Current project status: Editing and revisions.
Some stories are about grand heroes fighting against dark overlords bent on taking over the world, or monsters determined to destroy it. Some are about mighty wizards and valiant knights saving the day again and again, shaping the very arc of history with their deeds. Those are the stories that the bards love to tell.
These are not those stories. In this book are tales told in whispers and boasts in back-alley pubs, rather than sung from a stage in the royal court. Stories with smaller stakes, more personal plots, and more bitter ends. Stories of daring thieves, smiling con artists, and hard-boiled lowlifes, set in the margins and shadows of ancient cities, where secrets dwell and everyone wants an escape.
Crooked Alleys: Criminal Roleplaying in Fantasy Cities is an upcoming systemless gaming sourcebook from Carpe Omnis Games. It’s a source of advice, ideas, and tools for running tabletop roleplaying games in a gritty fantasy city, with a focus on criminality and corruption heavily inspired by fantasy crime novels and modern heist films.
What’s in the Book?
Some of the stuff I’ve written for my blog over the years is going to be included in the book, in one form or another. For example, my Random Criminals table, which is perpetually one of the most popular posts on my blog, is getting a bit of a facelift before being added to the random tables section. Most of what I’ve written for this book is entirely new, however, never before seen except in my game notes or in my head.
Just to give you an idea of what I’m going for with this book, here’s a top-level table of contents for the draft that I’m currently working from.
Brief Table of Contents
Part I: Making a City
An overview of city design principles, and a bunch of helpful tables you can use to create one on the fly. Also includes a sample city.
Part II: Running the Game
Notes on making a game in a city interesting, and basic advice for interacting with an urban environment.
Part III: Running a Gang
Optional rules, advice, and random tables for games where the players are running a gang, from street rats to syndicates.
Part IV: Running a Caper
An overview of con games and heists, as well as random tables for generating an adventure based around a criminal caper.
Part V: Running a Mystery
Advice on running mysteries in the city, as well as random tables for creating crimes, clues, and conspiracies.
Part VI: Adventures in the Gutter
A couple of short urban adventures to get you started. Featuring The Gold Track Job and The Garlic Masque Job.
Part VII: Tables and Hooks
Random tables for things you might find in the seedy underbelly of your average town.
Background: The Path to the City
I’ve been running criminal roleplaying games in fantasy cities for a very long time at this point. It’s a favorite subgenre of mine, as might be evidenced by the years I spent working on the similarly-themed card game No Honor Among Thieves.
I wrote down my early thoughts on the subject in a blog post in 2012, where I talked about running the city as a standard dungeon-crawling sandbox sort of thing. Looking back on that post, it’s kind of amazing to me what aspects of running a game in a city I thought were important to write about. What I wrote back then is still decent advice, but it’s certainly not what I would have written today, after six years of running similar games.
In 2015, I wrote a playset for Fiasco in this genre, which I called Cobblestones. In it you can see a sort of evolution of what I wrote three years earlier, a slimming down of concepts into something actually useful for playing a game.
And in 2017, I started writing a book collecting all the different little tables, rules, and pieces of advice I’d used over the years to run games in this criminal fantasy genre. At first I was calling it Gutterpunk Fantasy, but that turned out to not really mean what I thought it did. So now it’s Crooked Alleys, which is a much better title anyway.
The current plan is to raise money on Kickstarter to publish Crooked Alleys, but I don’t have any sort of real timeline for when that’s going to happen. If you want updates, sign up for the Carpe Omnis Games newsletter, in the sidebar.