Dyson Logos and Kevin Campbell worked together to create spawn with their shared DNA, they'd probably engender something that would produce a map like this. Or, I could just do it myself.

This is the style I plan on going with for the termite mound. This map still needs to be stocked so I can run Zak through it, but the basic idea is that two of the four warring clans share this common hub, although these two clans are currently in the midst of something of a truce, united (at least temporarily) against the strongest of the termite factions... there's also a mutant roundworm locked under the grate to the south, so Zak may want to steer clear of there for the interim.

Shakespeare Deathmatch Update

We've posted some card rough designs for Shakespeare Deathmatch, and people continue to sign up as backers! We've already exceeded our initial goal as well as our first stretch goal, and it looks promising to get to the $1,000 stretch goal. Thanks to everyone who has backed so far!

However, we are currently at the ominous total of $666, so I'll feel a little better when we get one more backer...

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Shakespeare Deathmatch

For fun, I've put together a side project called Shakespeare Deathmatch. Mary and I are writing this together.

Yeah. That's right.

The poop doth get real.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Shipping and Receiving

While the original plan was to have Zak go right at the heart of the mound from the onset, the image I posted yesterday has been echoing around in the old noggin, and we’re going to start instead at the fringes of the mound, at one of the more remote entrances. Zak will be hiding out along a road leading to the mound, waiting for a termite supply truck to go by – then he can (secretly) hitch a ride into the mound.

The termites share a ‘central’ shipping and receiving facility, with secure branches that lead into other parts of the mound. There’s something nicely bizarre about a group of warring, insane creatures who share a common loading dock for their stuff… they stand around trying to psych each other out, and when a shipment arrives for one, their reps grab it and run into the facility laughing maniacally at the others. This is a metaphor, but it’s kind of the idea. They all work in secret in this shared facility, taking their individual shipments through secured gateways, but using the common receiving area. They don’t actually bring the fight here – in large part because it’s the lackeys who are sent to retrieve shipments - and the lackeys don’t really want to fight and kill each other unless ordered to do so. They probably talk a lot of smack and threaten each other routinely, but they leave their guns at home.

It might be a good idea that this is a bit more formalized, so that no weapons are allowed into the shipping section – all have agreed that they need a way to get things into the mound that they can use, and so they allow this common area to remain common.

I suppose that any sort of ‘gentleman’s agreement’ of this sort is likely to break down at some point; maybe we need a fifth faction within the mound (connecting this faction to the workers who maintain the place) of an elite royal guard whose only purpose is to moderate the fight between factions. They are adjudicators of the will of the High Queen, fulfilling her final wishes. They are the ones who prevent others from just picking off workers at random, and they are the ones who prevent larger attacks upon the mound. In fact, these guys are the biggest challenge to a group of ants that might try to sneak in, because they are actively looking for non-termite intruders! The other termites don’t really care if ants are poking around (and probably will try to use them to attack other factions), but the royal guard? Not so much…

Termite Sentry
20 CPs; Level 3; Hits 9; Feat +2
Body D6; Mind D6; Prowess D8; Spirit D10
Aim +2; Binding Spit +2; Flight +1; Melee +2; Security +2
Rifle (D6; range 3); stun grenade (D6+D10); knife +1

Termite Ability: Binding Spit. The termite may strike a target up to rating centimeters away, rolling Prowess + Binding Spit and the target rolls a Body Feat to shrug off the effects of the spit. Targets failing the feat take a -1 die shift to all physical actions, and take a -1 shift to Move. It takes D4 rounds to remove the spit.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Research into - you guessed it - Termites!

As I learn more about termites and their mounds, it’s clear that they are the perfect creatures around which to develop a megadungeon concept… Want to read further? Check out these two sites: and

Okay, you’re back. A few takeaways:

The worker caste is neutral, and is below the soldier caste. This means that maintenance crews are always moving around the mound, repairing, replacing and upgrading environments – even in the middle of other stuff going on. They are completely disinterested in the politics of the place; their only motivation is to keep the place together. This means that the other castes either 1) ignore them entirely, letting them go about their day, or 2) take them and manipulate them to build/repair/construct as they see fit. It would make sense that the termite overlord of flame takes a bunch of these workers, puts them in fire-retardant suits, and sends them into the middle of his inferno flux reactor to help build the darned thing; and when it blows up in the middle of testing, another batch of workers shows up (alerted to the fact that there’s been damage done to the mound) and he sticks them in suits and puts them back on the job…

Soldiers naturally fly and naturally spit a sticky slime that impedes foes. Well this is nasty, is different from other things in the game, and gives them a non-lethal attack that has a mechanical side to it. Nice.

The environment of the mound contains all of these cool elements that give it the vibe I want – Fungal gardens? Natural ventilation shafts? A huge central flume? Egg chambers? SWEET

The mound includes many entrances and exits. This is a must for a megadungeon. I just have to pick one and start building from there.

My initial thought was that I’d start with one specific clan and build its entrance. Now, I think I want to develop a neutral node that connects to four other claimed nodes, work out some random encounters (and a handful of keyed encounters) and get this thing up and running.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

More Decisions About Termites

Here are a few more decisions/flavor pieces that shape the ‘big picture’ of the termite mound:

- We’re increasing from three termite clans/families to four. The fourth will be focused on genetic mutation, attempting to develop super-powers that would allow the queen to regenerate, live forever, and be nigh invulnerable. I see them extracting animal parts and radiating these, experimenting to see what happens. An entire node could be devoted just to developing a ‘human torch’ insect, littered with failed experiments and odd fire-based machines. The same could be true for any number of powers these termites would care to develop.

- The mound is an ancient space (by bug standards). There was once a great termite empire (back in the day – which might only be ten years ago, but to insects this would be a long time, right?) the termites constructed this huge, labyrinthine mound. Then, the sickness came, and wiped them out almost completely. They retreated into the dark, nursing their wounds and living on the edge of annihilation for a few generations. This most recent queen came to power, and restored the power and prestige of the termites, saving them from the brink of extinction. They began to return to the mound proper, exploring old passages and tunnels that had fallen into disuse, sometimes inhabited by other creatures. When the queen died at the height of this exploration, her daughters fell into fighting amongst themselves, and civil war broke out along clan lines throughout the complex. There are no clear lines of who controls what – they were once intermingled throughout, and when civil war erupted, everyone claimed a piece of territory and started to defend it.

- There would be ‘neutral nodes’ where none of the four families lays claim.

- As I think about this whole story, I’m influenced by the flavor of Arkham Asylum (a game I’ve never played, but which I think I get the basic premise – might want to track that down…) A lone dark hero descends into a massive complex populated by insane creatures of great power.

- Edit: I was thinking also that Phil is an important character, since he is in constant contact with Zak, providing him with intel or helping him work through problems (you can elect to take or ignore his advice at various points throughout). Then, as I was reading about Arkham Asylum, I saw that a character was included in the game that performed the same function... hmm. Great minds think alike! Just so you know, I did develop this idea independently of the Batman game - don't let your friends tell you otherwise!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Back in the Saddle - Again!

Hooray! My play is done ('Romeo and Juliet' closed on Saturday), the set is struck, and all of the final wrap-up is done... meaning that I can fully shift my creative gears back to Army Ants! I have managed to keep up on the webcomic (barely) over the last few weeks, I got caught up on packages that I owed people (sorry Brett and DJ, but everything went out toady) and have also been thinking through some of the big ideas for the termite mound.

As far as the mound goes, here are a few broad strokes:
- The mound is an organic rather than modern structure. It has utilities, wires, ventilation shafts and elevators, but these are all nested within an organic, living super-structure.
- Rather than designing by 'levels', I'm going to design by 'nodes'. The thinking right now is that a node will be a themed section within the larger facility. Each node would consist of maybe 10-20 encounter areas. Each node would be an independent environment (with its own utilities and infrastructure) that would have links to at least two others nodes.
- Each node would be identified by a moniker instead of a number. Instead of 'node #1', you will have 'the node of the enervating eye' or 'node of the fallen shades'. In this way, I don't have to worry about how I'd ultimately assemble this whole thing - I can layer new pieces into the larger structure in any order I want, and still create a cohesive whole.
- It would be cool if each node provided an opportunity add a new rule/mechanic/element to the game.
- A gimmick for how this all works is a device that Zak will carry that pulses a sonar wave. The sonar will ping back the layout of the node (since the walls/doors within a node are thinner than the super-structure between nodes). He can explore a small section at a time, getting a map before he sets out, and clearing the map as he goes. It would still be possible to hide things that don't show up on the sonar, and build those into individual encounter areas.
- Chaos is the order of the day. This environment should be exceptionally chaotic, alien, and weird. The termites are not above summoning spirits, gathering energized vats of brains to power psionic machines, building golems out of dead insects, bio-engineering plants and mushrooms with mutant qualities, and imbuing themselves and others with a variety of afflictions just to see what happens.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Against the Termites – Initial Thoughts

Inspired in part by G 1-3 Against the Giants, I’m embarking on the solo adventure/mega-dungeon design in tandem. Here are some initial concepts:

- This fits in the world of MTDAA as the ‘lost story’ of Zak’s integration into the Ant Army. After he became an Army Ant and completed his training, but before he joined the team (as of issue one, or the first page of the MTDAA collection ‘Tour of Duty’), he was sent on a solo mission of some import.
- Quick Backstory: The Termite Mound at the edge of Seven Fields has been a source of growing anxiety for several nations, foremost among them the Ant Republic. Although claiming neutrality with all nations, the termites have appeared to have taken steps to become a military power, and the ants want to know more.
- The Queen has been openly negotiating with the termites, but they’ve been playing their aims and motives close to the vest. She can’t get a good read on what’s really going on… and she needs someone to get inside and find out.

Zak is ideal because:
- He’s not a red ant – he’s an outsider, and no one knows where he’s from (excepting a centipede, a few potato bugs, and three ants). It’s easy to hide his existence, and even easier to deny him should the operation go south. The ants can use him to gather intel, and if he’s found out they can deny that he has anything to do with them.
- His skill set is well-suited to this operation (except for the whole no talking thing).

Zak as published in the Core Rules (page 159) is at the end of Tour of Duty. He’s midway through Level 6. I could back him up to Level 4 or Level 5. This puts him between 100 and 200 XP. Since one of the goals is to make this adventure adaptable to group play (designed for solo play, but easily adjusted to fit a squad), I need to consider how this plays out for group play:

- At 120 XP, he’d be Level 4, but play could be adapted to 2 characters at about 60 XP (level 3), 3 characters at 40 XP (level 2), or 4 characters at 30 XP (also Level 2).
- At 180 XP, he’d be Level 5, but play could be adapted to 2 characters at about 100 XP (level 4), 3 characters at 60 XP (Level 3) or 4 characters at 45 XP (midway through Level 2).

As far as adapting goes, it’s pretty much a wash. Comparable groups could take this on. For solo play, he’s going to need to be as versatile and durable as possible, and I want to be able to design some tougher encounters in here as well. I’m going to put him right at the start of Level 5, at 150 XPs and 30 CPs. I need to reverse-engineer him from the Core Rules, taking away 6 CPs. Dropping his Spirit from D10 to D8 right away nets 4 CPs. I can drop his Explosives altogether to get the other 2 CPs I need. The only other place I could take a hit is in Stealth, but I think that this is going to be his hallmark. Running away and hiding always has to be option #1 in any situation. His goal is NOT to clear the entire complex (seeing as that’s impossible). He needs to move through, gather intel, and make strategic choices about who and when to fight. I think that having explosives also creates more problems than it solves for solo play. I’d actually rather not have that on the table as one of the options for every encounter; the temptation to just blow the whole place up might be too much for any player to withstand.

His build in the Core Rules has 285 Clout, but he’s given up 100 XP and one rank (another 20 Clout), so I have to cut 120 Clout from his build there…

I’ll drop his 2 field grenades (10 clout), 2 high explosive grenades (20 clout) and all of his explosives (84 clout). He won’t be blowing anything up (L). This has freed up 114 clout. I’ll get the other 6 from a boot knife (5 clout – he only needs 1) and 1 cm of rope (the difference between 9 and 10 cm of rope should be negligible… now watch me put in a 10 cm gap he needs to traverse…). I will dock him 5 hits for the level drop, bringing him to 28.

Level 5 Commando (S-5); Hits 28; Feat +3
Body D8; Mind D6; Prowess D10; Spirit D10
Aim +3; Explosives +2; Melee +3; Moxy +1 (+1 ant shift); Mysticism +2; Nature +2; Security +2; Stealth +4 (4 CPs/+1 shift)
2 B-UZs (D6+3; range 4) with silencers;  2 Field Grenades (D6+D6; radius 1 cm); 1 Boot Knife (D8+1 damage); 1 Bola

Binoculars; rope (10 cm); basic aid kit (D4); satchel; basic provisions; bedroll; entrenching tool; basic flashlight (3 cm) grapple.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Thinking Out Loud Some More - Adventure Design

I had a draft of the first issue of Army Ants Adventure Journal about 3/4 written, but decided I didn't really like the direction it was going, and have been going back and forth about the direction for the development of the game going forward.

See... this is the thing. There are three basic audiences to which I am marketing my games:

1. People who like reading and collecting RPGs, even though they rarely (if ever) have a chance to play them. (I'd estimate 40% of the people who have purchased my game fall into this category).
2. People who want to support and collect RPGs, even if they never even find time to read many of the RPGs they are supporting. (I'd estimate another 40% of the people fall here).
3. People who plan to actually play the durned thing! (I'd estimate this at less than 20% of the people who purchased my game).

PLEASE don't take this as a criticism, regardless of which category you fall into. It's not. It's a reality of the situation. For the record, I fall into the first two categories almost exclusively for my own (limited) RPG purchases. I have little time to play, and what time I have gets devoted to developing my own brand. This applies to most of my hobby purchases - I might take a year to put together a LEGO set I get for Christmas, and a new video game could sit in a drawer for 6 months before I get around to actually trying the thing (I purchased the first Force Unleashed game at a garage sale in June, and I have yet to crack it open and try it out).

So, how do I do something about this? How do I encourage people to spend more time in my imaginary worlds? People with degrees and tons of experience in marketing and promotion are attempting to solve the same problems in the world of RPGs, and are having limited success, so I won't presume to have better answers. However, here are a few things that I have to consider...

1. Since the time people DO have is mostly on their own, and time with an actual gaming group is exceedingly valuable, it behooves me to make that time between reader and book as valuable as I can make it. This means that the books themselves should be entertaining.
2. As an even better solution, you should be able to play the game by yourself. I've read some solo scenarios (and I've even written one myself), and I think there's some fun to be had here. Ideally, the solo adventures are constructed in such a way that adapting to traditional group play is seamless.
3. I want to make sure that the experience of gaming in the world of MTDAA contains some parallels to the comic. The game should enrich your reading of the comics, and the comics should enrich your experience with the game. In theory, there's a distinct overlap between the two.

The problem I have had with solo adventuring is that is tends to be inherently limited. You don't have the open game world and rich character growth in solo gaming that you do with collaborative play. You almost need some form of built-in AI in the game itself in order to create an organic experience of the character interacting with the game world.

One way to do this is through the idea of factions, which I plan to steal from MMORPGs... in fact, there are probably several things that I should consider stealing from MMORPGs... for example, the environment (and I'm thinking of a megadungeon sort of thing right now - the Termite Mound), has several factions of termites within. You have faction ratings with each of the three factions; as you interact positively with one faction, you could increase your ability to leverage that into getting things from them. Your negative faction means that you have been identified as a threat, and the faction would mobilize to find you.

The other consideration is building the story itself as a 'lost story' of the MTDAA comics world. By and large, the most popular character is the enigmatic commando Zak. He never speaks, so this could be a problem in terms of interactions with others. I'd have to find some way for him to interact with others, or for a surrogate to do this for him... but I think that a solo mission into a massive termite mound that develops a mega-dungeon over time would be a fun way to approach this. The adventures would have to be relatively open-ended (not quite as formalized as the standard 'choose your own adventure' paths - 'if you pull your weapon go to 14, if you try to talk to the perp, go to 27'). Each encounter has several paths it could travel down, but your movement through the environment would be open-ended. The dungeon itself becomes a story path, but you aren't limited to only the 2-3 options that appear at the end of the entry.

Hmmm. I'll let this percolate for a bit and see what comes up...

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Webcomic Design - Thinking 'Out Loud'

I'd gotten away from using this blog to actually discuss my design process and working through my creative options, and I'd like to get back to that. Let's talk today about webcomic page designs...

As I've been posting comics for the last several weeks, I have been working through my backlog of pages and doing some design work behind the scenes for the next phase of the webcomic going forward. Throughout, I've alternated some different layouts and page configurations, as well as some different scanning steps, to see how things go, and to work out a process I want to use going forward.

I've come to think that posting what are effectively 'half pages', formatted effectively as a 4.5" tall by 6" wide image, gives me the best way to build the strip going forward. I first heard about this idea, looking at each page as units of half of a page, through the 'Duck Man' Carl Barks, who approached his pages this way. I played with this way back during the time I was creating issues 6-7 of Army Ants, but soon dropped it so that I had more freedom to design on each page. However, I like it for the webcomic for a variety of reasons:

1. The format fits nicely on a computer screen. I don't like traditional page format as much (a traditional 9" tall by 6" wide image) when read on a computer. You have to scroll to see it all, and you may end up losing part of an image depending on how the page is set up.
2. I like the idea of disciplining myself to make sure that each half page is a 'unit' of story... it progresses the plot in some meaningful way, develops a character in some meaningful way, or delivers a joke. Ideally, it does 2 of the 3 (and in a perfect world all 3, but let's keep out goals manageable, shall we?).
3. Victory beats. I want to continuously give myself a sense of getting something done. I can 'finish' a page that is half as much as a page used to be. One evening is not really a long enough time to complete an entire page formatted at 15" tall and 10" wide. However, at half that size, I can turn out a page (script, layout, pencils, letting and inking it) between putting my daughter to bed and going to be myself. That's a win.
4. Most important of all, it's easiest to scan! I can create original art at a scale of 7.5" tall and 10" wide, and the art is easy to scan. For the last several weeks, I've been running into problems where my original pages have images that are larger than the bed of my scanner, meaning that I have to scan them in chunks and then cut and paste them together on the computer screen. It's been relatively labor-intensive, and the last thing I want to do with a page that is 'done' is spend another half hour re-formatting it so I can publish it.
5. Ultimately, when I go to compile these pages for print, I can put them together 2 to a page to create print pages. It's an easy transition from the web to print for these pages.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Great Ant Giveaway: Winner's Circle

I put together a little pool for the winners of the giveaway... for subscribing, you earned 3 entries, and for each comment you earned +1 entry. I assigned number ranges to each entry, and used a random die roller online to determine the winners. However, when I was done I realized that this left two subscribers from during the contest who didn't get a prize... and since the second-place prizes are mostly digital downloads anyway, I'm going to give the second prize to all other subscribers!

See? I TOLD you that you should have subscribed...

Anyhow, congratulations to 'The Corinthian' who is the grand prize winner! I'll be contacting you via private message on the Comic Fury. All of the second-place winners will get a PM from me as well.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Webcomic Slowing Down for October

I'll be shifting to weekly updates on the webcomic throughout October, posting only on Mondays. I only have a few weeks of strips on backlog right now, and I want to stay ahead of it so I don't have to slip into a hiatus. My play at school ("Romeo and Juliet") is now within 4 weeks of opening, and it's homecoming week, so I'm busy busy busy. I keep thinking about Army Ants stuff... just haven't been able to DO any of it.

I will also be announcing the winners of the Great Ant Giveaway this weekend. Thanks to everyone who entered!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Counting Down

I haven't had a whole lot of time to really push the Great Ant Giveaway, and as a result only a few people have signed up to subscribe to the webcomic. What does that mean to you? It means that your odds of winning some Army Ants swag are pretty good! If I were you, I'd get over to the MTDAA Webcomic, get caught up on the nearly 50 strips in the archive, and then sign up as a subscriber lickety split. While I was at it (me being you and all) I'd also go and make some comments on a few strips to up my odds of winning!

Wow, I didn't know you were so clever...

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Inside the Termite Mound

As I think (in my minimal free time) about the next phase of Army Ants game stuff, I've been thinking about termites. I intentionally left these little buggers out of the core rules, because I thought they would be a great source of expansion as I grew the game. I see the termite mound as the megadungeon of the game world, and wanted to leave it, and its inhabitants, painted in the broadest strokes I could to leave myself room for exploration. I've tried to map out a few rough sketches of the inside of a termite mound, but haven't found the right feel for it that distinguishes it from other environments...

Then +Dyson Logos started posting maps by Kevin Campbell and I realized that this is what I've been looking for. I don't want to just cop the guy's style... but I totally want to cop the guy's style. It's got a great organic, chaotic feel that I just love. I just see little termites crawling around in dark building their doomsday machines...

Monday, September 9, 2013

The Back to School Grind

As it does every year, the back to school grind has hit! Whew! This last week has been a freight train... it's a good thing I have a number of webcomics in the can so that I can keep posting! This one is a few hours late, but I technically got it posted on Monday (my time at least), so that counts for something, right?

I particularly like this page, and I think there are some cool little storytelling flourishes... the camera angle wraps around the table as we go, following the conversation. I like the perspective with the two fingers and Phil squinting to see clearly. I like the dialogue. I like the layout.

Really, it's just a sharp little page- and it's nice to have the ants back in the story after focusing on the wasp empire and their machinations for a few pages...

Monday, September 2, 2013

Webcomic Upgrade

I have upgraded the interface on my webcomic to bring it visually in line with the blog, and to create links to the various portals I'd like to direct traffic to...

I've also started work (at last) on some brand new pages, and I'm working to get ahead of the curve on postings. At least for the month of September (during the Great Ant Giveaway!) I'll be posting on both Mondays and Thursdays to drive some traffic.

Remember to stop by the webcomic, sign up as a subscriber, and post a comment or two!

Friday, August 30, 2013

Maybe I Should Have Been An Accountant

Because clearly numbers are what people want to read blogs about! Seriously, my blog saw a HUGE spike over the last two days with this post aboutmy Kickstarter and a breakdown of the money.
Here are some stats for you (since you clearly like stats so much):
- Typically, my blog gets about 50 hits for any posting I do. A low-traffic post gets about 30 hits, while a high-traffic post will garner upwards of 75 hits. I go over 100 once in a while, and 163 was my previous ‘record’ for number of hits on a single posting. That posting garnered 251 visits.
- Typically, I’ll get a handful of +1s for posts that people particularly like – if I hit 4, I’ve done really well. That post got 15!

Not only that, but traffic on my webcomic is up as well!

On a typical day, my webcomic gets about 125 hits, with occasional spikes when I release something new or when I’m especially active on the forums. My webcomic has generated an average of 175 hits over the last four days. The number of unique visitors is up as well, from an average in the teens about a month ago into the lower 20s for the last few days.

These numbers may not be staggering, but they represent an awesome trend from my point of view! I really feel like my work is gaining some traction and generating some awareness. It’s pretty cool. This is especially heartening after I swing by various webcomic forums and read about hard-working creators who find it hard to generate more than a few hits each time they post.

I want to keep the pedal to the metal, too! The webcomic interface will be undergoing a facelift in the next week or so, and I’ll be releasing the first MTDAA RPG newsletter, the Army Ants Adventure Journal, which will be ‘pay what you want’ (so you can get it for free, if that’s what you want!) on RPGNow (assuming I can figure out how the ‘pay what you want’ works…).

I’d love to step up the publication schedule on the webcomic for the month of September, but I need to get a few more comics ‘in the can’ before I do that. I don’t want to hit the end of September and run out of strips and then go dark for a few weeks while I get caught up… I would rather know that I have enough strips backlogged to keep publishing regularly. We’ll see what the next few weeks bring on that front.

Thanks for swinging by! 

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Kickstarter: A Postmortem

Kickstarter encourages transparency and open communication between the creators and the backers of the projects... since I put the wraps on the KS this morning (it is now 100% in the books), I thought I'd share how the numbers break down and let you see how it all works out. If you were like I was - 'holy crow! I made 4 grand!' - you might want to wait until you see how the numbers actually play out... remember that I started with an amount after the Kickstarter and PayPal fees:

Running Balance
March 22
Starting Kickstarter Deposit

March 22
Cover Art Deposit
- 394.00
May 3
- 115.00
May 3
- 163.95
May 8
Custom Ink t-shirts
- 245.40
May 17
Createspace 5 copies + expanded distribution
May 27
Fulfilled Orders for all copies of Volume 1: Tour of Duty
June 24
Cover Art Final Payment
June 28
Padded Mailers
July 12
Character Pad Printing
July 16
Post Office: Shipping Backer Rewards
July 22
Post Office: Shipping Backer Rewards
Aug 10
Expanded Distribution for RPG
Aug 10
Fulfilled Orders for all copies of RPG and Volume 2: Year of the Ant
Aug 11
Hardcovers via Lulu
Aug 13
Lunch Boxes
Aug 17
Hardcover Reprints
Aug 25
Reprints YoA Softcovers
Aug 27
Post Office: Shipping Hardover/Lunchbox/ Art Rewards
Aug 27
Final Hardcovers via Lulu

A few notes:

- All told, I ended up ‘making’ 11% of the Kickstarter’s total. I initially expected to make about 20% when I worked out a projected budget in March. Considering this was my first time around on KS, this wasn't too bad!
- International shipping was a killer. My costs for international shipping for several backers ended up going a bit beyond what I expected.
- Direct shipping books is the way to go! I assume that CreateSpace and Lulu have already crunched all of the numbers (or do it immediately) for each package by size/weight/destination for each carrier, and get the best price. I had the post office, and a postal worker who kept telling me she was giving me the ‘best possible’ rate on packages that I suspect there were better options for… I just couldn’t spend the time/energy comparing shipping on each piece through various carriers. I know that this ended up sucking up some of the money.
- The snafu with the printing was a big problem, but not as disastrous as it could have been thanks to the generosity of so many backers who elected for the pdf reprint only. This error, just in printing, cost 204.97, and shipping for some of the art cost another 27.82, for a total of 232.79.

If I had it to do all over again…
- I’d simply be more patient in shipping, planning ahead better. Everything went out on time, but I was anxious to get things to backers ASAP, especially early on. This means that some people at the upper ends received up to five different packages from me: the initial rewards (t-shirt, patches, tattoos, 2E copies, card sheets) followed by a softcover of comics volume 1, followed by the YoA/RPG softcover, followed by a reprint, followed by hardcovers and lunchboxes… if I had been more patient and planned ahead better, I could have tightened up shipping for everyone by at least one shipping rotation, saving at least $250.
- I’d triple-check my proofs! The misprint of the Year of the Ant (and the hardcovers that had it inside) was the only big problem in this whole thing. 
- I'd package flat things with different mailers and/or hard backing to protect the trading cards better; some people reported that the cards got banged up in shipping.

- The Kickstarter was a true kickstarter in every sense of the concept. I was able to get my complete comics back in print, launch a webcomic and begin to promote it, revise my rpg and put print and digital copies of an entire catalog up for sale that I will be able to build upon for the next several years; the real benefit here is not the money I made on the KS itself, but the ways in which it allowed me to develop an infrastructure going forward.


Monday, August 26, 2013

Kickstarter: The Final Stages

I spent the evening boxing up the signed, limited edition hardcovers and lunch boxes, and those who ordered lunch boxes and/or hardcovers will have your books ship tomorrow (they are all on my living room floor right now, ready to go out)...

I decided to lay out everything that was produced as part of this Kickstarter... it's an impressive little haul of Army Ants merch, if I do say so myself. What's most amazing is that all of this existed only as notes and the raw art six months ago...

By the way, I am SO enamored of the hardcovers that I am going to put those up for sale as well. I still have to price it out through Lulu, and it's going to be a bit expensive, but to me they are completely worth it. The hardcovers are the bee's knees...

Knock on some wood for me (please!) but I am pretty sure that I will have completely fulfilled my Kickstarter (I'm talking 100% yo) before the end of the month of August, which was my targeted release date. Go me with my bad self!

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Webcomic Banner

I'm in the process of upgrading my webcomic presence, and I worked up a banner...

While I'm updating you, I should remind you to sign up as a subscriber and comment on the webcomic, and you could win a hardcover of the collected comics!

Monday, August 19, 2013

The Great Ant Giveaway

The Michael T. Desing’s Army Ants Webcomic is shifting into high gear! Starting today, the next Army Ants graphic novel, the Fall of Valhalla, begins – with a new page from the novel posted every Monday.

This is where you come in!

If you subscribe to the webcomic any time through September 30, you will be entered for a chance to win some awesome MTDAA stuff. In addition, any time you post a comment on one of the comic pages, you will earn an additional chance to win (you have to be a subscriber of the comic first to have a chance to win).

So, what can you get?

- The Grand Prize Winner receives a signed, limited-edition hardcover edition of the Complete Comics (only 1 of 10 copies that will ever be printed), a page of original art from the book, an Army Ants patch and a set of Army Ants tattoos!

- Three Second-Place Finishers will receive pdf copies of the complete comics (Volumes 1 and 2), an Army Ants patch and a set of Army Ants tattoos.

So, get your anterior over to the Army Ants webcomic, get caught up on all of the fun, and get posting today to win!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Thursday Review rAnting – Mouse Guard: Fall 1152

I don’t normally post reviews, although I thought I’d try my hand at it. Today, let’s take a look-see at David Petersen’s Mouse Guard: Fall1152. This was my first foray into the world of the Mouse Guard, and let me say it was quite the enjoyable visit.

Visually, the book is striking. Images are lush, and the storytelling is top-notch. Petersen does a fantastic job establishing a milieu that is rich in sensory detail. This is a dirty, gritty, old world, and the author masterfully draws you into it. As you read, you can feel the heat from the bellows, smell the bread baking in the ovens, and hear the rain spattering in the mud. Throughout, Petersen strikes a perfect balance between cartoony and realistic, creating cute little critters while pulling off blood splatter and hints of gore. This is a violent, brutal world, in spite of the pinch-their-cheeks mice that populate it.

As for the story itself, Petersen displays an exceptional sense of pacing, picking up the action when needed, and using still images and transitional frames throughout to create a compelling narrative. He’s not afraid to pause and let us spend a little time lingering in the world of the Mouse Guard, and the story is all the better for it. The world he creates has a rich history, and the glimpses of it we see in this volume hint at even greater stories to come.

Quibbles? I’m not a huge fan of the computer-generated lettering, which feels slightly inorganic as an overlay on top of the rich, textured and carefully-crafted images. Even here, however, Petersen manages a few storytelling flourishes, using overlapping text bubbles to show characters’ overlapping dialogue. Throughout, his minimalistic approach to text, putting the bulk of the storytelling on the shoulders of the visuals, is a wise choice, and mitigates this concern. If dialogue and captions dominated the pages, the use of computer-generated lettering would have been a distraction – as it is, I’m really looking for something to critique.

In the final analysis, Mouse Guard is worthy of all of the praise that has been heaped upon it. If you haven’t read the book yet, I strongly urge you to pick up a copy and get to it. I’d definitely recommend the collection instead of individual issues of the comic – the slower, more methodical pacing lends itself perfectly to the longer graphic novel format.

Five out of five stars