Thursday, July 12, 2018

Tommy's Take on Saga of the Goblin Horde


Review time, and this time I'm taking a look at a free product that's gained some buzz in Savage Worlds circles.


Produced by Zadmar Games, Saga of the Goblin Horde is 100% free, and extensively supported...and nominated for an Ennie.
PERTINENT DISCLAIMER: I was not provided a comp copy...because it's free. I was, however, asked to review the product (which I clearly agreed to). This review also touches on the Countdown Deck and Configurable Map, the latter of which is Pay What You Want and the former of which has a free version for Virtual Tabletops (which is all I use these days). There are affiliate links in this review, and purchases made through those links may provide me with a portion of sales as store credit, which helps support my blog and my gaming habit. It is worth noting that I worked with Richard Woolcock, the author, on Forces of Light (we were both freelancers).

FACTS: The book is free, and full color, with better PDF functionality than a disturbing number of paid products. The PDF is 118 pages, including covers. It does require a copy of the Savage Worlds rules.

WHAT IS IT? Well, it's an "evil" game. The players play as goblinoid bosses, trying to fend off humans, because humans are notorious for killing goblins and such. Goblins also have to fend off Ogrekin (orcs and ogres) and Beastfolk (including minotaurs), as well as trolls and slimes and so forth. 

The PCs all belong to the Redfang Tribe, which is made up of five goblin subraces: Bugbears, Goblins, Gremlins, Half-Humans and Hobgoblins. Vehicle skills have been ditched, replaced with an Agility roll. Each goblin race has their own strengths and weaknesses (Bugbears are big, vicious badasses...but are also often the target of attacks, goblins are tiny scavengers, gremlins are intelligent tinkerers, half-humans occupy the "human" niche with a free edge...but are outcasts to humans and goblins, hobgoblins are militant warriors).

A ton of new Hindrances are provided. Compulsive Cannibal is as disgusting as it sounds, and a Lone has no gang to call their own. Pungent goblins stink, and Soft Hearted goblins are as close toof guys as you get. And woe to a poor, Tasty goblin...even their own allies might try to eat them if they go down.

The Edges are similarly great: a Giant Schnozzle gives them a stronger sense of smell, but an oversized arm deformity grants them a War Fist that helps them fight. Me and Myself lets a goblin give themselves a Gang Up bonus due to their giant ego, while Vorpal Blow allows Goblins to go for a quick decapitation. Savage Maw grants a bite attack, and Psychonaut jacks the goblin up on hallucinogens to the point  that you can "rewind" your turn, because it was really just a premonition. Wolf Rider makes you adept at riding wolves...Leader of the Pack puts your whole pack on wolves. 

There's a handful of mutation edges as well, like Canitaur (upper body of a goblin, lower body of a wolf), Troblin (a healer like a troll) or the Barghest (a lycanthrope-like shapeshifter).

Legendary Edges include Renowned Boss (which gives you more followers), Top Dog (which allows Canitaurs a bonus when dealing with other animal-like creatures) and Meat Grinder (which lets the boss use cannon fodder to protect themselves without spending bennies - it's a setting rule). And all the Arcane Backgrounds from Savage Worlds are present (with Super Powers representing a single magical talent the goblin developed).

You can round out your goblin with a goofy card draw table to create a surname, drawing on one table for a body part, and then drawing a card for either a prefix or suffix (with names like Smellyhair or Nostrilthrasher).

There's an equipment list, but the cool part is the Knick-Knack table. If a goblin find a knick-knack, you can draw a card. On a club, they find weapons or armor. Anything else, consult the table. Maybe they find a goblin-sized bonnet, or a big pair of ogre-sized underpants.

A number of setting rules are in effect:
  • Like a Boss means they get a gang to start with, generally equal to half their Spirit die plus one per rank, and are generally replaced between sessions.
  • Meat Shield lets you spend a benny to drag an adjacent goblin in the path of an attack that would wound you.
  • Might Makes Right details the bartering system for knick knacks.
  • Overland Travel covers, well, the overland travel on the goblin map.
  • Quick Skirmish is similar to Pinnacle's Quick Combat and allows you to quickly "simulate" a fight without doing full combat.
  • Shenanigans is a neat little piece of business where you can earn bennies by drawing on a table to find out what one of your minions was up to, and describing it. Maybe they disappear. Maybe they did something truly revolting. Maybe they tried to make a run at your spot. Or maybe they got beaten to death behind your back.
  • Simple Encumbrance is just that: Simplified encumbrance.
There's a section on Gods, and the powers they grant. The Redfang tribe worships The Shadow Queen and The Sleeping God, but another couple of Gods get mentioned as well.

The setting material is short, but evocative. The Bone Quarry is full of bodies. The Endless Sea is said to house a city of undersea goblins. The human lands are a gathering ground for terrible murderhobos. The Obsidian Valley is neutral ground. 

SPOILER WARNING

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NO SERIOUSLY, THIS IS A BIG DEAL. IF YOU'RE PLANNING ON PLAYING, AND NOT GMING, BACK AWAY NOW.

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So the GM section reveals the big twist: The goblins are descendants of space aliens, and they warred with dragons, who were also aliens. Everything in the setting (or close to it) is derived from this now-forgotten alien incursion. It's...an impressive twist. That said, it's largely background material that isn't really delved into during most of the campaign, and a non-sci-fi alternative is provided if it's something that doesn't really appeal to you.

The included Plot Point Campaign has ten adventures focusing on the war between humans and goblins. It begins with goblins going after rampaging adventurers, and escalates quickly. There's a great pacing mechanic for the campaign called The War Clock, which tells you when to trigger the new plot points, based on the amount of mayhem caused by the PCs. Of course, as true Plot Point Campaigns go, you are expected to fill in the blanks between adventures yourself, using One Sheets (and several free ones are provided) or your own adventures. The PPC is incredibly well designed: Not only are the adventures varied but, especially as the campaign escalates, how the goblins perform factors into the outcome of the final battle in a manner similar to the very underrated finale of Wizards of the Coast's Tyranny of Dragons campaign. The design is legitimately one of the best Plot Point Campaign set-ups I've seen, in that you're not just walking through the plot, but the outcome of each Plot Point matters. 

Several humorous adventure seeds are provided, like Cat Burglar (involving a druid who is using his shape changing powers to steal stuff), Lawful Stupid (wherein the goblins face an order of dimwitted paladins), and Zombie Season (because you have to have zombies).

A random adventure generator is included (YES!), this one involving rolling a d4, d6, d8, d10 and a d12 and consulting the table. As is custom, I'm doing that right now: 

The Plot Hook is a 1, which means they are sent on a mission by Chief Bignose. The Mission Objective is a 6, meaning they need to sabotage a particular device or location. The Location is a 2, meaning it's along the west or north coast. The Main Antagonist came up a 9, meaning it's a predator of some sort. The Scene Structure came up a 8, meaning a Hazard, a Dramatic Task, an Interlude, a Combat Encounter and a Chase. This is another neat piece of business because it gives you a structure for setting up each beat of the adventure.

So maybe it plays out something like this: Chief Bignose sends the goblins and their gangs to Darkmire Swamp to poison the food supply of the Nightsworn Tribe. Along the way, crossing the rapids, they have to make Agility rolls to keep their rafts from tipping in suddenly turbulent water, anyone who fails is subject to Drowning (as is their gang). All the survivors make it to the first parts of the swamp, but now the survivors are sinking in the bog. This become a Dramatic Task to pull everyone free, and each gang member can help their leader in a cooperative roll to try to pull free from the bog. Whoever's left recuperates, and so you run an Interlude for one of the surviving bosses (probably the one who has suffered the worst losses). The remaining goblins attack the Nightsworn Tribe's guards, so they can poison their food supply...but shortly after delivering the poison, they find themselves being chased out of the swamp by far too many Nightsword Tribesmen to stand and fight with.

The bestiary is great, opening with a slew of adventurer statblocks, all fitting the most common D&D types. Each of the goblin tribes gets an entry, including their chiefs. Hill Humans, Mountain Humans and Forest Humans appear (spoiler: They are halflings, dwarves and elves), as well as a variety of creepy and classic monsters like trolls, minotaurs, ratlings and chimarae.

The last part of the book are a pair of print and play card decks used in Plot Points 1 and 3.


As mentioned, there are a ton of one sheets available at RPGnow. There's also two other key products: a fully layered PDF map is available as a Pay What You Want product. The layers actually provide the travel routes for the various adventures, so you can turn them on and off, so you're not having to look past criss crossing routes. You can even turn on a hex grid and labels for the various tribal areas.  It's...an impressive piece of business, and can be had for free, or for however much you want to spend. 

The other is the Countdown Deck. This is available in three versions: a physical deck, a print and play PDF, and a free Virtual Tabletop version (which is what I downloaded, as I tend to use Roll20 for my games now). So the deck is a standard card deck, but includes four Jokers instead of two. Each card has a suit and value, but also has a giant number (based on the initiative order) to make it easier to identify whose turn it is at a glance, and a symbol on the bottom of the card. The idea is that the symbols can be used to inspire actions, interludes, or even the scenes from an adventure using the random adventure generator. The designs are really nice (I'm not a fan of the four Jokers and I don't have trouble counting down initiative, but some folks do), with my favorite part being the interpretive symbols on the card.

FINAL ANALYSIS: This is a ridiculously professional product for a free product. This outright shames a large number of commercial products on production values. That alone would be impressive, and then you get into the sheer amount of flavorful rules stuff. The author seems to have a mindset similar to mine: Don't shy away from Edges, Hindrances and Setting Rules if they will serve the setting better than just throwing "trappings" on everything. Savage Worlds is fast enough and robust enough to handle it without dragging down. Don't do it for it's own sake, but don't be scared to let the rules serve your game.

The flavor of the setting is great, and the Edges, Hindrances, random tables and setting rules feed into that. The setting itself is only broadly detailed. That makes sense, as most of these jokers aren't even going to understand the concept of detailed demographic information, much less have any use for it.

The layout of the Plot Point Campaign is beautiful and unique. I LOVE it when a PPC or an adventure path or whatever is written so that what the PCs do *matters*, and most aren't written that way. There are challenges but the heroes are expected to overcome those challenges and life goes on. At least after the halfway point, this campaign assumes NOTHING, even through the end of the PPC.

I also dig the random adventure generator, and I may even steal the d12 portion for my home adventures in other settings just to force myself to shake up how I lay out adventures.

The support is impressive as Hell, with the map being a great piece of work and the countdown deck being a ridiculously useful piece of innovation that he's already teasing being expanded to other genres.

Literally the only reasons not to download this are a) you hate Savage Worlds, b) you hate the concept or c) you're going to be a player in the game. This is seriously top notch stuff