Why Peakrill?

The Hope Valley – old OS map and my interpretation

What is a Peakrill, and what relevance does it have to this blog? Well, the what part is easy: 

Peakrel (also Peakrill, Peakril) – Pronunciation /ˈpiːkr(ə)l/  – NOUN, rare British – An inhabitant of the Peak District.

What a brilliant word, eh? And as for the why, well it relates to the campaign that I am writing. For more, read on…

When I returned to playing RPGs around a year ago, I thought it unlikely that I would ever run my own games, or that I would have the time and energy to come up with a campaign setting. Then one day, while reading around the history and geography of the Peak District, I thought: what if I could adapt this into an RPG setting. And so that’s what I started to do: a very singular campaign, set in an imaginary Peak District of 999AD.

There are no elves, dwarves or orcs in my world, and there is precious little magic (and what little magic there is is precious). There are faeries, witches, and other other hominid races – species which diverged from Homo sapiens due to some unexplained upheaval around 80,000 years ago. Playing in Anglo-Saxon times appeals to me – rather more down-and-dirty than high fantasy with its elaborate castles, suits of plate mail, codes of chivalry, towns with huge shopping quarters, and occasional firearms. 

Another bonus is the availability of maps. Back in the mid-80s I joined a play-by-mail game (I forget its name, and it ran all too briefly) set in a post-apocalyptic Britain. On joining the game, every player was sent a square of Ordnance Survey map, which was their tribe’s home territory. I love this idea! Maps are wonderful anyway, and there is so much to explore on OS maps, it feels like an almost infinite pre-generated world. With Peakrill I started collecting old maps (the older the better) and redrawing them, with slight modifications, to represent my fantasy landscape.

But I had another problem: despite becoming increasingly immersed in this world I was generating/adapting, I still couldn’t really see myself ever running a game. Apart from all the usual problems of finding players and suitable times to play, I just don’t think I’m a very good DM. I panic in the heat of the moment, I struggle to keep up with rules and stats, and to respond to players’ improvisation on the spur-of-the-moment, and it has always felt to me as though my games fall rather flat.

Again, after weeks wrestling with this problem, I came up with a possible solution: instead of playing around a table (or on a Zoom call), with the gameplay verbal and in real time, why not play asynchronously – writing things out instead of saying them. This turn-based approach would give me plenty of time to come up with responses (in fact, it would also reduce the time spent writing encounters that were never needed – I only ever need to come up with content when prompted to do so by my players’ actions). It would also give me a chance to write more – something I’ve long been keen to do – and it would act as a form of collaborative fiction, with GM and player taking equal ownership of the finished products. I wrote up some example play, with rules loosely adapted from the Cypher RPG system (which, although I’ve never played, strikes me as a really wonderful set of rules, incredibly simple yet incredibly rich)

In my teenage years I played many PBM games (Saturnalia was a real game-changer for me as well as for the RPG world) and there was always something rather wonderful about writing out your character’s intended actions, sending them off, and then waiting excitedly to find out what happened next. I was aware that PBM had evolved into PBeM (although this happened after I had drifted away from gaming). But on googling around to see whether people still ran such games, I came up with nothing. They seem to have died a death. Does anyone still run turn-based RPGs of this nature?

I ran a few brief test sessions, although it fizzled out, partly because of the time demands on me, and partly because the players I’d press-ganged into playing either didn’t quite get it or didn’t seem anything like as invested in it as I was.

So, I have these ideas floating around, and I’m not quite sure what to do with them. I think that if I ran Peakrill, it would have to be done commercially – it took me about an hour per player per turn, which would soon become a massive chore unless I was getting paid for it. In fact, it risks becoming a chore even if I were paid – another concern is that, knowing what my mood swings are like, I would be letting people down if I didn’t respond to their moves in a short time period.

I have toyed with the idea of hacking the Patreon system to enable me to charge per move, but I’m so nervous about the whole idea. Is there anyone out there who would be up for play-testing this with me for some small fee, perhaps £1 per move or Pay What You Feel? Is there anyone out there who is running similar projects? Shall I just carry on writing this stuff for my own amusement, never expecting it to see the light of day?

All suggestions gratefully received.

NB I am not and never have been a Peakrill – I was born and grew up in Twickenham, and have spent the last 23 years living in Sheffield, small parts of which are in the Peak District (not the part where I live), which I guess is close enough for the type of jazz that I like to listen to.




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