Thursday, 15 September 2016

Setting Design: Wild Card Symbols

Characters in Savage Worlds are divided into two categories: Wild Cards and Extras. The PCs are Wild Cards, as are important allies, major villains, special monsters, and so on; as a rough rule of thumb, if an NPC is important enough to have a name, background, and plot protection, they're probably a Wild Card. On the other hand, if your ally wears a red shirt without a name tag, they're almost certainly an Extra.

Wild Cards traditionally have a symbol beside their name to indicate their Wild Card status, with the precise symbol changing from setting to setting. However it'll be a recurring theme throughout the book, and repetition is one of the major principles of graphic design, so I think the subject is worthy of a blog post.

The precise choice of Wild Card symbol is obviously going to be a matter of personal (and artistic) taste, so I will instead focus on the technical aspects.

File Format

There are three typical file formats for Wild Card symbols, as follows:

Raster Image
Ideally using a lossless format such as png or tiff, this option is preferable for highly detailed Wild Card symbols, such as the Joker in Pinnacle's older supplements, or the witchmark symbol in Accursed. The downside is that the image will become pixelated when enlarged.

Vector Image
This is used in much the same way as a raster image, but is calculated with vectors instead of drawing pixels, allowing the image to be scaled without losing quality. The downside is that it sometimes doesn't work too well with complex images, or those with subtle color gradation.

Dingbat Font
The third option is to use a dingbat font, such as wingdings. The downside of a font is that the image will be monochrome, however it scales like a vector image, and doesn't need to be precisely positioned on the page like an image.

Comparison of raster and vector/font images, with
the enlarged Wild Card symbol on the right.


I decided to take a quick look through a variety of different Savage Worlds PDFs, and see what sort of Wild Card symbols and file formats they used. Here's what I found:

Core Rulebook
Savage Worlds Explorer's Edition: SW Joker (raster image).
Savage Worlds Deluxe: Cross (wingdings font).

Official Companions
Fantasy Companion: SW Joker (raster image).
Horror Companion: Monstrous skull (raster image).
Science Fiction Companion: Star (dingbat font).
Super Powers Companion: Explosion (vector image).

Old Pinnacle Settings
50 Fathoms: Skull and crossbones (dingbat font).
Evernight: SW Joker (raster image).
Necessary Evil: SW Joker (raster image).
Rippers: SW Joker (raster image).
Sundered Skies: SW Joker (raster image).

New Pinnacle Settings
East Texas University: Pentagram (raster image).
Lankhmar: Blade (dingbat font).
Rippers Resurrected: Mask (WildCard font).
Savage Tales of Horror: Skull (WildCard font).
Weird Wars Rome: Blade (dingbat font, same symbol as Lankhmar).

Licensee Settings
Agents of Oblivion: Martini glass (raster image).
Hellfrost: Dragon head (raster image).
Drakonheim Savage Companion: Skull (vector image).
Accursed: Witchmark (raster image).
Realms of Cthulhu: Elder Sign (raster image).

Pinnacle frequently used the Savage Worlds joker (a raster image) in many of their earlier books, but appear to have created a custom WildCard font for some of their newer books, which is a rather elegant solution.

My Solution

In the past I've mostly used dingbat fonts for Wild Card symbols, although some of my recent releases used raster images. Since then I've moved on to vector images, and finally back to fonts.

When I commissioned my cover from Lord Zsezse Works, they also provided me with the title text, which included a small goblin head to dot the letter 'i'. The goblin head is also a perfect fit for the Wild Card symbol, so I decided to use it for that as well. The only problem was that it looked a bit blurry around the edges when I tried to shrink it.

Fortunately there's a free vector graphics editor called Inkscape, which I was able to use to convert the icon from a raster image to a vector image. I've also used the vector image for some custom laser-engraved Wild Dice, which I'll discuss in a future post (once they arrive).

However the vector images still need to be manually positioned to make sure they're all lined up, which is fiddly and annoying - and worse still, Scribus doesn't seem to have any way to anchor images to a specific location in the text, so whenever the layout changes, all the Wild Card symbols need to be manually repositioned!

My final solution was therefore to use to create a new font, with the goblin head as one of the characters. In theory I could extend the font with other symbols in the future, and create my own WildCard font like Pinnacle have done, and that's certainly something to consider. But for the time being, I only need the one symbol, so my custom dingbat font only has one character.