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

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!]


This sounds cool. Looking forward to seeing it.


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.

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.


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.


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.


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.

It’s been radio silence from me for a minute, but here’s a major update!

  • Playbooks are fully drafted, fully layed-out, and apart from some tweaks I have based on feedback, are fully ready to play. I have a few tweaks to make for 0.1 so the sheets in this folder will have some changes in it within a day or two. Check them out! They’re meant to be printed double sided and folded in half, like Band of Blades’ sheets: playbooks folder

  • Rules are remaining flexible for playtests, so I’m not quite ready to put them out there, but if you realllly want to see them just ask and I’ll share with you directly.

  • The first playtest went extremely well! I playtested Crooked Paths’ starting situation, The Forest of Fallen Stars, at my local con SaltCon, and almost all of the feedback was positive. I could tell that my playtesters had a lot of fun creating mayhem at the dedication of the Anointed’s newest fort. There are definitely some significant numerical changes to be made, and there were a few things that were pretty unbalanced, but… the bones are good!

  • I am starting online playtests in the wake of self-isolation. I am looking for 1-2 more players for my Sunday game, which will happen from Noon - 3/3:30pm MDT. I am also up for starting a group daytime on Mondays, or evenings on most other days. Please let me know if you’re interested.

  • There have been some changes to Patron playbooks. Currently available are: The Beast,
    The Serpent, The Dark One, The Hidden Goddess, The Fair One, The Green One, The Old Gods, and the Reveler. The Cosmic Other felt a little too out of the flavor of an early modern witchcraft game. Also, the Beast and the Serpent have been shifted to The Real - they’re beings on the same plane as you, but hidden deep within forests, mountain ranges, and caves.

  • Crooked Paths will feature Relics, ancient witch artifacts hidden throughout the world by the ancestors of your coven. Relics can hold essence, and can grant their carrier a special ability at the cost of some essence. However, Relics are extremely powerful, and cost a great deal of Presence - corresponding to Load in Blades - which makes you especially vulnerable to discovery.

  • I’m going to do my best to post more regular updates, so check back on Thursday to learn about Crooked Paths’ Heritages and Backgrounds!


Here’s a rundown of the heritages and backgrounds in Crooked Paths!


  • Bloodacre, which some still call by the ancient name Sangrakur, is a rich swath of farmland, timber, incense, and ore, cursed by its dying queen. Its citizens now bend beneath the Empire’s yoke, alternately crushed into resignation or harboring secret desires for vengeance or freedom. Bloodacreans tend to have fair or olive skin and dark hair.
  • When the Anointed Empire of Chrysomel invaded Bloodacre, it brought settlers. Though this isn’t yet a large group, settlers arrive in bursts, hoping to “civilize” the wilderness that Bloodacreans left untouched. This includes many adventure-seekers, mercantilists, and bounty hunters. But the strangeness of the otherworlds has sometimes had a powerful effect on these settlers, some of whom now turn from their roots in the Church of Chrysomel toward new gods and heresies. The Anointed tend to have fair skin and light hair, though their empire has grown to be highly cosmopolitan.
  • It was the people of Kyboria who first sounded the alarms about the Empire’s bloodthirst, and shortly after, this island nation became the Empire’s first major acquisition since they accepted the religion of Chrysomel. Kyboria’s many islands feature volcanoes, misty grottoes, and hidden caves, and suffer under their own curse. Many Kyborians emigrated to Bloodacre after the coup that toppled their aristocracy, bringing with them their skill in viticulture. Kyborians tend to have olive skin and dark hair. [If we ever do a kickstarter, I have lots of ideas for how to create a mini-setting out of Kyboria - sort of like Blades’ Uduasha in the special edition]
  • Yazir lies to the south, across the wastes of the Sculpted Desert. Many Yaziris originally emigrated to Bloodacre as merchants, setting up markets for Yaziri imports, artworks, and natural resources, but new generations of Yaziris have grown up in other professions in Bloodacre. A majority of Yaziris follow The Path of Flame, a religion focusing on sacred fire and eternal flame as a symbol of internal spiritual light. Since the Empire has closed Bloodacre’s borders, some Yaziri traders lost business or have turned to other means to get by. Yaziris tend to have dark skin and dark hair.
  • An ancient enemy of the Old Empire, pre-Chrysomel, the people of Kartagos scattered to the winds upon the burning of their lands. Back then the Empire employed dark sorcery, and the magic that scourged the Kartagosi lands left elaborate, intricate scars on their bodies, scars that passed down the generations. Bloodacre welcomed the Kartagosi centuries ago, though few abandoned the memory of the Empire’s cruelty or their ancestral traditions. Kartagosi tend to have olive skin and dark hair, and each has a unique and elaborate scar whose shape they know by heart.
  • The Djedda are a nomadic culture that has spread across the world, creating enclaves for travelers in semi-mobile camps at the edge of fields and forests. Bloodacreans tend to appreciate the Djedda, valuing their expert crafts if also undervaluing their labor in creating them. Djedda-tamed horses are known to be some of the finest in the world. Until the Empire arrived, the Djedda enjoyed enough freedom that many settled in Bloodacre; but during the colonization, the Djedda returned to a more mobile lifestyle, staying clear of the violence. The Djedda tend to have tan skin and brown hair.
  • Veldrachia is Bloodacre’s neighbor to the north, full of alpine lakes, deep valleys, and mountain forts. Internal strife has always wracked Veldrachia, but the current state, composed of a triumvirate of powerful duchies, has quelled most of the conflict (or pushed it underground. The Veldrachian Duchies have combined their forces to oppose the Empire, fortifying their border along the high peaks of the Trapjaw range, occasionally sheltering Bloodacre royalists. Veldrachians tend to have pale skin and dark hair.


  • The Church: you focused on the sacred and the rituals of your religion. Examples: Anointed cleric, parish priest of the old religion, doubting churchgoer, follower of the Path of Flame, inquisitor, etc.
  • The City: you focused on urban life or surviving the city streets. Examples: town councilor, society maven, thief, mercantile trader, academic professor, courtly troubadour, etc
  • The Family: you focused on your family or home. Examples: noble scion, fallen royal, homemaker, grandparent of seven, reckless teenager, etc.
  • The Fields: you focused on your crops or animals. Examples: goatherd, wheat farmer, breaker of horses, apiarist, etc.
  • The Work: you focused on a profession or a project. Examples: lens grinder, country doctor, stonemason, landscape painter, miller, etc.
  • The Law: you focused on maintaining law and order. Examples: local magistrate, criminal prosecutor, night watch, town guard, etc.
  • The Struggle: you focused on the war or the resistance. Examples: smuggler of materiel, night raider, soldier in the Anointed army, advance scout, etc.
  • The Wilds: you focused on the wilderness and survival. Examples: boar hunter, raised by wolves, cave-dwelling hermit, lonely wanderer, etc.

I want to stress here that I plan to pay a sensitivity reader to help me see potential blind spots with any of this work - it’s very much a work in progress! But I thought this might give a better sense of the setting of Bloodacre, which has changed a great deal since the first post in this thread.

Next up, I want to talk about the Otherworlds, the source of Bloodacre’s magic. Check back on Tuesday for an update!

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Bloodacre exists in the Real, the world of the natural, which nevertheless holds its own secrets. Prior to the Queen’s curse of Bloodacre, the Real only felt incursions from supernatural beings on special days and times, during strange and intense circumstances, or when the witches of old brought supernatural beings into the light. Of course, who knows what kinds of beings lurk out in the untapped reaches of the wilderness, but more on that at another time.

Bloodacre’s landscape shifted under the weight of the curse. The veil between the Real and the Otherworlds grew thin, and the moon, drawn nearer to Bloodacre, ripped open the doors to these supernatural places with the force of its magical gravity. The Otherworlds spilled into Bloodacre, as blood spills down the river Rană each month on the full moon. These portals allowed for the return of powerful supernatural entities to influence Bloodacre and tempt new covens with power beyond the Real.

  • The Astral, the world of dreams, most active during the new moon and crescent moons when the stars shine brightest, their myriad of distant worlds hiding the abodes of gods and ascendants, powerful mortals who have transcended the Real. Chrysomel, the Anointed’s foremost saint, is himself an ascendant, and while he travels the astral his head remains mummified in a vat of honey here on the Real. Some gods in this realm hold great power, some retain but the faintest wisps of their former glory, and some are dead, their massive figures floating in the profundity of Astral space. A key Astral adversary to witches are the Nightwalkers, a folk tradition of lay people who can project their shades into the Astral to do battle with witches in the night. Frowned upon by the Anointed and their Sanctioned (deputized militias of witch-hunters), and reviled by witches, the Nightwalkers tread a path as thin as a thread, but are no less dangerous for that reason.

  • The Green, the world of vegetation, is most active during the half moons and their surrounding phases, when fair folk slip in and out of hidden doors to cause mischief and havoc in the lives of humans. The Green is an endless maze of abundant plants and fungi, dotted with the fanciful palaces of the Fair Courts and the Nobles who live within them. Wanderers who stumble into the Green, whether by accident or trick, often disappear for weeks, and return forever changed, lost in longing to return to the magic beyond the hedge. Powerful plant intelligences spread their roots through the Green, and all varieties of the fair folk, from the minuscule sprites to the odd, magic-twisted kings and queens of the fair courts, call the Green their home.

  • Finally, the Depths, the world of the dead, most active on the full and gibbous moons, is a place of both peace and dread, pain and release, sorrow and contentment. Here the shades of the dead drift across undiscovered country, taking their secrets with them. Some of them rest in vales of waving asphodels; some haunt elaborate tombs floating in the void; some have become the subjects of fiends. More aptly known as daemons, mortals tend to know fiends as tempters and tormentors; but there are a variety of these powerful beings, with a variety of motives and desires. Along with the forgotten cthonic gods, they lord over swaths of the abyssal void, searching for opportunities to to spread their influence into the Real.

While any witch can enter into the Otherworlds with the proper ritual or a portal, three playbooks have special connections to these strange places. The Dreamwalker can learn to project their shade into the Astral and enter the dreams of sleeping mortals, sowing nightmares or soothing fantasies. The Rootbraider, with their intimate connection to all plants, can learn to project their shade into the Green , and pull unwitting mortals into the maze of thorns and mischief. The keeper of the dead, the Gravewalker, can learn to project their shade into the Depths, summoning shades of the deceased to compel them to answer questions.

The Otherworlds are meant to be fluid spaces for player and GM imagination, much like Blades’ ghost field. It’s expected that most covens will transgress into these supernatural places in order to find powerful allies or relics to aid them in their resistance against the Anointed. But each of these realms will look different at each table. Crooked Paths will feature some useful tables and generators, but much of the content of these spaces is left up to the players to create, using the archetypal forms of these places as guides for exploration.

Stay tuned for more on Bloodacre’s inhabitants. Next I’ll either cover some of the major factions, or explore some of the supernatural creatures Bloodacre supports. If you have a preference, or want to know more, sound off in the thread! I’m also finding out some great stuff in playtesting, so expect changes to the playbooks soon. These updates will mostly focus on worldbuilding for now, but more mechanics should be trickling in soon.

Been a minute! I’ve hesitated to update too much because Crooked Paths is changing pretty rapidly. Lots of changes have happened lately, and I’m not even sure how much I want to reveal just because the changes are also subject to change. I can’t edit the top post anymore, so if you’re following Crooked Paths, keep an eye on the latter parts of the thread here for the most current info.

So, the first major change is a big setting change: Instead of a colonial power, the Anointed will take on the role of a tyranny that arose from within the country of Bloodacre. I felt strongly as we playtested that I could do more justice to the religious tyranny aspect of Crooked Paths, and that the colonial struggle felt like a much bigger topic that my experience didn’t speak to adequately. This also allowed me to focus in on the core theme of the game, which is to investigate the nature of religious vs spiritual power. Crooked Paths is about the ways religions gain and maintain control of a people, but also about how spiritual practices can free people and heal their wounds.

This also allowed me to create a greater variety of heretical and occult factions and give them space as antagonists, as it sets all of these spiritual groups including your own coven in conflict over the soul of Bloodacre. It also meant I’m having to be more conscious about the ways that opportunities come up for the coven. Because a spiritual conflict is more nebulous than colonial/political guerilla warfare, I’m coming up with new ways to organize the Workings (Crooked Paths’ version of scores). It led me to create a system I’m calling Domains.

Domains are regions of Bloodacre (and the Otherworlds) that hide ancient sites sacred to Bloodacre’s witches. Each domain features a series of clocks based on four different spiritual conflicts: Power, Mystery, Freedom, and Harmony. Each domain has a unique arrangement of the four clocks, which each feature a unique conflict. Each conflict is dominated by a specific faction (of varying Tier). The way this works is that covens target specific kinds of conflicts and specific factions, using the clocks as a guide. Filling clocks nets you followers for your Patron (leading to an increase in Tier) and once you’ve filled 2 of the 4 clocks in a domain, you gain the opportunity to engage the guardian of the sacred site, to take it for your own purposes. Otherworldly domains work slightly differently in that they only have 1 clock each, but it’s always a difficult one to fill, and the prizes for doing so are greater.

Domains are taking on an increasingly central role in Crooked Paths. In each domain you’ll find lists of usable NPCs (both enemies and potential allies), landscape features, a list of reagents for the new and improved “concoctions” system (crafting), omens and rumors, and perhaps most importantly a list of ideas for opportunities for workings. They also host Vestiges, which are a new kind of collectible that replaces and simplifies what I was previously calling Essence.

Vestiges are objects that are infused with the spiritual power of the witches of old. Each vestige is described with a quick but evocative story and a Tier rating, and each one is held by one of the dominant factions of the domain. When your coven defeats, undermines, or otherwise overcomes the faction by filling its clock, you receive the vestige they hold, reclaiming the power back for your coven’s spiritual path. Some of these vestiges are also Relics, and have powers that you and the coven can use on your workings.

Vestiges have a few uses. They are mainly used in Rituals, powerful spells that your coven uses to affect an entire domain at once for a whole cycle of the moon (possibly more? subject to playtesting). Instead of doing a working, you can choose to cast a ritual, whose effect will be governed by the Tier of the vestige you use to accomplish it. This process extracts all the spiritual power from the vestige and releases it into the ritual. There’s a special ritual called the Rite of Ascension that does something slightly different. Instead of releasing the vestige’s power into the domain, you release it to fortify yourselves. The Rite of Ascension is how you rise in Tier and progress through your playbook’s special attainments. Finally, some vestiges can be used during workings as Relics, which have powers with a limited number of uses. Once all the uses in a relic are gone (or whenever you like), you may release their power in rituals too.

As you might guess, all of these changes have led to a need for significant revisions throughout the game, especially Special Abilities in the Playbooks (the playbooks posted above are not current version). So there’s quite a lot of work to do, and all of this needs significant testing. But I’m hoping that these systems will be a good answer for some of the issues we were encountering in playtests. I’ve learned a lot about design in this process! My biggest takeaway is to not do too much in advance of a playtest - so much will change even if you think you’ve already got it figured out. This goes for layout too… looking forward to those layout revisions! (sike)

Thanks for following this project. In future posts, I hope to discuss the crafting system and the new version of corruption (stress), which I’m now calling Wyrd - a measure of how much you’ve meddled with fate in order to work your magic.

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