YORKTON – I couldn’t tell you exactly how old I was, but at least at an age where I was allowed to go into my grandmother’s basement on my own.
In one corner stood a small wooden cupboard, in a kind of strange purple colour. I remember the color well because I never repainted the cabinet and it’s still in my upstairs game room.
The cupboard has a door, and a bit like The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, when I opened it I was transported to a whole bunch of really magical worlds because inside was a bunch of books that were my father’s when he was a kid.
There were Hardy Boy mysteries, and years later I would interview Brian McFarlane, whose father wrote many of the mysteries under the pen name Franklin W. Dixon, which is just too cool not to throw in here.
Then there was the classic Three Musketeers, a copy that still sits as one of the “green cover” books on our coffee table.
And there was a copy of Robin Hood, probably the first book I read among those found, and I was hooked. I played Robin and his Merry Men with the neighborhood kids, and alone in the yard trudging along the creek bed with a stick in hand—an imaginary bow ready to fend off the Sheriff’s men I imagined hiding in the trees.
This was years before the first pong video game, and yet was better than any video game made since. The imagination is a wonderful thing when it is allowed to run free.
So let’s jump forward about 50 years and I’m an avid gamer and I come across the Sherwood RPG.
As you may have guessed by now, “Sherwood is a game about outlaws. Like the earliest outlaw stories, it takes place in an England of chivalric romance, so the outlaws can encounter aristocratic wizards and mythical beasts or wield their own strange magic. Like with the later outlaw stories, the outlaws are not waiting for a true king to return and grant pardons, but have gone to the forest to pursue justice and save people from predatory powers.”
Imagine roleplaying in Sherwood Forest – where my grandfather always said he played as a child – although it was a story for a little boy holding said book in his hands, or actual reality I never learned – not that it mattered to me believed every word he said between puffs on his pipe.
So with Sherwood you become an outlaw.
“Even if a sheriff never declared your character a wolf’s head, you don’t have to worry about what a typical medieval villager or aristocrat would do or think. The forest is too grand a place for polite society’s petty concerns about sexuality, gender and propriety. Make your character who you want them to be,” describes the intro to the game.
“Fight for justice, plan for revenge, plot for personal gain. Set some goals for the outlaw and your band that are bigger, wilder, and more awesome than the character’s previous, respectable world allowed.
“Although the traditional Robin Hood ballads do not foreground magic and mystery, many Robin Hood novels, films and TV shows, and many other medieval outlaw stories include curses, prophecies, witchcraft, fey spirits and even Dragons.”
To say that the myth is one that is ideal for an RPG would be obvious, and to say that it fascinates this author is pretty obvious as well I would imagine.
It is very much a Dungeons & Dragons game compared to a more human story, superimposed on one of the most iconic and classic films; Robin Hood.
So I had to reach out to game creator Richard Ruane via email for more insight on this one.
“I’m a regular player and currently in two campaigns other than testing my own stuff: Big Eyes Small Mouth (with current 4th edition) and Trail of Cthulhu,” he began.
“Over the past couple of years I’ve run Romance of the Perilous Land, Whitehack, Old School Essentials, So You Want to Be an Adventurer, 2400, Troika!, World of Dungeons, Solar Blades and Cosmic Spells, Nights Black Agents, and a homebrew mashup of the Cepheus and Classic Traveler rules. I’ve also gotten to play a fair amount of Undying, Monster of the Week, Good Society, Into the Odd and The Black Hack.
“The game I’m most obsessed with at the moment is Liminal Horror, although Psi*Run is probably my favorite of all time.”
So how did Sherwood come to be?
“When I finished work on Enoch’s Wake last year, I wanted to make a game that used the same core rules in a different context,” said Ruane. “At the time I had recently finished reading Robin McKinley’s Outlaws of Sherwood and re-watched most of ITV’s Robin of Sherwood (from the 80s) and BBC’s Robin Hood (for the 2000s), so doing a quick game at Robin Hood seemed like a good place to start.
“But then I started digging into novels, scholarship and the original 15th-century ballads, and the focus of the game kept changing.”
Ruane said he ended up wanting to make a game where players focused more on the “story” of their characters.
“I’d like people to think about both the romance of outlawry, but also where people who have been banished and banned came from and how they got there,” he said. “I’m less interested in trying to make a game that simulates the Middle Ages and more interested in capturing the feeling of being part of the outlaws of Sherwood that you might get from the early ballads or 19th and 20th century fiction. ”
In that regard, Sherwood is a player-driven system.
“GMs don’t throw, but they react and assign consequences when a player misses a throw,” Ruane said. “They’ll also notice that Session 1 will run heroically, with the PCs usually having the resources they need to succeed. After that, however, their resources become tighter and the sessions involve making tougher decisions.”
The core of the game happened pretty quickly, the depth of lore less so.
“Since I already had the core mechanics, most of the work was digging deeper into the Robin Hood legend,” Ruane said. “I took a deep dive into movies, fiction, historical legends, and a handful of science books, which took about six months, with another month to edit and get the manuscript through editing and into layout.”
When asked what was the most difficult part of designing the game, Ruane gave an interesting answer?
“Knowing when to stop the research,” he said.
“In the space of a few months, I watched many TV episodes (from the Hannah Weinstein-starrer Adventures of Robin Hood in the 50s to Robin of Sherwood in the 80s to the BBC’s Robin Hood in the 2000s), watched over a dozen films ( from the famous 1938 Adventures of Robin Hood to low-budget Hammer films and 2018’s Taron Eggerton-starrer Robin Hood), and ballads and novels from the past 600 years.
“The research was energetic and a lot of fun, but it was hard to know when it was time to stop and really start working on the manuscript.”
Of course, this isn’t the first Robin Hood-themed RPG, so what does this game offer that others don’t?
“There are more than a few Robin Hood-inspired games out there, several of which I love – particularly the story game approach used by Shannon McMaster in Forest Outlaws and Scott Malthouse’s Romance of the Perilous Land,” said Ruane. “What’s unique about Sherwood is the character creation system that looks at where the outlaws came from socially and what made them leave everything and flee to the forest.”
You can find Sherwood at r-rook.itch.io/sherwood