Monday, 21 August 2017

Saga of the Goblin Horde: Updated Player's Guide

The Saga of the Goblin Horde setting book is now getting very close to completion. I'm currently working on the tenth (and final) Plot Point episode, and there are a few extra monsters that I'd like to add to the bestiary, but after that it's on to the proofreading and finalizing a few outstanding layout issues, and then it'll be ready. The PDF is currently 102 pages, I expect the final book to be around 110 pages.

I released the player's guide six months ago today, but I've added a couple more setting rules since then (Quick Skirmish and Shenanigans), and also ended up dropping the Critical Failures setting rule. As a few people have expressed an interest in using the new setting rules, I thought I'd take the opportunity to update the player's guide (and fix an embarrassing typo at the same time).


As always, you can grab all the other freebies (34 archetypes, 12 adventures, 8 adventure cards and 5 battle maps) and check out the 3 Actual Plays along with my Wild Die interview here.

Swift d12 Playtest Report

Last night Mathew Halstead and I did a playtest of the latest Swift d12 Quick Start rules. I played Big Brak and he played Krusty Snaggletooth, and we ran through the Hot Water One Sheet, converting it on the fly from Savage Worlds to Swift d12. We shared GM duties and rolled for each other's foes in combat, but the focus was on testing the mechanics, so there was also a lot of metagame discussion going on.

Here's a short summary of my thoughts:

  • It's extremely quick and easy to convert Savage Worlds adventures to Swift d12, as long as you're fairly familiar with both systems. I can comfortably convert adventures on the fly without writing anything down in advance.
  • Extended actions with complications do a great job of simulating SW Dramatic Tasks, and the ability to invoke Flaws and knick-knacks really helps the narrative. When fleeing the inferno Big Brak decided to move his eyepatch to cover his healthy eye (invoking his One Eye flaw) and charged blindly into the fire (failure on a complication), getting badly burned. The next round I invoked the eyepatch, turning failure into a critical success, as the eyepatch protected his eye from the smoke!
  • We used the new Shenanigans setting rule, and it worked out great. Our gang members got up to all sorts of mischief, and it really felt like they were part of the story.
  • The new damage system felt faster and smoother, I'm very happy with it, however I'd still like to playtest it some more.
  • The new rules for invoking gear worked very well, however it adds complexity when gang members start doing it. One of Mathew's goblins snapped a bow string, while two others broke their spears, and we then needed to track how the individual gang members were armed. It also makes Mooks much more dangerous if they can invoke weapons.
  • The attack rolls still feel clunky, and I think it's the modifier for the foe's Agility that does it, where you're effectively flipping their Agility bonus into a penalty to your own attack (or flipping their Agility penalty into a bonus to your own attack).

The obvious solution to the attack roll problem would be to create a "defense" value (7+Agility), but I've been trying to avoid doing that, as it felt out of place. I prefer to either have the target number change or have a modifier to the roll, but not both - I think it's easier for players to remember that they always need 7+ to succeed.

However in the next playtest I think I will try it anyway: For opposed rolls (which includes attack rolls), the target's ability is added to the target number (i.e., 7) instead of being applied as a penalty to the roll. There would then be an implied passive "Defense" stat for each ability equal to 7+ability, with a critical success threshold of 13+ability.

So if you attacked a villager you'd need to roll 6+ to hit or 12+ for a critical (instead of applying an extra +1 bonus to your attack), while attacking a veteran soldier would require an 8+ to hit or 14+ for a critical (instead of applying a -1 penalty to your attack).

This probably seems like a minor detail (particularly if you've not played Swift d12), but I think it will make the attack rolls faster to resolve, particularly if the foe's Defense values are written down in advance.

Sunday, 20 August 2017

Saga of the Goblin Horde: Quick Start update

A few weeks ago, Marcus Burggraf ran a two-session playtest of Swift d12 using the Quick Start rules, and afterwards he posted some excellent feedback in the Google+ community. I've finally had the chance to incorporate his feedback along with some earlier suggestions (such as Jesse Covner's concerns with bruises and wounds), and have updated the Quick Start rules accordingly.

Get it here: SotGH Quick Start

Here is a quick summary of the changes in version 11:
  • Redesigned the damage system to use multiple health levels instead of the Brawn checks (which were effectively pseudo soak rolls, and the extra rolls slowed things down).
  • Armor is now added directly to Resilience, instead of being subtracted from damage (fewer calculations).
  • Added rules for invoking weapons and armor.
  • Knick-knacks are now invoked after (rather than before) rolling, to be consistent with weapons and armor.
  • Shields no longer give an armor bonus (although they can be invoked like armor).
  • Added "Dramatic Challenges" and "Social Challenges" as examples of extended actions, as these are the extended actions I use the most in my adventures (because they've been converted from SW).
  • Added a Surprise rule based on an idea from Mylon.
  • Revised the healing rules, adding healing checks.
  • Removed bruises and injuries, along with the Bruised and Injured conditions.
  • Ranged weapon damage is now based on Guile rather than Agility.
  • Fixed conflicting rules for ranged weapon penalties.
  • Expanded the section on stunts to provide a little more information on how to use them.

This latest version of the rules should run a little faster and smoother, with fewer rolls, simpler calculations, and less information to track.

I'm still finalizing the magic system, but will leave that for a later version, as it's not essential for the Quick Start. I have three playtesting sessions lined up over the next few days, so I wanted to make sure the rules were uploaded in advance.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Setting Rule: Shenanigans

Savage Worlds is very good at handling large numbers of combatants without significantly slowing down, with heroes often facing hordes of foes, sometimes supported by allied Extras of their own. In fact some people even play the system as a skirmish-level wargame, using the Showdown rules.

Saga of the Goblin Horde was specifically designed to play to the strengths of Savage Worlds, so I decided to showcase the benefits of allied Extras by having the players take on the role of goblinoid bosses, each leading their own gang of goblin minions into battle.

While the goblin gang members make great meat shields and expendable cannon fodder, they tend to be relegated to a background role outside of combat, if not ignored outright. Some players will incorporate them into the descriptions of their actions - for example, Harrison Hunt recently discussed how one of his player ordered his minions to build him a shelter (listen to the hilarious story here, the shelter part is at 18:25), and in a previous game I ran, one player even rolled a die every so often to determine what his gang members were doing.

So I started wondering if I could add a simple setting rule, to give the players more incentives to incorporate their gang members into the story...


Setting rule: Shenanigans

Goblins are a crazy and undisciplined lot, and gangs often get up to all manner of mischief and mayhem while their boss's back is turned. At the beginning of each scene, players with fewer than three Bennies and at least one surviving gang member have the option of invoking shenanigans.

The player draws a card to determine what one of their gang members has been up to, and earns a Benny for describing and embellish the flunky's actions and/or fate. The suit of the card can also be used for inspiration in the tale: Clubs often involves excessive violence, Diamonds might indicate that the gang member was driven by greed for riches, Hearts typically represents lust or desire, and Spades usually involves the search for something.

2: Found and ate something utterly disgusting. The gang member must make a Vigor roll to survive!
3: Beaten to death by another goblin while your back was turned. Nobody owns up to it.
4: Got into a fight or pulled a stupid prank, and have been knocked out for the scene.
5: Drank some fermented mushroom juice, and passed out for the scene.
6: Busy tormenting a small animal while the rest of the gang watch in glee. Your gang members all start the scene Shaken.
7: They become very rowdy; you and your gang suffer a -2 penalty to Stealth and Notice rolls this scene.
8: Disappeared for some private time, they will be back next scene.
9: Disappeared and won't be back, either they're dead or they deserted.
10: Decided it's time that they became boss; they Wild Attack you with the Drop, then fight to the death.
Jack: Performed an act of utter stupidity that resulted in a very painful and embarrassing death.
Queen: Accidentally stabbed you with their spear; you suffer 2d6 damage.
King: Did something unspeakably revolting. You and your gang must all make Spirit rolls or start the scene Shaken.
Ace: Tripped or pushed you at the worst possible moment; you suffer a level of Fatigue from Bumps and Bruises.
Joker: Scavenged or stole a knick-knack from somewhere. You can take it off them by force, and keep it for yourself!

Friday, 11 August 2017

Situational Rule: Pursuits

The chase rules in Savage Worlds are good at representing dogfights and mobile combat encounters, where two sides exchange attacks while running (or driving) neck-and-neck across the landscape. But sometimes a character is simply trying to escape, perhaps from overwhelming odds or an invincible foe, and the chase rules don't really work so well when only one side can attack, and the other just wants to escape.


Objective

The Pursuit rules are designed for situations in which a character's goal is simply to escape their pursuers, either by outrunning them, or by ducking into a hiding spot without being seen. The idea is to give both the pursuers and the pursuee different tactical maneuvers, so that the scene is more than just a race to the finish line.

These mechanics are particularly well suited to urban environments, and would be an excellent fit for settings like Guild of Shadows, where the characters can frequently find themselves escaping combat and fleeing the authorities, or horror settings, where unlucky investigators might find themselves being pursued by unspeakable (and unbeatable) monstrosities.

Overview

Pursuits allow characters to take advantage of the scenery, clambering up trees, jumping between rooftops, ducking into alleyways, and so on. As always with abstract subsystems like this, narration is key. A combat encounter where people just say things like “I roll to attack, I hit for 10 damage!” will have no flavor or immersion, and the same is true for pursuits. It’s essential that the Game Master and players describe their actions, using the mechanics to support the narrative, not to replace it.

Each pursuit is divided into six range steps, which are marked on a Pursuit Chart: close, short, medium, long, extreme, and trailing. Pursuers can be represented on the chart with minis or tokens. Characters cannot make Fighting attacks unless they are at close range, while ranged attacks can be performed at close, short, medium or long range, with the appropriate range penalty applied to the attack. Weapons with exceptionally long range (such as rifles) or short range (such as throwing knives) should apply the penalty as if they were one range step closer or further away.

Initiating a Pursuit

During combat, characters can initiate a pursuit on their turn by declaring their intent to escape.

The "escape" maneuver requires a successful Agility roll as a full-round action. If successful, the character flees combat, provoking free attacks as normal. Anyone wishing to pursue can simply declare that they are giving chase, and they are automatically moved to short range on the Pursuit Chart.

Each fleeing character should have their own Pursuit Chart. Characters can remain together if they wish, as long as they maintain the same pace, but this is only a narrative conceit; they are still tracked separately.

In the case of a vehicular chase, only the driver is tracked for the purposes of the pursuit.

Resolution

Characters draw action cards at the beginning of each round in the same way as combat. Those with a higher action card may choose to act before or after those with lower cards; sometimes it's preferable to act later in the round, after you've had a chance to see what your opponent is doing.

Each character may perform one pursuit maneuver on their turn as a normal action. Other actions are also permitted, including attacks, tricks, tests of will, pushes, spellcasting, and so on, at the Game Master's discretion. Characters wishing to perform multiple actions suffer the usual multiaction penalty.

Explicit movement actions are not used during a pursuit, as it's assumed the characters are always moving. If a character doesn't perform any pursuit maneuvers, they are still pursuing or fleeing, but they don't make any progress relative to their opponent this round.

At the end of the round, anyone at trailing range automatically drops out of the pursuit.

Maneuvers

Pursuit maneuvers use a "maneuvering trait", which is Agility if you're on foot, Swimming if you're swimming, or Boating, Driving or Piloting if you're in a vehicle. These maneuvers are normal actions, and each characters can perform a maximum of one pursuit maneuver on their turn (although they can perform other actions as well if they wish).

The following three maneuvers are available to pursuers:

Pursue: Make a maneuvering trait roll to move one step closer on the Pursuit Chart. Should this put you at close range, you may also move into close combat, meaning your opponent will provoke a free attack if they continue running. When chasing someone with a higher Pace, you suffer a -1 penalty to your roll, or -2 if their Pace is twice yours or higher. If your Pace is higher than theirs, you gain a +1 bonus to your roll, or +2 if your Pace is at least twice theirs.

Drive: Make an opposed maneuvering trait roll against your target to drive them in a particular direction, perhaps by cutting off an avenue of escape while herding them toward other pursuers. This maneuver can only be used at close or short range, and if successful it allows every other pursuer at long, extreme or trailing range to immediately use the pursue maneuver as a free action (this is in addition to their own pursuit maneuvers, although character cannot make more than one free pursue maneuver each round). Apply the same bonuses and penalties as the pursue maneuver when driving someone who is faster or slower than you.

Lookout: Make a Climbing roll to clamber up a tree, onto a rooftop, etc. You move one step further away on the Pursuit Chart, but can shout directions to your allies, giving them +1 to their pursue maneuvers as long as you maintain your vantage point (this doesn’t stack with the bonus from other lookouts). At the Game Master’s discretion, it may be possible to continue the pursuit by jumping from roof to roof (or across the clifftops, or a narrow overhead ledge, etc, depending on terrain), however you suffer a -2 penalty to your pursue maneuvers while doing this. You can jump down again as a free action.

The following three maneuvers are available to the fleeing character:

Flee: Make a maneuvering trait roll to move everyone on your Pursuit Chart one step further away, or two steps if they have half your Pace or lower. Pursuers with twice your Pace or higher are not normally affected by this maneuver, unless you’re able to take a route they cannot directly follow (perhaps because they’re larger than you, or riding a mount). You may take a difficult path if you wish; this gives you a -2 penalty to your trait roll, but everyone chasing you also suffers a -2 penalty to their pursue maneuvers until the beginning of your next turn, unless they are using the lookout maneuver to pursue you.

Hide: You attempt to lose your pursuers by ducking into an alleyway or finding some other hiding spot. Make an opposed Stealth roll against your pursuers' Notice, those at long range receive a +2 bonus to their rolls, while those at medium range receive a +4 bonus. This maneuver cannot be used if you have any pursuers at close or short range. Any pursuers who succeed their Notice rolls are immediately moved to close range, but if none succeed then you escape. If you are fleeing multiple pursuers, those who succeeded their Notice rolls can shout a warning to the others, who are moved to medium range.

Backtrack: You wait until your pursuers get close, then rush past them in the opposite direction. Make a maneuvering trait roll, each pursuer makes an opposed roll against it: those who succeed receive a free attack at close range. If you manage to get away, all pursuers who won the opposed roll are moved to medium range, while those who failed are moved to long range. You can attack at close range while passing your pursuers if you wish, applying the usual multiaction penalty.

Note: These rules are based on a design I originally proposed here for Swift d12.

Monday, 3 July 2017

Plot Point Episodes should Impact the Story

A couple of months ago I gave an overview of the Plot Point Campaign in Saga of the Goblin Horde, and described the War Clock mechanism I use to track the escalation of the war, triggering Plot Point Episodes in response to the players' actions during Savage Tales; the more murderous and destructive the goblins are, the faster the human retaliate.

This time I'd like to talk about a technique I use within the Plot Point Episodes themselves, inspired by the final chapter in the Heroes of Drakonheim adventure, where the players have to build up their Mass Battle tokens by recruiting allies.

Adventuring is not a Spectator Sport

I once read a fantasy novel in which the inept hero blundered from one failure to the next, outsmarted by the villain at every turn. At the end of the story, the villain completed his magical ritual - and died, because he made a mistake that he couldn't possibly have known about in advance. In effect the hero was just a spectator in the story. He "won" through a technicality, but he might as well have stayed at home, because his "quest" had absolutely no impact on the outcome. The villain was going to lose regardless.

Campaigns can sometimes feel the same way. One of my personal pet peeves with some Plot Point Episodes is that the players' actions seem to have no tangible impact on the overall story. If the players fail to rescue the informant, they get the information from someone else. If they fail to save the hostages, it doesn't really matter, life goes on as before. If they fail to steal the MacGuffin, they can just find an alternative way to continue to the next adventure. It can sometimes start to feel as if the players actions don't really matter, win or lose the result will be the same; they might as well just go to the pub and wait for the final episode.

Now obviously you don't want an adventure to be a roadblock that kills the campaign, because failure is certainly a possibility. But I do think the players actions should have a significant and tangible effect on the overall story, the adventure shouldn't just be something that "happens" to the characters, followed by a Reset Button Ending. The players should be driving the plot, not just sitting in the passenger seat.

Degrees of Victory

The approach I'm using in Saga of the Goblin Horde is to provide three possible outcomes for each of the triggered Plot Point Episodes, and these will have a direct effect on the final episode.

In Short Straw the players have to prevent an invading army of "mountain humans" (i.e., dwarves) from leaving their tunnels. If they fail, the Stonefist tribe will eventually fight off the army and prevent the invasion, but they'll suffer heavy casualties in the process, leaving them unable to provide any significant aid in the final battle. On the other hand, if the players manage to block the entire army, the Stonefist tribe will owe them a favor (a bit like an Adventure Card that the party can redeem at any point later in the campaign for a special benefit) and commit themselves fully to the final battle. A partial mission success falls somewhere between the two, with the Stonefist tribe providing limited aid in the final battle.

The other adventures follow a similar trend, with the characters aiding and recruiting the other tribes, forging alliances and recruiting allies as the war escalates. If the players don't bother fighting off the human attacks, the story will still carry on, but one by one the other goblin tribes will fall, and in the final battle the Redfang tribe will find itself standing alone against insurmountable odds (and almost certainly lose as a result).

The players can afford a few failures, but each victory will give them a much-needed edge. They will need to win some battles before they can win the war.

Friday, 23 June 2017

Worm Food: One Sheet

Last night, Manuel Sambs of Veiled Fury Entertainment ran a brand new Saga of the Goblin Horde adventure for Harrison Hunt and Nikk Lambley of the TableTop Twats Podcast. It was the second Actual Play to be recorded (the first being Eric Lamoureux's awesome 6 Heads for the Head Honcho), and it was hilarious, well worth watching! You can see it here.

The original Worm Food adventure was designed to take place at the same time as Head Hunters (and Manuel also ran it that way, with references to the Head Hunters Plot Point episode), however I wanted a One Sheet that could easily be inserted anywhere in the campaign, so I adjusted the introduction to make it a bit more generic.

You can grab the One Sheet here: Worm Food for Savage Worlds.


In case anyone is wondering, the name of the rabbitfolk leader is a reference to both Bambi and Dune, and the premise of the adventure was inspired by an Oglaf comic strip (very NSFW, so I'm not linking to it, but I strongly recommend checking out Oglaf if you're not easily offended).

If you're interested in following the progress of Saga of the Goblin Horde, don't forget to sign up to the official Facebook group.