Monday 22 May 2023

The Crimes of Smocklehythe

A Pocket Guide to Smocklehythe is out now (see last post) and I felt like going over some of the inspiration behind the 6 new Crimes in the game.

A bit of class design, a bit of history (like I did in this tweet thread going over the real history of a GRAVEROBBERS pamphlet adventure). Part of me is very David Lynch “the film is the talking” about stuff like design influences but part of me is a huge nerd with a big loud mouth sooooo

All of these are real crimes from real London’s past or present. With the original 6 classes in the Bare Bones, I wanted to allow for a lot of wiggle room as to whether a character actually committed a crime, make people think just a bit about what constitutes a crime, etc. These are a little more direct but hopefully still have some of that vibe

Btw while I’m at it “Smocklehythe” comes from the root word for “smuggle” and the -hythe suffix seen in various South London place names (Rotherhithe, the -eth in Lambeth) referring to a place where things were brought in by river. Rotherhithe: cattle, Lambeth: sheep, Smocklehythe: contraband.

Art by Jon Bliss

Firebrand. A fun word for “protestor” essentially, or “organiser”. Very fitting for Graverobbers’ setting, I’ve been wanting to do one of these for a while. All their starting items are real things used locally in non-violent protest throughout history, but also classic dungeon-y adventure game items. As a class they’re great for causing trouble

Also I’m aware people (especially outside the UK) might not know what a toffee hammer is, but it’s easy enough to figure out, plus you can just google it. I try to explain things I made up fairly thoroughly, so if something seems obscure chances are it’s from real life and you can just look it up.

Gaolbreak. Hey. How do you think gaol is pronounced? Yeah, I thought so too. Turns out we’re both wrong, it’s literally just an obsolete spelling of “jail”. Anyway I don’t think I need to explain that escaping prison was illegal throughout London’s history. Still is, far as I’m aware. I’m not certain. Never been caught.

This fills the same space as the Burglar in the classic Bare Bones, it’s the rogue archetype. I enjoy the thought of these tools meant for escape being used for a little b&e.

Mooncusser. real word! Real thing, real crime. Mooncusser is actually, gasp, an American term, but the English version, “wrecking” is a huge part of national criminal history. Wreckers were smugglers who supposedly deliberately wrecked ships, chiefly up and down England’s south coasts.

Smuggling is like a whole legendary folkloric concept here. It’s like the whole Robin Hood thing. Visit any seaside town, especially in the south west, and there’ll be a plaque or museum or guided tour about its smuggling history. I don’t sing the praises of much English culture but I do enjoy our predilection towards folk heroes being lower class folk “getting away with it”.

Also shrub is like a tangy citrus liqueur, later replaced with vinegar. Smuggled rum was often left hidden underwater, and adding a dash of shrub helped dilute the flavour of the seawater that’d seeped in. Ah and as far as class design, these guys are pretty much archetypal Graverobbers characters, primed for mischief

Nighthawker. The British term for metal detectorists who illegally steal the treasure they find. Very classic adventure game dungeon stuff. A good place to add in the only magic item, something practical and thematic that I’m sure has all sorts of nefarious uses. A touchstone is a real thing used to test for metals, but I like my magic version better.

This class is kinda the “finding and getting” class, which also extends to the Black Market as they’ve got decent average starting money plus a whole coin they can pawn.

Resurrectionist. Real thing, probably something most people have heard of. Surgeons on the cutting edge, if you will, of modern medicine wanted cadavers to experiment on and showcase in lecture halls. They had money and weren’t fussy about where the bodies came from. Resurrectionists were, wait for it, graverobbers. Burke and Hare are probably the most famous example and worth reading up on (there was a film, it’s not good), but this was a HUGE cottage industry for a long time.

The clothing is because they’d often disguise themselves as mourners to get access to graveyards. The wooden spade is because they make less noise! As a class these are kind of a variant nighthawker, there’s a decent amount of shared “archetypal Graverobbers” vibe between a lot of these which i felt was appropriate for a starter set.

Witch. Probably the one I need to explain least? So much stuff written about witch hunts and witch trials in England, and there’ll be a lot more of it to come in Graverobbers. This class is ideal for causing a bit of chaos. Start with no money but also the most expensive starting item so still p versatile. (Of course in an inventory-based system any character can redesign their whole deal fairly easily, but I like to think there’s something to the flavour of starting with a name and set of items like these)

You might think this’d be the class with the magic item, but I decided to go with what the witch hunt victims actually often were - women with above average knowledge of botany and medicine. Even at the time, most folk didn’t necessarily believe in witches, and there was growing awareness that this whole thing was just about oppression.

Oh, and a besom is a broom, that specific type of witchy broom with the sticks bundled around a central handle. There are a records of “witches” coating broom handles in psychoactive substances and using them as sex toys. Hence “riding a broom”, according to some theorists.

And that’s all of them! Check out the new rules here and roll up some characters, see what crimes you end up accused of! If you survive character creation.

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