Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Evolution of a Map

I was recently talking to a friend of mine, who is writing a fantasy novel, and we started chatting about maps. I explained that I'd used Inkarnate to create my initial sketch, but commissioned Eli Kurtz of The Mythic Gazetteer to produce the final map - partially because it wasn't clear what the terms of use were for Inkarnate, but also because I felt the results didn't quite capture the look I was hoping to achieve.

While hunting around for some examples to show my friend, I came across my early sketches, and I thought it would be interesting to show the different stages the map went through as it evolved from a rough initial sketch into a polished final product.

When I first started working on Saga of the Goblin Horde, I envisioned an area of land that extended into the ocean, with mountains and a great river to the north, and a forest to the south, with the main human lands to the east. Some of these ideas can also be seen in the early One Sheets, but when I tried to turn the concept into a map, it felt extremely barren.

I started thinking up new terrain ideas while working on the setting fluff, and also divided the territory into the different regions controlled by the major tribes. This required carefully going over the One Sheets, making sure the geography fit with the earlier adventures. For example, Bone of Contention takes place in an old abbey which needed to be on the edge of the Redfang territory, but also needed to be close to the Bonedigger territory, so I decided to make them neighbouring tribes.

It was also at this point that Eli Kurtz started giving me advice on the geography, helping me to reshape the rivers, and expand the terrain to include swamps, plateaus, and more forests.

At this point I felt I had a pretty interesting region of world for the campaign to place, so I decided to commission a custom map. Eli already had a good idea of what I wanted, and I felt that his artistic style was a good fit for the book, so he started working on a new map.

Eli then added detail to the swamps, forests and mountains, and changed the lake to turn it into more of a teardrop shape (to better fit with its description in the gazetteer).

Eli continued fleshing out the terrain, finalizing the initial black and white version of the map.

Next came the color, starting with the ocean and forests. This actually required quite a bit of discussion, and we looked at other maps to see what sort of colors looked good and contrasted well together.

The rest of the map was then colored, using shades that contrasted well with the forest and ocean.

Finally, the swamps were darkened, while some highlighting and shadows were added to the mountains, and icons were added for the Dome of Shadows and Spire of Flame. The Obsidian Valley was also moved slightly so that it would better align with the hex grid I wanted to use.

At this point we asked a few other people for feedback, and someone pointed out that map was too dark, so we tried experimenting with different levels of brightness and contrast.

Some last adjustments were made to the colors, and Eli added some small tent and building icons, along with the compass and logo.

With the map itself complete, we then started discussing the labels for the different regions. I wanted to use the same font I'd used in the setting book, but it took quite a lot of experimentation to find a color that contrasted nicely with the background.

Of course I also wanted to include a hex grid, as the map had a functional purpose. Once again it took some effort to find a color that was easily visible against the background without overwhelming the map or labels (the usual black wouldn't work here, as the map itself was originally drawn in black, but brighter colors clashed with the text labels). In the end we settled on a semi-transparent white, with the hex grid drawn on a separate layer where it could be easily switched on and off.

I also wanted to use the map to indicate the territory of the different tribes. This involved quite a lot of discussion, and in the end Eli came up with a very cool "fog of war" effect, which he placed on a separate layer. This allowed me to include a separate version of the map within the book, showing which region each tribe controlled.

If you've not yet checked out the Saga of the Goblin Horde Player's Guide, you can grab it from here, and look at pages 9 and 38 to see how I ended up using Eli's map within the book. If you read through the gazetteer in the last chapter, you'll also see I made sure there was a section for each location marked on the map.

Swift d12 Revised Probabilities

Last month I posted the probabilities for Swift d12. Since then I've streamlined the critical success system, so that a double success and 13+ are now both treated as a critical success. I was recently asked what impact this has on the probabilities, and the answer is "not too much".

This is the old approach, where a critical success required succeeding on both dice:
-5: 16.0% (0.7% critical)
-4: 30.6% (2.8% critical)
-3: 43.8% (6.3% critical)
-2: 55.6% (11.1% critical)
-1: 66.0% (17.4% critical)
+0: 75.0% (25.0% critical)
+1: 82.6% (34.0% critical)
+2: 88.9% (44.4% critical)
+3: 93.8% (56.3% critical)
+4: 97.2% (69.4% critical)
+5: 99.3% (84.0% critical)
This is the new approach, where a critical success required either succeeding on both dice or rolling 13+ on one of them:
-5: 16.0% (0.7% critical)
-4: 30.6% (2.8% critical)
-3: 43.8% (6.3% critical)
-2: 55.6% (11.1% critical)
-1: 66.0% (17.4% critical)
+0: 75.0% (25.0% critical)
+1: 82.6% (41.0% critical)
+2: 88.9% (55.6% critical)
+3: 93.8% (68.8% critical)
+4: 97.2% (80.6% critical)
+5: 99.3% (91.0% critical)
As you can see, this change increases the chance of a critical success if you already have an advantage (i.e., a bonus to the ability check). It also means that a Minion now has a chance of a critical success if they have an advantage.

Overall it's not a major difference, but it does help keep the rules a bit more consistent when there aren't too different types of critical success to get your head around.

Monday, 27 February 2017

Swift d12: Roll20 Playtest Summary

I ran Dungeon Squat for a couple of friends at the weekend, using Roll20. Both friends were experienced Savage Worlds players, but neither had played Swift d12 before, so I tried to keep things fairly simple. This was also my first time GMing with Roll20.

The "Boastful Tales" rule worked well. I originally added it so that I'd have a parallel for Interludes when converting my adventures from SW, and I think I actually prefer it without the cards. I'm not quite sure why SW Interludes even use the action deck, to be honest, it doesn't really add anything.

I found that the Ambush Cards didn't work as well online as they did at the table, but they're still quite nice. This particular mechanic is something that might even be worth expanding into a full deck of custom cards in the future.

The combat encounter worked pretty well, although it was once again made clear that Champions can withstand quite a beating before going down - one-shotting a Champion is very unlikely in Swift d12, it usually takes a few hits to incapacitate them (although it's still far less predictable than hit points). I don't think this is a bad thing (combat resolution was still nice and fast), but I will definitely need to do some number-crunching at some point.

I tried to keep things simple, so we didn't go into maneuvers or stunts, and I think that was a mistake. Some of the maneuvers would have sped things up, particularly Aim or All-Out Attack, as one of the players had a lot of bad luck with his damage rolls. The other player used a Provoke stunt to intimidate one of the enemies, but I think a larger variety of stunts would have made the combat more interesting. I definitely need to expand the Cheat Sheet to include maneuvers.

We didn't have time for the chase at the end, but that was mainly due to technical issues with Roll20. Otherwise I think I would have fit everything into the three hour window.

Overall I thought it worked quite well, there were no major problems with the system, and everyone had fun. But there are definitely some things that need further work.

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Hot Water: One Sheet

Last month, Frank Turfler of the Middle Kingdoms Adventure & Trading Company released a free map along with a plot hook about goblins, and he invited other people to add to the narrative and send in their own adventure ideas. How could I resist such an invitation?

If you're not yet familiar with Saga of the Goblin Horde, you can download the player's guide, 15 archetypes and 7 One Sheet adventures from here.

You can also listen to my interview on the Wild Die Podcast here, where I talk more about the setting.

And if you're on Facebook, join the Saga of the Goblin Horde group here.

Friday, 24 February 2017

Saga of the Goblin Horde: Accursed Crossover Adventures

Savage Worlds has a lot of interesting settings, far too many for me to ever reasonably play. Some people like playing one-shots, and those can certainly be fun, but they don't provide much time to explore the setting. That's one reason why I like slottable settings (such as Guild of Shadows or Drakonheim) - they can effectively be combined with other settings. Drop a slottable setting into an established fantasy world and you can explore both at once.

But there's also another option: crossover adventures. Even if two settings can't be merged, it might be feasible to link them, whether through a long journey, a magical portal, or something else. There's even an official adventure called "Shaintar Accursed: Darkest Tides" which explores this concept, serving as a crossover between the Accursed and Shaintar settings.

Where did those goblins go?

In January last year I decided to update my Savage Frost Giants fan supplement, which contains guidelines for an unofficial Witchbreed for the Accursed setting. One of the new things I added to the supplement was a small bestiary of banes, including a snow goblin, which included the following in its description: "Few snow goblins have been seen in Morden since the end of the war, leading to some speculation about where they might have gone."

That wasn't a throwaway comment. I'd already started working on Saga of the Goblin Horde by that point, and I thought the snow goblins might serve as an interesting tie-in for a future (and obviously unofficial) crossover adventure. If the snow goblins escaped through a portal into the same world as Saga of the Goblin Horde, what else might come through the portal? Is the portal still open? Can other goblins travel back through?

Earlier this week I released the Saga of the Goblin Horde Player's Guide, which provides a short overview of each of the six major tribes. The description of the Icerunner tribe states that "This tribe first appeared only a few years ago, heading down from the peaks of the Longtooth Mountains to claim its place among the major tribes. Many of the tribe members sport a rather frosty appearance, which is assumed to be a recent mutation."

The Gods and Magic chapter also mentions that "Members of the Icerunner tribe worship a mysterious progenitor figure called the Snow Oracle, and claim they are not related to other goblinoids. Some among the tribe believe this Snow Oracle abandoned them, others that she freed them to seek out their own fate, or even that she is testing their faith. But whatever the truth, priests of the Snow Oracle possess no magical abilities."

The Snow Oracle is of course the Snow Witch mentioned in Savage Frost Giants, and while the connection might be a bit subtle, the implication for anyone reading between the lines is that the snow goblins fled Morden after the war, and found a new home among the tribes.

And of course this throws the door wide open for crossover adventures!

Goblin Adventure Seeds

Here are a few adventure seeds based on the idea of a portal between Saga of the Goblin Horde and Accursed:

Foreign Food: A strange human came through the portal a few days ago, made his way down from the Longtooth Mountains, and met a sticky end at the hands of the Redfang tribe. A gang of goblins hauled the corpse home for the chieftain's lunch, and he enjoyed the exotic flavor so much that he's demanding more! Now the gangs will have to find out where the human came from, and see if they can stock up the chief's larder with tasty imported treats.

Strange Smells: A large band of stench goblins have found their way through the portal from Morden, and they have decided to claim some territory for themselves, but they don't seem to understand the customs or recognize the established borders of the tribes. And what is that strange smell?

Queen Quest: The Nightsworn tribe have learned of the portal after questioning an Icerunner gang boss, and heard tales of a "Dark Queen" who lives beyond. Could this be their Shadow Queen? They must know the truth! But they don't want to risk provoking the wrath of their divine mistress if they're wrong, so they've bribed the Redfang tribe to investigate.

Big Trouble: A large group of frost giants have come through the portal, and are now busily hunting down Icerunner goblins. The giants seem to be able to magically detect the presence of the Icerunners, which is making it very difficult for the goblins to fight back, so they've called in a favor from the Redfang tribe. Chief Bignose has sent some of his most vicious gangs to help cut these cheeky foes down to size.

Accursed Adventure Seeds

A crossover adventure could also work the other way, with the GM introducing elements from Saga of the Goblin Horde into an Accursed campaign:

Return of the Snow Goblins: Most of the snow goblins mysteriously vanished at the end of the Bane War, but now they've started returning in large numbers, raiding human settlements with renewed vigor - and this time they've brought allies. The snow goblins are frequently accompanied by green-skinned goblins, beastfolk, and other strange creatures.

Dark Gateway: The heroes discover a magical portal leading to an unknown destination (possibly even as a follow-up to one of the scenarios described in Dark Queen's Gambit). Should they enter the portal, they will find themselves in a strange new land, populated by all manner of dangerous and exotic creatures!

The Lost Protégé: The Bonedigger tribe learned the art of necromancy from the swamp hags, a coven of powerful hobgoblin witches living in Whitebone Bog. But what if the first swamp hag was the protégé of the Morrigan, sent to explore a strange new land centuries ago, before finding herself trapped? If she still lives, and learns of the portal, the people of Morden could find themselves dealing with an invading army of goblins and undead.


While Accursed and Saga of the Goblin Horde obviously have a very different tone, they are both ostensibly dark fantasy settings with non-human PCs, and could work quite well together for crossover adventures. Saga of the Goblin Horde is designed as a mini setting, and is intentionally quite light on fluff, but a GM wanting to run a goblin-centric game in a richer and more detailed world could easily run an entire campaign set partially (or even fully) in Morden.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Saga of the Goblin Horde: Player's Guide

On Sunday I was invited onto the Wild Die Podcast, where I discussed Saga of the Goblin Horde along with my other fan creations. I also decided to release the Saga of the Goblin Horde Player's Guide at the same time - the full setting still requires additional work, but the player's guide is finished, so there's no real reason why I shouldn't release it earlier so that other people can already start testing it and giving feedback.

The SotGH Player's Guide is 36 pages (excluding the cover and credits) and includes six chapters: an introduction to the setting, character creation (including 5 races, 41 Edges and 20 Hindrances), equipment, setting rules (5 new ones), gods and magic (i.e., goblin deities), and the gazetteer (including a full page map).

Where do I get it?

You can check out the latest episode of the Wild Die Podcast (with a hilarious introduction song by Harrison Hunt) here.

The SotGH Player's Guide (along with the 15 archetypes and 6 One Sheets) are available from here.

If you'd like to join the Facebook group to ask questions, provide feedback, or simply talk about your own adventures in SotGH, it's available here.

Special Thanks

The artwork for Saga of the Goblin Horde was funded through the freelance work I did for various Savage Worlds licensees, so I'd like to thank Obatron Productions, SPQR Games, Sneak Attack Press, Gun Metal Games, Melior Via, Just Insert Imagination, and The Mythic Gazetteer for giving me the opportunity to work on their products. It gave me valuable experience that I've applied to the creation of Saga of the Goblin Horde, and also provided the artwork budget I needed to bring my concept to life!

I'd also like to thank the many people who have given feedback and suggestions on the setting, as well as those who helped with the testing. Particular thanks go to Manuel Sambs, who created table tents, paper minis, status tokens and custom Bennies for the playtests.

There's quite a lot of artwork in the book, but I'd particularly like to thank the following artists, in order of help given, without whom the project would have looked very different:

Rick Hershey of (the aptly named) Fat Goblin Games. His great goblin artwork provided part of the initial inspiration for the setting, including some of the tribes and mutations. In fact most of the art I used in the book was created by Rick, and he also created the goblin princess for me as a private commission.

Lord Zsezse Works produce my favorite covers, and I really wanted a unique cover (not stock art), so I decided to commission one from them. Figu created the cover and interior pages, while Zoltán created the goblin portrait, and their fantastic work gave Saga of the Goblin Horde its trademark look.

Eli Kurtz of The Mythic Gazetteer created the awesome map of the goblin territory. But he didn't just create the map, he also gave me lots of insight and advise on the geography, helping me refine some of the terrain to make it more logical (such as the flow of rivers, the location of swamps, and so on).

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Saga of the Goblin Horde: Troblin Rat Handler

I released the first four archetypes for Saga of the Goblin Horde back in March last year, and promised I would release another archetype every month until I'd finished them all. That time has finally arrived.

I've previously covered the five races (bugbear, goblin, gremlin, half-human and hobgoblin) and four of the goblin mutant subraces (amphiblin, barghest, canitaur and psioblin), but now its time to look at the fifth and final mutant subrace, the troblin.

So allow me to present the fifteenth archetype: the troblin rat handler!

As always, the Savage Worlds version of the archetypes is available here, and the Swift d12 version here.

The Next Step

I released the first adventure for Saga of the Goblin Horde back in December 2015, so the fifteenth archetype also marks the fifteenth month I've been working on the setting. Of course I also worked on a lot of other projects in parallel, including freelancing for several licensees and polishing up several of my older fan supplements to practice my presentation and layout skills.

But fifteen months is still a long time, so I'm now planning to focus my efforts on bringing the project to completion. I may still release another goblin One Sheet or two, and will also need to finalize the Campaign Deck at some point, but I don't plan to work on any unrelated side projects until Saga of the Goblin Horde is finished.

Wild Die Podcast

This coming Sunday I will be on the Wild Die Podcast, talking about my work. If you're interested in Saga of the Goblin Horde, you should definitely check out the podcast, as I'll be making some announcements, and discussing things that aren't yet public. You can also email the Wild Die guys (thewilddie at gmail.com) if there are any specific questions you'd like to ask me.

Monday, 13 February 2017

Saga of the Goblin Horde: Evolution of a Setting

Six months ago I gave an overview of my progress on the Saga of the Goblin Horde setting. A lot has happened over the last six months, and the project had to be delayed while I worked on a side project, but the setting is progressing well and I thought it would be interesting to take a look at what has changed and what still needs to be done.

Although the overall structure of the book is much the same (and still divided into nine chapters), I found that I needed to revisit and overhaul sections that I'd previously considered complete, because the setting concept had evolved as I incorporated new ideas and expanded or reconsidered old ones.

1. Introduction

The original goal for the introduction chapter was 1500-4000 words. Six months ago I considered this section complete at 1619 words (3 pages), but I've since expanded it to 2726 words (6 pages). It's still quite short, but I feel it now gives a much better overview of the setting, and it includes artwork for each of the different major factions. The result is a chapter that feels more polished and fleshed-out, without getting waffly.

2. Character Creation

The original goal was 4000-6000 words, with 5-15 archetypes, several races, 5-10 Hindrances, 20-30 Edges, and a list of available Arcane Backgrounds. Six months ago I considered this section complete at 5468 words (10 pages), with 13 archetypes, 5 races, 10 Hindrances, and 27 Edges.

However I came up with many new ideas while working on the setting, and I no longer feel the need to constrain myself quite so much to the original guidelines - game mechanics are my strong suit, so I might as well play to my strengths. This section has been expanded to 7275 words (13 pages), with 15 archetypes, 5 races, 20 Hindrances and 41 Edges.

I also stripped out the references to the Fantasy Companion, as I felt I could no longer justify the added entry barrier.

3. Equipment

The original goal was 1000-4000 words, and six months ago I had 1607 words (2 pages), but the chapter was still incomplete. This section has since been been increased to 1978 words (5 pages), and includes the equipment table, as well as a lot more artwork.

I decided to drop the knick-knack table though, as I'd like to include it in the Campaign Deck.

4. Setting Rules

The original goal was 1000-4000 words, and six months ago I had 480 words (1 page). I've now expanded this section to 1066 words (2 pages), adding two new setting rules that I feel are needed.

5. Gods and Magic

My original expectation was 1000-1500 words (3 pages), however I eventually settled on 856 words (2 pages), as I decided not to bother adding any new powers or Arcane Backgrounds. Instead, this section just gives a short overview of the goblin deities, and lists which powers are available to their priests.

6. Gazetteer

Six months ago I had reached 1350 words (3 pages) and was aiming for 2000-2500 words (5 pages). The final gazetteer is 2157 words (7 pages) including the map, and contains a lot of artwork. It provides a brief overview of each of the locations on the map, and I'm pleased with the way it turned out.

7. Game Master's Secrets

This was previously 1076 words (2 pages), but has now been expanded to 1441 words, and is still under work. The setting has gained a lot more depth over the last six months, and this chapter has been expanded accordingly, although I've tried to keep the information short and concise. I imagine it'll probably end up at around 4 pages.

8. Adventures

Originally I had a very brief outline of the Plot Point Campaign and an adventure generator, and expected the final chapter to be around 30-50 pages (including Savage Tales). But I changed my plans rather dramatically. There is now a 306 word introduction and overview of the campaign, followed by a 613 Plot Point Summary that describes each of the 10 Plot Point Episodes, along with full write-ups for the first two adventures (1926 words total, although they still require polishing).

I still need to describe how to use the War Clock (the mechanism that drives the Plot Point Campaign in Saga of the Goblin Horde), and do full write-ups for the remaining eight Plot Point Episodes, but I'm no longer planning to include any Savage Tales.

The adventure generator has also been dropped, as I plan to move it into the Campaign Deck, however I may still include a few cards in the setting book as a sort of mini adventure generator to help promote the deck.

9. Bestiary

The original goal was 5000-10000 words. Six months ago I had 697 words (2 pages), and expected to expand the chapter to at least 10 pages, but potentially 15 or 20 pages.

However I've come up with a lot more monster ideas over the last six months, and also wanted to provide more details about the other goblin tribes. The bestiary is now 10206 words (25 pages), and there are 7 more pages currently planned. Many of the bestiary entry descriptions can also be used as seeds for adventure ideas.


I originally expected the final book to be around 70-100 pages, with most of the remaining effort going into the adventures. The book is now 73 pages, and I expect the final book to be around 95-100 pages. However the adventures section will be much shorter than originally planned, while many of the other sections have been expanded, particularly the bestiary.

It's definitely been a learning experience, and creating an entire setting has proved to be very different to creating a splat - there's a lot more to consider, particularly when the setting isn't fully fleshed-out in advance. But it's also a very rewarding experience when you see all the pieces starting to come together.