Monday, 25 December 2017

Saga of the Goblin Horde: Handmade leather cover

A friend of mine runs his own leatherwork business, and he sent me a surprise Christmas present - a handmade leather cover for Saga of the Goblin Horde. It's awesome! Thank you very much +Mathew Halstead :)

Check it out:

Thursday, 7 December 2017

Saga of the Goblin Horde: Print your own book

Now that the proofs for Saga of the Goblin Horde have been ordered, received, and checked (photos here), I feel comfortable releasing the print-ready files into the wild for others to use. You can download them from here:


You will need a front and back cover, and one of the PDFs, depending on whether you want your book to be in color or black and white. It should go without saying (but I'll state it anyway): if you want to print a hardcover PDF, you must use the hardcover covers, and if you want to print a softcover PDF, you must use the softcover covers. Don't mix them.

In case you're wondering why I use RGB instead of CMYK for the color PDFs, the answer is that Lulu prefers RGB, and the CMYK versions are really big (which can cause problems with the Lulu preparation process). Rather than confuse people with even more PDFs, I decided to stick with one color option.

Printing Saga of the Goblin Horde

Go to and create an account, then move your mouse over "Create", and select "Print Book" from the pull-down menu.

Choose the format you want to print: standard paperback, premium paperback, or professional hardcover. There's a video here which compares the standard and premium, however if you want a cheaper option, my personal suggestion would be premium black and white rather than standard color.

You will need to set the paper size to "US Letter". If that option isn't listed under the format, scroll down to the bottom of the page to view all the available sizes.

You can also set the binding, and choose between color and black and white. Be aware that not all combinations are permitted, so if you select one option it may disable something else. Once you've set everything, scroll back up and set the number of pages to 114.

Scroll up and down and double-check that you've got the right format, page size, binding and interior print. Once again, some combinations are not permitted, and different bindings and paper have different minimum and maximum page counts. If everything is correct, click "Make this book".

Set the title and author, and—this is very important—make sure you select "Make available only to me". Otherwise you'll start selling my book, which you're not allowed to do (otherwise I'd be doing it myself!). Click "Save & Continue" to proceed.

Click "Choose File", select the appropriate PDF, and then click "Upload".

Once it's finished uploading, click "Make Print-Ready File". If this fails, just try again, sometimes it can take a few attempts.

You now have the option of downloading and reviewing the PDF. Make sure you do this, even if it's just to take a quick skim through the pages. In particular, if you've uploaded the wrong file you probably won't have any bleed, which means your page will look like this:

See the white border around the page? That will appear on the printed book as well. You do not want that, it looks rubbish. If you selected the correct PDF there will be no white border:

No white border means the background will cover the entire page. Once you've confirmed that the PDF looks good, click "Save & Continue" and set up the cover.

Select "Themes" and "ImageOnly" so that Lulu doesn't try to print text across the cover. Then on the right hand side of the screen, press the orange "Add Images" button, click "Upload your images", then once you've uploaded you can drag them (from the right) and drop them (over the black images in the center with the camera icons). If you hover over the image it'll tell you the file name, the back cover should go on the left (the one with the barcode) and the front cover on the right.

You can also change the text on the spine by clicking on it, as well as the font and color. I experimented with different colors, but in the end found white looked the best. If you'd prefer to have nothing on the spine, you can simply delete the text.

Once you're done, click "Preview & Make Print-Ready Cover" (in the bottom right corner).

The preview always looks like that for me, it's not particularly useful. But if you click "Make Print-Ready Cover" and download it, you can double-check that it looks like this:

Make sure the back cover is on the left, the front cover on the right, and that the spine contains the correct text without spelling mistakes. Once you're done, click "Save & Continue".

You can now review the project. Once again, please double check that you've set it to "Private Access". You have permission to print the PDF for personal use, but you're not allowed to sell it.

I recommend downloading both the interior and cover files, to double check that they're correct. Once you're happy with it, click "Save & Finish". You can then click "Order a Proof Copy", or click "My Projects" from the front page of Lulu followed by "View/Buy".


At the time of writing this, the cost of printing the PDFs is as follows:

Standard B&W softcover: £3.51 / $2.97 / €4.76
Standard color softcover: £5.56 / $7.62 / (N/A)
Premium B&W softcover: £4.38 / $4.82 / €6.85
Premium color softcover: £19.94 / $22.74 / €23.28
Premium B&W hardcover: £13.38 / $14.07 / €11.08
Premium color hardcover: £28.70 / $32.74 / €23.74

Shipping is added on top of that, of course. Lulu is not cheap. However they always have lots of special offers such as a percentage discount on the book, buy three get one free, free shipping, etc. I picked up my hardcover with a 30% discount for Black Friday (and then discovered there was a 40% discount on Cyber Monday, d'oh).

You can only use one discount code per purchase, but you should always use one (if you can't find one you like, try closing your connection with something in your basket, and they will usually email you a code to try and encourage you to complete the purchase!)

Printing other PDFs

The solution I've described here can in theory be used to print other PDFs as well, however Lulu cannot print PDFs that contain transparent images, and I'm not sure if it supports version 1.5 (which is what I usually use). In fact, my print-ready PDFs were deliberately generated with version 1.3 in order to remove any transparencies.

You'll also find PDFs designed for the screen usually have a lower resolution to keep their file size down (I typically go with 150 DPI), while those intended for printing are usually 300 DPI.

PDFs designed for the screen also lack a bleed area (meaning the pages will probably have a white border when printed), they may not have sufficient space for the gutter (the text may be very close to the spine), and the cover will be part of the PDF (meaning that the first page after the front cover will be another picture of the front cover).

That doesn't mean the results will be bad, but they won't be as good as they are when using a PDF that's been specifically designed for printing. I will describe how to configure a print-ready PDF in a future blog post.

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Lulu: Print on Demand

Last month I ordered a softcover copy of Saga of the Goblin Horde from Lulu. Despite a few minor issues, I was very pleased with it (you can see the photos of it here). After resolving the issues with the PDF, I decided to order a hardcover, and today it finally arrived.

Overall the book looks really good, it feels solid, the paper is thick, and the colors have come out well. Once again there are some minor issues (described below), but in general I'm very happy with it.

I added a black border within the bleed area around the outside of the cover, as I didn't want to lose any of the picture, and the edges already fade into black. A wraparound cover with bleed would have been much nicer, obviously, but I still think it looks pretty good.

The name of the book is not quite aligned with the author name.

One of the corners was a bit scrunched up. The book was securely packed, but the box had clearly been treated quite roughly, so perhaps this was an issue with UPS.

It seems that if the numbers of pages isn't divisible by four, Lulu will add blank pages at the end. I guess I could have added some extra artwork, but that would have pushed the price up - and there would still be at least one blank page at the front and back because of the binding. So really, it's just one extra blank page at the end.

Lulu's hardcovers are 10.75" by 8.25" (rather than the usual 11" by 8.5"), so I had to prepare a separate PDF for the hardcover. The text is quite close to the gutter, but I don't think it's too bad. It's certainly readable.

The resized map looks good (the map in the previous softcover had some of the text labels chopped off, so this time I moved everything in from the edges).

I discovered with the softcover that I can't print transparent images. I worked around the issue by creating separate page backgrounds for the hot air balloon (pictured above) and the arcane gauntlet, instead of drawing a transparent image over the standard page background.

Friday, 1 December 2017

Using DriveThruRPG: One Month On

Last month I started offering Saga of the Goblin Horde through DriveThruRPG, as a way to build up interest in the setting, and establish a captive audience for my future publications. I thought it would be interesting to take a look at what sort of reception it's received after the first month.

I uploaded the main Saga of the Goblin Horde setting book on 3rd November, and it went live on 6th November. I then uploaded Bone of Contention and Worm Food on the 8th, Root of the Problem on the 10th, the Archetypes on the 15th, Cold Spell on the 19th, Hot Water on the 21st, Egg Hunt on the 26th, and Can of Wyrms on the 28th. You can see the download numbers for November here:

It's worth noting Cold Spell was a new One Sheet I hadn't previously released, and I promoted it on Facebook, G+, Twitter, and the Pinnacle forums. The other PDFs had previously been available on my website, and I wasn't sure how many people didn't bother re-downloading them because they already had an earlier version, but from looking at the download figures for Cold Spell, it seems to be fairly comparable with the other One Sheets.

DriveThruRPG promoted the setting book and the archetypes as "Free Product of the Week" in two of their newsletters, and that definitely boosted the downloads for those two products.

The main setting book has 14 ratings (12 five-star and 2 four-star) and 8 written reviews (or 9, if you include the one someone wrote in the discussions section). None of the other products have any ratings or reviews.

In total I've attracted 1768 unique customers in the first month, of whom 1457 have consented to be emailed. I don't know how this compares to anyone else, or how many people are actually interested in the setting (as opposed to just downloading it because it's free), but I feel it's a good start.

Even though I'm not selling anything, I still receive 20 Publisher Promotion Points (PPP) per month, which I'm saving up to promote future products. I regret not signing up for a publisher account earlier; if I'd used DriveThruRPG from the start I'd have earned hundreds of PPP by now!

Thursday, 23 November 2017

Saga of the Goblin Horde: Latest News

My blog has been rather quiet lately, as I'm pretty busy with real life things (such as moving). But there is still stuff going on with Saga of the Goblin Horde, so I thought I'd give a quick update.

Grim Review

Florian Krell of Grim Perspectives recently recorded and uploaded a review of Saga of the Goblin Horde, taking a deeper look at the setting. It's an excellent video, and well worth checking out:

Wild Die Podcast

The guys on the The Wild Die Podcast recently discussed their favorite settings, and Saga of the Goblin Horde got a few mentions and a lot of love. Thanks guys, the goblins love you too ;)

DriveThruRPG Transition

I've been gradually uploading my PDFs to DriveThruRPG. This is taking a while, as I'm giving each PDF another proofread before uploading it. But distributing through DriveThruRPG gives me a lot more information about my fanbase, and also allows me to email them directly, which is going to be very handy for promoting my newer stuff.

I'd also like to thank everyone who wrote a review for the setting book, I really appreciate the support! The reviews provide exposure, and help entice more people into downloading the setting.

DriveThruRPG promoted us as "Free Product of the Week"
New One Sheets

I recently released another One Sheet called Cold Spell, and this one is only available on DriveThruRPG, so hopefully it'll give me a better idea of how many people are downloading my stuff. My other PDFs were all originally available from my site, and I know a lot of people don't bother grabbing updates.

Next month I'll also be releasing Season's Beatings, another Christmas-themed One Sheet.


My physical copy of the setting book finally arrived in the post, and it looks great, but there were a few issues I had to address. I also still need to decide how to handle the gutter (and the smaller page size for the Lulu hardcover), but I'll try to sort that out soon, so that I can offer the print-ready PDFs to anyone else who wants to use them.

Setting Book

I noticed (and corrected) a couple of very minor issues with the setting book while working on the print-ready version. I'll release an update when I get the chance, but would like to give it another proofread first, in case I've missed anything else.

Swift d12

I'd hoped to get back to Swift d12 as soon as the Savage Worlds version was released, but I hadn't counted on the high demand for a print version of the setting book. Print-on-demand is something I would have needed to look into sooner or later anyway, and the lessons I learn now will save me time later, so it's a worthwhile investment.

However I have been putting together a list of things I need to update for the next version of the Swift d12 Quick Start, and I plan to get to work on those soon. I'm revising the initiative system again, and have some detailed notes about the new magic system, but other than that the revisions will mostly focus on clarifying the existing rules and adding some examples.

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Building a fanbase on DriveThruRPG

Last year I started looking for alternative places to host my Savage Worlds PDFs. My work was becoming increasingly popular, my library of fan products kept growing, and my newer releases were far bigger than my older ones (due to their higher resolution artwork). The downloads were starting to become a significant drain on my bandwidth.

So I asked Pinnacle if I could release fan products on DriveThruRPG/RPGNow, as long as they were all completely free. Danny James Walsh (the Savage Worlds Licensee Manager) replied on the forums that "As long as you're using the Fan licence (and its terms), then you can distribute it for free wherever you like". In fact if you look on DriveThruRPG/RPGNow, you'll see that several other people are now offering fan licensed products there!

However it was mentioned by Ndreare in the same thread that, based on a conversation from a few years earlier, OneBookShelf (who own DriveThruRPG and RPGNow) expected publishers to sell at least one product before distributing free content. Private discussions with fellow game designers seemed to suggest that, while this might no longer be a strict requirement, it was still encouraged.

But around the same time, I discovered Google Drive. As I had no plans to sell anything in the near future, it just seemed easier to use Google Drive for hosting my PDFs. However in retrospect, I think that was a bad idea, at least for Saga of the Goblin Horde.

The Blackwood: Doing it Right

Eli Kurtz ran a successful Kickstarter for his awesome setting, The Blackwood. But he didn't come out nowhere - he first established himself by releasing a few One Sheets and some archetypes on OneBookShelf under the fan license. This meant that when his Kickstarter was ready to launch, he already had a captive audience; he knew how many people had downloaded the freebies, and he was able to email them the latest news.

Me Too!

While browsing DriveThruRPG recently, I came across Stargazer Games (of Warrior, Rogue & Mage fame) and noticed that all of their products are free. So I decided to bite the bullet and email OneBookShelf, explaining that I plan to sell products for my own roleplaying system in the future, once it's ready for publication, but first I hope to build up an audience for Saga of the Goblin Horde by offering the free Savage Worlds version of the setting.

A OneBookShelf representative replied and said I was welcome to release free products. He said that quite a few other publishers use the same approach to build up a fanbase (and that some end up only releasing a few free products and leave it at that), so I went ahead and signed up as Zadmar Games!

Registering for a publisher account was as simple as clicking a button and filling in a few details. I was then presented with a short video that gave an overview of my options, and links to various pages I could read for help. It all seemed pretty straightforward, so I went ahead and uploaded the Saga of the Goblin Horde setting book.

As my account is still unverified, I have to wait for my uploads to be approved, and I don't have access to all the publication tools. But the process is still pretty quick and painless, so I'm planning to upload the other PDFs when I get the chance (although I will give each another round of proofreading first).

You Too?

If you're planning to self-publish your setting, DriveThruRPG seems to be a very good place to do it, and I think Eli's approach with The Blackwood is a great way to build up an audience while applying to Pinnacle for a publication license (this is the approach I now recommend to other people).

If you're not able to get a license, you could always split up your setting like Drakonheim, which offers both a system-agnostic setting book and a Savage Worlds companion (Sneak Attack Press is obviously a licensee, but if they weren't they could still have offered the companion under the fan license, while selling the setting book). Or you could follow the approach I'm taking, offering the setting for free under the Savage Worlds fan license, and then converting it over to another system for commercialization.

But regardless of the route you take, I think it's well worth getting to grips with the DriveThruRPG publication tools beforehand, and establishing a fanbase early on. Then when you're finally ready to go live, you should already have a captive audience who are interested in your products, and the means to easily reach out to them.

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Setting Design: Post-Mortem and Lessons Learned

It took nearly two years to take Saga of the Goblin Horde from initial concept to finished product, and I've documented my learning experiences in a series of 20 blog posts about Designing your Own Savage Worlds Setting.

Now that the setting has been finished and released, I thought it would be a good time to take a look back over the project while it's still fresh in my mind, to see how far I deviated from my original goals, to consider what worked well and what didn't, and to think about what I would do differently next time.

Chapter Structure

The general structure of the book remained pretty much unchanged throughout the process, but the size of the chapters changed quite a bit. You can see my original guidelines here, an overview of the status after the first eight months here, and another overview after a further six months here.

In particular, I think it's interesting to look at the chapters I initially considered complete, but which I later revisited as other parts of the setting evolved.


The original goal for the first chapter was 1500-4000 words, I initially considered this complete at 1619 words, but eventually expanded it to 2730 words. Although I wanted the introduction to be fairly concise, I felt the initial version just didn't provide enough detail to really delve into the setting.


The original goal was 4000-6000 words, I initially considered this chapter to be complete at 5468 words, but I eventually expanded it to 7827 words. With the initial version I deliberately limited the number of new Edges and Hindrances, but that meant leaving out a lot of cool abilities that I felt added flavor to the setting, so in the end I changed my mind - my guidelines weren't supposed to be a straightjacket, after all!


The original goal was 1000-4000 words, and I ended up with 2750 words. At one point I dropped the knick-knack table, planning to move it into the Campaign Deck - but I eventually lost interest in creating a Campaign Deck, and restored the knick-knack table.

Setting Rules

The original goal was 1000-4000 words, but I initially kept this chapter very small, and actually considered it complete at 480 words. I later expanded it to 1066 words, and eventually to 2299 words, as playtesting revealed the need for additional setting rules.

Gods and Magic

The original goal was anything from 0 to 10000 words, although I initially expected it to be around 1000-1500 words. I ended up with just 879 words, as I didn't need any new powers or Arcane Backgrounds.


The original goal for this chapter was 15000-25000 words of setting information, but I decided to turn it into a short gazetteer (like in 50 Fathoms) instead, and aimed for 2000-2500 words. The chapter ended up at 2158 words, and covered everything I wanted.

Game Master's Secrets

My original guidelines didn't specify a word count for this chapter, but I initially estimated there would be around 1500 words. This was eventually expanded to 2308 words, in order to explain the various mysteries I'd hinted at throughout the setting.


My original guidelines specified 3000-6000 words, but that didn't include a Plot Point Campaign (which is something I wanted to have), and so my initial goal was around 15000-25000 words. I eventually decided to drop the Savage Tales, but this chapter still ended up reaching 17827 words (including the adventure generator, which I restored after deciding to scrap the Campaign Deck, and 16 adventure seeds).


The original goal was around 5000-10000 words, although I initially expected to be at the lower end of that range. The bestiary grew quite large though, reaching 13973 words.


My original guidelines for a setting book suggested 45000-50000 words (90-100 pages). The initial concept for Saga of the Goblin Horde was a mini setting of around 60 pages, but I soon revised that figure to 70-100 pages, and later to 95-100 pages.

In fact the final document ended up reaching 118 pages, however if you ignore the cover, credits and ambush/forest cards, the total number comes down to 107 pages, or 52751 words (which is about the same size as most of Pinnacle's newer setting books).

It's also worth noting that I added two pages of artwork as well as the surname and knick-knack generators in order to balance out the chapters, so that each chapter starts on the right hand page. So overall I'd say I came pretty close to my original guidelines.

Lessons Learned

Designing my own setting was a very much a learning experience, and came with its own barriers and pitfalls. Here are some of the lessons that I learned along the way.

Consider your Page Size

I started using US letter size for my PDFs years ago, as most Savages seem to be based in the US, and I figured it would be more convenient for them to print. I stuck with it because there didn't seem any reason to change, because it allowed me to use the same template I'd created for my One Sheets (which are intended for home printing), and because most of the full-page stock art I'd purchased was that size. It's not as convenient for me (Europe uses A4), but I rarely print things anyway.

However now that I've started looking into print-on-demand services, I've found myself running into some issues. Very few printing companies over this side of the pond offer US letter size, and if I'm going to use a physical book I'd actually prefer something smaller. If I'd gone with A4 I could have easily printed it as an A5 book, but I don't have that option with US letter. I did try resizing the PDF to A4, but the text ended up too close to the edges, and there was a big ugly margin at the top and bottom. Redoing the layout properly would be a massive undertaking though.

Consider your Image Sizes

I made the mistake of commissioning my cover and map at US letter size, and they don't look good if the proportions are changed (this was a major oversight for the map, as I later discovered that DTRPG offer 12x18" print-on-demand poster maps). I also didn't think to ask for bleed, and the cover has some nice details right up to the edges.

In future I would certainly ask for the cover to be a little larger than necessary, and would order maps large enough to be printed at DTRPG poster size, but without important detail around the edges, so that it could also be cropped for different page sizes.

I might even consider going with a 6x9" book size next time, as it's a nice size in the hand, and would have the same proportions as the 12x18" poster map (so the book could contain a smaller version of the map).

Covers are Cool

Despite my issues with the size, I'm really pleased with the cover. I've mentioned in the past that I consider the cover the most important piece of artwork, and I think the cover for Saga of the Goblin Horde really captures the feel of the setting, it was definitely a worthwhile investment.

I'm particularly pleased that I ordered the goblin as a separate image, as that allowed me to use the goblin for custom chapter headers, and also use the cover with different illustrations for other books (such as the archetypes).

I wish I'd ordered a custom spine as well though, that would have been awesome for print-on-demand! Or better still, a wraparound cover instead of a separate front and back.

Start Small and Drip-Feed

Creating an entire setting is a pretty big task, particularly if you're working alone, and it can be overwhelming when you first get started. There's also the risk that nobody else will be interested in the setting - and if that's the case, it's better to find out sooner rather than later.

I found the best way to test the waters is to start with something small, like a One Sheet adventure. If it's well received, release a few more adventures, along with some character archetypes. This allows you to incorporate feedback into the setting while you're still designing it, and also helps build up interest by keeping the setting in the public eye. And of course, once the setting is finished, you'll already have a selection of adventures and characters for people to use in their games.

The approach I used for Saga of the Goblin Horde was to release one character archetype per month, until I'd finished all 15. I also released 9 One Sheet adventures, some of them seasonal (Christmas, Halloween and Easter), and others more generic.

Retroactive World Building

Saga of the Goblin Horde started with a One Sheet, and I expanded it from there with more One Sheets and a growing selection of archetypes. It was an effective approach, allowing me to start out small and gradually flesh out the world and setting - but I ran into trouble when I started creating the map of the goblin territory, because I had to retroactively fit all the adventures and archetypes into it. I actually needed to go back and revise some of my older adventures and archetypes, after I created the map.

I think next time I'll create at least a rough outline of the map in advance, and make sure that I update it as I'm writing the adventures, to ensure they remain consistent with each other.

Playtesting is Essential

I've played and run Savage Worlds for a long time, I've reversed engineered and analyzed the mechanics, I've done a lot of number-crunching, and I've written numerous posts, tools and PDFs to help other game designers better understand the system. But I still needed to playtest (and so do you)!

Even though I was confident about the mechanics of my Edges, Hindrances and setting rules, I still needed to playtest to get a feel for how well they worked together. The playtesting also revealed the need for certain setting rules, such as Meat Shield (needed due to the large number of combatants), Quick Skirmish, and Shenanigans.

Layout Comes Last

I normally finish my documents before I start doing the layout work, otherwise even a small change can add a lot of additional effort. However the submission process for Savage Worlds licensee applicants requires the use of representative art, trade dress, and layout, so I transferred my document to Scribus at a fairly early phase, and continued to update it directly in Scribus while I waited for an response. That took ten weeks. By that point I couldn't be bothered to transfer everything back, so I just carried on working in Scribus.

Working in Scribus was a pain in the neck, and I definitely won't do that again. In future I will stick with Open Office until the document is finished and has been through proofreading, and only then will I transfer it to Scribus for the layout.

Networking is Vital

I didn't really start networking with Savage Worlds licensees until I got into freelancing, but over the last year or so I've starting making connections with a lot more game designers, and it's proven extremely beneficial - not just for getting advice and bouncing ideas around, but also for promotion and marketing (something I'm not very good at myself).

Read Books

One of the reasons Saga of the Goblin Horde took so long was that I was learning design skills at the same time (often using side projects to experiment). I spent months blundering through the layout work on my own before Eric Simon recommended reading the Non-Designer's Design Book, and I wish I'd known about it earlier, as it would have saved me a lot of time and effort.

Know your Limits

Most people are better at some things that others, and very few people can do everything. My specialty is game mechanics, but I've also written quite a few adventures, and of course I taught myself how to do layout work. But when it comes to artwork, I'm a lost cause. I wasted a lot of time trying to draw my own maps, instead of hiring a professional (which I eventually did). I'm all in favor of learning new skills, but at some point you have to cut your losses and move on.

Artwork is Addictive

I got a bit carried away with all the stock art when I was working on Saga of the Goblin Horde, I bought a lot more than I needed, often purchasing on a whim. Eventually I learned to discipline myself, adding things to my wishlist for future reference if they took my fancy, and only buying art if I was sure I needed it.

Although I only had three private commissions, they gave me the same addictive feeling, and I've seen other setting designers fall into the same trap - ordering more and more artwork, before they've even got a product for it! This is a dangerous trap to fall into, particularly if you can't afford to write off the cost of the artwork. You might never finish your setting book, or you might not be able to license it. Even if you do manage to commercialize your setting, you might not make enough sales to recoup your costs. I suspect this risk is one of the big reasons why so many people use Kickstarter to fund their artwork, as it ensures they will at least break even.


Saga of the Goblin Horde has been an interesting project, and it's had its ups and downs, but I feel I've learned a lot, and it's certainly given me a much greater appreciation for the amount of effort that goes into designing a setting. I also feel more confident in my design skills now, and I already have several new projects planned.

Of course there's always more to learn. I'm currently experimenting with print-on-demand services, as I'd like a physical copy of my book! I'll leave that subject for a future post though.

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Saga of the Goblin Horde: Updated

I've updated the Saga of the Goblin Horde setting book and player's guide to incorporate errata and feedback. Most of the changes were minor things (such as extraneous spaces, a couple of spelling mistakes I'd missed previously, etc), but there were a couple of glaring omissions - I'd forgotten to include stats for the swamp rats, and the player's guide didn't include stats for the gang members. I also realized that I'd never made it clear how to handle gang members outside of combat.

So I've expanded the "Like a Boss" setting rule (page 31) to fill the entire page, it now provides some guidelines for gang members as well as the two missing statblocks. The "Meat Shield" and "Might Makes Right" setting rules have been moved to the next page.

The latest versions are available here: Setting Book, Player's Guide.

EDIT: The setting book is now listed on DriveThruRPG, I've updated the link accordingly.

Friday, 29 September 2017

Saga of the Goblin Horde: Setting Book

I started working on Saga of the Goblin Horde back in December 2015, and I've released a lot of content for it since then, but now I've finally finished the full setting book! So without further ado...

The book contains the same information as the player's guide (introduction to the setting, 5 new races, 41 Edges, 20 Hindrances, weapons and armor, setting rules, deities, gazetteer, and map), but also includes the Game Master's section (setting secrets, a plot point campaign, a load of adventure seeds, an adventure generator, and a large bestiary).

Don't forget to grab all the other stuff for it, like the archetypes, One Sheets, etc. You can get them all here.

EDIT: The setting book is now listed on DriveThruRPG, I've updated the link accordingly.

Monday, 25 September 2017

Chases in Savage Worlds

A lot of people seem to have difficulty wrapping their heads around the chase rules in Savage Worlds, either because they find the rules confusing, or because they have trouble connecting the game mechanics to the narrative. In particular, many people seem to view chases as a "race", when what they more accurately represent is a mobile combat encounter, in which the characters are exchanging attacks while rushing across the landscape.

The way I usually explain chases is by asking people to imagine a typical action movie chase scene, and then pick out five pivotal moments from the scene to represent the rounds in which the characters take their actions. The remainder of the scene would just be handled through the narrative.

For example, imagine this scene from Casino Royale:

In the above chase scene, I would probably define the five rounds as follows:

Round 1 (takes place at 0:26): James Bond makes a Driving roll in the first round (Agility rolls after that, once he leaves the vehicle). He has the Advantage, and uses the Force maneuver against the bad guy, but fails.

Round 2 (takes place at 1:15): James Bond has the Advantage, but drew the King of Clubs, meaning he's distracted by the explosion.

Round 3 (takes place at 2:40): The bad guy has the Advantage, and makes a Shooting attack at short range, but rolls a critical failure (his gun jams). James responds with an Agility trick (he doesn't need the Advantage for a Trick), and causes the bad guy to become Shaken.

Round 4 (takes place at 3:00): The bad guy has the Advantage, and attacks James, causing him to become Shaken.

Round 5 (takes place at 5:05): The bad guy has the Advantage, and reaches the safety of the embassy.

Everything else would just be part of the narrative, described by the players and Game Master.

Simplifying the Rules

Some people understand how to narrate the chases, but find the rules overly complicated, and/or dislike the way characters cannot attack without Advantage. A suggestion I've made in the past is to streamline the chase rules by removing the attack range and complication tables - even I have to look those up, and to be honest, having to reference table entries every round isn't very FFF.

Streamlined Chases

Each round, each character makes their maneuvering trait roll, drawing one card for each success and raise (as normal). The characters then take their actions in sequence, however:

1. You suffer -2 to attack (or 'Force') someone who has a higher card.
2. You suffer -2 if you have a dot card (2-10), and must use ranged weapons.
3. Complication (Clubs): Make another roll at -2 to avoid Fatigue or a collision.

So face cards would allow melee attacks, while spot card would require ranged attacks, and you'd have a penalty of between +0 and -4, which the Game Master or players could narrate as range, cover, distractions, etc.

Note: Savageblog Italia have translated this post to Italian, read it here.

Monday, 4 September 2017

Invoking Hindrances

When designing my Swift d12 system, I wanted to keep the rules streamlined, so I decided to introduce a simple mechanic for handling Flaws. The approach I used was to make them primarily descriptive, and allow players to "invoke" each Flaw once per session in return for Karma Points.

It struck me that the same approach would also work rather well for Hindrances in Savage Worlds, so I came up with a quick conversion:

Invoking Hindrances

Players can invoke each of their Hindrances once per session. This must be done before making a trait roll, and the player should explain how their Hindrance gives them a disadvantage in this particular situation. If the GM accepts the explanation, the player earns a Benny, but also suffers a –2 penalty to their roll, and must draw a card. If the card is Clubs, there is a further complication; the penalty increases to –4, and failure is treated as if it were a critical failure.

Players cannot spend a Benny to reroll an invoked Hindrance.

Example 1

The Game Master tells everyone to make Notice rolls as they approach the cave. Lexi invokes her Overconfident Hindrance; she's not scared of some smelly old cave, so she'll just go marching straight in without bothering to look for signs of danger! She draws the Five of Hearts, and makes her Notice roll with a –2 penalty, but Aces her roll and succeeds anyway.

Example 2

Rylan disturbs a dragon while exploring its lair. The Game Master decides that this scene will be resolved as a Chase, and asks for a maneuvering trait roll. Rylan invokes his Greedy Hindrance in the first round, and announces that he's been distracted by the dragon's treasure hoard. He draws the Seven of Spades and makes his Agility roll with a –2 penalty, failing the roll. Looks like he's going to need that bonus Benny for a Soak roll!

Example 3

Big Brak launches a furious attack against a human adventurer, and decides to invoke his One Eye Hindrance; the player describes how the human ducks around Big Brak's blind side, putting him at a disadvantage as he tries to swing his axe. He draws the Ace of Clubs and suffers a –4 penalty to his attack – failure! The GM declares that Big Brak loses his grip on his axe, and accidentally tosses it away into the river!


This rule obviously turns the "fluffy" Hindrances into more of a benefit than a drawback, but it works extremely well in Swift d12, where I've found it really encourages the players to add some interesting narrative to the game. I see no reason why the same solution wouldn't work just as well in Savage Worlds.

My older Hindrance Cards idea also gave players a more direct means of earning Bennies, helping to take some of the pressure off the GM, but it always felt a bit handwavy during play. By contrast, the "invoke" rule feels more like the players are paying a fair price for their bonus Benny.

Saga of the Goblin Horde: Quick Start update

Following feedback from a few more playtests (those posted here and here, as well as one run by a friend of mine for his local group) I've updated the Quick Start rules to incorporate several changes.

Get it here: SotGH Quick Start

The initiative rules have been rewritten to follow a new approach (described in more detail here): There is no longer a wits-based Guile check. Instead, the players and their minions now automatically act before enemy NPCs, but the characters can "rush" if they wish to act faster. Although the old initiative system worked fine, I found myself becoming very conscious of the extra roll every round, and it was starting to feel a bit tedious.

Goblin gang members no longer receive Agility +1, instead they just get a +1 bonus to Speed (so they still move quite fast), but have +0 in all their abilities. This makes them more comparable with their Savage Worlds counterparts, and also simplifies the combat scenes by reducing the number of modifiers commonly in play (as the Agility bonus meant an extra bonus to the gang members' attacks, and an extra penalty to all attacks made against them).

The Trapmaker Feat works a bit differently. Instead of just causing 2d6+Guile damage (comparable with a normal success), the trap is now treated as an attack roll (giving it the possibility of a critical success or failure) or a stunt (introducing the option for traps that stun, trip, or push people around).

The Cunning Feat no longer adds +1 to wits-based Guile checks (as those have been phased out with the new initiative rules), instead it gives +1 to Guile-based damage rolls (i.e., for ranged attacks).

The Chase rules have been redesigned. They still work in roughly the same way, but should now be more intuitive.

Friday, 1 September 2017

Swift d12: Rethinking Initiative

One of the problems I've currently got with the Chase rules is that, because only pursuers make initiative rolls, the fleeing character never triggers a complication. The obvious solution is to make the fleeing character roll as well, but that would make it inconsistent with regular initiative.

However if everyone rolled initiative in regular combat, it would add even more rolls, and the more I think about this issue, the more I feel that initiative is already overly intrusive. Savage Worlds manages to get away with calculating initiative every round, perhaps because the cards feel like such a different game mechanic to trait checks, but in Swift d12 the extra roll can become annoying.

The main design goal for the original initiative system was to ensure that one side didn't always get to act before the other (because there are often large numbers of combatants on the battlefield, and one side could cripple the other if they all got to attack first). Any alternative system would still need to address that original design goal.

One interesting initiative system I've read about is the one in Shadow of the Demon Lord, where characters can choose to take either a "fast turn" or a "slow turn". Players act before NPCs within each turn, and those in the fast turn take one action while those in the slow turn take two actions, so acting first comes at a price. This is a quick and clever mechanic, and feedback from players seems to be generally positive. While the solution wouldn't work as written in Swift d12, it's given me inspiration for something along similar lines.

Alternative Initiative Proposal

At the beginning of each round, the Game Master asks if any players wish to "rush" their actions, and those who rush automatically act first. After that, the Game Master may decide to make any NPCs rush their own actions, and they act next. Then the remaining players get to act, followed by the remaining NPCs.

However characters can only rush if they're not Staggered, and they become Staggered when they rush. Of course they can still use the recover action to immediately remove the Staggered condition as usual, but recovering is a simple action, so it'll cost them an action die.

Interaction with Other Mechanics

The Lightning-Quick Feat already allows characters to spend a Karma Point to take a simple action as a free action, so with the alternative initiative they could "rush" and then spend a Karma Point to recover.

In a surprise situation, the surprised characters always start combat Staggered, and this would prevent them from rushing.

The All-Out Attack maneuver gives characters +2 to attack and damage, but they also become Staggered. What I wanted to avoid in the original initiative system was a situation whereby players could choose to act last with an All-Out Attack, then act first in the next round and recover before anyone could take advantage of them being Staggered. But as Staggered characters cannot rush, this wouldn't be an issue with the proposed rule.

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Swift d12: Two More Playtests

I ran a couple more playtests this week. The first was a Saga of the Goblin Horde playtest with Manuel Sambs and his girlfriend, the second playtest was just Manuel and I, using my notes for modern-day settings.

Goblin Playtest

Although this wasn't a "proper" session, we went through the character creation process, and then I ran Bone of Contention. Character creation was reasonably fast, although the players spent a few minutes browsing through the Flaws and Feats for inspiration, as this was their first time creating characters (previously they'd just used pregens).

Once again we used the Shenanigans setting rule, and the results were hilarious. I will definitely be converting this rule across to Swift d12, so that it doesn't rely on the use of cards.

We tested out the opposed roll concept I proposed after the last playtest (where the opponent's ability is added to the TN instead of being subtracted from the roll as a penalty), and unanimously agreed that we didn't like it. It was confusing, one more thing to keep track of, and it felt particularly clunky when it came to critical successes.

While I still wasn't too happy with the current approach (treating your opponent's ability as a modifier to your own ability check), Manuel's girlfriend said that she found it about as easy as tracking modifiers in Savage Worlds. As she has a lot less experience with Savage Worlds than Manuel and I, we discussed if the main problem might be due to familiarity. Perhaps the Swift d12 system will start to feel more intuitive after a few games.

In the Savage Worlds version of Saga of the Goblin Horde, goblin gang members have Agility d8, which is average for the goblin race. So when I converted them to Swift d12, I gave them Agility +1. The problem is that Agility +1 in Swift d12 also gives the equivalent of a Savage Worlds d8 in all Agility-linked skills (including combat skills). Not only does that make goblin gang members far more competent, it also makes them more complex to track in combat, as they all have +1 to hit, and foes all receive a -1 penalty to hit them. So I think I will reduce their Agility to +0, and consider some smaller advantage to represent goblins being more agile (such as +1 Speed).

Modern Playtest

The second playtest was just myself and Manuel, so we used the Mythic GM Emulator, allowing us both to play. As a pair of independent repo men in an urban setting, we'd decided to take on a little "side job" for a wealthy gentleman, and a few days later he was brutally murdered. It was originally going to be an urban fantasy adventure, an introduction to my Primordial Horrors setting, but the GM Emulator has a habit of throwing curveballs, and this was no exception.

The initial pitch for the adventure involved an occultist and a stolen spellbook, but the former turned out to be the front for a criminal organization, and the latter ended up being a notebook filled with blackmail material, so the supernatural clues were nothing more than a smokescreen for an elaborate con. It wasn't exactly what we'd planned, but it was a pretty good story with a nice showdown at the end (a big fight outside a bar followed a car chase).

In the modern setting characters have devices rather than knick-knacks, and influence instead of gang members (although the appropriate influence can be used to recruit temporary minions, for example if you have underworld contacts, or friends in a street gang). While we did get into a couple of fights, without all the gang members combat moved much faster.

Overall I was very pleased with the feel of the mechanics, they were fast and intuitive, and supported the narrative without getting in the way.

Monday, 21 August 2017

Saga of the Goblin Horde: Updated Player's Guide

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

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

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

Swift d12 Playtest Report

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

Here's a short summary of my thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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