Monday, 21 August 2017

Saga of the Goblin Horde: Updated Player's Guide

The Saga of the Goblin Horde setting book is now getting very close to completion. I'm currently working on the tenth (and final) Plot Point episode, and there are a few extra monsters that I'd like to add to the bestiary, but after that it's on to the proofreading and finalizing a few outstanding layout issues, and then it'll be ready. The PDF is currently 102 pages, I expect the final book to be around 110 pages.

I released the player's guide six months ago today, but I've added a couple more setting rules since then (Quick Skirmish and Shenanigans), and also ended up dropping the Critical Failures setting rule. As a few people have expressed an interest in using the new setting rules, I thought I'd take the opportunity to update the player's guide (and fix an embarrassing typo at the same time).

As always, you can grab all the other freebies (34 archetypes, 12 adventures, 8 adventure cards and 5 battle maps) and check out the 3 Actual Plays along with my Wild Die interview here.

Swift d12 Playtest Report

Last night Mathew Halstead and I did a playtest of the latest Swift d12 Quick Start rules. I played Big Brak and he played Krusty Snaggletooth, and we ran through the Hot Water One Sheet, converting it on the fly from Savage Worlds to Swift d12. We shared GM duties and rolled for each other's foes in combat, but the focus was on testing the mechanics, so there was also a lot of metagame discussion going on.

Here's a short summary of my thoughts:

  • It's extremely quick and easy to convert Savage Worlds adventures to Swift d12, as long as you're fairly familiar with both systems. I can comfortably convert adventures on the fly without writing anything down in advance.
  • Extended actions with complications do a great job of simulating SW Dramatic Tasks, and the ability to invoke Flaws and knick-knacks really helps the narrative. When fleeing the inferno Big Brak decided to move his eyepatch to cover his healthy eye (invoking his One Eye flaw) and charged blindly into the fire (failure on a complication), getting badly burned. The next round I invoked the eyepatch, turning failure into a critical success, as the eyepatch protected his eye from the smoke!
  • We used the new Shenanigans setting rule, and it worked out great. Our gang members got up to all sorts of mischief, and it really felt like they were part of the story.
  • The new damage system felt faster and smoother, I'm very happy with it, however I'd still like to playtest it some more.
  • The new rules for invoking gear worked very well, however it adds complexity when gang members start doing it. One of Mathew's goblins snapped a bow string, while two others broke their spears, and we then needed to track how the individual gang members were armed. It also makes Mooks much more dangerous if they can invoke weapons.
  • The attack rolls still feel clunky, and I think it's the modifier for the foe's Agility that does it, where you're effectively flipping their Agility bonus into a penalty to your own attack (or flipping their Agility penalty into a bonus to your own attack).

The obvious solution to the attack roll problem would be to create a "defense" value (7+Agility), but I've been trying to avoid doing that, as it felt out of place. I prefer to either have the target number change or have a modifier to the roll, but not both - I think it's easier for players to remember that they always need 7+ to succeed.

However in the next playtest I think I will try it anyway: For opposed rolls (which includes attack rolls), the target's ability is added to the target number (i.e., 7) instead of being applied as a penalty to the roll. There would then be an implied passive "Defense" stat for each ability equal to 7+ability, with a critical success threshold of 13+ability.

So if you attacked a villager you'd need to roll 6+ to hit or 12+ for a critical (instead of applying an extra +1 bonus to your attack), while attacking a veteran soldier would require an 8+ to hit or 14+ for a critical (instead of applying a -1 penalty to your attack).

This probably seems like a minor detail (particularly if you've not played Swift d12), but I think it will make the attack rolls faster to resolve, particularly if the foe's Defense values are written down in advance.

Sunday, 20 August 2017

Saga of the Goblin Horde: Quick Start update

A few weeks ago, Marcus Burggraf ran a two-session playtest of Swift d12 using the Quick Start rules, and afterwards he posted some excellent feedback in the Google+ community. I've finally had the chance to incorporate his feedback along with some earlier suggestions (such as Jesse Covner's concerns with bruises and wounds), and have updated the Quick Start rules accordingly.

Get it here: SotGH Quick Start

Here is a quick summary of the changes in version 11:
  • Redesigned the damage system to use multiple health levels instead of the Brawn checks (which were effectively pseudo soak rolls, and the extra rolls slowed things down).
  • Armor is now added directly to Resilience, instead of being subtracted from damage (fewer calculations).
  • Added rules for invoking weapons and armor.
  • Knick-knacks are now invoked after (rather than before) rolling, to be consistent with weapons and armor.
  • Shields no longer give an armor bonus (although they can be invoked like armor).
  • Added "Dramatic Challenges" and "Social Challenges" as examples of extended actions, as these are the extended actions I use the most in my adventures (because they've been converted from SW).
  • Added a Surprise rule based on an idea from Mylon.
  • Revised the healing rules, adding healing checks.
  • Removed bruises and injuries, along with the Bruised and Injured conditions.
  • Ranged weapon damage is now based on Guile rather than Agility.
  • Fixed conflicting rules for ranged weapon penalties.
  • Expanded the section on stunts to provide a little more information on how to use them.

This latest version of the rules should run a little faster and smoother, with fewer rolls, simpler calculations, and less information to track.

I'm still finalizing the magic system, but will leave that for a later version, as it's not essential for the Quick Start. I have three playtesting sessions lined up over the next few days, so I wanted to make sure the rules were uploaded in advance.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Setting Rule: Shenanigans

Savage Worlds is very good at handling large numbers of combatants without significantly slowing down, with heroes often facing hordes of foes, sometimes supported by allied Extras of their own. In fact some people even play the system as a skirmish-level wargame, using the Showdown rules.

Saga of the Goblin Horde was specifically designed to play to the strengths of Savage Worlds, so I decided to showcase the benefits of allied Extras by having the players take on the role of goblinoid bosses, each leading their own gang of goblin minions into battle.

While the goblin gang members make great meat shields and expendable cannon fodder, they tend to be relegated to a background role outside of combat, if not ignored outright. Some players will incorporate them into the descriptions of their actions - for example, Harrison Hunt recently discussed how one of his player ordered his minions to build him a shelter (listen to the hilarious story here, the shelter part is at 18:25), and in a previous game I ran, one player even rolled a die every so often to determine what his gang members were doing.

So I started wondering if I could add a simple setting rule, to give the players more incentives to incorporate their gang members into the story...

Setting rule: Shenanigans

Goblins are a crazy and undisciplined lot, and gangs often get up to all manner of mischief and mayhem while their boss's back is turned. At the beginning of each scene, players with fewer than three Bennies and at least one surviving gang member have the option of invoking shenanigans.

The player draws a card to determine what one of their gang members has been up to, and earns a Benny for describing and embellish the flunky's actions and/or fate. The suit of the card can also be used for inspiration in the tale: Clubs often involves excessive violence, Diamonds might indicate that the gang member was driven by greed for riches, Hearts typically represents lust or desire, and Spades usually involves the search for something.

2: Found and ate something utterly disgusting. The gang member must make a Vigor roll to survive!
3: Beaten to death by another goblin while your back was turned. Nobody owns up to it.
4: Got into a fight or pulled a stupid prank, and have been knocked out for the scene.
5: Drank some fermented mushroom juice, and passed out for the scene.
6: Busy tormenting a small animal while the rest of the gang watch in glee. Your gang members all start the scene Shaken.
7: They become very rowdy; you and your gang suffer a -2 penalty to Stealth and Notice rolls this scene.
8: Disappeared for some private time, they will be back next scene.
9: Disappeared and won't be back, either they're dead or they deserted.
10: Decided it's time that they became boss; they Wild Attack you with the Drop, then fight to the death.
Jack: Performed an act of utter stupidity that resulted in a very painful and embarrassing death.
Queen: Accidentally stabbed you with their spear; you suffer 2d6 damage.
King: Did something unspeakably revolting. You and your gang must all make Spirit rolls or start the scene Shaken.
Ace: Tripped or pushed you at the worst possible moment; you suffer a level of Fatigue from Bumps and Bruises.
Joker: Scavenged or stole a knick-knack from somewhere. You can take it off them by force, and keep it for yourself!

Friday, 11 August 2017

Situational Rule: Pursuits

The chase rules in Savage Worlds are good at representing dogfights and mobile combat encounters, where two sides exchange attacks while running (or driving) neck-and-neck across the landscape. But sometimes a character is simply trying to escape, perhaps from overwhelming odds or an invincible foe, and the chase rules don't really work so well when only one side can attack, and the other just wants to escape.


The Pursuit rules are designed for situations in which a character's goal is simply to escape their pursuers, either by outrunning them, or by ducking into a hiding spot without being seen. The idea is to give both the pursuers and the pursuee different tactical maneuvers, so that the scene is more than just a race to the finish line.

These mechanics are particularly well suited to urban environments, and would be an excellent fit for settings like Guild of Shadows, where the characters can frequently find themselves escaping combat and fleeing the authorities, or horror settings, where unlucky investigators might find themselves being pursued by unspeakable (and unbeatable) monstrosities.


Pursuits allow characters to take advantage of the scenery, clambering up trees, jumping between rooftops, ducking into alleyways, and so on. As always with abstract subsystems like this, narration is key. A combat encounter where people just say things like “I roll to attack, I hit for 10 damage!” will have no flavor or immersion, and the same is true for pursuits. It’s essential that the Game Master and players describe their actions, using the mechanics to support the narrative, not to replace it.

Each pursuit is divided into six range steps, which are marked on a Pursuit Chart: close, short, medium, long, extreme, and trailing. Pursuers can be represented on the chart with minis or tokens. Characters cannot make Fighting attacks unless they are at close range, while ranged attacks can be performed at close, short, medium or long range, with the appropriate range penalty applied to the attack. Weapons with exceptionally long range (such as rifles) or short range (such as throwing knives) should apply the penalty as if they were one range step closer or further away.

Initiating a Pursuit

During combat, characters can initiate a pursuit on their turn by declaring their intent to escape.

The "escape" maneuver requires a successful Agility roll as a full-round action. If successful, the character flees combat, provoking free attacks as normal. Anyone wishing to pursue can simply declare that they are giving chase, and they are automatically moved to short range on the Pursuit Chart.

Each fleeing character should have their own Pursuit Chart. Characters can remain together if they wish, as long as they maintain the same pace, but this is only a narrative conceit; they are still tracked separately.

In the case of a vehicular chase, only the driver is tracked for the purposes of the pursuit.


Characters draw action cards at the beginning of each round in the same way as combat. Those with a higher action card may choose to act before or after those with lower cards; sometimes it's preferable to act later in the round, after you've had a chance to see what your opponent is doing.

Each character may perform one pursuit maneuver on their turn as a normal action. Other actions are also permitted, including attacks, tricks, tests of will, pushes, spellcasting, and so on, at the Game Master's discretion. Characters wishing to perform multiple actions suffer the usual multiaction penalty.

Explicit movement actions are not used during a pursuit, as it's assumed the characters are always moving. If a character doesn't perform any pursuit maneuvers, they are still pursuing or fleeing, but they don't make any progress relative to their opponent this round.

At the end of the round, anyone at trailing range automatically drops out of the pursuit.


Pursuit maneuvers use a "maneuvering trait", which is Agility if you're on foot, Swimming if you're swimming, or Boating, Driving or Piloting if you're in a vehicle. These maneuvers are normal actions, and each characters can perform a maximum of one pursuit maneuver on their turn (although they can perform other actions as well if they wish).

The following three maneuvers are available to pursuers:

Pursue: Make a maneuvering trait roll to move one step closer on the Pursuit Chart. Should this put you at close range, you may also move into close combat, meaning your opponent will provoke a free attack if they continue running. When chasing someone with a higher Pace, you suffer a -1 penalty to your roll, or -2 if their Pace is twice yours or higher. If your Pace is higher than theirs, you gain a +1 bonus to your roll, or +2 if your Pace is at least twice theirs.

Drive: Make an opposed maneuvering trait roll against your target to drive them in a particular direction, perhaps by cutting off an avenue of escape while herding them toward other pursuers. This maneuver can only be used at close or short range, and if successful it allows every other pursuer at long, extreme or trailing range to immediately use the pursue maneuver as a free action (this is in addition to their own pursuit maneuvers, although character cannot make more than one free pursue maneuver each round). Apply the same bonuses and penalties as the pursue maneuver when driving someone who is faster or slower than you.

Lookout: Make a Climbing roll to clamber up a tree, onto a rooftop, etc. You move one step further away on the Pursuit Chart, but can shout directions to your allies, giving them +1 to their pursue maneuvers as long as you maintain your vantage point (this doesn’t stack with the bonus from other lookouts). At the Game Master’s discretion, it may be possible to continue the pursuit by jumping from roof to roof (or across the clifftops, or a narrow overhead ledge, etc, depending on terrain), however you suffer a -2 penalty to your pursue maneuvers while doing this. You can jump down again as a free action.

The following three maneuvers are available to the fleeing character:

Flee: Make a maneuvering trait roll to move everyone on your Pursuit Chart one step further away, or two steps if they have half your Pace or lower. Pursuers with twice your Pace or higher are not normally affected by this maneuver, unless you’re able to take a route they cannot directly follow (perhaps because they’re larger than you, or riding a mount). You may take a difficult path if you wish; this gives you a -2 penalty to your trait roll, but everyone chasing you also suffers a -2 penalty to their pursue maneuvers until the beginning of your next turn, unless they are using the lookout maneuver to pursue you.

Hide: You attempt to lose your pursuers by ducking into an alleyway or finding some other hiding spot. Make an opposed Stealth roll against your pursuers' Notice, those at long range receive a +2 bonus to their rolls, while those at medium range receive a +4 bonus. This maneuver cannot be used if you have any pursuers at close or short range. Any pursuers who succeed their Notice rolls are immediately moved to close range, but if none succeed then you escape. If you are fleeing multiple pursuers, those who succeeded their Notice rolls can shout a warning to the others, who are moved to medium range.

Backtrack: You wait until your pursuers get close, then rush past them in the opposite direction. Make a maneuvering trait roll, each pursuer makes an opposed roll against it: those who succeed receive a free attack at close range. If you manage to get away, all pursuers who won the opposed roll are moved to medium range, while those who failed are moved to long range. You can attack at close range while passing your pursuers if you wish, applying the usual multiaction penalty.

Note: These rules are based on a design I originally proposed here for Swift d12.

Monday, 3 July 2017

Plot Point Episodes should Impact the Story

A couple of months ago I gave an overview of the Plot Point Campaign in Saga of the Goblin Horde, and described the War Clock mechanism I use to track the escalation of the war, triggering Plot Point Episodes in response to the players' actions during Savage Tales; the more murderous and destructive the goblins are, the faster the human retaliate.

This time I'd like to talk about a technique I use within the Plot Point Episodes themselves, inspired by the final chapter in the Heroes of Drakonheim adventure, where the players have to build up their Mass Battle tokens by recruiting allies.

Adventuring is not a Spectator Sport

I once read a fantasy novel in which the inept hero blundered from one failure to the next, outsmarted by the villain at every turn. At the end of the story, the villain completed his magical ritual - and died, because he made a mistake that he couldn't possibly have known about in advance. In effect the hero was just a spectator in the story. He "won" through a technicality, but he might as well have stayed at home, because his "quest" had absolutely no impact on the outcome. The villain was going to lose regardless.

Campaigns can sometimes feel the same way. One of my personal pet peeves with some Plot Point Episodes is that the players' actions seem to have no tangible impact on the overall story. If the players fail to rescue the informant, they get the information from someone else. If they fail to save the hostages, it doesn't really matter, life goes on as before. If they fail to steal the MacGuffin, they can just find an alternative way to continue to the next adventure. It can sometimes start to feel as if the players actions don't really matter, win or lose the result will be the same; they might as well just go to the pub and wait for the final episode.

Now obviously you don't want an adventure to be a roadblock that kills the campaign, because failure is certainly a possibility. But I do think the players actions should have a significant and tangible effect on the overall story, the adventure shouldn't just be something that "happens" to the characters, followed by a Reset Button Ending. The players should be driving the plot, not just sitting in the passenger seat.

Degrees of Victory

The approach I'm using in Saga of the Goblin Horde is to provide three possible outcomes for each of the triggered Plot Point Episodes, and these will have a direct effect on the final episode.

In Short Straw the players have to prevent an invading army of "mountain humans" (i.e., dwarves) from leaving their tunnels. If they fail, the Stonefist tribe will eventually fight off the army and prevent the invasion, but they'll suffer heavy casualties in the process, leaving them unable to provide any significant aid in the final battle. On the other hand, if the players manage to block the entire army, the Stonefist tribe will owe them a favor (a bit like an Adventure Card that the party can redeem at any point later in the campaign for a special benefit) and commit themselves fully to the final battle. A partial mission success falls somewhere between the two, with the Stonefist tribe providing limited aid in the final battle.

The other adventures follow a similar trend, with the characters aiding and recruiting the other tribes, forging alliances and recruiting allies as the war escalates. If the players don't bother fighting off the human attacks, the story will still carry on, but one by one the other goblin tribes will fall, and in the final battle the Redfang tribe will find itself standing alone against insurmountable odds (and almost certainly lose as a result).

The players can afford a few failures, but each victory will give them a much-needed edge. They will need to win some battles before they can win the war.

Friday, 23 June 2017

Worm Food: One Sheet

Last night, Manuel Sambs of Veiled Fury Entertainment ran a brand new Saga of the Goblin Horde adventure for Harrison Hunt and Nikk Lambley of the TableTop Twats Podcast. It was the second Actual Play to be recorded (the first being Eric Lamoureux's awesome 6 Heads for the Head Honcho), and it was hilarious, well worth watching! You can see it here.

The original Worm Food adventure was designed to take place at the same time as Head Hunters (and Manuel also ran it that way, with references to the Head Hunters Plot Point episode), however I wanted a One Sheet that could easily be inserted anywhere in the campaign, so I adjusted the introduction to make it a bit more generic.

You can grab the One Sheet here: Worm Food for Savage Worlds.

In case anyone is wondering, the name of the rabbitfolk leader is a reference to both Bambi and Dune, and the premise of the adventure was inspired by an Oglaf comic strip (very NSFW, so I'm not linking to it, but I strongly recommend checking out Oglaf if you're not easily offended).

If you're interested in following the progress of Saga of the Goblin Horde, don't forget to sign up to the official Facebook group.

Saga of the Goblin Horde Actual Play

Last night, Manuel Sambs of Veiled Fury Entertainment ran a Savage Worlds Actual Play, starring Harrison Hunt and Nikk Lambley of the TableTop Twats Podcast. The live stream had the end chopped off, but the full recording has now been uploaded to YouTube, and it's hilarious! Check it out:

Monday, 19 June 2017

Coming Soon: Saga of the Goblin Horde Actual Play on Twitch

This Thursday at 7pm GMT (3pm EST), Veiled Fury Entertainment will be running a Savage Worlds Actual Play, live on Twitch. Starring the infamous hosts of the TableTop Twats Podcast, this promises to be an epic tale filled with massive monsters, greased-up goblins, casual cannibalism, and wily wabbitfolk!

They've come all the way from Hightree Ridge, enticed by the promise of fame, glory, and as many humans as they can eat. Meet Hammy Groingazer and Niklam Hammerface, the brutal borderland brothers, known among the tribes as the Treetop Twits!

Watch with delight as they attempt the most insanely dangerous stunt they've ever undertaken. Laugh at their expense as they become...

Worm Food: An appropriately hard mission for a couple of inappropriately hard goblins.

Veiled Fury Entertainment will also be releasing the adventure at the end of the show, so if you fancy adding another Saga of the Goblin Horde One Sheet to your collection, make sure you tune in!

Monday, 12 June 2017

Saga of the Goblin Horde: Updated Quick Start

Earlier this month I released some Quick Start rules for the Swift d12 version of Saga of the Goblin Horde, which covered the game rules and character creation. The problem is it was mostly crunch, so anyone wishing to use the setting still needed to reference the Savage Worlds version of the player's guide. It also made the PDF feel pretty dry.

So I decided to sandwich the crunch between the introduction and the gazetteer. Then for good measure, I added Dungeon Squat to the end as an introductory adventure, and included six of the archetypes as pregenerated characters.

The end result is a standalone Quick Start book that contains everything you need to introduce the Saga of the Goblin Horde setting and run a play test using the Swift d12 system.

Get it here: Saga of the Goblin Horde Quick Start

If you're interested in following the progress of the Saga of the Goblin Horde setting, there's Facebook group for it here. If you're more interested in the Swift d12 system, there's a Google+ community for it here.

Saturday, 3 June 2017

Saga of the Goblin Horde: Swift d12 Quick Start Rules

Last month I threw together a streamlined "Lite" edition of the Swift d12 system, which reduced the full rules down to around 10% of their original size (!). After some consideration I decided that I rather like the simplified solution, at least in the short term - it's tighter, dropping and/or merging many of the bulkier and unfinished sections, and it's simpler and easier to understand, but it still retains the same general feel.

Saga of the Goblin Horde was always intended to be a fairly small setting, and I think it would be better served by a smaller set of rules. That certainly doesn't mean I'm throwing the full Swift d12 system away, I could easily see an expanded ruleset being a better fit for some of the other settings I have planned in the future. But I won't ever reach that point if I can't convince people to try out my system, and I think a lighter set of rules will be a much easier sell.

So, going back to the streamlined version, I decided to polish it and expand it into a set of quickstart rules, which you can download here:

There are 5 pages of rules, and 1 page of character creation, followed by 3 pages of Flaws and 2 pages of Feats. It might seem a bit odd to have so many Feats and Flaws, but they're an essential part of creating interesting characters, and without them the character creation rules felt wishy-washy and uninspiring.

I'm still trying to decide how best to deal with equipment. Right now weapons and armor just get a brief overview, as the plan is to cover them in more detail in a separate chapter. But for the quickstart rules, perhaps one extra page for gear would be appropriate.

Saturday, 27 May 2017

Blackwood: Only a couple of days left to back the Kickstarter!

There are only a couple of days left on the Blackwood Kickstarter, so if you've not backed it yet, what are you waiting for? If you're on the fence, you can download the free Year in the Blackwood bundle, which contains a setting primer, 6 pregenerated characters, and 4 One Sheet adventures - easily enough to get a feel for the setting, and run a few adventures for your group. Backers also get immediate access to the working draft of the setting.

The Blackwood is a fantasy setting that might best be described as the Brothers Grimm meets Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. I had the pleasure of designing a few of their Edges and Hindrances, and also did the layout work for a couple of their One Sheets, so I'm pleased to see the Kickstarter has reached its funding goal. However if the appropriate stretch goals are reached, I'll also be writing a Blackwood adventure, and designing their Campaign Deck!

So make sure you check it out if you think it might be your sort of setting; if you wait until it hits DTRPG, the stretch goals may never get reached.

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.