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.


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

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

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

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 (5.2) of the Savage Worlds Adventure Edition has now been released and sent to the printers. 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.

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.

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.