Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Swift d12: RPG renamed

My new roleplaying system was initially named SWIFT-d12, which I described as an acronym. However I've since realized that it's technically an acrostic rather than an acronym, and it doesn't really make sense to capitalize it. I also prefer it in lowercase without the dash.

So I've decided to rename it to Swift d12. I've also gone back over my older blog posts and updated them accordingly, otherwise it's likely to cause confusion in the future when people go back to read over my older posts.

Monday, 24 April 2017

Shaintar: Only 1 day left to back the Thundering Skies Kickstarter!

If you're into Savage Worlds and epic fantasy, Shaintar is a must-have for your RPG collection. The players take on the role of powerful heroes, battling against the forces of darkness in a classic tale of good vs evil.

The setting itself is very rich and detailed, with lots of supporting material, but the main downside was always the lack of a Plot Point Campaign. Of course you could always make up your own adventures, but there was so much background information that I found it quite overwhelming to know where to start, and there weren't enough examples for me to get my head around the appropriate style of play; Sean Patrick Fannon even described one of my early games as "the most un-Shaintary experience I've ever read about happening in Shaintar"! :P

Fortunately Savage Mojo are now running a Kickstarter for Thundering Skies, a full Plot Point Campaign for Shaintar - and as an added bonus, they're giving every backer a free copy of both Players Guides (Legends Arise and Legends Unleashed). This is a great opportunity for newcomers to the setting, it's the one thing I really wish I'd had when I first started running Shaintar.

If there was ever a Savage Worlds setting that deserved its own Plot Point Campaign, it's Shaintar.


I backed the previous Shaintar Kickstarter back in 2013 (the highest pledge I've ever made for a Kickstarter project). I also wrote an adventure generator and character builder for Shaintar, and as a thank you, Sean allowed me to design a new town for the setting (I invented the town of Stonebridge in the Freelands). Hmm, maybe I should write a fan One Sheet set in Stonebridge...

Swift d12: First public goblin playtest

I've been working on the Swift d12 system for several months now, and have already run several closed playtests, but at the weekend I ran my first public playtest. Manuel and Heike resumed their usual roles of Maeson Crispyface and Izzy Toecutter, and as always Manuel helped me out with props for the game and assisted the others with the rules. There were also two first-time Swift d12 players - Michael (who had also played in the Savage Worlds goblin playtest I ran back in September) returned to play Skally Finback again, and Christos (who I'd not met before) played Big Brak.

Photo of the game by Manuel Sambs.

As there was a 7 hour time slot, I prepared two adventures to run back to back. The first was Head Hunters, which I'll probably be turning into another One Sheet, while the other was Kick Off, which is also the third episode in the Plot Point campaign.

Head Hunters involves the goblins being sent on a headhunting mission - they have to headhunt new recruits for the tribe, and also headhunt some interesting new heads for the chief's collection. There was a short cameo appearance by a couple of goblins based on Harrison Hunt and Nikk Lambley, and they'll be making a bigger appearance at a later date. The adventure incorporated some new custom cards for traversing the Great Forest, inspired by the Ambush Cards I used for Dungeon Squat.

Kick Off involved the goblins playing a competitive game of "kickball" on top of a mountain during a heavy thunderstorm, using a severed head instead of a ball. The adventure is called Kick Off because of the football theme, but also because it kicks off the war against the humans, when they discover that the head belonged to the human king's only son and heir. The kickball rules worked pretty well, although they did result in a PC death (well, incapacitation really) when one of the goblins got struck by lightning.

Feedback on both the system and setting was pretty positive, although it was suggested that the abilities and skills be more clearly linked together on the archetype sheets. I will have to have a think about how best to present the information, but the mechanics held up well - they seem solid and intuitive, and the combat resolution was fast. The revised wound system is definitely an improvement over the old approach.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Custom Tokens

I discussed my custom goblin dice in October last year, but now I've created some custom goblin tokens as well. In Savage Worlds I'd use them as Bennies, while in Swift d12 I'll be using them as Karma Points (I've avoided any system-specific logos for this very reason).


The tokens were created by following the procedure described here by Manuel Sambs of Veiled Fury Entertainment. I bought some self-adhesive printing paper and poker chips from Amazon, and borrowed Manuel's cutter and scalpel, and I'm really pleased with the results.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

200 Word RPG Challenge 2017: Doomsday Cult and the Goblin Warrens

In April 2000, I participated in a competition to design a tiny online game. It was great fun and gave me a lot of new ideas, it also helped me network with other game designers, and I even expanded my entry afterwards, using it as a prototype for a much bigger game. Overall it was a very positive experience.

A couple of weeks ago, David Schirduan announced the annual 200 Word RPG Challenge on Google+, and it brought back fond memories, so I decided to give it a go! Each participant is allowed to submit two entries, so I threw together a couple of mini RPGs that I felt captured the flavor of the two settings I've been working on lately - Primordial Horrors, and Saga of the Goblin Horde.

About the Settings

Back in November 2015 I wrote a post about Primordial Horrors, a Lovecraftian horror setting I was designing for Savage Worlds. Although Primordial Horrors has a number of unusual elements (such as the fact that the PCs are the insane cultists and eldritch abominations), Savage Worlds already has a lot of horror settings, and even a few Lovecraftian ones. In short, I felt it would be a difficult sell; one of the criteria for new applicants is that their submission should not be too close to any existing settings.

So I decided to temporarily shelve Primordial Horrors, and work on a setting that would fill a new niche. Savage Worlds already had a few settings with playable goblin races, but (at the time) none where the goblins were the main focus of the entire setting, so I started designing Saga of the Goblin Horde - initially just as mini setting to get my foot in the door, but later the project took on a life of its own, and evolved into something much bigger.

Although some of my plans have changed since then, I still intend to get back to Primordial Horrors once I've published Saga of the Goblin Horde. I've continued collecting ideas for it over the last year and a half, and I think it will make a really fun setting once it's finished. I've even started doing some early playtests for it!

But it's always useful to get a new perspective, and I felt the 200 Word RPG Challenge would be a good way to take a step back and take another look at my settings, not to mention the wonderful opportunity to network with other RPG designers.

My Challenge Entries

I wanted my two entries to be quite different to each other, but I still wanted both to offer tactical gameplay. Primordial Horrors is a more freeform and narrative-driven setting, while Saga of the Goblin Horde's adventures are much more structured, so I also wanted to try and capture that in my mini RPGs. Not easy when there's a 200 word limit, but I'm quite pleased with the way they turned out.

Doomsday Cult
This game uses a standard 52-card playing deck. Each player starts with seven cards, and can keep them secret, or selectively reveal them at any time.
Gameplay
The players are members of a doomsday cult, attempting to bring about the apocalypse. The GM narrates the story and describes the challenges the cult faces, drawing a card to represent each challenge, and placing it face down on the table.
Players must reveal a card from their hand to resolve each challenge, using its suit to help narrate their solution:
·         Clubs: Zealous cultists.
·         Spades: Arcane knowledge.
·         Hearts: Influence within society.
·         Diamonds: Funds and assets.
Show everyone the challenge card. Players who revealed a higher rank card of a different suit draw another card, discarding down to seven. Players who revealed a lower rank card (regardless of suit) must discard it, unless it’s their last.
Endgame
When the deck runs out of cards, the apocalypse begins! Everyone calculates their score, as if their cards were a poker hand. The GM does the same using the challenge cards.
If the GM wins, describe how the cult is thwarted. Otherwise, the player with the highest-ranking hand summons an Eldritch Abomination, and narrates the resulting apocalypse.
My goal was to have a challenge resolution mechanic with three possible outcomes (failure, basic success, and exceptional success) that supports both competitive and cooperative play. While the players' primary goal is simply to bring about the apocalypse, they're also competing against each other to be the "lucky" one who summons the Eldritch Abomination at the end.

The card-based approach facilitates the design goal by allowing players to selectively reveal their hand to each other. Knowing which cards the other players are holding gives you a better chance of predicting which cards might be drawn for the challenges, so this allows players to work together when they're doing badly, or keep their knowledge secret when they're doing well.

The resolution system also pays homage to the card-based campaign-building mechanic I've designed for Primordial Horrors.

The Goblin Warrens
A band of goblins must defend their lair against bloodthirsty adventurers.
Setup 
Each player chooses five d6s, representing their five goblins. Specialties are based on die color: Blue for brawn (strength and endurance), green for guile (cunning and alertness), and anything else for agility (speed and stealth).
Trait Checks
Trait checks involve a trait (brawn, guile or agility), and a difficulty number that players must equal or exceed. Each player rolls 1-3 of their surviving goblin dice, using the highest roll to determine success. Failure means their lowest rolling goblin dies. One goblin also dies on a double, or two on a triple.
If the trait matches a goblin’s specialty, the player may reroll that die, keeping the new result.
Combat
Adventurers are represented as colored d8s, and classified as fighters (brawn), wizards (guile) or rogues (agility). Combat is a standard trait check, except an adventurer die is rolled with the goblin dice to determine the trait and difficulty (1-8). The adventurers must be fought until defeated.
Adventure
An adventure has five scenes, narrated by the GM. The first four require a trait check with a random trait and difficulty. The final scene involves fighting the adventurers (one per player).
One of the defining features of Saga of the Goblin Horde is that each player controls an entire gang of goblins, and that's a concept I wanted to carry over to the Goblin Warrens. I also wanted some tactical differentiation between goblin types, although this proved difficult with the 200 word limit. I toyed with the idea of blue=brawn=bugbear and green=guile=gremlin, but in the end I felt it was better to give the RPG a more narrow thematic focus, so I stuck to goblins.

The mechanics allow players to roll additional dice (throwing extra goblins at a problem) to increase their chance of success, but this also increases the number of potential losses; if a challenge is particularly difficult, it may even be worth sacrificing a goblin and accepting failure. However the risk can be mitigated by using goblins with the appropriate specialty, not only does this give you a second chance at rerolling a failure, it can also be used to reroll out of a double or triple result.

Keen observers may also notice that my entry retains the same five-scene adventure structure as Saga of the Goblin Horde. The Goblin Warrens follows a band of borderland goblins rather than the tribes, but I still wanted it to have a similar feel.

Monday, 3 April 2017

Setting Design: Pre-Publication Checklist

I've talked a lot in previous blog posts about setting design, and I've described the process I use to go from initial idea to final product, but 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, so I thought I'd share it.

Note that if you're preparing your PDF for print-on-demand, you will have to follow additional steps, such as using a specific export format, setting the bleed, checking the colors, and so on. This isn't something I've done (yet), so for the time being I'm focusing on PDFs for use on a screen or for home printing.

Vertical Rhythm

Often considered one of the more important typography practices, vertical rhythm refers to the vertical spacing between elements, and generally requires the use of a baseline grid. This automatically aligns the text across columns, using the principle of repetition to produce a more balanced and readable layout.

If you're using Scribus, click "File", "Document Setup" and "Guides", and you'll see "Baseline Settings" at the bottom.

In the following example, you can see that I didn't use a baseline grid, and the text in the two columns is not correctly aligned:


In the next example I've used a baseline grid, and the text aligns up, giving it a cleaner and more consistent look:


This should really be done when you first set up the document template, but it's always worth double-checking the vertical rhythm before you release a product, particularly if you're not using the baseline grid for your artwork.

Widows and Orphans

Widows and orphans refer to the single lines that sometimes appear on a separate column from the rest of a paragraph, either because the paragraph started at the end of a previous column, or because it was just a bit too long to fit onto one column.

They can be addressed in a number of ways (adjusting the scaling, the margins, the spacing, etc), but I usually edit and rephrase the text to make it fit. This is one of the big benefits of doing my own layout - I can also change the content of the document when necessary, in order to improve the layout.

Spelling and Grammar

It should go without saying that the document should always be checked for spelling and grammar, but it's surprising how often I see simple mistakes make their way into published products. It's also important to decide which language you're going to use - Pinnacle favor American English, for example, so I've made an effort to use American English in my newer products, rather than my native British English. In general either are fine, but it's important you're consistent and don't mix them.

Punctuation

This isn't as easy to check as spelling and grammar, and once again the rules vary depending on which version of English you're using (e.g., whether commas and periods go inside or outside quotes). There are also some stylistic choices to consider, for example Savage Worlds products prefer to use the en-dash instead of a hyphen in front of numbers.

You should also make sure you're using curly rather than straight quotes and apostrophes (unless you're using them to represent feet and inches).

Proofreading

Some mistakes will always need to be caught the old fashioned way. Of course it's far better to have someone else proofread your document, but you should still proofread it yourself as well. You'll need to do this a few times - it's not much fun, but it is necessary if you want to release a quality product.

Copyright Notices and Credits

It's important to double check that all copyright notices and legal disclaimers are in place, and that you've added all of the appropriate credits (and logos). For example if you're writing a One Sheet, and you initially copied the template from a previous One Sheet, you'll probably be using different artwork - so don't forget to update the credits accordingly.

Indentation

Paragraphs should have a first-line indent, but it shouldn't be too large. I prefer to give the text an indent equal to its font point size (typically 10 pt). Don't do this manually, though! You should have defined the indent as part of the style (in Scribus click "Edit" then "Styles").

However you shouldn't indent the first paragraph of a chapter or section. This is another rule that a lot of people ignore, but it's the approach recommended by Robert Bringhurst in his book Elements of Typographic Style.

Statblock Analyser

Characters in Savage Worlds have fairly short statblocks, yet it's surprising just how often people make mistakes. This is particularly common with archetypes, where all of the attribute and skill points have to add up correctly (even a couple of the archetypes in Savage Worlds Deluxe have mistakes), but NPCs often have problems too, with Parry and Tougness being the most common culprits.

Reviewing statblocks is pretty mind-numbing work though, so I put together a tool to analyze them for me. Now I just have to run my statblocks through the tool before publication, and it automatically checks for obvious mistakes.

You can access my statblock analyzer here.

Bookmarks

Scribus allows you to specify if a text frame should be used as a bookmark, however this isn't a very convenient approach, because it uses the entire text. If you want to use bookmarks throughout your PDF, you will need to create an additional text frame for each bookmark, and make them invisible. Make sure you also put them on the lowest layer, otherwise some PDF viewers will display them anyway, even if they're invisible.

You may also need to manually reorder the bookmarks, but this isn't particularly difficult. However it's probably easier to leave the bookmarks until the rest of the book is finished.

Text Frame Sequence

Have you ever tried to copy and paste text from a PDF, only to discover that the text was copied out of order? Or perhaps you're using some sort of audio reader, and the speech doesn't appear to follow the sequence that the text appears on the page? That's because the text frames are out of sequence, often because they've been copied and pasted during the layout work.

This can be fixed in Scribus by right-clicking on a text frame, selecting "Properties", and adjusting the level, as shown below:


I find it's usually easier to generate a PDF first, and use it to check the order, then go back and fix it before generating another PDF.

Embedded Fonts

Scribus doesn't automatically embed the fonts, you have to tell it which ones you're using. This is very easy to check, but it's important you don't forget this step, otherwise the PDF may look okay for you (so just looking at the PDF won't necessarily reveal the problem), but the missing fonts will look weird to other people.


There seems to be a bit of a strange bug in Scribus whereby embedding the font isn't recognized as a file change for the purposes of saving. So it's always worth double-checking that the fonts are there, even if you've embedded them previously.

Image Resolution

PDFs can get quite large, particularly if they have a lot of artwork, so it's worth setting the image resolution to the appropriate DPI. Personally I prefer 150 DPI to keep the size down, but 300 DPI is preferable for printing (and if you explicitly want to offer the PDF for printing, don't forget to set the output for print rather than screen).


Layers

It's well worth using layers in your PDF (this option can be set in the same dialog as the image resolution, just make sure you're using PDF 1.5), as this allows the user to switch off different layers for printing - for example they could switch off the background, or the artwork.

However you have to specify which layer each component uses, and mistakes can happen, so after you've created your PDF make sure you check that everything is on the correct layer. I usually do this by zooming out, and checking one layer at a time.

Scribus Workaround

There is a bug with the layers in Scribus, whereby all layers are always displayed when you print the document (you can see this in the print preview as well). So for example, you can switch off the background layer (so that it appears white), but when you print it'll still print the background image.

This can be fixed by opening the PDF with Notepad++, deleting every line that begins with "/usage", then saving and closing the file. After that you need to open the PDF in Acrobat, then immediately close it again, whereby it will prompt you to save (do so). There's a more detailed guide to applying the fix here.

Proofreading (again)

By this point you're probably sick of proofreading. But do it again anyway, and get someone else to proofread for you as well, because there will probably be something you missed (particularly if you made some last minute edits).

You should also check for things like the title and author of the PDF (right click on the PDF in Acrobat Reader, click "Properties", and check the Description tab), make sure the settings in the Security tab are correct, double-check the fonts, and so on.