Monday, 29 August 2016

Saga of the Goblin Horde: Bands, Tribes, and Territorial Borders

This is the second in a three-part series of posts about the geography of the Saga of the Goblin Horde setting, referencing the map created by Eli Kurtz of the Mythic Gazetteer.

In my previous post I discussed the natural borders surrounding the goblin lands, so this time I'd like to talk about the organization and territorial borders of the goblin tribes.

An extended family of goblins is called a "band", and these bands operate as independent social units of around 50-100 individuals. Several bands will sometimes merge together to form a "tribe", with the strongest family head declaring themselves chieftain, and the leaders of the other bands forming the council of elders.

There are many smaller tribes, but the region is dominated by six major tribes: Redfang, Icerunner, Nightsworn, Bonedigger, Longknife and Stonefist. These six tribes have divided up the entire territory between them, and usually try to eliminate or absorb any smaller tribes they encounter on "their" turf.

Click to enlarge (to 25% of the full size map).

It's worth noting that all six territories border on the Obsidian Valley. This 30-mile dale is considered a holy place, a neutral meeting point for the tribes, where they gather for their yearly moot.

Players in Saga of the Goblin Horde take on the role of gang bosses belonging to the Redfang tribe, the secrets of the other tribes gradually revealed throughout the campaign, but here is a very brief overview of the major goblin factions:

Redfang: With upward of 25,000 members, this is the largest of the tribes, and also the most varied and inclusive. Redfang will recruit anyone, regardless of breed, gender, competence, or even willingness to join the tribe.

Icerunner: This tribe first appeared only a few years ago, on the peaks of the Longtooth Mountains, sporting an unusual new mutation. It is assumed that these "snow goblins" are a recent development, but those familiar with my fan supplements might recognize the crossover potential ;)

Nightsworn: The leaders of this tribe are devout worshipers of the Shadow Queen, and Nightsworn goblins can frequently be encountered on pilgrimages, walking from their home in Darkmire Swamp to the Dome of Shadows at the north-west end of the Obsidian Valley.

Bonedigger: At around 6,000 members, this is the smallest of the main tribes. However it is led by a cadre of vicious necromancers, who fill out the ranks with animated skeletons and zombies. These undead fodder allow the tribe to punch above its weight.

Longknife: Particularly sneaky even for goblins, most of the tribe lives in a vast network of caves under Westside Plateau. Longknife goblins are particularly well known for their fondness for dirty tricks, favoring ambushes and assassinations over direct battle.

Stonefist: Despite their apparent proximity to the Icerunner goblins, there is practically no interaction between the two tribes, because the Icerunners live on the mountain peaks while the Stonefist tribe lives in extensive cavern networks deep under the mountains.

In the next and final part in this series of blog posts, I'll give an overview of the hexcrawl system, and talk about how it ties in to the Plot Point Campaign.

Friday, 26 August 2016

Saga of the Goblin Horde: Final Map

Eli Kurtz (of the Mythic Gazetteer) has completed the map I commissioned for my upcoming setting in record time, and I'm extremely pleased with the way it turned out, so I thought I'd show it off and talk a little about it.

Click to enlarge (to 25% of the full size map).

The Plot Point Campaign in Saga of the Goblin Horde takes place in a relatively small geographical area, which means you can slot the entire setting into an existing fantasy world if you wish. However one of the main reasons for restricting the goblin lands to a small area is that I want to tie Plot Point Episodes and Savage Tales to specific points of interest (a la 50 Fathoms).

Therefore in order to confine the players to the area and prevent them just wandering off into the world, I added some natural barriers.

The Endless Ocean is the main barrier; teeming with feral sea goblins who attack anyone passing through their territory (including ships), the ocean is effectively impassable. There is one island, but it's a tidal island, and can be safely reached during low tide.

The Great Forest serves as another barrier to the south. This is the territory of the vicious forest humans (you know, the long-lived "humans" with pointed ears and an archery fetish), and they're extremely hostile, so the area is effectively off limits unless you've got an army.

The Longtooth Mountains serve as a soft barrier, this time to the north. In theory you could keep heading north over the mountains, but the going gets tougher and colder, and there's nothing to see or do there.

That leaves east as the only viable exit, and the goblins do indeed launch occasional raids across Hightree Ridge into the human lands, but they don't push too deep. Attacking small towns and outposts near the border is one thing, but you'd need a huge army to assault the cities and fortresses in the settled lands, and the goblins simply aren't that organized (although it would make a great sequel, so who knows what the future will bring).

And that leaves us with the regions described in the map, which is where the Plot Point Campaign takes place. The gazetteer provides a brief overview of each point of interest, and the GM chapter explores their secrets, but most of the details will be expanded in Plot Point Episodes, Savage Tales, and One Sheets.

If you've previously downloaded the archetypes, the map should give you a better frame of reference for some of the locations mentioned in the character backgrounds.

I would also like to discuss the division of goblin territory, and give an overview of the hexcrawl system, but this post is already rather long, so I will save those subjects for future posts.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Mutation Deck: Random D-Bees and Mutants for Savage Rifts

"Did someone say...minotaur?"
Sean Patrick Fannon's latest masterpiece, Savage Rifts, includes 10 example races in the D-Bees and mutants section, along with a list of positive and negative abilities for those who want to create something unique. But building a race takes time and planning, what if you just need a quick and unusual character concept (perhaps for a one-shot game)?

This is precisely the sort of situation where the new Mutation Deck from Just Insert Imagination comes in useful, and in this post I'm going to outline three different ways of using the deck to generate random races balanced at the standard +2 (each Advantage is balanced at +2, while Minor and Major Disadvantages are balanced at -1 and -2 respectively), along with two more options for combining the Mutation Deck with the Savage Rifts race creation guidelines.

Option 1: Completely Random

This solution requires no decision making, and is particularly useful for Game Masters wishing to design random NPC races on the fly, but it can also be used by players who like leaving everything to fate, letting the chips land where they may.

Shuffle the Mutation Deck and draw three cards, placing them in front of you in a line, applying the Advantages and Minor Disadvantages of all three cards. If you draw a Joker, discard it and draw two more cards, applying both of their Advantages, as well as the Minor Disadvantage of the first card and the Major Disadvantage of the second card.

If any of the mutations would give the race a notably inhuman appearance, add the Distinctive D-Bee ability, otherwise increase the Minor Disadvantage of the first card in the line to a Major Disadvantage.

The new Edges supplied with the Mutation Deck can now be used as Racial Edges; the character is treated as if they had the Mutant Hindrance for all their Disadvantages, and the Mutation Mastery Edge for all their Advantages.

Option 2: Mostly Random

This solution allows the player to choose what types of mutation they have, but doesn't let them make any other choices. It's extremely fast, but gives the players at least some control over their character concept. For example if someone wishes to play a psychic, they could draw exclusively from the Psychic Talents deck.

Divide the cards into four separate decks, organized by suit, and shuffle each deck. Draw three cards, choosing which decks to draw from, and place them in a front of you in a line. Apply the Advantages and Minor Disadvantages of all three cards. If you draw a Joker, discard it and draw two more cards, applying both of their Advantages, as well as the Minor Disadvantage of the first card and the Major Disadvantage of the second card.

If any of the mutations would give the race a notably inhuman appearance, add the Distinctive D-Bee ability, otherwise increase the Minor Disadvantage of the first card in the line to a Major Disadvantage.

The new Edges supplied with the Mutation Deck can be used as Racial Edges; the character is treated as if they had the Mutant Hindrance for their Disadvantages, and the Mutation Mastery Edge for their Advantages.

Option 3: Selectively Random

This solution gives the player much more control over the specifics of their mutations, but still keeps the process fairly FFF.

Divide the cards into four separate decks, organized by suit, and shuffle each deck. Draw three cards, choosing which decks to draw from, and place them in a front of you in a line. If you draw a Joker, discard it and draw two more cards to add to the line.

You must apply either the Minor or Major Disadvantage (your choice) of each card in the line, as if it were a Mutant Hindrance. If any of the mutations would give the race a notably inhuman appearance, add the Distinctive D-Bee ability as well. Calculate how many points this gives you (1 point for each Minor Disadvantage, 2 points for each Major Disadvantage, and another 1 point if you're Distinctive D-Bee).

Now allocate your points as you see fit on Mutation Mastery and any other Edges listed in the Mutation Deck (they may also be purchased later as regular Edges). Each Edge costs 2 points, and the total should come up to up to +2 (a standard race). If you have an odd point left over, you can convert it into a skill point.

Option 4: Augmented Creation

This solution uses the regular Savage Rifts race creation rules, but arguments them with the Mutation Deck, using a variant of the standard Mutation Deck character creation guidelines.

Divide the cards into four separate decks, organized by suit, and shuffle each deck. Draw three cards, choosing which decks to draw from, and place them in a front of you in a line. If you draw a Joker, discard it and draw two more cards to add to the line.

You may take the Mutant Hindrance for any, all, or none of the cards, as you wish. The points earned from these cards are applied as negative racial abilities, which may be spent on positive abilities as normal. Mutation Mastery and the other Edges included with the Mutation Deck may be purchased as +2 racial abilities, and are also available as Racial Edges.

Option 5: Expanded Creation

Those who don't like random mutants will probably favor the standard character creation rules described in Savage Rifts, however they may still find the Mutation Deck useful.

Savage Rifts contains 47 abilities for D-Bees and mutants, while the Mutation Deck contains 156 abilities. Combine them, and you'll have over 200 racial abilities to choose from!


The Mutation Deck is a flexible tool that can be used in a wide range of settings, but it's particularly useful for settings like Savage Rifts, where the players are encouraged to create unique mutants.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Mutation Deck Now Available

Last month I discussed Just Insert Imagination's upcoming Mutation Deck, which was my latest freelance project. You can read more about it here.

Well, the deck is now available for sale! You can buy it here.

The Mutation Deck is a 4-Joker Action Deck, but each card also includes rules for beneficial and detrimental mutations. The deck comes with 3 new Setting Rules, 6 new Edges and 1 new Hindrance.

The original purpose of the deck was to allow players to design FFF mutants during character creation, however the deck can also be used for chaos spell trappings, random aliens and monsters, and so on. And because it doubles up as a thematic Action Deck, the Game Master doesn't need to carry an extra deck of cards to the game.

It was quite a challenge thinking up 156 mutation abilities for the cards, but I'm really proud of the way it turned out, and I hope others find it useful for their games! I think I've done Eric's original mutation deck idea justice, and Morne's artwork is a perfect thematic fit!

I also plan to reference the Mutation Deck in my upcoming Saga of the Goblin Horde setting, as the goblins are described as being frequently prone to unusual mutations; the cards should complement the setting perfectly!

Monday, 22 August 2016

Saga of the Goblin Horde: Half-Human Berserker

Another month, another archetype - which means we're now up to archetype number nine, and this time I didn't leave it to the very end of the month! Admittedly that was mostly because I'm away visiting family all next week, and I don't know how much time I'll have available for working on my goblin setting.

Saga of the Goblin Horde offers five playable races: goblins, gremlins, hobgoblins, bugbears and half-humans. Most of the archetypes I've released so far are goblins, although I have also covered bugbear and gremlin, but I felt it was about time to cover another one of the races - so the ninth archetype is the half-human berserker!

As usual you can get the archetypes here, and the three One Sheet adventures here, here and here.

I also (finally) got around to updating the trade dress on my archetypes to use the same style as the main setting book, something I've been meaning to do for a while. I've not updated the One Sheets yet, but I plan to sort them out soon as well.

Although I've talked in the past about moving the archetypes into a primer, I've recently been looking at how other settings handle it (particularly Pinnacle's settings), and they generally seem to keep them separate - so I've decided to do the same.

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Saga of the Goblin Horde: Past, Present and Future

Back in December last year, I wrote up a set of guidelines for designing a setting book, and later the same month I released the first One Sheet adventure for Saga of the Goblin Horde. Since then I've been working toward combining the two concepts, turning Saga of the Goblin Horde into a full setting.

Last month I applied to Pinnacle for a publication license, and while I await their response I thought it might be interesting to look back over the path I took, give an overview of the current state of the project, and consider where I might go from here.

The Past

While Saga of the Goblin Horde isn't the only thing I've worked on this year, it was still the indirect goal of most of my efforts.

The freelance work I did for Melior Via, Sneak Attack Press, Gun Metal Games and Just Insert Imagination was primarily motivated by my desire to gain valuable experience and references, improve my networking, and fund the artwork I needed for my setting.

The new and revised fan supplements I released, such as Savage Frost Giants, Eldritch Weapons, Savage Undead and Savage Dragons, were all created in different visual styles. That's not a coincidence; I was experimenting and practicing my layout skills, and trying to come up with a style I liked for Saga of the Goblin Horde.

The goblin archetypes and the three SotGH One Sheets I released were designed to promote the setting, and see what sort of interest there was in a goblin campaign, while the two Drakonheim One Sheets I wrote allowed me to experiment with different styles of adventure (the first of which was very nearly system-neutral, for reasons that will become clear at the end of this post).

And finally of course, my extensive blog posts on setting design were all part of my research into what I would need to do in order to produce a quality product.

The Present

Here's a breakdown of the sections I've been working on, compared with my original guidelines.

1. Introduction: 100% complete

My original goal for the introduction was 1500-4000 words.

This section is now complete, with 1619 words (3 pages) - while that's at the lower end of my goal, it's still within the target range.

2. Character Creation: 100% complete

The goal was 4000-6000 words, covering the character creation process, 5-15 archetypes, races, 5-10 Hindrances, 20-30 Edges, and a list of available Arcane Backgrounds.

This section is also complete, at 5468 words (10 pages). It covers the five sections I wanted to add, and includes 13 archetypes, 5 races, 10 Hindrances, and 27 Edges.

3. Equipment: 75% complete

My guidelines suggest a goal of 1000-4000 words.

Currently I have 1607 words, although half of that is still in the working document, and needs to be copied into Scribus. I also need to create the equipment tables (melee weapons, ranged weapons, and armor). So far I have 2 pages, but the final chapter will probably be 5 pages.

4. Setting Rules: 100% complete

The provisional goal was 1000-4000 words.

This section is smaller than expected, at 480 words (1 page), but it covers the 3 new setting rules pretty clearly, so I see no reason to expand it further.

5. Gods and Magic: 10% complete

My guidelines suggested anything from 0 to 10000 words, depending on the setting.

In fact I expect this section to eventually be around 1000-1500 words (3 pages), but at the moment I only have rough notes on the different deities.

6. Gazetteer: 60% complete
My original guidelines suggested 15000-25000 words of setting information, but as I pointed out in my previous blog post, there is some precedent for having a smaller gazetteer - in particular, 50 Fathoms has a 4 page gazetteer (around 2100 words), with the other information moved into the GM section or the adventures.

I'm using a similar solution, and aim to have around 2000-2500 words. Currently I have 1350 words (3 pages), with the first page already finalized and the others still needing to be fleshed out. I expect the final chapter to be 5 pages, including the full-page map I've commissioned from Eli Kurtz (of Mythic Gazetteer).

7. Game Master's Secrets: 70% complete

My original guidelines didn't specify a word count for this chapter, as it basically contains content from any of the earlier chapters that shouldn't be read by the players.

I've currently got 1076 words (2 pages), and will probably add another 500 words, bringing the total up to around 3 pages.

8. Adventures: 1% complete

My guidelines propose 3000-6000 words based on Pinnacle's newer setting books, however they usually release the Plot Point Campaign as an entirely separate book, while I plan to put everything in one book (like the older setting books, where the PPC usually filled around half the book).

So far I've got a 277 word outline for the PPC, and a 594 word adventure generator, but other than that I only have loose notes on the individual Plot Point Episodes and Savage Tales. I expect this chapter to be at least 30 pages, and possibly as high as 50 pages, depending on how many adventures I decide to include in the book (as opposed to releasing separately as One Sheets).

9. Bestiary: 20% complete

The goal was 5000-10000 words, although I consider this a pretty loose goal, as Saga of the Goblin Horde also references the Fantasy Companion (which has an extensive bestiary).

Currently I have 697 words (2 pages), which I threw together for the sample, but I have the artwork and notes for quite a few more besties. My online Monster Finder already contains over 3000 monsters, so this chapter won't be difficult, it's just a matter of deciding which creatures are appropriate to the setting.

I expect this section to be around 10 pages, as I want to have a good variety of foes, but I don't want to go overboard. However I could easily see it growing to 15 or even 20 pages, so we'll have to see.


The final book should be around 70-100 pages, plus the cover, credits, table of contents, and the "Keep Out" warning page before the GM section.

The vast majority of my effort up until now has been on the player section, which only requires another 5 pages of writing and a little more layout work (and final proofreading) before it's finished. By far the biggest part that's still outstanding is the adventures.

The Future

Saga of the Goblin Horde now stands at a crossroads. If it becomes a licensed setting then I will complete the remaining sections, release a free primer (with an introduction, setting rules, and the archetypes), then continue to support the setting with occasional free One Sheet releases.

Should my application be rejected, I've already invested far too much time and money to simply give up, so there are three different backup plans I'm considering:

1. Look for another roleplaying system, or even write my own (I've created several over the last 30 years), however this would mean discarding the experience and reputation I've built up over the last 6 years in the Savage Worlds community, which would be a shame. I'd also have to build up a target audience from scratch if I wrote my own system.

2. Complete the player section and release it as a free 30-page "Player's Guide" under the fan license. The GM's secrets and the adventures would then be expanded and turned into a system-neutral product (along similar lines to Drakonheim: City of Bones) and sold on DTRPG. The bestiary would need to be another fan supplement, though, as it contains statblocks.

3. Try to reach some sort of business arrangement with an existing licensee, whereby they allow me to publish through them in exchange for a cut of the profits. This is where my freelancing experience will come in useful; I'm already the sole author of several licensee products (in one case I even handled the artwork and layout as well, literally handing a completed PDF to the licensee to put up for sale), so I should be in a fairly good negotiating position.

Regardless of the outcome, it promises to be an interesting journey ahead!

Monday, 15 August 2016

Designing a Gazetteer (and a Map)

Saga of the Goblin Horde is gradually taking shape, but one of the areas I've been struggling with is the setting fluff. My original section breakdown included 15,000 to 25,000 words of setting information, but that sort of writing isn't really my forte - I'm much more of a crunch person, preferring to keep the fluff relatively short and concise.

However a couple of months ago while musing about mini settings, I noticed that the esteemed 50 Fathoms only has a 4 page gazetteer (about 2100 words) covering public knowledge, with the rest of the setting information split across the GM section and adventures. This means most of the setting is revealed during play rather than needing to be read by the players in advance, something that fits very nicely with my plans for the Plot Point Campaign.

Conceptually this approach seemed fairly straightforward to implement. My gazetteer would consist of a list of major locations sorted into alphabetical order, with one or two paragraphs of information about each location (averaging around 100 words per location). However this is where I hit my first snag: I hadn't designed the world yet!

Fortunately I didn't want an entire world, just a relatively small area where the campaign would take place, and I'd already described a number of the major geographical locations in my earlier One Sheets and archetypes. On the down side, however, I'd described those locations without really considering the bigger picture. This left me in the rather unenviable position of trying to retroactively design the geography around the content I'd already written, and the only way I could really envision the layout was with a map.

This is where I hit my second snag: I can't draw.

I tried! I read lots of tutorials about drawing maps, and I experimented with different techniques, but the results were mediocre at best (and took me ages!). So in the end I settled on using Inkarnate, a web-based cartography tool, to sketch out a prototype map. My results were still quite poor, but it was fairly quick and easy to use, and allowed me to at least visualize the world and define the major locations.

This is the point where I decided to get some expert advice. Eli Kurtz (of the Mythic Gazetteer) had recently written a post about his first commissioned map, and offered to share his expertise with me, so I picked his brain about topography, geography, demographics, and more. His advice proved invaluable, but also showed me how far out of my depth I was - so I decided to commission a map from him.

While I flesh out the gazetteer (which should be around 2000-2500 words), Eli has started working on the map. The layout of the land has already been completed, and he's now started adding detail - for example, in the small section of map to the right you can already see the Longtooth Mountains that separate the goblin territory from the human lands, Twilight Wood nestled in the shadow of the mountains, and the Great Northern River as it flows down a three step waterfall.

The final map will be in color with a hexgrid overlay (toggleable as a PDF layer), so the players can trigger specific Plot Point Episodes or Savage Tales as they move around the map (yes, the idea was inspired by 50 Fathoms!).

In retrospect, this should have been one of the first things I did, but you live and learn. Perhaps at some point I'll try my hand at drawing maps again, but for the time being I've decided to leave that to the cartography experts, while I focus on the things I'm already good at.