Where I read: Liminal – Chapter 1

It’s time for another “where I read…” series. I have a a number of books, games I am unlikely to find the opportunity to play anytime soon, that I need to discipline myself to read and absorb. In the coming months, look forward to read-throughs of Vampire V and Phoenix Dawn Command, among others. Right now though, I am going to tackle the slimmest column in my book pile, not just because it will be the quickest, but it’s also the one I know least about and the one I am most interested in.

Among the unfinished draft posts that litter the unpublished area of this blog are more than a few about turning Ben Aaronovitch’s PC Peter Grant series of novels (otherwise known as the Rivers of London series) into a Role Playing Game. The posts are unfinished, and indeed the game is hardly started – just a few scribbled notes about Cortex, Fate and now, of course, the Year Zero Engine.

While I have been timewasting, Paul Mitchener has just got on with with it, producing a book that was Kickstarted a year ago. I did not kick in at the time, as my KS budget was spent, but the PDF just came out on Drive-thru, and being curious, even though I still didn’t really have the budget, I splashed out. To be honest I didn’t really look too deeply into the Kickstarter, as I worried I might be tempted to overspend. So I come to this book with as close to zero knowledge as you can get.

And colour me impressed. The art on the KS looked attractive, but seriously doesn’t do justice to the quality of art throughout the book. There one or two pieces that aren’t quite as good as the others but, by god, this is pretty, very pretty indeed. If I recall, the KS only has print on demand options available, quite rightly for a game with a limited print run, but … it’s so beautiful, this book deserves a proper printing.

Design and layout aren’t bad either, marred (for me) only by one thing: I am a typography snob and while, generally, type choices are excellent (I particularly like the use of Senator) , I am disappointed by the use of Mason for chapters and sub headings. Mason’s gothic stylings became a bit of a cliché on the covers of unlicensed Buffy encyclopaedias, trashy urban fantasy, and second rate witchcraft TV. And it’s use here let’s the quality and imagination of the rest of the book down.

Mason. Ugh!

I think that’s about as rude as I will get on this book though. ‘Cause the rest of the book is gorgeous. And if I am feeling charitable, I guess … I guess you could say that for a game designed to emulate that sort of 90s urban fantasy fiction, it’s at least … appropriate … I suppose.

Anyhow, rant over, let’s look at the content of chapter one. We get a little intro from the changing, Ygraine Green, depicted in one of the lovely portraits that litter this book. Then there is a handy list of the sort of people who are Liminals, though who stand on the boundary between mundane and Hidden worlds, the sort of people your character will be. This list includes werewolves but no vampires (though vampires do exist in this world). The usual “What is roleplaying?” Section includes a dice turn of phrase about the GM:

there is one distinguished player, the Game Master

This firmly classes the GM as a player, which I strongly agree with. A very short note on dice suggests the mechanics are close to Traveller, the example says roll 2d6 and add for a total. But it’s also suggests it might be more than two dice sometimes.

There’s another monologue from a former police officer which illustrates the matter-of-factness which which Liminals regard the Hidden World. Then some facts for us players: magic, vampires, werewolves, the fae, and ghosts are real in this world. Though firmly set in Britain, “the myths and beings of the world of Liminal are often international in origin, sometimes due to the metaphorical (rather than literal) ghost of the British Empire.” There are “factions” organising the activities of magicians, vampires etc, and at least two mundane factions “in the know”, one in the church (which interestingly works across both Protestant and catholic branches) and one in the police. Most mundanes dinky think to looks for signs of the supernatural, but they are easy enough to find if you do choose to look for them.

Then there is a summary of the other chapters in the book. The next chapter deals with character creation, the third is about forming the characters into a crew (will I find I prefer doing it the other way round I wonder?). The rules are in chapter four and magic in five. Chapter six describes the various factions in more detail, seven is a bit of a gazetteer. GM advice is in chapter eight, and chapter nine is a “bestiary”. There are two adventures in the last chaper. Called “cases” they reveal the influence of PC Peter Grant, and the police procedural in general, on the game.

And indeed, over the page, the Grant series tops the list of “Inspirational Media”. Others include Neverwhere, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, Hellblazer, Being Human, and Angela Carter’s Book of Fairy Tales. I am slightly disappointed not to see some classics of children’s fiction, Alan Garner’s books, including The Owl Service, and American author Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising sequence, in the list. A somewhat less disappointing omission, or less surprising at least, because hardly anyone listens to the radio nowadays it seems, is the excellent BBC Radio 4 series Pilgrim, by Sebastian Baczkiewicz. Cursed to eternal life by the fairy king, the pilgrim, William Palmer is a true Liminal, walking the boundaries of the mundane and Hidden worlds. I might see how easy he is to create when I read chapter two.

Tales from the Floodplain

Dave’s kind words in our #RPGaDay podcast on the 22nd about the card based game I ran a few years ago, made me go to the the darkest depths of my hard drive to see if I could find the files. I’d remembered I had laid them out in Pages, back when it was good. I thought that might be able to convert them to PDF and put them online here.

I found them, and more than that I found I had already made a PDF file that put the system, the adventure and all the cards together. Dave insisted I had made it ten years ago. I said five, and it turns out to have been seven, the file is dated 2011. And therein lies my shame…

I remembered the circumstances of the games creation. On a whim, I decided to participate in a thing called GameChef. Turns out it’s happening again right now, you have a week (two weekends, so actually, nine days) to write and submit a game with a limited word count. Well, YOU don’t because it’s almost finished for this year. But I did, back in 2011. I wrote it, Dave, Andy and I played it, and finding it worked well enough (with me GMing at least), I made it look vaguely pretty and submitted it.

And then went off for a holiday, without properly reading how the judging happens. I came home to find and inbox full of messages chasing my options on the (five?) games I should have judged. It was over. I had missed the deadline. I felt really bad. And put the whole thing out of my mind, until Dave reminded me.

Yeah, thanks Dave.

But there was the PDF, sitting on my hard drive. So I might as well share it, here.


This isn’t an RPG. So why am I covering it on my RPG blog?

Well, I can think of two reasons: firstly, it’s MY blog, so I can post whatever I like (and I like this); secondly, it’s a wonderful game that might well have come from, or be found in, your RPG world. Check out the components in this Unboxing video I made:

The cards are familiar but strange: five suits – named for spring, summer, autumn, winter and stars; a fool for each suit instead of an ace; and the “luminaries”, a sort of major arcana, all combine to offer something other-worldly, alien even. The quality of production means that once the plastic bags and wrapping is removed, the game itself feels old, timeless, and could become a great prop for RPGs

It was inspired by the The Decemberists’ The Hazards of Love, a modern English-folk style concept album, which tells the story of changelings, murder, ghosts and forest queens, which lends itself to fantasy or horror themed games, but I’d arguable the game could even work in sci-fi settings. In fact, shortly after the album came out I ran a Serenity RPG scenario inspired by one of the songs. And given that us Kickstarter backers get nine “luminaries” (its normally eight), I think I can map them to the nine Icons of Coriolis‘ Third Horizon.

Anyhow it’s lovely. It plays well too, and it’s quick to learn the basics within a couple of hands, but (I think) it rewards working towards a deeper tactical understanding over time.

If you want a copy you can order it here: https://www.illimat.com