You’ve probably seen the recent Ant-Man teaser that released at a miniature size.
It was followed by a full sized trailer that showed off more of the overlooked superhero. Seeing the trailers recently reminded me of one experience on the micro-scale that was really fun and has always stuck with me – playing Unreal Tournament’s giant maps where your character was at an incredibly small size in a real world setting.
These maps were incredibly fun because they flipped the paradigm on its head and tapped into that place in our brains where we were 8 year olds playing with toys. The vast epic landscapes of the game were vast epic landscapes that you lived in everyday, they just weren’t so epic at real size.
Run A Session At Micro Size
This idea can be used to great effect in tabletop RPGs. When you need to do something interesting or are looking for a filler session, run a game where the characters are shrunk down and have to interact with the world at Micro Size. There are a lot of great things that can come from running a game where the PCs are shrunk down.
So, what do you need to do a session at a micro scale? Not a lot, but there are a few things to consider before jumping into the micro world.
Determine a Reason for Micro Sizing
First off, figure out a reason and set of parameters for the micro-sizing. In reality, a person who was shrunk down to a miniature size would probably be unable to process oxygen as efficiently because their lungs don’t work the same. This is a game though, and that isn’t what is really important. What is important is how and why the characters get shrunk down and what that means. In fantasy games Magic could easily shrink the PCs, in superhero games you’ve got the hand wave of superpowers or mad science, similar to what you would have in a fantastic sci-fi game. With a base reason down for why the shrinking occurs, figure out what other parameters go along with it. Is climbing the chair to get up to the table going to be like summiting everest, or is their leeway because it is a game and at their micro size there are more handholds at that scale? If it is magic, is their some property that allows for them to retain some or all of their strength or agility? (This is a density/mass question that has been debated fiercely on some forums – because we are nerds.) Do you want it so that the PCs have a bit more freedom in moving, or do you want a shrinking scenario where everything becomes harder? These sorts of questions are going to be asked by your players, so it is best to have some rough answers thought out beforehand. This lets you create a solid and unique play experience while also preparing some interesting challenges.
Figure Out The Challenges before hand
You will want to follow up determining the base reasoning and mock-physics behind the shrinking with figuring out the challenges you want to throw at your players. Operating on a micro scale means a whole new set of things to deal with. Things like:
Figure Out Ways Around The Challenges
Knowing your challenges and playing them out is great, but the real fun of a micro sized game as a player is staring around the room and imagining how you would move on the micro scale. Sure, your grappling hook that was 100 feet probably wouldn’t really reach the top of the mantle, but…. it’s really fun to imagine that. Know when to make the players work for it and know when to just let it be or have a work around handy. For any challenge you make, have at least one counter in mind. If the players come up with something better, go with it, or let them figure out how to get around it. You should also prime them with the idea that some things wouldn’t work the same. For instance, magic. A first level mage casts a spell that can lift 5 pounds of material… does this scale or can she suddenly move the entire party with her low level spell? Imagine how useful a power that lets a player create an explosion within 25 feet becomes, even if the explosion is small. Part of this is the fun conjectural experiment of imagining someone shrunk down to size, but part of it is also the fun conjectural experiment of discovering a whole new set of abilities because powers and abilities don’t translate exactly.
Figure Out The Undo Button
Finally, unless you want your game to be a remake of Land Of The Giants, it is a good idea to know how to undo the shrink factor. Maybe it is a duration on the spell or power, or maybe the new quest is figuring out how to undo it. What happens to all that mass? For one game system, I wrote a shrink spell that turned all of the mass into a clay substance. The character shrunk had to touch the clay to reabsorb it. I then ran a quest where one PC was shrunk down to about 1/2 his size, the clay from the spell was then sent to a pottery factory and spread throughout the world. He had to track it down, bit by bit to regain his size. That is a little extreme for most games, especially short paradigm flipping sessions, so have a firm exit strategy for the shrinking. If it was an artifact, touching the artifact again or finding the artifact that reverses the effect are logical solutions that the player characters would know if they considered it. Make sure the exit strategy is accessible to the players, as it makes it easier to have a defined path for the adventure.
So, would you find room in your game world or campaign for a micro session? What other flip the paradigm types of sessions have you run? What are some of the coolest challenges and scenarios you can imagine to being shrunk down? How do you think some spells or powers could work differently in micro scale? Share your ideas in the comments, it will help other GMs who might want to run this type of session.