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Let's Make... Zak

The Splintered Realm - Tue, 08/22/2023 - 20:33
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).   

First Look At Zack Snyder’s “Rebel Moon”

First Comics News - Tue, 08/22/2023 - 18:49
From Zack Snyder, the filmmaker behind 300, Man of Steel, and Army of the Dead, comes Rebel Moon, an epic science-fantasy event decades in the making. When a peaceful colony…
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Caliginous Cryptids in the First Look at HUNT FOR THE SKINWALKER #1

First Comics News - Tue, 08/22/2023 - 16:43
Based on the Unexplainable, Unbelievably True Paranormal Story, Available in September 2023 LOS ANGELES, CA (August 22, 2023) – BOOM! Studios today revealed a first look at HUNT FOR THE SKINWALKER #1,…
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First Comics News - Tue, 08/22/2023 - 16:39
Tribute: Women in Music: Olivia Newton-John, Whitney Houston, Donna Summer & Selena Quintanilla Writer: Sandra C. Ruckdeschel, Michael L. Frizell, Raphael Moran Artists: Ramon Salas, Kirk Feretzanis, Victor Moura, Pablo…
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First Comics News - Tue, 08/22/2023 - 16:25
The latest thrilling adventure by cinematic artist and storyteller Jay Martin MILWAUKIE, Ore., (August 22, 2023)—Upon the success of Lost Boy, renowned music video director and storyboard artist Jay Martin partners with Dark…
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“Metalocalypse: Army of the Doomstar” Review

First Comics News - Tue, 08/22/2023 - 16:00
The Metalocalypse may soon be upon us in “Metalocalypse: Army of the Doomstar.” The film will mark the end of the “Metalocalypse” series that began on Adult Swim. The film…
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First Comics News - Tue, 08/22/2023 - 15:37
Papercutz is pleased to announce: THE QUEEN’S FAVORITE WITCH VOLUME 2: THE LOST KING by Benjamin Dickson (writer) and Rachael Smith (Artist) The Queen’s Favorite Witch Volume 2: The Lost…
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First Comics News - Tue, 08/22/2023 - 15:36
Stay tuned tomorrow for the cover reveal of MOON KNIGHT #29, on sale in November.   MOON KNIGHT #29 Written by JED MACKAY Art by FEDERICO SABBATINI Cover by STEPHEN…
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First Comics News - Tue, 08/22/2023 - 15:33
GRIMM FAIRY TALES #75 This is it! The moment that we’ve been waiting for! A great Evil has been rising, and now, atop the infamous Mountains of Madness, the final…
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First Comics News - Tue, 08/22/2023 - 15:32
ZODIAC VS. HYDRA Zodiac’s reunion with his long-lost brother was short and bittersweet (emphasis on bitter) when the hero discovered Scorpio had become a mass murderer and needed to be…
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First Comics News - Tue, 08/22/2023 - 15:00
 PORTLAND, Ore. 08/22/2023 — Image Comics is pleased to announce an all-new horror story—Blood Commandment—from the artist behind Spawn and Punisher, Szymon Kudrański. A four-issue horror miniseries from the creator of the…
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Army Ants and Visual Style and Other Philosophy Stuff

The Splintered Realm - Tue, 08/22/2023 - 12:54
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.

Army Ants '81

The Splintered Realm - Mon, 08/21/2023 - 21:26

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

The Splintered Realm - Mon, 08/21/2023 - 12:02

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. 

Classic TV Flashback

Sorcerer's Skull - Mon, 08/21/2023 - 11:00

Over at the Flashback Universe Blog, Jason Sholtis and I have started a series where we watch an episode or two of some "classic" TV show we find on streaming and blog about it. So, far we've watched Mr. Lucky (good) and Gigantor (less good)--a post that debuts tomorrow. 

If you're entertainment starved, might be worth a read.

Eli's Mission, Session 1

The Splintered Realm - Sun, 08/20/2023 - 21:11

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?)  

Old School Army Ants Thinking

The Splintered Realm - Sun, 08/20/2023 - 12:43

As I mentioned yesterday, James V. West reached out recently, and he ended up with a copy of the first edition of my Army Ants RPG (my first 'published' RPG work - from 1996). He was kind in his appraisal of it, and I decided to pull out a copy and look it over. 
Wow, that thing is a mess.
I mean, there is a lot of ambition, and some good fundamental ideas there, but the execution is all over the place. It's very, very messy in parts. It has some extremely detailed rules for some things, but hand waves other things. It knows the game it wants to be, but is struggling to find its way. It would be a fantasy heartbreaker if it was a fantasy game. So, my brain started working on ways to help it.
I have mentioned that I like game design challenges. I've disovered it's not about making the 'best' RPG, but in setting a design challenge, and making a game that accomplishes that specific goal. So, what if I was to create the Army Ants RPG I had in mind in 1996, but done correctly?
Three hours later, I had a working draft going. Here are some thoughts about the thing...
It relies on three core traits: Body, Mind, and Reflex (I have learned that I like Reflex better than 'Speed', even though Reflex doesn't 'sound' like it fits as well with the other two. I don't hate 'spirit', but I'm really looking for eye-hand coordination, and reflex is the closest I'm like to get). These are the foundational pieces of your character, and everything builds from there. 
In the original rules, there was a secondary set of attributes (an 'active' and 'resistant' attribute) that built on the primary one. This is overly complex, doesn't add much to the game, and so doesn't make my draft. Buh Bye.
As a 'class-based' system, you have a specialty, which sets up a few things about your character. I like this. I'm keeping, streamlining, and clarifying the specialties. I'm linking these directly to your three traits: All infantry specialists have Body 2, Mind 2, Reflex 2. As an infantryman, you are a generalist by nature. Since all characters have six trait points, and traits cap at 3 for ants (with 1 required), there are only 7 possible combinations of traits (222, 321, 312, 231, 213, 123, 132). Hence, there will only be seven specialties using these combinations. The original game had 9, with some redundancies. I think I can clean that up without losing anything.
The 96 game used a dice pool system, where you total results and compare that to a random difficulty target, which the GM determined by rolling a separate pool. If this wall is 5D to climb, the GM roll 5d6 and added it up to get the difficulty. You would then roll your Body dice (2D for instance) and add the companion trait and skill level, to see if you beat that target. It was a lot of number crunching on each roll, and the random targets make little sense in retrospect. Why is this wall difficulty 7, while the wall right next to it is difficulty 26? 
The game relies on D6 dice pools, so I'm keeping that. However, I'm simplifying it to your trait + your skill, giving you from 1 (a trait of 1 and no skill) to 6 (a trait of 3 + mastery of a skill at +3) in your dice pool. A botch happens if you roll all 1s (so a single 1 doesn't hurt you, unless you only roll 1d6), success is 4-5, and 2 successes at 6. A roll of 1/4/6 is 3 successes, then. The Mission Master then sets difficulties that range from 1 (simple) to 5 (nigh impossible). 2 is challenging, 3 is difficult, 4 is very difficult. I think that MMs can get the hang of setting difficulties, realizing that 3 is going to be the 'default' for many tasks, and then modifying from there (is it a bit easier than 3? It's 2 then. Is it quite a bit harder than 3? Let's go with 4 then). 
Combat is pretty simple (which it tried to be in the core rules from '96, but failed). As a for instance, to attack with an AM-16, you roll your Reflex (we'll say 2 because you are in the infantry) +1 (from being trained in small arms) for 3D. If your foe has Reflex 2, you need 2 successes to hit; a result of 1 success, no successes, or a botch misses. Things get complicated if you have 1D in Reflex, no skill, and are fighting a foe with Reflex 3... you cannot possibly hit then. I'm going to port over the one-roll concepts I've recently been refining; your weapon has a set damage rating from 1 to 5. You deal the number of successes beyond the DT + the weapon's damage rating. An AM-16 is damage 3; so if you roll 3 successes against a target of 2, you deal 4 hits with your AM-16. Your foe reduces damage by their Body, so with Body 2, that foe suffers 2 hits. High Reflex foes are hard to hit, and high Body foes are hard to kill. Everyone has a least a 2 in one of those, so nobody gets 1-shotted by 1 point of damage. Your hits are relatively low (Body + Level), so a starting character with low Body might only have 2 hits, but their reflex of at least 2 is going to mitigate that to some degree.  I'm interested to see how that actually play tests, since there are several concepts here I've never tried out with live dice.
One thing to consider is using a result of 6 as a 'wild' die that explodes; you get the +1 from a success, but you also roll another die, and this can continue infinitely. This accounts for the inevitable 'you only get to roll 1D but the situation is DT 3' that will come up. Your 1D could explode, but you need a 6, followed by a 6, followed by a 4+ in order to succeed on your 1D. Furthermore, I'm thinking that ants get some grit or moxy (because I have used that sort of idea in every version of the Army Ants games I've written since '96) that grants bonus dice to apply as needed. It's easy to just say you have your level in bonus dice (levels range from 1-10 I think - still working on that). The problem I see is that once you start rolling lots of dice, the explosions can get a little crazy; you rolled 4d6, getting 4/6/6/6. This is 4 successes, with 3 explosions; you roll again, getting 4/5/6. This is 3 more successes, with one more explosion. You roll 6 again. 1 more successes, one more explosion. You roll 4. 1 more success. That is a total of 9 successes (CRAZY) and four rounds of dice rolling. It's a bit much. I think going with the 6 representing two successes and giving some discretionary dice to use as needed can largely mitigate things. Plus, if you get to level 3 and never at least picked up 1 die in a skill so you can attack with a light rifle, that's kind of on you at that point. 
One possibility is that 6s work like 1s do; that makes a lot of sense. 6s are 2 successes, but if you roll ALL 6s, your entire pool explodes and you roll again. This means that 1D has a 1 in 6 chance of exploding (so that poor 1D dude still gets a decent result 1 in 6 times), but the odds of explosion go down dramatically once you have a lot of dice in your pool (2D explodes 1 in 36 times, 3D only explodes 1 in 216 times). This reflects the difference between low skill (you rely on luck a lot) and high skill (you are precise, so luck factors into the equation less and less over time - high skill brings with it high consistency). I think this solves all of my problems intuitively and cleanly, and parallels the way that 1s work! That's nifty. 
I also had a complex system of hits and damage and such. I like the idea that your character gets wounded and therefore less effective. I'm thinking I can pull this back (but keep the core concept alive) - you are 'wounded' (suffering -1 success with all rolls) once you are at below half of your hits; you are  'critical' at 0 hits (suffering -2 successes with all rolls). You are then unconscious at -1 hits, and dead at -3. Any bug that starts with only 1 hit never goes to wounded; they go directly to critical when they sustain 1 hit. I keep the complexity I wanted with the various conditions of injury, but do this in a cleaner and more intuitive way. My modern game design sensibilities don't really want this in there at all, but the original game invested pretty heavily into putting this in, so it's something that the spirit of the game requires. It's in.
The original 96 rules were in 32 pages, but with 3 full-page illustrations. I want to get this entire game into 16 pages and put it up for sale as a pay-what-you-want release. Let's see how I do :)

In happier news...

The Splintered Realm - Sat, 08/19/2023 - 22:43

James V. West, who frequents different parts of the Internet than I do, so our paths don't often converge (although we both go back to the same roots in mini comics publishing in the 90s), reached out recently and said some very kind things about my original Army Ants RPG... and he did this awesome drawing which is probably more 'Army Ants' than anything I've ever drawn. His inking work is next level. It made my day, which is saying a lot since intellectual theft was really killing the mood around here. I love when cool people do cool stuff. It makes me want to make a 1978 style Our Army At War Army Ants RPG now. :)

Help Me Internet (You're My Only Hope)

The Splintered Realm - Sat, 08/19/2023 - 15:25

So, this morning I became aware of this...

and this...

Um. So, like Badge Quest is a complete ripoff of my game, right? I mean, it's not even TRYING to pretend it didn't. It's stealing the same images and the same characters in the same poses. It's just, exactly my game, but by someone else. I mean, the dude stole the hair buns. I perused the rules, and the mechanics are straight out of my game. It's not even remotely trying to pretend it's not.


If you are me, what do you do? I put a copyright notice in this in 2018. That has to mean SOMETHING, right?

Sail the Microversal Seas!

Sorcerer's Skull - Thu, 08/17/2023 - 11:45

Artist Jeff Nelson has imagined Marvel's Microverse from the Micronauts comic as islands in a sea. Only tangentially related, but this reminds me how the Microverse would be a good Spelljammer setting.


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