Inspired by Ant-Man – Honey I Shrunk The PCs

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.

 

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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.

  • It’s unique and is new ground your game has not likely explored yet.
  • It gives you a whole new set of challenges to throw at your players.
  • Your minis are now actual size and the whole room is the map
  • It is a great escape for your BBEG. Chases are nearly impossible when 10 minutes of your running covers about 10 seconds of the villains movement.

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:

  • Moving along the ground much slower comparatively.
  • Can the players get higher in their new landscape, or is it a pain?
  • What kind of new monsters will they fight? What CR is a rat now that it is the size of an elephant?
  • Is a human voice or music on a radio booming or normal sounding?
  • Can you see as far as you could normally? Is the other side of the room blurry like the horizon?
  • Does the voice activation on the ship still work or are your voices too squeeky? Can you get the ship to launch on auto pilot, only to find yourself unable to manually steer away from a firefight?

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.

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John Arcadian is a writer, gamer, art director, web designer, crafter, and kilt-wearer. You can find more of his writings on gaming over at http://gnomestew.com. For web-design projects, check out http://beezenwebdesign.com.
Comments
  1. Scott Martin     | Reply

    That is a very fun and different evening’s play. I suspect that almost everything is going to have to adjust to the new size–but I do see that if you allow something to continue to operate on the old scale, it could make unappreciated spells and abilities the highlight of the special session.

    I haven’t run a lot of flip the paradigm sessions–in part for because they can be a real bait-and-switch if you don’t pay careful attention. I do have to admit, though, that a Mouse and the Motorcycke session sounds fun right now.

    1. John Arcadian - Post Author     | Reply

      Yeah, the spells are a really nifty thought. Tactically, shrinking someone down who has a full sized fireball is devastating for a sneak attack operation. It all depends on the theory behind the magic or power.

  2. griffon8     | Reply

    Dungeon Adventures #18 contained the adventure Chadranther’s Bane, in which the party members are shrunk to one fiftieth size. I used it in one campaign and found it excellent. Everything mentioned in this article was addressed in the adventure.

    1. Michael Shea     | Reply

      groffon8 brought up the point I wanted to. I ran Chadranther’s Bane with my group and it was one of the most memorable adventures we had in years. The party was suddenly shrunk and bewildered by the landscape. It wasn’t until the next session that they figured out where they were. The dragon-sized weasel named Wanda stayed in their memories for a long time, too. One of my favorite scenes was the end fight, where they party had lifted the shrinking curse and all the conflicting parties that had been shrunk in the garden over the years were suddenly full-sized and in close proximity. You can read more in my blog: http://parhoon-naval-yards.blogspot.de/search?q=saxenbach.

    2. John Arcadian - Post Author     | Reply

      I was not aware of that adventure, but the shrinking idea has been around in fiction since early in the 50s at least. I’ll bet there are some Victorian era sci-fi stories that dealt with the concept as well, but I’m not familiar with it. I’m sure there have been some games that used the concept.

      I did some quick online searching and found an archive with that adventure and it is pretty good. I’m not so big of a fan that the spells scale or just don’t work, but that is for AD&D, so I’m not surprised at the focus on game balance.

      I’m kind of tempted to run that adventure in an updated system now. It looks like a good framework for this sort of thing.

    3. Grimvaar     | Reply

      I have that issue and I love that adventure! I used it Hevesy modified in my 2E DarkSun campain, had the area effect an entire valley in the Forst Ridge. My favorite was how it only effected the intelligent creatures. That really confused my players!

  3. NikMak     | Reply

    anyone remember the book where the protagonist shrinks down and enters a miniature realm in a woven carpet? they end up befriending a sentient spider that they then ride around like a sort ultimate combat steed!

    Its such long time ago I read this I cant recall the book – it may have been part of the Xanth series, but for some reason I keep thinking of Clive Barkers ‘weave world’ (which I am sure it is not BTW, Clive Barker is a very different kind of author!).

    This concept would also work brilliantly as a supers game… maniac finds alien ‘disintegrator ray’ not realising its actually a shrink ray!

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