Bridewell Gothic: State of Play

Forgive me for this pointless stream of consciousness, but I’m spending so much time on this project right now and I want to talk about it.

My all-consuming project right now is Bridewell Gothic (or perhaps just Bridewell, that’s just not a great name for a project). It’s intended to be a system agnostic gothic sandbox mini-setting, inspired by how much of a failure every version of Ravenloft ever was, but especially Curse of Strahd. As a friend of the blog once, it’s “Strahd but good”.

When I ran Curse of Strahd, I was taken by how bad a vampire story it told. There was no powerful god impossible to kill, but rather an interloper who peers over fences and makes flawed plans executed by incompetent lackeys. It was a Saturday morning cartoon of a module, with a purposeless forty year old dungeon at its center.

In my esteem, vampire stories are about some pretty uncomfortable subjects — abuse, toxic relationships, the threat of violence. And gothic stories are about inter generational trauma, family conflict, the past returning to haunt you. A gothic horror sandbox has to allow you to be a part of these stories, and most likely not resolve the issues, because both vampire and gothic horror stories are tragedies.

So the challenge I’ve set myself is to write this haunted valley full of broken people and with a monster emblematic of that time-haunted brokenness at its heart. I’m not sure I’m up to the challenge, but bad art is the side-effect of good art, so I think it’s worth my attempt.

As I’ve written, I’ve realised things I’ve lacked and had to rewrite — too much, to be honest. I definitely departed on the journey without goals, and I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re trying to produce something compelling and unique.

The rules I’m currently following are:

  • Individuals are members of families
  • A family’s story features a visual motif
  • A family’s store features a perspective on a theme
  • Every place and person is active in the world.

And I’m finding interesting exceptions that are required by these rules I’ve set myself. I’m creating new motifs, or new versions of the motifs I named initially. I’m incorporating broken families in various ways everywhere — but because of this characters are proliferating, and hence as are connections between locations and stories, which is proving unwieldy. I’m finding that active can have many meanings — they can be isolated, with the stories resolving in situ rather than having wider consequences or even consequences for the party at all. And all of these discoveries I think are giving the mini-setting more depth and interest and tragedy.

The fascinating thing here, is that in developing a tragic, gothic setting for OSR, and having to playtest it soon, I’m interested in what fun will be found in a broken, haunted, tragic setting such as this. It’s not grimdark at all, and it has its humour, but it’s overarching ambience is one of melancholy. This is very much the vibe of most of my RPG writing, but a whole setting will be an interesting sell, and I can’t wait to see how people respond to it.

20th April, 2023

Idle Cartulary


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