Thursday, 22 March 2018

PWYW: My thoughts after the first week

I've been offering free products through DriveThruRPG for a few months now, but last week I released my first PWYW (Pay What You Want) product, Blood & Bile. In practice this was a very small step (I just had to activate the PWYW option, and enter a suggested price), but it felt like a major personal milestone for me as an indie publisher.

I'm pleased with the way Blood & Bile turned out, but it's a very different style of game to Saga of the Goblin Horde, and incorporates some experimental ideas I wanted to try (such as not requiring any GM preparation, or character sheets for the players) - so I didn't want people buying it blindly based on my earlier work, and then feeling misled afterwards. I was also curious about the PWYW model, and figured this would be a good way to test the waters.

It has been pointed out that PWYW is a marketing strategy rather than a sales strategy, and there have been some interesting discussions (as well as this excellent article) about the pros and cons. My work is well known within the Savage Worlds community, but now I'm trying to establish myself in the wider RPG community, so building up an audience is currently my main priority.

Blood & Bile was released on 14th March. I already had 2696 unique customers on DriveThruRPG thanks to Saga of the Goblin Horde, and 2222 of them accepted email from publishers, so I sent out a short message telling them about my latest product. While that didn't spark quite as much interest as I'd hoped, I did get a reasonable number of downloads in the first couple of days, after which it slowed down to a trickle:

14th March: 70 downloads (including 9 sales totaling $11.20)
15th March: 114 downloads (including 15 sales totaling $33.56)
16th March: 38 downloads (including 5 sales totaling $11.79)
17th March: 20 downloads (including 4 sales totaling $8.00)
18th March: 15 downloads (no sales)
19th March: 19 downloads (including 3 sales totaling $7.00)
20th March: 9 downloads (no sales)
21st March: 4 downloads (including 2 sales totaling $1.01)

That's a total of 289 downloads, of which 38 (13.1%) were sales. The total sales were $72.56, which is an average of $1.89 per paying customer. Nearly half (18 people) paid the recommended $1, the lowest amount was $0.01, and the highest was $5 (paid by 6 different people).

It's the total number of (non-free) sales that determine rankings and medals, rather than the amount of money paid, so even a 1-cent sale is useful. At one point I managed to reach rank 8 in the Hottest Small Press, but there's a lot of competition on there, and I soon dropped back down again.

Ratings and reviews seem to be harder to come by. I had expected people would be more willing to click on a rating than pay money, but that doesn't seem to be the case. So far I've had two reviews, hopefully there will be more once people have had the chance to try out the game.

DriveThruRPG keep 30% of the sales, which leaves me with a little over $50 that I can put towards future products. I'm not yet sure how I'll use that, if there's interest I may release another minimalist RPG using the same system, otherwise I'll probably put it towards Swift d12.

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Blood & Bile: My first PWYW product

I'm a fan of both vampire movies and zombie movies, and have occasionally pondered how well a vampire would fare during a zombie apocalypse. So when the guys on the Wild Die Podcast held a One Sheet Setting contest, I decided to submit an entry called "Blood & Brains"!

Of course One Sheet Settings involve quite a bit of work, so to encourage participation, the contest entries were only supposed to give a short overview. But I'd already started writing up my notes by that point, and I had some fairly concrete ideas about how I wanted the setting to look and work, so I ended up submitting a different setting outline (Circus Cult) instead.

But then I got back to working on my vampire/zombie setting, which I'd renamed to "Blood & Bile" after discovering there were already several RPG products called "Blood and Brains" (my second choice, "Flesh & Blood", was taken as well).

As Blood & Bile took shape, I started to feel it would be good enough to turn into a small commercial product, a bit like Just Insert Imagination's awesome plug-and-play settings (such as Fuhgeddaboudit, Punted in the Bonce, etc). But of course that would require changing to a different roleplaying system.

Fortunately I'd recently been pondering alternative applications for the color-coded dice system I'd used in The Goblin Warrens, and this seemed a perfect fit. The mechanics were lightweight and straightforward, intuitive but also tactical, and they would allow me to offer Blood & Brains as a fully self-contained product.

Of course I needed to expand the system slightly, to incorporate unique abilities, character advancement, and so on. I also wanted to playtest the rules before releasing them, but I've finally finished, and here it is!

Download it here: Blood & Bile

It's pretty different to Saga of the Goblin Horde, as I wanted to try out a few new ideas (in particular, while Saga of the Goblin Horde has fairly linear adventures, I wanted Blood & Bile to be a sandbox with no fixed adventure at all). However I'm pleased with the way it's turned out, and I hope others will enjoy it too.

Playing with Savage Worlds

Running Blood & Bile with Savage Worlds is actually pretty straightforward. You could use the vampire race from the Horror Companion, or use Savage Undead to design your own (it doesn't need to be balanced, either, as the PCs are all vampires). There are zombie stats in Savage Worlds Deluxe, but I'd recommend using the Horror Companion if you want to make them more interesting.

The oracle tables would work the same as usual, meaning you could play Savage Worlds without a GM if you wanted to. Assets would be replaced with regular advancement.

Dark Gift

Instead of a "Dark Gift", every PC begins with Arcane Background (Vampirism), which works as follows:

Arcane Background (Vampirism)
Power Points: 10
Arcane Skill: Spirit
Starting Powers: 1
Backlash: None

Available powers: armor*, beast friend, boost/lower trait*, burrow, deflection*, disguise*, fear, fly*, greater healing*, healing*, intangibility*, invisibility, mind reading, puppet, quickness*, shape change (bat or wolf), speed*, wall walker*, warrior's gift*. Those marked with a * have their range reduced to "Self".

The "Power Points" also represent blood; the vampire only regains Power Points by feeding on a human (the same as in Savage Undead), but must also expend a Power Point to wake up each evening.


The "Curse" would simply be handled through Hindrances. Here are two new Hindrances I'd originally planned to include in the One Sheet Setting:

Carrier (Minor)
Although vampires are immune to the zombie virus, a few of them can become carriers. Any human this character feeds upon directly will become infected, as if they'd been bitten by a zombie.

Marked (Minor or Major)
A zombie took a bite out of this character, and for some unknown reason the wound refuses to heal properly. Any humans who see the bite mark will probably assume the vampire is an infected human, and react with fear or violence. As a Minor Hindrance the mark can be covered with clothing, although paranoid humans may insist on a careful examination. As a Major Hindrance the mark is on an obvious location, such as the hand or neck.

Movie Crossovers

Blood & Bile provides guidelines for defining your own mythology, and one of the suggestions it makes is to combine your favorite vampire movie with your favorite zombie flick. I created a poll on the Savage Worlds Facebook group to ask which movie combos people found appealing, so here are some suggestions based on the top three results.

80s Horror Comedy

Imagine "The Lost Boys" meets "The Return of the Living Dead". The game takes place shortly after The Return of the Living Dead ends, when acid rain from a nuclear exposion spreads the zombie infection far and wide. The PCs are a gang of young vampires, who sleep all day and party all night - until one night the zombies decide to crash the party!

Month of Horror

Imagine "30 Days of Night" meets "28 Days Later". The PCs are vicious vampires, being transported in the hold of a ship. Then one evening they wake up to discover the ship has run aground and been abandoned by the crew. As they leave the ship in search of blood, they find the tables have turned, and they come under attack by hordes of rage-fuelled humans carrying an infection of their own!


Imagine "What We Do in the Shadows" meets "Shaun of the Dead". A group of vampires live together in the basement of the Winchester pub, where they try their best to adapt to modern life. Then one day a zombie outbreak occurs, and when the vampires wake up in the evening, they discover a ragrag crew of survivors have gathered in the pub, while zombies bang on the doors and windows outside!

Other Fiction

When I was googling around to make sure nobody else used the same name, I came across a rather cool story about a vampire experiencing the zombie apocalypse; it's worth a read if you're thinking of running Blood & Bile.

Then when I posted for feedback on the setting, I also received several more suggestions. Darren Miller recommended Double Dead by Chuck Wendig (which I've since read, and enjoyed very much), while Bill Ogden pointed me to the Last Blood web comic (also a good read).

Someone also pointed me to the Vampires vs Zombies Deadliest Warrior episode, which I found quite entertaining (although the Blood & Bile vampires cannot be infected, so you should ignore the ending):

Blood & Bile doesn't define the mythology or physiology of the undead, instead it leaves it up to the reader to decide for themselves, and this makes it very easy to draw on many different sources of inspiration for your games!

Friday, 9 March 2018

Creating a print-ready PDF

In December I provided step-for-step guidelines for printing Saga of the Goblin Horde through Lulu. In this post, I'll show how to prepare your own print-ready PDFs using Scribus. If you're using InDesign or some other desktop publishing software then you'll have to find the equivalent options, and if you're printing through DriveThruRPG you'll have to do further investigation for handling colors, but this should at least get you started.


For Lulu and DriveThruRPG (and I presume other print-on-demand services) you have to upload covers as separate image files - either one for the front cover and another for the back cover, or a single image for a wraparound cover. You'll have to prepare these images separately, they will need bleed areas, and there may be a maximum file size (for Lulu it's 10 MB). The specifications (and usually image templates) should be provided by the printing company, and will depend on the size of your book, and the type of cover.

The covers should also be removed from the PDF, otherwise they'll be printed again inside the book. But make sure this doesn't change the page numbers, otherwise it may cause confusion when people discuss your book online, and reference certain pages. The approach I used was to replace the cover with a title page for the print-ready PDF; a title page didn't seem necessary for a normal PDF, but it's common in a printed book, and it meant I didn't need to fiddle around with page numbers.

Transparency and Resolution

It seems that print-on-demand cannot print transparent images. If you really need a transparent image (such as the watermarks I use in Saga of the Goblin Horde) you'll need to create a custom background image for it. But the final PDF will need to be flattened, and I found the quickest and easiest way to do this was to set the Compatibility to PDF 1.3 (which doesn't support transparency).

You should also make sure the resolution is correct. For screen use I always set the DPI to 150 (it keeps the file size down without visibility reducing the quality on the screen), but a print-ready PDF it should be set to 300 DPI instead.


When a PDF is printed, the pages are not trimmed with 100% accuracy, so it's important to add a bleed area - that means any background and illustrations that normally touch the edge of the page should extend beyond it for a short distance. Lulu requires a bleed area of 0.125" on each side, but other printing companies may be different.

To set up the bleed area in Scribus, press "File" then "Document Setup", and on the "Document" tab you can set your bleeds (note that these are larger than 0.125" in the screenshot below, I'll explain why later):

When you press the "Save as PDF" button, on the "Pre-Press" tab you must also make sure the "Use Document Bleeds" checkbox is checked.


Print-on-demand uses CMYK, and you'll also need to factor in things like ink coverage, solid blacks, overprint, etc. However this isn't something I've worked with yet, because Lulu prefer you to upload RGB files, so they can convert it themselves. This obviously makes the process much easier if you're using Lulu!

However if you want to generate a CMYK (or grayscale) PDF, you'll need to use the "Color" tab when you "Save as PDF". Make sure you also check the "Convert Spot Colors to Process Colors" checkbox as well, as you won't be using spot colors for print-on-demand.


Saga of the Goblin Horde is US Letter size (8.5x11"), but for printing on Lulu I needed 0.125" bleed on each side, meaning the PDF had to be 8.75x11.25". However when I printed the book I found the text was a little too close to the gutter (the part of the page that connects to the spine), so I increased the page size to 9x11.57" (retaining the same proportions) and then reduced the PDF back down to 8.75x11.25" using a tool called jPDF Tweak. This shrank everything on the page, giving the final print-ready PDF slightly wider margins on all sides.

Note how the page on the right has slightly larger margins.

Open jPDF Tweak. On the "Input" tab, press "Select", choose the PDF you wish to work on (it may take a while to load). You can then press the "Page Size" tab, check the "Scale Pages" checkbox, and set the desired page size (you'll have to convert from inches to points). Then go to "Output" and press "Run".

Once you've generated your new PDF, make sure you open it and scroll through it (on one occasion it corrupted my file, and there was an error when I tried to view the last page). You should also right click on the open file and select "Document Properties", to make sure the dimensions are correct.

The final PDF should now be ready for printing, but make sure you print a sample copy for yourself (so you can check the physical product) before releasing it into the wild. Good luck!

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Alternative Power Point Rule: The Power Die

An ideal use for your PolyHero Wizard Dice!
When I first got into Savage Worlds, one of the things I liked most about it was that it doesn't generally require a lot of bookkeeping. One of the major exceptions was Power Points, which are something I never really liked.

There are a few "No Power Point" rule variants out there (such as the ones in SWD and Hellfrost), but the system is clearly designed with Power Points in mind, and many of the individual powers were very obviously balanced around their Power Point cost. So even though I dislike Power Points, I still end up reluctantly using them.

However, I'd like to propose an alternative solution.

One of the more interesting mechanics from The Black Hack is the "usage die"; each time you use a consumable item, you roll its usage die, and on a roll of 1-2 that die is reduced by one die step, so a torch might be reduced from d6 to d4, or a quiver of arrows might be reduced from a d10 to a d8. The same concept could easily be extended to the powers in Savage Worlds, except using the PP cost instead of a fixed usage value of 1-2.

The Power Die

Instead of expending and tracking individual Power Points, spellcasters just have a single "Power Die" sitting on the table in front of them. Immediately after casting a spell, they must roll their Power Die, and if they roll equal or lower than the PP cost, their Power Die is reduced by one die step. If this takes them below d4, they lose their Power Die, and cannot cast any more spells.

The Power Die would also be used for maintaining powers, for activating any Edges that have a PP cost, and so on.

If the PP cost of a power exceeds the number of sides on the Power Die, the caster cannot even attempt to cast the spell. Note that the Power Die is not a trait die; it does not Ace, you don't roll a Wild Die with it, and you cannot reroll it with a Benny.

Example: You have a Power Die of d8, and want to cast a spell with a PP cost of 3, so you roll your Power Die. On a result of 1-3, your Power Die would drop to a d6, otherwise it would remain at d8.

Recovering Power

Every hour, you roll your Power Die, and on a 1 your die increases by +1 die step, until it is fully recharged. If you no longer have a Power Die, you should use a d2 for your recovery roll instead.

Rapid Recharge (and Improved Rapid Recharge) allow you to roll to recover every 30 (or 15) minutes.

Calculating the Power Die

Most Arcane Backgrounds start with 10 PP, which would be the equivalent of a d6 Power Die. Every time they take the Power Points Edge, their Power Die should increase by +1 die step, to a maximum of d12.

Mathematically speaking, on average a Power Die of d4 would be the equivalent of 4 Power Points, d6 would be the equivalent of (4+6) 10 Power Points, d8 would be (4+6+8) 18 Power Points, d10 would be (4+6+8+10) 28 Power Points, and d12 would be (4+6+8+10+12) 40 Power Points.

This obviously doesn't scale in quite the same way as the standard Power Point rules, however I don't think it's too bad when you factor in the risk element of the Power Die - it might provide more fuel for your spells on average, but it's not as reliable, making it more difficult to plan out a spellcasting strategy.

Monday, 5 February 2018

Saga of the Goblin Horde: Quick Start version 15

Several friends have started converting their Savage Worlds settings across to Swift d12, so I've recently been splitting my time between the Saga of the Goblin Horde Quick Start rules, and a generic version of the core rules.

I've also been working on a small side project called "Blood & Bile", which I'm hoping to release later this month. However I wanted to release a small update to the Quick Start first, as there are a couple of playtests planned for this week.

Get it here: SotGH Quick Start

The changes are to the "Stunts" and "Conditions" sections on page 16. The original full-sized Swift d12 PDF included mechanics for disarming, grappling, intimidating and taunting, but they were left behind when I streamlined the rules. Now that I've decided to stick with the lighter version of the system, I've decided it's about time to bring those other mechanics over - so I've merged them into the stunt rules.

Friday, 12 January 2018

Saga of the Goblin Horde: Plans for 2018

Last year I successfully published the Savage Worlds version of Saga of the Goblin Horde, and even created some print-ready PDFs for those who wanted a physical book. However I still have many more plans for the setting, and some new goals for 2018, so I thought I'd give a rundown of what I'd like to achieve.

Savage Worlds

New One Sheets

I've already written 11 One Sheets for Saga of the Goblin Horde, but I'd like to publish some more, at least one every couple of months. Here are some of the adventures I'm thinking of releasing this year:

Day of the Fungids: When I was younger I watched a TV show called "The Day of the Triffids". Based on an earlier novel, it was a bit like a zombie apocalypse, except with mobile carnivorous plants called "Triffids". In fact the main reason I added fungids to Saga of the Goblin Horde (and why I called them fungids) is that I wanted to create a parody adventure inspired by the Day of the Triffids!

Gift Horse: Inspired by a piece of stock art (a mutant horse). A mysterious admirer gives Chief Bignose a gift, a strange horse-like mount named "Trojan". And of course the chieftain accepts the gift without question, because that's the sort of thing Chief Bignose does.

Hail to the Beast King: In the setting book, I mention that "Former members of the Treebiter tribe also speak of a beastfolk king, who apparently lives deep in the Great Forest, where he rules over all manner of exotic breeds." That's not a throwaway comment, it was foreshadowing for an adventure I planned to write.

Honey Plot: Inspired by a piece of stock art (a man with a beehive humpback). Bugbears love honey almost as much as regular bears do, and a crazy druid beekeeper has decided to use his unnatural talents to set traps for them. This adventure will give me the opportunity to expand the lore on bugbears, as they don't get much coverage in the main book.

Island Vacation: The gazetteer in the setting book mentions that a "mysterious little island has also been spotted several times in different locations near the coast, appearing then disappearing from one day to the next." This refers to an adventure I'd originally planned to include in the main setting book, but which I will instead release as a One Sheet.

Action Deck

A few weeks ago, +David Garrett asked if there was a deck of cards available for Saga of the Goblin Horde. I'd originally planned to create a Campaign Deck, but later scrapped the idea. However I did quite fancy having a custom deck, and there was apparently some demand, so I started brainstorming - I wanted the cards to offer something special (beyond simply being a deck of playing cards), but unlike my work on the Mutation Deck, I couldn't explicitly reference Savage Worlds, so I had to get creative.

I've now come up with a design, and hope to finish and publish the deck in the near future. Technically it won't be a Savage Worlds product, but I imagine that's what most people will use it for.

Swift d12

Although I will continue to support the Savage Worlds version of Saga of the Goblin Horde with the release of new One Sheets, most of my efforts moving forward will be focused on my new system, Swift d12.

Quick Start

The Quick Start rules are now up to version 14, but I'm still playtesting and tweaking them. I have notes and feedback that I still need to incorporate, such as revised stunt rules, the magic system, and so on, and I still need to add some better examples of playing the game. But overall, the core mechanics are fairly complete.

Full Setting

Once I'm happy with the Quick Start, I'll start converting the full setting over from the Savage Worlds version. I'm hoping this won't take too long, but it will still involve quite a lot of work. Probably a few months.


Although I will obviously convert the One Sheets, I also have plans for a few larger adventures, including Chronicles of the Goblin Princess, and Tales of the Technolich. These will only be available for Swift d12 (as I hope to sell them), but I'll offer conversion guides for anyone wishing to run them with Savage Worlds.

Generic Rules

After I've published Saga of the Goblin Horde, I plan to release a generic Swift d12 roleplaying system, with an open license for other publishers. This will also incorporate the expanded rules I've been working on, such as vehicles, firearms, etc, but hopefully the full rulebook should only be about a dozen pages (it's designed to be a pretty streamlined system). I hope to release this by the end of the year, and it will provide the foundation for my projects in 2019.

Gaming Conventions

I've never been to a gaming convention before, but I hope to attend one or two this year!

Genghiscon 41

Christopher Landauer asked me if I'd be interested in attending Genghiscon 41, and I was certainly tempted, but it would be a very long trip, and I had a lot of other things going on at the same time (such as moving home). Fortunately David Garrett has stepped up to represent Saga of the Goblin Horde, and he will be running two games this year!

Modena Play

Gio Dal Farra has invited me to Modena Play in April, and it's not too far to travel, so I'm planning to visit! This will be my first ever gaming convention, and I don't speak Italian, so I hope they go easy on me ;)


Some friends of mine attended ShaCon last year, and they had a blast. I couldn't make it due to other commitments, but I'm hoping they'll run another one this year (I just hope it doesn't clash with my friend's 40th Birthday party, because I already promised him I'd join him at a zombie shopping mall!).

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

Saga of the Goblin Horde: Quick Start version 14

I was pretty busy last year with the Savage Worlds version of Saga of the Goblin Horde, but now I hope to spend more time on Swift d12. There are a number of things I need to add and/or change, but two of them had priority based on earlier playtests, so I've updated the Quick Start rules accordingly.

Get it here: SotGH Quick Start

The change first is initiative. The approach I used in the previous version (become Staggered when you rush) was annoying, as it ended up with a lot of Mooks becoming and remaining Staggered, so I've replaced it with a simple -2 penalty for rushing. I also added a "delay" option, and reworked the Lightning-Quick Feat. I've already playtested this solution, and it's much smoother. It feels more like the original tri-phase initiative system, but without the need for extra dice rolls.

The second change is Weapon Advantage. As much as I wanted to include this, it's just not very intuitive, and during play we kept forgetting to factor it in. I've replaced it with a "Weapon Classifications" section which still retains the four main concepts: ranged weapons are more likely to hit, shields provide additional protection against ranged attacks, unarmed foes are easier to hit, and improvised weapons are inferior to regular weapons.

There's still a number of other things I need to include, not least of which is the new magic system, but I wanted to finalize the core mechanics first as I have some more playtests coming up.