Thursday 1 March 2018

The Shivering Circle: Setting Materials, Updates

It's been months since I posted up a set of playtest rules for my attempt at a folk horror role-playing game (which you can find here), and if I've been quiet the last few weeks, it's partly because I've been working on We Don't Go Back, but also partly because I've been trying to get this written up into a small yet perfectly formed book. I thought I'd give an update about what I'm doing with it, and supply some excerpts from the setting material I've written...

Rules Changes

The only big change to the rules is that I removed the Authority Attribute, since it's basically the same as the Dignity one. You still get 10 points to divide among them, though. I wrote some brief rules on magic and psychic powers, and some more about what you do if two NPCs oppose each other (you just compare numbers and the higher one wins, unless you rule otherwise, which is the simplest it can be). I'll probably post the supernatural powers rules next week.

The Shivering Circle

The Shivering Circle is an ancient monument somewhere in England. It’s supposed to be somewhere in Wiltshire. Or Dorset. Or Somerset, maybe. Possibly even in Cornwall. It's hard to tell. It moves around, you see, or the stories about it do, which amounts to the same thing.

Witches held their sabbats here. Ghosts haunt the place. Some ancient mythical figure is buried beneath it. Two green children appeared here out of nowhere in the fourteenth century. Now it’s under the care of English Heritage.

When you walk into the middle of the circle, it always feels a few degrees colder than anywhere else. They tried to use Science to find out why that was, but all the instruments said that the air was the same temperature in the circle as it was outside. Arthur C Clarke did a segment on it on TV back in the seventies, which you know you saw when it was broadcast, but it’s not on any of the DVD releases of Mysterious World, and all of the books of Mysteries of the Unexplained that mention the Shivering Circle (not to mention the English Heritage yearbook) say it’s in a different place. You were sure the book said it was in Leicestershire, but you looked yesterday and now it says, clear as day, it’s in Devon. Look again, it’s in Leicestershire. Or somewhere else entirely.

Mobile reception around here is terrible, needless to say. No two people get the same result on Google Maps. But everyone who looks for the place finds it, eventually. It’s no more difficult to find than any other place in the countryside. Nowhere in Britain is uninhabited, after all. At worst, it’s just abandoned.

The circle stands on the Hoddesham Down, between a wood and the village of Hoddesford. Sometimes Hoddesford is on a hill, sometimes it’s in a valley. But it’s a resolutely normal village, with a normal population, and a normal pub. The pub is called The Shivering Circle, of course it is. It’s not unfriendly exactly, but if you’re not a local, they’ll all stop for a second and watch you head over to the bar.

The churchyard is overgrown, a little, but it’s not impassable, and while the groundsman struggles to keep it under control, he just about manages. Little cottages sit at the nicer end of the village, with well-tended borders, with pretty floral displays, much like the one at the village green. At the edge of the village is an estate, and it’s got its problems, but it’s no worse than any other provincial location. Not really. There’s a Spar (although most people shop at the Asda, halfway between here and town), an old fashioned butcher that gets its stock from the local farm, and a little tourist shop for the Circle, where you can buy a guidebook.

Teenagers slouch by the bus stop.

Everything is normal here. And because everything is normal, everything has the space to be strange.

Things you might find in Hoddesford

Hoddesford has everything a small market town or village in England has. It has a market square, a town hall with masonic regalia carved into the keystone over the door.

Hoddeston Grange, a National Trust property, not yet open to the public, has stood deserted for a long time. Right now, a small scientific group researching the Stone Tape theory, the idea that the ground itself might record the charged events of the past, is resident there, and they are beginning to wonder if they will like what they find.

Up in Hoddeston Manor, Lady Anthea still holds the respect of the local people. Many of them join her on the hunt – it’s been illegal for years, but half of the local constabulary are supporters, and a hunt saboteur will find little sympathy in Hoddesford. Hunt saboteurs have been even known to go missing sometimes, especially when foxes are hard to find.

In 1601, the Hoddesford Witches were tried at the Assizes, and the two women, the two men, and the nine-year-old girl named Margaret Rose went to the gallows. A ballad of the time about the incident talks about the familiars the witches sent to harry the innocent, and supplies especial detail to young Margaret Rose’s death, and the curse she pronounced over the Hoddesham Down and all who would walk on it. Local folklore is that the girl haunts the Shivering Circle still, although she has not been seen for centuries. Perhaps one might see the haunting on how many of the children here seem prone to dabble in witchcraft, in how often over the centuries the young people of Hoddesford have done terrible things. When locals warn you to watch the kids down at the estate, they’re terribly vehement, and the youths themselves, as gaunt and hungry-eyed as the children of poverty across the nation, have a gleam in their faces, and an odd, literate cadence in the way they speak. One wonders what they’re doing.

You hear stories about pagan conspiracies, and haunted places, and about a history that seems almost conscious, a history that looks upon the present, and does not look kindly.