Saturday, 30 September 2017

World Building in RPGs Part One - Ramsay 1981 (Unknown Armies)

Around March 2012 I posted on this blog about the perils of gaming in established worlds (e.g. Moorcock's Tragic Millenium Europe) with a group of players that didn't have the investment in that setting that I and my fellow Grognard Loz had.  After a burst of blogging on this platform, that largely took place after I was made redundant and had time on my hands, I went a bit quiet.  

Recently however I discovered the rather fabulous  Grognard Files Podcast (and accompanying blog) and have been shooting the shit about all things RPG on twitter and elsewhere for the last few weeks. As a result I remembered my old blog and decided, as I woke early this morning, to start slapping some of my old homebrew gear on here, starting with the aforementioned, Ramsey Campbell inspired but in the end altogether less serious and ominous, Ramsay setting that I ran a few times using the Unknown Armies system.  

The original plan was a grim, small town, urban decay and filthy horror/supernatural setting, but when we sat down together as a group the whole thing became much more tongue in cheek and warm.  It was the most engaged I'd seen some of our players in buying into the wolrd as, of course, we were all early 80's kids growing up in Thatcher's Britain so everything was familiar, if twisted. I think in the end it may have owed more to The Young Ones than Ramsey Campbell, but we had a lot of fun with it with numerous hoots and painfully side-splitting escapades. In the end my clumsy attempts at 'meta-gaming' (we started the first session with the PCs playing their in-game fantasy RPG Barbarians and Bastilles for an hour before 'the phone rang' and the game proper commenced) ultimately derailed it and it went on my extensive pile of 'fun while it lasted' campaigns that never really achieved their potential.

At some point, if I can make order or sense of some of my session notes, I'll pop them up here as well for posterity.

Ramsay – 1981

It’s 1981 and Ramsay is a small town on the fringes of Cumbria, North Yorkshire and Scotland. Traditionally an industrial town it lacks the charm of its more southerly counterparts and is seldom visited by tourists. The railway station is a terminus. No-one passes through and no-one visits by accident. The huge British Amalgamated Cycle Company factory closed in 1979 and no replacement industry has emerged to reduce the dole queues. The nearest comparable industry was the salt mine and that closed two years earlier. As a result the shops are struggling to cope and many are moving away from the town seeking the bright lights of Workington and Carlisle.

Things are looking up however, Ramsay Town FC after winning promotion to the Alliance Premier League are riding high in 6th place, the highest league football position the town club has ever ascended to.
Ramsay’s favourite daughter Jay Aston is a member of Buck’s Fizz, the UK’s entry in the 1981 Eurovision Song Contest. Since the local rag, the Ramsay Reporter, ran the story about Aston in January the town has been gripped by Fizz Fever and street parties are planned for the eve of the final.  The town’s cable television company Telefusion is running daily promotions to award seven lucky winners ‘teletext’ televisions on which to watch the final. 

Businesses and local places of interest

Ramsay is home, like any northern town, to a variety of businesses and utilities that breathe life into the community.

Crow Garth Police Station

Ramsay’s ancient police station is built upon the site of the original town gaol and House of Corrections. Although mostly Victorian the earliest site foundations date back to the 10th century. Eight damp cells in the basement are linked to the magistrate’s court via a three hundred yard tunnel that passes under the market place. The yard still boasts a whipping post and pillory and is home to the town’s old police box.

Rumour has it that a bricked-in passage entrance arch off the magistrate’s tunnel originally ferried prisoners the 7 miles to the first Darkmeir Gaol out past Temphill using a cart and pulley system similar, and possibly connected to, the one used in the salt mine.

Ramsay’s Chief Inspector is Maurice Mason. Despite his surname Chief Inspector Mason is rumoured to be the only police chief in Britain to not actually be a Freemason.

The Copper Hill Estate’s local bobby is P.C. Gerry Tarbottom. Standing 6’3 and weighing 240 lb. the Ramsay bruiser was a schoolmate of Jason and Karl. He plays centre-back for Ramsay Town whenever they need an enforcer.

Saint Wolfric’s Church of the Transfiguration

Reverend Paul (known locally as ‘Magic’ Paul) is a hard-core Star Trek obsessive and the only person in town to regularly petition Yudenow’s Picture Palace to show Star Trek: The Motion Picture again. He plays backgammon with Chief Inspector Mason’s wife every other Saturday night. The Church Hall hosts Cubs on Mondays, Brownies on Tuesday’s, Karate classes on Wednesdays run by Spike Blaine, Scouts on Thursdays. Friday’s Hula Hoop dancing class is currently suspended after little Betty Clutterbuck was blinded in one eye playing with a Trick Stick.

Veni Vidi Video

Veni Vidi Video is co-owned and managed by Terry ‘Tosh’ Wilson. Terry lives in a flat above the store with his Grandma Nerys Wilson. Nerys, his partner in the business, has grown increasingly infirm over recent years and Tosh spends more and more time looking to her needs. He greets suggestions that she go into The Willows contemptuously. His mother died when he was young. His father is an alcoholic and lives in Temphill. Tosh had a child to a girl when they were sixteen, they split up at twenty. Tosh embodies the done too much, much too young kinda thing. His daughter, now 13, lives with the ex.
Tosh used to be Jason, Karl and India’s dealer (pot and occasionally acid). Now they get battered together and watch his latest film acquisitions. Current favourites include Inseminoid, The House on Straw Hill and The Grim Reaper. Looking forward to getting his hands on Horrible.

Cold Print

Cold Print Books is the number one choice for any reader dissatisfied with the shelves of Woolworths and unable to get to the Workington branch of WH Smiths. Occupying both floors of a narrow, damp-ridden town-house off the market square Cold Print has, for years, served an essential niche interest in the town and is regularly frequented by restless intellectuals, bibliophiles and perverts.
Proprietor Harold Kaalms claims, when drunk, to have tattered copies of The Eltdown Shards and The Revelations of Glaaki locked away in his shop but will never, ever share them with any old idiot or narrow minded, ugly freak like you.

Kaalms rents an upstairs room to make a few bob on the side and provides a place of business to Derek Crumbleholme P.I. and his secretary Cody Tarbottom (sister of Gerry).

The Goose

Ramsay’s premier live music venue/night club.

Ramsay Market

Ramsay’s open air market dates back centuries and was the focal point of the original settlement (the date of which is unclear but the Guildhall has a display that reckons it to date back to pre-Roman Britain). Open Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays it is a vibrant social focus for the town. Beyond the obligatory fruit & veg and tat other stalls of note include:

·        Clutterbooks

Verdun Clutterbuck and his grandson Clive (Dungeon Master) Clutterbuck operate an expansive stall that includes all forms of literature and hobby related wares. Verdun has been running the stall, in conjunction with his part-time job at Ace Electrics, since being demobbed in 1946 and it has been a focal point for bibliophiles and individuals of eclectic taste ever since. Verdun’s customers tend to favour him over Harold Kaalm’s as he is altogether more sociable and, for those who shun the seedier aspect of Kaalm’s portfolio, Clutterbooks is the acceptable face of fringe literature in the town. This has inevitably led to some animosity from the proprietor of Cold Print over the years. Clive is a rabid consumer of fantasy, weird and science fiction and, as well as writing, editing and distributing his own RPG fanzine Culte des Clive, is the resident Dungeon Master for Copper Hill’s only gaming group. They currently play Barbarians & Bastilles (B&B) every Wednesday evening and all day Sunday.
Note: Verdun is the cousin of Ramsay FC manager Selwyn.

·        Divergence Records

Divergence is the brain child of ‘Electric’ Russell. Few know the true name of Electric Russell, or even whether Russell is his surname or Christian name, but they know his ability to source the most current and ground-breaking independent musical pioneers. Cabaret Voltaire, Gary Numan, Kraftwerk… all introduced to Ramsay by Electric Russell.

Rumour: Electric Russell’s real name is Russell Ross Russell.

The Black Pudding Inn

Several pubs litter the perimeter of the market square but the Black Pudding Inn is, by far, the dirtiest. Despite this, and perhaps because of the Landlord’s lax attitude to all manner of things, it is a popular haunt for a strange cross-section of Ramsay society that can tolerate the grime and sticky carpets for want of cheap, flat and sour beer, dispensed from electric taps by the ‘unfussy’ daughters of the proprietor. It has a killer juke-box however so tends to be popular with grubby bikers and local grebs.

  • The pickled eggs in The Black Pudding Inn are pre-war and, if consumed whole without chewing, will make you trip so hard that time flows backwards for 72 seconds every-time you fart the resultant foul egg-gas.

Bigby’s Gripping Flans

Barry Bigby’s bakery, it also sells sausage rolls and a new innovation in Ramsay called cheese straws!

Copper Hill Estate

Having no connection with copper and not being on a hill did nothing to dampen the spirits of the new tenants of Ramsay’s one and only council estate on its grand opening in 1967. On that day Don Estelle provided one of the town’s proudest days as he sang old favourites to the star struck residents long into the evening in the car park of The June Whitfield, the first new public house to open in the town since the short-lived Justice for Turing Memorial Bar opened (and closed) in June 1955.
The intervening years have not been kind to Copper Hill.

The Copper Hill Estate boasts two pubs:

The June Whitfield is the livelier of two pubs on the estate and was the brainchild of Landlady Mary Sparks, who bears an uncanny resemblance to the actual June Whitfield. She and the pub were once the subjects of an article in the Barrow Argus.

The Ship in a Bottle is where Jason works bar for Landlord ‘Greasy’ Eddie Langdale along with Barry ‘Langie’ Langdale, Eddie’s boy. The Ship is the only pub in Ramsay to have an all-male bar staff thanks to Greasy Eddie’s dubious personal hygiene and ‘busy hands’.  Regular patrons include Big Nose Derek, Skinny Bill Otterill and Boz.

The centre of the estate, The Quadrant (known locally as Quaddy, for example ‘I’m off down Quaddy to get some cans of Long Life’) hosts a parade of shops including:

Cerl Up & Die – Proprietor and head stylist Wendy ‘Honey’ Pott failed her CSE English exam but makes up for her astonishing thickness in other ways. In 1976 Wendy won the All Cumbria Hula Hoop Championship and is locally notorious for competing for Workington in the 1974 It’s a Knockout heats after the Ramsay team failed to progress through the preliminaries.

Ken’s Kozy Kafe – The knives and forks are chained to the tables and wiped with a greasy rag after use. It’s grim in general and made more so by the motorcycle gang that are its most regular patrons. Kenneth Leadbetter is the Ken of the title, his daughter Cindy runs with the bikers as a hanger-on.

Gavin’s Goods – The estate mini-mart and off-licence run by Gavin Hogarth is the chief source of sustenance and cheap booze on the estate. Gavin operates a nice little line in bizarre brands and non-specific perishables such as ‘Jardox’, ‘No. 11 Sugar, White 6 oz’ and ‘No. 342 Custard Cream Biscuits Pack of 12’. He also makes his own phenomenally strong and deeply unpleasant cider which he sells in Colliery Bitter bottles. They look like bottles of piss.

The Ramsay Museum of Bicycles and Salt

In truth a converted railway shed this ode to Ramsay’s industrial heritage is as sparse and pointless as the current state of industry.

The Willows Home for the Elderly and Infirm

The premier, and in truth only ‘retirement’ home for those of advanced years but diminished capacity in Ramsay. Presumably named for the two enormous weeping willow trees in the grounds this formerly salubrious country house was once a retreat for those from a wealthy background but prone to a ‘nervous disposition’. Before the war The Willows performed a function as a step-down care facility for wealthier patients released from Follyhill Hospital and post-war was used to rehabilitate traumatised soldiers returned from abroad. It was bought and renovated (cheaply) in 1970 by Paul ‘Shitty’ Wittey and converted for use as a Nursing Home for the elderly.

  • The manager of the Willows Home for the Elderly holds swingers parties there four times a year. He also has a room where he sets dementia sufferers to writing. No-one knows what though. 

Pabodie Park

A shit-hole of a park, with dilapidated swings, a small algae-ridden pond & dog shit in the sand pit. There is a Victorian conservatory with ugly fish and a parrot that screeches 'Tekeli-li, Tekeli-li'. The park is named after Professor Frank H Pabodie, an American engineer who spent three years living in Ramsay from 1915-1918 working on pioneering mining equipment, some of which survives to this day in the Ramsay Museum of Bicycles and Salt.

Saint Genevieve’s Hospital/Ramsay Royal Infirmary

In desperate need of renovation and restoration, Ramsay’s run-down hospital has for 40 years stood in partial ruin. In 1941 a lost Heinkel bomber dropped its entire load on Ramsay and, in the process, utterly demolished the majority of the original 1870s Saint Genevieve’s portion of the site. The Ramsay Royal Infirmary portion built in 1911 largely escaped the devastation. Nevertheless 40 patients and nurses lost their lives in the attack and the craters, mud and shattered masonry, although now overgrown, are their only monument. 

  • That advert on telly with the dark figure warning kids to stay away from pools of water and bomb-sites was filmed in Ramsay. The bloke who made it drowned round the back of the bombed out half of the Infirmary. 

Ramsay Terminus

The Ramsay Terminus railway station was built in 1896 and runs services to Workington and Whitehaven (via Workington). Since the closure Of B.A.C.C. the line is falling into disrepair and passenger services have been cut back. Since its heyday in the 1920s and 30s when the townsfolk flocked to the seaside attractions of Whitehaven the station has suffered decades of neglect and decay. The Stationmaster, ‘Old Man’ Whateley claims to have worked the platform 7 days a week since 1946 and still terrifies children and animals.

  • Old Man Whateley wasn’t born in Ramsay, but worked at the old RNAS Craggythorn base in WW2. What he saw there gave him his nervous tic. At the end of the war he convalesced in The Willows then got posted to the station to monitor ‘comings and goings.’ When the base closed in 1958 he stayed on as Stationmaster but still gets paid by the M.O.D. to ‘keep an eye out.’


Ramsay is the only town in Britain to have an entirely independent cable television company. Telefusion also provides the vast majority of the town’s tellies, mostly on a rental basis (50p slot activated). All the services are piped in to homes via a cable and the channels controlled via a cream box with a dial that goes from A to L, providing the mainstream TV channels and a number of radio stations.

The Telefusion Channel plays advertisements for local businesses, mostly Willis Ludlows, and broadcasts Ramsay Round & About, a local news show, every day at 7pm (immediately following the BBC’s Look North-West).


Telefusion (the town's cable TV and telly rental company) runs an extra channel, but you can only get it if you know someone 'at the top' of the company, and if they supply you with a dial that goes to 'M'.

The Pail of Offal Public House

The Prancing Tony

The Withered Arms

The Ancient Mariner

Named for the first man to have a bar tab in Ramsay this 17th century Coach House stands on the westerly approach to the town, its rear windows overlooking the Meir. An ancient camphor wood panelled chair called Christian’s Chair after famous Cumbrian Fletcher Christian, stands in a corner between the bar and the dusty, ash and cinder-littered hearth.
The pub is unusual in that it has no sign outside, but a genuine old gibbet.

Ramsay Meir

Although certainly not the largest freshwater lake in the region Ramsay Meir nevertheless covers hundreds of acres and is home to various wildlife, including gypsies and rusty old Long Life cans. A council drive to eradicate fly-tipping has resulted in some improvement to the shoreline closest to the town but it remains a far-off dream that it may one day become an attraction. A rickety and rotten row of moorings provide a haven for a handful of rentable boats but most are in as poor condition as their owner Eric Hardacre, a drunk who rarely ventures more than a few yards from his ramshackle hovel, characterised by its corrugated metal walls, filthy gables and yellowed, nicotine stained net curtains. His wife, Emily Hardacre, is seldom seen and their children long since left the town for the bright lights of Workington and Barrow.

Several small islands litter the Meir, the most prominent of which is Fiddler’s Isle, named for the odd habits of the original owner of the Follyhill Asylum for the Criminally Insane, Archibald Follyhill. Follyhill lived in a forbidding three storey town-house on the upper slopes of the more salubrious end of Ramsay. Follyhill House was bequeathed on the death of his only daughter to the poor, homeless and destitute of Ramsay.

  • There's a crashed flying saucer at the bottom of Ramsay Meir. The Meir is the deepest body of water in England so don't try and swim down to it. Someone from your school had a cousin who tried. He washed up a week later in somewhere called Hornsea.
  • The meir has a tidal stream.

Follyhill House

Since 1968 this grand Victorian pile has been a haven for Ramsay’s less fortunate individuals including Old Man Trippet, Two-Pence Man and Carla the Plastic Bag Woman. Despite the location Follyhill House is well tolerated by the more affluent neighbourhood in which it is located and, thanks to donations from local families and worthies, the residents are often the best dressed bums and hobos for miles around, if not the cleanest.

Ramsay Town FC

The ‘Velocipedes’ play in the Alliance Premier League at their venerable ground Bernard’s Shay, a Victorian era coliseum of shattered dreams and muddy disappointments.

 Current manager Selwyn Clutterbuck has a fearsome reputation in the dressing room. The team are sworn to secrecy regarding his methods but since taking the helm at Ramsay their rise, whilst not stratospheric, has been impressive.

  • A former Ramsay Town player, in conversation with ‘someone you know down the Pail of Offal’, claimed whilst inebriated that he played for Selwyn Clutterbuck’s previous club. At half-time during a crunch match a few years back Selwyn popped one of his eyes out, threw it at the club captain and spoke gibberish to the ceiling. It wasn’t a glass eye either. The team recovered from 3-0 down to win 14-2.
  • The first captain of Ramsay Town, Alf Tabworthy, buried the hearts of seven larks under the centre spot. A trilling nettle plant sprouts on every seventh anniversary of his death.
  • Every year, during mushroom season, the county’s best mushrooms will sprout in the early morning dew around the North end penalty area at Bernard’s Shay.

Follyhill Hospital

Formerly Follyhill Asylum for the Criminally Insane, Follyhill Hospital now performs the function of Ramsay Borough Asylum. Originally founded in 1883 by Archibald Follyhill the Victorian asylum is set in expansive grounds several miles west of Ramsay. The ‘Criminally Insane’ tag and function was removed shortly after the Great War when scientist and philanthropist Tillinghast McVitie commenced his pioneering experiments in behaviour modification at Darkmeir Prison.

Today Follyhill comprises several wards (Dementia, Continuing Care, Rehab and Acute Admission).  Overall responsibility for patient care falls to Dr xxxxx, who also runs regular outpatient clinics at Saint Genevieve’s.

Other Places Nearby


Beyond the Meir, along the steadily climbing B-road that terminates at RNAS Craggythorn is the small hamlet of Bethaven. Only two roads lead away from the Hamlet apart from the way in, one East (and could barely be called a road), and one North to the old MOD site.

Crakeknott Roman Fort

Reached by a treacherous, stony road leading east from Bethaven the scratchy remains of a Roman frontier fort stand atop a stump of a hill, commanding a view of the Meir and the valley in which Ramsay sits. Despite attempts to excavate over recent decades very little is known about the history of the site other than local hearsay and verbal histories about pagan, unchristian ceremonies conducted by the original builders. Inevitably this grips the imagination of local doom-laden and depressed teenagers.

  • Crakeknott Fort was never a fort, but a temple. It has been the site of 17 recorded suicides this century.
  • The Diddymen came from Ramsay. Once every four years they return and can be seen wandering around the roman fort outside Bethaven.

RNAS Craggythorn

This former MOD site to the south-east of Ramsay has been closed since 1958.

HMP Darkmeir

The original Darkmeir Prison was a Victorian ‘working’ prison where inmates would engage in hard labour to atone for their sins. During the war it served as a dual training and military prison, and included an adjacent POW camp from which German POWs were supervised conducting all manner of maintenance duties in the town. In 1947 Darkmeir hosted a pioneering social experiment in behaviour modification directed by restless sociologist and biscuit heir Tillinghast McVitie. Now HMP Darkmeir is a category D prison.

Bredhurst Woods
Several miles south of Ramsay lay the hundreds of acres of dense forest known as Bredhurst Woods, thought to date back to the ancient forests that covered Britain during the last Ice Age and mainly comprising of oak, birch and lime trees, some of considerable age. Much of the Ramsay facing forest occupies a vast escarpment that extends as far east as the southern end of RNAS Craggythorn. The forest heights are marked by the folly Bredhurst Pike which, on a clear day, can be seen rising above the trees in the densest and highest point of the canopy. Once past the peak the woods gently run downhill for miles before thinning at the wetlands of the basin occupied by Lower Dryfield. Michelle Duffy and her late father Jim moved into a country pile deep in the woods called, appropriately enough, Crook’s End.

Bredhurst Pike

Crook’s End


A few miles into the fringes of the south-eastern quadrant of Bredhurst Woods lays the village of Sleath. Dominated by the village pond and a leaning norman church Sleath is seldom visited by outsiders as the road through it leads nowhere, in fact it runs out a couple of miles further into the woods at an abandoned chalk quarry.



Lower Dryfield

Ramsay’s closest contemporary is 15 miles down the road, beyond Bredhurst Woods to the south. Although smaller than Ramsay the occupants have an in-bred arrogance that belies their corduroy teeth and wagging heads. Before their meteoric ascent up the lower leagues Ramsay Town’s chief rivals were Dryfield Athletic and for decades their two meetings per year were the fixtures that lit up the local football calendar, often with petrol. Since Ramsay Town’s hard-won successes the people of Lower Dryfield have festered with envy and take any opportunity they can to crow over any misfortunes Ramsay people may experience. The people there are thick, inbred and their cars do not run on wheels but on bricks. They tend to be ugly, have one arm longer than the other, drink from the fens upon which their shacks are built, lie compulsively about their educational achievements and generally stink of shit. 


  • In Lower Dryfield pigeons walk backwards


Six miles North-west of Ramsay lays the ancient, stricken town of Temphill. Divided by the same muddy river that feeds Ramsay, the west bank of Temphill is site of the High Street Church, the chief landmark and most prominent feature visible to one approaching from the weathered and unkempt road, lined with leaning, leaf-free trees that reach over the traveller like arthritic fingers.
The black steeple of the church looks down through pallid gravestones upon High Street where stands a leaning porched, peeling bricked, dingy windowed hotel and its neighbours, a group of dilapidated, gabled three-storey houses, one of which has partially collapsed. The lower floor remains intact, a sign in the mud-spattered window marking it as Poole’s General Store.
A skeletal bridge stands opposite spanning the sluggish, brown river. The road it supports leads to the grey warehouses of Bridge Lane before giving way to lanes of tatty dwellings where scattered, unkempt children stare from green stained doorsteps or from where they play in puddles of orange mud on patches of waste ground.
Temphill is seldom visited by accident as it is on the way to precisely nowhere. Yet neighbouring townspeople know it by reputation. Grandmothers scold children by threatening to take them to Temphill to see ‘the things dancing on the graves.’

  • All the people in Temphill were put there as part of a government experiment.