Thursday, 30 December 2021

Mostly Harmless Meetings: we're nearly there

I've finished writing and designing Mostly Harmless Meetings, "a zine of countryside encounters" - above is a sample spread. Kickstarter backers should already have an email telling them how to download the PDF.

After the inevitable last-minute edits, this will be going off to print in around a week. Once all of the Kickstarter backers have got their copies, I will be making it available to buy, as PDF or print copy, for anyone who missed out on the Kickstarter.

In the meantime, happy rest-of-2021, and have a great 2022!

Execution by... daffodils?

Leafing through an old notebook, I found the beginnings of a table of... something. Apart from a couple of entries (a hawthorn tree whose thorns creep up and down its twigs, and a rat which opens its mouth wide and turns itself inside-out) all of the entries came under "you are executed. Cause of death:"

Here are the ways that you could be killed:

  1. Thrown in a river sewn up in a sack with a monkey, a chicken, and a snake.
  2. Tied to the top of the tallest tree which is then toppled. 
  3. Suffocated in daffodil petals.
  4. You etch an apology on your body in wax, and then you're boiled down in acid until only your apology remains.
  5. Keelhauled in ice.
  6. Bungee jump.
  7. Being used as a whitewater raft.
  8. Defenestrated.
  9. Walk the plank of the spire of the tallest cathedral in Christendom.
  10. Licked to death by dogs with bad breath.
  11. Pricked through with a multitude of skewers.
  12. Eyes and mouth sewn up. Left to starve in a locked cupboard in a busy kitchen.
  13. Lightly browned on all sides.
  14. Forced to eat a hundred weight of offal.
  15. Eat coins and die.
  16. You are dropped out of the sky; and then caught; and then ripped to pieces, by falcons.
  17. A snail with an acid trail crawls over your naked body, as it takes you nine months to die.
  18. Every night a bird comes in your dreams, and pecks away a little more of your flesh. It starts with your eyes.
  19. Snakes.
  20. A mass agglomeration of sticks and insect legs encloses you, and crushes.
  21. Suffocated in a duvet.
  22. Tossed up and down in a sheet until you die of butterflies in your stomach.
  23. Fingernails pulled out, sharpened, and used to score your skin into a checkerboard.
  24. A note so low that your innards fall out.
  25. Plunging down an endless railway, strapped to two pairs of wheels. 
  26. Writing this stuff.
  27. Seeds planted all over your body. Allergy-triggering plants emerge.
  28. You are captured in a picture in the National Gallery. The only space that exists for you is the space inside the picture.
  29. Tuned inside-out.
  30. Hung upside-down until all the blood drains to your head and you die from the bottom up.

Friday, 24 December 2021

The Fisher- Folk or PShhrsha

A Fisher-folk

This is the first in a series of Alternative Hominids, a family tree of human species which diverged from their common ancestor a round the same time as Homo Sapiens. Fisher-folk's specialism makes them at catching water beasts and insects, and then tend to live in the region of lakes (particularly moorland scattered with dozens of lochan) and in cave complexes around river sources.

Sketches by Dan Sumption of Peakrill, Illustrations by Sheffield's legendary poster artist Martin F Bedford.

Cave-dwelling fisher-folk

Fisher-folk (or PShhrsha in their own language). are a race of hominids which followed a separate evolutionary path from homo sapiens around 223,000 years ago. They appear very much like small, lightly-built humans, apart from their wet, pale skin and their almost skeletal legs, which end in feet like those of a coot. Blood-flow to their legs is greatly reduced compared to a human’s, which lets them retain more body heat, and their feet allow them to walk easily across boggy terrain, and even to run short distances across water. They are excellent swimmers, as comfortable in water as out, and their fishing spears and tridents are also just as effective below the water’s surface.

Every fisher-folk wears a helmet made from some giant species of fish. Details of these helmets, and how they are worn, appear below.

Fisher-folk society is rigidly ordered and ethologically unique. There are very regular patterns in their ages and genders, with couples breeding every five years producing then a daughter, then a son, another daughter, and another son, before becoming infertile elders.

Prior to breeding, fisher-folk abandon their pescatarian diet for three months, eating fish maggot paté and becoming insectivorous for the duration. At the end of the three months the female becomes pregnant, and their is a six-month incubation period. For the first five years of their life the children are referred to as fry, then as smolt for the next ten years, before becoming adults at 16 years old.

Some members of the upcoming generation, soon to reach 16, take exception to the strictly assigned gender roles in PShhrsha, and are rebelling in various ways having to confirm to these stereotypes.

Fisher-folk speak in a bird-like sussurating language. Their names, impossible for a human to pronounce, appear to relate to their gender and rank, and perhaps hold a clue to the structure of their tribe, although nobody has ever taken the time to figure out how this system works. A fit topic for a future PhD. Names encountered sound something like SsShrp Fssh, Tshf Fssh, SvyrySshp Fssh, and FssSuSshs Shiyvyrysh.

Fisher Folk temple


All Fisher-folk helmets confer special abilities on the wearer. Non fisher-folk may struggle to put one on.


These are worn by fry and smolt fisher-folk. The youngest fry will be snuggled inside the body of the thing, while elder fry and smolts wear them with their head looking out of the mouth, the fish's tail hanging down their back, ending anywhere between the shoulders and the waist.

Blobfish confer protection against bludgeoning attacks.


Pike are worn only by the male shaman of the tribe. The head is placed vertically over the head, with holes in the throat for the wearer’s eyes.

The fearful visage of a pike helmet causes fear in any viewers who fail to make an Intelligence saving throw.

Devil fish

These are worn only by the female shaman. They look somewhat like an angler fish, and are worn whole, with the wearer’s face looking out of the fish’s cavernous mouth. The fishes pulsing lure dangles before the wearer’s eyes

The pulsing fish will charm any viewer who fails to make a Charisma saving throw.


The whole fish is worn as a hat, facing forwards.

Perch helmets confer a bonus to swimming speed.


The crayfish’s head is worn vertically, with eyeholes at the front.

Crayfish helmets confer a bonus to attack.


The head is worn stretched thin over the skull, with the long tail hanging down behind, often to the floor.

Eel helmets confer increased movement speed.

The Fisher-folk   

Tuesday, 14 December 2021

The Wonderist character class


What is #Wonderism? It is the opposite to Terrorism. A terrorist spreads fear through society by carrying out unexpected acts of violence and outrage. A wonderist spreads joy through society by carrying out unexpected acts of love and silliness. A wonderist views optimism as a radical act of resistance (particularly in our current scary and depressing times). The wonderist's manifesto is Salena Godden's Pessimism is for Lightweights.

What would a wonderist look like in Dungeons & Dragons and other OSR games? Here is my proposal for a Wonderist character class...

The Wonderist has the same stats, abilities and limitations as a wizard or magic-user, but with the additional restriction that they cannot deliberately causes harm or distress to any living being. 

They have access to all magic-user spells with the exception of those intended to cause distress or harm. In addition, they have access to the five spells listed below. Wonderist spells require verbal, material and somatic components, but the material component can be anything, as chosen by the caster. The object chosen may affect the flavour of the spell cast.

All Wonderist spells can be cast at any level, with the level of the spell determining how many individuals, and of what type, are affected. The number affected increases threefold for each casting level allocated to the spell, with no theoretical limit.

For humans and domestic animals, the number of individuals affected are:

  • Level 1: 1 individual
  • Level 2: 3 individuals
  • Level 3: 9 individuals
  • Level 4: 27 individuals
  • Level 5: 81 individuals
  • ...etc
For wild animals, a casting level one higher is required (so 1 individual at level 2, 3 at level 3, 9 at level 4, etc) and for monsters the level required is two higher (1 at 3rd level...)

Cats are immune to Wonderist spells.

The Wonderist spells available are: 

Joy: affected individuals are overcome with a sense of joy.

Delight: the caster nominates a thing (object, being or concept) and those affected see that thing as though for the first time.

Agape: those affected feel love for all fellow beings. (It's pronounced agg-er-pay, and means the highest form of love)

Humour: those affected can't help but see the funny side of life (please note: their laughter is not hideous).

Oneness: those affected feel a sense of connection with the entire multiverse.

The immediate effects last for 1 hour (this duration can again be increased threefold, multiple times, by spending additional casting levels). The effects linger, however, once its strongest effects expire - somebody who has spent an hour feeling at one with the multiverse is unlikely to emerge from this experience unchanged.

The wonderist is a pacifist - they cannot do harm, or stand by while another causes harm. Of course, in a game where every other character's life seems to revolve around travelling the world, meeting interesting creatures, and killing them, being a wonderist, avoiding all conflict, and actively opposing it, presents something of a challenge. Embrace this challenge! Pessimism is for lightweights.

Monday, 13 December 2021

Future Peakrill Projects

Although I’m now full-steam ahead working on Mostly Harmless Meetings, I’ve also been thinking about future projects. The success of my SideQuest project has given me the confidence and inspiration to devote a large amount of my time to publishing my work (regular visitors may notice that the title and design of this blog have changed to reflect this).

At the beginning of 2021, friends of mine at Liverpool Arts Lab launched a monthly magazine called Bodge. A number of us “claimed” pages in the magazine, and were then each expected to produce a page per month, containing anything we wanted to put on it. My page was called “learning to draw trees”, and was exactly that. One tree per month, with no expectations other than to see how much my drawing (and looking, and appreciation of trees) progressed over the course of a year. It went far better than I’d ever imagined, and I’m now thinking of adding “professional tree illustrator” to my CV. This month’s tree is still under wraps, and will be the cover of the final Bodge (due out on 23rd December) but here are my first tree from January, and my November tree (ink smears and all: imperfections are very much a part of the learning process):



For February’s ZineQuest I will be making a Learning to Draw Trees zine, containing all of my tree drawings from 2021 (plus a few extras), some thoughts and insight into the process, plus (to keep the project gaming-adjacent) the rules for the game “You Are a Tree”, kindly donated by Côme Martin.

After that, I will produce an illustrated hardback adaptation of one of the earliest stories of King Arthur, which I call King Arthur and the Deville Kitteh. This features in a 15th Century English text, The Prose Merlin, translated from a 13th Century French source. It tells the story of how Arthur defeated a terrifying kitten. I’m not making this up.

I firmly believe that this tale was the inspiration behind at least two scenes the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I’m adpting it as an alliterative poem, in the style of Gawain and the Green Knight, but with added Monty Python and Lewis Carroll references. Because it feels like they belong there. I’ll see if I can’t squeeze some Edward Lear in there too.

Spoiler alert

This is a pretty big undertaking, and I don’t envisage it seeing the light of day before Summer 2022 at the very earliest.  But I’ve made some first steps...

Adapting middle English into modern-ish English

Next up will be a zine full of (very) minor gods - gods so minor that they may not have any worshippers - complete with backstories and stats for RPGs. This project is inspired by Terry Pratchett's book Small Gods, and the gods will be generated by my Twitter bot Deity Galaxy.

I’m also thinking of doing another gaming zine, insired by the Combat system of Chris McDowall’s games Electric Basionland and Into The Odd. Here is an early impression of the cover.

Trauma - cover concept

Finally, a while back I posted the first installment of a Mörk Borg adventure, Ship of Theseus. It’s taken me longer than planned to get the second part up, but a large part of the rest of the adventure is already written. At some point I plan on producing a print version of that too.

A few people have asked whether Mostly Harmless Meetings will be available to purchase after the Kickstarter. Absolutely! Obviously I will be making sure that all of my KickStarter backers get their rewards first, but once that’s all done and dusted then I’ll set up an online shop to sell the remainder. I envisage it costing around £10 for the zine, or £5 for the PDF version, though I will have to do some Big Sums before I can confirm that.

In the meantime, back to work on  Mostly Harmless Meetings…

Backgrounds & decorations for Mostly Harmless Meetings

Encounter titles for Mostly Harmless Meetings

Thursday, 9 December 2021

Kickstarter or bust?

Yesterday's news that Kickstarter are moving to become a Blockchain platform has hit the indie gaming community like a bomb. Many people I know immediately declared that they were leaving the platform, others (me included) are very confused/torn on the issue.

My just-completed Kickstarter campaign for Mostly Harmless Meetings was more successful than I had imagined possible. And it fired me up to make a fool's leap into a new life. I am currently long-term unemployed and, I feel, pretty much unemployable (I do have an offer of some work dry-stone walling, but at £30 per back-breaking metre, and with a body that's slowly crumbling under the effects of age, this is not going to butter me many parsnips). The idea that I could make perhaps a grand a month by writing and drawing gives me hope for a slightly more comfortable life for myself and my family.

Kickstarter was a key part of that future life. Other platforms are available - I've heard mention of Gamefound (which I've used as a backer and found incredibly frustrating, plus not all of my future projects will be games); in the past I've backed things on Indiegogo, but that lacks much of the functionality of Kickstarter; and many indie game creators are mooting as a rising alternative to Kickstarter. I adore itch, in the same way as I adore Bandcamp - it feels very much of the community, by the community, for the community - but just as, if I were a professional musician, I wouldn't rely on Bandcamp to make my living, I'm not sure that itch can generate anything like the audience and revenue that Kickstarter can (certainly that's the case for crowdfunders I have so far followed on itch).

This is, of course, a bit of a self-defeating attitude: only if people start treating itch as a viable alternative to Kickstarter will itch become a viable alternative to Kickstarter. But there is, I think, a bigger problem: itch started as a platform for distributing (for sale and for free) digital games. Both physical products and crowdfunding are features they seem to have bolted on later, and (25 years experience in the tech industry tells me) when platforms move beyond their core functionality they rarely if ever work as well as platforms designed solely to do that "bolt on" feature.

One (important) example of this is that Kickstarter seems to have an amazing recommendation engine. Here are the top few sources of my Kickstarter backers:


In total, £1304 of the £2158 I raised - over 60% - came via recommendations and links within Kickstarter's ecosystem. I can't imagine any of the other platforms providing that level or effectiveness of cross-promotion within the near future.

So what exactly are the issues with Kickstarter moving to Blockchain? As I understand it there are two. Primarily environmental cost. Kickstarter claim that their Blockchain partners are carbon negative; I have a lot of skepticism about companies who claim to be carbon-this or carbon-that - it often means that they have funded the planting of inappropriate monoculture forests which reduce biodiversity. But, in addition to that worry, I have read the following:

So the major tldr is that they're using a cryto-ecosystem called Celo, which is an etherium clone running on proof-of-stake. So at first glance, it's not got the same ruinous environmental impact.


At the core is a second currency called cUSD which is an "algorithmic stablecoin" which buys and sells other cryptocurrencies to maintain its own value at 1 USD = 1 CUSD. So it's reliant on those other cryptocurrencies and is complicit in an unknown amount of their emissions.

It's also all based around phone numbers Because there's no issues with sim hijacking Also one of the "features" is that if you hold their reserve currency the system might just impose a haircut on you if the value of the currency drops. I am going to stop reading this

Another thing that I've read is that this move shifts the responsibility and trust for pledges from Kickstarter to the chain - I'm not sure how much of an issue this is in the real world, with Blockchain being a relatively mature technology, and I'm not sure whether it involves actual legal changes in responsibility.

I shared the above quote mentioning cUSD with a friend whose knowledge of blockchain goes far beyond anything I could ever achieve and their response was:

Yeah that’s just whining. Let’s see what they actually ship. And how they fine tune it.

And, for now, that's my approach: wait and see. Is this outrage a storm in a teacup, a knee-jerk reaction from people who hear "Blockchain" and think "Cryptobros"? I think it may be, but I'm waiting to learn more. In the meantime, I'd really appreciate hearing the views of those of my friends and associates who work with Blockchain technologies, and those who work for Kickstarter. 


This Twitter thread (and replies to it) has given me a somewhat better understanding of the issues involved. tl;dr most people complaining don't understand what they're talking about, but that doesn't mean that there's nothing to complain about.

Wednesday, 8 December 2021

Magic in the Real World


As players of fantasy games, we are all familiar with the concept of magic, but how many of us believe that magic exists in the “real world”.

I do.

Allow me to clarify…

On Infinite Worlds

Beware of the Enchanted Ground by George Woolliscroft Rhead

This is a response to a recent post on False Machine about "making it feel big". I think that, to create a world that feels like it goes on for ever and ever, the trick is to create a world that starts relatively small, but has a lot of exits leading to "who knows what?"  

Here's what I wrote:

This issue of "things that feel really really really big" speaks to the most primal longing I have from my childhood, it shivers my goosespine, it's that feeling that "wait, there's still more... but how do I reach it?" It's an infinite striptease - what's exciting is what you can't see, but what's exciting is that you can't see it, and once you do see it then what's exciting is that there's something else you can't see.

There are 3 very specific things which I associate this feeling with...

Both of my sets of grandparents lived in, or adjacent to, very large houses with very large gardens, parts of which I only got to go to very rarely, if at all. In dreams I would always discover another door that I'd never previously noticed. I still have these dreams. I have a small roster of dream houses, all loosely based on yet nothing like houses from my past. All of them are infinite, yet painfully constrictive. There are parts which I never reach, but am always coming closer to.

The Uncle books of JP Martin, my favourite books as a kid. Uncle lives in the castle of Homeward. In each chapter Uncle and his buddies visit a different "tower" of the castle. The towers are wildly heterogeneous, and anything can happen in them (and usually does). The stories are not closed, you can always anticipate that there will be another tower, but once it's revealed, then there will be still another. Uncle's castle was my grandparents' houses, but without me even being entirely sure what the entrance hall looked like, what hidden alcoves might still be hiding in plain sight.

Viriconium. Mike Harrison explicitly set out to destroy "fantasy with maps", and in doing so he created a paradox: you always want to discover what Viriconium is, but unfortunately Viriconium isn't. This is the running theme through all of Mike's books: the oxymoron that is a "fulfilled fantasy". This only really stuck home to me when I read The Course of The Heart. The blurb for that book described this wonderful liminal county called La Coeur, and I pictured Viriconium on steroids. But the book never reaches La Coeur, it only traces the dismal lives of the people trying to reach it. It was through reading that book (and through subsequent conversations that I've had with Mike) that I learned to "put away childish things" by accepting that I will never map out the infinite labyrinth of my grandparents' homes and that, however strong the desire, time spent doing so will largely be time wasted, or at least time out of the "real" world. That makes me sad, though it also makes me glad. I think this lesson is one that's almost impossible for people much younger than me to learn. Modern life is SO rubbish that as a species we've been forced into a kind of neoteny where actual adults feel that it's important to have opinions about Star Wars and Doctor Who.

Phew. I'm not sure how much that really had to do with what you're talking about here but, my god, this topic gives me ALL the feels.