Witch: The Road to Lindisfarne
If you have been reading this blog for some time, you are likely aware that I have a thing for games featuring historical themes. Witch: The Road to Lindisfarne is one such game that has been on my radar for years. It was only recently that I discovered it was available as a print on demand. So, here we are. Historically themed game in hand… now let’s see if it was worth the wait.
It is the year of our Lord 1350 and an unholy plague sweeps across our beloved Britain. Measures have been taken to contain and eliminate it, but still families must surrender their mothers, fathers, sons and daughters to the mass graves.
They say that one in three have been marked for death. But marked by whom? Are the sick being punished for their sins by God? No. This foul curse is the work of the Devil and his wicked agent, the Witch.
The people pray for an answer and now within the great city of London, the source of the vile plague, God may have given it. A woman has been taken prisoner by the Church after confessing the use of Witchcraft to bring the blight upon us.Three days have passed since then and during this time the heads of the Church have been in consultation without rest. Today they emerged and gave their counsel.
The woman must be taken in a caged cart to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne. Once there, an ancient ritual will be performed to cleanse this land of her and her black plague.
It will take two weeks to reach the site, but as the sun breaks the horizon on the Sabbath then the Witch will face her absolution.
This is the story of that journey.
The quote above is the game’s introduction and premise; I felt it was best to present it in its entirety. As the plague ravages Britain, the characters must escort the confessed witch to Lindisfarne to receive absolution. Although the game is set in 1350 and has a historical theme, as the authors admit, it is neither historically nor geographically accurate.
Witch: The Road to Lindisfarne is a story game for 4 to 6 players. Like an actor, each player assumes the role of one of the story’s main characters and other minor characters when needed. Unlike a movie, there is no set script, just a few key plot points to guide the story. Game length varies from 3 to 5 hours depending on how invested the players are in the emerging fiction and the fate of the characters.
Rules and Principles
Standing apart from traditional roleplaying games, it is GM-less, diceless, and requires no writing utensils. It merely needs the players, the gamebook, and photocopies of the character sheets and journey track. The track will require a token of some kind to mark the journey’s progress.
The game expects players to become active participants in the emerging fiction through the main characters, including the witch, Elouise. Players are responsible for directing the story as they work collaboratively to answer the questions on the character sheet, weaving the answers into the fiction. To this general expectation of the game, there are only a few other rules to adhere to.
The journey must be completed, and the witch must arrive in Lindisfarne, caged but alive to face her absolution. If she is released or escapes, she will be recaptured. Likewise, if she is attacked, she will be injured but never killed. The lives of the other characters are less certain. As a collaborative storytelling game, three specific rules or concepts foster gameplay.
- Conflicts – If a conflict arises between characters, it is up to the players to decide the outcome through negotiation if necessary. A quick table vote is used if a decision cannot be reached.
- The Alarm – Calling the Alarm is a way for players to indicate they feel the narration is inappropriate, confusing, or weak. The Alarm is a tool to help make the fiction stronger and is a group exercise. It also functions as an “X-Card,” stopping the fiction from being described or even from occurring. No justification is required, and it is non-debatable.
- Help! – If players are confused about the fiction or need ideas, they can ask for help from the other players before continuing.
With emerging fiction being the aim of the game, specific requirements must be adhered to when framing scenes. When a player frames a scene, their character must be present throughout it. Minor characters can be invented as needed, but another player must assume that role. The player framing the scene describes the general environment, those present, what is happening, and sets things in motion by describing something their character is doing or saying. The scene should then play out to its conclusion, where the player will draw it to a close.
Those are the rules and principles of Witch: The Road to Lindisfarne. As a story game, there is not much in the way of mechanics, but rather, it has guiding principles and concepts that shape the fiction.
Gameplay begins with preparing for the journey. During this phase, players chose one of the main characters, including Elouise, the witch. The rules specify which characters to not include with less than six players. Playing Elouise is more challenging than the other characters. The authors advise groups to determine who might best play Elouise. With characters chosen, each player except Elouise narrates a short introduction scene. This scene should be one that allows the character’s actions to reveal a little about their personality, not just a means to describe their physicality. It is not meant to be a lengthy backstory but rather a scene from it. Short and sweet. Elouise does not have an introduction until the end of the game. Instead, her player takes the Truth Slips, chooses one, and secures it in the center of the table.
The game and the fiction unfold over four Acts, absolution in Lindisfarne, and an epilogue. Each Act has an introduction that is read aloud and a thematic tone to which players should adhere. In addition to framing scenes, each Act has Act-specific requirements. These include reading aloud each character’s questions, specific characters framing unique scenes, directed dialogue amongst players, or similar.
Elouise introduces her character in Act IV, just as the others did during the preparation phase. During absolution, a single collaborative scene, characters read aloud specific passages if Elouise is to be burned at the stake. Still, they may choose to do something else that might affect the outcome. Finally, in the Epilogue, players will learn Elouise’s Truth—innocent or guilty. Each player narrates their character’s epilogue. It might be a flashback scene or details about their legacy for those who did not survive. If Elouise was burned and guilty or freed and innocent, these scenes should generally have a positive outcome. However, if she was burned at the stake and innocent or freed while actually guilty, she will be able to add negative aspects to everyone’s epilogue. The game then concludes with Elouise’s epilogue.
As mentioned in the introduction, Witch: The Road to Lindisfarne is available as a print on demand through DriveThruRPG. The book is digest size with a full-color wrap-around cover and a black and white interior. All artwork save for character illustrations is from the public domain. The character illustrations are well-executed line art. The tone of each emotes a sense of darkness and desperation, which is quite fitting for the game and the period in which it takes place. The layout is clean and spacious, making reading easy on the eyes.
Witch: The Road to Lindisfarne is a well-written game that clearly conveys its theme and goals. Is this type of game that has broad appeal? Not likely, but it will appeal to some gamers—specifically, those who enjoy story games where they have the freedom to work both collaboratively and independently. I believe it will also appeal to those who enjoy exploring more profound and darker themes, such as guilt and absolution, as presented here.
I suggest interested readers ensure their game group is interested in story games. Not all gamers enjoy improving and playing off each other, which are integral to these games.
Now, to answer the question I posed up front, was it worth the wait? For me, it is both a yes and no. I was hoping the historicity would be on point, but the authors admit it is neither historically nor geographically accurate. While I am a little disappointed on this front, I did enjoy the historical overtones it does have. I also think exploring its themes offers some great opportunities for creative storytelling. Though they are not my go-to games, I enjoy story games from time to time. These days, my available players are a little pickier; they tend to like more traditional games. In the end, I am happy with the purchase, but I wish I had purchased it a few years ago when I was actively gaming with story gamers. Even so, Witch: The Road to Lindisfarne most definitely moves up the list of “need to play” games.
You can’t go wrong, for the price!
We hope you enjoyed this article. Our mission is simple: to provide our readers with well-written articles and reviews that inform, promote, and improve the gaming community as a whole. We’re able to do this through the support of our patrons. If you’d like to become a patron and support our work, click the Patreon banner above to learn more.