Last week I was lucky enough to be sent a preview copy of The Almanac of Sanguine Paths by Montford Tales. The spiritual successor to Dead Letter Society, the Almanac is likewise an epistolary game featuring a mysterious avenue of communication between supernatural species in a world of your choosing. The difference lies in that where Dead Letter Society is for vampires, The Alamanac of Sanguine Paths is for werewolves. Rori has once again created a beautiful game that flows well between phases, with thoughtful prompts that inspire creativity. Check out my playtest below featuring an old RP character of mine that’s been living rent free in my head for several years. This is in no way finished – in fact, it’s just the beginning and I’m excited to keep going when the full version is in my hands!
The themes I chose for this playtest were that of loneliness, and searching for missing people. My character, Lachlan, had a storyline in the works where his best friend had gone missing; we never got to explore this through RP so this seemed like a great chance for me to do so with the Almanac. The genre is Modern Day and it is set in London, though will expand to further regions within the UK as the storyline progresses.
I’ll also add a CW for mentions of alcoholism for anyone who wishes to avoid this topic.
I used the following Optional Rules in this game that befitted my solo playstyle and desire for some extra scene-setting before getting stuck into letter writing:
The Story So Far Use this variant rule if you want more inspiration when starting the game. Each player completes one round of the Chronicle Phase without receiving a letter from the other and spends up to three Chronicle Points exploring the situation that led them to send their first letter. Afterwards, one player proceeds to the Letter Phase and the other to the Almanac Phase. Play then continues as usual.
They Never Reply In this variant, you play as a single werewolf who never receives a letter in response. Write a journal entry about how you feel each time you don’t receive a response. What has happened to them? Will they ever write back? Are they even receiving your letters?
Name: Lachlan Tierney
Apparent age: 40
Oath: I will never stop searching.
- A memory box, kept secret from his fellows as it is forbidden to keep things that could out one’s true age
- Celeste. An elder within the group of werewolves he knows. She is always insightful and possesses great wisdom.
- Without touching it, Celeste knew the Almanac was not for her, but for me. (note: developed during play)
Lazarus. My sired and my lover. After hearing of the Almanac, he refuses to come with me or even speak of it any further. He insists it was Vampires and thinks we should go after them.(note: forfeited during play)
- Drinking used to help me forget. I’m trying my best to remember now, but the temptation and shame is always there.
The Warehouse, Skyler’s Office. A meeting place for us, and also a source of employment for werewolves needing to start a new life.(note: forfeited during play)
- My past is behind me, but I will not forget where I came from. I am forever grateful for what I have now.
- Find Skyler (3).
- Progress: [X] [ ] [ ]
Lachlan was born in Cork, Ireland, in a small village in the late 1940’s, with a younger half-brother and no sign or sound of a father for either of them. They had a close relationship, and once out of school both signed up to work with Irish Shipping, which saw them travel the world as sailors.
Lachlan’s brother Dylan found love in the USA, and decided to remain. Lachlan however continued to travel and eventually found his way back to the Republic of Ireland, arriving at the beginning of the Éire Nua movement and took up arms in defense of his homeland against the invading British forces. He served with the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) until the ceasefire in 1975, but once he learned that his mother and her new husband had both been killed in the crossfire, laid down his weapons and returned to a peaceful seafaring life.
Operating a small fishing boat and living in an almost-as-small cottage close to the water, he did this for twelve years, making best friends with the bottle and the bartender at his local pub during this time, never entertaining a lover for longer than it took for them to realise that he was a lost cause.
Lachlan was bitten during a lonely walk home from the pub one night, and though he survived the attack he was forever changed. Without knowing his sire and any guidance as to how to deal with his new life, he had a very rough introduction to life as a werewolf. He struggled through his monthly shifts without tutelage and forced himself to learn how best to act once transformed, or more importantly how not to fight against the strange, yet impossibly strong instinct which governed him whilst shifted, but instead to work with it. Over the next year he taught himself how to survive, and frequently ventured out into the woodlands under the cover of night.
A chance reunion with his half-brother prompted an emotional display which ended with Lachlan packing his things and leaving, not wishing to be contacted by anyone he cared about. Taking his fishing vessel he sailed for England, arriving long after his alcohol had run dry. Sober and looking for a new beginning, he was able to find work in Southampton with a logistics company, before eventually serendipity would introduce him to the man who would become his best friend in North London. A werewolf like him.
Skyler introduced Lachlan to more werewolves in the area, and the pair became fast friends, loyal to each other to a fault. Skyler ran his own warehousing company which served as a front for local meetings of other werewolves while also providing a safehouse and source of employment for many who had had to leave their old lives behind. Finding himself at home here, Lachlan joined the other werewolves in defence of their turf and the humans who dwelled within it against the ever present vampire threat; an historical rivalry that culminated night after night in many a bloody battle fought in the darkest shadows of London.
Lazarus. My sired and my lover. After hearing of the Almanac, he refuses to come with me or even speak of it any further.
(Story so far) Chronicle Phase
Ask up to 3 questions using Chronicle Points. Draw a minor arcana for each and journal.
- What is this mysterious book?
- How did it get here?
- What am I supposed to do now?
Two of Cups Partnership, trust, vulnerability Transforming from human to beast need not be lonely, as you’ve discovered recently. How does it feel to realise there is a place where you belong without pretending to be someone you are not?
The book was just sitting there, on Skyler’s desk. It wasn’t there earlier today; I checked in the office when I was looking for him after he didn’t show up for the meeting. After calling him about a hundred times and going straight to voicemail, Celeste suggested we look in there again; maybe he left something behind that would tell us where he’d gone. Maybe it was as simple as a trip that he forgot to tell us about. His planner was in there. It would say where he was.
I unlocked the door with my spare set of keys. It’s always locked when he’s not in there and today was no different. But when I opened the door this time, the book was there. Red and bound in leather, thick like it belonged in some old library, or on the shelves of an antique shop. Not here in this dusty warehouse full of chain smoking gits.
I paused and asked Celeste what it was. Her face was as clueless as mine. Both of us approached; we went around different sides of the desk. I remember looking at her face and she looked equal amounts of intrigued and concerned. She reached out with a hand to touch it, but stopped about a half an inch off the cover.
“What is it?” I asked her, feeling my heart start to crawl up towards my throat. Something about the entire situation set my hair on end, and I think it did hers, too.
Looking at me, she pulled her hand back swiftly, without touching it, then placed that same hand on my shoulder, gently.
“I don’t know,” she said. “But it’s for you.”
Page of Cups Joy, intuition, open-hearted You witness the ecstasy and thrill of a young werewolf, unabashed about what they are in front of you. When did you last feel such joy?
I heard a shuffling at the door, the sound of Doc Martens scuffing against the dusty, wooden floor. We both looked up, Lazarus was there, peering in with those bright blue eyes. He’s only half my age and will stay looking like that forever.
“This isn’t your normal kind of not showin’ up for work, is it, like…” he asked, chewing on his lip as he openly considered the consequences of what was happening. “You’re gonna find him, aren’t ya Lockie?
“D’you think it was vampires? I reckon it was vampires. Didn’t you say Skyler’s got sommat personal goin’ on with them from ages ago? Sommat t’do with his daughter wasn’t it?” His demeanour changed, eyes on fire. “Let’s go get them. Fuck’em up, yeah!?”
I looked up from the book. Laz had a point, but the vampires would’ve had to have someone else working for them to get this in here in broad daylight. The thought of leading the pack on a hunt almost made me smile. I remember what it was like, to be full of virility and champing at the bit for action, but twenty eight years like this has sobered me in more ways than one.
“I don’t think it was vampires, lad.” I shook my head, my attention once again drawn to the book on the desk. “As pompous as they are, leaving an old, mysterious book on a desk at morning tea time doesn’t seem like their style.”
Ace of Swords Clarity, truth, strategy When you wake, there’s an odd taste lingering in your mouth. This isn’t the first time. What do you think it is?
I spent the day going through Skyler’s things with extraordinary detail. I think I was avoiding opening the book; not sure what I would find inside, not sure I wanted to know. It was too much of a weird coincidence to not have meaning, but some part of me wanted to open it in private, not here. Celeste made sure to tell me not to wait too long; she seemed to think that whatever was inside would be important, and almost certainly related to Skyler’s disappearance.
I took it home with me. Laz was working, so I was on my own. I ended up falling asleep on the sofa in front of Channel 4. Reruns of Kitchen Nightmares, again. When I woke the television and lights were off, aside from a small lamp in the corner of the room. Laz was home. There was a blanket on me.
I swallowed and my tongue almost stuck to the roof of my mind, bringing with it an absolutely wretched taste. Like the inside of a sweaty old boot, the moldering despair that came with waking after far too much IPA. But I hadn’t been drinking. I would know if I had.
I glanced toward the stairwell, briefly wondered if Laz thought I’d broken my promise. It would explain being left down here, at least, rather than woken and invited to bed. Swallowing again, I stood up to get a drink, the taste in my mouth still lingering like the past, fermented into regret.
I thought of Skyler as I gulped down a glass of water. He was the reason that I no longer woke like this on a regular basis. He was the one who gave me a job, introduced me to those I call family now. If something happened to me, he wouldn’t be dozing off to the tune of Gordon Ramsay telling some American diner owners how much their food sucked. He’d be out there already. He’d have opened that damned book the moment he found it.
It was my time to do the same. I owed him that much.
I. Letter Phase
Upon opening the book, a card fell out. It must have been tucked into the front cover, or something. A standard business card, but without anything on it. Just a mobile phone number. I held on to it as I flicked through the pages; not even sure what I was looking at.
I’m not sure what came over me but I decided to text it right away, before I got too carried away with reading. Maybe this number belonged to whoever sent me the thing.
Did you… send me a book?
I don’t understand what it’s for. Or how you managed to get into the office.
Everything was locked up. There were people everywhere.
Who are you?•••
I saw the three little dots. I swear I saw them pop up, like when someone’s replying to you and taking their time about it. But they went away again after a few seconds, and I never got a reply.
II. Almanac Phase
The Star Hope, support, healing Forfeit a Location (Skyler's Office) Forfeit an Actor (Lazarus) Progress an Ambition There’s an intricately illustrated page in your Almanac that’s caught your attention over and over again. You’ve read the singularly beautiful sonnet on that page many times, rolling its words across your tongue as they soliloquy about death, the hereafter, and the futility of struggling against destiny. Something has changed, however. Not on the page but within you. A growing unease that this is not poetry but prophesy. What caused this change of perspective, and what do you think this poem heralds? Will you fight against it?
I stayed up all night looking through this blasted tome. Every time I kept coming back to this page, though. It was like a poem, beautiful in its composition and presentation. The illustrations seem to show me something new every time, and each moment I spend looking at it seems valuable, like I might discover some kind of clue drawn within these old margins.
After a while the things I see start to feel ominous, though. What if this is trying to tell me something? Is he dead? It… would be the simplest answer as to why he was missing without word. But I refused to believe it. Why this charade? Why the book, why all of this? Would I find the answers to these questions here, in the book? It seemed ridiculous, but more and more I felt like wherever Skyler was, he wasn’t going to be showing back up at the office any time soon.
Looking at the card again, I tried searching the number. See if it came up on any of those spam type sites, where you look up to see if the call you just ignored was a Carphone Warehouse spammer or your credit card company finally catching up with you.
There were no results on that, but a couple of strange looking websites came up, the kind that just seemed to be lists of numbers and nothing else. My eye was drawn to an ad on the side of the page. Track a Phone Number Location for Free. Was it probably a scam? Yes. Did I try it anyway? Also yes.
I’d just hit the search button when Lazarus came downstairs. I glanced out the window and saw it was daytime – aside from my nap earlier, I hadn’t slept at all.
“You’re feeling okay?” He asked. A leading question, but I replied honestly, showed him the book and the sonnet, told him what I was thinking. If only I could find who owned this phone number, perhaps I’d get some answers.
He didn’t understand. Wanted me to call the police, as if they’d do anything. As if they’d be able to do anything. Humans didn’t know about us; on top of that they were fantastic at making up stories to explain away the existence of anything strange at all.
He told me that I was crazy, trusting this weird book that I probably just didn’t see the first time I went into the office. I told him to ask Celeste; she’d felt something when she’d gone to pick it up. He answered by saying that Celeste feels “things” every time she stepped out of her front door.
I could tell he was angry about something, but I ignored it. This was more important.
“If he’s dead…” I started. Caught myself before I got too emotional. “And… whoever owns that number knows something…”
He walked out of the house. I looked back at the laptop screen.