Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Swift d12: Thoughts on the Staggered condition

I've been thinking some more about streamlining the modifiers in Swift d12, trying to remove any that aren't strictly necessary, and one that really comes to mind is the Staggered condition. Characters frequently become Staggered in combat, giving them a -2 penalty to their rolls, so it's something that often has to be subtracted from ability checks. During play testing, it sometimes felt quite obtrusive.

However simply dropping the penalty would make the Staggered condition far less significant, noticeably impacting other parts of the game (such as stunts). So I started trying to think of alternatives, and here's a possible solution I'm toying with:

Staggered characters do not suffer any penalties to their ability checks, however they no longer recover automatically. Instead, the character remains Staggered until they spend an action to recover (Champions lose one action die, but can still perform a standard action with their remaining die).

Recovery is optional, so a character can choose to remain Staggered if they wish, however if they don't recover they will be more vulnerable to further attacks (because they'll be easier to wound). This should speed up most combat encounters, as the GM can simply leave cannonfodder foes Staggered (they'll go down faster, and won't suffer -2 to their attacks).

Players are more likely to choose to recover, but as PCs are Champions they'll still be able to take an action (albeit with a single action die), so it won't feel like "stun lock".

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Swift d12: Musings about modifiers

One of the minor niggles I ran into while play testing Swift d12 was all the different modifiers players need to add together. Savage Worlds has this issue too, but it's less severe because of things like the die step traits (instead of modifiers) and using a derived stat for Parry. I also have the issue of Staggered incurring a -2 penalty, which is another thing to add on.

A few people have expressed a dislike of the Swift d12 complication mechanic, so I've been pondering ways I might make it more intuitive. One of the ideas I considered was rolling 3d6 and keeping the lowest, middle or highest result for a minor, moderate or major complication.

While googling for similar mechanics, I stumbled across a discussion about Shadow of the Demon Lord, which uses "boons" and "banes" to represent advantages and disadvantages. Each situational bonus grants a boon die, and each situational penalty grants a bane die, and the two cancel each other out. So if you had three bonuses and one penalty, you would roll two bane dice (2d6) and keep the highest. This is apparently quite a popular approach, although the modifiers are a bit high for my d12-based system.

However rolling 3d6 and applying the lowest, middle or highest die result (as a minor, moderate or major advantage or disadvantage respectively) could be a better fit, roughly comparable with a 2, 3 or 5 point bonus/penalty.


The basic idea of this mechanic is to simplify bonuses and penalties. Instead of tracking lots of variable modifiers for things like lighting, range, cover, etc, most situations would simply grant an advantage or disadvantage (with a few situations granting a double advantage or disadvantage), and these could be listed in the rules as well as on a cheat sheet.

You would gain an advantage when...
  • Making a close combat attack against a prone target.
  • Attacking a foe who is using an improvised weapon (including unarmed) when you are using a proper weapon.
  • Surprising a foe in combat.
  • Etc...

You would suffer a disadvantage when...
  • Making a ranged attack against a prone target.
  • You are Staggered or Stunned.
  • Poor lighting makes it difficult to see what you're doing (double disadvantage in pitch darkness)
  • Your foe has cover (double disadvantage when they have heavy cover)
  • Your foe is at medium range (double disadvantage when they are at long range)
  • You are using an improvised weapon (including unarmed) to attack a foe who is using a proper weapon.
  • Your foe is being flanked by another hostile character.
  • You are jogging the same turn you're performing the action.
  • Etc...

And of course the GM could apply a situational advantage/disadvantage, in much the same way they might normally apply a situational modifier.

So if you fired an arrow at an opponent behind cover (disadvantage) at short range, you'd roll 3d6 and apply the lowest die result as a penalty to your action. If they were behind cover at medium range, you'd roll 3d6 and apply the middle die result, and if you were also Staggered you'd roll 3d6 and apply the highest die result.

The dice would be rolled at the same time as the action dice (i.e., as a dice pool) so you wouldn't need to make separate rolls. In the case of Minions, a single set of 3d6 could be rolled at the same time as a group of Minions, with the result applied to all of them, so once again there wouldn't need to be any separate rolls.

Of course you'd still need to add up the advantages and disadvantages, but there are fewer of them (two levels of lighting instead of four, etc), and the process is split into two steps - first you calculate whether you have a minor, moderate or major advantage or disadvantage, then you make the ability check.

Previously an attack might be calculated by rolling your action dice, adding your Melee, subtracting their Melee, then subtracting 2 because you're Staggered, adding 2 because they're prone, and subtracting 2 because you jogged to reach them.

But now you'd split the process into two steps:

Step 1: One disadvantage (you're Staggered) + one advantage (they're prone) - one disadvantage (you jogged) = minor disadvantage.

Step 2: Roll your action dice, add your Melee, subtract their Melee, and apply a minor disadvantage.

I'm still not sure how I feel about this idea, but I do think it might be worth testing out.

Monday, 22 May 2017

Swift d12 Lite: Streamlined Edition

I recently took a look at some testdrive rules for a new RPG, and my immediate thought was "that's a lot to read". My second thought was "I bet other people feel exactly the same way about Swift d12". So I started wondering how viable it would be to create a massively streamlined version of the Swift d12 system that still retained the general flavor of the system.

Download here: Swift d12 Lite

Because Swift d12 Lite is designed to be an introduction to the full system, I didn't want to remove anything essential - I wanted a system that still retained the general feel of the full game. However I think a set of rules that fit onto half a dozen pages is far less intimidating for a new player. Such a small system would be ideal for micro-settings like Just Insert Imagination's Fuhgeddaboudit or Aliens vs Rednecks, where it could be included as part of the download, giving the customer a full standalone game.

The document is still pretty rough at the moment, but the idea is to fit character creation onto one page, and the rest of the system onto four or five pages, perhaps with some GM guidelines at the end. Once I'm happy with the content, I'll give it the proper layout treatment. I think this could be much more appealing to potential playtesters, and some people may even prefer the lighter rules over a more detailed book.

To give credit where it's due, I also drew inspiration from Frank Turfler's Savage Dungeons rules, which are a streamlined version of Savage Worlds (although in his case you still need the full rulebook to play).

Monday, 15 May 2017

Buccaneer: Through Hell & High Water for Savage Worlds

Fans of "Pirates of the Caribbean" should keep an eye out for the new Kickstarter from Fabled Environments and Yellow Piece Games, which is due to launch tomorrow. Fabled Environments have produced some interesting settings in the past, but they're also known for publishing detailed maps, which hopefully means the setting will include some great custom maps.

They've also hired Rick Hershey of Fat Goblin Games to do the artwork! Rick is one of my favorite RPG artists (he also created most of the artwork for Saga of the Goblin Horde).

The team includes Savage Worlds veterans Christopher "Savage Bull" Landauer and Chris "Savage Mommy" Fuchs from the SavageCast podcast, so the mechanics should be solid - I know they've discussed in the past that they plan to treat ships as characters (Savage Space did the same thing, and it worked exceptionally well, so I definitely think they're on to something). Apparently they also have some interesting new rules for ship battles.

The 50 Fathoms setting never really did it for me (although the Plot Point Campaign itself was well designed, I didn't like the thematic blend of Earth nationalities in a fantasy world), while Pirates of the Spanish Main feels a bit dated (probably because it's ten years old, and was designed as a standalone product, so it still uses a much older version of the rules). I think a good pirate setting is well overdue, so I'm interested to see what comes of the project.

Hopefully we'll get to see more teasers as the Kickstarter progresses!

EDIT: The Kickstarter has now launched, check it out here!

Monday, 8 May 2017

Designing your own Savage Worlds Setting

I've released well over 30 PDFs in the last five years, most of them for Savage Worlds, but my early products had pretty crude trade dress - they were simply exported Word documents, and used free low-resolution artwork.

Back in October 2015 I decided it was time to step up my game, as my plan is to eventually move into self-publishing. I started researching how to design a setting book, and recorded my findings in a series of 20 blog posts.

Originally I provided a links to these blog posts on the Pinnacle forums, but the forums have been down for quite a while now, and not all of my recent work is specific to Savage Worlds so I figured it made sense to post a new summary here for easier reference.

In my first post on setting design I describe the process I use for creating fan supplements, and discuss the importance of content, layout design, font selection, cover and interior design, title and logo, and artwork.

This post takes a look at the layout of three of Pinnacle's newer settings (ETU, Lankhmar, and Rippers Resurrected). I provide a breakdown of the different sections in each book, showing how many pages are allocated to each section.

I provide some rough guidelines for which chapters and sections should be included in a setting book, along with an approximate word count range for each section.

An anonymous pricing comparison of 100 randomly selected Savage Worlds PDFs, with a brief look at the pricing used by Pinnacle.

Some thoughts about designing Plot Point Campaigns, and the difference between Plot Point Episodes and Savage Tales. I also discuss how to create a Plot Point Campaign by reverse engineering a TV show, and provide an example.

A comparison of Plot Point Episodes, Savage Tales and One Sheets, showing how (if you break it down) a Plot Point Campaign is really just a collection of One Sheets; if you can write a One Sheet, you can write a Plot Point Campaign.

My third blog post about designing Plot Point Campaigns. This time I talk about choosing the overarching plot, and using it to build a Plot Point Summary. I've also included a detailed example for Drakonheim, showing how I might weave three threads into a central plot, and then break the story down into 10 Plot Point Episodes.

I briefly discuss the importance of having a good cover, and give an overview of how I went about getting my rough cover concept turned into a reality.

I talk about applying the CRAP Principle (Contrast, Repetition, Alignment and Proximity), and provide some suggestions for improving typography.

A detailed description of the process I use for writing One Sheets (which are essentially much the same thing as Savage Tales and Plot Point Episodes).

I show each step of the process as I transform a one-paragraph adventure overview into a second episode for my fictitious "Prophecy of Drakonheim" Plot Point Campaign.

I discuss the importance of geography, topography, and a good map, and share some thoughts about designing a smaller gazetteer based on the mini-setting concept.

I take a step back from my Saga of the Goblin Horde setting, to consider where it came from, where it stands, and where it might go next.

I discuss a mechanism for grid-based travel, with Savage Tales triggered by points of interest, combined with Plot Point Episodes based on the overarching storyline.

I take a look at the different styles and file formats for the Wild Card symbol, comparing the approach used in various setting books, and discussing their pros and cons.

Some musings on creating a gear chapter with multiple item illustrations, and how best to present the layout.

How to create a nicely illustrated bestiary without breaking the bank, with a look at different sources of inspiration, keeping the layout easy to read, and making the bestiary a source of adventure seeds.

A first-hand look at how a setting can evolve throughout the design process, particularly when it isn't fully fleshed-out in advance.

Many game settings include a world map, but a map isn't just aesthetic, it's also functional - in fact it's often one of the most important pieces of artwork in the book, referenced extensively throughout a campaign. But what sort of thought process goes into the creation of a map?

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.

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Saga of the Goblin Horde: Campaign Overview

The Plot Point Campaign in Saga of the Goblin Horde follows the great war between humans and goblins, and the main story arc is divided into eleven Plot Point Episodes (previously ten, but I've since decided to add Head Hunters). I've discussed parts of the campaign before, and have already run playtests of the first four episodes, but I thought it was about time I gave a proper overview.

The first two Plot Point Episodes (Dungeon Squat and Tavern Crawl) are designed to be played back to back, and they help set the tone for the rest of the campaign. They're a bit like a two-part pilot in a TV show, introducing the players to the setting. After running these, the GM can start inserting their own adventures as usual.

The third and fourth Plot Point Episodes (Head Hunters and Kick Off) trigger the great war, and should be run fairly close together, so the Game Master should move on to them once the players are ready for the main story arc to begin. After running these adventures, the Game Master starts using the War Clock to track the progress of the human assault.

The next five Plot Point Episodes are triggered by the War Clock, and cover the five major stages of the human assault against the goblin horde, while the final two Plot Point Episodes (Slay Day and Let Sleeping Gods Lie) conclude the campaign, and are designed to be run back to back.

War Clock

The War Clock is a mechanism I designed for tracking the escalation of the war. After Kick Off the Game Master can run Savage Tales or One Sheets, or use the Campaign Deck to generate their own adventures, but at the end of each such adventure the War Clock must be updated to reflect how murderous and destructive the goblins were during their last mission.

The later Plot Point Episodes are marked on the War Clock, and when one is reached the Game Master is supposed to run it for the next session. Thus the more violent the goblins behave, the sooner the humans will launch their next major assault. 

Plot Point Summary

Here is a short summary of  the Plot Point Episodes.

Episode 1: Dungeon Squat
A large party of particularly aggressive adventurers has been raiding goblin warrens along Hightree Ridge, attacking the weak borderland goblins with increasing frequency, and they are becoming far too big for their boots. Chief Bignose of the Redfang tribe dispatches a few gang bosses to set an ambush in one of the goblin dens, to teach the humans a lesson.

Episode 2: Tavern Crawl
Once the adventurers have been dealt with, the goblin bosses are tasked with addressing the source of the problem: the frontier town where the humans came from. Adventurers always love to kick back and relax between massacres, squandering their stolen loot on fermented drinks. But how are they going to do that if all the taverns have been destroyed?

Episode 3: Head Hunters
Recruitment has been slacking lately, and the Redfang tribe needs more cannon fodder. Chief Bignose also wants some impressive new war trophies for his collection, so he decides to hold a double headhunting contest. The bosses are tasked with headhunting new recruits for the tribe, and headhunting some new heads to decorate the chief's tent.

Episode 4: Kick Off
One of the goblin gangs recovered a very round human head from their last foray across the border, and they’ve decided it’s the perfect shape to use as a ball for a bit of competitive sport. However what they didn’t know is that the head belonged to the king’s sole heir, who had been sowing his oats along the frontier, making the most of his youth before settling down to his responsibilities.

Episode 5: Short Straw
The mountain humans have been holed up in their mines for decades, but as the attacks against the goblin horde ramp up, the stocky little humans finally decide to make their move. Bursting from their underground hideouts, they attempt to secure a foothold along the Northern River, paving the way for future attacks.

Episode 6: Ship Shape
The orcs are a seafaring race, and many of them take advantage of their special arrangement with the sea goblins, trading with civilizations across the Endless Ocean. However several enterprising captains have recently found a far easier way to turn a profit – by transporting squads of human troops, and dropping them off along the western shore.

Episode 7: Forest Fury
Several months ago, the Treebiter tribe was wiped out by the forest humans in a vicious, unprovoked attack against the goblins. Now the woodland folk are on the march once again, their scouts spreading throughout Shadowglade Forest as they begin their invasion into the goblin lands.

Episode 8: Fighting Fire with Ice
Squads of human thugs mounted on fire drakes begin launching raids across the goblin lands, burning down villages and sending the goblins fleeing for their lives. The chief sends the gang bosses to seek the aid of the Icerunner tribe, for it is said they have tamed many of the wild griffins that build their nests on the peaks of the Longtooth Mountains, and with flying steeds of their own, the goblins should stand a fighting chance.

Episode 9: Green Vaccine
Goblinoids and ogrekin start falling sick as a terrible plague sweeps the land, and this is one foe the goblins are ill-equipped to deal with. Following a lead from a priest of the Sleeping God, the gang bosses must travel to Windpoint Island and attempt to unlock the secrets of the ancient fortress, in the hope of finding a cure.

Episode 10: Slay Day
The main human army now marches across Hightree Ridge, moving through a rocky pass along the eastern side of the goblin lands. Tens of thousands strong, the human soldiers are disciplined and well-equipped, and they’re heading directly for the Spire of Flame.

Episode 11: Let Sleeping Gods Lie
As the battle rages in and around the Scorched Basin, the Spire of Flame ignites, and fire shoots up into the heavens. The sky darkens overhead as ominous storm clouds gather, and Blacktear Lake begin to churn as something huge stirs beneath the surface. The fate of the tribes will now be decided!

Monday, 1 May 2017

The Goblin Warrens

Last month I took part in the 200 Word RPG Challenge, submitting two entries: the Goblin Warrens, and Doomsday Cult.

All submissions had to be entered in plain text, which isn't very attractive, so I thought I'd have a go at making my mini RPGs look a bit more presentable. I'm still trying to decide what sort of trade dress I'd like to use for Doomsday Cult, but the Goblin Warrens is based on my Saga of the Goblin Horde setting, so I thought it made sense to present it in the same style.

I also decided to add a simple 200 word adventure. There wasn't enough space in the original entry to include both a system and an adventure (although I did try my best), so I thought it would make a fun little extra to include a bonus 200 word adventure alongside the RPG.

Download it here: The Goblin Warrens

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Swift d12: RPG renamed

My new roleplaying system was initially named SWIFT-d12, which I described as an acronym. However I've since realized that it's technically an acrostic rather than an acronym, and it doesn't really make sense to capitalize it. I also prefer it in lowercase without the dash.

So I've decided to rename it to Swift d12. I've also gone back over my older blog posts and updated them accordingly, otherwise it's likely to cause confusion in the future when people go back to read over my older posts.

Monday, 24 April 2017

Shaintar: Only 1 day left to back the Thundering Skies Kickstarter!

If you're into Savage Worlds and epic fantasy, Shaintar is a must-have for your RPG collection. The players take on the role of powerful heroes, battling against the forces of darkness in a classic tale of good vs evil.

The setting itself is very rich and detailed, with lots of supporting material, but the main downside was always the lack of a Plot Point Campaign. Of course you could always make up your own adventures, but there was so much background information that I found it quite overwhelming to know where to start, and there weren't enough examples for me to get my head around the appropriate style of play; Sean Patrick Fannon even described one of my early games as "the most un-Shaintary experience I've ever read about happening in Shaintar"! :P

Fortunately Savage Mojo are now running a Kickstarter for Thundering Skies, a full Plot Point Campaign for Shaintar - and as an added bonus, they're giving every backer a free copy of both Players Guides (Legends Arise and Legends Unleashed). This is a great opportunity for newcomers to the setting, it's the one thing I really wish I'd had when I first started running Shaintar.

If there was ever a Savage Worlds setting that deserved its own Plot Point Campaign, it's Shaintar.

I backed the previous Shaintar Kickstarter back in 2013 (the highest pledge I've ever made for a Kickstarter project). I also wrote an adventure generator and character builder for Shaintar, and as a thank you, Sean allowed me to design a new town for the setting (I invented the town of Stonebridge in the Freelands). Hmm, maybe I should write a fan One Sheet set in Stonebridge...

Swift d12: First public goblin playtest

I've been working on the Swift d12 system for several months now, and have already run several closed playtests, but at the weekend I ran my first public playtest. Manuel and Heike resumed their usual roles of Maeson Crispyface and Izzy Toecutter, and as always Manuel helped me out with props for the game and assisted the others with the rules. There were also two first-time Swift d12 players - Michael (who had also played in the Savage Worlds goblin playtest I ran back in September) returned to play Skally Finback again, and Christos (who I'd not met before) played Big Brak.

Photo of the game by Manuel Sambs.

As there was a 7 hour time slot, I prepared two adventures to run back to back. The first was Head Hunters, which I'll probably be turning into another One Sheet, while the other was Kick Off, which is also the third episode in the Plot Point campaign.

Head Hunters involves the goblins being sent on a headhunting mission - they have to headhunt new recruits for the tribe, and also headhunt some interesting new heads for the chief's collection. There was a short cameo appearance by a couple of goblins based on Harrison Hunt and Nikk Lambley, and they'll be making a bigger appearance at a later date. The adventure incorporated some new custom cards for traversing the Great Forest, inspired by the Ambush Cards I used for Dungeon Squat.

Kick Off involved the goblins playing a competitive game of "kickball" on top of a mountain during a heavy thunderstorm, using a severed head instead of a ball. The adventure is called Kick Off because of the football theme, but also because it kicks off the war against the humans, when they discover that the head belonged to the human king's only son and heir. The kickball rules worked pretty well, although they did result in a PC death (well, incapacitation really) when one of the goblins got struck by lightning.

Feedback on both the system and setting was pretty positive, although it was suggested that the abilities and skills be more clearly linked together on the archetype sheets. I will have to have a think about how best to present the information, but the mechanics held up well - they seem solid and intuitive, and the combat resolution was fast. The revised wound system is definitely an improvement over the old approach.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Custom Tokens

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).

The tokens were created by following the procedure described here by Manuel Sambs of Veiled Fury Entertainment. I bought some self-adhesive printing paper and poker chips from Amazon, and borrowed Manuel's cutter and scalpel, and I'm really pleased with the results.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

200 Word RPG Challenge 2017: Doomsday Cult and the Goblin Warrens

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.

Doomsday Cult
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
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

Setting Design: Pre-Publication Checklist

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.

Vertical Rhythm

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.

Statblock Analyser

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.

Embedded Fonts

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.

Image Resolution

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.

Scribus Workaround

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.

Proofreading (again)

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

Swift d12 update

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!

Quick Skirmish rule

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).

Quick Skirmish

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

Swift d12: Complication Dice

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.

Complication Dice

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.

Heroes of Drakonheim released

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.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Saga of the Goblin Horde: Adventure Cards

One of the cooler accessories for Savage Worlds is the Adventure Deck. Much like the Drama Deck in Torg, or (if you go back to the mid 80s) the Whimsy Cards for Ars Magica, the Adventure Deck provides players with a structured way to influence the story, allowing them to introduce new enemies, love interests, and various other unexpected plot twists.

It's not unusual for individual settings to offer their own custom Adventure Cards, which can be inserted into the larger deck to provide players with new setting-specific options. And of course many Savage Worlds fans also create their own Adventure Cards (someone even offers a tool for creating your own).

Snate56 on the Pinnacle forums asked if I was planning to create some custom Adventure Cards for Saga of the Goblin Horde, and suggested a Kamikaze Meat Shield card. Although I don't have very much goblin-themed artwork suitable for Adventure Cards, I just about managed to scrape up enough for eight of them. Unfortunately they don't have a consistent artistic style, but I've had to make do with what I've got. They're not bad though - and they're perfectly functional.

It was an interesting little project, and it's given me a much better idea of how to go about creating my own decks (a skill I'll need for the Campaign Deck, as well as some of the other deck ideas I've been considering). While the process will be rather different for PoD cards, it's still nice to be able to offer a PDF version (I'm really glad I bought the official Adventure Deck as a PDF before Pinnacle pulled it from sale).

You can download the Adventure Cards direct from here, or get them from the same location as the Player's Guide, Archetypes and One Sheets. It's quite a large file; as it's intended for printing, I've left the resolution at 300 DPI.

Friday, 17 March 2017

Can of Wyrms: One Sheet

In March last year I released Egg Hunt, an Easter themed One Sheet for Saga of the Goblin Horde. When I was updating the trade dress on my One Sheets in September last year, I had to adjust the text to make everything fit, so I decided to add a teaser about a possible sequel.

With Easter approaching, I decided to write the follow-up adventure, drawing inspiration from a conversation I had with Manuel Sambs. Having written one adventure where the characters fired themselves from catapults across the city, using their own gang members as cushions, and another adventure where the players stole an entire tavern and surfed it over a waterfall, I mentioned how it was going to be difficult to up the ante much further. Then I came up with the idea of fighting over a volcano on hang gliders...

Hang gliders weren't really an appropriate thematic fit, so I decided to use ornithopters instead. Gremlins love building crazy mechanical devices, after all!

You can download Can of Wyrms from here, along with the Saga of the Goblin Horde Player's Guide, Archetypes, and the seven other One Sheet adventures.

And if you've not seen it already, don't forget to check out my interview on the Wild Die Podcast, where I talk about some of my future plans for Saga of the Goblin Horde. You can also join the Facebook group if you have questions about the setting, or just want to follow the latest news.

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Evolution of a Map

I was recently talking to a friend of mine, who is writing a fantasy novel, and we started chatting about maps. I explained that I'd used Inkarnate to create my initial sketch, but commissioned Eli Kurtz of The Mythic Gazetteer to produce the final map - partially because it wasn't clear what the terms of use were for Inkarnate, but also because I felt the results didn't quite capture the look I was hoping to achieve.

While hunting around for some examples to show my friend, I came across my early sketches, and I thought it would be interesting to show the different stages the map went through as it evolved from a rough initial sketch into a polished final product.

When I first started working on Saga of the Goblin Horde, I envisioned an area of land that extended into the ocean, with mountains and a great river to the north, and a forest to the south, with the main human lands to the east. Some of these ideas can also be seen in the early One Sheets, but when I tried to turn the concept into a map, it felt extremely barren.

I started thinking up new terrain ideas while working on the setting fluff, and also divided the territory into the different regions controlled by the major tribes. This required carefully going over the One Sheets, making sure the geography fit with the earlier adventures. For example, Bone of Contention takes place in an old abbey which needed to be on the edge of the Redfang territory, but also needed to be close to the Bonedigger territory, so I decided to make them neighbouring tribes.

It was also at this point that Eli Kurtz started giving me advice on the geography, helping me to reshape the rivers, and expand the terrain to include swamps, plateaus, and more forests.

At this point I felt I had a pretty interesting region of world for the campaign to place, so I decided to commission a custom map. Eli already had a good idea of what I wanted, and I felt that his artistic style was a good fit for the book, so he started working on a new map.

Eli then added detail to the swamps, forests and mountains, and changed the lake to turn it into more of a teardrop shape (to better fit with its description in the gazetteer).

Eli continued fleshing out the terrain, finalizing the initial black and white version of the map.

Next came the color, starting with the ocean and forests. This actually required quite a bit of discussion, and we looked at other maps to see what sort of colors looked good and contrasted well together.

The rest of the map was then colored, using shades that contrasted well with the forest and ocean.

Finally, the swamps were darkened, while some highlighting and shadows were added to the mountains, and icons were added for the Dome of Shadows and Spire of Flame. The Obsidian Valley was also moved slightly so that it would better align with the hex grid I wanted to use.

At this point we asked a few other people for feedback, and someone pointed out that map was too dark, so we tried experimenting with different levels of brightness and contrast.

Some last adjustments were made to the colors, and Eli added some small tent and building icons, along with the compass and logo.

With the map itself complete, we then started discussing the labels for the different regions. I wanted to use the same font I'd used in the setting book, but it took quite a lot of experimentation to find a color that contrasted nicely with the background.

Of course I also wanted to include a hex grid, as the map had a functional purpose. Once again it took some effort to find a color that was easily visible against the background without overwhelming the map or labels (the usual black wouldn't work here, as the map itself was originally drawn in black, but brighter colors clashed with the text labels). In the end we settled on a semi-transparent white, with the hex grid drawn on a separate layer where it could be easily switched on and off.

I also wanted to use the map to indicate the territory of the different tribes. This involved quite a lot of discussion, and in the end Eli came up with a very cool "fog of war" effect, which he placed on a separate layer. This allowed me to include a separate version of the map within the book, showing which region each tribe controlled.

If you've not yet checked out the Saga of the Goblin Horde Player's Guide, you can grab it from here, and look at pages 9 and 38 to see how I ended up using Eli's map within the book. If you read through the gazetteer in the last chapter, you'll also see I made sure there was a section for each location marked on the map.