I discussed my custom goblin dice in October last year, but now I've created some custom goblin tokens as well. In Savage Worlds I'd use them as Bennies, while in Swift d12 I'll be using them as Karma Points (I've avoided any system-specific logos for this very reason).
Thursday, 20 April 2017
Wednesday, 19 April 2017
In April 2000, I participated in a competition to design a tiny online game. It was great fun and gave me a lot of new ideas, it also helped me network with other game designers, and I even expanded my entry afterwards, using it as a prototype for a much bigger game. Overall it was a very positive experience.
A couple of weeks ago, David Schirduan announced the annual 200 Word RPG Challenge on Google+, and it brought back fond memories, so I decided to give it a go! Each participant is allowed to submit two entries, so I threw together a couple of mini RPGs that I felt captured the flavor of the two settings I've been working on lately - Primordial Horrors, and Saga of the Goblin Horde.
About the Settings
Back in November 2015 I wrote a post about Primordial Horrors, a Lovecraftian horror setting I was designing for Savage Worlds. Although Primordial Horrors has a number of unusual elements (such as the fact that the PCs are the insane cultists and eldritch abominations), Savage Worlds already has a lot of horror settings, and even a few Lovecraftian ones. In short, I felt it would be a difficult sell; one of the criteria for new applicants is that their submission should not be too close to any existing settings.
So I decided to temporarily shelve Primordial Horrors, and work on a setting that would fill a new niche. Savage Worlds already had a few settings with playable goblin races, but (at the time) none where the goblins were the main focus of the entire setting, so I started designing Saga of the Goblin Horde - initially just as mini setting to get my foot in the door, but later the project took on a life of its own, and evolved into something much bigger.
Although some of my plans have changed since then, I still intend to get back to Primordial Horrors once I've published Saga of the Goblin Horde. I've continued collecting ideas for it over the last year and a half, and I think it will make a really fun setting once it's finished. I've even started doing some early playtests for it!
But it's always useful to get a new perspective, and I felt the 200 Word RPG Challenge would be a good way to take a step back and take another look at my settings, not to mention the wonderful opportunity to network with other RPG designers.
My Challenge Entries
I wanted my two entries to be quite different to each other, but I still wanted both to offer tactical gameplay. Primordial Horrors is a more freeform and narrative-driven setting, while Saga of the Goblin Horde's adventures are much more structured, so I also wanted to try and capture that in my mini RPGs. Not easy when there's a 200 word limit, but I'm quite pleased with the way they turned out.
This game uses a standard 52-card playing deck. Each player starts with seven cards, and can keep them secret, or selectively reveal them at any time.
The players are members of a doomsday cult, attempting to bring about the apocalypse. The GM narrates the story and describes the challenges the cult faces, drawing a card to represent each challenge, and placing it face down on the table.
Players must reveal a card from their hand to resolve each challenge, using its suit to help narrate their solution:
· Clubs: Zealous cultists.
· Spades: Arcane knowledge.
· Hearts: Influence within society.
· Diamonds: Funds and assets.
Show everyone the challenge card. Players who revealed a higher rank card of a different suit draw another card, discarding down to seven. Players who revealed a lower rank card (regardless of suit) must discard it, unless it’s their last.
When the deck runs out of cards, the apocalypse begins! Everyone calculates their score, as if their cards were a poker hand. The GM does the same using the challenge cards.
If the GM wins, describe how the cult is thwarted. Otherwise, the player with the highest-ranking hand summons an Eldritch Abomination, and narrates the resulting apocalypse.
My goal was to have a challenge resolution mechanic with three possible outcomes (failure, basic success, and exceptional success) that supports both competitive and cooperative play. While the players' primary goal is simply to bring about the apocalypse, they're also competing against each other to be the "lucky" one who summons the Eldritch Abomination at the end.
The card-based approach facilitates the design goal by allowing players to selectively reveal their hand to each other. Knowing which cards the other players are holding gives you a better chance of predicting which cards might be drawn for the challenges, so this allows players to work together when they're doing badly, or keep their knowledge secret when they're doing well.
The resolution system also pays homage to the card-based campaign-building mechanic I've designed for Primordial Horrors.
The Goblin Warrens
A band of goblins must defend their lair against bloodthirsty adventurers.
Each player chooses five d6s, representing their five goblins. Specialties are based on die color: Blue for brawn (strength and endurance), green for guile (cunning and alertness), and anything else for agility (speed and stealth).
Trait checks involve a trait (brawn, guile or agility), and a difficulty number that players must equal or exceed. Each player rolls 1-3 of their surviving goblin dice, using the highest roll to determine success. Failure means their lowest rolling goblin dies. One goblin also dies on a double, or two on a triple.
If the trait matches a goblin’s specialty, the player may reroll that die, keeping the new result.
Adventurers are represented as colored d8s, and classified as fighters (brawn), wizards (guile) or rogues (agility). Combat is a standard trait check, except an adventurer die is rolled with the goblin dice to determine the trait and difficulty (1-8). The adventurers must be fought until defeated.
An adventure has five scenes, narrated by the GM. The first four require a trait check with a random trait and difficulty. The final scene involves fighting the adventurers (one per player).
One of the defining features of Saga of the Goblin Horde is that each player controls an entire gang of goblins, and that's a concept I wanted to carry over to the Goblin Warrens. I also wanted some tactical differentiation between goblin types, although this proved difficult with the 200 word limit. I toyed with the idea of blue=brawn=bugbear and green=guile=gremlin, but in the end I felt it was better to give the RPG a more narrow thematic focus, so I stuck to goblins.
The mechanics allow players to roll additional dice (throwing extra goblins at a problem) to increase their chance of success, but this also increases the number of potential losses; if a challenge is particularly difficult, it may even be worth sacrificing a goblin and accepting failure. However the risk can be mitigated by using goblins with the appropriate specialty, not only does this give you a second chance at rerolling a failure, it can also be used to reroll out of a double or triple result.
Keen observers may also notice that my entry retains the same five-scene adventure structure as Saga of the Goblin Horde. The Goblin Warrens follows a band of borderland goblins rather than the tribes, but I still wanted it to have a similar feel.
Monday, 3 April 2017
I've talked a lot in previous blog posts about setting design, and I've described the process I use to go from initial idea to final product, but before I release something there are a lot of things to double-check. In the past I would frequently have to make multiple releases to correct stuff I'd forgotten, but over time I've built up a checklist of things to look out for, so I thought I'd share it.
Note that if you're preparing your PDF for print-on-demand, you will have to follow additional steps, such as using a specific export format, setting the bleed, checking the colors, and so on. This isn't something I've done (yet), so for the time being I'm focusing on PDFs for use on a screen or for home printing.
Often considered one of the more important typography practices, vertical rhythm refers to the vertical spacing between elements, and generally requires the use of a baseline grid. This automatically aligns the text across columns, using the principle of repetition to produce a more balanced and readable layout.
If you're using Scribus, click "File", "Document Setup" and "Guides", and you'll see "Baseline Settings" at the bottom.
In the following example, you can see that I didn't use a baseline grid, and the text in the two columns is not correctly aligned:
In the next example I've used a baseline grid, and the text aligns up, giving it a cleaner and more consistent look:
This should really be done when you first set up the document template, but it's always worth double-checking the vertical rhythm before you release a product, particularly if you're not using the baseline grid for your artwork.
Widows and Orphans
Widows and orphans refer to the single lines that sometimes appear on a separate column from the rest of a paragraph, either because the paragraph started at the end of a previous column, or because it was just a bit too long to fit onto one column.
They can be addressed in a number of ways (adjusting the scaling, the margins, the spacing, etc), but I usually edit and rephrase the text to make it fit. This is one of the big benefits of doing my own layout - I can also change the content of the document when necessary, in order to improve the layout.
Spelling and Grammar
It should go without saying that the document should always be checked for spelling and grammar, but it's surprising how often I see simple mistakes make their way into published products. It's also important to decide which language you're going to use - Pinnacle favor American English, for example, so I've made an effort to use American English in my newer products, rather than my native British English. In general either are fine, but it's important you're consistent and don't mix them.
This isn't as easy to check as spelling and grammar, and once again the rules vary depending on which version of English you're using (e.g., whether commas and periods go inside or outside quotes). There are also some stylistic choices to consider, for example Savage Worlds products prefer to use the en-dash instead of a hyphen in front of numbers.
You should also make sure you're using curly rather than straight quotes and apostrophes (unless you're using them to represent feet and inches).
Some mistakes will always need to be caught the old fashioned way. Of course it's far better to have someone else proofread your document, but you should still proofread it yourself as well. You'll need to do this a few times - it's not much fun, but it is necessary if you want to release a quality product.
Copyright Notices and Credits
It's important to double check that all copyright notices and legal disclaimers are in place, and that you've added all of the appropriate credits (and logos). For example if you're writing a One Sheet, and you initially copied the template from a previous One Sheet, you'll probably be using different artwork - so don't forget to update the credits accordingly.
Paragraphs should have a first-line indent, but it shouldn't be too large. I prefer to give the text an indent equal to its font point size (typically 10 pt). Don't do this manually, though! You should have defined the indent as part of the style (in Scribus click "Edit" then "Styles").
However you shouldn't indent the first paragraph of a chapter or section. This is another rule that a lot of people ignore, but it's the approach recommended by Robert Bringhurst in his book Elements of Typographic Style.
Characters in Savage Worlds have fairly short statblocks, yet it's surprising just how often people make mistakes. This is particularly common with archetypes, where all of the attribute and skill points have to add up correctly (even a couple of the archetypes in Savage Worlds Deluxe have mistakes), but NPCs often have problems too, with Parry and Tougness being the most common culprits.
Reviewing statblocks is pretty mind-numbing work though, so I put together a tool to analyze them for me. Now I just have to run my statblocks through the tool before publication, and it automatically checks for obvious mistakes.
You can access my statblock analyzer here.
Scribus allows you to specify if a text frame should be used as a bookmark, however this isn't a very convenient approach, because it uses the entire text. If you want to use bookmarks throughout your PDF, you will need to create an additional text frame for each bookmark, and make them invisible. Make sure you also put them on the lowest layer, otherwise some PDF viewers will display them anyway, even if they're invisible.
You may also need to manually reorder the bookmarks, but this isn't particularly difficult. However it's probably easier to leave the bookmarks until the rest of the book is finished.
Text Frame Sequence
Have you ever tried to copy and paste text from a PDF, only to discover that the text was copied out of order? Or perhaps you're using some sort of audio reader, and the speech doesn't appear to follow the sequence that the text appears on the page? That's because the text frames are out of sequence, often because they've been copied and pasted during the layout work.
This can be fixed in Scribus by right-clicking on a text frame, selecting "Properties", and adjusting the level, as shown below:
I find it's usually easier to generate a PDF first, and use it to check the order, then go back and fix it before generating another PDF.
Scribus doesn't automatically embed the fonts, you have to tell it which ones you're using. This is very easy to check, but it's important you don't forget this step, otherwise the PDF may look okay for you (so just looking at the PDF won't necessarily reveal the problem), but the missing fonts will look weird to other people.
There seems to be a bit of a strange bug in Scribus whereby embedding the font isn't recognized as a file change for the purposes of saving. So it's always worth double-checking that the fonts are there, even if you've embedded them previously.
PDFs can get quite large, particularly if they have a lot of artwork, so it's worth setting the image resolution to the appropriate DPI. Personally I prefer 150 DPI to keep the size down, but 300 DPI is preferable for printing (and if you explicitly want to offer the PDF for printing, don't forget to set the output for print rather than screen).
It's well worth using layers in your PDF (this option can be set in the same dialog as the image resolution, just make sure you're using PDF 1.5), as this allows the user to switch off different layers for printing - for example they could switch off the background, or the artwork.
However you have to specify which layer each component uses, and mistakes can happen, so after you've created your PDF make sure you check that everything is on the correct layer. I usually do this by zooming out, and checking one layer at a time.
There is a bug with the layers in Scribus, whereby all layers are always displayed when you print the document (you can see this in the print preview as well). So for example, you can switch off the background layer (so that it appears white), but when you print it'll still print the background image.
This can be fixed by opening the PDF with Notepad++, deleting every line that begins with "/usage", then saving and closing the file. After that you need to open the PDF in Acrobat, then immediately close it again, whereby it will prompt you to save (do so). There's a more detailed guide to applying the fix here.
By this point you're probably sick of proofreading. But do it again anyway, and get someone else to proofread for you as well, because there will probably be something you missed (particularly if you made some last minute edits).
You should also check for things like the title and author of the PDF (right click on the PDF in Acrobat Reader, click "Properties", and check the Description tab), make sure the settings in the Security tab are correct, double-check the fonts, and so on.
Tuesday, 28 March 2017
I've been doing quite a lot of playtesting for SWIFT-d12 lately, and have been tweaking and refining the mechanics based on those playtests. Last week I mentioned the new rules for Complication Dice, but I've also made a few other significant changes.
Although I liked the old wound system on paper, in practice it proved a pain to calculate all the modifiers every time a Champion took a hit, particularly for characters with bonuses to Endurance and Vitality. So I went back to the drawing board and redesigned it.
I also ripped out the chase rules. It was painful to do so, as I'd put a lot of time into them, but I was never quite happy with the way they worked, and they didn't quite mesh with the rest of the rules - they felt bolted on. I've saved them in a separate file, perhaps I'll revisit them later, but for now they're gone. I've included simpler replacement chase rules as a type of extended ability check.
The defensive ability checks have also been removed, as they don't work quite so well with the revised action dice (opposed rolls are no longer symmetrical), and they raise some awkward questions about the use of Karma Points.
Other rules have been added, such as improvised weapons and unarmed attacks, specific action types, new Feats, revisions to derived traits, and so on.
There's still quite a lot to finalize, and a lot more polishing to do, but the system feels pretty robust now. You can grab the latest version of the rules from here, and the goblin archetypes here. And don't forget to join the SWIFT-d12 Google+ community if you haven't already!
Combat in Savage Worlds is pretty fast, but it can still take a while to resolve, and the GM may not wish to play out every single fight using the normal combat rules. Sometimes the session needs to be sped up because the GM is running behind schedule, other times a combat scene might be there solely for story purposes, or to set the scene for a bigger encounter, and the GM doesn't want it to bog down the session - but equally they don't want it to be purely narrative, they want it to offer some sort of mechanical challenge as well.
Savage Worlds has two abstract subsystems for fast combat resolution. The first is the Mass Battle rules, which are designed for large scale combat, where the heroes either lead the army or try to make a small difference on the battlefield. The second is the Quick Combat rules, a newer mechanic that hasn't yet made its way into the rulebook, which is designed to handle smaller scale (and far less dangerous) confrontations.
Mass Battles are fine for armies clashing on the battlefield, but it's extremely dangerous for individuals to wade into battle, and they have a relatively small impact on the outcome. It's not really suitable for a skirmish scenario.
Quick Combat is a nice fast mid-game mechanic, serving as a bridge between scenes, but it's not designed to be very challenging, and it offers no real risk/reward if you're using it to end a session (for example when you've run out of time, and want to bring the adventure to a quick conclusion). Unless the characters are already wounded, there's absolutely no risk of failure, while the reward for an exceptional success is a Benny, which is lost at the end of the session anyway.
So I decided to put together a new rule that combines elements of Mass Combat and Quick Combat, for scenarios that are more challenging than Quick Combat but not as dangerous as Mass Battles, and suitable for an end-of-session wrap-up fight scene (similar to that used by +Eric Lamoureux, when he ran short of time at the end of 6 Heads for the Head Honcho).
The GM can assign a modifier of between +2 and -2 depending on the relative competence of the enemy, and another modifier of between +2 and -2 if one side has a significant tactical advantage.
The number of foes is represented by a pile of tokens, typically 3-5 tokens per player for a reasonable challenge. This is a fairly abstract representation of the number of foes the heroes have to face, and should take into account the objective of the scene - it could represent how many foes are still alive, how many are still fighting, or it might just represent how many the heroes need to defeat before they can break through the enemy lines and make their escape.
Each round, each player draws an action card for initiative, and makes a skirmish roll on their turn. On Clubs they suffer a complication: -2 to the roll, and on a failure the damage is 4d6 rather than 3d6. The player can choose which trait they use for the skirmish roll - usually a combat or arcane skill, but other traits are permitted as long as they fit the scene and can be justified through appropriate narrative. The GM may also wish to award a situational bonus of +1 or +2 for a particularly creative and inspiring description of the hero's actions; interesting narrative is essential for an abstract subsystem!
‣ Failure: The character suffers 3d6 damage (increased to 4d6 on Clubs).
‣ Success: The character or an ally under their control suffers 2d6 damage, and the player takes one token from the table.
‣ Raise: The player takes two tokens from the table.
Shaken characters should make their Spirit roll to recover before making their skirmish roll each turn. If they remain Shaken, they must still make a skirmish roll, but they suffer a further -2 penalty.
The GM may optionally set milestone benefits for earning a certain number of tokens. For example a character who earns 3 tokens might be allowed to escape early, leaving the rest of the party to fend for themselves. Or perhaps at 5 tokens the character breaks through the enemy lines and can attack them from the rear, receiving a +2 bonus to their next skirmish roll this scene.
Once all of the tokens have been taken from the table, the final objective has been reached, and the heroes are victorious. If the Quick Skirmish has been used for a mid-game scene, the GM might also wish to award a Benny to the player with the most tokens.
Thursday, 23 March 2017
Yesterday I did two SWIFT-d12 playtest sessions with Manuel Sambs, one for Saga of the Goblin Horde, and the other for Manuel's Neon City Nights setting. We identified a few areas that need some work, but the one I'd like to talk about right now is "complications".
The Action Deck in Savage Worlds often treats clubs as complications, and that adds an unpredictable element of risk to rules like Chases and Dramatic Tasks, mechanics that I frequently use in my adventures. However SWIFT-d12 doesn't use cards, and without complications it always feels like something's been lost when I convert the adventures. So after some consideration, I've come up with a generic complication mechanic.
Whenever the GM calls for an ability check, they may also declare a complication. The player should then roll two complication dice at the same time as their action dice.
Complication dice are d6s, they do not explode, and they cannot be rerolled with Karma Points. If the complication dice roll a double value, then the complication is triggered; the player must then make another ability check with a penalty equal to the number on the complication dice. Failure results in some sort of mechanical or narrative drawback, which the GM should describe before the player rolls.
Example: Big Brak is knee deep in the Northern River, fighting a minotaur, and the GM announces that his next attack has a complication due to the strong current. Big Brak rolls his Melee check and succeeds, killing the minotaur, but the complication dice roll double 4. The GM announces that Big Brak must now make a Muscle check with a -4 penalty (because of the double 4); on a failure he'll be swept away by the river.
I think this captures the unpredictable feel of complications, without the need for cards. It's also a unified mechanic that can be applied to any ability check at the GM's discretion, rather than a "special case" rule that applies to specific subsystems, and I think that should make it more flexible and intuitive to use.
The Drakonheim Savage Companion was released back in November last year, and contains all the additional rules, races and abilities needed to play in the Drakonheim setting using Savage Worlds.
But the companion wasn't the only product I worked on for Sneak Attack Press. I also converted Heroes of Drakonheim to Savage Worlds, a trilogy of adventures covering the major events leading up to the situation described in the setting book.
It's a great way to introduce players to the setting, and you can buy it here:
Or as part of a bundle with the setting and companion here:
Drakonheim Savage Bundle
There's a preview of the final adventure here, in which the heroes have to use their limited time to explore ruins, recruit allies, and prepare the city's defenses to hold off an invading army.