Tuesday, 24 November 2020

Tricube Tales: Micro-settings as standalone one-page RPGs

Generic roleplaying systems can easily end up feeling bland, and I think it's very important to offer some example settings. Tricube Tales does have a few simple scenarios at the back (tied in with the vehicle rules), but I don't think that's anywhere near sufficient to really capture the feel of a setting -- compare it with Savage Worlds, for example, which has an extensive library of setting books. Or look at some of the TinyD6 games like Tiny Dungeon or Tiny Frontiers, which fill half the book with micro-settings.

However, it takes a long time to write a full setting, even smaller settings can take a while, and it's simply too much work for me to handle on my own. This was part of the reason why I released the Tricube Tales system under a Creative Commons license, as I hoped other publishers might take an interest (and I was very excited to see Nathan Carmen use it for Heroes of the Cosmos). But I'd still like to offer something in the way of official setting support.

One-Page RPGs

The One-Page RPG Jam 2020 motivated me to try my hand at writing a one-page RPG, and I decided to use the Tricube Tales mechanics for my game -- I figured that would provide a good cross-promotional opportunity, plus I wanted to see if I could compress the Tricube Tales rules down small enough to use for a one-page RPG. I'd also been wanting to establish a presence on itch.io for a while, and this seemed the perfect opportunity. Plus it allowed me to experiment with new layouts and color-schemes, which was fun!

The Fools Who Follow didn't attract much interest, I think it was simply buried in the huge pile of Jam entries, although I was also new to itch.io and didn't have an established customer base there. But I really liked the one-page format, so I decided to try another -- Goblin Gangsters, a prequel to The Gobfather. This received much more attention, along with some good feedback. Someone said they'd had difficulty coming up with ideas for the adventure generator, so after some further consideration, I added an optional second page with examples (technically this turned it into a two-page RPG, but as you only need the first page to play, and "two-page RPGs" aren't really a thing, I still refer to it as a one-page RPG). This proved popular, not only did it provide the reader with some good examples for the adventure generator, but it also added flavor to the scenario and helped flesh it out with some interesting people, places, and events.

After watching the trailer for season 2 of the Mandalorian, I decided to create Interstellar Bounty Hunters as my third micro-setting. I thought it would make a great thematic fit with my Galactic Countdown Deck as well, but I didn't want to add card-based mechanics to the rules, so after some deliberation, I added an oracle table to the second page (with similar symbols to those used on my Countdown Decks).

Not long after, DriveThruRPG put a call out for entries in their yearly Trick-or-Treat promotion, looking for Halloween-themed products ideally 1-3 pages in length. I figured this would be a great way to promote my products and draw more attention to my work, so I created my fourth micro-setting, Samhain Slaughter. Although it wasn't chosen for the Trick-or-Treat promotion, it received positive feedback, and helped cement the style I want to use going forward.

After that, I went back to Goblin Gangsters and added an oracle table to its second page, then added a second page to The Fools Who Follow, giving all four micro-settings a consistent style. The first page is split into four main sections -- an introduction to the scenario, character creation, game rules (covering challenges, karma, and resolve), and gameplay (an adventure generator, and guidelines for running and playing the game). The second page contains examples for the adventure generator table entries, and an oracle table for adding twists to the story.

When Manuel Sambs released his fantastic Sprawlrunners toolkit for Savage Worlds, he also inspired me to create Chrome Shells & Neon Streets as my fifth micro-setting, this time tackling the cyberpunk genre.

Why use Tricube Tales?

The one-page RPGs are designed to be standalone games, but they also double up as micro-settings for Tricube Tales, and I've noticed a bump in sales for the core rules each time I release another one-pager. However, I think the system itself also works very well in the smaller format. The mechanics are a little more complex than many one-page RPGs, but they hit the sweet spot for me.

Players roll 1-3 dice based on their character, against a target number of 4-6 based on the situation, so there are two sliders for controlling the difficulty (one at the player end, the other at the GM end). Then there are perks and quirks, which give the player a way to influence the rolls -- this is something I consider important in a system, because it adds a little tactical depth, giving the players some degree of control over the rolls depending on how important they consider the situation, rather than leaving the outcome completely to chance.

There's a lot of different setting ideas I'd like to try at some point, and absolutely no way I would ever have enough time to create even a fraction of them as full settings. But these one-pagers are relatively quick to create.

Going Forward

When I started working on Saga of the Goblin Horde, I released a new character archetype every month, as well as various One Sheet adventures, and I think this really helped keep the spotlight on the setting. I feel the same approach could work for Tricube Tales micro-settings, and I've already got several ideas I'd like to explore! Because they're pretty fast to write, I also have a lot more freedom to experiment with weird niche settings -- and also explore outside of my comfort zone, without worrying about getting burned out before I finish.

I think the oracle table could also provide a valuable tool for solo play, and this is something I'd like to look at in more depth in the future. My earlier Blood & Bile game was explicitly designed with GMless play in mind, and I think Tricube Tales would also make a good fit for solo gaming, so a solo one-page RPG using Tricube Tales is definitely something I feel is worth exploring.

Sunday, 30 August 2020

Tricube Tales update, and Goblin Gangsters

Lulu recently did a complete redesign of its website, leading to a number of lingering technical problems, so I decided to move the print-on-demand version of Tricube Tales to DriveThruRPG. This required a full redesign of the print-ready files, and so I decided I might as well take the opportunity to incorporate the feedback I've received over the last 6-7 months (the previous version was published in February). By expanding the page count (from 52 to 59), I was also able to eliminate the blank pages at the end of the book.


The PDF versions of Tricube Tales have also been updated to version 4, and they can be downloaded as usual from the product page here. As always, you can download the full phone PDF for free by clicking on the Publisher Preview.

Aside from a few minor cosmetic tweaks (and updating the credits and contents), here are the changes:

  • Rephrased the "Recovery" section to include an example.
  • Added sections for "Opposed Challenges" and "NPC Confrontations", covering PC-vs-PC and NPC-vs-NPC situations respectively.
  • Switched around "Combat Styles" and "Examples" on page 28, as I think it makes more sense for the examples to come first.
  • Rephrased "Another Perspective" to hopefully make it clearer when you need to spend karma.
  • Added new sections on "Assisting Allies" and "Stacking Perks", to give some further clarity on the usage of perks.
  • Updated "Superheroes" to reference limitations, and added another page for "Power Limitations".
  • Added a "Supernaturals" section (originally posted here on my blog).
  • Added a couple more example vehicles (exploratory starship and battle tank).
  • The PoD version of the book now has a description on the back cover.
I'd also like to stress that none of the rules have changed, so if you've got the earlier version it's still 100% compatible with the current rules. All I've done is clarify a few things that people found unclear, and expand a few areas that hadn't explicitly been covered.

The printed version is 5"x8", as DTRPG didn't support the smaller pocketbook size, but I actually quite like the larger book now that I've gotten used to it. The font size of the body text is around 13, which is quite large, but I actually find it pretty comfortable on the eyes (at least, on my old eyes!).

Goblin Gangsters

I also decided to try my hand at another one-page RPG, based on the same template I'd used for The Fools Who Follow. This time I tried to adhere more closely to the Tricube Tales rules, and I designed the game as a prequel to The Gobfather.

You can download it here: Goblin Gangsters (click on the Publisher Preview to download the full PDF for free).


Overall I'm very pleased with it, I think Goblin Gangsters does a good job of capturing the essence of the Tricube Tales system while also serving as a light introduction to The Gobfather, and it all fits on a single page!

One-Page RPGs as example settings?

Although Tricube Tales does include a number of genre rules and even a few example scenarios, it doesn't have any real settings of its own, and I think that can be a weakness (from a marketing perspective) for generic systems. That's something I'd like to address in the future.

I think Savage Worlds owes much of its success to the wide range of settings it offers, and the popular TinyD6 games often include a selection of micro-settings in the back of their rulebooks. Perhaps I could offer some micro-settings for Tricube Tales in the form of a library of one-page RPGs? It's certainly something to consider, and much more realistic (from an effort perspective) than writing full settings.

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.

EDIT 30-08-2020: Lulu completely overhauled their website, leading to a number of technical issues, so I ended up moving the print-on-demand books to DriveThruRPG. I've therefore removed the dead links from this blog post.

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.