Michael T. Desing's Army Ants: Twilight launches tomorrow, and I have a few little tricks up my sleeve yet to come. I finished edits today, and I'm very happy with this game. It is a tight little game - this is the game I wanted to write 25 years ago, but I just didn't have the chops to do it yet.
I look forward to sending it out to the world tomorrow, and I'm excited to hear what you think.
Friday, February 28, 2020
From now through the end of March, all MTDAA releases are up as pay-what-you-want downloads. If you have some holes in your MTDAA library, now is the time to fill them. This month will also see the release the the MTDAA: Twilight RPG, which uses the same system (and fundamental layout) as Tales of the Splintered Realm. It's a B/X retro style version of MTDAA with shades of Twilight 2000 and Gamma World. I expect it to be out early next week; I'm in final edits right now, and want to make sure that all the tweaks are sufficiently tweaked before I tweet. Or something like that.
Thursday, February 27, 2020
I play tested the rules about multiple actions. I am trying out something that’s quite the departure for me; as a bug, you get a number of attacks each round equal to your level. Predators don’t get this benefit.
I created a level 5 red ant ranger and had him go off in search of an assassin bug who was holed up in a hut. There were four guards out front of the hut, four gnats who were keeping watch. My ranger, Nix, made is sneak check easily, and got within range. With his scope, he has a range of 8, so he was able to target them from 8 cm. He got five attacks, and hit with four of five shots, taking out all five gnats with surprise.
This got the attention of the assassin bug, who returned fire. They both had light cover, so the two exchanged several gunshots for a few rounds, but Nix was clearly superior. He took 14 points of damage out of his 50 hit points during the fight.
However, the gunfire attracted a tree frog, that attacked with surprise at the end of the round. This combat was a lot of fun; Nix got a few shots off before the frog hit him with a tongue strike and started dealing automatic bite damage. His weapon jammed and then he dropped it (with a series of 1s) and he had to pull out his survival knife. He started hacking at the frog, and ended up finishing it with 11 hit points left.
I really liked the multiple attacks per round, even for enemies. I like that a single powerful foe can fight an entire team at once; a level 3 bug can fire three times per round, giving him a lot of versatility in selecting targets.
I also like that there is a different ‘feel’ to the game between battling other bugs and predators. Other bugs pepper you with many small attacks, whereas predators are slower, but when they hit it packs a wallop.
I feel like damage doesn’t ramp up as much in this game as in the fantasy and supers games, so having the number of attacks increase offsets this. I like the subtle way that combat ‘feels’ different for this game rather than the fantasy game. It plays very fast.
Tuesday, February 25, 2020
One of the challenges I have always run into when designing RPGs around the ants is the idea of scale. One of the strengths of the setting is the scale - the idea that everything is happening in measurements of millimeters. This works in the smallest increments; it makes sense to have the ant heights in mm instead of feet - so a cm becomes the rough equivalent of ten feet which is great for ranges and distances in combat. It’s actually a pretty clean conversion from human to ant scale in this way.
However, it breaks down when we start talking about travel, flight, and vehicle speeds. Because the scale is millimeters, this also means that a meter is the rough stand-in for a mile (very rough, because it is actually about one sixth of a mile - making it quite a bit off). Since a wasp can fly about 40 kilometers per hour, we end up in trouble - that wasp can travel 40,000 meters per hour, making it as fast as superman within the game scale. In effect, the game world (which is maybe a few hundred meters across) is easily traversed in a short time by many insects. I always feel like I need to make the game world bigger.
However, I had not also considered the similar scale compression of time. An insect doesn’t live long. A red ant can live for 2-5 years, so a year is roughly two decades to the ants - and some other insects have much shorter life spans. In this compression, a month is two years, meaning a week is six months, a day is a month, and an hour is a day. A human lives an average of 70 years, so 70 x 365 = 27,375 days. An ant lives an average of 3 years x 365 days x 24 hours = 26,280 hours. So, in ant scale, an hour is equal to a day. Giving a speed in meters per hour may as well be giving that speed in meters per day. It would be ridiculous for us to give speed in miles per day; I am going 1500 miles per day! That sounds fast - it’s just normal highway speed. The default distance has been changed to the millimeter; the default time has to be changed to the minute. The one-minute turn is not only the default measure of game time; it is the default measure of insect world time as well.
Back to our wasp. He can fly 40,000 meters per hour, so he flies 650 meters per turn. It’s still fast, but at this scale it sounds like helicopter fast, not superman fast. According to Google, an ant can walk 3 inches per second, so that’s about 7 cm per second, or 420 cm per minute. An ant can walk 4 meters in one minute. So, with a move of 4, you can travel 4 meters in one turn. However, 4 cm in a round (one second) is actually a little on the slow side; an ant should be able to move twice that in one round pretty easily.
What if the default setting of a round is that an ant gets two actions? More? What if a creature gets a number of actions equal to its level? Dang… a level 6 bug gets 6 actions per round? That seems crazy… but it’s also aligned with the source material. In action movies, the hero is taking five or six attacks to the mook’s one. This means that winning initiative, especially at higher levels, becomes vital.
However, it also means that at higher levels you should have abilities to neutralize enemy attacks, automatically block, or to do some damage reduction. At higher level, you are going to have to get your opponent to exhaust a variety of resources in order to start landing your good shots. Against minions, you can mow down squadrons in short order; against an enemy commando, you are going to have to get past his luck, his tenacity, and his cool under fire in order to start hitting him.
Time for some play testing!
Saturday, February 22, 2020
I've been working on this project for a bit now, and it's nearing completion. I'll be rolling out a promotion in March (my tentative release date is March 1st), but I wanted to talk through some design things as I solve the mechanical challenges of the game. I suppose I'll start with how this is different from or a reaction to the other MTDAA games, and what the plan might look like going forward.
First of all, this is not another re-release of the same game setting. My previous four MTDAA games have all been set in the same fundamental time period - the height of the Ant/Wasp War. For this game, I'm moving the time frame forward a few months, to the aftermath of the war, and the Twilight of the Ant Confederacy.
My most recent games have been throwbacks, where the central design question has been 'what if I used the B/X engine as I have interpreted it, but applied it to some of the most influential games of the early 80s'? I've answered that question for D+D, for MSH, and now for Twilight 2000...
I never actually played (or owned) T2000, but my friends were fascinated by ads for it, and my first rpg designs (as I've written about several times) were how I assumed that game would work. Those games were messy and quirky and all over the place, but man did we have fun. So that's where Army Ants: Twilight begins: what if I was the designer of T2000 in 1984? Alternatively, what if I was to design the GI Joe RPG that the world needed so desperately but never received? I mean, my childhood would have been complete with an actual GI Joe RPG.
This game is also going to be fundamentally different from other games in this way: I'm borrowing the model that I was developing (and lost steam for) for Sentinels of Echo City and the Stalwart Age... the book is both an ongoing narrative and an RPG. In this case, the narrative does not support the RPG, and the RPG does not support the narrative; they are inextricably linked. The narrative is shifting from comics (where the story has been old to this point) to prose. I think it will make sense as it moves forward, but that's the plan. Finally, the plan is to have the books be in full color. I want these to reflect the best visual design work I can muster, while still being similar in organization and tone to my other recent releases.
Here's the cover design...