Saturday, 27 May 2017

Blackwood: Only a couple of days left to back the Kickstarter!

There are only a couple of days left on the Blackwood Kickstarter, so if you've not backed it yet, what are you waiting for? If you're on the fence, you can download the free Year in the Blackwood bundle, which contains a setting primer, 6 pregenerated characters, and 4 One Sheet adventures - easily enough to get a feel for the setting, and run a few adventures for your group. Backers also get immediate access to the working draft of the setting.

The Blackwood is a fantasy setting that might best be described as the Brothers Grimm meets Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. I had the pleasure of designing a few of their Edges and Hindrances, and also did the layout work for a couple of their One Sheets, so I'm pleased to see the Kickstarter has reached its funding goal. However if the appropriate stretch goals are reached, I'll also be writing a Blackwood adventure, and designing their Campaign Deck!

So make sure you check it out if you think it might be your sort of setting; if you wait until it hits DTRPG, the stretch goals may never get reached.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Swift d12: Thoughts on the Staggered condition

I've been thinking some more about streamlining the modifiers in Swift d12, trying to remove any that aren't strictly necessary, and one that really comes to mind is the Staggered condition. Characters frequently become Staggered in combat, giving them a -2 penalty to their rolls, so it's something that often has to be subtracted from ability checks. During play testing, it sometimes felt quite obtrusive.

However simply dropping the penalty would make the Staggered condition far less significant, noticeably impacting other parts of the game (such as stunts). So I started trying to think of alternatives, and here's a possible solution I'm toying with:

Staggered characters do not suffer any penalties to their ability checks, however they no longer recover automatically. Instead, the character remains Staggered until they spend an action to recover (Champions lose one action die, but can still perform a standard action with their remaining die).

Recovery is optional, so a character can choose to remain Staggered if they wish, however if they don't recover they will be more vulnerable to further attacks (because they'll be easier to wound). This should speed up most combat encounters, as the GM can simply leave cannonfodder foes Staggered (they'll go down faster, and won't suffer -2 to their attacks).

Players are more likely to choose to recover, but as PCs are Champions they'll still be able to take an action (albeit with a single action die), so it won't feel like "stun lock".

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Swift d12: Musings about modifiers

One of the minor niggles I ran into while play testing Swift d12 was all the different modifiers players need to add together. Savage Worlds has this issue too, but it's less severe because of things like the die step traits (instead of modifiers) and using a derived stat for Parry. I also have the issue of Staggered incurring a -2 penalty, which is another thing to add on.

A few people have expressed a dislike of the Swift d12 complication mechanic, so I've been pondering ways I might make it more intuitive. One of the ideas I considered was rolling 3d6 and keeping the lowest, middle or highest result for a minor, moderate or major complication.

While googling for similar mechanics, I stumbled across a discussion about Shadow of the Demon Lord, which uses "boons" and "banes" to represent advantages and disadvantages. Each situational bonus grants a boon die, and each situational penalty grants a bane die, and the two cancel each other out. So if you had three bonuses and one penalty, you would roll two bane dice (2d6) and keep the highest. This is apparently quite a popular approach, although the modifiers are a bit high for my d12-based system.

However rolling 3d6 and applying the lowest, middle or highest die result (as a minor, moderate or major advantage or disadvantage respectively) could be a better fit, roughly comparable with a 2, 3 or 5 point bonus/penalty.


The basic idea of this mechanic is to simplify bonuses and penalties. Instead of tracking lots of variable modifiers for things like lighting, range, cover, etc, most situations would simply grant an advantage or disadvantage (with a few situations granting a double advantage or disadvantage), and these could be listed in the rules as well as on a cheat sheet.

You would gain an advantage when...
  • Making a close combat attack against a prone target.
  • Attacking a foe who is using an improvised weapon (including unarmed) when you are using a proper weapon.
  • Surprising a foe in combat.
  • Etc...

You would suffer a disadvantage when...
  • Making a ranged attack against a prone target.
  • You are Staggered or Stunned.
  • Poor lighting makes it difficult to see what you're doing (double disadvantage in pitch darkness)
  • Your foe has cover (double disadvantage when they have heavy cover)
  • Your foe is at medium range (double disadvantage when they are at long range)
  • You are using an improvised weapon (including unarmed) to attack a foe who is using a proper weapon.
  • Your foe is being flanked by another hostile character.
  • You are jogging the same turn you're performing the action.
  • Etc...

And of course the GM could apply a situational advantage/disadvantage, in much the same way they might normally apply a situational modifier.

So if you fired an arrow at an opponent behind cover (disadvantage) at short range, you'd roll 3d6 and apply the lowest die result as a penalty to your action. If they were behind cover at medium range, you'd roll 3d6 and apply the middle die result, and if you were also Staggered you'd roll 3d6 and apply the highest die result.

The dice would be rolled at the same time as the action dice (i.e., as a dice pool) so you wouldn't need to make separate rolls. In the case of Minions, a single set of 3d6 could be rolled at the same time as a group of Minions, with the result applied to all of them, so once again there wouldn't need to be any separate rolls.

Of course you'd still need to add up the advantages and disadvantages, but there are fewer of them (two levels of lighting instead of four, etc), and the process is split into two steps - first you calculate whether you have a minor, moderate or major advantage or disadvantage, then you make the ability check.

Previously an attack might be calculated by rolling your action dice, adding your Melee, subtracting their Melee, then subtracting 2 because you're Staggered, adding 2 because they're prone, and subtracting 2 because you jogged to reach them.

But now you'd split the process into two steps:

Step 1: One disadvantage (you're Staggered) + one advantage (they're prone) - one disadvantage (you jogged) = minor disadvantage.

Step 2: Roll your action dice, add your Melee, subtract their Melee, and apply a minor disadvantage.

I'm still not sure how I feel about this idea, but I do think it might be worth testing out.

Monday, 22 May 2017

Swift d12 Lite: Streamlined Edition

I recently took a look at some testdrive rules for a new RPG, and my immediate thought was "that's a lot to read". My second thought was "I bet other people feel exactly the same way about Swift d12". So I started wondering how viable it would be to create a massively streamlined version of the Swift d12 system that still retained the general flavor of the system.

Download here: Swift d12 Lite

Because Swift d12 Lite is designed to be an introduction to the full system, I didn't want to remove anything essential - I wanted a system that still retained the general feel of the full game. However I think a set of rules that fit onto half a dozen pages is far less intimidating for a new player. Such a small system would be ideal for micro-settings like Just Insert Imagination's Fuhgeddaboudit or Aliens vs Rednecks, where it could be included as part of the download, giving the customer a full standalone game.

The document is still pretty rough at the moment, but the idea is to fit character creation onto one page, and the rest of the system onto four or five pages, perhaps with some GM guidelines at the end. Once I'm happy with the content, I'll give it the proper layout treatment. I think this could be much more appealing to potential playtesters, and some people may even prefer the lighter rules over a more detailed book.

To give credit where it's due, I also drew inspiration from Frank Turfler's Savage Dungeons rules, which are a streamlined version of Savage Worlds (although in his case you still need the full rulebook to play).

Monday, 15 May 2017

Buccaneer: Through Hell & High Water for Savage Worlds

Fans of "Pirates of the Caribbean" should keep an eye out for the new Kickstarter from Fabled Environments and Yellow Piece Games, which is due to launch tomorrow. Fabled Environments have produced some interesting settings in the past, but they're also known for publishing detailed maps, which hopefully means the setting will include some great custom maps.

They've also hired Rick Hershey of Fat Goblin Games to do the artwork! Rick is one of my favorite RPG artists (he also created most of the artwork for Saga of the Goblin Horde).

The team includes Savage Worlds veterans Christopher "Savage Bull" Landauer and Chris "Savage Mommy" Fuchs from the SavageCast podcast, so the mechanics should be solid - I know they've discussed in the past that they plan to treat ships as characters (Savage Space did the same thing, and it worked exceptionally well, so I definitely think they're on to something). Apparently they also have some interesting new rules for ship battles.

The 50 Fathoms setting never really did it for me (although the Plot Point Campaign itself was well designed, I didn't like the thematic blend of Earth nationalities in a fantasy world), while Pirates of the Spanish Main feels a bit dated (probably because it's ten years old, and was designed as a standalone product, so it still uses a much older version of the rules). I think a good pirate setting is well overdue, so I'm interested to see what comes of the project.

Hopefully we'll get to see more teasers as the Kickstarter progresses!

EDIT: The Kickstarter has now launched, check it out here!

Monday, 8 May 2017

Designing your own Savage Worlds Setting

I've released well over 30 PDFs in the last five years, most of them for Savage Worlds, but my early products had pretty crude trade dress - they were simply exported Word documents, and used free low-resolution artwork.

Back in October 2015 I decided it was time to step up my game, as my plan is to eventually move into self-publishing. I started researching how to design a setting book, and recorded my findings in a series of 20 blog posts.

Originally I provided a links to these blog posts on the Pinnacle forums, but the forums have been down for quite a while now, and not all of my recent work is specific to Savage Worlds so I figured it made sense to post a new summary here for easier reference.

In my first post on setting design I describe the process I use for creating fan supplements, and discuss the importance of content, layout design, font selection, cover and interior design, title and logo, and artwork.

This post takes a look at the layout of three of Pinnacle's newer settings (ETU, Lankhmar, and Rippers Resurrected). I provide a breakdown of the different sections in each book, showing how many pages are allocated to each section.

I provide some rough guidelines for which chapters and sections should be included in a setting book, along with an approximate word count range for each section.

An anonymous pricing comparison of 100 randomly selected Savage Worlds PDFs, with a brief look at the pricing used by Pinnacle.

Some thoughts about designing Plot Point Campaigns, and the difference between Plot Point Episodes and Savage Tales. I also discuss how to create a Plot Point Campaign by reverse engineering a TV show, and provide an example.

A comparison of Plot Point Episodes, Savage Tales and One Sheets, showing how (if you break it down) a Plot Point Campaign is really just a collection of One Sheets; if you can write a One Sheet, you can write a Plot Point Campaign.

My third blog post about designing Plot Point Campaigns. This time I talk about choosing the overarching plot, and using it to build a Plot Point Summary. I've also included a detailed example for Drakonheim, showing how I might weave three threads into a central plot, and then break the story down into 10 Plot Point Episodes.

I briefly discuss the importance of having a good cover, and give an overview of how I went about getting my rough cover concept turned into a reality.

I talk about applying the CRAP Principle (Contrast, Repetition, Alignment and Proximity), and provide some suggestions for improving typography.

A detailed description of the process I use for writing One Sheets (which are essentially much the same thing as Savage Tales and Plot Point Episodes).

I show each step of the process as I transform a one-paragraph adventure overview into a second episode for my fictitious "Prophecy of Drakonheim" Plot Point Campaign.

I discuss the importance of geography, topography, and a good map, and share some thoughts about designing a smaller gazetteer based on the mini-setting concept.

I take a step back from my Saga of the Goblin Horde setting, to consider where it came from, where it stands, and where it might go next.

I discuss a mechanism for grid-based travel, with Savage Tales triggered by points of interest, combined with Plot Point Episodes based on the overarching storyline.

I take a look at the different styles and file formats for the Wild Card symbol, comparing the approach used in various setting books, and discussing their pros and cons.

Some musings on creating a gear chapter with multiple item illustrations, and how best to present the layout.

How to create a nicely illustrated bestiary without breaking the bank, with a look at different sources of inspiration, keeping the layout easy to read, and making the bestiary a source of adventure seeds.

A first-hand look at how a setting can evolve throughout the design process, particularly when it isn't fully fleshed-out in advance.

Many game settings include a world map, but a map isn't just aesthetic, it's also functional - in fact it's often one of the most important pieces of artwork in the book, referenced extensively throughout a campaign. But what sort of thought process goes into the creation of a map?

Before I release something there are a lot of things to double-check. In the past I would frequently have to make multiple releases to correct stuff I'd forgotten, but over time I've built up a checklist of things to look out for.

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Saga of the Goblin Horde: Campaign Overview

The Plot Point Campaign in Saga of the Goblin Horde follows the great war between humans and goblins, and the main story arc is divided into eleven Plot Point Episodes (previously ten, but I've since decided to add Head Hunters). I've discussed parts of the campaign before, and have already run playtests of the first four episodes, but I thought it was about time I gave a proper overview.

The first two Plot Point Episodes (Dungeon Squat and Tavern Crawl) are designed to be played back to back, and they help set the tone for the rest of the campaign. They're a bit like a two-part pilot in a TV show, introducing the players to the setting. After running these, the GM can start inserting their own adventures as usual.

The third and fourth Plot Point Episodes (Head Hunters and Kick Off) trigger the great war, and should be run fairly close together, so the Game Master should move on to them once the players are ready for the main story arc to begin. After running these adventures, the Game Master starts using the War Clock to track the progress of the human assault.

The next five Plot Point Episodes are triggered by the War Clock, and cover the five major stages of the human assault against the goblin horde, while the final two Plot Point Episodes (Slay Day and Let Sleeping Gods Lie) conclude the campaign, and are designed to be run back to back.

War Clock

The War Clock is a mechanism I designed for tracking the escalation of the war. After Kick Off the Game Master can run Savage Tales or One Sheets, or use the Campaign Deck to generate their own adventures, but at the end of each such adventure the War Clock must be updated to reflect how murderous and destructive the goblins were during their last mission.

The later Plot Point Episodes are marked on the War Clock, and when one is reached the Game Master is supposed to run it for the next session. Thus the more violent the goblins behave, the sooner the humans will launch their next major assault. 

Plot Point Summary

Here is a short summary of  the Plot Point Episodes.

Episode 1: Dungeon Squat
A large party of particularly aggressive adventurers has been raiding goblin warrens along Hightree Ridge, attacking the weak borderland goblins with increasing frequency, and they are becoming far too big for their boots. Chief Bignose of the Redfang tribe dispatches a few gang bosses to set an ambush in one of the goblin dens, to teach the humans a lesson.

Episode 2: Tavern Crawl
Once the adventurers have been dealt with, the goblin bosses are tasked with addressing the source of the problem: the frontier town where the humans came from. Adventurers always love to kick back and relax between massacres, squandering their stolen loot on fermented drinks. But how are they going to do that if all the taverns have been destroyed?

Episode 3: Head Hunters
Recruitment has been slacking lately, and the Redfang tribe needs more cannon fodder. Chief Bignose also wants some impressive new war trophies for his collection, so he decides to hold a double headhunting contest. The bosses are tasked with headhunting new recruits for the tribe, and headhunting some new heads to decorate the chief's tent.

Episode 4: Kick Off
One of the goblin gangs recovered a very round human head from their last foray across the border, and they’ve decided it’s the perfect shape to use as a ball for a bit of competitive sport. However what they didn’t know is that the head belonged to the king’s sole heir, who had been sowing his oats along the frontier, making the most of his youth before settling down to his responsibilities.

Episode 5: Short Straw
The mountain humans have been holed up in their mines for decades, but as the attacks against the goblin horde ramp up, the stocky little humans finally decide to make their move. Bursting from their underground hideouts, they attempt to secure a foothold along the Northern River, paving the way for future attacks.

Episode 6: Ship Shape
The orcs are a seafaring race, and many of them take advantage of their special arrangement with the sea goblins, trading with civilizations across the Endless Ocean. However several enterprising captains have recently found a far easier way to turn a profit – by transporting squads of human troops, and dropping them off along the western shore.

Episode 7: Forest Fury
Several months ago, the Treebiter tribe was wiped out by the forest humans in a vicious, unprovoked attack against the goblins. Now the woodland folk are on the march once again, their scouts spreading throughout Shadowglade Forest as they begin their invasion into the goblin lands.

Episode 8: Fighting Fire with Ice
Squads of human thugs mounted on fire drakes begin launching raids across the goblin lands, burning down villages and sending the goblins fleeing for their lives. The chief sends the gang bosses to seek the aid of the Icerunner tribe, for it is said they have tamed many of the wild griffins that build their nests on the peaks of the Longtooth Mountains, and with flying steeds of their own, the goblins should stand a fighting chance.

Episode 9: Green Vaccine
Goblinoids and ogrekin start falling sick as a terrible plague sweeps the land, and this is one foe the goblins are ill-equipped to deal with. Following a lead from a priest of the Sleeping God, the gang bosses must travel to Windpoint Island and attempt to unlock the secrets of the ancient fortress, in the hope of finding a cure.

Episode 10: Slay Day
The main human army now marches across Hightree Ridge, moving through a rocky pass along the eastern side of the goblin lands. Tens of thousands strong, the human soldiers are disciplined and well-equipped, and they’re heading directly for the Spire of Flame.

Episode 11: Let Sleeping Gods Lie
As the battle rages in and around the Scorched Basin, the Spire of Flame ignites, and fire shoots up into the heavens. The sky darkens overhead as ominous storm clouds gather, and Blacktear Lake begin to churn as something huge stirs beneath the surface. The fate of the tribes will now be decided!

Monday, 1 May 2017

The Goblin Warrens

Last month I took part in the 200 Word RPG Challenge, submitting two entries: the Goblin Warrens, and Doomsday Cult.

All submissions had to be entered in plain text, which isn't very attractive, so I thought I'd have a go at making my mini RPGs look a bit more presentable. I'm still trying to decide what sort of trade dress I'd like to use for Doomsday Cult, but the Goblin Warrens is based on my Saga of the Goblin Horde setting, so I thought it made sense to present it in the same style.

I also decided to add a simple 200 word adventure. There wasn't enough space in the original entry to include both a system and an adventure (although I did try my best), so I thought it would make a fun little extra to include a bonus 200 word adventure alongside the RPG.

Download it here: The Goblin Warrens