That you are here likely means you have some association with tabletop gaming, so welcome!
This blog will cover learning and development through Dungeons & Dragons and inclusivity for deaf players, something I feel deeply passionate about after working with the community for nearly a decade.
The various pages include…
Coverage of Keynsham Hatchlings teen group.
The Inspirisles homebrew setting, created to promote deaf awareness, inclusivity and empathy in teens.
The ambitious Deafness & Dragons project: developing tools to enable the deaf community to enjoy tabletop RPGs.
I took a significant break from blogging for 2 weeks due to concentrating heavily on Inspirisles. As such, I’ve managed to complete approximately half of the work for campaign setting. This includes written content, art, stat blocks and layout.
I also received a message from Roll20’s Spotlight program asking how they could support me with my work and help generate word-of-mouth and possibly play-testing. I replied with samples of Inspirisles and am awaiting a response.
I am working on ways to develop maps for the game and believe I have created something that will help. More on this next week.
For the week ahead, I will continue to produce content for Inspirisles. I will work my way through the Scriv’s Tour section and develop a technique for quick and professional map making.
This week I completed a large chuck of the principle art for Inspirisles. I also updated some of the posts from last week with setting flavour, descriptions and mechanics.
The RPG Workshop was completed and my mentee was pleased with my input. Hopefully he will publish some time in September.
I am currently waiting on the edits from Dark Galaxies Gaming (@DarkGalaxiesDM) and then the next writing assignment will begin.
I also removed the pages of blog, as no-one was looking beyond the posts. It now feels more streamlined and able to connect more readily with my readers.
For the week ahead, I will continue to produce art for Inspirisles. I will also work on expanding the mechanics. I should arrive at the Scriv’s Tour section of campaign, where I will describe the 10 locations players will discover, story hooks called ‘Inspirinsights’ and a challenge rating for each element.
Though we’re at least a few blocks clear
of The Crying Lemon, I still shrink away from the open at the sound of distant
police sirens. My mac is soaked in alcohol and my slippers in gore and though
the rain is helping to clear the stench, I’m still a mobile crime scene.
I find shelter beneath
the awning to a traditional handicraft shop, sitting cross-legged at the base
of the window in the only dry patch available. The display houses patchwork
dolls with buttons for eyes, tea containers made from cuts of bamboo, patterned
sushi dining sets, plush floor cushions, and rolls of hand-dyed fabric. It
seems a strange shop to find in Yōkoso Harbour. The merchandise would better
suit a country home many miles from the coast.
My apartment is
lost. I know that. It’s a shame because I’d begun to feel its heartbeat: the
way the water spluttered from every tap; the ping from the kitchen radiator as it heated up; the family of mice
scurrying behind the kitchen units; the sort of sensations that make a home. I
know if the front door is left unlocked it can swing open of its own accord and
though there’s nothing of real value inside, I dread the thought of setting up
another homebrew kit from scratch. I couldn’t care less about Nanashi’s opinion
of my saké, there’s just no way I’m going back to stealing bottles.
“You reek,” he
says. “Ditch that mac of yours.”
“No chance. Even
if it were ripped to shreds, I’d still keep it.”
to that miserable garment will be our downfall.”
“Akemi gave me
this coat and it’s all I have left of her. How would you feel about throwing
ludicrous comparison. I’m not asking you to harvest your organs.”
I reach into my
mac pocket and lift out Greaser’s stolen possessions. There’s a leather wallet,
a blue asthma inhaler and a crumpled pack of Seven Stars cigarettes. If we do
get caught, I don’t want anything connecting us to his murder.
wallet, I hesitate over a disturbing photo. A woman poses on a garden chair with
a toddler on her knee. The child is grinning, but the woman’s face has been
burnt away with a cigarette end. Is this Greaser’s family? Why would he deface
her like that? This isn’t helping my state of mind.
Inside the money
compartment is a stack of crisp 10,000¥ notes. How does a low
paid door attendant come by so much cash? I take enough to live it up in Tokyo
for a solid month then reach to the side and drop the wallet through a sewer
“Jackpot! I bet that’s
more than those whores make in a year,” Nanashi says. “We
should visit String Beetle for a Junmai fountain.”
Occasionally Nanashi and I will spend an evening pick pocketing.
Around Christmas time, after a particularly profitable shift in the city, I treated
Nanashi to a Junmai fountain at the String Beetle restaurant. I’d take him
there every evening if I could. The restaurant serves its famous cocktail via
taps that rise up from the centre of the table. Customers are supposed to refill
glass tumblers, but since Nanashi is invisible to others, I just let him glug
straight from the taps. He left more alcohol on the surface of the table than
in his stomach. That night I got away with blaming a faulty tap and they didn’t
even charge me for my meal. People don’t get that lucky twice.
“We need to spend this money carefully,” I say. “The cops
could trace it.”
“We should hire a night ferry from the quayside. We can
afford one with on-board entertainment. I crave the company of sophisticated
women, especially when they’re serving saké by sea.”
“Didn’t you hear me? I said carefully.”
“Shoki, I’m getting thirsty.”
He’s being sincere. Splinters have started to emerge across
the surface of his mask, and his numerous limbs have turned the consistency and
colour of peeled corn. If he goes without alcohol for too long he’ll dehydrate,
killing us both in the process. At least, that’s what he’s led me to believe.
“That small newsagents on the way to the train station
opens soon,” I say. “I’ll get you a bottle there.”
“Train station? Where are we headed?”
“Excellent. Are we stopping for the day?”
“You mean are we hanging out in the arcade?”
“Well are we?”
“I need to meet with Gotō…”
“And after that?”
“I’m getting straight out of there. You’ve seen what
the city’s done to Mama.”
He stretches out
a tendril so that it clears the awning and when he sends the heat through it
fizzes and steams in the rain. “Always blaming everything but her. At least I
acknowledge my addictions.”
“You don’t have
a clue what she’s been through.”
“You’re wrong, I
know exactly what she’s been through and it’s no more than any other hopeless creature
wasting space on this exceedingly cramped island.”
I rest my head
back for a moment only to be interrupted by another siren. It’s closer this
time, maybe a block away at most. At the same time a police cruiser edges
silently out from a side street like a conger eel poised in a crevice. We turn
at the same time, argument abandoned instantly.
“You think they’re
still looking for the girl?” I ask.
longer your concern.” He directs a number of fingers towards the eastern
skyline. Rising above the rooftops are the recently
built sumo stables, a training complex for professional wrestlers. The previous
summer the mayor of Yōkoso Harbour unveiled the stables by cutting a rope with
a commemorative silver axe, a ceremony typically performed by ship builders to launch
new vessels. It doesn’t look much like a boat to me; more like a gigantic
steaming basket, the interior filled with sticky rice, each grain the size of a
Yōkoso Harbour is famous for producing many of Japan’s
national sumo champions. Triangular yellow flags surround the roof of the
stables, each one representing a past winner. There are countless theories as
to why great wrestlers are made on this coastline. Some say it begins with a
diet of our celebrated kelp. Others believe our men are descended from the
war god Hachiman himself. Personally, I’ve never understood the sport. Sumo
hardly seem athletic to me, more like a bunch of overeaters who never really
got over being bullied at school.
“Keep your head down and stick to the walls,” Nanashi says.
I take the next left from the handicraft shop, following
Nanashi’s outstretched limbs as if dowsing for water. The emergency vehicles
are gathering, their blue and red lights staining the haze of fine rain above
After navigating a few back alleys too narrow for vehicles
to enter, I step out onto Salt Ring Street. The sumo stables loom large, a
proud symbol to some, an eyesore to most. As we approach, there’s a distinct
smell in the air, a mixture of sweat, straw and something that brings images of
cattle to mind. The yellow flags fluttering in the dark high above us sound
like roosting bats.
“The wrestlers won’t start training for hours,” Nanashi
says. “Perfect spot to lie low.”
“What about your thirst?”
“We’ll treat the police sirens like claps of thunder. When
they’re far enough apart, we’ll know the storm has died down. That’s when we’ll
“How do we get in there?”
“A rear door. I spotted it on the way back from the noodle
vendor yesterday. It’s the cleaners’ entrance.”
“You notice the strangest things.”
“I notice what’s important.”
Following the smooth contours of the stables, we arrive at
a small door, barely visible against the wood panelling of the building. The
entrance is secured with a padlock.
journal, I turn to the front page, revealing a plastic baggie stapled to the
inside cover. It contains hairclips of varying design. I remove one with a pink
and green enamel flower at one end. Unable to twist the flower off by hand, I
place the hairclip on the ground and strike it with a rock. With the flower
removed, I ease the pin into the padlock to gauge its depth and mechanics.
Satisfied, I slide it back out and then delicately bend the metal prongs.
Finally, returning pin to lock, I search for the sweet spot and with a subtle click it opens.
“You’ve come a
long way since your father’s liquor cabinet,” Nanashi says.
I flinch at the mention of Papa.
Moving inside, the cattle smell increases twofold, though
I’ll take it over the booze and blood of The Crying Lemon. The electrics are
off, but white chalk lining four sparring rings creates its own natural light. I’m
drawn to a sound at the back of the hall. Passing between thick wooden poles
and over lengths of rope pinned to the floor, we come to a row of slatted shelves
supporting laundered sumo belts. The noise is coming from an industrial heater
left on overnight to dry the belts and warm the stables before morning practice.
Sliding a few belts to one side, marvelling at their
weight, I hop up and lie flat.
“Unless you want my finger in an orifice as an alarm clock,
I wouldn’t fall asleep,” Nanashi warns.
Faintfoot stop on the pavement below our apartment? Could she sense us watching
arbitrary questions keep you awake?”
I nod. “It was
unexpected. It’s hard to imagine her hesitating for anything.”
“She was asking for
permission to cross the street.”
“Red Gate isn’t
“It’s owned by
“Every street belongs
to the dead. Some old crone presides over Red Gate, though her name now escapes
I sit up, using
my forearms for support. “I didn’t think they could stick around for long. Now you’re
saying they can be landowners?”
“That part’s irrelevant.
She just happens to be the oldest of the dead and therefore the most entitled. Their
ability to ‘stick around’, as you put it, usually depends on motivation. The
crone’s an exception to this, having been nominated Red Gate supervisor and
gifted a prolonged afterlife.”
“How do you know
all of this?”
“She filled me
in while you were having one of your occasional naps.”
“She was in our
always spirits in the apartment.”
picturing dead eyes watching me sleep.
“I’ll give you a
more specific example,” Nanashi continues. “I heard about this factory worker
in Osaka who’d booked tickets to see a World Cup match with his boy. It was
supposed to be a bonding session between father and son before the old man was
due in hospital for a brain operation. Anyway, days before the start of the
competition, his aneurism burst and he died without having told his son about
their planned trip to Yokohama Stadium. But he was determined. He used whatever
willpower he had left to guide his boy to the office drawer where the tickets
were stashed. He even had enough time to sit in the stands while his wife and
kid watched the game.” His mask becomes dense and grey like wet concrete. “Faintfoot
needs no willpower when revenge is her motivation. She’ll stop at nothing until
Gotō’s in the ground. Only then will she join her ancestors.”
“But she must still have a mind of her own.
Why else would she ask for permission to enter Red Gate? Maybe she can be
“If you think she
can talk though her issues, you’re gravely mistaken. That girl is now a shell emptied off all humanity.”
“So Gotō’s next
and I can’t do a thing about it.”
concern! Maybe I should stop making saké my concern? Maybe I should just lie
here over this heater until your mask’s dry enough to flake apart?”
“Torture me all you want. You’ll only be subjecting
yourself to the same desperate thirst. Maybe you should test me? If you knew true
suffering maybe you wouldn’t rush headlong into every situation I advise
“So visit a brothel because they serve fabulous drinks but
don’t mess with the spirit there or she’ll likely turn you inside out. That’s
“And don’t you wish you’d taken it?”
I lie flat and roll over to face the wall.
“Let’s change the subject,” he says. “What to do with the
doorman’s bankroll? Considering we’re already here, we should stake the
money on a few matches. The box-office opens in a few hours and I have a failsafe
method of picking winners. A fighter’s size is just a distraction; the true champ’s
crowned before he’s even stepped into the ring. Take the famous Kōji
on the rare occasion of losing a bout, his eyes would always give him away.”
I can’t ignore
the irony. Nanashi stole the money he now wants to gamble from the still-warm
corpse of an ex-wrestler. He has no respect for the dead.
the money,” I mumble, barely conscious as waves of heat rise up against my
Nanashi goes rigid
and imagine he looks like a statue of a Hindu goddess with dozens of arms.
“Not till you’ve
replaced my possessions,” he says.
You didn’t own anything.”
kit was mine.”
your tune. Just a few hours ago you said my saké was rancid. Besides, I got the
parts, I put it together and I did the brewing. What did you do?”
His tendrils slide
around my throat. “It was mine,” he
I bolt upright. “Get
He flexes until
I can barely breathe.
will blow it all on Pachinko!” he growls. “A quarter million yen spent
feeding ball-bearings into a bottomless machine!”
When we moved to
the city, Mama started visiting the Pachinko parlours, sprawling amusement arcades
filled with rows of slot machines. These days she spends what little money she
has sustaining her addiction. I’ve tried talking her out of it, but she just
acts like nothing’s wrong. She stopped listening to anyone after Papa left.
I point rapidly
at my neck and Nanashi releases his hold on my windpipe. Doubling over, I begin
to cough violently, my eyes streaming with tears.
“I want her
clear of that terrible apartment building,” I say, dapping my eyes on a sumo
belt. “If she moves to the Harbour, at least she’ll be shot of the parlours.”
“And what about
“What about us?”
“Where are we to
park will do for now.”
“You can’t be
serious! Open air, grass… trees. I’ll
“It’s only for a
“We should at
least stay in a hotel with room service. We could have Misty Ginza’s on tap!
Just a quick call downstairs and they’d arrive on one of those classy metal
trays with folded serviettes. C’mon, you’ve always liked watching the dry ice
settle over that cherry-red base.” He pauses, tapping his mask thoughtfully. “I
should’ve guessed. It’s down to him, isn’t it? That’s why we’re headed for the
“Safe in his
arms you mean.”
“Tiger’s just a
“So you know who
I’m talking about.”
“I don’t know
“A so-called friend
shouldn’t have that hunger in their eyes.”
Some of the homeless
men staying in the memorial park have the hunger Nanashi’s referring to. Like urban
foxes, they’re always looking for something vulnerable to drag from the open
and tear apart behind the bushes. Tiger is not one of them.
there and that’s final!” I slide down from the shelf. “I need some air.”
“The streets may
not be clear yet.”
“I don’t care if
they’re swarming with cops; I can’t take another minute in here with you.”
“Fine with me. Seems
I’ll be getting my saké sooner than expected.”
outside, I replace the padlock and make my way back around to the front
his head back to allow raindrops from the overhanging roof to patter off his
mask. “I must hide from this rain. Exposing every sin of heart and skin.
I shall wait for the sun and for freedom. Thereupon, I shall dance until my
palms burn blossom pink.”
“Is that poetry?”
“Quick as ever. Don’t
suppose you’ve heard it before?”
I shake my head.
“Can’t say I’m
surprised when the radio’s flooded with tedious J-pop sung by artists valued
for their hairstyle over their talent.”
From the stables,
we head away from the harbour front and into a dimly lit alleyway. Something
blocks the path and I have to clamber around a spilled container of tissue packets
advertising the Satellite of Love Hotel. The packets look to have been spread out
strategically and it’s not hard to imagine that if I followed their trail, I’d soon
arrive at the hotel entrance.
“Who wrote the
poem?” I ask.
“The celebrated Yokohamian,
Magohachi Shintaro. Died in 1923 and not from the earthquake surprisingly. Your
ancestor was a close personal friend of his and something of a poet himself.”
“You don’t mention
“I didn’t think
you were into poetry.”
“Not poets. I
mean my ancestors.”
“If I started
listing their inestimable virtues, I’m sure it would only demotivate you
“But I want to
hear more about them. What sort of people they were; what they got up to; if
they were like me at all.”
nothing like you,” he says tersely. “Each one a man. Each unwaveringly dedicated
to the task set out before him. Each obedient, focused and strong.”
just said they were different.” Inside I’m hurting. “Maybe it would help if you
stopped fixating on my dead relatives and told me about this task?”
“I’ll tell you
when you stop fixating on your living relatives.”
“You know I
can’t do that. I’ll gladly disappoint you if it means they’re safe.”
“Then don’t ask
about your ancestors again. The subject of your bloodline is now closed.”
“Fine with me.”
I cross my arms.
ginger-and-white cat paces out from behind a pile of trash bags stopping just ahead
of us. It doesn’t move a muscle even as the breeze picks up. It could be taxidermy.
seen me yet,” Nanashi says.
“Why do you say
would’ve bolted already.”
“How can you get
such a kick out of repelling animals? I bet you hate it when Neko ignores you.
Maybe you’re losing your touch?”
mother’s cat could see through those infected eyes or walk on those decrepit
legs, she’d flee just as quick as the rest.”
cat finally moves, but not for the shelter of the rooftops. Instead she pads
towards us. As she approaches, I reach out to stroke her. “You were saying…”
“Don’t do that! She’s
I pull away at
the last moment as she rolls onto her back and writhes about gleefully.
stretches from my shoulder until he’s only inches from her. “She’s a confident
one, I’ll give her that. Not like her weak, domesticated cousins.” Making a
straining sound, he forces bright bands of colour to the surface of his mask. “Does
the mangy flea-farm want to play?”
His words freeze
her to the spot and for the first time I notice her spine accentuated beneath
patchy fur. Slowly she tilts her head to look up at him, her eyes wide and
unblinking, tail swaying nervously from side to side.
her,” I say.
He doesn’t quit.
Instead he remains perfectly still, holding her gaze. “What a life you must’ve endured
to be so unafraid of me.”
contest continues until she blinks suddenly in quick succession and then darts
up the side of the closest building, vanishing from sight behind a clothesline overloaded
with towels. Nanashi withdraws to his usual position on my left shoulder and
the bands of colour gradually fade from his mask.
When I next spot
the cat, she’s standing at the edge of the tallest building, stooped low, wiggling
her backside like a baseball player preparing to swing.
doing?” I demand.
But I already know.
As she leaps, for
a fleeting moment I’m convinced she’ll make it to the neighbouring building, and
then her high-pitched whine says otherwise. She catches her paw on a telephone
wire, spins tail-over-head into a window ledge and then plummets, hitting the
tarmac a few feet away.
There is no
death toll, just a leaden thud. I try to stutter something, to express my
shock, but nothing comes forth. My hands are trembling and I think I’m going to
puke. “What did you…?” Again, I already know.
Blood leaks from
the cat’s head and trickles to soak through an open tissue packet. Her rear
legs are twitching.
followed us everywhere,” Nanashi says, “begging for food, whining incessantly, spreading
its mites. Useless thing didn’t even land on its feet. I heard they always did
The amusement in
his voice is the worst. If not for that, I might have avoided hallucinating. First
the alleyway walls shudder. Then a ton of masonry shifts, the bricks at the
base moving in sequence like centipede legs. Instinctively, I plant my feet and
spread my arms out wide.
“What are you
doing?” Nanashi demands.
could never appreciate what I’m going through. Even though I know it’s all in
my mind, when I’m hallucinating I feel enslaved. Sleep specialists have told me
that the potency and realism of my experiences are highly unusual, leading me
to believe that Nanashi is somehow to blame.
I scream. Murderer echoes back.
A dog starts
barking as lights in the buildings overhead are switched on.
“Dammit, Shoki! You’ll
wake the whole street.”
In my delusion there’s
only a few feet of space remaining and I’m certain the walls will crush me
where I stand. I feel the rough brick against my palms before my elbows buckle
under the pressure.
Ahead of me lies
the broken body of the cat. Damp fur wraps her bones and the rain has gathered
in her glassy eyes. Her tongue hangs loose from between her teeth. “Leave me be,” she utters.
Horrified, I step
over her, turning side-on to shuffle towards the alleyway exit. With only
seconds to spare, I make a dive for freedom. I’m too late. My right foot gets sandwiched
and I’m plucked from mid-air and dashed against the tarmac. Ignoring the pain
in my shoulder, I tug frantically at my knee joint. When it doesn’t budge, I
watch helplessly as the round bones to the sides of my ankle are pushed inwards
and the tendons across the top are forced to the surface, bursting through my
skin like tent poles through fabric. I try to scream but blood fills my mouth
and then spills from the edges of my lips.
As the alleyway
walls come together, the pain vanishes. Resting my head back, I gaze
upside-down at a vintage clothes boutique across the way. The shop window has
been vandalised and circular cracks look like age rings inside a tree trunk.
They begin to spiral. Flashes of colour erupt. Psychedelic.
I’ll be attending the Bristol Summer Comic & Gaming Con 2019 at the end of August in Keynsham. I wanted my Hatchlings group to stand out from the cosplaycentric event, so I created an A1 poster and bookmarks to display at our table.
Cover designs for the Inspirisles campaign setting. Front features the Friends, the World Willow, the fabled sword, Caliburn and a looming wyrm. Back features some human kids, animal guides and Caliburn in the stone.