Tuesday, 17 December 2019

Ebenezer’s Gold


Gold & Glory was first released in October 2017, and I was immediately impressed by the way it blended old school concepts with modern game design, offering a versatile toolkit for dungeon crawls using the Savage Worlds ruleset. I even wrote a Saga of the Goblin Horde crossover adventure for it, called Hightree Warren!

Recently, Gold & Glory was updated to SWADE, and Giuseppe Rotondo asked if I’d like to write a Christmas-themed adventure for it. Although I don’t really do freelance work anymore, I like to release a Christmas-themed adventure every year, so I agreed.

You can buy it here: Ebenezer's Gold

Inspired by the protagonist of "A Christmas Carol", Ebenezer's Gold leads the adventurers on a search for a deceased money-lender's hidden treasure. The heroes will have to fight their way past possessed dolls, animated furniture, armies of toy soldiers, and more -- because in this dungeon, even the treasure fights back!

I've tried to keep the seasonal references subtle (at least compared to my earlier Christmas-themed adventures), so it can easily be used as a regular dungeon as well. The adventure is a little tongue-in-cheek, but it can also be run as a horror-based scenario.

Saturday, 16 November 2019

Tricube Tales: Using Saga of the Goblin Horde (and other Savage Worlds settings)

Back in March, I released a One Sheet RPG called Tricube Tales. The reception was pretty lukewarm, but from the little feedback I did receive, it was clear the rules needed some detailed explanations and lots of examples. Then DriveThruRPG started promoting their new Phone PDF format, and I thought "Why not? Tricube Tales is designed for low-prep gaming -- and having it on your smartphone would be pretty convenient!"

So I expanded it to around 5000 words, adding examples and explanations along with optional rules for different genres, and last week I published it as a 38-page Phone PDF. I made the full PDF available as a free download, but for $1 you also get the tablet version (at 4:3 screen ratio with higher-resolution art) and a Word document (I've released the system under the CC BY 3.0 license, and the Word document is easier for copying the text into your own products).

Check it out if you haven't already: Tricube Tales

Of course, as soon as I published it, I was asked how Tricube Tales could be used with Saga of the Goblin Horde! So here's how I would do it (note that most of these guidelines could also be applied to other Savage Worlds settings):

Action Resolution

Trait rolls in Savage Worlds are usually made at +0, -2 or -4. In Tricube Tales, I recommend treating these as easy, standard and hard challenges respectively (so +0 or higher is "easy", -1 to -3 is "standard", and -4 or lower is "hard").

Resolve Strength or Vigor rolls as brawny challenges. Resolve Agility rolls (or skills linked to Agility) as agile challenges. Resolve Smarts or Spirit rolls (or skills linked to either attribute) as crafty challenges.

While Tricube Tales doesn't have individual skills, it does use character concepts to define scope of knowledge -- for example, if Saga of the Goblin Horde calls for a Tracking roll at -2, that would be treated as a standard crafty challenge, but characters without an appropriate concept (such as hunter, tracker, scout, etc) would lose a die from their roll.

Combat

For combat encounters (including Quick Combat and Quick Skirmish), use the Hack-and-Slash genre rule from Tricube Tales. It should be pretty easy to eyeball monster stats using the SotGH bestiary as a reference.

Chases could also be resolved mechanically in the same way as combat, the difference is you're trying to escape from (or catch) your opponent, instead of defeating them.

Optional Initiative: If you're a diehard fan of the Savage Worlds initiative system, you could easily use it for Tricube Tales instead of the normal narrative-based approach: PCs normally draw one card each turn, but they may spend a karma token to draw a second card if they have a suitable perk (or draw two cards use the lowest by using an appropriate flaw). Monsters typically draw one card, but if they're particularly fast or slow, the GM should draw two cards and keep the highest or lowest. If a PC draws a joker, the difficulty of all their rolls this turn is reduced by 1; if a monster draws a joker, the difficulty of all rolls made against them this turn is increased by 1.

Goblin Gangs

Minions are usually abstracted away in Tricube Tales, but they're a major part of Saga of the Goblin Horde, so I recommend adding a new mechanic for them: Gang tokens. Each player starts with three gang tokens, and they can increase this maximum with advances in exactly the same way as karma and resolve (i.e., every second advance can be spent on a gang token instead of karma or resolve, up to a maximum of six). Gang tokens are usually recovered at the beginning of each adventure (unless the boss has the opportunity to recruit replacements during the session, at the GM's discretion).

Meat Shield: If physical damage from a challenge roll would lead to the loss of one or more resolve, the player can spend one gang token instead.

Shenanigans: At the beginning of each scene, you can recover one karma token by rolling d6 on the Shenanigans table and narrating an appropriate effect.
  1. A gang member injures you, intentionally or otherwise. Lose one resolve and one gang token (either you kill them, or they flee).
  2. Someone killed your flunky, or perhaps the foolish goblin killed themselves. You lose one gang token.
  3. Your minion is drunk, hallucinating, unconscious, or busy doing something else. Put the gang token to one side, you can't use it again for the remainder of the scene.
  4. The gang member causes a distraction. The Game Master should increase the difficulty of one challenge this scene by +1.
  5. The little runt does something stupid. The GM should introduce an appropriate complication during this scene.
  6. Your flunky does something useful for once! You may recover one resolve token instead of the normal karma token if you wish.
The SotGH "Loner" Hindrance isn't a very good fit for Tricube Tales. but if you really want to use it (perhaps for converting an existing character, such as Kronan Halfblood from the archetypes PDF), treat it as an optional extra that players can choose during character creation if they wish:

Loner: This boss doesn't have any gang tokens, and can never gain any. However, they begin with 4 karma and 4 resolve tokens, instead of the usual 3.

Goblinoid Races

Each goblinoid race has a specific advantage that can be used like a perk, and a disadvantage that can be used like a quirk. Use the descriptive text from Saga of the Goblin Horde to get a better idea of what each race is like.

Bugbear: Huge (perk) and vicious (quirk).
Goblin: Nimble (perk) and small (quirk).
Gremlin: Inventive (perk) and small (quirk).
Hobgoblin: Militant (perk) and proud (quirk).
Half-Human: Strong-willed (perk) and hated (quirk).

Magic

If you want magic to feel like Savage Worlds, use the Spell Lists option from the Magic & Psionics genre rule in Tricube Tales, except each character starts with three spells instead of six, and must spend an advance to gain each additional spell. Use the flavor text from the Savage Worlds powers and trappings as a guideline for determining what your character can do.

However, I'd personally suggest keeping things simple: allow players to choose a general style of magic, such as pyromancy, shamanism, etc, and pick one Magic Limitation for it. Don't bother tracking individual spells.

Gear and Knick-Knacks

Equipment is abstracted in Tricube Tales, and I don't recommend changing that. Players can make a note of their knick-knacks for flavor purposes if they wish, and even incorporate them into the descriptions of their actions, but don't bother applying specific mechanical effects.

If a player desperately wants their knick-knacks to provide an actual bonus, ask them to take a perk for it (one perk for all their knick-knacks should be sufficient, there's no need to take a separate perk for each knick-knack).

Other Rules

Earning Bennies: SotGH adventures often suggest awarding Bennies for certain achievements during a scene. It is generally recommended that you don't award karma in these cases, or the players will probably earn too many tokens, and then won't need to use their quirks.

Interludes: You don't really need a deck of cards, the player can just make up a short story in return for a karma token (this can temporarily take them up to one token over their normal maximum). However, if you're using the Saga of the Goblin Horde Countdown Deck anyway, the player could draw 1-3 cards and use their saga symbols as inspiration for the tale.

Dramatic Tasks: The challenge requires 5 effort tokens (usually at standard difficulty), and the player must remove all the tokens in 5 turns. If you're using the Countdown Deck and want to spice things up a bit, draw a card each turn, and on clubs the difficulty increases by 1 for the turn (don't be tempted to treat failure on clubs as a critical failure though, it'll be too risky due to Tricube Tales' lack of rerolls and cooperative rolls).

Social Conflicts: The challenge has 5 effort tokens (usually at easy difficulty), and the player has to remove as many as possible in 3 turns. The number of tokens removed indicates the margin of success.

Summary

Savage Worlds is a rules-medium roleplaying system with a strong emphasis on combat, and abstract rules for handling a variety of other situations. If you enjoy tactical combat using minis, it's great, and would be one of my top picks.

Tricube Tales is a rules-light roleplaying system with unified mechanics and a focus on narrate-based gameplay. It draws inspiration from games like Fate, Blades in the Dark, Risus, Tiny Dungeons, and Blood & Bile, and it's designed to be very fast and easy to play.

I think you could certainly use Tricube Tales to run Saga of the Goblin Horde, particularly for one-shots, but the emphasis would be more on the story and player narrative, and far less on game mechanics. Combat would take a backseat role, becoming just another type of challenge for the bosses to overcome -- it would be a bit like running Saga of the Goblin Horde in Savage Worlds, except treating every combat encounter as a Quick Skirmish.

Wednesday, 25 September 2019

Savage Worlds: Pricing your SWAG

The Savage Worlds Adventurer’s Guild (SWAG) launched at the beginning of this year, and there have already been dozens of products released through the program, as well as a rapidly growing community of designers on the unofficial Savage Worlds Discord server. But one area that many people seem unsure about is pricing, so I thought it would be interesting to take a look through the SWAG releases and get a rough idea of their price/page ratio, much like I did for licensee products a few years ago.

It must be stressed that these figures have very limited value when viewed in isolation, because many other factors come into play -- the page size, the font and layout, the amount of artwork, the utility and complexity of the product, and so on. However, when combined and averaged, these figures can at least give you a feel for the sort of price range SWAG products typically sell for, and by comparing your product with other products of similar size and content, you can get an idea of what customers are willing to pay.

I should also stress that this post is not intended as a criticism of other people's pricing! There's quite a lot of variation between publishers, and I think that's great because it allows us to compare and optimize our strategies. In time, I imagine we'll see products start to align more closely in terms of price -- but SWAG is still relatively young, and it'll take time to establish a set of norms.


The 65 SWAG products listed above have a total of 787 pages for $122.71, which averages out at $0.16 per page. However, this figure is somewhat distorted by the larger PDFs, where the price/page is usually much lower. If we ignore the 5 highest and 5 lowest priced products, the average comes to $0.21 per page. Ignoring the 10 highest/lowest gives $0.27 per page, and ignoring the 20 highest/lowest gives $0.34 per page.

Note: I didn't include my Wild West Countdown Deck in the above list, as I price decks differently from books. Print-on-demand action decks typically sell for $10-$15, and I sell mine for $12. I sell the print-it-yourself PDF version for $3. More information about designing and selling decks can be found here.

My Pricing Strategy

My own approach to SWAG pricing has been to pick a nice round number that falls in the range of 10-20 cents per page, not counting the cover, credits, or table of contents. In the case of my Fantasy Archetypes, I also didn't count the duplicated pages (each character had a male and female illustration on a separate page, but the text was practically identical for both versions).

For larger books, I'd gradually reduce the price per page, to a minimum of around 5-10 cents per page. So for a 150-page setting book, for example, I'd be probably aiming for something in the range $7.50-$15.00 (most likely $10, that seems to be a sweet spot for many people).

Of course, I'm still trying to get a feel for different pricing and marketing strategies, so I may well end up changing my mind in a few months. But at least this gives me a rough figure to work with.

Free, PWYW, Pseudo-PWYW and Fixed Pricing

I've released a lot of free products in the past, as well as a couple of Pay-What-You-Want (PWYW) products. But over the last few months, someone has been vote-bombing all the free and PWYW products on DTRPG, damaging publisher ratings and pushing free/PWYW products down the search lists, so I've moved over to fixed pricing.

There is a middle ground though, something I keep meaning to try -- you can give a product a fixed price, but also upload the full PDF as a "custom preview", then in the product description invite people to download it for free or pay a dollar if they like it. Only those who choose to pay will be able to rate or review the product.

However, the most effective approach does seem to be a fixed price, and the SWAG guidelines even give some suggestions, noting that "the most successful price points are $1.00, $2.00, $2.95, $3.95, $4.99, $7.95, $10.00, $14.95, and $19.99."

Best Seller Medals and Hottest SWAG Titles

You may have noticed some SWAG products have a medal. These are awarded based on the total number of sales (including PWYW, as long as the customer paid at least 1 cent). It doesn't matter how much the customer paid, only that they paid something, so free downloads don't count. Note that an order containing multiple copies of a product only counts as one sale.
Copper Medal: 51+ sales.
Silver Medal: 101+ sales.
Electrum Medal: 251+ sales.
Gold Medal: 501+ sales.
Platinum Medal: 1001+ sales.
Mithril Medal: 2001+ sales.
Adamantine Medal: 5001+ sales.
By contrast, the "Hottest" lists are based on how much money your products have earned over time (based on the date they were first made public). This is why newer products tend to jump to the front of the hottest list, and then gradually slide back down. Whereas cheaper product might make more sales (and thus earn a higher medal), expensive products tend to do better in the Hottest list.

Thursday, 1 August 2019

Savage Worlds Licensing: Ace, Fan or SWAG?

Back in January, Pinnacle Entertainment Group (PEG) announced the Savage Worlds Adventurer’s Guild (SWAG), a new Community Content program for Savage Worlds. On 27th May I released my first SWAG product, and on 22nd July I uploaded my second (this one is a PoD product, so it takes longer, as I have to wait for the OneBookShelf (OBS) staff to set it up).

I already had a DTRPG publisher account with free Savage Worlds products and several commercial products (Blood & Bile, the SotGH Configurable Map, and the SotGH, Monster and Galactic Countdown Decks). However, my new Fantasy Archetypes on SWAG rapidly outsold all of my earlier products by a significant margin. But at the same time, I found myself chafing at the limited storefront interface, and so I thought it might be interesting to take a look at the different options available to publishers and see how they compare.

Licenses

Savage Worlds has three third-party licenses: Ace, Fan, and SWAG.

Being an Ace is the most versatile option, but you have to email PEG to negotiate permission for the license. These licenses are granted to people, not products, and the requirements vary from person to person. Aces can sell products on DTRPG or on other sites, they can use Kickstarter and other crowdsourcing programs, they can use Patreon, and so on. Aces can also use "Licensee Authorized Material" from the core rules and companions in their products, and they enjoy a lot of promotional support from PEG.

Fan licensed products don't require explicit permission, and their existence is mostly ignored by PEG, which can be both a curse and a blessing. Fans can distribute anywhere they like (including on DTRPG using a full publisher account), but their products must be released for free -- they can't even make them PWYW. This obviously rules out a direct print-on-demand option, although as a last resort you can always do what I did for Saga of the Goblin Horde, and release a print-ready PDF and printing instructions.

SWAG products don't require explicit permission from PEG, and they can be sold, however, they can only be distributed through the SWAG storefront, and they must be written for SWADE (not SWD any other earlier versions of the rules). SWAG publishers have access to additional art assets (although it seems Aces can use these assets too), and can offer print-on-demand products (although this has to be done manually by an OBS service rep, SWAG publishers can't do it themselves). SWAG products seem to have a little more wiggle room than Aces when it comes to content, but not as much creative freedom as Fan publishers.

DriveThruRPG vs SWAG

SWAG is a Community Content program operated by OBS, effectively a DTRPG storefront customized for Savage Worlds. Many other roleplaying systems offer something similar, although they usually take a 20% cut (SWAG only takes 10%), and require you to write content for their official setting/s -- whereas SWAG doesn't currently allow you to write for any settings, but does allow you to create your own. If you sell a $10 product on SWAG, OBS takes $3, PEG takes $1, and you keep the remaining $6.

DriveThruRPG publishers can choose between an exclusive and non-exclusive publication license, allowing them to keep 70% or 65% of the sales respectively. Aces are required to give 10% of their cut (as opposed to the total sale) to PEG, so if they sell a $10 product with an exclusive license, OBS takes $3, PEG takes $0.70, and they keep the remaining $6.30 -- while if they have a non-exclusive license, OBS takes $3.50, PEG takes $0.65, and they keep the remaining $5.85.

Marketing

SWAG doesn't allow you to track or email your customers (not even to notify them when you've updated a PDF), which makes it very difficult to inform your fanbase when you release something new. It also doesn't allow you to view sales reports, sales sources, pending purchases, page visits, cross-publisher sales, or any of the other valuable marketing data available to regular DTRPG publishers -- you can only view the raw number of sales and total earnings between two dates.

SWAG also doesn't allow you to earn or spend Publisher Promotion Points (PPP), which allow DTRPG publishers to massively drive up their sales using powerful marketing tools such as Deal of the Day, Featured Product, banners, and so on.

Finally, although you can still list yourself as the author of a SWAG product, PEG will always be listed as the publisher, and you don't have the option of designing and customizing a publisher page to help build your brand.

These limitations probably won't matter to a casual Savage Worlds fan hoping to sell one or two small products, but for someone planning to get into serious publishing, it's likely to become a deal-breaker.

Sales

SWAG also falls short when it comes to sale options. You cannot set an "original price" for products (which is how DTRPG publishers display discounts in red text with the original price struck through). You can't opt-in (or out) of site-wide sales (those are entirely up to PEG), nor can you run your own sales.

It is possible to create bundles, and you can even add non-SWAG products to a SWAG bundle (but not the other way around). For example, if you released a system-agnostic setting book through your DTRPG publisher account, and a Savage Worlds companion on SWAG, you could put both in the same bundle as long as that bundle was created on SWAG.

Finally, SWAG doesn't have access to royalty tools. This is a useful feature for DTRPG publishers, as it allows them to offer contributors a cut of the sales, or split profits with co-authors, or even offer other publishers a percentage when writing for their system or setting. It would have been a great feature for Aces wishing to sublicense their settings to SWAG publishers.

Distribution

DTRPG publishers can distribute their products anywhere they like if they have a non-exclusive license, and even those with an exclusive license can sell their PDFs from their own website if they wish, or sell their printed products anywhere they please. It's not unusual for publishers to sell printed copies or even PDFs of their products at gaming conventions (in the case of PDFs, they make the sale then send the customer a "free" copy through DTRPG).

By contrast, your SWAG products must be sold exclusively through the SWAG storefront. You could hand out discount codes to prospective customers at a convention, but you can't sell them the PDF directly or show off a nice stack of shiny printed books (unless they literally are just for show, and not for sale).

When SWAG was first announced, several people discussed it as a stepping stone to becoming an Ace. While this is certainly an option, it's important to remember that once you've posted something on SWAG, you cannot later move it to DTRPG, so it becomes a bit of a dead-end for any product lines you plan to publish (if you put your setting book on SWAG, it'll stay there, and you won't be able to bundle it with any products you later publish on the main DTRPG store). Thus if you are planning to use SWAG as a stepping stone, I'd recommend using it for smaller standalone products.

Summary

Most Community Content programs are introduced as the sole means of commercial publication for a particular system, or at least offer unique options to offset the drawbacks (such as the DMs Guild vs OSR). However, Savage Worlds already had Aces (or "Official Licensees" as they used to be called) for many years, and they've contributed greatly to the success of the system. PEG obviously didn't want to drive them away by forcing everyone to use SWAG.

However, as things currently stand, it's much better to be an Ace rather than a SWAG publisher. This isn't necessarily a bad thing if PEG wants SWAG to serve as a stepping stone to Ace status, or as a fallback for those who can't become Aces, or for those who just want to dabble with some very basic self-publishing. But if the goal of SWAG is to become a viable alternative to being an Ace, I think it needs to offer something that Aces can't do -- perhaps PEG could open up two or three settings (even if they start with something small like Evernight). I've seen people publish on the DMs Guild because they wanted to write for Eberron, and I'm sure that even some Aces would use SWAG if it allowed them to write for Deadlands or 50 Fathoms! Licensed IP settings like Rifts and Lankhmar would obviously not be possible, but Pinnacle has many fantastic settings of their own.

SWAG is currently far more limited than a DTRPG publisher account in terms of tools and options, but OBS is actively improving the interface (they recently added the option to generate discount links, for example, which is an extremely useful tool that I'd missed a lot when I started using SWAG). So I believe that some (if not all) of the drawbacks I listed above will be addressed in the future, particularly if OBS see that lots of people are actively using SWAG and pushing it to its limits.

Monday, 27 May 2019

Savage Worlds: Fantasy Archetypes

I've been incredibly busy with real life stuff lately, but I finally had the chance to finish my first product for the Savage Worlds Adventurer's Guild (SWAG), and I uploaded it last night.

I'm still getting up to speed with the new edition of the rules (SWADE), so I tried to keep my first product fairly simple. I also wanted it to be both versatile and polished so that it would appeal to a wider audience, and give a good first impression.

It's available here: Fantasy Archetypes

The PDF contains eight pre-generated characters based on "traditional" fantasy concepts (warrior, mage, cleric, rogue, ranger, paladin, druid and necromancer), complete with background story and Interlude suggestions (much like my SotGH archetypes). The characters are designed to be easily adaptable to a range of different settings, so they're built with just the core rules, and refer to places and people in general terms (a coastal city, an influential nobleman, etc) rather than by specific names.

But as is often the case with my products, there are also some special features...

Male and Female Characters

Something I often noticed when running SotGH was that some people have a very strong preference for playing characters of a specific gender. In some cases, they will use this to select an initial shortlist, which can seriously limit their choice of available characters.

So I decided to try something a bit different with the Fantasy Archetypes, and gave each character both a male and a female version. The idea is you can print the PDF double-sided, and players can choose their character based entirely on the concept, then just flip the character sheet over to the appropriate side.


I considered creating an entirely different character for each gender (e.g., a male warrior that uses a sword and a female warrior that uses a spear), but that could have undermined the main point of the exercise, as certain concepts would once again only be available for one gender.

Selectable Character Ranks

A while ago I saw a set of archetypes from Pinnacle where you could use layers to choose between Novice and Seasoned versions. I thought it was a great idea, so when I updated Savage Dragons I did the same thing (except I also added Veteran). I didn't think more about it until recently when someone asked if there were any Seasoned versions of the SotGH archetypes.

So for the Fantasy Archetypes, I decided to take the concept a step further: You can choose between Novice, Seasoned, Veteran, Heroic and Legendary. In case anyone hasn't realized yet, this was also one of the main reasons I decided to create my SWADE statblock analyzer!


Of course, I also use layers for other things, so people can switch off the background before printing, or remove the character names (if they'd rather let players come up with their own). But the big selling point here is that there are literally five different versions of each character.

Figure Flats

Pinnacle often include a page of tri-fold figure flats at the end of their Archetype PDFs. It's something I didn't consider for SotGH, but several people have asked about them in the past, and I will certainly add them when I update them to SWADE. But for the Fantasy Archetypes, I decided to include a full page of figure flats, and I think they look really good. Forrest Imel (the artist) did a fantastic job with the character illustrations.

Tuesday, 16 April 2019

Savage Worlds: SWADE Statblock Analyzer

A few years ago I wrote a tool for analyzing SWD statblocks, after I got tired of proofreading them all manually. Last month I started updating it to SWADE, and took the opportunity to expand and improve the information it provides.

The tool is now pretty much finished, so I would like to thank everyone who gave feedback (particularly Jan Jetmar, who sent me lots of bug reports). There are most likely some bugs that I've missed, and the analyzer currently only supports the core rules, but it's still a very useful tool which I've already started using for my own products.

You can access it here: SWADE Statblock Analyzer

The tool is primarily designed for publishers as a proofreading aid, but may also be of interest to GMs and players. It is particularly good at analyzing player characters (including archetypes and pregens), but provides useful information about monsters and other NPCs as well. It's also very handy for updating SWD characters to SWADE, as it'll report obsolete skills and such.


Tuesday, 2 April 2019

Random Musings: Savage Worlds Lite, without changing the RAW

In SWADE, players can create their own skills (rather than just Knowledges like in SWD), and may use any skill they can reasonably justify for Tests and Support rolls. Dramatic Tasks and Quick Encounters also give players some leeway over which skills they use, at the GM's discretion, and the latter can be used to resolve combat and chases.

I could easily see this being used as the basis for a "Savage Worlds Lite" variant of the system, for groups who prefer Theater of the Mind style gaming. This wouldn't even require any changes to the official rules, it would just require the GM to use them in a specific way.

You could keep the core skills, but all the rest would be discarded (much like many settings drop certain skills, but taken to the extreme). Players could then make up appropriate skills to fit their character concept, and the GM could apply the Familiarization rule to water-down any overly broad skills.

The normal combat and chase rules would no longer be used -- instead, the GM would just use Quick Encounters, greatly speeding up play and removing the need for minis and battle maps. It would no longer be necessary to write down Pace or Parry, as they'd never be used during play, and technically you could even ignore Toughness (as Quick Encounters cause wounds rather than damage, and even rules like Mass Battles and Networking only cause Fatigue).

Some Edges and Hindrances would no longer have any effect if you never used the combat rules, but they could either be dropped or factored into the Quick Encounters in a more abstract way. Of course, once you've got guidelines for interpreting Edges and Hindrances in an abstract way, you could also allow players to make up their own, potentially eliminating the need for laundry lists of predefined advantages and disadvantages -- but then you're starting to move into homebrew territory.

Monday, 11 March 2019

Tricube Tales: A "One Sheet" RPG System

A couple of months ago I posted a link to a minimalist RPG I was working on called "Tricube Tales". After playtesting and incorporating feedback (with special thanks to Eli Kurtz and his players), I've tightened up the rules and hereby present the revised system, with a simple "One Sheet" layout (two pages, designed to be printed on both sides of a single sheet of paper).

Download here: Tricube Tales

Like my earlier Blood & Bile system, Tricube Tales has player-facing mechanics, with the players rolling 1-3d6 against a variable target number. However, it doesn't use color-coded dice (one of the main entry barriers for Blood & Bile). Instead, the number of dice is based on the character's Archetype, which consists of a trait (agile, brawny or crafty) and concept (warrior, pilot, investigator, etc).

The "Dark Gifts" and "Assets" from Blood & Bile have been converted into a generic "Perks" concept, while the "Curses" have been merged with the Karma-fueled "Flaws" concept from Swift d12, and are called "Quirks". Instead of a dice-pool to represent health (which was a great fit for the Blood & Bile vampire theme, but not so good for other settings), Tricube Tales uses a Resolve/Affliction system loosely inspired by Blade in the Dark.

Overall I'm pretty pleased with the final product, but I do feel it could use better examples. The mechanics are nice and simple (and fairly easy for the players to understand), but the capabilities and limitations of Perks often come down to personal interpretation and GM discretion. This is fairly intuitive for people who are used to systems like Fate or Risus (both of which provided some of my inspiration) but may prove problematic for others. I feel the system could easily be turned into a small book, with expanded guidelines and lots of examples. But that's a project for another day ;)

Example Characters

I'm a big fan of the plug-and-play adventures by Just Insert Imagination, and I think they'd be an excellent fit for a very light system like Tricube. So (with their permission), here are some quick character conversions for Fuhgeddaboudit! and Punted in the Bonce, showing how to retain the flavor of interesting characters despite the simplicity of Tricube Tales.

Fuhgeddaboudit

Michael “the bull” Savini
Archetype: Brawny Thug
Perks: Iron Will, Fruschetti Mobster, Scary
Quirks: Big Mouth, Clueless, Dyslexic
Gear: Revolver, Machete, $50

Jimmy Cobetto
Archetype: Agile Cugine
Perks: Acrobat, Thief, Fruschetti Mobster
Quirks: Green, Overconfident, Stubborn
Gear: Revolver, Switchblade, $240

Jovanni “Big joe” Bartolone
Archetype: Brawny Bruiser
Perks: Boxer, Strong as an Ox, Fruschetti Mobster
Quirks: Clumsy, Mean, Overweight
Gear: Revolver, Sawed-Off Shotgun, $100

Luciano “Puppy” Rizzi
Archetype: Crafty Conman
Perks: Gift of the Gab, Nose for Trouble, Fruschetti Mobster
Quirks: Cowardly, Compulsive Gambler, Vengeful
Gear: Brass Knuckles, Ruger, Tommy Gun, $30

Paulie “Pops” De Luca
Archetype: Agile Old-Timer
Perks: Ace Driver, Street-Smart, Fruschetti Mobster
Quirks: Anemic, Elderly, Delusional
Gear: Baseball Bat, Revolver, $250

Punted in the Bonce

Shifty Geoff
Archetype: Crafty Lout
Perks: Alert, Really Sneaky, Largument Expert
Quirks: Greedy, Extremely Annoying, No Sense of Loyalty
Gear: Replica Pistol, Swiss Army Knife, Photo of Daughter

Massive Steve
Archetype: Crafty Salesman
Perks: Ace Driver, Gift of the Gab, Intimidating
Quirks: Arrogant, Snob, Chain Smoker
Gear: Replica Shotgun, Cricket Bat, £500, 5 Cigars, Lighter

Becca
Archetype: Crafty Housewife
Perks: Hotty, Keeps Herself Fit, Manipulative
Quirks: Attention Seeker, Holds a Grudge, Spiteful
Gear: Replica Pistol, Handbag, £200, Chewing-Gum

Torpedo
Archetype: Brawny Boozer
Perks: Fast on his Feet, Ex-Navy Officer, Veteran Blagger
Quirks: Loves to Armwrestle, Overconfident, Stubborn
Gear: Real Pistol with 3 bullets

Cowboy
Archetype: Agile Psycho
Perks: Gift for Violence, Natural Brawler, Scary as Heck
Quirks: Vicious, Obsessed with America, Dog Lover
Gear: Switchblade, Can of Cola, Replica Revolver

Wednesday, 27 February 2019

Savage Worlds: World Builder and Game Master's Guide

The World Builder's Guide for Savage Worlds was released last night, and it includes my article "Turning Ideas into SWAG". The article covers some of the same subjects I've explored in my setting design blog posts, but it's more detailed and comprehensive, going through the entire process from start to finish, with lots of tips and advice.

If you backed the Kickstarter, you should have received your copy of the guide by now, so if you're considering publishing your own setting (or perhaps some other product) through the Savage Worlds Adventurer's Guild, make sure you check out my article!

Of course, there are plenty of other articles as well. Here is a short overview of what else you can find inside the World Builder's Guide:

World Building: Provides some general tips and information about creating your own settings, adventures, and Plot Point Campaigns.

Savage Worlds for All Ages: Jodi Black talks about how to prepare and run games for players of different ages, including multigenerational games.

Risks & Reversals: Owen Lean explains how to design exciting adventures and campaigns, using examples of how famous movie scenes could be reproduced in the Savage Worlds system.

High Powered Games: Tracy Sizemore covers power levels and game balance and gives some suggestions on providing interesting challenges for the players.

Building Your Tribe: Chris Fuchs and Chris Landauer share their experience of organizing games, clubs, conventions and events, including how to be a good GM or player at a convention game.

The Long Game: Shane Hensley talks about the history of Savage Worlds, with a particular emphasis on the evolution of Deadlands, and how he kept the story fresh and exciting.

Under the Hood: Clint Black takes a look at the underlying game mechanics, provides suggestions on building interesting characters, and gives some advice about tweaking and adapting the rules.

There's also an "Anecdotes" chapter, containing some shorter articles:

The Art of the Celebrity Con Game: Ed Wetterman shares his experiences and tips about preparing and running convention games.

A Foundation of Crunch: Shane Hensley gives a fun anecdote about a Weird Wars Rome game where the rules helped reinforce the narrative.

Running the Big Game: Sean Patrick Fannon talks about how he plans and runs games with very large numbers of players.

Designing a Savage Investigation: John Goff gives some valuable insight into designing and running investigative adventures.

Common Sense: Shane Hensley reminds GMs and players to use common sense when interpreting the rules.

Failure is Always an Option: Darrell Hayhurst talks about how to make critical failures interesting, and avoid derailing the game with them.

Bennies: Shane Hensley discusses the importance of the Benny economy, and provides some suggestions on how to keep things running smoothly.

House Rules and Ringenbach’s d30: Shane Hensley and Ron Ringenbach talk about experimenting with the rules, using Ron's d30 house rule as an example.

Savage Streaming: Jordan Caves-Callarman gives insight and advice about live streaming games and building an audience.

Saturday, 16 February 2019

Printing your own Savage Worlds softcover

The final revision (EDIT: version 5.4) of the Savage Worlds Adventure Edition has now been released. The PDF version can also be printed for personal use, so some savages have started looking for different ways to print it themselves. I generally prefer using PDFs, but a few people have asked me how they could print the PDF through Lulu, so I thought I'd look into it.

Even those who have already ordered the physical book may want a cheap and expendable softcover for use at the table, where the occasional beer, coffee, or soft drink may get knocked over during the excitement of combat!


In an earlier blog post, I provided step-by-step guidelines for printing Saga of the Goblin Horde through Lulu. Unfortunately, the Savage Worlds PDF is not "print-ready" -- it's designed for screen use, not for Print-on-Demand. As such, you will need to make some adjustments before you print it. I've previously explained how to create print-ready PDFs through Scribus, but it's not as easy when you're working with a finished PDF.

The four problems with printing the Savage Worlds PDF through Lulu are (1) low resolution (it's designed for the screen rather than for printing), (2) no bleed, (3) it uses layers, and (4) there is no gutter. The low resolution isn't something that can be addressed, but I don't think it's a major issue (if you want a high-quality book, you should buy the hardcover from Pinnacle).

If you're lucky enough to have a copy of Acrobat Pro, you should also be able to remove the background layer from the Savage Worlds PDF (so the background appears white instead of textured). Do this if you can, it'll make the end result look better because Lulu will add a white bleed area as the default. Sadly I don't own Acrobat Pro, and couldn't find any other way to remove the background, but I'll update this blog post if I find a solution.

UPDATE: As rgmelkor on reddit pointed out, it's possible to hide the background in Acrobat Reader and then print to PDF. This does indeed generate another version of the PDF without a background, although the PDF is very large, and (at least for me) some of the pages get rotated by 90 degrees. However, this does provide a way to remove the background without Acrobat Pro (just make sure you set the paper source to the PDF page size, so that it maintains the same page size).

UPDATE 2: I found a tool called "PDF Architect 6" which allows you to simply switch off the background layer and re-save the PDF. You only need the free version, and you can download it here.

There are a couple of free online tools you can use to deal with the remaining issues: iLovePDF and docuPub. The latter offers better compression and can also remove layers, but it has a 20MB limit on uploads, so we'll need to split the 27.5MB PDF with iLovePDF before we can flatten it.

Flatten the PDF

The first thing we want to do is remove the front and back cover, and then flatten the remaining PDF, so that it can be processed by Lulu.

1. Click here and use iLovePDF to split the Savage Worlds PDF into four files. Click "Select PDF file", add the 4 page ranges "1 to 1", "2 to 100", "101 to 209" and "210 to 210", then click "Split PDF" and download it. When you unzip the folder, it should contain 4 files:

UPDATE: It's been drawn to my attention there was another update to version 4.2 of the PDF on 10th February. It didn't change the version number, but did add a blank white page after the cover (bringing the total page count to 211). If you have this version, discard the blank page when you split up the document (i.e., set the ranges to page 1, page 3-100, page 101 to 210, and page 211).

UPDATE 2: Version 5.2 of the PDF has added another blank white page at the end, bringing the total page count to 212. For this version, set the ranges to page 1, page 3-100, page 101 to 210, and page 212.

Front cover: Savage_Worlds_Adventure_Edition-1-1.pdf
First half: Savage_Worlds_Adventure_Edition-2-100.pdf
Second half: Savage_Worlds_Adventure_Edition-101-209.pdf
Back cover: Savage_Worlds_Adventure_Edition-210-210.pdf


2. Click here and use docuPub to compress Savage_Worlds_Adventure_Edition-2-100.pdf at the highest possible quality. On the "Image Settings" tab set the quality to 100, 100, 10. Then click on the "Discard Objects" tab and check the "Discard hidden layer content and flatten visible layers" checkbox. Choose the file, press "Upload & Compress", then once it's finished compressing click the "Savage_Worlds_Adventure_Edition-2-100.pdf" hyperlink, press the download button at the top of the page, and save over the top of the old file.


3. Repeat the previous step for Savage_Worlds_Adventure_Edition-1-1.pdf and Savage_Worlds_Adventure_Edition-101-209.pdf, and once again save them over the old files. Savage_Worlds_Adventure_Edition-210-210.pdf can be skipped.

4. Click here and use iLovePDF to merge Savage_Worlds_Adventure_Edition-2-100 and Savage_Worlds_Adventure_Edition-101-209 back together (ignore the other two files). Click "Select PDF files" and add the two files, then click "Download merged PDF". Rename the file to "SWADE.pdf", and double check that you put the two halves together in the correct order.

Create the Cover

We now need to prepare the front and back cover, which should be JPG images.

1. Click here and use iLovePDF to convert Savage_Worlds_Adventure_Edition-1-1.pdf to a JPG. Rename the file to "Front.jpg", you will also need to crop and/or resize it to include a bleed area. If you're using the A5 page size I recommend, the cover should be 1787x2555 pixels.

2. Repeat the previous step for Savage_Worlds_Adventure_Edition-210-210.pdf, and rename the file to "Back.jpg".

Add the Gutter

This is where it gets a bit tricky. You can't simply "add" a gutter margin, because it'll change the proportions of the page. So the solution I recommend is to resize the PDF to A5, as this will change the proportions of the page and therefore leave a white area on one side that we can use as a gutter.

1. Click here and use docuPub to resize SWADE.pdf to A5, placing the original content in "right-center". Click "Upload & Resize" and then save the result as "SWADE_odd.pdf". It should have a white gutter margin (a blank vertical strip/area) down the left side of each page.


2. Repeat the previous step, except this time place the original content in "left-center". Click "Upload & Resize" then save the result as "SWADE_even.pdf". This time there should be a white border down the right side of each page instead.

3. Click here and use iLovePDF to split SWADE_odd.pdf into individual pages. Click "Extract all pages", then press "Split PDF" and download the file. Unzip the files, and delete every even-numbered page (i.e., file 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, etc) so that only the odd-numbered pages (1, 3, 5, etc) remain.

4. Repeat the previous step for SWADE_even.pdf, except this time delete all the odd-numbered pages, so that now you have one folder with odd-numbered pages and another with even-numbered pages.

5. Merge the two folders (from the previous two steps) together. If you receive a warning about a duplicate file, then you've messed up and forgot to delete one of the pages. If the total number of files in the new folder is not 208, then you've messed up and deleted a page you shouldn't have. You need to be really careful to make sure you get this right!

6. Click here and use iLovePDF you merge all of the pages back together. Make sure they are ordered correctly. Save the merged PDF as "SWADE_A5.pdf". Note that you will have to do this in two stages if you have the free version of iLovePDF, as it has a limit of 120 pages at a time, so merge the first half into one PDF, the second half into another PDF, and then merge the two PDFs together.

7. Open SWADE_A5.pdf and go through it thoroughly, page by page. The first page (and every other odd-numbered page) should have a white gutter margin down the left side, while the second page (and every other even-numbered page) should have a white gutter margin down the right side. The total PDF should be 208 pages, and you should check once again that they're in the correct order.

UPDATE: iLovePDF no longer allow you to merge more than 20 pages at a time. This makes the above process even more laborious, as you'll have to merge the entire book together in sections and then stick the individual sections together as well. The solution does still work, but it requires a lot of effort. Fortunately, I've found a much easier alternative.

3 (revised). Download and run jPDF Tweak, check the "Multiple file input / Select pages" and "Interleave documents" checkboxes, and load SWADE_odd.pdf and SWADE_even.pdf -- set the former to only include odd pages, and the latter to only include even pages. Click the "Output" tab (top right), set the output filename to SWADE_A5.pdf, and press run. Check the resulting PDF to make sure the pages are in the correct order.



Tip: An easy way to check the gutters are correct is to click "View", select "Page Display" and then "Two Page View" (using Acrobat Reader), as then you can see at a glance if the gutters are the inside of the pages:


Look at the above image, and you can see the white gutter margin in the middle of the two pages -- it's on the right-hand side of the left (even-numbered) page, and the left-hand side of the right (odd-numbered) page. The page numbers are on the outer corners of each page, while the gutter margin is on the inside of each page. This ensures that the text doesn't disappear into the binding of the book, as that would make it difficult to read.

UPDATE: If Acrobat is showing the odd pages on the left (so the gutter margins are displayed on the outside), select "View" -> "Page Display" -> "Show Cover Page in Two Page View".

Print your PDF

At this point, you should have Front.jpg, Back.jpg and SWADE_A5.pdf files. You can follow the same guidelines I posted here to print your book through Lulu, except the product size will be A5 and the number of pages is 208. Lulu can sometimes have difficulty processing very large PDFs, so you may have to try a few times. If it still doesn't work, try using iLovePDF to compress the PDF (at the highest compression quality).

UPDATE: A few people have reported having trouble processing the SWADE PDF on Lulu. Shenchermo from reddit had this problem as well -- but found it finally worked after using iLovePDF to compress the file at medium compression.

I recommend going for a premium A5 perfect bound black-and-white softcover for £4.57 / $5.41 / €5.96 + shipping (so look out for one of Lulu's "free shipping" special offers). You will receive some warnings about the image resolution when you upload the PDF, and there will be a white bleed area around the page, but that's the price you pay for doing this on the cheap!

It should also be noted that A5 has the same proportions as A4, so if you're one of those people who prefers a larger book (perhaps because of the bigger text), you can easily resize the PDF and covers to A4 instead of A5.

UPDATE: I decided to print myself a standard color version, as well, as I noticed Lulu were offering a 15% discount with free shipping. It cost me $9.65, and while the resolution isn't great and the colors are rather faded, I think it's pretty good.


Tuesday, 8 January 2019

Tricube Tales: A minimalist generic RPG

I started designing a new roleplaying system in September 2016, as I wanted an alternative to Savage Worlds. Initially, I had two very different ideas for how the system should work. One of those ideas evolved into Swift d12, and I still have major plans for that system, but it's turning into a rather bigger project than I'd originally envisioned. The second idea was a much lighter system, and it had the working title "Small Worlds".

Small Worlds

Drawing inspiration from Frank Turfler's Savage Dungeons project, Small Worlds was designed to have a similar look-and-feel to Savage Worlds, and even be compatible with its statblocks, so that people could use it with the many free One Sheets adventures that are available online. I revisited the concept again after the ENnies, when there was some discussion about the definition of "game" -- I wondered if it would be viable to include a 2-3 page alternative mini system in the back of a Savage Worlds setting book, so that it could technically be played as a standalone product.

Small Worlds needed dice-based attributes, but I wanted to avoid exploding dice, as I don't like the effect they have on the probabilities at certain Target Numbers. However without exploding dice, it would be impossible for a d4 to ever succeed at TN 5+, or d6 to succeed at TN 7+, etc. Thus I decided to have the player roll their attribute dice and difficulty dice at the same time, and compare them.

However, the dice mechanics didn't really feel right. They worked, but they felt fiddly and overly complex compared to the simplicity of the rest of the system, and it also felt unintuitive for the player to roll the difficulty dice themselves. You can view the system here if you're curious.

Tricube Tales

Last year I designed a minimalist RPG called Blood & Bile, which uses 1-3d6 for trait checks. I like the dice mechanics, but the problem is they require color-coded dice, which seems to be a major turnoff for a lot of people (I guess not everyone has sufficient dice of specific colors). I tried to think of ways to remove the need for colored dice, but I came up blank.

Then I picked up Tiny Dungeon, while it was Deal of the Day on DriveThruRPG. Tiny Dungeon also uses 1-3d6, but as an Advantage/Disadvantage mechanic (conceptually much like D&D 5e, The Black Hack, etc) -- so players roll 2d6 for most tests, 3d6 if they have the advantage, or 1d6 if they're at a disadvantage. It's a simple and intuitive solution, so I shamelessly pinched it.

Once I'd dropped the stepped dice mechanics from Small Worlds, the only thing it had in common with Savage Worlds was the terminology, so I changed that too, tightened up the rules, and named the new system "Tricube Tales". Eli Kurtz ran the first playtest last week, and feedback was pretty positive.

You can get the current version here: Tricube Tales

I'm still trying to decide what to do with it. I think it might be worth pairing it with a simple setting, as that would provide the reader with some working examples of how to build characters and resolve challenges. Another possibility might be to include some guidelines for applying the rules to different genres. Or maybe I'll just release it as a simple "One Sheet" system.