Tuesday, 28 March 2017

SWIFT-d12 update

I've been doing quite a lot of playtesting for SWIFT-d12 lately, and have been tweaking and refining the mechanics based on those playtests. Last week I mentioned the new rules for Complication Dice, but I've also made a few other significant changes.

Although I liked the old wound system on paper, in practice it proved a pain to calculate all the modifiers every time a Champion took a hit, particularly for characters with bonuses to Endurance and Vitality. So I went back to the drawing board and redesigned it.

I also ripped out the chase rules. It was painful to do so, as I'd put a lot of time into them, but I was never quite happy with the way they worked, and they didn't quite mesh with the rest of the rules - they felt bolted on. I've saved them in a separate file, perhaps I'll revisit them later, but for now they're gone. I've included simpler replacement chase rules as a type of extended ability check.

The defensive ability checks have also been removed, as they don't work quite so well with the revised action dice (opposed rolls are no longer symmetrical), and they raise some awkward questions about the use of Karma Points.

Other rules have been added, such as improvised weapons and unarmed attacks, specific action types, new Feats, revisions to derived traits, and so on.

There's still quite a lot to finalize, and a lot more polishing to do, but the system feels pretty robust now. You can grab the latest version of the rules from here, and the goblin archetypes here. And don't forget to join the SWIFT-d12 Google+ community if you haven't already!

Quick Skirmish rule

Combat in Savage Worlds is pretty fast, but it can still take a while to resolve, and the GM may not wish to play out every single fight using the normal combat rules. Sometimes the session needs to be sped up because the GM is running behind schedule, other times a combat scene might be there solely for story purposes, or to set the scene for a bigger encounter, and the GM doesn't want it to bog down the session - but equally they don't want it to be purely narrative, they want it to offer some sort of mechanical challenge as well.

Savage Worlds has two abstract subsystems for fast combat resolution. The first is the Mass Battle rules, which are designed for large scale combat, where the heroes either lead the army or try to make a small difference on the battlefield. The second is the Quick Combat rules, a newer mechanic that hasn't yet made its way into the rulebook, which is designed to handle smaller scale (and far less dangerous) confrontations.

Mass Battles are fine for armies clashing on the battlefield, but it's extremely dangerous for individuals to wade into battle, and they have a relatively small impact on the outcome. It's not really suitable for a skirmish scenario.

Quick Combat is a nice fast mid-game mechanic, serving as a bridge between scenes, but it's not designed to be very challenging, and it offers no real risk/reward if you're using it to end a session (for example when you've run out of time, and want to bring the adventure to a quick conclusion). Unless the characters are already wounded, there's absolutely no risk of failure, while the reward for an exceptional success is a Benny, which is lost at the end of the session anyway.

So I decided to put together a new rule that combines elements of Mass Combat and Quick Combat, for scenarios that are more challenging than Quick Combat but not as dangerous as Mass Battles, and suitable for an end-of-session wrap-up fight scene (similar to that used by +Eric Lamoureux, when he ran short of time at the end of 6 Heads for the Head Honcho).

Quick Skirmish

The GM can assign a modifier of between +2 and -2 depending on the relative competence of the enemy, and another modifier of between +2 and -2 if one side has a significant tactical advantage.

The number of foes is represented by a pile of tokens, typically 3-5 tokens per player for a reasonable challenge. This is a fairly abstract representation of the number of foes the heroes have to face, and should take into account the objective of the scene - it could represent how many foes are still alive, how many are still fighting, or it might just represent how many the heroes need to defeat before they can break through the enemy lines and make their escape.

Each round, each player draws an action card for initiative, and makes a skirmish roll on their turn. On Clubs they suffer a complication: -2 to the roll, and on a failure the damage is 4d6 rather than 3d6. The player can choose which trait they use for the skirmish roll - usually a combat or arcane skill, but other traits are permitted as long as they fit the scene and can be justified through appropriate narrative. The GM may also wish to award a situational bonus of +1 or +2 for a particularly creative and inspiring description of the hero's actions; interesting narrative is essential for an abstract subsystem!

‣ Failure: The character suffers 3d6 damage (increased to 4d6 on Clubs).

‣ Success: The character or an ally under their control suffers 2d6 damage, and the player takes one token from the table.

‣ Raise: The player takes two tokens from the table.

Shaken characters should make their Spirit roll to recover before making their skirmish roll each turn. If they remain Shaken, they must still make a skirmish roll, but they suffer a further -2 penalty.

The GM may optionally set milestone benefits for earning a certain number of tokens. For example a character who earns 3 tokens might be allowed to escape early, leaving the rest of the party to fend for themselves. Or perhaps at 5 tokens the character breaks through the enemy lines and can attack them from the rear, receiving a +2 bonus to their next skirmish roll this scene.

Once all of the tokens have been taken from the table, the final objective has been reached, and the heroes are victorious. If the Quick Skirmish has been used for a mid-game scene, the GM might also wish to award a Benny to the player with the most tokens.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

SWIFT-d12: Complication Dice

Yesterday I did two SWIFT-d12 playtest sessions with Manuel Sambs, one for Saga of the Goblin Horde, and the other for Manuel's Neon City Nights setting. We identified a few areas that need some work, but the one I'd like to talk about right now is "complications".

The Action Deck in Savage Worlds often treats clubs as complications, and that adds an unpredictable element of risk to rules like Chases and Dramatic Tasks, mechanics that I frequently use in my adventures. However SWIFT-d12 doesn't use cards, and without complications it always feels like something's been lost when I convert the adventures. So after some consideration, I've come up with a generic complication mechanic.

Complication Dice

Whenever the GM calls for an ability check, they may also declare a complication. The player should then roll two complication dice at the same time as their action dice.

Complication dice are d6s, they do not explode, and they cannot be rerolled with Karma Points. If the complication dice roll a double value, then the complication is triggered; the player must then make another ability check with a penalty equal to the number on the complication dice. Failure results in some sort of mechanical or narrative drawback, which the GM should describe before the player rolls.

Example: Big Brak is knee deep in the Northern River, fighting a minotaur, and the GM announces that his next attack has a complication due to the strong current. Big Brak rolls his Melee check and succeeds, killing the minotaur, but the complication dice roll double 4. The GM announces that Big Brak must now make a Muscle check with a -4 penalty (because of the double 4); on a failure he'll be swept away by the river.


I think this captures the unpredictable feel of complications, without the need for cards. It's also a unified mechanic that can be applied to any ability check at the GM's discretion, rather than a "special case" rule that applies to specific subsystems, and I think that should make it more flexible and intuitive to use.

Heroes of Drakonheim released

The Drakonheim Savage Companion was released back in November last year, and contains all the additional rules, races and abilities needed to play in the Drakonheim setting using Savage Worlds.

But the companion wasn't the only product I worked on for Sneak Attack Press. I also converted Heroes of Drakonheim to Savage Worlds, a trilogy of adventures covering the major events leading up to the situation described in the setting book.

It's a great way to introduce players to the setting, and you can buy it here:

Or as part of a bundle with the setting and companion here:

Drakonheim Savage Bundle

There's a preview of the final adventure here, in which the heroes have to use their limited time to explore ruins, recruit allies, and prepare the city's defenses to hold off an invading army.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Saga of the Goblin Horde: Adventure Cards

One of the cooler accessories for Savage Worlds is the Adventure Deck. Much like the Drama Deck in Torg, or (if you go back to the mid 80s) the Whimsy Cards for Ars Magica, the Adventure Deck provides players with a structured way to influence the story, allowing them to introduce new enemies, love interests, and various other unexpected plot twists.

It's not unusual for individual settings to offer their own custom Adventure Cards, which can be inserted into the larger deck to provide players with new setting-specific options. And of course many Savage Worlds fans also create their own Adventure Cards (someone even offers a tool for creating your own).

Snate56 on the Pinnacle forums asked if I was planning to create some custom Adventure Cards for Saga of the Goblin Horde, and suggested a Kamikaze Meat Shield card. Although I don't have very much goblin-themed artwork suitable for Adventure Cards, I just about managed to scrape up enough for eight of them. Unfortunately they don't have a consistent artistic style, but I've had to make do with what I've got. They're not bad though - and they're perfectly functional.

It was an interesting little project, and it's given me a much better idea of how to go about creating my own decks (a skill I'll need for the Campaign Deck, as well as some of the other deck ideas I've been considering). While the process will be rather different for PoD cards, it's still nice to be able to offer a PDF version (I'm really glad I bought the official Adventure Deck as a PDF before Pinnacle pulled it from sale).

You can download the Adventure Cards direct from here, or get them from the same location as the Player's Guide, Archetypes and One Sheets. It's quite a large file; as it's intended for printing, I've left the resolution at 300 DPI.

Friday, 17 March 2017

Can of Wyrms: One Sheet

In March last year I released Egg Hunt, an Easter themed One Sheet for Saga of the Goblin Horde. When I was updating the trade dress on my One Sheets in September last year, I had to adjust the text to make everything fit, so I decided to add a teaser about a possible sequel.

With Easter approaching, I decided to write the follow-up adventure, drawing inspiration from a conversation I had with Manuel Sambs. Having written one adventure where the characters fired themselves from catapults across the city, using their own gang members as cushions, and another adventure where the players stole an entire tavern and surfed it over a waterfall, I mentioned how it was going to be difficult to up the ante much further. Then I came up with the idea of fighting over a volcano on hang gliders...

Hang gliders weren't really an appropriate thematic fit, so I decided to use ornithopters instead. Gremlins love building crazy mechanical devices, after all!

You can download Can of Wyrms from here, along with the Saga of the Goblin Horde Player's Guide, Archetypes, and the seven other One Sheet adventures.

And if you've not seen it already, don't forget to check out my interview on the Wild Die Podcast, where I talk about some of my future plans for Saga of the Goblin Horde. You can also join the Facebook group if you have questions about the setting, or just want to follow the latest news.

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.