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!