Thursday, 30 July 2020

One-Page RPG Design: The Fools Who Follow

The One-Page RPG Jam 2020 was announced last week and started on the 27th of July. I decided to take part, as I like trying out different things and expanding my skill set, and I really needed a short break from my other projects anyway. I submitted my game last night, and you can grab it free from here:

Download: https://zadmar.itch.io/the-fools-who-follow


Concept

The Chosen One is a classic trope, but it doesn't work very well for most tabletop roleplaying games, as you don't usually want one player hogging the limelight. I've seen some fun ideas for subverting it, though, such as the Chosen One unexpectedly dying and the PCs having to pick up the slack (the very NSFW Oglaf webcomic also did something similar, with the Chosen One being killed by a shopkeeper for "stealing" the weapon he was prophesied to wield).

I originally considered doing something similar, with the Chosen One being killed (perhaps even at the hand of the PCs) prior to the adventure, but I eventually decided it would be more interesting if I turned the Chosen One into a liability, an ongoing problem the players would have to deal with as part of the story. That also meant I could revisit the shenanigans rules I first used in Saga of the Goblin Horde, and see how well they could be adapted to other settings!

Structure

A single page doesn't give you much space to work with, but I had a look at a few other one-page RPGs for inspiration, and eventually settled on four sections: Scenario overview, characters, game rules, and running adventures. Back when I worked on The Goblin Warrens, I combined a 200-word RPG with a 200-word adventure, and that was the benchmark I decided to use here. Likewise, creating a scenario overview was pretty similar to the various adventure seeds I wrote for Saga of the Goblin Horde and Blood & Bile.

Rules

I decided to base the system on Tricube Tales because I already knew it worked, plus it provided me with a cross-promotional opportunity. I had to streamline the rules significantly, and even dropped traits -- but I chose to keep karma, as I consider it an essential part of the system (it gives players a degree of control over the outcome of their rolls, rather than leaving everything to chance).

Layout

I've been meaning to try my hand at a landscape PDF for a while, and this seemed the perfect opportunity. Four columns would have been too squashed up, however, so I placed the scenario overview at the top of the page and split the rest into three columns. I also had a look at the layout of other one-page RPGs -- in particular, I drew inspiration from the way Lasers & Feelings designed its tables (although I kept the dice icons I'd used for tables in my earlier products).

Color-scheme

For the initial trade dress, I picked a page background I liked from Lord Zsezse Works and found a suitable jester illustration from Fat Goblin Games. I adjusted the colors of the jester slightly to better match the purple corners of the page background, then realized the illustration's three main colors (purple, green and orange) followed a triadic color scheme on the color wheel, so I decided to use it for the text and tables as well.

Summary

It took me a couple of days to transform The Fool Who Follows from a rough idea into a polished product, and I'm pleased with the way it turned out. One-page RPGs are fun to design, I can see them being a great way to try out different ideas (much like I've suggested using One Sheets to try out ideas for Savage Worlds settings). It also allowed me to experiment with different styles of layout and trade dress.

I've been meaning to establish a presence on itch.io for a while, so it's nice to finally have something on there, even if it's just a tiny one-page game. Will I create some more? I've not decided yet. Would you like me to? Let me know!

Saturday, 4 July 2020

Starships & Salvage: Running Gold & Glory in Space

One of my favorite Savage Worlds settings is Gold & Glory: Seven Deadly Dungeons, where the heroes explore various randomly-generated dungeons looking for treasure -- and one of my favorite board games is Space Hulk, where space marines fight their way through abandoned space vessels. So ever since Gold & Glory was released, I've been pondering using its rules for a sci-fi game, where a rag-tag crew of explorers hunts for salvage among the stars (or perhaps the PCs are a company of mercenaries, or a unit of drop troops, sent on various military missions).


Wild Draw Character Creation

Gold & Glory has some nifty card-based character creation rules. However, for a sci-fi setting (assuming the PCs are not all human) I'd recommend using the species from the Science Fiction Companion instead of the standard fantasy races, and I'd propose handling them with an additional card draw:

2: Aquarian
3: Aurax
4: Avion
5: Construct
6: Deader
7: Floran
8: Human
9: Insectoid
10: Kalian
Jack: Rakashan
Queen: Saurian
King: Serran
Ace: Yeti
Joker: Choose freely

Similarly, the classes would need to be changed to something more suitable for a sci-fi theme, perhaps including options such as "soldier," "mechanic," "pilot," "psychic," "scientist," "scout," etc.

Equipment

I'd suggest renaming the currency to something like "galactic credits", and giving characters access to gear from the core rules and Science Fiction Companion. You might also want to pick up a copy of Savage Space (it's free), particularly for the vehicle rules, as the PCs will need a spaceship for their adventures!

Adventures

The dungeons can be designed in much the same way as Gold & Glory, and there are countless movies and TV shows you can use for inspiration. Here are some adventure seeds (along with their sources of inspiration) to get you started:

Distress Signal: The heroes investigate a distress signal coming from an alien vessel that's crash-landed on a nearby moon. While this plot hook is an obvious nod to Alien, the story could unfold in any number of ways.

Missing Colony: A colony base has gone silent, and the PCs are hired to investigate. Although this seed is inspired by Aliens, the adventure could go in any number of directions -- perhaps the colony's droids turned on them, or maybe the colony was driven insane (like the reavers in Firefly/Serenity).

Breakout: The PCs are hired to break into an automated prison ship and rescue one of the prisoners. Inspired by an episode of the Mandalorian, this adventure could introduce various unexpected twists and challenges related to the ship, the identity of the prisoner, and so on.

Ghost Ship: Inspired by Event Horizon, a starship with a prototype FTL drive vanished on its maiden trip many years ago, and was never seen again -- until a few days ago, when it reappeared, drifting aimlessly through space. The PCs are fortunate enough to be nearby, giving them an opportunity to explore (and loot) the ship before any other vessels come into range.

Alien Outpost: Inspired by the Doctor Who episodes "The Impossible Planet" and "The Satan Pit", the PCs discover a planet orbiting a black hole, with an abandoned base of ancient alien design located on the surface. Who knows what sort of advanced technology might be found within?

Summary

Gold & Glory is as much toolkit as it is setting, and the core concept should work just as well for other genres. A horror setting where the PCs investigate dark crypts and haunted houses? A cyberpunk setting where the PCs break into automated factories and military facilities in search of hi-tech loot? A mafia setting where the PCs need to break someone out of a prison, or steal evidence from a police station?

Not every adventure needs to be a dungeon crawl, but sometimes a dungeon crawl is exactly what you need, and the semi-randomization tools provided in Gold & Glory are a great way of handling it.

Thursday, 30 April 2020

Customizing Stock Art


Originals here and here.
As I've mentioned in the past, it can often be difficult to find stock artwork that matches your specific needs. However, commissioning lots of custom art can rapidly become expensive. That is why I like to "cheat," by selecting the stock art first, and then designing various monsters and adventures around it. Unfortunately, that isn't always an option.

Two days ago I released The Gobfather, a new crossover mini-setting for Saga of the Goblin Horde and Wiseguys, and for this product my normal approach of choosing the artwork first simply wasn't an option -- I needed a whole load of goblin gangsters, and I couldn't actually find any matching stock art. Nor could I afford to commission custom illustrations.

So I took my "cheating" to a whole new level: I chopped up a selection of different stock art images, resized and recolored them, and then I stuck the various pieces back together, creating my own unique illustrations. I used Photoshop, but you could just as easily use GIMP, or some another image editor. 

I decided to use artwork by Rick Hershey of Fat Goblin Games for my customized illustrations, for several reasons.

Original here.
First, Rick has an absolutely huge selection of very reasonably priced artwork to choose from, and when combining images it's essential they all have exactly the same style.

Second, the Fat Goblin Games license is very generous in terms of what you can do with the art (many artists don't allow you to modify their artwork at all, let alone chop them into pieces and reassemble them).

Third, I find the artistic style Rick uses easy to modify. I think this is mostly due to the black outlines, and a comic book style that tends to be more forgiving of minor mistakes.

Finally, of course, Rick draws lots of goblins! That's actually why I used so much of his art in Saga of the Goblin Horde, and it was nice to keep the same artistic look in The Gobfather.

To modify an image, I first duplicate the layer, then I zoom in and start cutting away the parts I don't want. I'll do this several times so that different parts of the image are in separate layers -- I might have one layer for the eyes, another for the mouth, another for the hands, and so on.

Originals here and here.
If the image has a thick black outline, I'll select that with the magic wand and copy it to the top layer, as it'll often help conceal minor discrepancies in the lower layers caused by cutting.

Not every part of the image needs to be cut cleanly, only those that will be visible in the final image. For example, I didn't usually pay much attention to the necks, because I knew I'd place a large goblin head over the top.

However, when images are combined, it's important they match up exactly. That means a clean edge on any parts of the image that will be visible, with the new component precisely rotated and resized to match the main image.

You can also use a fade-to-transparent effect to overlap two images (such as when I placed a new nose on Don Bignose's face). Other images should have a slight overlap, to avoid a gap between them -- for example, when I added Chip Chop's head, I placed it behind the suit collar and then cut away the suit.

This approach is also very convenient for changing colors, as it means that (for example) I can make the skin green without changing the color of the clothing, or darken the suit without changing the brightness of the steel knife.

Changing the proportions of an image is something that should be handled with great care, and I try to avoid this whenever possible. I did do it for one of the goblins, as I needed to turn a tall thin crime boss into a short goblin -- but I removed his hands first, replacing one with a larger duplicate of the original hand that also kept the original proportions, and the other with a goblin hand from another image.

Summary

While I don't have the skill to create my own art from scratch, it wasn't too hard to modify existing images, and I think the results were pretty good. This process obviously requires a fair amount of time, so if you can afford to commission custom art, that's still the better option. But if you're on a shoestring budget, and can't find the exact stock art you need, this is definitely a viable alternative.

All of the artwork in this blog post is by Rick Hershey. Publisher’s Choice Quality Stock Art © Rick Hershey / Fat Goblin Games (www.fatgoblingames.com).

Monday, 23 March 2020

Tricube Tales: Supernatural Afflictions

This isn't a new rule, but rather an example of how the existing rules in Tricube Tales can be applied to supernatural afflictions.

Note: There is now a Discord server for my roleplaying games. Please feel free to drop by if you're interested!

When a PC runs out of resolve in Tricube Tales, they receive an affliction. If that affliction was caused by the infectious bite or claw attack of a supernatural creature, then the GM may wish to give the character an appropriate supernatural affliction, such as "vampirism," "lycanthropy," "zombie virus," etc.

Afflictions work in the same way as quirks, except the GM decides when to activate them (including introducing complications to the scene). In this way, a PC who has been afflicted with lycanthropy would have no control over their transformations or the carnage they cause -- but (as always) advancement would allow them to later convert the affliction into a quirk, representing the character learning to control their condition.

Likewise, the affliction would initially provide no mechanical benefits, but the PC could later take supernatural perks such as "preternatural strength", "rending claws", etc. If the PC chooses a broad perk that encompasses a range of abilities, they should also take a suitable limitation (much like the Magic Limitations) -- for example, "werewolf gifts" might only work if the character first spends time transforming into their wolfman form, while "vampiric gifts" might only work at night, and so on.

Removing Afflictions

Of course, not everyone will wish to embrace their new condition, and some may actively seek to undo it.

If the affliction isn't permanent, the GM might offer the player a story-based way to remove it -- perhaps they can reverse their condition by killing the vampire who bit them, or seek a cure for the zombie virus. In theory, a permanent affliction can also be removed, but this requires the permanent expenditure of karma using a relevant perk (probably something magical, or based on cutting-edge medical research).

Finally, if a character receives the affliction just as they're about to advance, the GM might offer them the more drastic option of converting their "zombie virus" affliction into an "amputated arm" quirk, or something similar!

Gradual Decline

Sometimes an affliction may not have any benefits at all. While some novels and TV shows depict supernatural creatures as sentient beings with powerful abilities, others treat them as mindless monsters driven purely by instinct, hunger, and rage. In such cases, infection effectively becomes a death sentence, rendering the PC unplayable -- and just like any other fatal affliction, the GM should always make the risk clear in advance.

However, the infection could also represent a slow decline rather than an instant transformation, with the victim of a zombie bite surviving hours or even days before eventually succumbing to the virus. The GM could even treat it as a multi-stage infection, with future afflictions worsening the character's condition as they gradually transform.

Summary

Tricube Tales is a simple system by design, and it should be able to handle most settings and genres without the need for additional mechanics. This holds true for supernatural afflictions as well -- you don't need to add any new rules, just interpret the existing ones in the context of a supernatural setting.

Thursday, 6 February 2020

Tricube Tales: Now available in print

Last month I wrote a blog post about Turning a phone PDF into a print-on-demand pocketbook. I ordered four proofs of Tricube Tales (in standard color, standard black & white, premium color, and premium black & white), but I wasn't very impressed with the premium paper -- it was just too thick and stiff for such a small book, making it difficult to flick through the pages.

I also spotted a few issues, such a minor misalignment with the cover, the black & white version was too dark, and there were updates I wanted to make to the text (such as expanding the bestiary and the vehicles section). So I updated the document and ordered two more proofs for the standard version (but not the premium this time).


The proofs arrived today, and as luck would have it, Lulu is offering free shipping at the moment! You can combine the codes LKAB317CD (15% discount) and ONESHIP (free shipping), just make sure you've switched to the US store.



These prices are slightly higher than those I mentioned in my previous blog post, because I added four more pages to the book. The discount will lower the price a bit, but Lulu may also add a little extra for tax. However, the book is still pretty cheap, particularly if you get free shipping.

The discount codes don't last long, but they get reactivated every so often, so if you miss the window you can always try again another time.

If you don't know what Tricube Tales is, download the PDF free from here.

Monday, 20 January 2020

Turning a phone PDF into a print-on-demand pocketbook

A couple of months ago I published a rules-light generic RPG called Tricube Tales, which used DTRPG's phone PDF size (2.25" x 4"). It's a convenient format for smartphone users, but some people really dislike reading on their phone or using electronic devices at the table, so I thought I'd see if I could create a print-on-demand version as well (if you've not read my earlier blog posts about print-on-demand, you can read them here, here and here).

The problem was, I didn't want to redo all the layout work -- but I also didn't want massive text, so I needed a very small book size. Unfortunately, the smallest size DTRPG currently offer is 5" x 8", which was a bit too large (and they don't offer it in premium either).

However, I noticed that Lulu offer a 4.25" by 6.88" pocketbook size, so I decided to try that out. I started with a copy of my phone PDF, added margins to increase it to 3.09" x 5", then repositioned the frames and added higher resolution (600 DPI) versions of the images. I also added a vector image around the page numbers so that I could push the frames up the page, otherwise, the margins at the top and bottom of the pages looked very big and empty.

I then used docuPub to resize the entire PDF to 4.25" x 6.88", which is around a 1.375 times size increase (this was also why I used such high-resolution images). As my phone PDF uses a size 8 font for the body text, the enlarged text in the printed book is pretty comfortable to read.

For some reason, I couldn't get Lulu to accept the PDF with bleed (I've had no trouble with other book sizes, but it repeatedly refused the pocketbook size). In the end, I gave up, as Tricube Tales only has a fairly light page background anyway, and I didn't think it would make much difference. In retrospect, I think the clean white background is probably better for a physical book than the slightly off-color white I used in the smartphone version.

The standard paperback costs $2.21 for black and white, and $3.22 for color. The premium paperback costs $2.50 for black and white, and $6.34 for color. That's for a 47-page pocketbook (the book needed to be at least 48 pages, and the last page needed to be left blank). Shipping is normally pretty expensive, but Lulu often have special offers, and I was able to get a 15% discount plus free shipping.

My order was split into two, and I'm still waiting for the premium books, but I've already got a pretty good idea of what they'll be like (as I've ordered premium books through Lulu in the past). The photos I've posted here are from the standard black and white, and standard color.





The last image is from the black and white version. It looks fairly decent, but some of the artwork doesn't work so well in grayscale (it comes out quite dark). I definitely prefer the color version. EDIT: Setting the output to "greyscale" in Scribus generates a greyscale PDF, and this looks much better when printed. So don't upload color PDFs to Lulu if you want to print them in black & white!

EDIT (28-Jan-2020): The premium proofs arrived yesterday, and I was a bit disappointed. I thought the thicker paper was much nicer for SotGH, but that was 8.5"x11" (US Letter), while Tricube Tales is just 4.25"x6.88" (pocketbook). The premium paper makes it quite difficult to flick through the pages of such a small book. Furthermore, the printer had added an additional 4 blank pages (2 sheets) to the back of the B&W book, and 6 blank pages (3 sheets) to the back of the color book -- you don't have to pay for the blank pages, but I still dislike them. However, it's worth noting that the premium books were printed in France while the standard books were printed in the UK, so this could be down to the printer rather than the paper (meaning it might be different if you ordered in the US, for example).

That said, the printing quality for the premium color was very obviously superior to the standard color. So while I think I prefer the standard color for usability, the premium color definitely looks nicer.

The premium black and white was perhaps the most disappointing, as it appeared to be true black and white rather than grayscale, so you could see the little dots in the illustrations. It didn't look terrible, but I thought the standard black and white looked better.

Conclusion

I know that most publishers who offer phone PDFs are using the format as an interactive reference tool to supplement an existing product, and it would be counterproductive to offer a print-on-demand version of the phone PDF in that case (not to mention the page count would probably be huge).

But with Tricube Tales, I chose to use the phone PDF as the primary format -- it's a small game that I wanted people to be able to carry around with them at all times, and there is no "full-size" version (I do offer a tablet version as well, but it's basically the same PDF except with larger margins, higher resolution images, and layers).

For me, and other publishers who are interested in offering highly portable RPGs, I think an inexpensive print-on-demand pocketbook version is a nice option to be able to offer. Furthermore, it doesn't require too much additional effort, as you don't need to completely redo the layout.

Tuesday, 17 December 2019

Ebenezer’s Gold


Gold & Glory was first released in October 2017, and I was immediately impressed by the way it blended old school concepts with modern game design, offering a versatile toolkit for dungeon crawls using the Savage Worlds ruleset. I even wrote a Saga of the Goblin Horde crossover adventure for it, called Hightree Warren!

Recently, Gold & Glory was updated to SWADE, and Giuseppe Rotondo asked if I’d like to write a Christmas-themed adventure for it. Although I don’t really do freelance work anymore, I like to release a Christmas-themed adventure every year, so I agreed.

You can buy it here: Ebenezer's Gold

Inspired by the protagonist of "A Christmas Carol", Ebenezer's Gold leads the adventurers on a search for a deceased money-lender's hidden treasure. The heroes will have to fight their way past possessed dolls, animated furniture, armies of toy soldiers, and more -- because in this dungeon, even the treasure fights back!

I've tried to keep the seasonal references subtle (at least compared to my earlier Christmas-themed adventures), so it can easily be used as a regular dungeon as well. The adventure is a little tongue-in-cheek, but it can also be run as a horror-based scenario.