I'm working on a Player Pack that sums up character generation and adds a bunch of extra tables and rules to flesh out your characters and motivate them. Now your animated scarecrow can be all that's left of a Fae knight who loved a maiden who died and her grave is underneath platform 3 at Liefbury Station and once in every Age she returns and waits for the train (or carriage or palfrey, depending on the century) to carry her away and you have to be there before she leaves to tell her you love her and... oh you get it. Lovely complex roleplaying stuff to distract you from shooting crows and battling Lord Isengrim Von Ulf with flintlock pistols over the midnight rooftops of 17th century Thornyford.
Here's a taster of what's going to be in that booklet:
An Age Called Home
PCs in The Hedgerow Hack are mysterious strangers who arrive in an Age to solve a mystery or resolve a crisis. But where do they come from?
Each PC choose an Age that is the one in which they were born. For Ouzel, this must be the Age of Fable. For Wurzels it is the age in which their scarecrow body was built.
In their Home Age, Human PCs can test INT to know about any (non-supernatural) place or object and test CHA to know about any (mortal) person. If the test is successful, this knowledge can be related to the PC’s background.
For example, in the Age of Swords, Guyon is curious about a group of knights. He tests CHA and the GM says he recognises one of the knights as Cuthbert of Combe, because Cuthbert fought alongside his uncle to fend off a Danish raid some years ago.
Fae PCs can test INT or CHA to know about supernatural places, objects or persons.
Ouzel and Wurzels do not know where Legendary Locations are: these must be discovered in play.
NB. The GM has the right to declare any location or object to be ‘mysterious’ or person to be ‘strange’ or ‘unknown’ in which case no Stat test will reveal anything about them.
Although Briar Knights always speak and understand the language of the Age they visit, they don’t always grasp its norms and manners.
At the start of a story, PCs in an Age they are not native to roll 1d4, 1d6 or 1d8 depending on how far removed they are. That is the number of CHA tests with mortals they must make at Disadvantage until they settle in.
For example, Guyon is native to the Age of Swords so if he adventures in the Age of Steel he will be at Disadvantage for 1d6 CHA tests because that is ‘two Ages away’ from his Home Age.
Player Characters as Children
The Hedgerow Hack takes inspiration from some classic children’s literature of the 1960s and ‘70s – like Alan Garner’s The Weirdstone of Brisingamen or Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising (and latterly, Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials) – or TV shows like Catweazel and Children of the Stones. If you want to capture this atmosphere, then Heathen Clerks and Tinkers can be children.
If you feature children as PCs, then consider these rules changes:
The advantage of child-PCs in your campaign is that their family life becomes part of the drama. It is important to know what Age the family live in, because children need to slip away from their family to go on adventures with their weird friends.
Families can be placed in danger, especially if a Doom Die exhausts while a child-PC is with her family. The Feral Squires are not above threatening to harm a PC’s family, if only to coerce Briar Knights into not interfering with their schemes.
Families will have their duplicates in other ages, albeit without the PC in them and perhaps living in different circumstances. This can make for interesting roleplaying, if a child-PC wants to save or redeem their similar-family in a different Age.
For example, Guyon’s family in the Age of Swords are contented farmers, but in the Age of Steel the family is being forced into the workhouse after being evicted from their land by Isengrim Von Ulf.
Childhood’s end: All children (but one) grow up. Childhood could end when a PC reaches 10th level or 6th. GMs should decide in advance how long childhood lasts and whether the PC continues to adventure as a now-adult hero or if they forget about their childhood and settle down to a mortal life of love, labour and a family of their own, watched over by the comrades they no longer recognise.
You know how it is. Work is piling up. You've got a million things to do. But you've been struck by this idea that just tickles you so much that you have to sit down and write a RPG about it.
Yes, I know. First World Problems.
But here's the Hedgerow Hack RPG.
Eerie 'crucified scarecrow' cover art by Fraser Sandercombe (2014, by permission)
You see, it all started last week with an innocent game of D&D - or, actually, BlueHack RPG, as discussed in last weekend's blog. It was enjoyable high fantasy fare, but one player - Karl McMichael - went a bit moodier and darker with his character concept. He decided his generic 1st level Cleric would be a mute child worshipper of the god of scarecrows who wore a sack over his head and communicated through a ragged sock puppet. Then he draw this flavour art.
Bilge by Karl Michael (2021)
Now, if that doesn't make you want to design a brand new RPG, just so that this character can live and breathe and take part in macabre folk-horror stories - well, I don't know what will.
OK, yes, right - that will do it too, I suppose.
Umm. OK. That's another.
That one, maybe not so much.
I started off just creating Black Hack style character classes for druidic tramps, living scarecrows and talking animals. But the world of the Hedgerow really took me by the throat. The first shift was the idea that the characters be time travelling mystical hobos, sort of Sapphire & Steel meets Wurzel Gummidge.
Once you've had that idea, you need your own setting and mythology. So welcome to the Old Shires, a pristine patch of the English countryside caught somewhere between The Railway Children and Matthew Hopkins: Witchfinder General, with a dollop of Catweazel and Aqualung and Fairport Convention and, oh yes, some of Prince Valiant and The Vikings too please. And John Boorman's Excalibur and the 1980s Robin of Sherwood too while I'm at it.
And throw in some classic children's fantasy literature, why not !
We need a map of the Old Shires, or my favourite part of it, the part that looks like Herefordshire:
Then we need our cast of PCs - the Briar Company of Sky & Furrow. You can choose from Heathen Clerks who are your basic Clerics, but who follow the Heathen Saints, with names like King Wren, Elder Mandrake, Lady Hagthorne and Lord Brock. They can switch to a different saint each story or be exclusive to one. Ouzel are bird-headed Fae who are illusionists and spell-casters. Wurzels are animated scarecrows and mighty warriors. Tinkers are ragged beggars with hidden powers; depending on the season they follow they might be thieves, assassins, prophets or rangers. Gypceans are, well, gypsies really: they know about the Briar Company, they're loremasters and, if another Companion gifts them some magical power, they can craft wondrous items.
The Briar Knights can pass through the mystical Hedge between worlds, moving from the Age of Swords (9th century, Danes invading), the Age of Plagues (17th century, witch trials), Age of Steel (19th century, railways are here) and Age of Ashes (our time) as well as the Age of Fables (your classic high fantasy).
So, it's like Time Bandits isn't it? Why didn't I think to tell you it's like Time Bandits?
Should have won Best Film for 1982. Oscar went to Chariots of Fire and who re-watches THAT any more?
Heroes need villains. The Briar Company are up against the usual monsters - undead, daemons, goblyns (with a Y) - but also the Feral Squires who have invaded the Old Shires. There's Isengrim Von Ulf and his sister Hirsent Dame Wolf; there's the ridiculous Martin le Ape and Tibault Prince of Cats. Then there's Reynard the Fox who sometimes thwarts the PCs and sometimes assists them. They're served by the Wer-kynde who are changelings that grow into were-creatures.
You can play the Feral Squires for laughs but there's nothing funny about the Raven Margrave, who is a force of Darkness, with crows for spies, undead for servants and the Murdering Ministers as his lieutenants.
Finally there's the Witch-Harrow, a mortal organisation that hunts down supernatural creatures. Most of the agents are just Gossips and Snoops, but the Hexen Hammers are ferocious warriors and Inquisitors know spells to strip the Briar Knights of their powers.
The novel mechanic here is the Doom Die that ticks down when you attract the attention of one of these factions, finally forcing a confrontation with their agents while you're just, you know, trying to persuade a Fae Lord to return Jenny o'the Fell's baby to her or help Gareth Gamble-Green escape the constables.
I've added in a mechanic to replace gold pieces as the main reward. PCs must track down fragments of Lore and the Legendary Locations that match them, so it's also a game of exploring a mythic landscape.
I'm uncommonly pleased with this. I still delight in Susan Cooper's marvellous Dark Is Rising fantasy sequence, in which an order of time-traveling Old Ones move between the modern world, the Dark Ages and the faerie-themed Otherworld, assembling legendary treasures and finding eerie significance in folk celebrations. There was a 2007 movie, but it was rubbish, despite Ian McShane being in it. I think those books will haunt my life and they're a big influence on this game.
The editions I grew up with. Over Sea, Under Stone (1965) is a bit 'Famous Five Go To Cornwall and find the Holy Grail' but the fantasy really kicks in with 1973's The Dark is Rising. The sequel Greenwitch taught childhood-me the meaning of awe when Will and Merry confront the sea goddess and The Grey King is just haunting and beautiful and strange - so good, in fact, that it rather overshadows the series' 1977 climax, Silver On The Tree.
After a bit of playtesting, The Hedgerow Hack is be available as pay-what-you-want on drivethrurpg - but if anyone wants to offer criticism, beta testing or just to chat about it, send me an email.
30 Minute Dungeons
Essays on Forge
I'm a teacher and a writer and I love board games and RPGs. I got into D&D back in the '70s with Eric Holmes' 'Blue Book' set and I've adopted Forge Out of Chaos to pursue my nostalgia for old school RPGs.
The shoddy PDF rulebook available at drivethrurpg is missing pp 66-67, 82-83, 86-87, 126-127, 140-141 and 162-5. You can read or download these below: