Tuesday, 3 May 2022

Naming Things

The Ship of Yoharneth-Lahai by Sidney Sime

After a lecture at Cornell in which Lord Dunsany had mentioned his longtime collaborator, the artist Sidney Sime, somebody said what a perfect name Sime was for him. “I don’t know,” said Dunsany; “I think Rhibelungzanedroom would suit him better.”

I have recently been reading Lord Dunsany and Clark Ashton Smith's short stories. They're full of names like Yoh-Vombis, Ubbo-Sathla, Thlūnrāna and Karna-Vootra (alongside plenty of purple prose). Exotic, huh? Hmm.

Weird and wonderful (presumably) made-up names like these proliferate in fantasy RPG-land. Usually packed full of Zs, Ks, Qs, hyphens, and dïạćrîtĩcŝ, this Khazad-dûmbing-down of names does very little for me. These names have no resonance, and tell me nothing except "you tried to make this name sound weird". As a result they all end up sounding much of a muchness, interchangeable letter-mush. And are almost never memorable.

"The names used in the adventure are a complete bricolage signifying no particular human culture. In fact they are all the names of caves." - Patrick Stuart, Deep Carbon Observatory

I've found that using pre-existing words, perhaps with the odd letter changed here and there, makes for far more satisfying and memorable names. Electric Bastionland does a very good job of this, suggesting names for each of its failed careers which, although not entirely familiar, are suggestive and simple to remember. There are many potential sources for names, from Patrick's cave names via place names, technical and domain-specific terms, body parts... not to mention the zillions of lists of baby names out there. The names of climbing routes have an exotic but resonant charm of their own and (perhaps unsurprisingly) remind me of the spaceship names of M John Harrison and Iain M Banks. And I'm reminded of a story of a South American country where the naming of babies after components of car engines became so popular that it had to be banned (I may name my next character Carburettor O'Sump).

Despite this, it's not long since I advocated using the names SsShrp, SvyrySshp, and FssSuSshs. So please take everything that I say with a pinch of salt.

Update: here is another great blog post about naming places in RPGs.

Saturday, 16 April 2022

“and a miniature three-handed sword” - d30 AI encounters

I couldn't resist getting GPT-3 to spit out a bunch more random encounters. I used the same examples as last time to teach the machine what I wanted, and here's what it came out with. There are certain tropes and stereotypes emerging here, but also occasional stunningly original ideas. Enjoy!

noisms and the Hall of the Third Blue Wizard

I interviewed noisms, who blogs as Monsters and Manuals, publishes noisms games, and is best known for his fantasy game setting Yoon Suin, the Purple Land. Right now he'a running a Kickstarter for The Corridor of the Seventh Green Magic User  The Hall of the Third Blue Wizard, a zine featuring high-quality commissioned RPG modules and short stories. Although I fucking hate acronyms, for sanity's sake I'm sure I'll be referring to it as THOTTBW or THotTBW or THot3W by the end of this post, however dirty that makes me feel.

Here are audio and video versions of the interview, and below them are a summary of what we talked about with LOTS of notes and links and other good stuff.

Wednesday, 13 April 2022

Gespenwald, Cairn, and the NSR

Firstly, I have a new thing out. It's called Gespenwald, comes in the form of a PDF (printable as a double-sided A4 trifold), and can be downloaded here. I will have printed copies available in a couple of months.

It kicks off with a children's rhyme:

On Narren Night, my love and me
We met beside the Gespen tree
We kissed and counted, one, two, three,
And turned, and touched the Gespen tree

The Gespen Tree, the Gespen Tree
Her elbows wrapped around her knee
As old as bone and stone is she
The Gespen Tree, the Gespen Tree

In Gespenwald, around the tree
We spent the night, my love and me
Until the sun returned and he
Left me alone, beside the tree

Oh Gespen Tree, oh Gespen Tree
Return my stolen love to me
Next Narren night, please set him free
Oh Gespen Tree, oh Gespen Tree

Gespenwald is a freeform adventure written for the Forests of Another Name jam. Although it's written for the game Cairn, it can easily be played with Into the Odd and its derivatives; or adapted for other games; or even, like my previous publication Mostly Harmless Meetings, read as a piece of Oulipian fantasy fiction.

I thought I'd use the release of this new piece of writing as an opportunity to talk a little about Cairn, a game which many people won't be familiar with, and, via Cairn, to talk about the "NSR" community.

Monday, 11 April 2022

Yakanory and the dark fiction of James Burt

 The first review of Mostly Harmless Meetings is in, and interestingly it looks at it not from a gaming perspective, but as a work of literature: "a sort of Borgesian/Oulippian take on British rural folklore". I like that! Admittedly I've not read any Borges (I've just ordered a copy of Labyrinths, and I'm told that he also wrote a monster manual), and the closes I got to Oulipo was Georges Perec's Life, A User's Manual, which I've managed to abandon twice, because I can only take so many lists (here's an idea: a random stuff-in-the-attic generator, for 20th century horror games, based on Perec's lists; a sort of "Life, A User's Tables"). You can read the review, by my friend James Burt, here.

I have recently been reading, and been very impressed by, James's own work: dark, weird, sometimes horrific short stories. His story A Disease of Books impressed me so much that I resurrected a project I started during the first COVID lockdown: Yakanory. Basically me reading stuff aloud, this started with me reading Dr Seuss tales to friends' kids over Facebook Live, then briefly took on a bit of a life of its own. My reading of A Disease of Books is below, and I've put quite a few other readings up on YouTube and plan to do more soon. You can generally tell how manic I was at the time of recording by what I'm wearing (and I always was a little manic, otherwise I don't think I'd have had the courage to do something like this).

You can buy more of James's stories for dirt cheap over on Etsy, read his blog and follow him on Twitter. But first, are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin...

Monday, 4 April 2022

Generating random content for RPGs using Artificial Intelligence

Sea-biscuit cutting and rolling machine

The topic of Artificial Intelligence in TTRPGs (actually Machine Learning - but I'll call it AI for simplicity's sake) is something I've seen discussed a lot recently. noisms asked on his blog whether AI would change the hobby. On the NSR Discord server we've had AI-generated failed careers for Electric Bastionland posted by Chris McDowall, and some Cairn sparks from Yochai Gal, plus an ongoing discussion on how AI can be used in RPGs.

Machine Learning is something I've wanted to tinker with for a while now. I've been put off by lack of a powerful enough PC, a loathing of the Python programming language, and general laziness. Meanwhile I've poured hundreds of hours' hacking into my Deity Galaxy twitter bot, using Tracery and nested lists (a little like Perchance) to generate text which is... rarely satisfactory. I plan to publish a book of "nanodeities" based on curated output from Deity Galaxy (I wrote about this a while ago). But before doing so, I will  have to spend a lot of time sharpening up the bot's output.

A couple of weeks ago my friend, the horror writer James Burt, came to visit. We had a wonderful walk around the hills about Allenheads where, among many other things, we talked about my nanodeities plans. James has written previously about using AI as a writing partner, and our shared acquaintance Shardcore published what may be the world's first AI-written book, "The Future is Already Here" by Algohiggs (a computerised riff on the book The Future Starts Here by John Higgs which, BTW, is a fabulous book; if everyone read it then the world would be a better place). James suggested that I try generating deities using AI and the GPT engines.

So that's what I've done. I used the OpenAI Playground to paste in some prompt text (which you'll find at the end of this post) and was blown away with the results:

Mallus, deity of the abandoned sock, is a small, slightly furry creature, not dissimilar to a ferret, that can be found in the laundry basket of most homes. Mallus is a mischievous god, and often delights in hiding one sock of a pair, or tangling up clothes that have just been ironed. To please Mallus, leave a sock out on the floor for him to play with.

Kerfuffle, goddess of tangled wires, is best worshipped by knotting together at least 7 different electrical cables, and then throwing them into a puddle. The resulting sparks will be a sign of Kerfuffle's favour. Kerfuffle herself is a small, spiky sphere, not unlike a hedgehog made of barbed wire.

Snorfle is the god of hiccups. Snorfle is an amorphous blob of green slime with a single eye in the center. To worship Snorfle, drink a pint of milk and then try to hiccup. If you are successful, Snorfle will grant you a wish, provided that wish is related to hiccups.

Schnarf is the god of electronic bleeps and bloops, and can be found in most electronic devices, especially those with a lot of buttons. Schnarf is especially fond of mobile phones, and can often be found lurking in the background when someone is taking a selfie. To worship Schnarf, simply take a selfie with a mobile phone and then offer it up to the god.

Those were all written by a computer! Wow. OK, that got my attention.

Suddenly I'm thinking of all sorts of uses for GPT-3 powered text generation. Tables of random content are a Big Deal in TTRPG-land, people can't seem to get enough of them (witness the wonderful d4 Caltrops). Right out of the box, GPT-3 understands these tables. When I asked it to "write a table of random encounters for a fantasy TTRPG", here is what it came up with:

10 believable but rather vanilla possible random encounters

As an aside, something which initially appears surprising is that this output includes the gaming-specific term "2d6". One of the great things about GPT-3 (in comparison with its more readily-available predecessor GPT-2) is that it was trained on a mind-boggling number of web pages, undoubtedly including many gaming blogs (and probably a sizeable number of random encounter tables). It is really great at understanding context, and using the relevant domain-specific language in its output. It can even write computer code, given just a very simple prompt:

To get improved random encounters, I started writing ("crafting"?) prompts to seed the AI-generated list. i.e. I started to write the sort of encounters that I would like to read. This took many iterations and, as you'll see from the prompts at the end of this post, required adding a huge amount of spice to the seed text in order to get encounters that didn't sound too generic.

Here is what the AI came up with when I tasked it with creating some random wilderness encounters (I had to hit "submit" several times to collect all of these examples):

* A small village of mud-huts is in the process of being slowly buried by an encroaching sand-dune. The villagers are in a state of panic. A quick check will reveal that the sand is being controlled by an evil sorcerer, who lives in a crumbling manor-house in the centre of the village, surrounded by a low moat. The sorcerer’s name is Hamza Omri, and he is a wicked man. In his basement, he possesses d6 bottles of a potion which, when drunk, will transform the drinker into a sand-dune. These potions are worth 100GP each, and Omri is willing to sell them. The sorcerer also possesses a magical amulet, which will allow the wearer to control any sand-dune within 100 miles. Omri is very reluctant to sell this, but will do so if offered d1000GP.

* A group of d6 pixies flutter down from the trees, laughing and playing. They carry with them a large number of brightly-coloured flowers, which they offer to the PCs. If the PCs accept the flowers, they will find that they are unable to move from the spot. The pixies will then proceed to strip the PCs of their clothes and possessions, and will fly away, laughing. The flowers are actually poisonous, and will cause the PCs to become paralyzed for d6 hours.

* A large group of d6+12 unicorns approaches, led by a magnificent white stallion. The unicorns are on their way to a magical spring, where they will drink the water and be transformed into Pegasus. The stallion is the only one who knows the location of the spring, and he is very reluctant to reveal it. However, if the PCs can convince him that they are worthy, he may show them the way. The spring is located in a hidden valley, guarded by a ferocious dragon. The dragon will allow the PCs to pass if they can answer three riddles.

* A small campsite, in which a fire is burning and a pot is bubbling. Sitting around the fire are 2d4 humanoids, with the heads of eagles. They wear colourful feathers and have beaks made of gold. These are the Aaracockra, a race of bird-people. They are friendly, and will share their food (a stew made of insects and small rodents) with the PCs. They will also give the PCs 2d4 feathers, which can be used as currency in some cultures, or as quills for writing.  
* A d4-1 skunk-like animals are chasing a small golden-furred creature with a long tail. This creature is a “chai”, a small, intelligent, furry creature who is being hunted by the skunks, who are known as “chai-hunters”. These chai-hunters are attracted to the chai’s fur, which is used to line cloaks and blankets. If the PCs help the chai escape the chai-hunters, the chai will invite them back to its village, where they will be welcomed with a feast and a chai-fur-lined cloak.
* 3d20 flying bats, each with a wingspan of around 9 feet, descend from the twilight sky, circling around the PCs, hissing and squawking. These are not ordinary bats. They are “shrieking bats”, which can emit a loud shriek which can be heard up to 5 miles away. This shriek can be used to warn other animals of danger, or to call for help. The bats will only attack if provoked. If the PCs capture one of the bats, they will find that its fur can be sold for 5GP.
* A column of luminous green slime slides across the ground towards the PCs, slowing as it nears them. This is a “slime-beast”, a predatory creature which feeds on small animals. If the PCs do not move out of the way, the slime-beast will envelop them, and begin to digest them. The slime-beast can be killed by fire, or by being frozen solid. If killed, the slime-beast will leave behind a sticky green residue which can be used as a glue.
* A large, slow-moving, armoured creature, resembling a cross between a turtle and a snail, emerges from a nearby pond. This is a “turtle-snail”, a harmless creature which is often hunted for its meat. The turtle-snail’s meat is tough and stringy, but can be roasted and eaten. The turtle-snail’s shell can be used as a bowl, or as a shield.

* A pink elephant-like creature, with trunk outstretched and a gleaming white tusk. It is covered in dozens of colourful umbrellas, hanging from its sides like leaves. The elephant is the reincarnation of a local rain god, and the umbrellas are his “holy symbols”. He is friendly and curious, and will follow the PCs around, trundling along behind them. He is also very clumsy, and has a habit of knocking over small trees and stepping on things. If the PCs give him a basket of fruit, he will be overjoyed, and will bestow upon them a magical blessing: for the next 24 hours, they will be able to breathe underwater.

* 2d6+6 very tall (around 12 feet) humanoids, with ashen grey skin and long white hair. They are wearing simple white tunics, and each carries a large wooden staff. These are the ash-walkers, guardians of the forest of Ashes. They are friendly, but will not allow the PCs to enter the forest of Ashes, as it is a sacred place. If the PCs are persistent, the ash-walkers will tell them a story: “Once, long ago, there was a great kingdom, whose people were just and good. But the king was corrupted by power, and he became a tyrant. His people rebelled, and the kingdom was destroyed in the ensuing war. The forest of Ashes is all that remains of that kingdom. It is a place of sadness and loss, but also of hope. For one day, the ash-walkers believe, the kingdom will be reborn, and its people will be just and good once again.” 

Well. That's rather interesting. There's still a clear tendency for these encounters to revert to something rather more generic than the examples I've fed them, and there are inconsistencies which need tidying-up and details which need filling-in. But I'd say that these encounters are at least as creative as 75% of the equivalent human-written content out there.

I'm really tempted to keep fiddling with this and creating more encounters, but OpenAI Playground costs money (I'm still well within my $18 initial free credit, but I have lots of uses I want to put that remaining credit towards). 

In the future I'm sure we will see more and more AI replacing (or at least providing an increasingly-used alternative to) old-school tables. The key, as ever, is the seed text, and so there will still be a need for humans to craft texts which lead to interesting results from the AI. Unlike with tables though, a single set of well-written prompts can generate pretty much unlimited outputs forever more. So it may not be true to say that we will need good writers as much as ever. We may only ever need them once.

The other thing that this type of AI is great for - and which I intend to explore a lot more over the coming months - is providing inspiration and feedback for human-written text. This might operate in a similar way to existing writing partnerships, allowing ideas to be bounced back and forth and refined before the human partner settles on a final revision. Also a great way for breaking out of writer's block!

Below are the hand-written prompts I put into the OpenAI playground to generate the texts above. To generate your own encounters, sign up for an account at OpenAI, then head to the playground and paste in the second list below (or write your own prompts). I'd be really interested to hear of any good results that it comes up with - please write them in the comments below.

Wednesday, 30 March 2022

The Bogey Beasts of Sidney Sime

Woods and Dark Animals by Sidney H Sime

Inasmuch as there is a Peakrill Press house style, it is that of fin-de-siecle fantasy-inspired illustrations of the late 19th and early 20th century (largely nicked from oldbookillustrations.com); images by Arthur Rackham, Aubrey Beardsley and, especially, Sidney Herbert Sime.

I love this style of drawing, and the worlds it depicts; lands of fairies & strangeness from a time when fantasy was not yet smothered in Tolkienesque tropes. I associate it with the purple prose of writers like Clark Ashton Smith and Lord Dunsany (Sidney H Sime had a close association with Dunsany, producing illustrations for many of his books).

[Incidentally, the short story collection Appendix N, The Eldritch Roots of Dungeons & Dragons, edited by Peter Bebergal, is a great starting place for exploring this type of fantasy-without-orcs: it's what got me back into reading fantasy prose after shunning it for about 30 years]

The success of the Kickstarter for Rackham Vale, a game based on the works of Arthur Rackham, got me thinking about Syme again. Would it be possible to do something similar with the his work? Where would you even start? I would start with Bogey Beasts.

Bogey Beasts is a 1923 book of illustrations with accompanying poems, both by Syme. I've had a copy since I was a kid - it is perhaps my favourite book ever. I was a bit gobsmacked to see that the book now sells for around £1,000, though my heavily-loved copy would fetch a lot less and is, anyway, priceless.

[I'm not sure where my copy came from, but I suspect it was a choice pick from "jumbling", our annual January ritual, long nights spent ringing at doorbells and collecting people's unwanted clothes, books and junk, to be sold at the Woodcraft Folk jumble sale. It seems a strange idea now: sending kids out solo to call at strangers' houses, begging. But collecting and then sorting jumble was a highlight of my year, though I could have done without the dust mites]

The book also contains music for each beast, composed by Josef Holbrooke. I spent many hours trying to code this music into my BBC Micro, but the polyphony of the pieces defeated the computer's primitive synthesiser. It wasn't until a few years ago that I first heard the music, in this video:

The bogeyest of all the beasts, the dark lord of the deeps, nightmare-giver and dream-inhabitor, was The Snide:

Of course, childhood me converted the Snide into a D&D monster:

I've been revisiting Bogey Beasts recently. Dark wells of childhood dreams. I'm finally old enough to appreciate the poetry, not just the pictures, and it stands up pretty well - pisses all over the poems of Clark Ashton Smith, IMO.

I am tentatively working on a ghost-forest setting, and Syme's dark landscapes, punctuated with flowers that are almost absences, is how this forest looks inside my mind: 

I won't be writing up a Rackham Vale-style game world any time soon but, who knows, if you find yourself deep, deep, deep in an undersea cave, somewhere in my game world, you may find yourself running into a Snide.

Thursday, 17 March 2022

Running Troika! with family

it's also legal to buy and sell drugs if you do it through a mandrill
A while back I bought Daniel Sell's Troika! RPG. It's... strange. The Troika! game universe reminds me more than anything else of the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, but with rather more fantasy elements. It's very whimsical, very British, very surreal, and very silly. As for the rules, after playing Into the Odd with its very, very pared-down ruleset, I found Troika! a bit long-winded (even though its rules are pretty minimal compared with many games). But I absolutely love the rule for determining who goes next in combat, which can produce really interesting results. It allows participants to carry out one, multiple, or no actions during a round, depending on the order in which a bunch of cards or tokens are drawn.

The game book includes a truly great introductory adventure, one of the best (certainly the silliest) things I've ever read, called the Blancmange & Thistle. I played through it with 2 relative RPG newbies: my wife (who'd previously played 1 session of Into the Odd and 2 of I'm Sorry Did You Say Street Magic) was playing a Chaos Champion called Minx, while my 26 year-old daughter (who'd only ever played a session of Honey Heist) played a Thaumaturge called Thora Turd. A report of their play is given below - contains some spoilers (although, given how far they got in the adventure, not many).

Bundle for Ukraine

Just a quick post to say that the itcho.io Bundle for Ukraine sale ends in under 24 hours. It contains an amazing 998 games, for both tabletop and computer, covering every genre imaginable, and worth over $6,500 at their normal price. You can bag the lot for a minimum donation of a ridiculously low $10. Funds go to two carefully vetted charities who already have experience of working in Ukraine, International Medical Corps and Voices of Children.

My system-neutral supplement Mostly Harmless Meetings is in there as a PDF. To demonstrate the amazing quality of some of the other stuff in there, this tweet highlighting my contribution also contains works by two of the greatest names in TTRPG: Nate Treme, whose Haunted Almanac I recently purchased; and Isaac Williams, whose Kickstarter for Mausritter I recently backed. There are many, many other games of similar high quality in the bundle.

And if you find yourself really liking Mostly Harmless Meetings... I still have a few physical copies left for sale, grab one before they're all gone! 

Sunday, 13 March 2022

Play-by-post and the written word

Encourage the Beautiful by Louis Rhead

In my last post, I gave an example of play in my vapourware play-by-post game (which, incidentally, has the working title "Out of Hope", due to the fact that player characters will start off in Hope and at some point, presumably, will travel out of Hope)

One of the most obvious things about my example is that it's "wordy"; it is (I hope) decently written; it's a story. It has fine details, but also forward momentum. 

This, for me, is one of the most wonderful features of play-by-post (PBP) games. Freed from the constraint of having to improvise suitable responses in real-time, the referee (and player) can really take their time to spin out a story. Of course, doing that improvisation in real-time brings its own particular excitement, but what asynchronous play loses in immediate thrill, it makes up for in texture.

(NB by asynchronous, I mean that replies are not immediate: the various players of the game choose their own time in which to play. More typical, synchronous gameplay means that everyone has to be available at the exact same time. Email, text messages, WhatsApp etc are asynchronous; voice and video calls are synchronous) 

This time-to-think is the main reason why I have been considering running a play-by-post game myself. While I do run synchronous games (i.e. in-person or via voice/video chat), their need for spontaneity makes me hella nervous, and I often feel with hindsight that I have gabbled though interactions with the bare minimum of creativity, too focused on not breaking the flow. 

I have always felt that my brain works much better at writing speed than at speaking speed (I still remember my BSc dissertation supervisor Professor Norman Freeman expressing surprise on reading my paper: "normally people who can't talk about their work can't write about it either, but this is actually very good!") The additional time that the gaps between moves allows me with PBP lets me relax a little and do what I feel I do best.

It also, obviously, leaves a written record. Those play-reports which, if you're anything like me, you always plan to write but somehow never get around to: they're already there!

A corollary of this is that those written reports can be repurposed. This might just mean copy-pasting the description of a place or a person from the response to one player's orders into the response to another player, to save the referee a little time. But I would like, ultimately, to go further: to repurpose all of those play reports into something bigger, perhaps a novelisation of the game world where the player characters get to star.

Again, none of this takes away from the wonder of playing together with people synchronously. I just want to emphasise that play-by-post is not an inferior version of standard TTRPG play, for people who can't find a shared time to play together; it is its own thing, and brings some real benefits that just don't exist with synchronous play. I'll be exploring this further in future posts.

Friday, 11 March 2022

An example of play-by-post in Peakrill

A Light in the Pavilion by Gordon Browne
This is the first of a few posts I'll be writing about play-by-post RPGs (formerly known as play-by-mail  - PBM - and then play-by-email - PBeM). I played in quite a few PBM games in the 80s, and have been thinking about running one myself for quite some time now (using rules loosely based on Monte Cook's Cypher system). But first, an example of how such play might go...  

Let's say that at the end of your last turn, you decided to leave town and head for a distant pass over the top of the moors. here is how the GM might describe what happens next:
You follow the cobbled road out of the village, passing farms and other buildings on either side. After about a mile you pass an inn, and a goods yard. The farms continue for another a mile or two, although this far out they are smaller and further apart. After this, the road starts to rise, and the valley closes in on either side. The sides of the road become increasingly wooded, with sessile oak, silver birch, rowan, and holly. There are fewer signs of other travellers up here: the cobbles are less worn, and there is very little mud and hay left by passing vehicles. The weather becomes noticeably colder, and there is a musty, mossy smell from the woods. 
You continue up the valley. Along the way, you find a pleasing pebble, about 3 inches by 1 inch, made of a material you’ve never seen before. You play with it in your hand while walking; it is smooth and lovely. Eventually you pocket it. 
After a couple of hours you reach a small hamlet inside a high wooden stockade. The road goes through the settlement, turning sharply to the left, but before this is a steep pony track that climbs the far side of the valley, through the woods, in the direction that you were already walking. You avoid the hamlet and take this track. The cobbles are replaced with mud and rocks, it’s a much steeper and slower climb than the road, and the woodland smells are augmented with notes of peat and heather. 
Ten minutes in, there is a tree trunk blocking the path. You go to climb over it… 
Climbing over the tree trunk is fairly, but not entirely, straightforward. It’s a Difficulty 1 task, so you need to roll a 3 or higher to succeed. You roll… 16! You leap over the trunk in a single bound. 
In just under an hour, the path reaches the plateau of the moor where the woods thin out, with just scattered individual birch and hawthorn trees in front of you. There is a bracing wind, flattening the cotton-grass. You look behind you and see the stockaded village and the valley, stretching out way below you. Ahead and to either side you see undulating moorland, with peaks in the distance in all directions. 
After another mile of slow going, weaving through marshes and heather beds, as the sky is darkening you see the lit windows of a small stone house in a hollow in the distance. This is the first dwelling that you have seen since leaving the main road, and it appears totally isolated. There is smoke coming from the chimney. 
You gain 1XP this turn for exploring the area up the valley and onto the moorland..
What do you do next?
Having read that, you send in the instructions for your next turn:
I will pick a sprig of lucky heather, wear it in my buttonhole, and cautiously but very openly approach the house. When I’m near, I will shout “hello? Is there anybody there”. If anyone comes out then I will greet them and try to speak to them about local affairs, the weather, and what to expect on the path ahead. I’ll use 1 Level of Effort to try and make them like me. If they’re really friendly I would like to stop off for a meal and perhaps to stay the night. I’ll also ask politely whether they have any rations I could take with me for my next day’s hike, offering to do a little work for them in return.

If they are hostile, I will firstly try to calm the situation: “I’m just a simple traveller, visiting my cousins on the far side of the moor, I mean you no harm and will be on my way now”. If that doesn’t placate them, I won’t attack first but I will be prepared to defend myself, and will expend 1 Level of Effort both defending and attacking, as I’m all alone up here and they probably know the terrain better than me. If things get really bad, I will use up the invisibility Cypher on my cloak to hide, and then sneak away from here.

When I’m done here, I’ll carry along the path, as described in my last set of instructions. Hopefully I can still make it to another house or a hamlet on the other side of the moor, but if not then I will find somewhere sheltered, wrap myself in furs, and catch 4 or 5 hours’ Rest. I won’t light a fire for fear of attracting any creatures up here.
The GM reads your instructions, and tells you what happens next:
You walk cautiously over the half a mile to the house. Your movements are slower and more exaggerated than usual, and you keep a close eye on the house all the time for signs of movement.

When you're about 50 feet from the house you call cautiously "hello? Is there anyone there?". There is no reply. You walk a few feet further, and in a louder voice call “hello? I'm just passing through, I was wondering whether I could do some work for you in exchange for food?”

You hear a banging sound of wood on wood, coming from inside the house. The door swings open and an elderly man dressed in in worn, brown felt clothing steps out. He has a white beard and a bald head, but looks tanned and healthy from his moorland life.

Normally, convincing a person like this that you are friendly would be a Difficulty 3 task. However, he is lonely, which reduces the difficulty to 2. Your training in conversation reduces it further to 1. And the Effort you expended reduces it by one further, to zero. You don’t have to roll to succeed, but I’ll do it anyway to see how well you get on with him - a 19! He welcomes you like a long-lost child. But the Effort you expended means you must take 3 off your Intellect score until you next rest.

“Hello” he says heartily, “I’m Norhelm. Food, did you say? Well I'm sure I could rustle something up for you, it’s not often that I see visitors up here. Come on inside!”

You accept the invitation and go into the house. Inside, it appears even smaller than it did from the outside. Just one room, cluttered up with peat-cutting and farming tools, plus various junk and chunks of uncut stone. There is a string hammock strung over the lot of them, grey furs heaped inside it. There’s only one seat and Norhelm offers it to you. He fills a pan with water and puts it on the stove, then turns to talk to you. "So, you'll have just come up from the valley? That’s quite a climb.” You tell him that actually you've come all the way from Hope, at the far end of the Valley. “Oh, ho ho, very cosmopolitan then!”

You begin to describe your journey to him, then remember the pebble that you found and, feeling that the old hermit is trustworthy, show it to him. He accepts it from you, turns it over in his hands, and says "yes, I've seen ones like these before. They’re more common over to the west, on the far side of the Peaks.” Inspecting this one further, he points out that it has a Cypher on it which, when used, will give you protection equivalent to heavy armour that lasts for one minute. He hands the pebble back to you.

He cooks up a simple meal of beans and onions. The warm, humid smell of the food fills the hut, putting you at your ease and making you very hungry after all your exertion. You both sit down to eat. It's hard for you to get a word in edgeways, it seems like he hasn't talked to anyone for a long time, and now he's making up for it. He tells you about life up here on the moor, about the seasons and the few scrawny crops he grows in his garden, the sheep he used to let roam the surrounding moor. He tells you that he's been bothered lately by some "inhumans" (this is a term you've heard before: it’s used to refer to the early hominid races who survive in small numbers in this area. They live only in secluded places. It seems from what you’ve heard that there are various different races of inhumans, some living on the moors, some in the woods, and some underground).

Your time in the house counts as a Rest. You regain the 3 Intellect points that you used to befriend the man.

You ask him what these creatures have been doing to him, and he replies “destroying my crops, stealing sheep from me—I have to keep them penned in now, and it’s causing them stress. Twice those monsters even came close to the house and seemed to threaten me, I don’t know what language they speak but I’m sure they weren’t inviting me over for a meal.”

GM Intrusion - the following event is something thrown in by the GM to spice things up. You can Refuse a GM Intrusion, but doing so costs you 1XP. If you accept the GM Intrusion, you immediately gain 1XP (and if you are journeying together with other characters, you also get 1XP to give to one of them).
At this point you hear a banging at the door. Norhelm suddenly looks alert. "Them!" he says. He moves swiftly to the side of the door, grabbing a kitchen knife on the way, and indicates that you should move to the other side of the door.

You gain 1XP for your conversation with Norhelm. If you accept the GM Intrusion, you gain another XP. If you reject it, you lose the 1XP that you gained this turn.

Do you accept the GM Intrusion? Either way, what do you do next? 
And your instructions...
Firstly, I accept the GM Intrusion. But if there’s a fight, and I’m guessing there will be, I’ll spend that 1XP to re-roll any failed Defence attempt once my Might drops below 3.

I’ll move to the door as Norhelm suggested. I’ll follow his lead, but be prepared to attack with my dagger. If there are three or more things out there, I’ll try to knock one over first. I’ll apply Effort to that, and to all my attack rolls until my Might drops below 6. And the invisibility Cypher might still come in handy if the going gets really bad...
As you can see, the replies are quite long, and the GM has quite a lot of leeway in them to interpret the player's instructions, and make decisions on their behalf. This is something I'll be coming to in future posts. In the meantime, I'd love to hear your thoughts... would you be interested in playing something like this?