Friday, September 15, 2023


To the surprise of nobody who has followed my blog for any length of time, my productivity fell off the cliff right around the first of September. It MIGHT be that it coincided with the start of school. I just checked my history, and I often go from 20-30 posts in August to 1-3 in September, and then I start to slowly tick up again the following spring, peaking in the summer before crashing to earth again.

I managed to get a bunch of Army Ants pages in the pipeline by the end of summer, so I've been releasing new pages every day, and today finally hit the point where I had to go in and start adding more pages again. 

All of my creative energies at present are being devoted to staging our high school's production of "Romeo and Juliet", which I just cast on Tuesday and which has its first read through on Monday. I'm pretty jazzed for it. Maybe I'll share more about this at some point. I don't know if this will make as much sense to anyone else as it makes to me, but the pivotal fight sequence between Romeo, Mercutio, and Tybalt is underscored by the entirety of Ah-Ha's "Take on Me" and it's going to be sublime.

Trust me.

I would love to give you an update on gaming and comics stuff, but there isn't one, and I really just wanted to pop in, say hello, and remind you that the Army Ants pages are being remastered, released a page a day over on Comic Fury.  

I was thinking I might get a little solo gaming in this weekend, and the possibility is still out there... if so, I'll post about it. If not, I'll probably touch base again after "Romeo and Juliet" closes on October 27. 

Be well.

Friday, September 1, 2023

Of Cupcake Scouts and Composition

So, I've been a little bit grumpy about how everything played out with the Kickstarter that I still think borrowed a little too heavily from Cupcake Scouts (and how it raised over $100K with 'my idea'... if I'm being honest). I've kind of avoided Cupcake Scouts stuff for the last few weeks, which has been fine, because I've gotten a good deal of Army Ants '81 stuff done, and I'm very happy with how that's turned out, and I probably wouldn't have started that at all if not for the Cupcake Scouts snafu.


Mary is out of images for the Instagram she maintains for Cupcake Scouts, and asked for a drawing of the girls in a cemetary fighting zombies that are coming out of the ground. She really likes Halloween. So, I did this drawing, and as I was working, I realized that the composition of this piece is really strong. I didn't intentionally design it this way, but it sort of happened. But then I realized that 'good design just sort of happens' is what you get when you've been trying to get better at something for a few decades. I like how the whole image uses triangles - there is a line that goes directly from the hand in the lower-left along the arrow, up across Harper's arm, and then across Bri's arm. There is a straight line down from there along Bri's left side and her leg; there is a line back to the hand across the ground. Everything goes to a focus point on Bri's face - everything in the frame directs you back to that. I'm just really happy with how this turned out - when I do a full supplement for Cupcake Scouts, odds are really good that this is the cover.


Thursday, August 31, 2023

Army Ants '81 Resources

Army Ants isn't just a game, it's a veritable media empire. 

The Game

- The Core Rules for Army Ants '81 are now a PWYW release.

The Comic

- The original series is being re-mastered and released a page a day.

Other Cool Stuff

- Brandon posted a youtube video review of the game. on his RPG Overviews channel.

- Quinn made a fillable character card. Thanks, Quinn!

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

History Repeating Itself

I'm having the longest experience of déjà vu... back in the mid 1990s, I went to a comic convention with two projects in hand. I had a box of Seymour #1, a fantasy comic about a teddy bear that fused pro wrestling with Dungeons and Dragons and my emerging sense of how I wanted to tell stories that I'd been laboring over every detail of for weeks. I also had a bunch of army ants mini-comics that I'd thrown together in like three hours and printed up on my way to the convention.

People could have cared less about Seymour, but they were all about the Army Ants. Almost everyone I talked to grabbed a copy (that I was charging maybe a quarter for, which didn't even cover the costs of the printing, so I was not the greatest businessman). 

Fast forward almost 30 years later. I have a book that I spent a bit of time laboring over, trying to get every detail right about a group of scouts going on fantasy adventures - and then an army ants book that I put together remarkably quickly, and put up as a pay what you want for the heck of it.

And, again, people are responding to that. I'm not at all unhappy about it - I'm thrilled that people are responding to Army Ants, which was my first love and the thing I've created that is the most uniquely 'me'. 

Two quick things to share:

@rpgoverviews posted a review of the game, which I truly appreciate. 

There was a request for a character sheet, so here's a blank version of the card I posted for Phil a few days ago...


Monday, August 28, 2023

Remastering Pages

As I go through the process of re-mastering the pages, I have the benefit of three things:

1) I know where the story is going! I've already got the whole thing done, so when I make edits, I know how these are going to affect other things. One of the biggest edits is that I'm changing the setting from the back yard to the larger area around Warwick Pond. This is necessitating some edits, and will require a little bit of re-drawing later on, but it's a relatively small edit that (to me) has significant implications. It makes the world of the ants, and the forces they are dealing with, much larger. It doesn't change the story per se, but it changes the context of the story.

2) I'm just a better writer than I was 30 years ago. I would HOPE so. It means that I can layer in more subtle things that help frame the ants, their worldview, and some of the larger themes more consistently. 

3) The font I'm using is how I wish my lettering looked. The lettering, to me, has always been the weak point in my comics, and being able to use a font cleans the pages us SO much. 

Also, time and space has given me an appreciation for my work as an artist. It's a good comic. I'm proud of it. I'm going to be very happy to have a definitive edition that is clean and tightened up that I can add to my shelf and share with people. 

Sunday, August 27, 2023

Phil File Card

I'm playing with the file card design. I worked out a file card for Phil as of the beginning of the Army Ants comics (I cheated a little and gave him a 1-point discount since the gear he has adds up to 16 Clout but he only has 15). This is, of course, for Army Ants '81 the RPG, which is a companion for Army Ants '81 the comic, which is a re-master of my original comics from the 1990s... which takes place in 1981. Because it does.  

Friday, August 25, 2023

Army Ants '81 Now Available

So much for THIS stealth operation.

It was a simple enough mission. Sneak up on the termite compound. Take some notes. Get out. You weren’t geared up for a full frontal assault.

But then Gonzo thought the tower guard spotted him. And Burner got an itchy trigger finger. And, before you knew it, the compound was a smoldering ruin, and you’d used up all of your grenades. 

The Colonel was going to go ballistic. You would be lucky to have latrine duty for the next fortnight. You’d barely broken in your sergeant patch, and you had visions of it being ripped from your uniform in a barrage of obscenities.

… But maybe it didn’t have to happen that way. Because maybe THIS didn’t happen that way. 

What if you had done your recon, but realized that the termites had a bomb - no, a MISSILE. They had a missile that was going to destroy the Hill. Your only choice was to throw caution to the wind, to respond to the new intelligence, and risk your life for Queen and Hill.

You gathered your patrol together and explained the plan. If they could stick to this one, maybe things wouldn’t turn out so badly after all…


Army Ants ‘81 is the RPG I wish my friends and I had when I was in eighth grade. Because that would have been SWEET.

Editing Odds and Ends

As I complete edit number 372 or something of the Army Ants '81 rules (they are only ten pages, so I've spent much more time editing and refining than I did writing the original set of rules), I find little things I'm still considering tweaking. Here are some things:

I think I'm going to have aid kits and first aid work the opposite of damage; aid kits are DT 1 to apply, and restore 2 base Grit, but you get to carry over extra successes on your Mind check to the result (as well as the medic skill) to improve the outcome. This makes Mind more valuable (which is good, because it's still the third wheel of the traits, and this boosts it a little), and helps to offset some of the scaling of Grit I've done - a level 6 ant (so fairly high level) with Body 3 and toughness 2 (a likely build for a heavy weapons or recon specialist) has Grit 34. A decent medic (Mind 3, first aid skill 1) with an aid kit who rolls 3 successes with the aid kit restores 2 (the overage beyond the DT) +2 (aid kit) +1 (medic skill) = 5 Grit. If he rolls 1 success, he restores 3 Grit, and if he rolls something crazy like 5 successes, he restores 7 Grit. None of this breaks the game (even remotely), but it accounts for the higher trait and the investment in medic skill. I have to re-write the medic skill so that it doesn't grant bonus points restored... because I would double-dip, getting the bonus to the dice pool that then carries over to the points restored. Heck, I might even go ahead and have aid kits restore 3 base Grit! If you're going to spend an action to use an aid kit, you should get some return on your investment. I also keep thinking about levels 1-2... if I'm spending a few valuable Clout to get an aid kit, I better get some bang for that buck.

On the other side, I have grenades. I keep trying to balance grenades so that they are effective and useful, but also not too deadly. I keep thinking about the poor level 2 ant with Body 1 and no Toughness; he only has Grit 6. If a grenade deals more than 6 damage, it can one-shot a level 2 ant. Then it hit me. So? I'm conceptualizing this as an 'old school RPG'. Well, magic users in B/X could be level 5 with 10 hit points. If they get hit with a 5D6 fireball, they could die whether or not they make the saving throw if I happen to roll 20+ on the damage. Too bad, so sad. Grenades are deadly. As the MM, if you are allowing level 1-2 enemies to walk around with lots of grenades, then you're going to have lots of dead ants. I liked how my play test yesterday had tension about the presence of grenades; however, a little bit of that tension was about my own thoughts of grenades, and not necessarily their mechanical applications in this game right now; if a grenade had bounced into the foxhole, there is a decent chance its overall effects on the game would have been minimal. That should not be the case; a grenade ends up in your foxhole, and the snot is about to hit the fan. I think going to damage 10 on a grenade is not out of the question. I'm going to toy with that a bit.

Finally, (if you've read this far - I wonder how many people make it all the way through my long, rambling posts...) I have noticed a philosophical shift in my thinking about creative 'stuff'. As I get ready for this school year, I'm well aware that I'm on the back end of my career. This is the last go round for me on Romeo and Juliet, so I want to do the best job I can with it. I'm taking my time to get it right. I sort of feel that way with my Army Ants game. I cannot see me making Army Ants games in my 60s... but I couldn't see me making them in my 50s when I was 20, so what do I know? Anyway, I'm enjoying the process of getting this right, and I'm appreciating the reality that it could be for the last time.

Thursday, August 24, 2023

Army Ants Playtest #... 4? 5? Not sure anymore.

Let’s try a different sort of play test with the variations I’ve made to the rules, and see how they hold up. I’m going to make two ants who are sitting in a foxhole with sandbags, defending a pathway up to a key location during a battle.

What battle? What location? Why?


Anyway, my two ants will be a Heavy Weapons gunner dude and his best friend, a covert ops specialist with some medical training. That should be fun. I’m going to make them only level 2, and they are holding the pathway from three waves of attacks in a minute. The first wave will arrive in round 1. The second wave in round 4. The third wave in round 8. Good stuff.

Wave 1 will have 5 ticks. One of them has a stun grenade. They are all on foot.

Wave 2 will have 7 ticks. One of them has a gas grenade and another has a fragmentation grenade. They are all on foot.

Wave 3 will have 3 ticks in a jeep with a machine gun mounted on top. The jeep gives them all Cover +1. The jeep carries a bomb, so needs to be disabled before it makes it beyond the sandbag too far. I’ll figure out what that means exactly when I get there.

In rolling them up, I love the way that rank works… while the law of averages will favor smarter characters with leadership over time, a good roll (or bad one) can change a lot… as is the case here. There is no WAY that the heavy weapons ant should be higher rank than the covert ops ant, but that’s the military for you… Blitz rolled a 6 followed by a 5 on his first roll, so came out of Boot Camp with the Lance Corporal insignia. Poor Specs barely got confirmed for Private First Class (one success total in two tries), even after all the paperwork he’s done for the Major! Life just isn’t fair… 

Blitz, Raucous Ant Heavy Weapons 2 (A3 Lance Corporal; Grit 12; Clout 30) 

Body 3 | Mind 1 | Reflex 2

Heavy Weapons 1; Toughness 1

AM-60 (damage 4); 3 grenades; 3 aid kits

Specs, Studious Ant Covert Operative 2 (A2 Private First Class; Grit 6; Clout 25)

Body 1 | Mind 3 | Reflex 2

Medic 1; Small Arms 1

AM-16 (damage 3); 4 aid kits; walkie-talkie

The sandbagged foxhole provides +1 to Reflex for cover, and also increases the DT of grenades by +1, since it has netting over it to cause grenades to bounce away.

For each wave, they must make a Mind check (DT 2) to see the enemies at 13 cm. Otherwise, they become aware of them at the 10-cm mark. The foliage is pretty thick on the road.

Round 1

They both fail the first check, and are surprised when a group of 5 ticks appears on the road, coming around the bend. The ticks go first. Two are going to stand back and open fire, while three run forward. One of the forward ticks carries the grenade. The boys are shooting at the runners. The first shooter gets… 6 successes. On 2D. He rolled double sixes, followed by another six and a 3. He’s firing at Blitz. 3 of these go to damage, so he deals a total of 5 hits, leaving Blitz at 7. Ouch! With his second shot, he gets 2 successes, which ping off of Blitz’s machine gun. The second fires at Specs, but his one success lodges in the sandbags. His second shot misses entirely.

On his turn, Blitz fires at the first of the running ticks. He gets 3 successes, so 2 carry over to damage; he deals 6 damage, which is enough to drop the first one. He gets 2 successes on the second, which deals a total of 5 damage. That one is still up with 1 Grit remaining. Specs tries to use his AM-16 to finish the injured one, and gets 2 successes, which deals 4 damage and finishes it. He uses his other action to patch Blitz’s wound, and rolls only 1 success - which is barely enough. He restores 3 Grit to Blitz, who is now at 10. There is a 4 in 6 chance that one of the runners was carrying the grenade; he was. The grenade now lies on the ground near the feet of the one runner who still survived. He ran 6 cm, so is now 4 cm away from the foxhole. His BODY 2 allows him to throw it that far, so that’s going to be his play.

Round 2

The ticks in the rear are taking a strategic advance; they can move 1 cm and attack in an action; they would have done that last round as well… so they have moved 2 cm and will move 2 more as they are firing. They are both focusing on Blitz. The first attacks and gets 3 successes and 1 success. The three hits for standard damage (2), and Blitz is at 8 Grit. The second gets 2 successes with each attack, but needs 3 to hit them behind the sandbags. They are now 6 cm from the sandbags. The one 4 cm from the sandbags uses 1 action to pick up the grenade, and another to throw it; he needs 2 successes to land it in the foxhole, and gets 0. The grenade hits the net, bouncing away and exploding next to the sandbags, which absorb the full brunt of the attack. 

Blitz opens upon the closest one, getting 2 successes (so dealing damage 5), and then 3 successes (so damage 6). He kills the nearest tick, and two remain. Specs tries to shoot one of those, getting 2 and 2 successes, for a total of 8 damage, killing him.

Round 3

The tick doesn’t have many options, so he drops to one knee and takes aim at Blitz’s head, firing one shot at +1 He misses with only 1 success, as his bullet sinks into the sandback a tenth of a millimeter below Blitz’s head (I’d say this is a game of inches, but it’s not THAT big - that sounds like a marketing idea). Blitz returns fire, getting 5 successes, and dropping the tick like so much wet laundry. Or so many potatoes. Or like a tick you just filled with machine-gun ammunition. Mostly that last one.

Specs wants to try and apply some medical help to Blitz, who is at 8 Grit out of his starting 12. Two kits will get him back to full, and (they don’t know this), but they have less than half a round. Specs can try to apply one aid kit; he rolls 4 successes, so easily swaps out the bandage for a new one and gets Blitz back up to 11. Ticks appear on the path. Only Blitz gets to try and notice, since Specs is busy. He gets a 6 followed by a 2, so that’s enough. He taps Specs on the shoulder, nods towards the path, and gets back to his position. Specs gets his AM-16 ready.

Side note: This is very cinematic. I’m really appreciating how the action flows here. Part of it is just how I’ve structured this encounter, but the mechanics are allowing me to do this fluidly. 

Round 5

They let the ticks get to 10 cm and open fire, winning initiative automatically.  Blitz gets 4 successes on the first attack, dealing 7 damage and killing one. He misses the second one entirely. Specs hits one for 4, and again for 4 more, dropping it. Five ticks remain. 

They do the whole strategic advance thing. One of the dead ticks had the gas grenade, but the one still up has the fragmentation grenade. Four of them provide cover fire as the grenadier runs up to throw his grenade. They do a lot of missing. One gets 3 successes against Blitz, which deals 2 damage, leaving him at 9. They hit the sandbags a lot. Funny thought: I just realized that a sandbag might have only 10 to 20 grains of sand in each one. Heh. The grenadier will throw next round… if he’s still alive.

Round 6

Blitz is going to try and prevent that. He does. He has 4 successes for 7 damage, cutting the grenadier down; it is possible he’s already pulled the pin (he has), and now I decide if it bounces to harm one of the others; it is very unlikely, but 1 in 6 shot. Nope. It rolls off the road and explodes. Blitz tries to kill a second, rolling 0 successes. Ugh. Specs fires at another one, hitting with 2 successes and dealing 5 damage, leaving it at 1. He fires again and finishes it off with 2 more successes. Three of them remain.

These all focus on Blitz, trying to take out that machine gun as they continue their strategic advance. They need 3 successes to hit; they get (2 attacks each, so six total attacks): 3, 0, 2, 2, 1, and 1 successes. Only the 3 gets to Blitz, tagging his shoulder and dealing 2 damage, leaving him at 7. He’s still above 50% of his starting Grit, so no penalty.

Round 7

They all hear something coming up the path. It will appear next round… but it’s going fast.

Blitz opens up on one of the three remaining ticks, getting 3 successes, which is just enough to kill it. He gets 2 successes on another, which deals 5 damage and leaves it with 1 Grit remaining. Specs uses an aid kit quickly to patch Blitz up a little bit and restores 3 Grit. Blitz is back to 10. Specs now takes a shot with his final action, barely hitting, but doing enough to finish it off. One tick remains… for the moment.

Round 8

That tick stands and lines up to take a shot, as a jeep filled with more ticks runs him over as it barrels through. 

The boys have one round to do something. I’m giving the jeep initiative; the driver keeps driving, while the machine gunner opens fire, and the passenger lobs a grenade towards the foxhole. The gunner gets 2 successes, which sticks a lot of lead in the sandbags. The grenade thrower misses entirely, his grenade going off the netting and into the brush on the far side. The driver drives.

Blitz tries to throw a grenade into the jeep; this is going to be tough, so I’ll say DT 3 because of how fast the jeep is moving, and the relatively small target area (far less than a cm square to line up). He gets 3 successes! (5 and a 6 on the dice). Dang. I’m going to go with his stun grenade, because that has the best odds of doing something good. 

The machine gunner gets 0 successes; it is possible that he falls off the jeep. Nope. He’s in a harness, so he slumps against the gun post.

The passenger gets three successes. Impressive. He’s stunned for 1 round…

The driver gets 2 successes, so is out for 12 seconds… that is definitely long enough for the jeep to crash. It does, and each has to roll Body to soak 6 impact damage from the crash. The gunner soaks 3, the passenger soaks 1, and the driver rolls a botch and is impaled and dies. The boys open fire on the jeep until it explodes… it is possible that they are in the blast radius of the bomb that was on the jeep when it goes off. They are. Specs can try a Mind roll DT 2 to see the bomb casing and realize what it is just before it goes off…  he gets 5 successes! Finally! Being smart helps. He grabs Blitz and pushes him down in the foxhole just as the jeep erupts in a huge blast that shreds several of their sandbags.


Wow. I made a few changes to Grit, soaking, and damage, and it sped things up SO much. I really, really liked the tempo of that fight.

I like grenades. I like that you have to get close to use them, but when you do they can be pretty effective.

Changing the dynamics from attacking to defending changed the combat a lot, and made for more interesting strategic choices on the parts of the ants. That was nifty. 

Big picture: changing the scope of the setting from only Ants vs. Wasps to ‘whole area is in chaos and everyone is fighting everyone all the time’ gives a lot more story opportunities. If it’s not the wasps, it’s a group of mad tick terrorists trying to lay waste to the Ant army in the name of anarchy. Good stuff. 

Aid kits are applied really, really fast. While it is logical that you’d have to use a full round to apply an aid kit, mechanically you aren’t going to give up two actions to apply an aid kit, so they would never get used. Because they can be applied in one action, it makes sense to give up an attack to get back the health, especially on the part of supporting characters. I like that the game sort of encourages a player to take the ‘cleric’ role; you can still be a good fighter and effective in combat (Specs is not bad), but you also serve a vital role as support and healing. Specs restored a total of 9 Grit during the fight, which is right around the full Grit of a typical ant at this level. That’s a significant contribution. Because of his healing, Blitz never dropped below 50% and never took a penalty to attacks. This is strategic stuff that the game sort of naturally supports that makes for genuine tactical decisions; you want to heal your allies while they are still above 50% so they never take penalties, or if they are taking penalties, you want to get them back above 50% asap. I like it.

For what it's worth, I also like these two characters. They lived, so that's good. Maybe a two-ant team would be the best way to run a solo game, so I have more options and versatility, but not an entire group to juggle on my own. Hmmmm....

Ants - Diving Deeper into BODY implications

As I've started to tinker with BODY, I'm seeing the metaphorical spider web (extended pun intended - actually worked hard to shoehorn that in) of how BODY influences other things hardwired into the system. However, I'm seeing that now as a flaw of my original design which requires a more surgical approach to remove.

I had set things up that AOE attacks had a fundamentally different mechanical resolution than direct attacks on an individual. If an ant shoots a bee, he rolls an attack against the bee's REFLEX; if he gets a number of successes equal to or better than the bee's REFLEX score, he hits; any points beyond are added to damage. If you hit by +2, you deal +2 damage. Easy peasy.

Conversely, AOE attacks almost automatically hit (you only need to succeed with against a DT 1), and then all creatures in the area are affected; you aren't trying to hit any one creature, you're just aiming for a generalized location, and then letting things play out. This makes a lot of sense; a grenade deals 4 damage, and I'm just trying to mitigate the damage I suffer from that.

The problem was that AOE attacks almost always hit... whereas other attacks don't. I'm torn. I mean, it makes sense to me that you only need one success to throw a grenade... but I'm not sure if I like it. 

Let's delve a little deeper... if a grenade requires 1 success to hit the 1-centimeter square you are aiming for, you have (If I did this math right):
a 3 in 6 chance with Reflex 1 (50%)
A 30 in 36 chance with Reflex 2 (83%).
A 189 in 216 chance with Reflex 3 (88%)

This... isn't as bad as I thought. Even with Reflex 3, you are missing with your grenade 12% of the time. I don't hate that. The roll still matters. Yes, you can have thrown weapons 3 and reflex 3, but seriously... at that point, you are investing a LOT into being able to hit with grenades, and you get a limited supply of them, so go for it!

I just need to tweak other attacks a little bit... for example, both flame throwers and artillery can be a default DT 2. This means that you line up the artillery or flame thrower to hit where you want them to hit. I think that these are a little clumsy and hard to manage, so you'd be off with them a little bit more. 2 is pretty typical for an enemy's dodge, so we'll just go with that. If I get my 2 successes, I lined this thing up the way I wanted. I could go with one success on these as well, but then it's really easy to be a flame thrower operator (although it has very short range, and only works once per round, so it's not the awesome killer you might think it is). Artillery also is self-limiting; you can only afford so many shells. You aren't walking around firing your bazooka every round; you are preparing it before combat, firing it once or twice, and then doing other stuff.

Okay. Default DT 1 it is. This is simpler to remember, and makes more sense. The only drawback is that you have little incentive to invest in the artillery skill; this is a valuable skill point that, if you have Mind 2 or 3, I cannot see anyone wasting. I suppose I can insert more sophisticated artillery later (rockets and missiles and the like) that require more successes, but for now this works well enough. I can take the artillery skill out entirely for now, since I don't know that anyone needs it much anyway. However, the other attack abilities have a skill, so I guess I'll keep it.

More Play Testing of Ant Stuff

Playtest time! I’ve decided to make three experienced ants (put them at level 3) and see how they do with a challenging mission…

Gus - Fun-loving Ant Infantry 3 

A3 Lance Corporal; Grit 10; Clout 40

Body 2 | Mind 2 | Reflex 2

Medic 1; Small Arms 1; Transport 1

AM-16 (Ct. 12; dmg. 4) 5 Aid Kits (10); 6 grenades (18)

Mort - Serious Ant Recon 3 

A4 Corporal; Grit 12; Clout 45

Body 3 | Mind 2 | Reflex 1

Heavy Weapons 1; Hunting 1; Stealth 1

AM-3Z (dmg. 6; Ct. 30); Camouflage Fatigues (6); 3 grenades (9)

Rocko - Reckless Ant Heavy Weapons 3 

A3 Lance Corporal; Grit 14; Clout 40  

Body 3 | Mind 1 | Reflex 2

Heavy Weapons 2; Toughness 1

AM-3Z (dmg 6; Ct. 30); Camouflage Fatigues (6); 2 Aid Kits (4)

Let’s Play!

My ants are on a mission to sneak up on a hidden bee facility where they are manufacturing a prototype helicopter. They are to sneak in, steal the helicopter, and escape with it. The facility has 12 bees and a hornet (as the overseer). The roof requires 3 rounds to retract once the button is hit to open it. There is an anti-aircraft gun positioned on the roof (dmg. 10). Once an alarm is raised, another helicopter will arrive in 1 minute to engage. 

The ants try to sneak up towards the back of the facility, moving through thick grass. Gus rolls 2 dice, Mort rolls 3, and Rocko rolls 3. The watchman has Mind 1, so they each need only 1 success. Gus gets 2, Mort gets 3, and Rocko gets 4. They are super sneaky, getting to the back wall of the complex. The back door is locked, and the windows appear to be sealed shut. None of them has security, but they can try to pick the lock anyway; this is a straight up Mind roll, but with DT 4 (so good luck, boys). Um. Okay. Mort gets double 6s (4 successes), with no extra successes on the second roll, but he didn’t need them. Wow. Okay. He gets the door open.

There are a few bees milling about. They can try to sneak to the helicopter, but odds are not good. They need 4 successes to cross without being detected… they decide to create a distraction… and maybe take out a few bees in the process. The idea is to throw a grenade to the far end of the area, draw attention, and use that to sprint to the helicopter. If all goes well, the stealth check will be vs. DT 2. They are no longer outside, so nobody gets a bonus from camouflage fatigues; all are rolling 2D to use stealth. Rocko will throw a stun grenade that he gets from Gus. Gus will prepare to sneak towards the helicopter, and Mort will sneak towards the button to open the roof.

Not loving this plan. But whatever.

It goes sideways quickly. Rocko failed his check to throw the grenade; it bounces back towards the helicopter and goes off next to it. One bee is nearby, and gets caught in the blast. He fails his BODY check, and is stunned for 4 rounds. All of the other bees and the wasp are suddenly at attention. The ants seek cover. It’s initiative.

The ants win with double 6s. Nice. Gus runs to the chopper, and Mort runs to the button. Rocko will lay down support fire. Mort is successful (no check required), and the roof begins to open. It will be open in three rounds. It is possible that the helicopter is open. Nope. Door is closed. It is likely that the door is unlocked; Nope. The helicopter doors are locked. Well darn. Rocko fires at one bee; only 2 successes on 5 dice is a little disappointing, but it’s still a hit for 6 damage, which deals 4 to the bee, leaving it at 4. He fires again, this time getting 6 successes, which is 10 damage and shreds the first bee. One is dead and one is stunned.

The bees go. Three will attack each ant. Then I’ll decide on the hornet…

One hits Gus for 3; his Body soaks 2, so he suffers 1 damage. The second misses, and the third hits him for 3, so he suffers 1 more damage, down to 8.

Mort gets peppered; he’s hit three times, for 3, 4, and 6 points respectively. His Body 3 soaks a good chunk of this, but he suffers 1 and 3, down to 8.

Rocko is hit twice, but his Body absorbs all of it. 

The hornet is smart (gets 2 successes on his MIND roll) and knows they are trying to steal the helicopter. He flies to Gus to stop him. He orders the bees to focus on the other two. 

Round 2

Gus tries to pick the lock with his first action (which is going to be very, very difficult). 1 success. Nope. He takes his rifle and tries to break the lock open. I’m going to argue this is part of his small arms training (use the butt of the weapon as a hammer), and he rolls 3 dice… and gets no successes. Yeah. He needs the key. Which is around the neck of the Hornet…

Mort and Rocko decide that he’s the biggest threat, and both fire at him as he flies (they won’t be able to once he’s in melee with Gus).

Mort opens fire, getting 3 and 2 successes. He hits once for 6 damage; the hornet soaks 3, so suffers 3 and is at 17. The 2 misses.

Rocko also fires, getting 3 and 8 successes. He hits twice; once for 6 and once for 11!. The hornet soaks 3 from each, so suffers 3 and 8… the hornet is down to 6 Grit remaining. Wow. That helps a lot.

4 Bees attack Mort. They get 0/2/1/2 successes. This is hits for 4, 3, and 4. Mort’s Body soaks 3 from each, so he suffers 2 and is at Grit 6 remaining. He’s hurt, suffering a 1 die penalty.

4 Bees attack Rocko. They get 1/3/1/4 successes. These are hits for 4 and 5 hits; his Body soaks 3 from each, so he suffers 3 damage total, leaving him at Grit 11.

The Hornet attacks twice as it lands in front of Gus. It gets 5 successes on its first shot, and 5 on its second; each attack deals 10 hits; Gus’ Body soaks 2 from each, so he suffers 16 damage! Wow. Gus is very dead. The hornet is going to try to get inside the copter before it is killed. It is using Gus’ body as cover (+1) as it tries to get the lock open.

Mort unloads on the hornet, but only gets 2 and 3 successes; he misses both times (but peppers Gus’ body a little bid for good measure).

Rocko does the same. He gets 1 and 2 successes. Well fudge. He misses twice.

The hornet gets into the helicopter, slams the door, and fires up the engines. That’s not good.

4 bees attack each ant.

Against Mort, they get 0/3/2/4 successes and 3/1/1/4 successes. I have been forgetting to let the bees attack twice each round. Uh oh. This is hits for (after accounting for his BODY soaking 3) 2, 1, 3, 2, and 2 damage. He suffers a total of 10 and is at -4, and is dead. Drat.


Against Rocko, they get 3, 1, 1, 2 and then 2, 4, 4 and 1. Five of these hit, for a total of 1, 2, and 2 damage (Body soaks quite a bit). He suffers 5 damage, and is down to 6. He’s now suffering a penalty of +1 to DTs because he’s hurt. 

The roof is open (thanks to the ants), and the hornet is about to escape. Rocko has one round to try and do something about it. He checks MIND (DT 4 because of his penalty) to come up with something clever, but he gets 1 success. That’s a hard nope.

The only thing he can do is try to shoot down the helicopter, which is very, very unlikely in one round, but what the heck. The hornet is piloting, so it’s his REFLEX as the defense (+1 because Rocko is hurt); Rocko fires twice, getting 4 and 5 successes. He hits twice, once for 6 and once for 7 damage. The helicopter has armor of 4 and GRIT of 15… he deals 5 hits, which definitely punches some holes in the side of the helicopter, but it’s not enough to stop it. The hornet lifts off, ordering the incoming combat helicopter to destroy the building; it has served its purpose.

Rocko steps out into the middle of the room, emptying his belt at the bees who swarm at him as rockets set the entire building ablaze.


Well, that was… interesting. It ended up feeling like the first ten minutes of an action movie, setting up the big bad (the hornet) and probably killing the older brother of the real star of the movie. Like, it was Rocko’s younger brother who was supposed to be on the mission, but Rocko stepped in at the last minute and took his place… so now he has guilt, and needs revenge, and all of it. Anyhow…

The game is deadly, which is should be because A) It’s about Army Ants and B) it’s an old-school game. A total party kill should not be that exceptional.

They would have died quicker if I remembered that the bees get two actions per round. I was only giving them one per round for a little while there.

In retrospect, this mission was a little overly-hard for them. If they had pulled off the stealth pieces of it, they might have been okay, but in a straight up firefight, they had very little chance. I figured that the presence of the helicopter, and the possibility that they could commandeer it quickly, was playing in my imagination as the balance. If they get control of the helicopter quickly and can get someone in the pilot’s seat, this whole thing changes dramatically. A failed grenade toss and the 1 in 6 chance it was locked that happened to end up with a 1 did them in.

I like the game a lot, and I like the balance of the characters. If you want to deal a lot of damage and be tough, be heavy weapons. You are hard to kill, and you dish out lots of damage. However, the other two characters had a little bit more flexibility in what they could do outside of combat, so that seems to mitigate things quite a bit. 

I didn’t get a chance to check the rules for applying aid kits in a fight (because things were very chaotic), but I do think that these are going to be valuable; changing bugs back from hurt to not hurt (for example) can be a significant event. For Gus to give up actions to apply aid kits makes sense; he’s dealing the lowest damage, so putting him in a support role as infantry is workable. I don’t know if restoring 2 hits is enough for an aid kit; I think I’m going to bump this up to 4, which Medic +1 would put at 4. That’s a bit more reasonable to me. I might even want to have medic grant more; for example, maybe have each rank of medic grant +2 to GRIT restored (so Medic +3 makes an aid kit restore 10 Grit - that is not that outrageous considering the amount of damage they were taking). 

I've found that I'm escalating things as I go to try to offset other things... I increased weapon damage to bypass BODY better, then increased GRIT to offset the increase in damage... now I'm increasing first aid to account for the great Grit and damage that are going on.

None of this is BAD, but it's a slow, steady escalation of numbers in what was smaller a week ago. BODY is the culprit. It's a bit overpowered as a stat (I assumed REFLEX would be, but it's BODY). BODY double dips on your health; you reduce damage because of BODY, but you also have greater GRIT because of BODY. If I take BODY out of the equation for soaking most damage, I can scale the numbers way back to where they were... Reflex can prevent you from being hit (or minimize damage when you are), but then your BODY increases the total amount of damage you can sustain. I'd keep BODY checks in the game for areas of effect (you still soak grenade damage with BODY, for example).

If I go back to GRIT being BODY + Level, a level 1 ant has 2 to 4 GRIT... if a weapon deals 2, that can kill a bug. However, if I roll 4 successes against a REFLEX of 1, I'm dealing a base 3 damage, and adding that to a weapon 2 deals 5 damage... which is a LOT. I need GRIT to stay a bit higher, and (BODY + Level) x2 is not bad. Scale back weapon damage by 2, and that will account for the average BODY 2 soak. I think that balances enough.

I'm going to take a break and do a little more play testing. The good news is that I am in no particular rush to release the game, and I want it to be very, very solid before I do.

Inching Closer to Publication - Ants

The core rules are in final edits (I think), and I'm finding nifty little things in the rules that can impact play in cool ways. For instance, Leadership allows you to grant a bonus to another ant who can hear you, once per minute. For my solo game, I like the idea of this - I might end up using it. He's linked up with a ladybug mission coordinator who sits behind a computer in a bunker somewhere, using sophisticated ladybug tracking technology to monitor his activities - this emulates some of the action from movies like Mission Impossible ("you have two bogies ahead to your right - 2 cm"). This would give a bonus to one roll against those two foes, as directions are wired in. 

The rule is written (and conceived) as a battlefield leader - Sarge makes the team better by his presence, because he's able to grant bonuses to other ants based on his commands. It's a simple, clean, useful way to include a leadership mechanism in the game and 'reward' someone for being a good leader. However, for a solo game especially, it has the application listed above. The GM could always do this as well, having an external mission facilitator who they play, and who is able to do stuff like that (although it ends up being a little too Deus Ex Machina for my tastes, but whatever).

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Let's Make... Zak

Zak is the Army Ants version of Snake Eyes, so he's really good at a lot of things. If the game can support making Zak, then it can support pretty much anything. He's about as awesome as a character should be able to get. He's a commando and martial artist. He's clever and sneaky. He's kind of the closest thing I've got in my character aresenal to Batman or Daredevil. He's like that. So...

I know he's a commando, so I start there. That gives him Body 2, Mind 1, Reflex 3. 

As far as skills, he has to have at least one rank each in: explosives, martial arts, security, small arms, speed, stealth, and maybe even toughness. That's a lot. I think he should be at least level 5, and could be as high as level 7... It's pretty clear that he's at least expert in martial arts and small arms (so that's 4 skill points right there)... he also gets explosives, security, speed, and stealth at 1. That puts him at level 8...

Zak - Stoic Black Ant Commando 8 (A4; Hits 10)
Body 2 | Mind 1 | Reflex 3
Explosives (1); Martial Arts (2); Security (1); Small Arms (2); Speed (1); Stealth (1)
2 Enhanced UZ SMGs (dmg. 4); 6 grenades (2 of each kind); 5 Aid Kits; 2 weapons (sword, nunchakus)

He ends up with 38 extra Clout he doesn't spend; I mean, he could load up on more aid kits and grenades (probably would), but that's about it. I know that I need more things to spend Clout on. He feels pretty powerful (he hits almost every attack, dealing about 5 hits per attack depending on the foe; he's killing level 1-2 foes in one shot, and mowing through others pretty quick).   

Army Ants and Visual Style and Other Philosophy Stuff

I am thinking about what to do with my newest iteration of Army Ants rules, which are hammering into place quite nicely, and I have started noodling with some art. A few things that make this 'different' from other things I've done recently - since I want to go 'old school' with the game, I also want to go old school with my drawing as much as I can. Thirty years ago, my art was all heavy blacks with a lot of small linework. One of the biggest things I didn't like about my work, in general, was contrast between backgrounds and characters. In general, my art was very 'flat', with everything merging together. It was sometimes difficult to tell the foreground from the background, especially when I was adding layers of detailed background. So, I figure for this, I'll do a few things:

- Ants are simple lines with heavy blacks with a little bit of linework (but minimal) for texture and mid-shadowing.
- Backgrounds are gray-scale for high contrast with the characters. No gray-scale in the characters at all.
- Long antennae are back! One of the quirky things about my drawing back then was that the antennae of the ants got shorter and stubbier as I went. I'm going back to the bigger antennae of the first few issues I drew. Hey, it's old school!

This drawing is an example of the kind of thinking I have around this. It's going to take me a few tries to really nail it down, but I can see where this is headed. 

Now... as for the game itself...

I'm thinking of going in a different direction with the game. I've got the core rulebook down to ten pages in a Word Document (8 1/2 x 11)... I'm going through, and it can do almost everything my previous 100+ page versions of the game can do, because I've got the mechanics so narrowly focused and clean that the game doesn't need any secondary mechanical systems. There's one core mechanic that applies almost everywhere, along with porting over the system of likelihoods (which I've still tweaked slightly) for the GM side. I might just release this thing at ten pages, and then do modules to expand the game, adding... well, anything.

I talked a little bit with a good friend about this the other day... and he suggested going bigger. Go for the 200-page, full-color release with all of the bells and whistles. Incude everything I can think of with this package. Swing for the fences.

Yeah. I could do that. But, this is the reality. I don't think I'm selling many books, regardless of what I do. I've tried a lot of different approaches and philosophies and strategies and ... always get the same result. I'm not complaining. To be clear, I'm grateful to have the creative work I have, and I'm grateful for anyone who supports anything I do. I'm just accepting that this is what it is.

So, if reaching the largest possible audience is not a consideration, then what is? Building a game over time. If I put together a really, really tight package that's ten pages for a dollar, and then release pay-what-you-want one-page expansions that are tight, and do that slowly and methodically and consistently over time, then maybe I build an audience. And maybe that audience wants a larger package. And then maybe, a year or two or five or never down the road, I go back and put it all together into a bells-and-whistles package. Right now, I don't have the audience to do that. And that's okay. 

So, I think my focus for this week or two is on getting some more play testing done, getting a few pages of Cupcake Scouts done (because I'd still like to finish this first story arc before the beginning of school), and maybe getting the Army Ants core rules out there 'officially' in some capacity.

Monday, August 21, 2023

Army Ants '81

Interested in following my working draft of Michael T. Desing's Army Ants '81?

Oh. I thought you'd be more interested.

Carry on, then.

A Walk In The Woods

I went for a walk yesterday around a pond in my neighborhood, and started snapping pictures as I was going. This was Army Ants brain food. I could see this as their version of the 'Nam. For thirty years, the Army Ants stories have taken place in a version of the back yard of the house I grew up in... but THIS? This is a massive place. A ten-acre pond. A half a mile of trail (which I might round off to 1 km for convenience sake). The Thousand Meter Path sounds pretty cool. I have tried to define the ants and their environment by natural boundaries - the fence, the line of trees, the creek. These things have hemmed their world in (in my imagination at least). This is... different. The world centers on the pond, and the immediate area around it. Once you move more than maybe 5 meters away from the water's edge, you are into the borderlands. The wilds. The Untamed Lands. We don't know much about that. But the Thousand Meter Path? Oh, yeah, that's our stomping grounds. That's what we seek to control. 

That's where the war is taking place. 

Sunday, August 20, 2023

Eli's Mission, Session 1

It's playtest time for the newest MTDAA RPG I'm working on.

I’m going to go with a solo ant 1. I’ll make him infantry, so that he has the most flexibility (I think that’s going to be important as a solo character). I have a lot of skills I’d love for him to have, but for level 1, the ability to hit with his weapon is going to be paramount. I’ll go with small arms, even though something that gives him more flexibility (like speed) would be good, too. I rolled no successes on his MIND check, so he’s a private straight out of boot camp. He is going to spend his 10 clout on an AM-15 rifle (6) and 2 aid kits (2 each). 

Eli, Dutiful Ant Infantry 1 (E1; Hits 3)


Small Arms (1)

Standard Kit; AM-15 Rifle (dmg. 2); 2 aid kits

Eli shakes his head, waking up. The copter landed on its side. He looks around. The three others didn’t get into the harness in time, and the pilot was in the line of the rocket. Eli is the only survivor. Snot. He searches through the wreckage. 

It is likely he finds something he can salvage from one of the other ants. I roll 3. He does. I decide it is grenades. 

He recovers 3 fragmentation grenades from the harness of the patrol leader. Making sure he has enough ammunition and food, he decides to set out and complete the mission. He knows the orders: radio silence, neutralize the radio relay tower, report in. The helicopter is a total loss, and the Wasp Empire is likely to send a recovery team to check the wreckage. He can hear the sound of their propellers now; he beats a hasty retreat to the east, moving towards the radio relay station.

They were going to set down one click out but ended up at just beyond 3 clicks. He has 3 meters to cover over difficult terrain, but he knows the direction and general terrain features. I’ll see if he remembers anything from the intelligence briefing; he gets 1 success on his MIND check, so yes. He knows that there is a small chameleon that wanders this region. He’ll keep his eyes out for that.

In the first meter of travel through the difficult terrain, he is likely to have an encounter. Yes. Is it the chameleon? No. Is it a patrol of enemy insects? Yes. Is it gnats? Yes. Three gnats are coming this way. They saw the helicopter go down, and plan to scour the scene after the wasps depart to see if there’s anything they can salvage. Eli fails his MIND check to notice them, but they make their MIND check to notice him. He is moving through the foliage (crossing into a patch of moss), when they attack. 

Small arms fire erupts from the north. Three gnats have taken position near a leaf at 8 cm away. All three miss. Eli uses 1 action to get some light cover (no better cover is nearby) and uses his second action to attack. He gets 2 successes, which is enough to kill a gnat. In round 2, the two remaining gnats fire at him, but the 2 successes the first gnat gets are not enough to hit him behind the cover. He hits a gnat for 2 damage with his first attack, which is enough to kill it. He hits the final gnat for 2, which again kills it. He goes over to examine them, but they have nothing of particular value. He continues on.

He has another encounter. He again fails his MIND check, and the chameleon is upon him, having been attracted by the sounds of combat. SNOT! He honestly has almost no chance against this… I’m going to say that each round, it is possible that an ant gunship is out patrolling to see if there are any survivors of the helicopter crash, and that these can kill the chameleon. That’s about his only chance.

In round 1, the chameleon attempts to strike him with its tongue; it hits him, and he has to make a BODY check 3 to resist being pulled in for a bit. That’s a BIG ask.. He succeeds with a 6 and a 4! Wow. He twists out of the stickiness of the tongue, turning to his right and opening fire. He hits with his first attack for 2 hits, which is not nearly enough to penetrate its thick hide. His second attack misses. No help arrives.

In round 2, the chameleon again tries to hit him with its tongue; It hits; this time, Eli fails his BODY check, and is pulled towards the chameleon, which chomps down on him with a 5D attack. Ugh. It gets 3 successes (which is not as bad as it could have been), dealing a total of 4 hits damage. Eli’s BODY soaks 2, and he suffers 2, leaving him at 1 hit. He now takes a penalty of +1 to all DTs. That stinks. He’s going to try and toss a fragmentation grenade into the chameleon’s mouth to drive it away; He gets 3 successes on the roll! Even with a +1 to the DT from being hurt, and considering it would have been DT 2 to pull this off, he is successful. The grenade pops into the mouth and explodes. The chameleon cannot absorb damage from inside, so it suffers the full 3 hits. It’s down to 5, but more importantly has to check morale. I’m going to say it is likely that this is enough to drive the chameleon away; it is! The chameleon drops the ant it was trying to snack on and scurries away to fight again another day.

Um. He literally survived that fight without me cheating! That was… surprising. I’m going to rule that he can rest for three minutes to recover without incident, and he can finish crossing this first meter without further problems. 


  • No doubt this is already the best iteration of an Army Ants RPG I’ve created. The fact that battle with a predator actually, you know, works and is balanced and is fully supported is already beyond the pale. Scaling the game to make predators feel like predators without making them unbeatable forces of nature has always been a challenge, but this system just allows it. I’m really happy with that.

  • The game runs fast and loose, which is what I want. The combat with the gnats and the combat with the chameleon were both fast, but they felt different, and had different mechanical things happening. There were strategic choices that mattered in each battle (do I use an action to get to cover, or do I keep fighting from where I am? Do I keep firing with my rifle, or run away, or try to lob a grenade into the thing’s mouth?)