Wednesday, 21 December 2016

SWIFT-d12: First Goblin Playtest

Yesterday I had the opportunity to run my first playtest for SWIFT-d12, using an early draft of the rules along with the newly converted archetypes for Saga of the Goblin Horde. I ran it for the same group I usually play Sundered Skies with (giving our regular GM the chance to play for a change!), so there were five players in total.

Manuel and Heike resumed their usual roles as Maeson Crispyface the goblin pyromancer and Izzy Toecutter the goblin scout, while Daniel played Skally Finback the river goblin, Babsi played Krusty Snaggletooth the gremlin saboteur, and Claudia played Amalia Bloodylocks the goblin princess.

As it's nearly Christmas I decided to run Sanguine Solstace (with Sleigh Heist on standby, should we finished early). We started at 7pm, but probably spent at least half an hour talking about the setting and the new system, and finished at around 11pm, so it was fairly comparable with the typical 3-hour adventures I ran using Savage Worlds.

As with all of my SotGH One Sheets, Sanguine Solstace is split into five scenes.

Fireside Tales

This scene normally uses the Savage Worlds Interlude rules. I don't have Interlude rules in SWIFT-d12, but it was easy enough to ask the players to spin a short tale in return for a Karma Point. The SW goblin archetypes have a background suggestion for each of the four Interlude categories (Tragedy, Victory, Love and Desire).

The SWIFT-d12 archetypes don't have the category names, but they still include four background suggestions each, so the only real difference was that the players didn't need to draw and consult a card - they just chose (or made up) any story they liked. So overall I'd say this scene worked just as well with SWIFT-d12 as it does in SW.

Home Invasion

This scene is normally handled as a Stealth-based Dramatic Task. Although SWIFT-d12 does have extended ability checks which can work in a similar way, I wanted to make this scene a bit more interesting, so I prepared ten cards before the adventure. Each card described a particular foe who might raise the alarm (guards at the gate, a couple of young lovers on a rooftop, an old drunk staggering through the village, etc) along with two different sets of mechanics for dealing with them.

The goblin bosses first scouted out the dangers, with each player making a Perception check. On a success they drew one card, while on a double success they drew two cards. I asked the players to describe to each other in-character what they'd found, then afterwards they could discuss the cards out-of-character, and exchange cards if they wished. The goblin princess ended up with two cards, while the other characters had one card each.

The players then took turns going through their cards, choosing which of the two mechanics they wished to use to resolve the card, describing their actions, and making their ability checks. Everyone (except the goblin princess, who already had two cards) then had to draw a second card, representing a danger they'd failed to spot earlier; their ability checks for these cards were made at -2.

Fortunately the characters were able to overcome all of the dangers without anyone raising the alarm, and everyone really got into the spirit of the setting, with some hilarious over-the-top antics. The river goblin terrorized the docks, the goblin princess rolled the lovers off the roof, the goblin scout leapt from the watchtower onto the heads of two guards, and so on.

The card-based mechanic took a lot longer than a Dramatic Task (or extended ability check), but I think it was worth it.

Wrecking Crew

This scene allows each player to choose one of eight different options, sabotaging the village before the humans realize what's going on, and I actually ran it in pretty much the same way as the original One Sheet. Maeson set the tavern on fire killing everyone inside, Izzy found a sniping spot and lay in wait, Skally trashed the boats at the dock, Krusty knocked out the lanterns illuminating the village square, and Amalia tossed the heavy bar off the gate and kicked it wide open so that the goblin gang members could enter the village and join the fight.

Yuletide Massacre

The main combat encounter involved 5 PC goblin bosses and their 20 allied gang members facing off against 6 guards and 20 villagers. The new initiative system worked okay, but could probably use some tweaking. The combat itself was just as fast as Savage Worlds, and I was rather pleased with the wound system - the enemy Champion (comparable with a Wild Card) took quite a beating, but the lack of Soak rolls made it feel as if every blow mattered (as opposed to a lucky Soak roll undoing a player's action for the turn). The goblin princess also took a nasty blow, the sort of lucky damage roll that would usually put a SW character out of the fight, but it proved far less crippling in SWIFT-d12.

Maeson also made use of the magic system, tearing up the enemies with blasts of fire. Although the magic system is semi-freeform, it still proved very quick and easy to use. I can see some potential for abuse though, and will probably tweak it a bit - I've already started bouncing ideas off Manual.

Mopping Up

The final scene used my new chase rules, and although it wasn't a disaster, it didn't work as well as I'd hoped. I think this was mainly due to two factors. Firstly, the chase system had been designed with one fleeing character in mind, while in this case there were several fleeing villagers. Secondly, the villagers were Mooks (similar to Extras in SW), and simply weren't competent enough to have any reasonable chance of escaping the PCs.

Summary

For a first test-run I think it went well, and everyone seemed to have fun. The players got to grips with the mechanics quite quickly, and although we forgot things a few times, I'm sure we'll get better with practice. Hopefully everyone will be up for another playtest in the future!

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Saga of the Goblin Horde: Goblin Priestess

We're over half way through December, so it's time for the thirteenth archetype, and now that the "Gods and Magic" chapter of the setting book is complete, I decided it would be a good time to add the goblin priestess.

As always you can get the archetypes here, and the six One Sheet adventures are available here, here, here, here, here and here.

SWIFT-d12 Archetypes

Those who have expressed an interest in the new system I've been writing can download the SWIFT-d12 version of the archetypes from here.

Friday, 16 December 2016

SWIFT-d12 Goblin PCs

I started this blog two years ago today, with a series of posts about converting We Be Goblins from Pathfinder to Savage Worlds. My first post provided stats for a set of goblin PCs, so I thought I'd do the same thing again, except this time for Saga of the Goblin Horde, and for characters converted from Savage Worlds to SWIFT-d12 (the new system I've been working on).

Obviously I will release a full set of archetypes in the future, but that's still a little way off.

Skally Finback
Abilities: Strength +1, Agility +1
Skills: Brawl +1, Stealth +1, Survival +1, Swim +2
Speed: 30; Resilience: 4; Capacity: 4; Leadership: 4
Flaws: Foible (Cautious), Greedy (Minor), Lusty (Major: Power hungry)
Feats: Amphiblin (cannot drown; swims at walking speed), Iron Nails, Savant (Brawl/Swim)
Gear: Throwing knives (Range 10 feet; –1 damage)
Special Abilities
• Darkvision: Ignore all darkness penalties (60 feet).
• Short: You are around 3½ feet tall; –1 Resilience.
• Goblinoid: –2 Diplomacy when dealing with humans.
• Claws: +0 damage.

Izzy Toecutter
Abilities: Agility +1, Instincts +1, Combat +1
Skills: Stealth +2, Survival +2
Speed: 30; Resilience: 5 (4+1); Capacity: 3; Leadership: 4
Flaws: Blood Oath (Minor), Foible (Collects toes), Snobgoblin
Feats: Fast Reflexes (rolling a double for initiative gives you an extra
action die for the round), Skill Focus (Survival/Stealth), Scrapper
Gear: Shank (+0 damage), battle bracer, shortbow (Range 60 feet; +0 damage), crude armor (+1), pouch of human toes
Special Abilities
• Darkvision: Ignore all darkness penalties (range 60 feet).
• Short: You are nearly 4 feet tall; –1 Resilience.
• Goblinoid: –2 Diplomacy when dealing with humans.

Maeson Crispyface
Abilities: Strength –1, Agility +1, Cunning +2, Magic +1
Skills: Diplomacy –1, Invocation +1, Perception +1, Stealth +1, Survival +1
Speed: 30; Resilience: 5 (4+1); Capacity: 2; Leadership: 4
Flaws: Obsession (Pyromaniac), Foible (Minor: Frequently picks his nose), Hideous (Minor: Facial burns)
Feats: Skill Focus (Invocation), Sorcerer (Flame), Elementalist
Gear: Knife (–1 damage), crude armor (+1), sack of chargrilled troll steaks
Special Abilities
• Spell Techniques: Destruction, Blessing, Glamor.
• Darkvision: Ignore all darkness penalties (range 60 feet).
• Short: You are slightly over 3 feet tall; –1 Resilience.
• Goblinoid: –2 Diplomacy when dealing with humans.

Goblin Gang Members
Abilities: Agility +1
Skills: Stealth +1, Survival +1
Speed: 30; Resilience: 4; Capacity: 3
Gear: Spear (+0 damage; Reach)
Special Abilities
• Darkvision: Ignore all darkness penalties (range 60 feet).
• Short: Goblins stand three to four feet tall; –1 Resilience.
• Goblinoid: –2 Diplomacy when dealing with humans.

I've currently chosen to keep a similar statblock style as Savage Worlds, so that I don't have to completely overhaul the document layout when I create the SWIFT-d12 version of the setting.

Abilities

SWIFT-d12 has six primary abilities, and for Saga of the Goblin Horde these abilities are Strength, Agility, Endurance, Cunning, Instincts and Dominance (they'll likely be renamed for other settings). An average person has +0 across the board, and starting PCs have a total of +2 split among their primary abilities. I only list abilities that aren't +0.

There are also two secondary abilities, Combat and Magic, which are increased by the Scrapper and Sorcerer Feats respectively. Scrapper, Sorcerer and Savant are the three Class Feats; PCs start with one Class Feat, and gain another Class Feat every 4 levels (Class Feats can also be taken multiple times).

Skills

Each ability has four skills, and these are added to the associated ability when making an ability check. For example, if you have Dominance +1 and Diplomacy +2, and needed to make a Diplomacy check, you would roll d12+3 and require 7+ (called "Lucky 7", because I like memory hooks) to succeed.

There are four ways to get skill points. The first is from your race, the second is by taking Handicap Flaws, the third is with the Skill Focus Feat, and the fourth is with the Savant Feat. Savants are the "skill monkeys", and tend to excel in their areas of expertise.

Usually you can only have a maximum bonus of +2 for a primary skill and +1 for a secondary skill, however Savants can have twice that amount in their specialties.

Derived Traits

There are four derived traits: Speed (how many feet you can move per round), Resilience (how difficult you are to injure), Capacity (how many significant items of encumbrance you can carry without penalty) and Leadership (how many gang members you have).

Flaws

Each character starts with two Major, four Minor, or one Major and two Minor Flaws. Flaws are categorized as either Handicaps (they give a mechanical drawback) or Quirks (purely roleplayed). Handicaps grant a +1 or +2 bonus to a skill of your choice.

Feats

Each character starts with one Class Feat and two other Feats of their choice. Feats are divided into categories: Class Feats (Scrapper, Sorcerer and Savant), Combat Feats (only available to Scrappers), Magic Feats (only available to Sorcerers), Expert Feats (only available to Savants), Legacy Feats (only available during character creation) and Common Feats (available to everyone).

Monday, 12 December 2016

Sleigh Heist: Christmas One Sheet

Swooping through the night,
Our rockets chase the sleigh,
Through the clouds we fight,
Laughing all the way!

On the same night every year, a mysterious red-robed sorcerer flies his enchanted sleigh to a nearby human settlement, dropping various wrapped packages down the chimneys before making his escape. The goblins admire his courage and tenacity, but not his success rate; as far as they can tell, none of the houses have ever blown up, or even burned down. The sorcerer clearly has no experience with explosives, and so the infamous gremlin artificer Grinchie Charfoot has decided it’s time for the professionals to take over.

Here's another One Sheet for Saga of the Goblin Horde:


As always, you can download the goblin archetypes from here, and the older One Sheet adventures from here, here, here, here and here.

Friday, 9 December 2016

Saga of the Goblin Horde: Publication Status

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
-- The Road Not Taken, by Robert Frost.
I've talked openly in the past about my goals for Saga of the Goblin Horde, and how I was standing at a crossroads, unsure which road I would take. Now I keep getting asked privately what the current status is, so I decided I might as well just explain the situation on my blog.

Savage Worlds

Back in July I submitted an application to Pinnacle, as I was hoping to release Saga of the Goblin Horde as a licensed product. In September they replied, and explained that there are strict limitations on what official licensees are allowed to do, and my fan products go beyond those limitations. More specifically, I was told that if I wanted to go ahead with the application process, I would first have to delete my fan toolkits along with anything else that modified the core rules (which is almost everything I've released over the last five years, as even most of my adventures include variations to certain rules, like Dramatic Tasks and Chases).

I wasn't willing to delete my work, for several reasons. Many people enjoy my products, quite a few people (including several licensees) rely on them to design their own creations, and deleting that content would be a kick in the teeth to the very audience I'd been hoping to market my products to - plus it wouldn't even guarantee me a license, it's perfectly possible that I'd still get rejected based on other criteria, leaving me with nothing. Those fan products represent half a decade of work, they're the portfolio upon which I've built my reputation, and it was on the merits of my fan creations that I got my foot in the freelancing door.

But there's another issue as well. While I've put a lot of effort into developing new skills over the last year, such as layout and presentation, setting design, writing adventures, etc, my specialty has always been game mechanics. The license wouldn't allow me to play to my strengths, and most of the products I'd been hoping to release in the future would very likely not be allowed.

However I've invested a lot of time and money into Saga of the Goblin Horde, and I really wanted to at least try and recoup my expenses. In theory I could have partnered up with a licensee, but Pinnacle warned that this could lead to them risking their own license. Besides, this is my pet project, and I've already come so far on my own that I'd really like to finish it myself.

So although I still plan to complete Saga of the Goblin Horde and release it under the Savage Worlds fan license, I also started looking ahead to the future, seeing what other roleplaying systems I could branch into next.

Other Systems

I initially considered using an established system, and that's still an avenue I may pursue in the future, but it's not quite as simple as it sounds. The last playtest I ran involved 6 PCs and their goblin gangs, which was a total of 30 characters under player control - most RPG systems cannot comfortably handle tactical combat on that sort of scale.

Many licensees seem to come up with their setting concept first, and then later choose to pair it with Savage Worlds. In some cases their setting was originally designed for a different system, and the licensee now just wants to convert it over (an exercise which can have mixed results). However the sad irony is that Saga of the Goblin Horde was specifically designed from the ground up to showcase the strengths of Savage Worlds, taking advantage of the things it handles well (such as chases, crazy stunts, tactical combat, fast gameplay, large numbers of combatants, etc).

I could have tried overhauling another system, but that would require first becoming intimately familiar with its rules, and I figured that if I was going to invest that amount of time I might as well create my own system from scratch to work exactly the way I wanted. An added bonus of this approach is that I'll be able to release a standalone version of Saga of the Goblin Horde, with both the system and setting in a single book.

Design Process

I wanted a system that was fairly light, with streamlined mechanics and fast action resolution, but which also supported tactical gameplay, and could handle large numbers of combatants without slowing down. I also wanted a system that would be easy to GM, with low prep time and minimal bookkeeping, where it would be quick and easy to create characters on the fly.

But I'd like to reuse the content I've already written (not just for Saga of the Goblin Horde, but also my fan supplements), so I wanted a system that could also be easily converted to and from Savage Worlds. This would allow me to offer conversion guides for my products in the future.

However I didn't want to copy any of the mechanics from Savage Worlds, so instead I looked to D&D. In "The Making of Savage Worlds", they talked about running D&D 3rd edition when it first came out, which was a few years before Savage Worlds was published. If you compare the two systems, not just superficially but really looking at the underlying design, the source of inspiration is very clear. So I decided to try following the same path.

Class abilities were merged into Feats (and renamed Edges), the levels were renamed Advances, combat bonuses were turned into combat skills, while the powers and trappings drew ideas from the psionics system. Ability scores were dropped so that only the ability modifiers were used, and those modifiers were replaced with die types - i.e., instead of -1, +0, +1, +2 and +3, there was d4, d6, d8, d10 and d12.

Some of the changes were primarily cosmetic (such as replacing "5 feet" with "1 inch" as the standard unit of in-game measurement), which helped give the system less of a D&D look and feel. But other changes were more significant (such as the wound system), and those necessitated further changes (such as a Wild Die to help address oddities in the probability curve introduced by die-step attributes, Bennies to make the Shaken/wound system more playable, etc).

However there are still many residual similaries which help give the system a familiar feel, for example the Alertness Feat in D&D gives +2 to Listen and Spot checks, while the Alertness Edge in SW gives +2 to Notice rolls. The free stat increase every 4 levels became the option to raise an attribute every 4 Advances, the Fatigued and Exhausted conditions in D&D became the Fatigued and Exhausted levels in SW, the Diplomacy skill with its five NPC attitudes (Hostile, Unfriendly, Indifferent, Friendly and Helpful) became Persuasion with its five NPC attitudes (Hostile, Uncooperative, Neutral, Friendly and Helpful), and so on. There are lots of little similarities like that scattered throughout the system, if you know what to look for, and it makes it very easy to convert content from D&D to Savage Worlds.

I think this is a very clever way to design a game (after all, no game is designed in a vacuum), so I decided to approach my initial design from the same perspective. I felt this would make it easier to maintain some distance from Savage Worlds, something I think is important considering all my SW fan and freelance creations, which are bound to influence my design ideas.

SWIFT-d12

My design went through a few iterations before I settled on an approach that felt right, but the general gist of my system (which is called SWIFT-d12) is as follows.

The class abilities were merged into Feats, although I didn't rename either the Feats or levels. The combat bonuses were turned into a combat ability and set of skills (and the same was done for magic). The ability scores were dropped so that only the ability modifiers were used, however I didn't convert them into die types. Similarly, I didn't bother with things like replacing "5 feet" with "1 inch" measurements, or renaming "Speed" to "Pace", etc.

The skills underwent a more radical change. One of the issues I ran into with running SotGH in SW is that my adventures make extensive use of a wide range of common skills, like climbing and swimming, so the characters all tended to end up fairly competent across the board. I figured if I was going that route anyway, perhaps I should just base skill on the normal stats. Characters in Savage Worlds are primarily defined by their Edges anyway, and most monsters have little more than Fighting and Notice skills, so why not just move all the specialty stuff into Edges? So that's the route I took - I do have skills, but they are just a small modifier (added directly to their associated stat when making an ability check), and most characters don't have any skills at all. This speeds up character creation quite a bit, as I only have to worry about skill levels that differ significant from their parent stat, and most NPCs can ignore skills entirely.

I also added Flaws, which work a bit like the Flaws in D&D (variant rule) and WoD, or Hindrances in SW. My only concession to SW was the Minor/Major division, as this makes it far easier to convert my existing material. However I also separate Flaws into Quirks (RP fluff) and Handicaps (crunch), where the latter grant a free skill bonus as compensation. Unlike Hindrances in SW, my Flaws are not optional, everyone has to pick 2-4 of them during character creation.

Initially I used hit points for the main characters, with redshirts working more like D&D 4th edition "mooks" or SW "Extras". One advantage of this solution is that it allowed me to have viable solo opponents, while still keeping combat nice and fast with weaker minions. However it also introduced bookkeeping (writing down hit points), which is something I hate, so I started looking into a less granular alternative. The obvious choice was the WoD solution of wound levels and Soak rolls, as those work rather well, however when I tried to streamline them I ended up with pretty much exactly the same solution as SW (and I didn't want that). So in the end I settled for a sort of hybrid of wound levels and M&M-inspired saving throws, which gives wounds a rather dynamic feel that I like quite a lot.

Many systems have some sort of metagame currency, whether they're called fate points, action points, bennies, hero points, story points, or whatever else. In my system they are called karma points, representing the fact that you usually earn them when something bad happens, and spend them to make something good happen.

My Stunt rules draw inspiration from numerous sources, including the SW Tricks and Tests of Will, Dirty Tricks from Pathfinder, Stunts from Exalted, and so on. My Chase rules also draw inspiration from multiple sources, particularly the James Bond RPG. My magic system is mainly inspired by my freeform magic rules in Savage Abilities. In short, I've drawn ideas and inspirations from a wide range of different sources.

Of course I also introduced many of my own ideas. The system only uses d12 for actions and d6 for damage, it has unified mechanics to reduce the learning curve, ability checks are symmetrical (meaning they innately support player-facing), and so on.

I will go into more detail about SWIFT-d12 in future blog posts. The rules are currently around 12K words, and I plan to start playtesting soon, but they're still a bit rough around the edges (and I still need to flesh out the Feat list).

Future Plans

I plan to release two versions of Saga of the Goblin Horde. The Savage Worlds edition will be a full setting under the fan license (which sadly means it'll never be available in print), while the SWIFT-d12 edition will be a standalone product (both system and setting in a single book, possibly with a print-on-demand version at a later date).

This does mean some changes to the Savage Worlds edition. For example I've removed all references to the Fantasy Companion, as I can no longer justify the added entry barrier (people don't take fan products as seriously as officially licensed products, so the main thing I have going for me is that the setting book will be free - and therefore the last thing I want to do is force people to go out and buy more books before they can even play). I also removed the adventure generator (it will be built into the Campaign Deck) and trimmed the adventures down to the essentials (additional adventures will be turned into separate products). However it will still be a good sized book, with enough content to run a campaign.

Other releases for Saga of the Goblin Horde will either be system-agnostic (like the deck of cards) or written for SWIFT-d12, however I also plan to release a free "SWIFT-d12 to SW" conversion guide under the fan license, so it should be easy enough to use the material with Savage Worlds as well. Offering Saga of the Goblin Horde for multiple systems also avoids potential arguments about the legality of the Campaign Deck (if the setting was only available for SW, some might claim that the deck of cards was being used to profit from the fan license, because the cards contain an adventure generator that's specific to the Saga of the Goblin Horde setting, but now the deck will be just as useful for the SWIFT-d12 version as well).

If things work out, I hope to apply the same strategy to other settings, perhaps even releasing SWIFT-d12 as a generic system for other publishers to use as well, if there's interest. This will hopefully allow me to continue contributing to the Savage Worlds community, albeit indirectly, without leaving me out of pocket for artwork and other expenses; in effect, I'll be selling SWIFT-d12 products, and releasing free SW fan conversion guides for those products.

Of course this has also forced me to shift my deadlines, as I've spent a lot of my free time over the last three months designing SWIFT-d12, rather than working on the setting book. However I think it will be worth the effort, and I must admit it's rather fun having the freedom to create my own system again!

Monday, 5 December 2016

Gear Chapter Layout: Item collages

One of the things I've been pondering for a while is how best to present the gear chapter in Saga of the Goblin Horde, as I'd really like to include illustrations of the various different weapons and armor available to the characters.

Most Savage Worlds setting books don't use much art in their gear section, and the little they do have mostly seems to be filler art, designed to fill some white space. Savage Rifts has a few portrait illustrations for armor, and a few item images, but they're limited to one illustration per page. Rippers Resurrected is more along the lines of what I'd like to do, with one page containing as many as three different item illustrations, and that's what I initially used for inspiration:


However the pages felt cluttered, it was difficult to get the layout looking good while wrapping the text around the images, and many of the items had no art at all. So this weekend I tried something different, and created collages for the equipment, so that the pages now look like this:


I'm pretty pleased with the way it turned out, I think the presentation is cleaner and easier to read, I've now got an illustration for every item, and I no longer have to worry about trying to wrap the text around the images (which means I don't need to do anywhere near as much fiddling around with the layout).

Although I do have other pages where the text wraps around the illustrations, I don't think it works very well when there are multiple images on the page. But a collage is effectively a single illustration from a layout design perspective, and I think it makes a good compromise.