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...