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: