Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Savage Worlds Drakonheim Companion

Back in August last year I wrote a blog post entitled "Musings about Necromancers, Drakonheim, and Slottable Settings", in which I talked about the latest setting from Sneak Attack Press: Drakonheim: City of Bones.

I wasn't involved in the setting book, but I did back the Kickstarter, and the completed book was released last month. For some unknown reason DriveThruRPG insisted on withholding my name when I wrote a review on their site, but here's a copy and paste of what I had to say about the setting book:
This system-neutral setting book is around 32K words, and describes the history, geography, people and politics of the city of Drakonheim. A fragile peace has been reached in the aftermath of a hobgoblin invasion, during which a cabal of necromancers revealed their existence to the populace, raising an undead army to defend the city. Now that the immediate threat has passed, old rivalries have returned with a vengeance, and various political factions once again maneuver for power.
In addition to being system-neutral, the city and its surrounding area are also relatively self-contained, and could be dropped into most established fantasy worlds with minimal effort. But there is easily enough content in this book to run a full campaign set in the city of Drakonheim. 
The book is 7"x10", with a professional look and nice layout, and it offers both bookmarks and layers. The illustrations are well done and definitely fit the setting, they're all in colour and by the same artist (so the style is consistent), and there is an average of about one piece of art every two pages (including quite a few portraits). There are also two full-page maps, one of the city itself, and one of the surrounding area.
Overall, this product exceeded my expectations. 
Note: The invasion itself was actually described in Heroes of Drakonheim, an earlier trilogy of free adventures that also make an excellent introduction to the setting. Although these adventures were originally written for D&D, anyone using a system-neutral setting shouldn't have trouble adapting it, and the publisher has made it available for free.
As you can probably tell, I was impressed with the final product. But why am I discussing a system-neutral setting on my Savage Worlds blog? The answer is fairly straightforward: I contacted Matthew Hanson shortly after making the aforementioned blog post, and asked if he'd be interested in me writing a Savage Worlds companion for Drakonheim. He accepted, I created it, and after some back-and-forth discussion and polishing the content is now complete. The companion still has to go through final editing, and requires additional artwork, but I've now been given the okay to talk about it. So here goes...

Savage Worlds Drakonheim Companion

The Savage Worlds Drakonheim Companion is a little under 14K words, but it's almost entirely crunch, as it's designed to be paired with the setting book - for readers who aren't used to thinking in terms of word count, the two Drakonheim books will have a combined word count that's around the same as Pinnacle's Lankhmar: City of Thieves setting book. So Drakonheim can be played as a full-sized Savage Worlds setting, but split into two books.

The companion includes stats for the 9 archetypes described in the setting book, 2 new races (goblin and hobgoblin), 6 new Hindrances, 22 new Edges, 5 pieces of gear, 5 deities, 3 new power trappings, expanded rules for necromancers and undead, full stats for all 29 of the major NPCs described in the setting book, several NPC archetypes and monsters, and an adventure generator.

Around half the Hindrances and Edges (and all three of the new power trappings) relate to undead, and there are rules for creating permanent undead as well as becoming a lich at Legendary rank, so I could easily see the companion doubling up as a sort of "necromancer's handbook".

However you'll get the most out of the companion by pairing it with the setting book. If you're a fan of Savage Worlds, and you want to use the Drakonheim setting, then I think you'll find the upcoming companion extremely useful.

Sunday, 27 March 2016

TV Shows as Plot Point Campaigns

Matthew Cutter recently wrote an excellent article about Plot Point Campaigns, using 50 Fathoms as an example of how to do it right. However while 50 Fathoms is certainly an exceptional Plot Point Campaign, it's rather unusual from a geographical perspective - the world consists of a number of small islands, and most travel is between ports. This means there's a relatively small number of "points of interest" through which the players are funnelled, allowing the campaign to detail them all while also supporting sandbox-style exploration.

That's a great solution for a Plot Point Campaign, but it doesn't work for every setting, because it relies on a specific type of world. A good counterpoint would be Necessary Evil: the story focuses on the anti-villains and their fight against alien invaders, so you probably don't want to deal with sandbox-style exploration - and even if you did, the players have many possible means of travel (cars, helicopters, submarines, spaceships, even teleportation), so you can't easily funnel them through specific points of interest (like the ports in 50 Fathoms).

So instead of tying the adventures to locations, Necessary Evil mainly focuses on the story and the characters - its "points of interest" become events and people rather than specific places (with a few exceptions). This is a very viable approach, and also mirrors the style used by many popular TV shows.

Reverse Engineering a TV Show

Most Plot Point Campaigns I've looked at have two types of adventure. There are usually around 10-12 Plot Point Episodes which cover the central storyline, and these have to be played in a specific order. Then there are typically a few dozen Savage Tales, optional adventures that can be inserted into the campaign when and where the GM sees fit.

If you think of it in terms of a TV show, the Plot Point Episodes are like the overarching storyline for the season, and the Savage Tales are like the "monster of the week" episodes that help flesh out the characters and the setting, but which are not critical to the main plot. So the trick is to identify the central plot, and then determine which episodes are key to that plot, and which are mainly filler.

It's also important to remember that Savage Tales are usually pretty brief, and the GM is supposed to flesh them out and tailor them to the situation. A TV episode that references the main plot would be comparable with a Savage Tale in which the GM references the main plot. Only episodes that really drive the central plot - that are key to the overall storyline - should be turned into Plot Point Episodes.

Reverse engineering the plot of a TV show is obviously a useful technique for anyone planning to run a Savage Worlds campaign based on such a show, but I think it's also an interesting thought experiment in general, particularly for anyone who is designing their own Plot Point Campaign.

Supernatural as a Plot Point Campaign

As an example, here's how I might define Supernatural Season 1 in terms of a Plot Point Campaign:
  • Plot Point Episode 1: Introduce the heroes and the setting.
  • Plot Point Episode 2: The heroes' first encounter with a demon.
  • Plot Point Episode 3: Introduce the heroes' parents.
  • Plot Point Episode 4: Introduce the campaign BBEG.
  • Plot Point Episode 5: Battle with the campaign BBEG.
  • Plot Point Episode 6: The heroes obtain the MacGuffin.
  • Plot Point Episode 7: Big reveal about the BBEG.
  • Plot Point Episode 8: Showdown with the BBEG.
The overarching plot is about the heroes trying to find their father while hunting down the demon who killed their mother, and it is split into eight Plot Point Episodes.

In theory you could just run through those eight Plot Point Episodes and skip everything else, but the campaign would feel rushed - there wouldn't be enough time to really flesh out the characters or properly explore the setting. So our Supernatural Plot Point Campaign breaks up the main story by inserting Savage Tales as follows:
  • Adventure 1: Pilot (Plot Point Episode 1).
  • Adventure 2: Wendigo (Savage Tale).
  • Adventure 3: Dead in the Water (Savage Tale).
  • Adventure 4: Phantom Traveler (Plot Point Episode 2).
  • Adventure 5: Bloody Mary (Savage Tale).
  • Adventure 6: Skin (Savage Tale).
  • Adventure 7: Hook Man (Savage Tale).
  • Adventure 8: Bugs (Savage Tale).
  • Adventure 9: Home (Plot Point Episode 3).
  • Adventure 10: Asylum (Savage Tale).
  • Adventure 11: Scarecrow (Plot Point Episode 4).
  • Adventure 12: Faith (Savage Tale).
  • Adventure 13: Route 666 (Savage Tale).
  • Adventure 14: Nightmare (Savage Tale).
  • Adventure 15: The Benders (Savage Tale).
  • Adventure 16: Shadow (Plot Point Episode 5).
  • Adventure 17: Hell House (Savage Tale).
  • Adventure 18: Something Wicked (Savage Tale)
  • Adventure 19: Provenance (Savage Tale)
  • Adventure 20: Dead Man's Blood (Plot Point Episode 6).
  • Adventure 21: Salvation (Plot Point Episode 7).
  • Adventure 22: Devil's Trap (Plot Point Episode 8).
The GM might skip some of those Savage Tales, or add some new ones, or insert them in a different order, but the overarching plot would still be the same.


Not all TV shows can be broken down in this way, but many can be, particularly the sort of shows that people like turning into Savage Worlds adventures!

So next time you're watching your favorite TV show, ask yourself afterwards: Was that a Plot Point Episode, or a Savage Tale?

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Egg Hunt: One Sheet

I thought it might be fun to write an Easter-themed One Sheet for Saga of the Goblin Horde, so without further ado, allow me to present...

It uses Pinnacle's new Quick Combat rules, and includes the usual assortment of puns.

Don't forget to grab the archetypes for it. Happy Hunting!

Monday, 21 March 2016

Saga of the Goblin Horde: 4 Archetypes

Back in December I released my first One Sheet adventure, called Sanguine Solstice. At the time, I said I was planning to release some archetypes for it, but those plans became increasingly extravagant - when I finally released Bone of Contention in February, I still hadn't finished the archetypes.

So I've decided to revise my plans, and instead of waiting to release all the archetypes in one go, I'm going to spread them out. My goal is now to update the document with one additional archetype every month, until I have finished them all.

The first version of the document contains four archetypes, and you can download it from here:

The initial four archetypes are canitaur crossbowman, river goblin, goblin scout, and bugbear brute, and their background descriptions also provide some insight into the setting.

About the Setting

I've converted several different settings to Savage Worlds, but haven't yet released any of my own. I'd like to change that, and I think Saga of the Goblin Horde could make a fun mini setting.

The setting is primarily fantasy, with elements of horror and a streak of dark humor (think of the movie "Gremlins" for a rough idea of the sort of feel I'm aiming for). The campaign will focus on a relatively small geographical area, and can be played either as its own setting, or slotted into an established fantasy game world. The story follows the war between the civilized races (humans, elves, dwarves, etc) and the goblin tribes, with everything described from the goblin perspective.

As with the One Sheets, the players take on the role of goblin gang leaders, which means each player controls their own gang rather than just a single character. The Plot Point Campaign will include some adventures triggered by location and others by date, using a simple hexcrawl system for travel and a rough calendar for tracking the days.

Thursday, 17 March 2016

Modifiers for Task Difficulty

It can sometimes be difficult to decide what sort of modifier to assign to certain tasks. The guidelines for trait tests in the core rules recommend +2 for an easy task, -2 for a difficult task, and -4 for a very difficult task, but I find it's also useful to look at existing modifiers to get a better feel for when and where they're used.

For example, when attacking someone there is a -1 penalty for dim lighting, -2 for dark lighting, -4 for pitch darkness, and -6 for complete darkness. Similarly, there's a -4 penalty for attacking someone who is only visible as a vague outline, and a -6 penalty for attacking a completely invisible foe.

Likewise when it comes to cover, there's a -1 penalty for attacking someone in light cover, -2 for medium cover, -4 for heavy cover, and -6 for near total cover. And with Called Shots, there's a -2 penalty for targeting a limb, -4 for the head or vitals, and -6 for tiny targets, such as the eye slit in a helmet. Conversely, there's a +1 bonus for tracking someone through a dusty area, +2 for tracking them through mud, and +4 for tracking them through fresh snow.

You'll also see -2 penalties for things like using your off hand, performing a task without appropriate tools, shooting from horseback, suffering recoil from an automatic weapon, performing two actions the same round, and so on. Meanwhile, many Professional Edges (which "represent many years of training") provide a +2 bonus to certain skill rolls.

For combat modifiers, using an improvised weapon incurs a -1 penalty to attack and Parry, while the Defend maneuver (focusing on pure defense) grants +2 Parry. Wild Attack represent an all-out offence, and grants +2 to attack and damage, but -2 Parry. The Drop represents catching someone completely off-guard, or trying to kill someone you're holding in a classic hostage pose, and grants +4 to attack and damage.


Based on the above observations, my personal guideline is to use one of four possible penalties: -1 or -2 for difficult tasks, -4 for very difficult tasks, and -6 for exceptionally difficult tasks.

In most cases I stick to -2 for difficult tasks and -4 for very difficult tasks, but sometimes I will assign a -1 penalty (for tasks that are noticeably more difficult than average, but clearly not as difficult as those listed as incurring a -2 penalty), and in extreme cases I will assign a -6 penalty.

For example, the Climbing Modifiers suggest a -2 penalty for "scarce or thin handholds", but I might reduce the penalty to -1 or increase it to -4, depending on just how scarce or thin the handholds are, increasing the penalty to -6 if there are no handholds at all (assuming the climb is even possible - but the point is, I wouldn't increase the penalty beyond -6).

The same approach can be used for bonuses. Antique climbing gear grants a +2 bonus to Climbing rolls, while modern gear grants a +4 bonus, so I might award a +1 bonus for improvised climbing gear and possibly a +6 bonus for high-tech futuristic climbing gear (with a huge caveat: it's usually better to have gear eliminate penalties rather than assign bonuses if you still want standard difficulty tasks to pose a challenge).

Of course it's also very important to stress that not all tasks require a bonus or penalty - most of the time it's perfectly sufficient to call for an unmodified roll!

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Dark Queen's Gambit: One Sheet for Accursed

I recently had the opportunity to write a One Sheet adventure for Accursed, the dark fantasy setting by Melior Via, and today it was published on DTRPG. Although I've written a lot of Savage Worlds content over the last few years, including freelance work for five different licencees, it's only recently that I've tried my hand at adventures - first with Sanguine Solstice, then with Bone of Contention. So this is the first time I've had an adventure published.

Dark Queen's Gambit uses a similar approach to my earlier adventures (i.e., the adventure is split into scenes, each highlighting a different game mechanic). It obviously doesn't have the same puns and goblin humor as Sanguine Solstice and Bone of Contention, but if you liked the organizational style of my earlier adventures and you're a fan of Accursed, you should enjoy Dark Queen's Gambit!

The name of the adventure is a combination of "Dark Queen" (one of the witches of the Grand Coven) and "Queen's Gambit" (a classic chess move), and the plot draws inspiration from chess, the movie "Aliens", British folklore, and Greek mythology, although I won't say any more as I want to avoid spoilers. The story takes place in the Outlands, a region covered by Sean Bircher's new source book, which was one of the stretch goals from the recent Accursed: World of Morden Kickstarter.

Thursday, 10 March 2016

Eldritch Weapons: Free Fan Supplement

Codex Infernus: The Savage Guide to Hell is now very close to completion, and I'm proud to have been involved in the project, even though my contributions were really quite small. The book looks great, with some amazing artwork, and it's packed full of valuable content about hell and its denizens.

My involvement was primarily technical editing (reviewing mechanics and statblocks), however I also wrote 4000 words of new content - a revised corruption system (including two Hindrances), the angel race (including six racial Edges and the "Fallen" Hindrance), and expanded rules for the Faith skill. The Faith rules also include trappings for seven types of angelic weapon (based on choirs of angels) along with their seven demonic counterparts (based on Binsfeld's classification, where each demon is associated with one of the Seven Deadly Sins).

The demonic/angelic weapon rules were actually my second attempt, as my first proposal wasn't a good fit with the publisher's needs. But as the two versions are significantly different to each other, I thought it might be fun to turn the original idea into a small fan supplement, which I've called "Eldritch Weapons". I've adjusted the theme slightly (giving it less emphasis on the infernal, and more of a Lovecraftian feel); while it can certainly be used with Codex Infernus, it would also fit many other fantasy or horror settings.

Eldritch Weapons

This free fan supplement (around 3200 words) offers a concise set of guidelines for creating relic weapons. It provides a list of thirteen different trappings for each of the five characteristics (Boon, Geas, Nature, Legend, and Destiny), and the abilities of the relic are determined by drawing five cards and then cross-referencing them on a table. Drawing two, three, or four cards of the same rank will also increase the overall power of the relic.

You can download it here:

It should be noted that these relics are designed to be powerful, similar to the true relics in the Fantasy Companion. Think of Stormbringer, or the One Ring, or the Lament Configuration. Eldritch weapons are not mere trinkets to hand out at random during an adventure; a single relic might provide the central focus of an entire campaign.

This opportunity also allowed me to practice my layout and presentation skills, which I've discussed in a previous blog post. In particular, I've become very enamored of the style used by Pinnacle in East Texas University, where the artwork fades smoothly into the text, and I wanted to see if I could do something similar.


Mythology is rife with facinating magical weapons, but one of my personal favourites is Tyrfing. Forged by two dwarven smiths of Norse mythology, this gleaming sword would never miss a stroke, never rust, and could cut through stone and iron as easily as through clothes. However it was also cursed to kill a man every time it was drawn, to be the cause of three great evils, and to eventually kill its wielder.

Tyrfing could be created with Eldritch Weapons as follows:

  • Boon: Keen-Edged (ignores armor; Heavy Weapon) and Unerring (a "miss" still hits, but only inflicts half damage)
  • Geas: Doomed (hits wielder on critical failure) and Sanguinary (must take a life when drawn)
  • Nature: Merciless (always kills its victims)
  • Legend: Forged (forged by a legendary smith)
  • Destiny: Evil (will be responsible for three acts of great evil)

The combination of cards would give Tyrfing a +2 bonus to attack and damage rolls.


I'm rather pleased with the way Eldritch Weapons turned out, and I'm glad I didn't just scrap it, as I think it makes a nice little supplement. I hope you enjoy it as well, and find a use for it in your own games! If you have strong opinions on it (either positive or negative) please let me know in the comments - I don't get much feedback on most of my fan supplements, so it's often difficult for me to judge what people find useful (and would like to see more of).

And of course, don't forget to keep an eye out for the upcoming release of Codex Infernus!