(All artwork on this page is by Amanda Lee Franck)
The Between is a tabletop roleplaying game about a group of mysterious monster hunters in Victorian-era London. They are residents of a place called Hargrave House, and their job is to investigate and neutralize monstrous threats terrorizing the city—threats that Scotland Yard won’t or can’t handle themselves. As the story progresses, they become aware of the plans of a Moriarty-style criminal mastermind they will eventually have to face in order to save Queen and country.
The Between is directly inspired by the gothic horror TV show, Penny Dreadful, but also takes a lot of inspiration from British horror classics, graphic novels like From Hell and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and pulp-era stories. Mechanically, it’s Powered by the Apocalypse but also uses the mystery system from Brindlewood Bay.
If you’ve read or played Brindlewood Bay, then you already have a good idea of how this game works. The Keeper presents a mystery (called a Threat in The Between) and the player characters then conduct an investigation: they gather clues that will help them solve the mystery and put a stop to the menace in question. Making the transition from Brindlewood Bay to The Between is very easy, but there are still some unique gameplay elements and surprises in The Between—all of them designed to create a distinctly cinematic playstyle.
There is one type of mystery in Brindlewood Bay: Who committed this murder? The Between expands the gameplay to include many different types of mysteries: How old is this vampire? Where is this killer’s lair? What can put this ghost to rest? What type of victim does this killer prefer? Is this fish-like monster a hoax? And much more. It does this through a new feature called Questions & Opportunities. The hunters use Clues to answer a Question, which then unlocks an Opportunity. The Opportunities are usually some method of stopping the Threat, but they can be other things, too. Here’s an example of the Questions & Opportunities from The St. James’s Street Ghost:
The biggest structural change from Brindlewood Bay is that The Between uses a Day/Night phase structure for its gameplay. There are two major phases of play, Day and Night, plus two short upkeep/planning phases, Dawn and Dusk. The Day phase is meant to feel unhurried, even languid; it’s the players’ chance to do what they want to do in the story, and the Keeper should do their best to follow the players’ leads. The hunters can conduct investigations, have intimate scenes with other hunters, or simply show us what their character’s life is like away from Hargrave House. The Night phase is altogether different: it’s fast-paced, feral, and dangerous. Put another way, the Night belongs to the Keeper; the players get to say what they want their characters to do during the Night phase, but the Keeper may have different ideas. The Night is when the monstrous Threats make their moves: striking back at Hargrave House and sowing terror throughout the city.
The Between introduces a gameplay concept that is completely original—no other TTRPG has anything like it. It’s called the Unscene. The idea is that the city of London is a living, breathing place, with a life all its own outside the dark work of Hargrave House. We explore London via the Unscene, which is a scene that runs in parallel to the hunter scenes during the Night phase. We bounce back and forth between the Unscene and the hunter scenes, possibly connecting them thematically, but always staying focused on painting a picture of London that is vivid and throbbing and real. The end result is a story that is highly cinematic—it’s truly like watching a really great episode of television. Here’s an example Unscene:
Brindlewood Bay introduced an entirely new meta-mechanic called Putting on a Crown, wherein, in exchange for sharing a bit of the character’s backstory or showing their private life, the player received a fictional do-over—something terrible could happen as the result of a die roll but the player could alter the outcome by “putting on” either the Crown of the Queen or the Crown of the Void. I could write a whole blog post about this mechanic, but for now, just know that I have expanded the concept significantly in The Between. In The Between, we call the equivalent mechanic the Janus Mask. The Janus Mask is divided into multiple parts: the players always have access to the Mask of the Past and the Mask of the Future, but there are Threat-specific aspects of the mask, too. And unlike the Crowns in Brindlewood Bay, the Mask of the Past and the Mask of the Future are unique to each character, which leads to incredibly deep, rich, cinematic storytelling.
An important idea in The Between is that the hunters are mysterious. We never speak about their pasts—in or out of character—if we can help it, instead learning about these things during specific moments in the gameplay. There are multiple ways this can be done, but the Mask of the Past and its flashbacks are the central one. Here is the Mask of the Past for The American playbook:
The Between has seven different playbooks—six that can be chosen at the start and one that enters play at a later time. The playbooks are a mix of character types drawn from the works that inspired the game.
The Vessel is a magic user; they allow dark, supernatural entities to enter their body in order to fuel powerful rituals. Throughout the game, you learn about their history with these dark entities as well as their time with a coven of witches that tried to use their talents for evil ends. The Vessel can perform dark rites, use divination tools, conduct investigations by drawing supernatural entities to them, and more. Play the Vessel if you want to explore dark rituals and what it feels like to be in control of dangerous things.
The Explorer is a member of the upper class. They made their name and fortune mapping the unexplored parts of the world for the Crown. They are also the rival of the criminal mastermind Hargrave House will eventually have to face. Throughout the game, you’ll be exploring the story of a young man whose village was terrorized by the Explorer when the Explorer was camped there during an expedition. Play the Explorer if you want to move in elite social circles, use money and other resources to solve problems, and be a rival to the game’s main antagonist.
The American is a gun-slinger from America’s Wild West. They grew up with great privilege but abandoned it for frontier life. Along the way, they picked up a curse that sometimes changes them into a feral beast. Throughout the game you’ll be exploring how they came to leave their privileged life and why they eventually fled to London. The American is an excellent shot, a terrific storyteller, a master of disguise, and more. Play the American if you want to solve problems with violence or if you’re interested in being an outsider.
The Mother is a highly-talented doctor and scientist. They lost someone they love and are using that heartbreak to fuel their creation: a person crafted from the body parts of other people, given life by experimental, alchemical processes. Throughout the game, you will be exploring their past with the person they lost, and why they were driven to create a new form of life. Play the Mother if you want to use science and medicine to solve problems, or if you want to delight in blood and guts.
The Undeniable is an immortal being of incomparable physical beauty. They have been worshipped as a god for much of their lives and a cult dedicated to them is active in London. Throughout the game, you’ll be learning about the artistic masterwork that bears the scars of the Undeniable’s wickedness, as well as their history with the artist who created it. Play the Undeniable if you want to be extremely powerful, occasionally villainous, and focused on sensory experiences.
The Factotum is a servant of one of the other hunters. They are a highly skilled operator—resourceful and practical. When the other hunters are mired in darkness, the Factotum is busy getting the job done. Throughout the game, you’ll explore their professional past and how they came to be a servant. Play the Factotum if you want to be highly effective or if you want to explore what it’s like to have your personal goals and dignity subsumed by another’s.
The Orphan (Playbook)
The Orphan is a special playbook that isn’t immediately available to us; it is unlocked after certain conditions on The Mother playbook are met.
Monster hunters need monsters to hunt, and that’s where the Threats come in. The game comes with ten Threats: six standard Threats and four special Threats associated with specific playbooks.
The St. James’s Street Ghost
The Beales of 18 St. James’s Street are in a terrible predicament: their townhouse is being terrorized by a malignant spirit. The ghost has already taken the life of their maid, and it seems no one in the house is safe so long as the haunting continues. Hargrave House investigates in order to learn how to quiet the ghost so it can pass into the next world. They may also learn how to make contact with ghosts, a feat that may prove helpful in future investigations.
The Limehouse Lurker
Bodies are turning up in Limehouse, completely drained of blood. Hargrave House knows it’s a vampire, but something about the initial report indicates the undead monster has the physical body of a child. An old vampire must be dealt with in a very different way from a young vampire, and so Hargrave House must initially determine if the vampire is truly adolescent or if it’s actually an ancient being in a small body.
A killer is stalking the streets of London. Their calling card? The victim’s faces have been removed with surgical precision. Panic sets in across the city, with some believing the killer is Sally No-Face, an urban legend reborn. Scotland Yard has had no luck capturing the perpetrator, and so Hargrave House steps in. But which approach to take? Finding the killer’s lair? Drawing the killer to them? Learning what makes the killer tick in order to bring them in peacefully?
The Whateley Camera
A young actress went missing after being photographed by the Society Obscura, a secretive club for photography enthusiasts. Hargrave House cares less about missing actresses than something in the Society’s possession: the Whateley Camera, a known object of power said to contain the consciousness of a powerful extra dimensional being. Recovering the Whateley Camera and discovering how it acts as a portal to another world is a matter of the utmost urgency.
The Creature of Cremorne Gardens
A number of people report being terrorized by a “fish-like man” in and around the Cremorne pleasure gardens. Rumors suggest the creature can even lure people to a watery doom with the use of a hypnotic song. Hargrave House investigates to determine if the fish man is actually real, or simply a hoax perpetrated by someone with a financial incentive to see Cremorne Gardens fail.
Pie maker Titus Figg is arrested after it’s revealed his famous Figg’s Pigg pie contains human meat. Titus’s three family members—wife La Hortencia, eldest son Obert the Blade, and youngest son Patrick—managed to escape capture, and Scotland Yard has asked Hargrave House to help track them down. The loose Figgs are extremely dangerous, and pursuing them will force Hargrave House to face a level of darkness and depravity they have only imagined before, to say nothing of the pagan swine god, Moc’h.
The Coven is a special Threat that only enters play after certain conditions are met on The Vessel playbook.
The Cursed is a special Threat that only enters play after certain conditions are met on The American playbook.
The Pinkerton is a special Threat that only enters play after certain conditions are met on The American playbook.
The Orphan (Threat)
The Orphan is a special Threat that only enters play after certain conditions are met on The Mother playbook.
A criminal mastermind is pulling the strings behind the scenes, possibly manipulating the various Threats in order to enact a grand plan to bring down the monarchy and the entire British empire. Hargrave House will eventually have to reckon with them.
The Mastermind is The Between’s campaign framework. The hunters become increasingly aware of the Mastermind’s machinations as they resolve Threats. This growing awareness will eventually lead to a confrontation with the Mastermind, which represents the final, grand Threat to overcome.
The Mastermind sheet gives the Keeper everything they need to organize this campaign aspect of the game: relevant details for the Mastermind, including their backstory and servants; a place for the Keeper to take notes about the campaign; a five-layer campaign progression, with the threshold for each layer unlocking new aspects of the Mastermind whenever crossed; and a list of Mastermind Clues. The game comes with one Mastermind: the ruthless mercantilist and former pirate queen, Theodora Brathwaite.