Thursday 31 October 2019

GRAVEROBBERS Bare Bones Edition

Welcome to the 100th post here on the Graverobber's Guide! Whether you've been here since the beginning or just found my blog, thanks for reading - and I hope some of my rambles from the past 2 years have helped you and your friends have enjoyable games together.

Now then...

GRAVEROBBERS Bare Bones Edition is available now to download for free!

GRAVEROBBERS is a tabletop roleplaying system for games of stealth and sedition. The Bare Bones version is just that - all the basic mechanics you need to get started. The game is in alpha form, so all feedback is appreciated - if you play it, let me know what you and your group think, how the game went and what happened!

A starter adventure is available here, and more updates and content will be forthcoming as the game goes into its next stage of development.

If you'd like to support that development, you can tell your friends, keep up with my writing here and on social media, purchase something from my Gumroad store or donate a couple of bucks a month to my Patreon.

Happy gaming! x

Tuesday 29 October 2019

The Crossroads and the Chapel

This is a starter adventure for the GRAVEROBBERS system - currently only on my Patreon, but a fresh new public "alpha" version will be available on the 31st.

Due to how that system works this is pretty system-neutral, so you can run it in any old fantasy RPG - but a lot of the detail is specifically designed to work with the GRAVEROBBERS system.

It's not super well written because it's basically just my own GM notes with a lot of added guff to make them legible, but I hope you give it a shot! Or just steal bits. Have fun!

The Crossroads

The rough setting for your first Prep Phase is The Crossroads, a wretched hive-type inn where the players will have contacts and leads and like-minded conspirators lurking in the shadows. All very hush-hush; the Authority's Eye is ever watchful.

It's only loosely drawn so you can just make it up as you go. Here are some bits to start with, use them if they work for you:

By means of introduction: This is you and your players' first foray into this world, so you can start them off with a bit more info than you normally would to get the ball rolling. If your campaign continues, they'll be able to use the knowledge and insight gained through play to inform their decisions, but at first they might feel a little lost.

Give them one or two of these secrets for free; they're categorised by the Crime most likely to have gained each piece of info, but mix em up as appropriate. I've given two options for each. Other secrets can be given for draws or through characters or whatever.

Burglar: There's nothing valuable in the main church hall beyond what's on the altar, so any treasure must be hidden elsewhere. / If you fancy yourself a climber, you could enter through the bell tower since there are no windows, but the roof is treacherous and the tower supposedly haunted.
Harlot: The priest wears fine clothes under his robes, bought with a generous cut of the locals' alms./ The priest takes in the lost and broken, eager to convert them - people are so easy to control when they owe you everything.
Heretic: The ground is not sanctified in the old ways, merely performatively blessed by the Authority's priests. Ill spirits and foul things make such places home./ You've had dreams in which a lost soul calls to you. Perhaps, somewhere in your near future, is a meeting with a ghost still tethered to this world.
Murderer: The anchorite lives in the chapel annex and cannot leave, devoted to her God in hermitage. The locals love her for her piety. / Word on the street says the priest cheats at cards. One guy called him on it and had a few ribs cracked for his troubles - witnesses say by the priest himself, and handily.
Traitor: It wasn't too long ago that a battle raged where the chapel now stands. Native blood fell on the soil like rain. / The anchorite is not a local, nor or particularly noble birth in the Authority's eyes, but they are happy to have such a face to their name as they expand their proselytising into this area.
Vagrant: Something howls on the wind from that chapel on a moonless night, but it ain't no beast. / A young woman has sequestered herself in a cell on the chapel's eastern side for reasons of worship. She was a peasant girl, now they say she'll be a saint.

Keep it tight: Short and sweet is fine for a first Prep; the first Job will be more fun. Maybe do it as a montage. Don't make a big deal out of Luck loss if it happens, just say "oh, you'll find out later on that some word got out" or something... this isn't the time to derail into a scene where they try to find the snitch and get revenge - they already have a job to do. Show must go on.

Vibes: Colour palette in the Crossroads is muted... scratch that, drained. Dark, dingy, deep shadows. Chiaroscuro. Use notable exceptions to this overall grimness to draw attention to things - a warm orange candle flicker, the hearty scent of ale, or a deep and lusty laugh are all markers that can make a character trustworthy or moment of quiet victory memorable. Let them feel they've wheedled some tiny but crucial secrets out of this terrible world's stony face.

Black Market: a shady individual will sell you items you might need. Something simple and everyday, like a nail or some cloth, might cost 1 coin2-3 coins gets you everyday items that are more directly useful, like a tinderbox or some rope. Getting up to 4 or 5 coins is the realm of a more bespoke item like specific clothing for a disguise, or a day's pay for some labour. Maybe a bribe.

Characters: people might know things or be up for stuff. The bartender can be a good go-to for rumours and general info, or you can invent patrons to deliver whatever specific knowledge or thing the players want. They can reasonably get pretty much anything.

You could say that there's someone a player character recognises; this is a shady place so they're in good company. Link the relationship to their Crime or who their character is - like if they're a burglar, this is their fence.

1. Alice/Alistair
2. Bertie
3. Lucy/Lucian
4. Morgan
5. "The Magpie"
6. Rizalino/Rizalina

1. minor tattoos that indicate they are of the Heretic's religion (could have secrets or magical aid)
2. a little camp and theatrical, why ever not? delights in sharing gossip and secrets.
3. mild crush on a player character; offers a bonus or discount
4. offers a little side job for extra coin or a cool item - just bring them a roof tile or two
5. haunted, not literally (happy to give up a secret, just... don't make them go back there)
6. haunted, literally (ghost gives a little extra info, through them or a Heretic)

a note on mechanics: draws only occur when the players get closer to their goal for this Phase (being prepped, in whatever way they see fit, for the next one), which allows freedom to roleplay and do other junk as much or as little as they like. Encourage it by just letting it happen (that's standard play, baybee!).

oh, and I'd definitely recommend giving your player characters access to Bastard Magic if they want it, it fits the tone. And it's free!

The Chapel

The players' mission for the Job Phase: Steal the relic hidden somewhere on the chapel grounds.

(The chapel is busy in the day so by default the heist occurs at night. If the players try to come by sunlight have a lot of nosy and well-meaning church aunties waiting.)


Father Rodrigo Cassel, A Priest.
haughty and austere, "my child", i'm picturing Richard E Grant but you do you. He runs sermons in the day, then in the evening clears things up, says prayers with the anchorite in the confessional and finally puts out the torches before leaving.

Fairly corrupt but ultimately pious to the Authority. He will invoke a rite and give up his body to the Authority's strength if his life is threatened in a fight, so maybe remove 1 die from a Violence roll if he's aware of the attack.

The priest is a minor agent of the Authority, posted here to guard the relic within the chapel's secret sanctum. He knows all about it, how to get there, and what else is down there - he knows everything about the chapel apart from the ghost in the graveyard.

Sister Almaida, An Anchorite.
the ingenue in all this. Essentially good but naive and too steadfast in her beliefs. Conversation with her is an endurance test of recited verse and propaganda from a pretty, smiling face. She lives in what is essentially a cell with no door, the brickwork constructed around her as a permanent hermitage (people did this).

Will happily offer spiritual advice through the confessional and tell what she knows of the priest and the chapel (not much, and certainly nothing of the crypt - though she'll inadvertently mention a "michael", someone she's heard the Priest talk about in passing but has never met, and also lives here at the chapel).

the late Commander Vincent Danilo Yosef, A Spectre.
a spirit tied to this earth by blood. He haunts the graveyard, in which his headstone takes pride of place. He is bitter and sorrowful, pained by deep regret... basically, he's the Traitor, but like, for the other side. An Authority quisling.

He knows all about all the other characters who live here, but can't do much on account of being a ghost. Doesn't know about the crypt.

White Michael, A Monster.
this ghoul, this pale wraith, this wight. A wretched Thing, emaciated and Too Long. pale beyond pale, black gums with blunted studs for teeth (too many). eyes or holes? Voice so high and keening.

He is Quasimodo in his tower. The priest is the only living soul who knows about him, and feeds him scraps of meat (all he eats). He would eat anything, eat the priest even, if he felt he could survive alone. But he can't - he will not die but cannot live, and the terror of it is what he holds in place of a mind. He is so sad.

He knows what the priest knows, including that there's a secret crypt below the chapel, but will only give information - or do anything - for food. He's very clear about this. If the players seem like they might go to the crypt, he'll warn them not to wake them what's sleeping down there, let them rest, let them rest.

the closest image I could find to the right layout (only missing the anchorage buttressing out from the side), and it just happens to be a tabletop mini, so here's a link if you want it i guess?

A Map:

(at time of writing I don't have one so maybe sketch it for a better understanding? sorry x)

Layout: One big main church hall with a bell tower on top and the anchorage built into the east wall. Slate tile sloping roofs, thick stone construction. There's a little graveyard just to the west, markers fresh but overgrown.

The chapel exterior: Two big double oak doors at the south, one smaller door in the west wall. Otherwise, there are little thin arrow-slit windows all around, and a big stained glass window in the north wall depicting the Authority (y'know, God) as a shepherd leading sheep. The square tower has an arched window on each side, no glass, with the dull bell in the centre.

The chapel interior:Main Hall: Pews either side of a central aisle up to an altar beneath where the moonlight casts coloured shadows through the stained glass. Torches in braziers either side of the door as you enter.

The mezzanine: Behind the altar, to either side of the window, are staircases going up to shadowed mezzanine balconies, which double back along the east and west walls and join above the south entrance. There, a wooden trap door, too high to reach, leads to the bell tower above.

Doors and details: There are doors in the west wall (to the graveyard) and the east (to the confessional, a little chamber from which one may speak to the anchorite through a letterbox.
- A cupboard by the north-east stairwell contains a crate of cured meat, a tall ladder, a mop and bucket, a broom, ten feet of old rope, and a flask of oil.
- On the stone altar is a long white cloth that covers it, with a hole on top through which a three-candled brass stick protrudes (see the crypt). There is also an ornate brass dish filled with water, and a small vial of human blood.

The anchorage is the cell into which Sister Almaida has bricked herself up. Has books and writing implements, food, candles and an oil lamp.

The tower is reached through the trap door above the mezzanine. White Michael lives here, huddled in the corner with rags and old bird bones. The great brass bell hangs from the rafters.

The Crypt

Pulling the candlestick on the altar causes the stone table to slide away, revealing narrow flagstone steps that lead down into utter darkness.

The ceiling here is low and curves in at the walls. From where the stairs deposit you, there's a small room with a brass idol straight ahead. Two catafalques on either side flank the short walk to reach it. One one wall is a faded mural, depicting a ritual in which two men drink one another's blood.

The idol depicts a snarling beast's maw. Within is the relic - a mummified grey hand with a brass ring on one skeletal finger. (You can just tell them it's the relic once they see it.) Taking the hand without caution causes a Finesse roll as the brass jaws clamp down.

Removing the relic from its place causes the catafalques to stir, as the four corpses awaken and begin to rise. Each is a hundred or so years older than the last - one is a full body, the last a dusty husk, but all are angered by your trespass and will crowd you, block the entrance. Their touch is a curse - lose 1 Luck on a failed Fortitude roll.

- this adventure is very small (though you wouldn't know it from how long I wrote it - it'll be a one-pager when it's done) and can go by very quickly! That's by design. Keep it tight, short, sweet. You can play some other games when you're done, or do the next Job.
- It's a stealth game. Play up the stealth aspect, make it tense by presenting clear obstacles. You can make it obvious that the priest is around - then the players get to plan on how to avoid or trick him.  (that's the fun of the game!). Let them spend as long as they need planning, but hurry them if they're getting nowhere (y'know, standard GM advice).
- This can be a cool world introduction, the players will glean a lot about the setting depending on what they interact with. Give out info, make things up if you can't answer a question - but you can tell them "you don't know" in a cryptic way if it's a real mystery. Paint a picture but leave gaps to be investigated later, then design the next Job based on what players pick up on.
- TPK? End the session. Play something else, and try GRAVEROBBERS again next time. Or if they're desperate for more punishment, just roll up new characters and try again!

Thursday 10 October 2019


selected excerpts from a students' field guide by High Birdmistress Gwim of the Qin Citadel Rookery

On Nibs

As Yatun writes: "the Nib is, among the Master's accoutrements, uniquely both superfluous and focal [...] it is nothing by itself, yet becomes at the moment of ritual the locus of the Master's soul, the divine Universe, and the Energies of the World."

Being a beginning alcalligrapher, it is easy to become overwhelmed by the many and varied options extolled by your peers and forebears. Your teacher, if you are lucky enough to have one outside of this book, will likely express a preference to which they may well entreat you to adhere; I attempt to offer such guidance, though I focus here chiefly on listing below the common options, that you might make your own decision.

On Shape

Nibs come in two major varieties, being pointed or broad. A broad nib is often looked down on as offering less flexibility of expression in exchange for an easier wield, but can in fact achieve a similar range of artistry with a practised hand, though the methods are different to those commonly taught, owing more to geometry (cf. Agost's treatise on planar angles).

The pointed nib is the common choice, but requires a delicate hand that its most vocal proponents often lack. It is the quieter and subtler of the two shapes, less mechanical and thereby lending itself to the traditional forms and holds most frequently taught but so rarely mastered.

There is also a recently fashionable blunted or "stub" nib, which lies somewhere between the two. I recommend this for beginners only, as I doubt its effectiveness in the higher forms.

On Material

While the make of a nib is, in the cosmic sense, largely inconsequential, a soft yet firm metal allows energy to flow freely and provides enough flexibility to recreate the forms freely without sacrificing precision. The metals most commonly used in nibs are as follows.

[On Copper] Often considered base due to their cheapness and lesser durability, copper nibs are by no means of inherently inferior quality. I would recommend them especially to new alcalligraphers, as they can be replaced easily if damaged during recitals. I have seen them used effectively at even the highest forms, and a copper nib kept well will last much longer than their reputation suggests. Bronze is also an excellent alternative for a more experienced Master, with very similar resonances.

[On Steel] The most common, still in use as the Royal standard issue due to its excellent strength and resistance. The added hardness of steel does require delicacy when handled, especially if using a pointed nib, but for the basic forms there are few better options. The metal's resonance with the Winter house also affords it unique strengths in some less common forms, though a beginner used to the resonance of warmer metals may find the adjustment difficult.

[On Gold] A hugely popular choice among those who can afford it, gold benefits not only from its excellent softness but also its durability and strong Summer resonance. However, those who utilise it as a mere status symbol are frequently kept in check by the metal's unwieldy level of softness; a truly light and delicate touch is needed to handle a gold nib, making the learning curve steeper than with other metals. In the hands of a true Master, however, there is little more effective at the higher forms.

There are other options in material, such as the practice of tipping the nib with platinum or even silver. These should be avoided until the practitioner is familiar enough with the basics to take on the additional complications in resonance added by mixing metals..

On Feathers

It is a well-used metaphor, and trite, but as beginnners it serves us well: if the Universe is whence we draw the water and the flame, and the Master is the vessel, then the feather used is akin to tea leaves. One can expect to make "tea" - that is, "magick" - with anything, though the taste and effects will vary with type, quality, and the skill with which the ritual is performed.

Given the spectra of birds available to us here in the great citadel, the feather used in learning the forms is largely the choice of the teacher. Unlearned practitioners use the tail or wing feathers of common pigeons, or perhaps still worse magpies, to achieve the base forms and distasteful bastard magicks.

As a Royal student you will likely begin with raven or crow, a purer class of bird and the Royal standard for even trained guards. The powerful Winter alignment of the birds themselves is inherent within their feathers (though take heed that this correlation is not uniform across all species, as commonly illustrated through the case of the male peafowl - cf. Merittom's Bestiaries), and is ideal for practising the forms required for the citadel exams, and serves as a functional starting point on the lifelong journey towards Mastery.

Beyond these, a Master's selection is their own. For those with a tutor, a practice feather will likely be gifted - though do not expect the same type as the teacher's, which has likely taken them many years of progression and ritual to gain competence in. You will likely have cause to practice with many types before settling on a preference - while the old adage that "every feather is a spell" is far from academically correct, there are forms limited to certain classes or even species of bird.

I can offer little advice in this matter, other than to remember one's resonances - it is not too great a measure to take into account one's birth chart! - and to not waste time on delusions of grandeur. Many a would-be Master has failed to realise their true potential after frittering away decades on failed quests for the tail feathers of the Phoenix or the Crowning Bird. Better to learn through ritual, practice, and performance, than high-minded ideals.