Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Z is for Zero in the Tank...

I don't like to use my blog to whine... I try to avoid that. However, I just dragged myself over to the computer because I've made a commitment to post as part of the A-Z challenge, and today's the last day. I did it until today, and I wasn't going to let the fact that I'm beat and have a sinus headache that makes it hard to open my eyes stop me...

Okay, I was going to. Then my wife gave me a pep talk and told me to tough it out and post one more update. "c'mon" she said "you made it to Z!"

The problem is that I cannot focus enough to do the post I was going to do, Zero the Cockroach... so I'll talk about zero motivation instead.

I have thought a bit about discipline over the last few days, and how I want to really discipline myself in every facet of my life. I have found working on Army Ants to be good for discipline, because I have to keep plugging away at it a little bit every day. I'm not going to get the comics scanned or the book written in one day, so I just keep taking little steps every day, disciplining myself to get something done.

This daily blog has been a good discipline. I have to do it every day, and get it done, and the letter A-Z system makes me go outside of my comfort zone and maybe talk about something I might have otherwise avoided.

Publishing a weekly webcomic is going to be good for discipline. It's going to help me to have the expectation of a regular publication schedule to keep up with.

So even though this post has been rambling and probably pointless, it's been a good discipline for me to do it. I didn't want to. It was hard. I had a lot of reasons not to. I still did it. That counts for something.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Y is for Year of the Ant... the Plan

Here is an update on the plan/timeline for the Year of the Ant:

As of today:

Over 200 comics pages have been scanned, and I am only missing a handful of original pages for scanning (a few covers or pages I gave away over the years)... I am confident I have a quality photocopy of any original art I'm missing that I can work from. This puts me about 40% of the way through scanning the comics. My plan was to get this done by July, so I am on target with this. I've actually scanned the more difficult pages (I touched up quite a bit of the earlier art as I was working, and the later stuff is generally stronger and needed less touching up), and this later work is also sitting in a neat stack that I can hopefully scan a few dozen pages at a clip. Mary will be happy to have the huge stacks of random art in our bedroom back in storage soon!

The first 25 pages of the RPG are 90% complete, the next 25 pages are in progress, and the rest is still notes/drafts/in my head. This is actually better than it sounds. I've had to go back and re-arrange and re-configure the first 50 pages of the game several times, because that's where all of the core rules and key mechanics fall. Once I am 100% certain how the Moxy trait is going to work (for instance) I can go ahead and build the creatures that will be using it. The back 2/3 of the book is the fun stuff, because there I just get to apply the mechanics in fleshing out the world and its inhabitants.

Going Forward:

May - The Army Ants webcomic will launch on Friday, May 3 and will run on Mondays/Wednesdays/Fridays in May. This won't be new material; I will be previewing the strip with the story 'Slab Smash' which was one of the last stories I did before going into hiatus (which I'll blog about next week...). That will run 16 installments (I'll go daily for the last few days of the month to get it done in May). Behind the scenes, I'll be scanning comics pages, continuing to write the RPG, and placing orders for all of the merchandise from the Kickstarter. I'll also be putting together my mighty e-mail list for the Army Ants Adventure Journal newsletter.

June - The webcomic continues with a new weekly page as part of a continuing adventure strip. The Army Ants Adventure Journal (newsletter) launches at the end of the month, with a preview of the new RPG and a collection of the month's webcomics. Both the webcomic and Army Ants Adventure Journal will be free. Behind the scenes, work will continue on the comics and RPG, and I will also be soliciting both for distribution through the traditional brick and mortar comics and game retailers.

July - I move towards wrapping up, putting the finishing touches on the comics and RPG, and getting them ready for printing. My goal is to order my approval copies of both the comics and game on July 31, so I have a few weeks to get those turned around.

August - Order fulfillment! I visit the post office a LOT. I keep churning out comic strips. I keep plugging away at game updates for the Army Ants Adventure Journal. Kickstarter backers receive their packages before the end of the month.

September - Get orders from the distribution network and begin fulfillment at that end. Continue to build the mailing list; continue to turn out comic strips; continue to build a following.

October - Go live to the general public (beyond the Kickstarter backers). Open the MTDAA webstore to sell the comic collections, the RPG, t-shirts, original art, and other assorted fun stuff.

November and December - Keep the train running. Keep producing weekly webcomics and monthly newsletters. Begin to make plans for 2014...

Whew! I'm tired just thinking about it...

Saturday, April 27, 2013

I Should Probably Be Mad...

Someone has decided to go ahead and put up a pdf of the 2nd edition of the MTDAA rulebook... while I'm not exactly keen on the whole 'infringing on my copyright' thing, I also can see that this is a product that has been officially out of print for some time. I want to build an audience. I want people to want to get it. At the end of the day, I want you to have it!

I would really have liked it if usunom had been kind enough to drop me a line and ask permission first. I probably would have given him the 'go ahead'... as you can see, I'm sharing the link with you rather than trying to get the link taken down, so I suppose you can see where I stand on the whole thing.

I had offered to post this edition for free as one of the stretch goals on the Kickstarter, but we didn't hit that goal. I would have done it myself anyway, but it's pretty labor-intensive to get the whole book up there. It's up, and it looks complete, although it's got some funky formatting things that happened in the scan.

However, if you've been wanting to see what 2E looked like (and this edition is the closest in tone and general design to the one I'm working on now), then feel free to go over and download it.

Tell 'em Mike sent you (like anyone is going to ask).

X is for Explosives

It hit me today that I may be blogging about things that may prompt visits to my site by friendly neighborhood Federal Agents... I mean, I have blogged about military-grade weapons a number of times over the last few weeks, and today I'm actually titling my post 'explosives'... and I've been perusing wikipedia pages about small arms and other sundry military weapons.

So, just to assuage my paranoia - it's all research for a role-playing game where you are 6 mm tall insects fighting for the good guys against the bad guys.

Just to be clear.

I also hope that today's post isn't insensitive to what's happened in Boston. I don't mean it to be... I almost didn't post this, but then decided I would. I hope I've made the right choice. I'll be blogging next week (after this A-Z challenge is done) about the Army Ants and how they've been impacted by terrorist attacks... I've got quite a bit to say on the subject. You'll read about it here shortly.

Okay... on to explosives for today.

Explosives shouldn't be as random as other elements of damage. I mean, you throw a grenade, and all bets are off - you could do a little damage, or you could do a lot of damage, and there are a ton of random factors that influence that damage roll. How close did the grenade get to the target - how did the target react - did he get behind cover in time - was the grenade packed right? These factors all come into the dice, and rolling two dice creates a nice bell curve that pulls results towards the middle of the curve. I like this.

When it comes to bigger explosives, I don't like randomness as much. If you set up a rig of plastic explosives to take out a bridge, you shouldn't roll and hope you get lucky and take out the bridge - as someone trained in explosives, you know (within a certain pretty tight window) how well they are going to do.

For these devices, it seems like you should be able to purchase the damage rating in clout. As a ballpark, let's say that every clout point purchases 2 points of explosives. If you are the demolitions expert for your group, you might purchase 25 clout worth of explosives - 50 points. You can divide this up as you will during missions (assuming you have as many triggers/detonators as you need). You can set a charge on a door that blows it for 20 points (leaving you 30 points worth of explosives left in your pack) or you can set the whole thing to blow a single tank with your 50 points. You are pretty much guaranteed that it's going to do the damage, as long as you make the roll. There are two ways I see this playing out...

In option one, you have to roll against a DT based on the total damage you want to cause, a base of DT 4 +1 for every 10 points you want to deal. Blowing a 20-point door requires a DT 6 (base of 4 + 2 from 20 points) Mind + Explosives roll, while blowing the 50-point tank requires you to set 50 points worth of explosives and make a DT 9 (base of 4 +5 from 50 points) Mind + Explosives rolls. Failing this roll means that your device goes off, but only deals half of the damage you set; botching the roll means that the device completely fails, and you lose your explosives in the bargain. A critical success allows you to increase the damage 50% (20 points becomes 30; that 50 points becomes 75).

In option two (which I like less) you get to roll your Mind + Explosives and add this to the damage base you've set. Not a big fan of this one... so your 50-point device deals 50 points + the result of a Mind + Explosives roll. This makes your attribute and Trait less important, because your damage comes almost exclusively from the device itself.

I like option one much better all the way around. That's probably the one I'll be going with. Hmmm. I can see demolitions being a worthwhile addition as a base specialty now... maybe I'll consider saboteur, and add a facet that allows you to mess with other people's stuff. Demolitions or saboteurs as the tinker gnomes of the Army Ants game... hmmmmm....

Friday, April 26, 2013

W is for Weapons

One of the big deals in playing a military game is the hardware that your characters carry. It's important that the core rules include a number of options for weapons that have nuances to differentiate them. One of the design mistakes I made (at least in my estimation, looking at the past through those 20/20 lenses that you automatically receive the next day) in Mythweaver was making weapons 'generalized'. It doesn't matter whether you say your +3 sword is a high quality short sword, a run-of-the-mill longsword, or a poorly-crafted bastard sword. It's +3.

Yeah. Run right out and get your generic +3 weapon of blah. I don't want gear to be a big issue in Mythweaver, since the type of weapon you wield is of secondary importance... except of course to players, who spend a lot of time thinking about the specific nuances of their weapons. It's something that I need to correct or add to the game as a layer if/when I get back to working on it...

I MUST avoid this sort of situation with Army Ants.

There have to be distinct and important differences between the insect world's equivalent of an M-16 vs. an AK-47 vs. another assault rifle... here are some of the ways I'm designing differentiations in weapons:

Range. This is the easiest one. You can create a number of different weapons just by giving them incremental range differences.

Damage. This is a harder one. Since damage is (ideally) just a single die (D6, D8, D10 or D12), it's hard to build in a great deal of gradation. I want the gradation to come from the Munitions Trait... at least, I THINK I do. If I build the gradation of damage in at the weapon end, this gives me a LOT of room for flexibility. Now, there is a HUGE difference between the AK-47 that deals D8 damage, the M-16 that deals D8+1 and the FN FAL that deals D8+2 (in addition to the range differences I've already mentioned). Hmmmm. This then eliminates the Munitions trait altogether, which is a trait that I really like (because it replaces my old weapon tinkering rules and streamlines them). I like the idea that your insect soldier makes his weapon better just by virtue of his ability to maintain that weapon. There must be some other way to mirror this in the game...

Reliability. Basically, how often you botch with the weapon (it jams; it overheats; it needs oil; whatever that slows you down for a round). On an attack roll of 1, you automatically fail, and you have to roll a second time to see if you botch and your weapon requires some maintenance. If the second roll is also 1, you have to stop and fix your weapon for 1 round. The second die depends on the reliability of your weapon; a highly-reliable weapon lets you roll a D12, while a weapon prone to jams and requiring more maintenance (therefore also cheaper to get with Clout) may require you to roll a D6 or even a D4.

Clip size. This would be a factor in the grittier games only, so I'm not sure if this should be in the primary stat block for weapons. It could be included for 'informational purposes' in the high-adventure setting, but become an important factor in the more crunchy games.

I COULD bring back the weapon tinkering rules in some way, allowing you to mod your weapon in minor ways (shifting range, damage and reliability all up to one rating if you have the training). Let's brainstorm here...

Let's say that the AM-16 (the standard infantry assault rifle) has the following ratings:
Damage D8+1; Range 6; Reliability D8; Clout Cost 30

With Munitions, you get to improve different facets of your weapon, although you are capped at improving any one aspect no better than 2 shifts. So, with a trusty AM-16 and Munitions +4, you could improve your Damage to D8+3, your Range to 7 (out of a max of 8), and your Reliability to D10 (out of a max of D12). You effectively still have an AM-16, you just keep yours in such great condition that it out-performs the weapon of all of your allies.

Wow. I think I just solved this. Thanks for helping!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

V is for Villains

While there are a number of ways to establish the tone, theme and style of a campaign, the quickest, most efficient and most memorable way may be through the primary villain you use. Piggy-backing on yesterday's post about play styles, you can look at villains and see how this inherently plays into establishing the tone for everything that follows. Here are three examples:

Grim-n-gritty. An embittered fly general wants to bring about the rebirth of the great Fly empires of the past. He has managed to pull a dozen petty warlords under his sway, has used a new street drug popular in the seedier cities such as the garbage can and throughout the junk yard to finance his re-emergence, and has actually recruited a ladybug double-agent to serve as his head of intelligence, giving him sudden knowledge, power and resources to build a military infrastructure quickly. The ants are sent to take part in urban warfare among gangs in the junk yard, hoping to infiltrate his network and hit him where it hurts, breaking down his economic supply lines and upsetting his intelligence network.

Medium (about where the comics fall). A cruel centipede warlord and master of the martial arts holds an underground contest (of the martial arts) to declare a champion of the underworld. His first prize in this contest is a batch of the elixir of life, which will heal even the most grievous of wounds, or bring a fallen ally back to life. The ants enter this contest to win the elixir for their queen, or to keep it from falling into the hands of an enemy.

Seat of your pants. A cybernetic amalgam of two great villains of the past - a powerful hornet commander and a cruel spider assassin - has been reborn through arcane magic. He has gone on a rampage, seeking revenge against all those who worked against him in either life, including the wasp empress, the ant queen, and the leaders of about ten different city states. He has built an army of cybernetic freaks that never sleep, cobbled from the dead and powered by mysticism, marching on an endless quest to ravage the backyard.

All three options belong in the game, but which one you select impacts almost every other choice you make. I write the comics and play the game in the middle setting myself, but I can easily see people adapting it towards either extreme without having to house rule much of it.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

U is for Unlimited Ammo and Cartoon Physics

All entertainment requires some level of willing suspension of disbelief. You know as you watch a movie or read a book or play a game that none of this is really happening, but you allow your brain to enter a pretend world that operates under certain rules and abides by those rules - it has verisimilitude.

It's imperative that the core rules establish the level of disbelief expected. Games can feel disjointed if one player approaches the thing from the perspective of gritty, real-world simulation while another tries to blow a predator up like a balloon with a huge air pump.  The fact that you are playing 6 mm tall insects with machine guns throws authenticity right out the window.

However, two concepts help to reinforce this. First of all, you have unlimited ammo. It's no fun to track ammo, and there's nothing inherently useful in worrying about it, so you just don't. If you have a rifle or pistol, you also have enough ammo for it on your person at all times.

The other thing is carrying capacity and props. The props in the game/comic are big - if you've ever seen a pair of my binoculars, you know they are about half the size of an ant's head. Somehow, these magically get hidden in a tiny belt pouch, and pulled out again later. In essence, because the props are so large, every character carries a bag of holding. You have a satchel, and that satchel fits everything you would ever need for your adventures. These little details help to nudge the players and referee in the direction of dropping other 'real world' concepts in favor of flavor and fun.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

T is for Tenacity

Do you really want to know how my brain works? Really? You sure, now? Because if you want to check out now, that's fine.

Okay. Don't say I didn't warn you...

I've always admired tenacity in creative types. I admire Dave Sim (say what you will of his politics) in his sheer creative tenacity. This is a guy who knew what he wanted to do, and then did it for 300 issues. Hal Foster spent the bulk of his creative life working on a weekly strip - every week he filled a page the size of a piece of poster board with intricate drawings chronicling the life of his character in chronological order. I have great respect for many cartoonists, but these two set the bar for me in sheer creative tenacity. I suppose Charles Schultz should go on that list, too, but I don't have the same affinity for him that I do for the other two... you could probably name a half-dozen other guys (Carl Barks comes to mind) who had the same sort of vision.

I knew the ants were it for me when I was six. They were the first comic I created. I drew a single strip about ants, because I could draw them easily enough - they just had to be some circles on top of each other, with some lines for limbs and antennae. Easy enough. Here's where you say that's a funny coincidence or somesuch.

I say no. At six, I tapped into it. Only for a moment, but I did. See, the ants are tenacity. There's nothing in all of creation more tenacious than an ant. They just keep going. It doesn't matter. They don't understand doubt or discouragement or setbacks or disappointment or delay. They simply keep going. It's all they know.

It was my creative subconscious reaching out to me. My creative subconscious has always been reaching out to me. Tenacity is what I admire because it's what I most want to become. I want to be that steady hand on the switch, that one who always moves forward one step at a time and doesn't let the daily distractions or the small setbacks or the minor storms slow him down. I want to keep putting one foot in front of the other, to grow in some incremental way every day. I want to genuinely improve - by small and steady degrees - every day for the rest of my life.

The ants are a perfect metaphor for that, and the comic strip is a great creative way to put that into physical action in my life. Does this mean that this is it - I'm doing an army ants comic strip for the rest of my life? I'd love for that to be so. I don't know. I do know that I've had the army ants in my creative life (often near the background and sometimes at the periphery, but always there) for nearly 20 years - and 35 if you count the small glimpses I had at six years old. They haven't gone away. Of course not.

They are tenacious little buggers. I'd sure like to be one, too.

Monday, April 22, 2013

S is for Simplify, Simplify, Simplify!

I'm going back and forth between editing the core RPG rules and scanning/cleaning up comics pages, and I'm making considerable progress on both fronts. I've got almost 200 comic pages scanned at this point. I'll hit a rhythm where I scan 15 or 20 pages right in a row, and then my scanner will get buggy, I'll have to restart my computer, or an image will not square up no matter what I do, and I'll have to scan the same image a half dozen times before I get a publishable page.

I've pretty much made up my mind that I'll be getting the player's guide (the free core rules) ready first, and will release this shortly after the playtest period ends. That draft is at 41 pages without any art, so trimming it to the 48 pages I had planned (which isn't necessary, but was my goal) may be tough. In this edit of the RPG rules, I'm simplifying. Here are some examples of the sorts of things I'm editing:

Reaction rules. I don't expect these to be used every encounter, but I wanted a clear set of reaction rules so that this at least implies that you can (and should) try to talk your way out of some situations. You put mechanics in the game that you expect the players to use! No rules for it implies that you probably shouldn't be doing it... my first run through of reaction rules had specific DTs based on situations and character actions, and I tied it to Leadership, but then set up to differentiate between allies and enemies. It was a lot of work, and would be difficult to quickly referee in play, because it didn't use the same rules as everything else. Now, I've tied it to Moxy; you make the better of a Mind + Moxy or Spirit + Moxy roll, and the target rolls a Mind Feat to resist. Trying to get the Wasp Empress to let you live and trying to get the Ant General to let you borrow Ant Force One for a trip are equally difficult, and both require the same fundamental skills. You have to be smart (Mind) or you have to be able to read people (Spirit), and you need some chutzpah to pull it off (Moxy).

Object rules. I've used a formula where a physical object has two ratings: its exterior (what it soaks from every attack) and its interior (how much it can sustain before being destroyed). I've been going with the interior rating at twice the exterior rating, so a door might have a rating of 6/12 (soaks 6, takes 12 hits to destroy). However, this has felt a bit out of whack - the object should maybe absorb more, but be able to sustain less. It's easy enough (or rather, easier!) to go with one rating, and have this reflect both the exterior and hits. For example, change the door above to a rating of 9. Now, it soaks 9 hits from every strike, but once it suffers 9 hits total (beyond the 9 it soaks) it breaks. Well, that's fundamentally very close to the 6/12 (either door is one-shotted if it sustains 18 points or more). It's a simpler rule, is easier to remember, and is quicker in play. That's a win.

I go back and forth on Perks. These are bonuses you buy for 1 CP that generally grant a situational die shift... so your keen eyesight (1 CP) gives you a +1 die shift to Spirit Feats that rely on eyesight... the drawback of these sorts of things are that they end up being very fiddly, but the benefit is that you create an enormous subsystem for further exploration (stuff to create for the Adventure Journals!). I go back and forth because if you have keen eyesight, you already have a good Spirit... and if your eyesight gets better, you should probably just increase your Spirit to reflect this. Right now, Perks are in the draft of the rules, but I might end up dumping them altogether. I can always layer them back in a later supplement, but they feel somewhat out of place for the core rules. I don't have any Perks right now that are necessary or which provide options the rest of the rules don't already allow. If I keep the Perks, I might layer them in as a free bonus for your character... or make this part of randomization. You can get from 0 to 3 perks at character creation, and you roll randomly for these. Then, there's a chance that you end up with some negative perks as well (I suppose they need another name - 'perk' implies it's a good thing!). Obviously, I have more thinking to do on this... I am going to have some alternate character options in the Appendices to the core rules, and maybe Perks should end up there. These aren't part of the core rules, but by definition are an add-on you can put in your games as desired.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

R is for Range Rules

Today, I’ve been editing the range rules for MTDAA Legacy. While I’ve heretofore been working under the assumption that each unit beyond the range (in cm) gives the target a +1 shift to the dodge Feat roll, I’ve been thinking of a simpler system…

What if your weapon’s range sets its effective and maximum ranges? It’s range rating is its max effective range, while double this is its maximum possible range… So, a rifle with a range of +5 can hit a target up to 5 cm away with no penalty, and allows you to target a foe between 6 and 10 cm away with a -1 shift to your attack? I like this because it keeps the math a bit simpler, and eliminates some of the fiddly measuring that could take place at the table… is the foe 6 or 7 cm away? At 6, he gets +1 to dodge, but at 7 he gets +2 to dodge… I haven’t play tested this sort of scenario with a large group, but I’d expect that these sorts of conversations/measurements/debates could slow the game down. I could also see someone trying to ‘game’ this system, constantly taking a handful of steps from foes in order to wring every last bonus out of the dodge. If you know that you are just in range of the foe’s attack, you might try to get out of range; if you know that you are within maximum efficiency range, you might try to get out of that and force the -1 shift. However, this keeps such decisions from being an every round sort of consideration. If you are 7 cm away from a foe with a 5 cm range weapon, you are probably going to stay put. Moving 4 cm to get out of range is probably too much effort right now.

I want to leave the flexibility in the referee’s hands to say ‘you’re close enough – we’ll call that in your -1 shift range’ rather than saying ‘well… he’s at 9 cm… but he’s almost at 10… hmmm. Do I give him +4 or +5 to dodge?’

This also keeps ranged weapons dangerous at range. A weapon with a +6 rating quickly lost efficiency past 6 cm… now, it’s still pretty potent up to 12 cm. With the new system, 12 cm away is a -1 die shift (effectively -1 to the attack) while in the old setup this would have been +6 to the dodge (pretty much a guaranteed miss without Clout, or a die explosion, or both).

Friday, April 19, 2013

Q is for Questions of Quality and Quantity

As the director of a one-man show, I have to consider how to create a model for ongoing growth for my game and comic. I am quite comfortable with the sustainability of the game plan for Army Ants for the next while. I can maintain ongoing publications of a consistent quality I'm happy with while keeping my name and the game out there. I've considered mimicking how other companies build and sustain their games, but I always compare myself to companies with many and/or full time employees. I'm doing this on my own, and it's a part time gig (at best!). Therefore, the basic model includes:

- The comics. I will have the two back-issue collections (each over 200 pages) each priced at $14.95 print/$4.95 pdf. I will then create new comics via the webcomic, publishing a new page every week (at least at launch) with the hope of maybe going bi-weekly at some point down the road. I can use this to drive the book sales, and also create new collections every year or two as I get enough pages together to warrant a new print edition.

- The game. I will have the core rules (over 200 pages) priced at $14.95 print/$4.95 pdf. I will publish monthly updates via a free newsletter (which will have maybe 2-3 pages of new game material and the collected comic strips from that month). I would like to also follow this up with larger sourcebooks that gather and re-organize material from the newsletters (every 6 months would be great, but it's probably going to be longer stretches than this).

These two things keep regularly-published new material in circulation, but also primarily drive sales of the back issues or core game rules. The Kickstarter has truly worked exactly as intended, because it put me in a position to set all of these pieces in place. It's truly been an awesome thing.

Okay... back to scanning pages...

Thursday, April 18, 2013

P is for Potato Bugs, Phantoms and Poltergeists (Oh my)

Thinking about the Spirit attribute and the way in which it interacts with Mysticism has led me to consider both illusions and ghosts... and how Potato Bugs are the primary practitioners of Mysticism (at least among the allied species).

It seems to me that ghosts and illusion have an important - and interrelated - place in a game/comic about war. I've been reading The Things They Carried with my students over the last few weeks, and this idea of the supernatural underpinnings of war - of the ways in which the enemy seems to defy the laws of the natural world - are a natural overlay to my setting. I consider too the classic DC Comics war stories ideas of such things as the ghost tank and the way these reflect actual battlefield stories.

Creatures of the spirit world ONLY have the Spirit stat and Mysticism, and can only use mystical attacks/actions. In contrast, they can only be impacted by/influenced by these things as well. I don't see ghosts being common or especially predatory; instead, I see them appearing as NPCs or unusual encounters that are meant to be handled in some way other than direct combat. D+D has programmed me to think of all monsters in terms of their game stats, and I'm trying to break that here. You don't fire your rifle at a ghost (and you don't go and get a special rifle or ammunition that allows you to do so...). Instead, you solve problems with a ghost through role playing and (probably) helping the ghost to solve the problem that it cannot solve on its own (no opposable thumbs you know). I do like the idea of stealing from DC comics here and including machinery (like a tank) that has been haunted by the team that once drove it... I especially like this if it's something the PCs can call upon (a flavor of divine intervention) in a real pinch... nothing like having a ethereal tank driven by immortal spirits roll in when things get hairy.

As far as illusion, this seems to be the signature of spiders (especially black widows). Whether illusion is a facet of mysticism (probably not) or a unique ability unto itself (more likely at this point), I'm not sure. I think that mysticism becomes too powerful if illusion also goes with it, but I'm tempted. I'll have to play out all of the ways in which illusion and mysticism can be used, and see if there are too many options. Right now, mysticism in play has tended to feel weaker than psionics/mentalism (whatever I end up calling it) and I need something to beef it up slightly. Whether illusion would do that I don't know yet... 

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

O is for... Of Swords and Wizardry

I'm not part of Swords and Wizardry appreciation day that +Erik Tenkar has organized (much to my own detriment, as I'm seeing. This looks like it's been a great deal of fun for the participants) in large part due to the fact that I don't own Swords and Wizardry. I've read only a little bit about it, but the various blogs have piqued my interest. I'll be picking up something S+W before long and getting a feel for the system.

However, the thing that has struck me about this event is how large, invested, and genuinely cool this gamer community is. I'm only starting to really connect to the community, and I hope that one day my own game garners this much passion! It's truly impressive to see. Congrats to all involved.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

N is for Not Knowing Where I'm Going

For a long time, I felt as a writer that I needed to have the full thing fleshed out - especially in comics - before I got rolling. I shouldn't draw page one, panel one unless I had a great idea of what issue 10, 15 and 25 looked like. I wanted to make sure that everything aligned, and that I was working on a cohesive, uniform story that would (at the end) hold together well.

The heck with that noise!

I've learned that the creative process requires a certain level of trust. In fact, the more you can let go of the process and give over to letting the characters tell their story, the more fun you'll have along the way. I have a handful of images that I see of where the characters will be going in the next bit, and I have some snippets of important moments, but I don't know how they fit together yet. I don't know how the characters will respond when they get there. I don't know what's ultimately going to happen to them. I don't know what it's about.

I sat down to draw page one of the new webcomic, and it didn't work. I was forcing moments. I was trying to make the story go a certain way already. Then I ditched that page and re-did it, changing some key moments from the opening sequence. It flowed. It worked. It wasn't what I wanted. It was what was supposed to happen. I was already surprised. I'm looking forward to that - of letting the characters surprise me.

I don't know where I'm going. I really like that.

Monday, April 15, 2013

M is for Making Progress with Scanning!

I've worked out the logistics, and thanks to some help from friends and family, I've got my laptop cleaned up (thanks, Dad!) and operating efficiently, and I've got a process for scanning pages that gives me sharp images that I'm very happy with (thanks, Katie!)... just in the last day and a half, I've scanned nearly 100 pages. Here's a sample... check out that cross hatching in the fourth panel. I had TOTALLY forgotten that I experimented with that technique for a bit. I pretty much dropped it for 15 years until +Dyson Logos inspired me to start playing with it again.

As I go, I'm touching up pages with a thin Faber Castell artist pen, adding a few more details and some additional linework - however, most of the pages are holding up much better than I had dared to hope. This book is going to rock!

Saturday, April 13, 2013

L is for Lost Pages

I have a number of pages that I have forgotten about - including some stories that I never published, or which I published in some obscure corner of the print world (as opposed to the obscure corner wherein I published everything else I did...). Here's a one-pager I found in the archives:

Friday, April 12, 2013

K is for a Kickstarter Update

I haven't updated the Kickstarter community specifically in a bit, so it seems appropriate to use the letter K get 'er done...

- Work continues on the core rules. The basic system has been stripped to the rails and rebuilt a few times now, and I keep testing ideas. Please continue to send me your play test reports, observations, and even wish lists. These things are helping to shape the rule set! The open play test period continues until May 31 - after that date, we lock this sucker down and get serious about finishing the book. I'm using the blog to post almost daily at this point, so keep checking in there... www.splinteredrealm.blogspot.com

- I've gone through the comic pages, and (I think) have accounted for all of my original art, some of which has been in storage for a decade or more. In the process, I've discovered some art I'd forgotten about, and even better a few drafts of game materials and setting stuff that I had totally forgotten about, and which never saw the light of day before.

- I've almost completed the first two strips for the new Army Ants webcomic that launches June 1. I'm working on setting up hosting for this and ways to archive the strips as I go. There will be a weekly adventure webcomic and a monthly newsletter for the RPG that support the launch of the game and comic books. You'll all be getting those automatically when they are released.

- I've received all of my final quotes for t-shirts, tattoos, patches and lunch boxes. The only snag (and not much of one) is on the lunch boxes that have a steep setup fee considering the handful of boxes I'm ordering. I'm looking into alternate ways to get the lunch boxes done that won't make them a loss for the project (my original quote didn't include the $75 setup fee - ick). It's not THAT big of a deal, and I'll ultimately pay the setup fee if I have to, but I wanted to check my options first.

- I'm pretty much set on going with CreateSpace for the book publishing in place of Lulu. I've read good things about it, and the interface seems friendly enough. I'm considering direct shipping books from them and then sending other merch in a separate package. On one hand, I like the idea of shipping big boxes full of all sorts of goodies, but if it ends up cutting shipping costs (since I'm not shipping to me and then to you), I may end up doing that. I also think that this will reduce the chances of books getting damaged, since I am confident in their packaging to ship books safely; by re-packaging books a second time, I'm adding to the risk of the books being damaged in transit. Something to consider...

- A survey will be coming your way (if you were a backer) in the next few days to get your address, sizes, preferences and other stuff so I can start moving towards fulfilling orders. I'm still several months from getting the comics and (especially) RPG together, but I feel good about where it's all at. If I end up shipping the books separately, I may begin sending out other backer rewards within a few weeks, sending the books when they're finished.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

J is for Journeys to the Center of the Earth

I've written a few times about how Army Ants as I conceptualize it is far more than just a bunch of military insects going on military missions. They are a team of explorers ranging across a changing and unexplored wild. I feel so much like the early issues of Fantastic Four (and the 80s ones when Byrne was running the show) had this vast panorama on which to layer the story. They were constantly exploring some strange new environment, often with only the barest of plot hooks. The exploration was the thing. Challengers of the Unknown. Sojourners to the center of the earth. The nice thing about the Great Field is that it's all 'the final frontier'. The scale of the game allows me to justify that everything is new, weird, exotic and alien from the perspective of the insect characters. They just happen to be caught in the middle of a war staged against this fantastic background, with all sorts of other forces, creatures and factions at play at the same time. It's also part of the Star Wars inspiration for the setting - sure, you have this big war going on between the Rebellion and the Empire, but a large chunk of the galaxy is keeping on keeping on with its own thing, largely uninvolved in the epic war raging on its doorstep.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

I is for Intellicect

In going through my various notes and boxes of Army Ants stuff, I came across a draft of an Ant Forces Sourcebook that was never published for 2E. While many of the key ideas from this sourcebook ultimately made their way into 3E, one of the coolest things about it never did. I framed the book itself, and the introductions to the various sections, as memos from Intellicect Ladybug operatives back to their central command. Throughout, they were analyzing and commenting on the Ant Army, discussing both their strengths and their quirks, and providing some context for the various aspects of the ant characters. This worked on a number of levels. The Ladybugs have always been the Great Field's version of SHIELD, and the memos themselves helped to establish the vibe for the spy agency without having to actually say a word about the agency itself - which helped to maintain the cloak of mystery I'd like to maintain about it in general. The more you know about how a super-secretive spy agency works, the less effective that super-secretive spy agency must be, since they let you know about their cool stuff! I'm going to definitely dust some of these off and write some new ones, although I am a bit concerned about too much framing text - these + Troy's Take are going to eat up a lot of pages, and I will have to alternate them so they don't get redundant. However, a sprinkling of 4-6 of each carefully inserted throughout the rules will help give the flavor, and also echo that Star Wars Sourcebook vibe that I've been going for since day one of this project.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

H is for Helicopters (and other aircraft)

One problem posed by helicopters and jets is the issue of speed and travel. In endeavoring to build a system wherein you chart a walking insect, a jeep and a supersonic jet on the same scale, you end up with problems. So, I've decided that it's not one scale, but three... - There's the insect-level travel scale (ball-parking it at meters per hour). With a base of 3 for all creatures (+ your move rating), you can travel 3 meters per hour overland. - Then there's land vehicle travel scale (ball-parking at 10 meters per hour). With a base of 3 for all land vehicles (+ your travel rating), you can travel 30 meters per hour at a base (with no movement rating). - Finally, there's air vehicle scale (ball-parking at meters per second). With a base of 3 for all air vehicles, even a simple helicopter can cover 3 meters in 1 second; in a minute, a helicopter can traverse much of the distance of the entire campaign area. Really, this is not bad as a real-world analogy. If I want to walk to Florida from New York... it's going to be a while. I can drive there in a few days, or I can fly there in a few hours. There's really no comparing the scales, and putting them on the same fundamental grid is unreasonable. There is variety in the difference between driving a van vs. a sports car, but we are talking about a few hours' difference on a two-day drive. I can take different aircraft, and we're talking a few minutes' difference on a multi-hour flight. I can be in better shape, and I might take a few days off of my several month journey overland. Regardless, the scales are so vastly different that you can argue for deriving them in different ways. The thing this avoids is having the numbers scale in untenable ways... if an ant has a move of +2, then a jeep might have a +20, and a plane might have +200. The numbers are just out of control.

Monday, April 8, 2013

G is for Gear and Gizmos and Gadgets Galore

This A to Z challenge really let's me go nuts with alliteration... I am going to need an intervention before the month is up. Okay... On to gear. In my last several game designs, I have endeavored to limit gear and its impact on the game. I felt that the purchasing of gear, especially during character creation, often slowed things to a crawl in needless ways. I would spend valuable play time trying to decide whether to get ten or fifteen torches, how many days' worth of iron rations to procure, and whether my deity would respond better to a silver vs. wooden holy symbol. I wish I could say I was kidding. For Mythweaver, gear faded to the background. However, for an army ant, your gear is a large part of defining your character, and the clout mechanic, which sets stringent limits on your available 'cash' to purchase upgrades, makes the spending decisions matter. Since gear also becomes a fundamental way to differentiate characters of the same specialty, it is important to have a relatively robust and well-rounded gear section. You should be able to invest a large chunk of you clout into the finest rifle known to insect kind, or you should be able to purchase a serviceable albeit unremarkable weapon, picking up a bevy of tools, gizmos and sundries to make your character more versatile dependent on the situation. I also like the expanded view of the importance of gear because this becomes fertile ground for later game expansion. You can always add some funky new technology into rotation without breaking the game or layering in a 'must have' character element that supersedes the core rules.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

F is for Funky Dice (or lack thereof)

Michael Radzichovsky (and by the way... I want to list this as a + to him, but I have no idea how to do this... suggestions would be welcomed! I just created a hyperlink to his Google + profile...) suggested doing away with the D16 altogether (and even the D20) and capping the progression at D12. Since (as I talked about two days ago) I have layered in multiples of dice, this wouldn't be too difficult of a feat to accomplish. I don't love the idea of the ants and their ilk having the potential to be as strong/quick/intuitive as a comparable predator, but it's not terrible. 
Look at it this way... in an analog to 'our world', D12 body would be a bear or especially powerful crocodile. That's not over the top for what a human with maximum potential could achieve, although it's pretty close. However, what we're doing with predators is saying that you can be as strong as a big crocodile (the 'medium' predator) but not nearly as strong as a good-sized dinosaur (the 'large' predator) and nowhere in the same league as Godzilla (the 'huge' predator). You are supposed to need an army to take down Godzilla. That's the concept with the biggest of the predators - you call in your entire tank division.
Michael also brought up the problems with multiple dice exploding, and I agree that this could be an issue. I'm toying with having only a second die (instead of multiples of the same die)... so a large predator would get (for instance) an extra D6 (that could not explode) with its Body Damage and Hits rolls, while a huge predator would get an extra D12 (again, that would not explode) with its Body Damage and Hits rolls. Grenades and larger explosives could work under similar principles - a grenade always gives an extra D6 alongside its basic damage/effect, and this extra die could not explode (sorry, but the pun of exploding dice while throwing a grenade is just too much for me). 

You could then rate all explosives/heavier weapons systems by their primary and secondary dice ratings - and that second die would always be a D6 (for personal or mediums-scale things) or D12 (for the big stuff), with the primary die delineating the subtler differences between a grenade launcher (maybe D8 primary + D6 bonus) vs. a mortar (maybe D12 primary + D6 bonus). In either case, only the D8 or D12 could explode, but the 6 is just taken at face value...

As a matter of fact, you could use the second die to help determine the area of effect... this really randomizes area of effect considerably (which I like to a point, but don't like to be this extreme). I was toying with diminishing damage over area, but I don't know that the level of realism/interest this brings to a fight is worth the increased time/energy spent doing the math. Here's a for instance of how this could work... 

Your fragmentation grenade deals D10 (primary, can explode) + D6 (secondary, will not explode) damage. All targets within 1 cm of the grenade's detonation suffer the full wounds; each 1 cm beyond this cuts the damage in half, up to a total number of cm equal to the result of the D6 roll. If I roll 7 on the D10 and 4 on the D6, all targets within 1 cm take 11 Hits; all targets within 1-2 cm take 6 Hits; all targets within 2-3 cm take 3 Hits; all targets within 3-4 cm take 2 Hits; targets beyond 4 cm take no damage.

However, if you roll 10 on the D10 (exploding) +8 on the second roll, +2 on the D6, you have a grenade that deals 20 Hits to all creatures within 1 cm; 10 Hits to all creatures within 1-2 cm, and no damage to creatures beyond 2 cm.

This feels weird... I don't mind (in fact, I like) that damage diminishes over a wider area of effect. Maybe just say that it goes halves automatically until you get to 5 or less, and then it's done. A grenade dealing 14 Hits deals 14 for 1 cm, 7 for the next, and 4 for the last, then it's done. This is easier to remember, but doesn't necessarily rely on the second die to set the area of effect - the total damage does that for you.

Hmmm. This ended up being F + G(renades), but I'll still give you a new G entry on Monday anyway!

Friday, April 5, 2013

E is for Enemies

At the moment, I am leaning towards groups of six for the various allies, enemies, neutrals and predators that the ants could encounter. The ladybugs, crickets and beetles outlined a few days ago would end up in the allies section – the core rules assume (unlike previous editions) that you are going to play an ant. If you want to play something else, the allies and neutrals sections will have rules for player characters of those species. The allies and neutrals sections are likely to include:

Allies: Aphids, Beetles, Crickets, Ladybugs, Potato Bugs

Neutrals: Butterflies, Dragonflies, Fireflies, Grasshoppers, Moth, Stone Fly, Water Strider  

However, for enemies, the list (and the accompanying complexity) is bigger.
Enemies: Ambush Bugs, Ant Lions, Assassin Bugs, Bumblebees, Centipedes, Cockroaches, Fleas, Flies, Fruit Flies, Gnats, Hornets, Horse Flies, Lice, Mantis, Millipede, Mosquito, Scorpion, Spider (Black Widow), Spider (Daddy Longlegs), Stink Bug, Termite, Tick, Yellojacket

The organization of this section becomes the trick… for example, the Wasp Empire. The empire consists of wasps, bees, hornets, yellowjackets; an affiliated network of insects that work together. Does each get a separate listing? Do I create one section for the Wasp Empire? The other issue is the idea of larger infrastructure: the wasp empire includes not only the servants of the empire, but the vast technological war effort of tanks, planes, fortresses and weapons. These things must at least be granted an overview.

Really, the wasps and the flies, as the two major powers, need their own sections (maybe 6-8 pages for each of these ‘groups’ of species) while the minor species then get a page apiece. Hmmm. There’s probably a third logical grouping, which is the shadowy brotherhood of centipedes, various spider races, and assassin bugs. These guys should probably be grouped together. Then, I can have a one page overview of the various ‘minor species’ like gnats, mosquitoes, termites, etc… most of the minor species end up with fly technology anyway. After the fall of the Fly Kingdom, a huge quantity of military hardware fell into the black market, and into the hands of a wide range of would-be-armies and minor warlords.

So, this becomes a 6-10 page overview of the wasp empire, a 6-10 page overview of the Fallen Fly Kingdom, a 6-10 page overview of the Order of Shadows, and then each minor species gets its own page.

Whew… this book is growing quickly! It’s going to be a challenge to get it in under 200 pages!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

D is for Dinosaurs

The idea of predators is the place where Army Ants as a concept diverges markedly from a traditional military RPG. There are big monsters in the natural world that want to eat you!

Rather than having the dice continue to scale beyond D20 (which I’m not a big fan of), this is going to be much simpler:

- A Large creature (considerably larger than the ants and their ilk) adds another die of the same type when rolling damage and hits. Such a creature is considered 5 levels higher than its level would be otherwise. A Large creature takes +1 to all Feat rolls beyond its actual level.
- A Huge creature (far beyond the scale of an ant) adds two dice of the same type when rolling damage and hits. Such a creature is considered 10 levels higher than its level would be otherwise. A Huge creature takes +2 to all Feat rolls beyond its actual level.

This means that a chameleon (as a for instance) might have Body D12. A standard chameleon rolls D12 for its hits and for its melee damage; a Large chameleon rolls 2D12 for its hits and melee damage; a Huge chameleon rolls 3D12 for its hits and damage. This keeps the resistant rolls from scaling beyond the ants’ abilities to hit or deal damage. You use the same fundamental build for creatures of different scales… Here’s a work through for a Chameleon:

Chameleon (43 CPs, Level 7)
Body D12; Prowess D10; Spirit D10
Bite +5; Melee +4; Stealth +4

A small chameleon has an average of 46 hits; it rolls D12+5 for bite damage; it has a Feat bonus of +4; it is considered Level 7.
A large chameleon has an average of 91 hits; it rolls 2D12+5 for bite damage; it has a Feat bonus of +5; it is considered Level 12.
A huge chameleon has an average of 137 hits; it rolls 3D12+5 for bite damage; it has a Feat bonus of +6; it is considered Level 17.

FYI, this is the new structure for determining levels based on CP totals:

0 to 3 CPs = level 0
4 to 9 CPs = level 1
10 to 15 CPs = level 2
16 to 21 CPs = level 3
22 to 27 CPs = level 4
28 to 33 CPs = level 5
34 to 39 CPs = level 6
40 to 45 CPs = level 7
46 to 51 CPs = level 8
52 to 57 CPs = level 9
58 to 63 CPs = level 10
64 to 69 CPs = level 11
70 to 75 CPs = level 12