Maskwitches and creative honesty

Huh. Jon here again, talking about Maskwitches of Forgotten Doggerland. So a little while back I spent the evening making images of drums for Maskwitches of Forgotten Doggerland. But you know what? I’m not going to use them. Which is kinda interesting.

Long post is long.

It’s very complicated, and would require too many words for blog post that anyone will read to the end, but I have some concerns about Maskwitches cleaving too close to real world Siberian shamanism (and we could throw in some other religious practices that one might call “shamanism” too) as an influence.

There’s a line on that I don’t care to cross.

Troubling echoes can be created when we take a religious practice first witnessed and recorded by non-indigenous peoples a few hundred years ago, and uncritically project it back the best part of 10,000 years into a gleefully “historio-gonzo”-but-attempting-to-be-internally-credible, fantasy game.

I’m reading a reference work right now which specifically falls into this trap, and I don’t wish to echo that mistake.

As it was being made, “Maskwitches of Forgotten Doggerland” walked a very precise line as the project developed, and I needed to trust its direction. Underneath the clear glee I have in assembling its range of fairly wild influences, and revelling in assembling the parts that “feel right”, there is a very deep well of seriousness in both a moral compass on appropriate or acceptable appropriation, and an honest creative process.

Creatively, I went looking for these drums in a self conscious way, and of course I found them. They did not find me, unlike all the other ideas in the book so far. And so they just don’t belong. They were made in the wrong way.

And in terms of moral compass, they’re giving me some bad vibes. Too on the nose, too lazy, verging on the unpleasant end of ethnography.

Contrast these with the “witch-knives” that came out of nowhere, feel really right, but don’t… take from anyone? It’s a very fragile sensibility but it matters to me as the creator. Making “right” things requires those fine-tuned delicate aerials, I think.

These drum images are however still enjoyable. And may yet find a use. But not in the panopoly of the witches for this project.

I thought this kind of curation and careful backward step might prove mildly diverting for you. Also: cool drum pics bro.

Click to sign up

But who are the Maskwitches?

In Maskwitches of Forgotten Doggerland, the witches are defined by their masks. They begin the story with two masks, each of which allows them to do a thing well. The witches can trade masks among their number as needed, making them highly fluid and otherworldly as characters.

You’d be forgiven for wondering, as the sharp-minded person you are, if the things the witches are good at are defined solely by their masks, and they can swap masks with one another, who then are they? What is their inner character? Who is the person under the mask?

There are three possible answers. 

The first is that that is something you will discover through play. How did your character become a Maskwitch? What was their training and what events shaped them into the person they are in this story?

The second is that the witches entirely believe in a self-creation story that we see in many so-called “shamanic” (see the reader’s notes in Maskwitches of Forgotten Doggerland for more on our approach to the difficulties surrounding the terms shaman and shamanism) or, more appropriately, “folkloric” tales. That they were created when a normal person was visited by a spirit, often in the form of a bird, which removed and substituted their eyes and possibly bones and internal organs with magical replacements, usually made from a material like copper or flint. This often happens at the bottom of the sea or a lake. Or at the peak of an unscalable witchmountain. Whoever they were before is forgotten, like a snake leaves behind its skin each year, or an elk leaves behind its antlers. A witch might have their own tale of this kind, they believe it, and for all intents and purposes it is true. 

Or perhaps the secret truth is that the maskwitches themselves are as “real” as the spirits they are fighting. The spirits embody the problems of the community and must be dealt with ritualistically to resolve them. The witches are the personification of the community’s desire to heal. They are not people at all. ThIs does not stop a maskwitch from acting exactly like a real person, with feelings, hopes for the future, and relationships with the past. They are made from the very stuff of humanity: a care for others and an ambition for things to be better. Exploring this can make for deeply affecting tales.

Maskwitches of Forgotten Doggerland is a standalone storytelling RPG coming to Kickstarter as a week-long campaign this month. Sign up to be notified and don’t miss out!

Click me

A look at the prototype of Maskwitches of Forgotten Doggerland

We took delivery of a prototype Maskwitches book. In this video Jon takes a look through the prototype which we filled with full page Doggerland art, in advance of the final text being ready. And after a lot of rambling about the various aspects of this setting and the art we’ve been making, there’s a surprise delivery!

You can sign up to be notified of the launch of the Maskwitches campaign here:

Maskwitches Material Culture

Some fabrics from Forgotten Doggerland. And a witchbag. Also a stranger from under the sea. It’s not real though. It’s just the psychic embodiment of the community’s lack of concern for the rising brine. So that’s fine, right? What harm could it do?

Maskwitches of Forgotten Doggerland will be an art book and sourcebook for a psychedelic Mesolithic setting for The Silver Road (as well as being a fine sourcebook for other RPGs). It’s coming to Kickstarter soon for a week long Quickstarter campaign!

Why In Spoons?

Hello – Jon here, writer of The Silver Road and its first supplement In Spoons, In Knives.
In Spoons is now printed and in stock, all pre-orders have been dispatched and it’s now a regular purchase on our webstore, and from selected stockists.

In Spoons, In Knives” the first supplement for The Silver Road came out recently in PDF, and the print book is on its way to us now. Let’s chat about the why of it all. 

So why 1930s? Honest answer – I was experimenting with Midjourney AI, and catching up with the latest series of Peaky Blinders and listening to the music of PJ Harvey for the first time in a long time. All of these things clicked together, and Midjourney and I made some really cool images with a 1930s theme. 

And I’ve wondered about something like a Peaky Blinders rpg for a while. I didn’t want us to go for a license (and not being funny, but we could credibly try – although I suspect someone else already has it…) and I certainly really enjoy those stories, but all my initial ideas for In Spoons were about making something broader, freer, and shorter, with a wider set of inspirations. Which would also work for The Silver Road. None of which quite matches up.

The Silver Road is a focused toolkit for group story telling, and that means that supplements work best when they take the form of inspirational material – curated by us to build towards a set of “feels” that you can take and run with. Rather than a more traditional/dry setting or “fixed” world book. 

The industrial cities of the 1930s in the UK is a really great backdrop for this. There’s loads of “stuff” that works really well for Silver Road. There’s a pre-existing shared space there. 

It’s also a time before a really huge upheaval. It’s the build up to the great clash of ideologies that expresses itself in WW2. But how does that build up play out for ordinary people?

I wanted to focus on industrial communities and their struggles. On outsider groups. Like the opposite of Downton Abbey. The Silver Road tells small stories in big settings well, I think. Focusing in on characters and their struggles. This all fits together. 

One of the starting points for The Silver Road was those scary 1970s and 80s children’s books by Susan Cooper, Rosemary Sutcliffe and Alan Garner. Imagining those feels in the 1930s just felt right. I can’t claim that’s necessarily a recognisable part of the book, but it’s a key influence and stepping stone. And one of the reasons there’s some spooky/supernatural stuff in there. 

The 30s as an RPG period is understandably dominated by the venerable Call of Cthulhu. Oddly enough, that provides really fertile soil to grow other crops. I’m not interested in HPL at all, but the 30s isn’t irrevocably tied to his work, nor percentile systems. Call of Cthulhu can handle all that stuff very well indeed, freeing In Spoons, In Knives to look in a different direction both in terms of setting and system. 

I think there are some brilliant, resonant stories to be told without any supernatural stuff. But there’s also opportunities for some great folk horror mixed with the Industrial Age and the dying of empire. For me, telling some stories about the forgotten gods of England being poisoned by industry, as a backdrop to some personal tales, is something I want to play. In Spoons, In Knives is really set up for that. 

Oh and if you were hoping for an explanation of the title, check out the video.

Sacred Objects from Forgotten Doggerland

Maskwitches of Forgotten Doggerland will be an art book and sourcebook for a psychedelic Mesolithic setting for The Silver Road (as well as being a fine sourcebook for other RPGs)

The Maskwitches of Forgotten Doggerland use their masks and amulets to battle spirits from the land, arisen to embody problems faced by the fisher hunter gatherer community. By battling the spirits the community’s sickness can be healed.

Maskwitches of Forgotten Doggerland

In Spoons, In Knives is about to enter layout. After that we’ll be supporting The Silver Road with Maskwitches of Forgotten Doggerland, a semi-psychedelic imaginary Ice Age setting, placing your stories in Forgotten Doggerland – the land that lies drowned beneath the North Sea.

At the end of the last ice age, what we now call Doggerland was subject to an unimaginably vast tidal wave, and was lost forever. We know precious little about this place, and as such it makes a marvellous place to set weird tales of the now-forgotten witches.

Written by Jon Hodgson, this setting book will be again illustrated with the Midjourney AI. We have created hundreds of weird art pieces, and this supplement will double as an art book for the setting.

In The Silver Road each character has two things they’re good at and two things they are bad at. In Maskwitches of Forgotten Doggerland, these take the form of the masks the witches wear, and amulets they carry. Witches are able to trade and change their masks, making their characters’ identities extremely fluid.

There are several suggested modes of play offered, but the main one is that the players take the role of witches who respond to the problems of the hunter gatherer communities of Forgotten Doggerland. Problems which frequently manifest into strange and horrific creatures which much be defeated in ritualised magical warfare.

In addition to the imagined Ice Age setting, Maskwitches also presents a 1970s setting in the vein of the novels of Susan Cooper and Alan Garner to overlay the core setting, with Ice Age events taking place in flashback, and significant objects and entities connected across the ages.

Maskwitches will be presented in the same 21cm square format as The Silver Road, but is anticipated to be a considerably longer, and perfect bound softcover. We are currently looking at a limited edition of hardcover books. Anticipated release is August 2022.