Thursday 8 June 2023

Building Smocklehythe - Slang & Sundries

The thievery was boasted about and romanticized until it seemed a kind of heroism. It did not have any taint of criminality and the whole of the south coast had pockets vying with one another over whose smugglers were the darkest or most daring.” - Paul Theroux

Work continues apace on A Pocket Guide to Smocklehythe, the upcoming starter set for GRAVEROBBERS, my ttrpg system for adventure games of stealth & sedition. A reminder that you can buy in now and get the Bare Bones, then get all the rest of it for free when it’s finished and goes up to full price. Click here!

The final version changes shape as it grows. What was going to be two adventure sites is now one, the Smocklehythe Sewers: a fun little dungeon of foul tunnels players will have to smuggle items through - and can delve into for tosh. (I’m expanding the other site, the Old Graving Dock into its own thing and planning to release it alongside the final Guide, so if anything Smocklehythe is expanding rather than shrinking.)

While I was able to fit both in the tiny format I’m allowing myself for the guide (13 sides of A6!), it felt almost too minimalist, even for me. I’m so used to whittling down and distilling things into pamphlets and one-shots that it feels nice to loosen the belt a little tbh!

Also leaving the core Guide are all the little gubbins I wanted to add on, “flavour” stuff like the recipes and in-game card game. I’m being as ruthless as I can with only including the essentials in the Pocket Guide itself (going as far as having practically 0 NPCs because the game technically doesn’t need them), and as much as I love that kind of fluff it isn’t 100% necessary to gameplay (the fishing minigame is staying, dw. That’s essential). I want to collect it all and release it alongside instead, like the Old Graving Dock adventure. Maybe as a handout.

One thing I’m thinking of putting in there is a guide to rhyming slang. I had the pleasure of seeing the new Spider-Verse last week, and while there’s a million things to gush over in that movie, how they realised Spider Punk honestly meant a lot to me. It’s not usual to see working class Londoners celebrated like that, the way we talk especially. Daniel Kaluuya absolutely killed it. BIG STEPPAAAAA

Anyway, there’s a visual side gag in that movie “translating” some of Hobie’s rhyming slang, which sort of connected some dots in my brain that had been floating about for a while. I’m at an advantage in running Graverobbers, being from the part of the world its world is based on. I can pull out authentic accents, reference places, etc fairly easily. Packaging that up so that any Dealer running the game can do the same is impossible, and the only way I’d thought to come close would be through huge, boring lore dumps - pretty much the antithesis of how I make games.

So while I’d have loved to include a guide to fictional Lanton slang on that “fluff” handout, it didn’t seem doable. It also feels disingenuous - slang is natural speech that evolves through group communication, not a code you learn from a book. The best Smocklehythe slang would always be what each table comes up with. So I can’t prescribe anything anyway, really. But! If we present it as a game…

I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of this sooner tbh - just use actual Cockney rhyming slang. (A perfect fit. It’s literal thieves’ cant, just like how toshing is literal dungeon delving. See? I know what I’m doing) The twist is to not pre-list any terms and make it an exercise in lore-learning, but to give players the mechanics necessary to generate their own at the table (if they want to, obviously this is all optional funsies). And for that I’m literally just going to lay out the actual mechanics by which rhyming slang is devised.

Which, if you’re unfamiliar: take the word you want to say, substitute a rhyming phrase, then (usually) leave out the end (the bit that rhymes). Now each group can take that formula and do what they want with it. I’m guessing mostly making jokes, but for the one or two groups where something sticks, it’ll be a proprietary and completely unique part of their game’s world. (And idc about people doing it wrong or embarrassing themselves with dodgy accents, because I don’t have to play at their tables lol. As long as they’re having fun!)

Anyway, I think that’s most of it. Other than that I’m just scouring local history for more fun bits to put into the dungeons! No spoilers, but I did just come up with something based on playwright Christopher Marlowe. Specifically how he was murdered in a Deptford pub (probs by the queen’s assassins) and buried in an unmarked grave at the nearby medieval-era church of St Nicholas - the skull-and-crossbones gateposts of which (pictured below), according to legend, inspired Captain Morgan (yes, that one) to invent the Jolly Roger. I love this shit man

Don’t forget to check out Graverobbers here! More soon x

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