Coombe Hill

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The Coombe Hill Serpent puppet
Game The Secret of Coombe Hill
Storyguide Andrew Oakley
Length 2 hours
Players 18-25 (can be run with 12 with some loss of plot strands)
Suitability Any
Prerequisities This game ideally requires 2 storyguides and an NPC "serpent" (puppeteer?). Note that this game uses custom cut-down rules based on ArM5, adapted for live play without dice.
Pre-rolled characters available? Yes



Gloucestershire, 1365. A monstrous serpent is attacking the quiet hamlet of Coombe Hill, between Tewkesbury and the tiny village of Cheltenham.

Cheltenham, 1826. A group of Spa trade investors are considering plans for a canal tunnel under Coombe Hill. Meanwhile, an evangelical new Rector and a revolutionary leatherworker are stirring up a riot among a group of disenfranchised labourers, farmhands and shepherds.

People will get bitten. Magi will connect across the centuries. Water fountains will somehow be burned down. Cheltenham's solitary constable will be claiming some serious overtime.

Up the workers! Down the toffs! Beware the serpent! And, I want to talk to you about ducts...


Now the event is over, you can download the entire pack of all character handouts, secrets, plot, rules, order of play etc. from:

The game was created by Andrew Oakley and is public domain. You can copy, edit and adapt it without having to ask for permission, but a credit to and Andrew Oakley would be nice.

Rules and play

A freeform is a variant of Live Action Role-playing (LARP) with no physical contact.

Coombe Hill is a very short game, only 2 hours long. A more typical freeform or LARP would last a minimum of 4 hours, more typically 6-10. The main goal for this game is as an icebreaker for the convention.

This game uses a cut-down set of Ars Magica 5 rules, specifically adapted for live play without dice. Note that powerful magic costs vis in the cut-down rule for this freeform


We created a serpent puppet using duct pipe, such as this available from ToolStation for £6, plus a card nose cone covered in white duct tape. Garden canes with lobster-claw keyrings were used as puppet rods, which could be attached or detached from split keyrings pushed into the serpent's body. Flaps of folded duct tape provided removable "scales" that could act as Arcane Connections.

The Coombe Hill Serpent puppet
The Coombe Hill Serpent puppet, as demonstrated by Annabel and Beatrice Oakley
I want to talk to you about ducts
Little Miss Layla March (merinita) casts Rego Animal on the Coombe Hill Serpent
Scotch whiskey magnate MacTanner (Leif) negotiates with the Coombe Hill Serpent
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