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.