Thursday, 30 April 2020

Customizing Stock Art

Originals here and here.
As I've mentioned in the past, it can often be difficult to find stock artwork that matches your specific needs. However, commissioning lots of custom art can rapidly become expensive. That is why I like to "cheat," by selecting the stock art first, and then designing various monsters and adventures around it. Unfortunately, that isn't always an option.

Two days ago I released The Gobfather, a new crossover mini-setting for Saga of the Goblin Horde and Wiseguys, and for this product my normal approach of choosing the artwork first simply wasn't an option -- I needed a whole load of goblin gangsters, and I couldn't actually find any matching stock art. Nor could I afford to commission custom illustrations.

So I took my "cheating" to a whole new level: I chopped up a selection of different stock art images, resized and recolored them, and then I stuck the various pieces back together, creating my own unique illustrations. I used Photoshop, but you could just as easily use GIMP, or some another image editor. 

I decided to use artwork by Rick Hershey of Fat Goblin Games for my customized illustrations, for several reasons.

Original here.
First, Rick has an absolutely huge selection of very reasonably priced artwork to choose from, and when combining images it's essential they all have exactly the same style.

Second, the Fat Goblin Games license is very generous in terms of what you can do with the art (many artists don't allow you to modify their artwork at all, let alone chop them into pieces and reassemble them).

Third, I find the artistic style Rick uses easy to modify. I think this is mostly due to the black outlines, and a comic book style that tends to be more forgiving of minor mistakes.

Finally, of course, Rick draws lots of goblins! That's actually why I used so much of his art in Saga of the Goblin Horde, and it was nice to keep the same artistic look in The Gobfather.

To modify an image, I first duplicate the layer, then I zoom in and start cutting away the parts I don't want. I'll do this several times so that different parts of the image are in separate layers -- I might have one layer for the eyes, another for the mouth, another for the hands, and so on.

Originals here and here.
If the image has a thick black outline, I'll select that with the magic wand and copy it to the top layer, as it'll often help conceal minor discrepancies in the lower layers caused by cutting.

Not every part of the image needs to be cut cleanly, only those that will be visible in the final image. For example, I didn't usually pay much attention to the necks, because I knew I'd place a large goblin head over the top.

However, when images are combined, it's important they match up exactly. That means a clean edge on any parts of the image that will be visible, with the new component precisely rotated and resized to match the main image.

You can also use a fade-to-transparent effect to overlap two images (such as when I placed a new nose on Don Bignose's face). Other images should have a slight overlap, to avoid a gap between them -- for example, when I added Chip Chop's head, I placed it behind the suit collar and then cut away the suit.

This approach is also very convenient for changing colors, as it means that (for example) I can make the skin green without changing the color of the clothing, or darken the suit without changing the brightness of the steel knife.

Changing the proportions of an image is something that should be handled with great care, and I try to avoid this whenever possible. I did do it for one of the goblins, as I needed to turn a tall thin crime boss into a short goblin -- but I removed his hands first, replacing one with a larger duplicate of the original hand that also kept the original proportions, and the other with a goblin hand from another image.


While I don't have the skill to create my own art from scratch, it wasn't too hard to modify existing images, and I think the results were pretty good. This process obviously requires a fair amount of time, so if you can afford to commission custom art, that's still the better option. But if you're on a shoestring budget, and can't find the exact stock art you need, this is definitely a viable alternative.

All of the artwork in this blog post is by Rick Hershey. Publisher’s Choice Quality Stock Art © Rick Hershey / Fat Goblin Games (

Monday, 23 March 2020

Tricube Tales: Supernatural Afflictions

This isn't a new rule, but rather an example of how the existing rules in Tricube Tales can be applied to supernatural afflictions.

Note: There is now a Discord server for my roleplaying games. Please feel free to drop by if you're interested!

When a PC runs out of resolve in Tricube Tales, they receive an affliction. If that affliction was caused by the infectious bite or claw attack of a supernatural creature, then the GM may wish to give the character an appropriate supernatural affliction, such as "vampirism," "lycanthropy," "zombie virus," etc.

Afflictions work in the same way as quirks, except the GM decides when to activate them (including introducing complications to the scene). In this way, a PC who has been afflicted with lycanthropy would have no control over their transformations or the carnage they cause -- but (as always) advancement would allow them to later convert the affliction into a quirk, representing the character learning to control their condition.

Likewise, the affliction would initially provide no mechanical benefits, but the PC could later take supernatural perks such as "preternatural strength", "rending claws", etc. If the PC chooses a broad perk that encompasses a range of abilities, they should also take a suitable limitation (much like the Magic Limitations) -- for example, "werewolf gifts" might only work if the character first spends time transforming into their wolfman form, while "vampiric gifts" might only work at night, and so on.

Removing Afflictions

Of course, not everyone will wish to embrace their new condition, and some may actively seek to undo it.

If the affliction isn't permanent, the GM might offer the player a story-based way to remove it -- perhaps they can reverse their condition by killing the vampire who bit them, or seek a cure for the zombie virus. In theory, a permanent affliction can also be removed, but this requires the permanent expenditure of karma using a relevant perk (probably something magical, or based on cutting-edge medical research).

Finally, if a character receives the affliction just as they're about to advance, the GM might offer them the more drastic option of converting their "zombie virus" affliction into an "amputated arm" quirk, or something similar!

Gradual Decline

Sometimes an affliction may not have any benefits at all. While some novels and TV shows depict supernatural creatures as sentient beings with powerful abilities, others treat them as mindless monsters driven purely by instinct, hunger, and rage. In such cases, infection effectively becomes a death sentence, rendering the PC unplayable -- and just like any other fatal affliction, the GM should always make the risk clear in advance.

However, the infection could also represent a slow decline rather than an instant transformation, with the victim of a zombie bite surviving hours or even days before eventually succumbing to the virus. The GM could even treat it as a multi-stage infection, with future afflictions worsening the character's condition as they gradually transform.


Tricube Tales is a simple system by design, and it should be able to handle most settings and genres without the need for additional mechanics. This holds true for supernatural afflictions as well -- you don't need to add any new rules, just interpret the existing ones in the context of a supernatural setting.

Thursday, 6 February 2020

Tricube Tales: Now available in print

Last month I wrote a blog post about Turning a phone PDF into a print-on-demand pocketbook. I ordered four proofs of Tricube Tales (in standard color, standard black & white, premium color, and premium black & white), but I wasn't very impressed with the premium paper -- it was just too thick and stiff for such a small book, making it difficult to flick through the pages.

I also spotted a few issues, such a minor misalignment with the cover, the black & white version was too dark, and there were updates I wanted to make to the text (such as expanding the bestiary and the vehicles section). So I updated the document and ordered two more proofs for the standard version (but not the premium this time).

The proofs arrived today, and as luck would have it, Lulu is offering free shipping at the moment! You can combine the codes LKAB317CD (15% discount) and ONESHIP (free shipping), just make sure you've switched to the US store.

These prices are slightly higher than those I mentioned in my previous blog post, because I added four more pages to the book. The discount will lower the price a bit, but Lulu may also add a little extra for tax. However, the book is still pretty cheap, particularly if you get free shipping.

The discount codes don't last long, but they get reactivated every so often, so if you miss the window you can always try again another time.

If you don't know what Tricube Tales is, download the PDF free from here.

Monday, 20 January 2020

Turning a phone PDF into a print-on-demand pocketbook

A couple of months ago I published a rules-light generic RPG called Tricube Tales, which used DTRPG's phone PDF size (2.25" x 4"). It's a convenient format for smartphone users, but some people really dislike reading on their phone or using electronic devices at the table, so I thought I'd see if I could create a print-on-demand version as well (if you've not read my earlier blog posts about print-on-demand, you can read them here, here and here).

The problem was, I didn't want to redo all the layout work -- but I also didn't want massive text, so I needed a very small book size. Unfortunately, the smallest size DTRPG currently offer is 5" x 8", which was a bit too large (and they don't offer it in premium either).

However, I noticed that Lulu offer a 4.25" by 6.88" pocketbook size, so I decided to try that out. I started with a copy of my phone PDF, added margins to increase it to 3.09" x 5", then repositioned the frames and added higher resolution (600 DPI) versions of the images. I also added a vector image around the page numbers so that I could push the frames up the page, otherwise, the margins at the top and bottom of the pages looked very big and empty.

I then used docuPub to resize the entire PDF to 4.25" x 6.88", which is around a 1.375 times size increase (this was also why I used such high-resolution images). As my phone PDF uses a size 8 font for the body text, the enlarged text in the printed book is pretty comfortable to read.

For some reason, I couldn't get Lulu to accept the PDF with bleed (I've had no trouble with other book sizes, but it repeatedly refused the pocketbook size). In the end, I gave up, as Tricube Tales only has a fairly light page background anyway, and I didn't think it would make much difference. In retrospect, I think the clean white background is probably better for a physical book than the slightly off-color white I used in the smartphone version.

The standard paperback costs $2.21 for black and white, and $3.22 for color. The premium paperback costs $2.50 for black and white, and $6.34 for color. That's for a 47-page pocketbook (the book needed to be at least 48 pages, and the last page needed to be left blank). Shipping is normally pretty expensive, but Lulu often have special offers, and I was able to get a 15% discount plus free shipping.

My order was split into two, and I'm still waiting for the premium books, but I've already got a pretty good idea of what they'll be like (as I've ordered premium books through Lulu in the past). The photos I've posted here are from the standard black and white, and standard color.

The last image is from the black and white version. It looks fairly decent, but some of the artwork doesn't work so well in grayscale (it comes out quite dark). I definitely prefer the color version. EDIT: Setting the output to "greyscale" in Scribus generates a greyscale PDF, and this looks much better when printed. So don't upload color PDFs to Lulu if you want to print them in black & white!

EDIT (28-Jan-2020): The premium proofs arrived yesterday, and I was a bit disappointed. I thought the thicker paper was much nicer for SotGH, but that was 8.5"x11" (US Letter), while Tricube Tales is just 4.25"x6.88" (pocketbook). The premium paper makes it quite difficult to flick through the pages of such a small book. Furthermore, the printer had added an additional 4 blank pages (2 sheets) to the back of the B&W book, and 6 blank pages (3 sheets) to the back of the color book -- you don't have to pay for the blank pages, but I still dislike them. However, it's worth noting that the premium books were printed in France while the standard books were printed in the UK, so this could be down to the printer rather than the paper (meaning it might be different if you ordered in the US, for example).

That said, the printing quality for the premium color was very obviously superior to the standard color. So while I think I prefer the standard color for usability, the premium color definitely looks nicer.

The premium black and white was perhaps the most disappointing, as it appeared to be true black and white rather than grayscale, so you could see the little dots in the illustrations. It didn't look terrible, but I thought the standard black and white looked better.


I know that most publishers who offer phone PDFs are using the format as an interactive reference tool to supplement an existing product, and it would be counterproductive to offer a print-on-demand version of the phone PDF in that case (not to mention the page count would probably be huge).

But with Tricube Tales, I chose to use the phone PDF as the primary format -- it's a small game that I wanted people to be able to carry around with them at all times, and there is no "full-size" version (I do offer a tablet version as well, but it's basically the same PDF except with larger margins, higher resolution images, and layers).

For me, and other publishers who are interested in offering highly portable RPGs, I think an inexpensive print-on-demand pocketbook version is a nice option to be able to offer. Furthermore, it doesn't require too much additional effort, as you don't need to completely redo the layout.

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.


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).


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.


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.