Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Let's Get Small

One common plot device used in fantasy and science fiction is where the heroes are shrunk to tiny size.  We have seen this in children’s television (Doctor Shrinker), children’s literature (Alice In Wonderland), standard sci-fi television (Land of TheGiants), Star Trek (TAS’ The Terratin Incident and DS9’s One Little Ship),the classic sci-fi movie The Incredible Shrinking Man (the part where he has to fight the spider for the piece of cake still gives me chills) and not-so-classic The Incredible Shrinking Woman.  DC Comics produced an Atom mini series where his belt was lost or broken and he had to “go native” among a diminutive group of people living in South America.  Even Spider Man had to deal with it such a circumstance when he battled Mysterio...

...Wrong Mysterio...

While accurate, Spider Man fighting Rey Mysterio would be a much cooler battle. Anyway, the confrontation with Mysterio was all an elaborate illusion, of course.   The Fantastic Four were thrown into a similar situation when Doctor Doom and The Puppet Master teamed up (Well, Puppet Master would have called it a team up.  Doom would have called it him hiring a new lackey).  Having the PCs shrunk down can be an interesting adventure, providing them with numerous problems and perils to overcome they might not have to deal with normally.

First of all, there are a couple different ways to go with this.  The first is where the gang winds up in a sub atomic universe (i.e. The Hulk’s adventures in Kai, Marvel’s Microverses).  In these cases the adventure can be more or less a fish out of water adventure where the gang has to cope with a strange environment.  In these cases the characters might not even be the same size as the inhabitants; they could be giants in comparison (as was seen in a Justice League story where The Atom was giant size and the rest of the JLA were normal sized in comparison to the natives).  The GM has numerous ways to go with a game like this, from creating a world quite different from the one the heroes are used to (i.e. magic if the heroes are from a hi-tech world, hi-tech if their origins are magical) or they could be seeing a world very much like their own (which gives question to the nature of existence itself; what if their own world is simply a sub atomic reflection of a larger one?).  In these cases the adventures can be more or less straight up quest or action stories with the ultimate goal being a way to discover how to return to normal size without obliterating the world they are visiting.

The other type of “getting small” adventure is where the heroes are shrunk down to a fraction of their size and must cope with a variety of threats.  Now, you might think if these characters are well armed or have extraordinary powers that being small is not big deal.  Well, let them take a gander at some of the creatures they would have to deal with.  Take the common house cat, for instance:

 ... Okay, wrong sort of cat.
You kill it, I'm busy.

Sure, Babooshka and Rantan look like pushovers, but you have not seen them hunting bugs (Save ants.  And apparently freak Ran Tan the hell out).  They are armed with claws and teeth and possess a house cat’s inborn need to use them.   Cats like to play with their food before killing them.  Imagine having to deal with cats the size of elephants or even rats the size of horses and you get an idea of how bad things could get.
At six inches imagine how big cockroaches are. Even ants can be more than just a nuisance.  And do not forget the spiders.
No matter how creative you are, Nature is scarier.

Try envisioning an eight legged rottweiller with a poisonous bite that can melt your insides.  A hornet’s nest is now a well armed squadron of death dealing  dive bombers.  Mosquitoes?  Imagine a female mosquito shoving her proboscis (Okay, I cannot believe I spelled that word right on the first try.) into a hero’s chest to suck the heart from out between his ribs.  Even maggots become Lovecraftian horrors. Shrink them down any more and those alien looking predators become true horrors.  While nasty at the same size, if the heroes are at two inches the preying mantis is a six inch long flying murder machine with its twin scythe-like arms.

I'm so badass they named a kung fu style after me.

 And I have not even addressed environmental concerns like drops of rain the size of basketballs!

Being shrunk also presents the heroes with other problems such as transportation and movement.  A trip across a lawn or room could be a journey of hours or even days so as a GM it is important to work out where the adventure might take place and whether or not the goals the heroes must set out to achieve are do-able in the time and space you have allotted them.

Finally, there is a third option between the two extremes and that is being reduced to microscopic size.  In these instances I can only think of one scenario and that is traveling through the body of a living being (i.e. Fantastic Voyage, the enjoyable Martin Short/Dennis Quaid/Meg Ryan movie Innerspace, Invader Zim).  There could be different plots for this scenario.  The first is the classic 'Voyage where the being they have been inserted into is ill and the only way to cure him is to go inside to repair the damage from within.  Another might be the person has an implanted explosive and it is impossible to operate on him via conventional means.  A third could be microscopic assassins have slipped into the subject and it is up to the heroes to stop the hit before it goes down.  For another plot, imagine a criminal mastermind has discovered the perfect hiding place within one of his minions!  If you really want to get a little out there, there was a Justice League story where the JLA had to deal with a boy's tumor, which turned out to house an alien civilization.  Perhaps a person has been invaded by subatomic aliens and a person's very brain has become the battleground?  In these instances the heroes are going to need some hi-tech gear in which to fulfill their mission, or perhaps magical devices that simulate submersible craft and underwater gear. Some pre planning and possible NPC aid will be in order and the GM should not hinder the heroes in their quest but aid them to at least get to the mission proper.  This includes supporting possible, workable plans and ideas.
So when planning an adventure you can dream big even as your getting’ small…


  1. Small scale challenges can also occur as a result of a change of form - who can forget Thor, Frog of Thunder (Thor 363-366)?!? Or Doctor Strange as a rat?


    That does show that with the right kit, even a shrunken hero can give a villain a hard time. Getting a beatdown from Frog Thor after he got his hands back on Mjolnir must have been a pretty low moment for Loki!

  2. Good point. Simonson's run on Thor was awesome in part because of the different and unusual trials the god of thunder had to face, and it was fun watching Thor overcome them. :)