Saturday, 12 November 2022


 In York there's a now fairly famous neologism called snickelways used to describe a network of charming little alleys that snake throughout the city. They all have names like Hole-in-the-wall and Mad Alice Lane - all super evocative and just a little bit magical.

If you don't know, York is ancient. Its bones date back to Roman times, its flesh gathering throughout the Anglo-Saxon period and into the later medieval age that lends it a Mordheim-esque look. So its snickelways are routed through the past and present, bending space and time as you move through them. 

In your favourite flavour of fantasy game we can take this more literally. Snickelways are forgotten liminal spaces between buildings - a labyrinth of tiny streets with their own strange denizens, living both within and without the city. 

Who dwells in the snickelways? (D20, roll as many times as you want.)

1. The rat librarians dragging their mobile Bibliotheca. 

2. The Snickelwitch whose shadow has a mind of its own

3. Sallow dwarves selling from their bratwurst cart. 

4. The gull-headed assassin, slowly losing their mind.

5. A trio of ghost brigands who gamble eyeballs.

6. The silent greyhound that smells decaying magic.

7. The priests of the snickelways seeking converts to worship the Lord of Keys.

8. The sewer gorgons prized for their teeth.

9. The Lord Mayor of the Snickel, with their powdered wig and terrible secrets.

10. The Hidden Guild of Keys, able to open every lock in the city when dusk comes.

11. The junk ogre and her alignment-sensing magpie.

12. Snuffy the lantern dragon

13. The Society of Alleyway Alchemists

14. Wall-jumping goblin jesters

15. Mr. Black, the gentleman thief and seeker of keys.

16. Gungula, the great spider of the snickelways and her ravenous young.

17. The marvelous tailor and her enchanted spider silk

18. The Keeper of the Final Key

19. Muriel the taleteller whose payment is in quality teeth

20. Gutter urchins made from living shadow

Thursday, 10 February 2022

It's time to stop fetishizing the role of GM

 If you're knee deep in the quagmire they call TTRPG Twitter then you've definitely seen people talking about how nervous they are about being a GM for the first time, or you've seen the endless memes about the GM's role in the game as some sort of God of arcane lore and keeper of sacred wisdoms. You hear as many tales about amazing GMs as you do about nightmare ones, but only really the two extremes. Folks bestow a weight onto the GM as if they were ordained. Sometimes it's about how much the GM has to improvise (but the players will never know), or it's about how you'll keep improving until you're an incredible, polished storyteller. 

The reality is, the GM is just one of the players. It's no more grandiose than that. People put heavy expectations on themselves because they're constantly seeing advice on how to be a better GM, or how to be more like Matt Mercer. Voices, pacing, minis, props. The role inevitably becomes daunting when it really shouldn't.

I'm not saying effort isn't good, but it's more than ok to GM in a way that you're comfortable with. You can take a minute, or five, to think about things. You don't have to do voices. You can ask the players for help. You don't need to know the rules in their entirety. You don't need to make intricate plots and NPCs. It's great if you want to and you can, but there's no pressure to do so. Here's the thing: as long as players feel comfortable with who they're playing with and what the game's about they'll have fun with pretty much anything. It's fine to be fine.

Saturday, 29 January 2022

An alternative to adventure hooks

When it comes to designing trad RPG adventures, one of the first things you need is a hook to get the players involved in that adventure. If the hook isn't good enough then no adventure.

Really, this isn't good design. As a group you already know you're under the social contact of the game when you enter that magic circle. When the GM asks you to roll a die for a check, you roll the die, or perhaps suggest an alternative. You don't just say 'nah, don't feel like it'. But that's kind of how plot/story hooks are used in a game. 

The alternative is the GM asking the players "Here's the situation. How would your character get involved in this adventure?" Revolve the adventure around the characters rather than the other way around. How do their motivations or fears play into this adventure? This is a great opportunity to create emergent backgrounds for characters. "Well, my father went out to the Borderlands but never returned. I would want to see if I can find his remains." 

Saturday, 22 January 2022

Sacred Wells and Springs in Romance of the Perilous Land

Around the Perilous Land are various springs and wells deemed sacred by the populace for their restorative and divinatory properties. These blessed waters bubble up from the earth, attracting all manner of magical beings (lending them their common name of fairy wells). It's not known why, but the western coast is home to a high density of sacred Wells, stretching all the way up Escose. Great tales are told of springs rising from the ground where a legendary hero has perished. 

Druids gather around a sacred well to divine the will and mood of the gods. At sunset a pebble is dropped in the water and the number of bubbles determines the answer to the diviner's questions (such as 'how many days until the next storm?). 

Most wells are used for healing. Taking a rag to sacred water and wrapping around a wound causes it to heal twice as fast during a rest, but only as the sun rises and they have circled the well thrice. Drinking by starlight (it absolutely must be clear) can alleviate all manner of maladies. In game terms, a disease effect ends. 

As for some rarer effects, drawing water from a sacred well an hour before midnight on the eve of a new year turns the water to wine (called druid's wine). 

Water should not be taken from a well without giving something back. A coin will do the trick, as will a cloutie, a piece of cloth rag tied to a tree branch. Leaving without an offering has an effect on the well user until they return with an offering.

1. They are stalked by a magical being, such as a fairy, boggart or bogie. The being will steal from their pack, make noises and generally be mischievous. 

2. Their weapons are dulled or become brittle and useless. Weapon damage is halved.

3. They can't sleep due to awful nightmares, becoming fatigued.

4. Their body becomes weak, getting a setback on all Might-based checks and saves.

5. Their armour becomes cracked and worn, falling apart. Their effective armour points are reduced to 1.

6. They are stalked by a Black Dog.

There is a 1 in 4 chance that a sacred spring will appear at the site of a level 10 character death (if they die in a spot where a natural spring would make sense). The chance is reduced by 1 for every Valour point that has been used. 

Thursday, 20 January 2022

Quill scenario: So You Want to Join A Doomsday Cult?



You are a member of a sinister cult hell-bent on ending the world, but it's a real struggle to find new recruits. You've been trusted with creating a new pamphlet all about your, erm, religion in an effort to win new people to the cause. Also, there's something in the pit. Probably not worth going near that.

Rules of Correspondence:

Begin with 5 Lucidity. You may spend a Lucidity to automatically pass a test. At the end of your letter roll a die. If the score is below your current Lucidity, you are fine. If it's above, reduce your final points by 3. 

Create your character:

Throw together a character with Penmanship, Heart and Language. Assign the scores 1, 2 and 3. Alternatively, use the character options from Shadow & Ink. 

Ink Pot:

Glorious revival/ Painful death

Fun games/ Terrifying ordeals

Robes/ Bathrobes

Guest/ Sacrifice

Divine nectar/ Weak tea

Benevolent/ Clearly Evil

Enjoy/ Loathe

Tentacles/ Tentacles

Transformation/ Brainwashing

Chambers of the Holy House/ Ned's Cellar


Less than 5 points

This could be your greatest achievement to date, the finest writing ever put to paper. So why on earth have you been summoned to the Chamber? Probably to get some sort of accolade for cult marketing. It soon becomes apparent by the leagues of guard escorts that this may not be an entirely positive meeting. Ah, the Glorious Leader, they will put all this right. Wait, is that a knife? Oh, oh no. Into the pit you go. 

5-7 points

This may not have been your greatest work. Over the next month the cult gets a trickle of new recruits but, let's face it, they're not top-of-the-line. They just stand there at meetings, half-cut from the day session at the pub. Even the pit creature doesn't want to touch them and that thing's made of tangible regret. They come and go as easy sacrifices, but nothing more. Back to the drawing board. 

8-10 points

Sometimes you impress even yourself. A week after your fine pamphlet hits the dark corners of the city you get a flood of new recruits. Young, old, rich, poor - the whole works. Poor schmucks. The Glorious Leader is pleased as punch, so pleased that at the next cult luncheon you get a special name drop. Over time the cult grows and grows. Soon it will be time...

11+ points

Ah, so maybe you did TOO good a job. You find yourself elbow deep in recruits - a city block's worth in a few days. That thing in the pit is happy as Larry but the Glorious Leader looks perturbed. They speak to you in hushed tones (they've never spoken to you alone - this is big). Turns out that this unprecedented influx of new sacrifices has actually sped up the end of days by, oh, 500 years (accounting for leap years). That brings the end of the world to...2pm today. The Glorious Leader is sobbing, the thing in the pit is writhing. You back away and run out into the street as the clouds collapse. 

Saturday, 15 January 2022

Aubresque: The Champagne Collective

What does the very essence of life taste like? Perhaps I'll find out.

Madame Rouge is the leader of the The Champagne Collective, a secret society of socialites who maintain their youth by drinking champagne with the blood of the proletariat.

Located beneath the arches of the Rue Dragon, in the vast wine cellar belonging to the aristocrat Norman Auldes, The Champagne Collective meets on a blood moon. Madame Rouge takes the head of each victim and places them on a consecrated table. The blood drains from the neck onto white silk and is then wrung out into a champagne decanter. In order of hierarchy, from Madame Rouge, through to Madame Vert, the congregation sips the champagne and gives thanks to the blood moon for its gift of vitality. Members of the cult live for hundreds of years, and it is rumoured that Madame Rouge is over 1000 years old.

The ritual has the following effects:

* The participant will not age for another year

* The participant is healed of all wounds and afflictions

* The participant has +2 to Wisdom for the next week