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....


  1. Seems like you went from round 3 straight o round 5, skipping round 3. Wouldn't have changed much though, certainly not the final outcome.
    Was an interesting read, I love seeing mechanics work out in actual scenarios as compared to statistical white room tests (though the data from those is important as well, it usually does not make for interesting reading).

  2. Hmmm. Yeah, I did. That's odd. I would think as a designer of RPGs, the ability to count from 1-10 consistently would be a prerequisite.

    I am grateful for the feedback. I find actually sitting down and rolling dice is more valuable in terms of what I learn than theoretically "well, there's a 72% chance that..." which guides my initial design, but ultimately cannot find the flaws in the system. Actually rolling dice does.

  3. Evidently, I not only dropped the "t" from to, but also fatfingered round 4 as 3, so I'm speaking from (very fresh) experience when I say mistakes like this happen super easily and say nothing about one's ability to count or spell ; )

    But yeah, that's exactly how I feel. Crunching numbers and probabilities is all well and good (and necessary to a degree), but it doesn't tell you how it *feels* in play.

    1. I appreciate how you pretended to make mistakes to make me feel better.