[WIP] Crooked Paths: A game of mystical witchcraft and guerilla sorcery

(Matt Phillips) #1

Crooked Paths

Walk the crooked paths of the cursed valley of Bloodacre as a coven of darkly mystical, psychedelic witches.

Use the power of your Patron to undermine the Tortured God’s stranglehold on your colonized land.

Disrupt Imperial supply lines, harass witch-hunting parties, seek out the relics of your ancestors, ally with brigands or occultists or heretics or troubadours, convert the disenchanted, support the meek, rescue your folk from inquisition, transgress into the Green or the Underworld or the Astral. All the while maintaining the illusion of normalcy and clinging to your Tether to reality.

Bloodacre is a land cursed by its fallen queen, its defining river flowing thick with blood upon every full moon. It’s an early-modern/renaissance-era land brimming with heretical sects, occultists, superstitious townsfolk, and iron-fisted imperialism influenced by Inquisition-era Spain, the Italian countryside, slavic and germanic paganism, Druidry, etc. But as cunning shamanism and traditional craft often fights against entrenched powers across many cultures, I hope Bloodacre is just the first of several sandbox settings for Crooked Paths.

Crooked Paths uses the skeleton of Forged in the Dark while tearing out/replacing/grafting on systems in order to evoke a world of sorcery and superstition. Touchstones include:
Tabletop Games: Ars Magica, My Life With Master, Sorcerer, Changeling: the Dreaming, Mage: The Ascension, Dungeon World, D&D 5e, and obviously Blades in the Dark
Video Games: The Witcher series, Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Movies/TV: The Wicker Man, Haxan, A Field in England, Apostle, Salem, Midsommar
Books: C.J. Cherryh’s Rusalka books, Alan Moore’s Hellblazer and Swamp Thing, Johnathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, The Mabinogion, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, and various works of occultism and history, especially Andrew Chumbley, Norman Cohn, and Carlo Ginzburg.
Music: Psychedelic Folk, black and doom metal, dark ambient, drone

You’ll choose from a variety of occult-influenced playbooks [pre-alpha stage; list could change], each with their own unique Curse and Familiar:

  • The Beastbinder, a shapeshifter and keeper of animals
  • The Dreamweaver, an illusionist and creator of nightmares
  • The Fatesealer, an omen-seer and manipulator of destiny
  • The Flamewielder, an elementalist and carrier of the fire
  • The Gravekeeper, a psychopomp and warden of the dead
  • The Mindreaver, a seducer and twister of thought
  • The Rootbraider, a psychonaut and knower of plants
  • The Stormsower, a frost-witch and bringer of lightning

Instead of a Crew, your coven designs a supernatural Patron fueled by faith and fear. Your patron helps define conflict and pathways to different scores, which in this game are called Workings. Your coven and GM will co-create your patron out of an archetypal being of power [subject to change]:

Beings from the Green

  • The Fey
  • The Beast
  • The Green One

Beings from the Depths

  • The Dark One
  • The Triple Queen
  • The Serpent

Beings from the Astral

  • The Cosmic Other
  • The Old Gods

Instead of gathering filthy coin, your focus is on Essence, which comes in two forms: Profane and Sacred. Profane Essence can only be used to fuel your raw magical powers, and it comes from a few sources: reagents, drugs/herbs, and corrupted sacraments. Sacred Essence can both power your abilities and fill your Spirit meter, which over time will provide you with magical attainments such as flight and other classical witch-powers. It comes from sources including supernatural gifts, mystical secrets, and usurpation of your enemy’s power. Patron abilities can manipulate or broaden your ability to use Essence and can open up new sources of power.

But relying too much on your Patron can be costly. Instead of pushing yourself to gain stress, you Indulge in Corruption, giving more and more of your spirit over to your Patron’s willing grasp. The only way to expiate this corruption is by returning to your Tether, the crucial link you maintain to the waking world of humanity or stability. Tethers include the following: Romance, Craft, Solitude, Family, Service, and Society. Give in to too much Corruption and you could find yourself bearing the unique Marks of your Patron, which compromise your ability to keep your sorcerous dealings hidden from witch hunters and their craft-scent hounds.

Crooked Paths uses a special progress clock to track the phase of the moon, with some abilities and processes tied to specific phases. It’s also a way of tracking time and the ebb and flow of the coven’s fortunes, not to mention the life-cycles of the creatures of the cursed valley and the thinness of the membrane between Bloodacre and the Three Otherworlds: The Green, The Depths, and The Astral.

Crooked Paths is currently in pre-alpha - I’m still writing playbook abilities and trying to pre-tune some of the tracks. With the departures from Blades and other FitD games, I’m finding myself having to create and tune additional systems, which is a long process. Updates to come!

A link to my Pre-Alpha document is coming, but I want to finish more before I put too much out there.

The main purpose of this post is to announce the game and give it a little bit of reality beyond my own internal documents. You can follow Crooked Paths development on Twitter @DomesdayGames . After a playtestable alpha is ready, I’ll look towards creating a more robust internet presence. Until then, I’m happy to be here, and I suspect I’ll need all kinds of advice from Forged veterans! Let me know what you think.

[Edit: removed link to pre-alpha, but will have some alpha playbooks soon!]

(John Harper) #2

This sounds cool. Looking forward to seeing it.

(Matt Phillips) #3

Thanks John! I’m trying to buckle down to write more as I move out of brainstorming, so hopefully I’ll have something more concrete soon.

(Matt Phillips) #4

One thing I want to quickly clarify just because there’s a big conversation about identity-based conflict/oppression in settings right now on Twitter. The Church of the Tortured God will have both sympathetic and unsympathetic adherents. It’s not a “this religion is evil” type situation, but rather a critique of the way states can manipulate religion to ends that are oppressive and violent/the way establishment can lead to suppression and intolerance (and hypocrisy).

I also want to make sure to state that though there’s a variety of conflict sources that individual groups can pursue with Crooked Paths, and though an anti-patriarchal conflict is one of those that are available, there’s nothing in Bloodacre’s culture that prohibits women from filling specific roles in society, or anything inherently gendered about the craft itself. If you want to explore those elements, it’s your game, but I recommend talking it over with your group before entering that territory. Also, there aren’t racial tensions/othering - conflict is generated out of political and spiritual strife.

This is a game about fighting against and undermining imperialism, and it explicitly takes the side of the subaltern in the conflict and empowers them to fight back. Bloodacre is a site of possible resistance to oppression, and it tries to imagine both the way that ideas of resistance spread and how anti-colonial conflicts work.

I just thought it’d be good to clarify these things right off the bat because there are a lot of important conversations happening on these topics.

(John Harper) #5

Those are all important things to think about, in design and in play. I’m glad you’re keeping them in mind. If this becomes a full-fledged product, sensitivity readers are always good to engage before the final thing takes shape.

(Matt Phillips) #6

For sure, I don’t want to put the cart too far before the horse (/goats) here but I thought these conversations might be especially relevant to a game that explicitly involves religious antagonists and imperialism. If I get to a point where I have a product (and I’m hoping to) sensitivity readers will be a priority.

(Matt Phillips) #7

Progress report:

  • Working on refining the Witch playbooks into a playable state. Hoping to have most of the playbooks available at the beginning of playtesting
  • Drafting Patron playbooks. Skeletons are there but there is much to write.
  • Filling in some gaps in rules text.
  • Learning some basic layout for a playtest kit - any recommendations on resources/tutorials/books would be welcome. The kit will at first likely be just for me and the private groups I run, but will slowly open out as Crooked Paths becomes more polished - but please get in touch if you’d like to have a copy to run with your group.
  • Determining how much of Bloodacre to include in the playtest kit
  • There are a couple of ideas that have popped up as “stretch goal” type stuff, including a new playbook and a new mini-setting.
  • Generally, things are shaping up to be playable soon.

Like Blades’ Duskvol, Bloodacre and the otherworlds will be intimately tied into the mechanics. Setting stuff is some of the most fun to write, and it’s useful to GMs, but it also takes up a lot of space in a quickstart kit, so it’s a tough balance to strike (but it’ll get there).

I’m expecting to be able to start playtesting in earnest in the beginning of the new year, possibly earlier. I’ll likely post some bits and pieces here soon, but please let me know if you’d like to be involved with early playtesting either as a player or a GM.