Class Breakdown: The Hound

The Hound is one of the classes from Heart, our upcoming RPG. Check out the Kickstarter here – at time of writing we’re in our last 48 hours.

In the past: the 33rd Regiment were sent down to pacify the Heart by a mad warrior-poet from the City Above. Of the nine hundred or so enlisted soldiers who set off, three hundred survived. Surrounded by forces beyond their understanding and on the verge of total destruction, the surviving officers did what they could to save their troops – and they did something terrible. 

Now: there are three hundred badges, each marked with the name of the original hero who carried it; when you steal one, or have it bestowed upon you, you join the Hounds – the new name of the 33rd, protectors of the fragile populace of the Heart – and you carry the weight of their deeds on your shoulders. 

You hear tell that some of the original three hundred are still out there, still wearing their badges. You’ve heard of Hounds holding back the darkness alone, withstanding tremendous amounts of punishment, defending havens for days on end without sleep or food. 

The Hounds draw on one another, and the people of the Heart, for strength. So long as someone draws breath in the City Beneath, they cannot be destroyed; this is their gift, and their curse.

CORE ABILITY

The core ability of the Hounds, IN THE THICK OF IT, does two things: firstly, it lets you mark stress to Fortune rather than any other resistance. Secondly, when you take fortune fallout, you roll with mastery for the remainder of the situation.

Hounds are unable to gain Fortune protection; they’re a perpetual underdog and bear the brunt of the worst luck that the Heart has to throw at them. Their core gives them a way to super-charge their abilities in exchange for getting in over their heads, and puts them in a cycle of perpetually not having everything under control.

ABILITIES

Hounds are tough. The UNSTOPPABLE ability lets you get more dangerous the more you’re hurt, and shrug off trifling problems like broken legs or sucking chest wounds; STARE DOWN turns your gaze into a weapon, filling your adversaries with terror. 

Like the Incarnadine, Hounds are more concerned with people and havens than the other classes. A lot of their minor abilities come with once-per-session tricks that let them find shelter or work out who’s threatening the inhabitants of a settlement; CONDEMN, a major ability, lets the Hound gather evidence and name someone as a wanted criminal, which spells doom for them. 

My current favourite minor ability for the Hound is OUR GLORIOUS LADY, which gives them access to the Religion domain, and lets them heal another character once per session as they beseech their goddess for aid.

ZENITH

Once you pick up the badge and you rise to power, one of two things happen:

Your first option is to be subsumed into the immortal gestalt consciousness of desperate soldiers that is the 33rd, and over a series of weeks you’ll physically change into one of the founding members of the regiment, the original owner of your badge – a legendary hero with their own motives and agenda. But before you go for good, maybe the 33rd can do you a favour for returning their fallen comrade to them.

Your second option is to forge your own legend worthy of the Hounds and change the name written on your badge to your own, overwriting the previous owner. Now filled with tremendous power from the hopes and fears of every person living in the Heart, you are capable of great things – but you are more than flesh and bone, and suddenly have bigger concerns to attend to than your own petty desires.

INSPIRATIONS

We took a while to find our way with the Hound.

Initially, they weren’t at all arcane – they were just people with guns who tried to keep the Heart safe, channelling cops and soldiers and the like into one broad class with a lot of situational abilities. It wasn’t great to play, and next to Junk Mages and Deep Apiarists it was easy to feel like they just weren’t special enough.

We did a lot of thinking, and we ended up with a Paladin. Not a Paladin of a god, mind, but a Paladin of people’s desperate, frantic desire to survive in a world that wants to kill them. An agent of that collective obsession who draws power from it as they foster its growth. There’s a lot of Vimes from Discworld in there, but without any of Pratchett’s trademark subtlety; there’s also a good deal of Ray Winstone in any role Ray Winstone’s ever played, because Chris has a soft spot for morally-grey characters who simmer with terrifying malice.

So: now they’re slightly outside of the realms of mortal power, and that gives us a bit of room to design some more interesting abilities for them that would have pushed the limits of credibility before. All their supernatural abilities are coincidental; you could write them off as toughness, determination, luck or intimidation. 

They’re still mortal, and still punching way above their weight, keeping an eye out for the little guy. They just have a mystical force made up of three hundred eternal protectors to back them up, now.

You can back the Heart RPG, and download a Quickstart Edition of the rules, on our Kickstarter page – we’re in the last 48 hours of the campaign!

Class Breakdown: The Deadwalker

The Deadwalker is one of the classes from Heart, our upcoming RPG. Check out the Kickstarter here.

The iconic Deadwalker is a gnoll, showing that the City Beneath has few of the prejudices or laws of Spire.

The walls between worlds are thin in the Heart, and the difference between life and death is simply a matter of perspective. Having narrowly escaped their own demise, the Deadwalker uses their tattered soul to break into the afterlife – and they can lead others there too. It’s not always a good idea, but the Eight Heavens hold treasures and wisdom beyond the understanding of mortals, so they’ve managed to make a career out of it.

What’s more, they’re followed around by their own death in the form of a monstrous spectre that only they can see – sometimes it helps them out of trouble, in order to protect its investment. It has a vested interest in keeping them alive until the conditions for their death are perfect.

CORE ABILITY

BACK DOOR TO HEAVEN is the Deadwalker’s core ability, and it lets them open portals into fractures – interdimensional landmarks that aren’t tied to any particular tier. These fractures are the afterlives of those people who’ve lived and died in Heart, or very good copies of them. The Deadwalker is there for players who want to double down on the wonder in Heart, and unlock unearthly spaces to explore and marvel at. 

There’s a sensible way to get into every afterlife, which generally involves ritual, costume, and tricking whatever guardians or wards protect the place into letting them pass. But: there’s a quick way too, a brick through the window of heaven or a battering ram smashed against hell’s back door, which is dangerous and costly and, a lot of Deadwalkers agree, significantly more exciting.

ABILITIES

The major abilities of the Deadwalker lean heavily into weirdo ghost magic; they can wear their death like a funeral shroud to turn insubstantial and float above the ground, possess others by forcing the spectre into their head, fill an area with terrifying phantasms to dishearten their enemies or fight back-to-back with a manifestation of their impending doom.

Many of their minor advances allow access to one of the heavens via their core ability, which include:

  • THE GRAIL ROAD, afterlife of the human kingdoms to the east, a desolate road of packed dirt and weary, insubstantial pilgrims
  • THE SLUMBERING DEPTHS, aelfir hell, a great submerged kelp forest where those graceless enough to die are trapped
  • THE PALACE MULTIFACETED, Incarnadine heaven, a twisting hotel where paradise is not eternal and definitely not free
  • THE MOON GARDEN, the tranquil silver heaven of the drow of Spire, and THE DARK CITY that waits outside it, watching

ZENITH

How can you kill a place? Sometimes, due to black magic, great tragedy or the strange machinations of the Heart Itself, locations in the City Beneath can become corrupted and dangerous and nightmare creatures can crawl out of them – feral psychopomps, blind arbiters, amalgamate souls of the damned, and so on. Sometimes they need to be stopped for good.

The Deadwalker can, as a zenith ability, travel to the core of a place – the very spiritual centre of it – and bring it a swift and painless death (or a drawn-out and cruel one, but it’s rarely the place’s fault). After that, the landmark will wither and die; people will leave, buildings will crumble, and the name of it will leave the thoughts of mortals. Of course, someone has to stay to watch over the corpse of the place to ensure that no-one reawakens it – and the Deadwalker must stand a silent and eternal vigil to keep the world safe.

INSPIRATIONS

The Deadwalker is, at their core, a ranger. We wanted a class that could handle exploration, and I’ve been quietly obsessed with doorways to other dimensions ever since I read The Subtle Knife as a kid. Something about locations that don’t map to rational space really inspires me, and we thought it would be fun to make a whole class about it now we have the chance. One of the greatest joys of playing a Vermissian Sage in Spire was opening a door to the train network where there wasn’t one before, leading enemies into a fight on your terms (or fleeing them more effectively). We’ve got this with the Deadwalker too, and I can envision all sorts of cool escape scenes as they hurriedly magic a portal to some metaphysical back room whilst running at full pelt down the streets of a ruined city. 

We’ve messed with the animal companion of the ranger class, too – instead of a big wolf or a tiger or something, you’re followed around by a non-specific aspect of your own death that only you can see. Does it look like a ghost? A dead version of you? Your kid sister who went missing all those years ago? A dog made out of shadows and eyes? A flickering, stuttering blur of potential energy? It’s up to you.  We drew inspiration from Wraith, Geist and Better Angels – all games where something inhuman sits in your head and gives you terrible advice.

The other big thing about the Deadwalker is our obsession with non-standard heavens, which are really just parallel dimensions if you think about it (but not too hard); we got a chance to give players some really weird places to explore, but by putting them in control of a player character, they become opt-in rather than coming as standard. We’ve had a lot of fun working out what different cultures in the universe of Heart view as a good or bad afterlife, and what that says about them as a people.

You can back the Heart RPG, and download a Quickstart Edition of the rules, on our Kickstarter page.

Class breakdown: The Vermissian Knight

The Vermissian Knight is one of the classes from Heart, our upcoming RPG. Check out the Kickstarter here.

The Vermissian is cursed. Intended as a revolutionary mass transit system within the city – the first in the world of its kind – the creators attempted to pierce the Heart Itself in order to power its engines, and unleashed a nightmare unreality throughout the dark corners of Spire. Within the bounds of the Vermissian, time and space come unstuck – but it provides limitless potential for those brave enough to explore it.

The Vermissian Knights are brave enough to explore it. They are protectors, avengers and guides for those who would step into the thrice-damned tunnels; they wear uncanny powered armour made from repurposed train parts, and channel the network’s loose grasp on reality into strange technologies.

CORE ABILITY

The Vermissian Knight used to have the core ability SHORTCUT, which made delving quicker. But it felt unbalanced, and also cut out quite a lot of the fun part of the game, so after playtesting we decided to swap it out. Having spent a while talking about what was the core image of the Knight, we kept coming back to their armour – hulking, semi-powered, repurposed and mysterious. We made it their core power.

Now, with VERMISSIAN PLATE, the Knight can consume resources with the Occult or Technology domain – presumably by repairing it with them or just shoving them into the furnace – to power it up once per session. You can find full details of this in the Quickstart game, but suffice to say it lets you, for example, burn the pages of a magic tome inside your suit and wreath yourself in shadowed energy to gain the Sneak skill, or ignite the parasite-ridden bark of the Blighted to release the resonance within and smash apart your enemies.

ABILITIES

Want to kill big things? The Vermissian Knight has an ability specifically devoted to that! DRAGON KILLER improves your damage and defence against anything that’s significantly larger than you, and in the Heart, lots of things are significantly larger than you. Upgrade it enough and you can summon a particular monster that’s hunting you – it’s still hunting you, but it might well kill some of your other problems along the way. 

AETHERIC FIELD protects you from the weird energies of the City Beneath, and allows you to reroute ambient power into augmenting your attacks or overwhelm adversaries with waves of force. ECHOING RAILS allows you to find back doors to the Vermissian – even if they weren’t there when you previously checked – and access moving haunts to heal your wounds and gain respite. GUARDIAN puts you into a classic knightly role; you become better at defending something, no matter what that is, and you inspire those around you to greatness.

ZENITH

We wrote the Vermissian Knight first, and the first Zenith power we wrote for them is THE LAST TRAIN, which informed a great deal of the rest of the abilities in the game. Using THE LAST TRAIN summons The Last Train – the only remaining functional locomotive on the Vermissian network, which is unable to ever stop and is only loosely steerable – and it smashes apart everything in the area. Here it is:

There are others, too; becoming electricity and blinking between Technology landmarks, or punching with the power of a flat-out engine, but THE LAST TRAIN is the one that really sums up the Knight for us.

INSPIRATIONS

Okay so:

Take a Paladin. (Paladins get a bad rap, I reckon.) Remove the whole “god” bit and replace it with a furious desire to protect people; to impose structure and understanding on a world that defies it. Combine that Paladin with Iron Man, because powered armour is cool. Channel the Vermissian Sage class from Spire into it, so none of the technology works properly and no-one understands how it functions, and tinge everything with the occult.

That’s the Vermissian Knight. The big turning point on was seeing Felix’s art – we knew that the Knight was cool, but seeing the dude in armour looking battered and faintly sci-fi really sealed the deal. Have I mentioned, also, how I’ve been playing Warhammer 40,000 for the last twenty years, and always been quietly fascinated with the blend of high-tech and low-tech that that game has? Maybe you can see my obsession in the Knight.

The Knight is easy to play; they’re a knight, and knights hit things and protect people. (In roleplaying games, at least. The less said about knights in real life the better.) They’re the Fighter class, for want of a better word, and they do the protecting and hitting that Fighters do, but they also have a special domain that’s all their own – the Vermissian. More than any other class, the Vermissian Knight allows the player to claim spotlight time and show off their abilities.

You can back the Heart RPG, and download a Quickstart Edition of the rules, on our Kickstarter page.

Class breakdown – The Incarnadine

The Incarnadine is one of the classes from Heart, our upcoming RPG. Check out the Kickstarter here.

The Incarnadine is a priest of the goddess of debt. Incarne, as she is known, attracts few willing followers – instead, lives of cruelty and thoughtlessness accrue a karmic debt, and she will come calling for her due. Most of those she singles out die from sheer misfortune; Incarnadines ride the wave of debt and seek to master it, to turn the threads of want and desperation against their enemies, and to – maybe one day – pay off what they owe.

CORE ABILITIES 

There are two abilities that all Incarnadines share:

Firstly, they increase the value of all resources that they trade at landmarks. This isn’t terribly exciting, but it is useful, and it can keep a party going on long treks into the Heart.

Secondly, they explode upon death. Given the nightmarish web of profit and loss that most Incarnadines weave around themselves, they accrue quite a lot of enemies – more than they could ever hope to defend themselves against. To that end, every Incarnadine is blessed by their goddess with a metaphysical explosive wired around their heart – should it stop beating, it explodes. This forms a sort of mutually-assured destruction agreement between Incarnadines, which allows them to function as a series of warring feudal societies in the Red Market.

ABILITIES

Incarnadines mainly function around desire and debt; they’re not fighters, nor are they pulling off the occult weirdness of the Deep Apiarist or the Junk Mage. CRAVE, for example, instills a mad desire for an object of the caster’s choosing in the target, and can be upgraded to make it permanent or viral. KARMIC LEDGER shows a target’s greatest debt against another person – and Incarne is broad in her definition of the word “debt,” so it might refer to someone whose son they killed, and so on. When you offer up their soul to Incarne, you can remove stress – but it also sets up a lot of stories, and gives you leverage over characters to get what you want.

Incarnadines are the most socially-focused of all the character classes in Heart – they wouldn’t be out of place in a Spire campaign, really. If you’re interested in dealing with the unique weirdos of the City Beneath in a talking, rather than a stabbing, sort of way, you’ll enjoy the Incarnadine.

(That said: they can fight, too. BACKSTAB allows them to tear it up so long as their opponents aren’t aware of their movements, and DEBTOR’S REDS gives them a set of vestments that inflict harm on their opponents just by looking at them.)

ZENITH ABILITIES

The ultimate expressions of the Incarnadine’s powers are threefold: ULTIMATE CREDIT, which lets you buy anything; ULTIMATE DEBIT, which lets you drop the full weight of Incarne’s displeasure on any target of your desire; and ULTIMATE REWARD. Unlike every other Zenith ability, ULTIMATE REWARD lets you retire safely from the game. It guarantees you a happy ending – you will die years from now, surrounded by your loved ones. But will you take it, when you could own anything you desire?

INSPIRATIONS

Those of you who read or played Spire will see the link between Incarnadines and Azurites – the  blue-robed priests of trade and cash who ran the Blue Market in the City Above. In many ways, the Incarnadines are a dark mirror to the Azurites; whereas the Azurite can fathom out exactly what a target wants and find it for them, the Incarnadine cuts out the middleman and rewires their target’s brain to tell them what they want. The sacred robes of Azur protect their wearer, and the sacred robes of Incarne harm their enemies. 

An Azurite, illustrated by Adrian Stone

Aside from just taking the Azurite and making them grim, the Incarnadine also ticks off our desire to make everything in Heart slightly reprehensible and slightly pathetic. They’re all being punished for things they definitely did wrong, whether they knew it at the time or not – and their goddess isn’t a kind or loving goddess, or even really on their side. She’s the manifestation of a cosmic bureaucracy that no-one really understands, and some days, we all feel like we’re part of that, don’t we?

You can back the Heart RPG, and download a Quickstart Edition of the rules, on our Kickstarter page.

Kickstarter, Heart and the union

So, let’s talk about Kickstarter.

When we were preparing to launch the Heart campaign, the news broke about Kickstarter’s alleged union-busting activities, including the firing of two employees who were active in attempting to organise.

At the time, that prompted us – along with a lot of other creators – to seriously consider our position. Some people took the decision to delay or cancel launches; others pointed out that boycotting before a union is formed can be actively harmful to organisation efforts, as the instability plays into the hands of management, who can then paint organisers as adversaries rather than engaging in good faith.

We came to the conclusion that the most important thing to do was to listen to the people who are directly affected by the issue – current and former staff, those who are still trying to unionise – and take our cue from them. They said, on Twitter, that they were not formally calling for a boycott. So we made the call to go ahead, but to clearly state that we stand in solidarity with the nascent union, to sign the petition to support them, and to do what they recommended – which at the time was not to abandon planned or live projects.

Last night, news broke on the Current Affairs site of a discussion that their editor had with the Kickstarter CEO. From the statement, which was later posted along with an FAQ on the Kickstarter blog, it appears that the company will continue to oppose the formation of a union. This is obviously extremely disappointing to all of us, and we know that many people, both creators and backers, will choose to withdraw their funding from the platform. 

However, we still believe that the most important voices in this situation are the ones that are currently the least heard: we want to know what the workers organising the union need from us, and since the tweet embedded above – at the time of writing – there has been no update. There has not been a union election yet, and we know that early action can be deeply damaging to organisation efforts; it’s not entirely clear what the demands are that accompany the boycott, given there is currently no union to be recognised. So we have reached out to the organisers both by email and on Twitter, and we hope that they will update or reiterate their advice for creators. We encourage you, as the CEO suggests in his blog post and as we have done, to email thoughts@kickstarter.com and tell them your opinions. While we understand (and feel!) the desire to act immediately, we do not want to cause harm while meaning well, so we are waiting for an update from the organisers before taking further action.

That said: if your personal moral stance is that you do not wish to give any of your money to Kickstarter right now, we entirely understand and support your decision. We are working with Backerkit to ensure we can launch our pre-order store there as fast as possible once our campaign ends, and we will be updating everyone via our social media accounts and our email newsletter when pre-orders go live. Another option is to back at the lowest £1 level, meaning you will still have access to all our updates and will be automatically grandfathered in to the Backerkit in a way that enables you to upgrade your pledges later without giving a larger fee to Kickstarter. To support that choice, we will make it possible for Kickstarter backers to upgrade to custom content levels in Backerkit for at least the first two weeks post-launch – that might push our schedule back a little, but it means if you want to back at a high level but don’t want to give Kickstarter a cut, backing at £1 will give you the option of an upgrade later.

Assuming the union does not call for a boycott, this is the approach we will follow. However, if the union does call for a boycott to begin before our campaign is scheduled to end, we will take down the current Kickstarter project and re-start it elsewhere. At the moment our best next option appears to be Indiegogo, and we’re getting everything prepped to launch there if we need to. If this happens it will be severely disruptive, and will cost us a great deal more in terms of time, effort and money than it will cost Kickstarter by comparison. Our business is tiny in terms of Kickstarter’s funding, but Heart is the biggest project we have ever worked on; it’s been in the works for 18 months, and at its current level it could fund our next two years of development. It’ll be difficult to get books out on the original plan, and it will require us to fund again, which means asking all of you to get out your bank cards and engage with a whole different website in order to get your books. That, honestly, would suck.

But it would also be the right thing to do, and we’re prepared for it. We stand by our principles, and we believe in supporting people who are trying to organise for better and more equitable working conditions. We are frankly astonished that Kickstarter, a public benefit corporation seeking to do good in the world, would set fire to its reputation and damage its communities of workers, creators and backers simultaneously in such a short-sighted way. We do not support the company’s actions.

Most importantly, we stand in solidarity with Kickstarter workers. When they tell us how best to support them, we will act accordingly. Until then, we’re watching.

Class Breakdown: The Junk Mage

The Junk Mage is one of the classes from Heart, our upcoming RPG. Check out the Kickstarter here.

There is power in the Heart; ancient power, not quite asleep and not quite awake, burrowed in the red heaven beneath the earth. Gods sealed away for their crimes; extradimensional entities taking advantage of the tattered walls between the worlds; great sorcerers of ages past, now immortalised and far, far from the people they once were. Limitless potential, roiling away out of sight.

The Junk Mage is going to steal it. The Junk Mage – the sort of wizard who’s hooked on bad magic, the sort of wizard who makes up spells as they go along, the sort of wizard whose brain itches with scintillating madness – siphons off power from otherworldly sources and hopes they don’t notice. The risks are great, but what power comes without risk?

CORE ABILITIES

The Junk Mage works better when they’re slightly insane. If they have four or more Mind stress, they roll with mastery when using magic to achieve their aims. Seeing how fluid the fiction is in Heart, “using magic to achieve their aims” is a pretty broad category. We want to encourage players to show off how weird their characters are by drawing magic into their descriptions; a Junk Mage using the Mend skill, for example, could whisper broken items and bones back together, leaving spectral spiderweb over the pieces. Or set them alight, and have a new, repaired version emerge from the ashes and smoke. Mechanically, it’s the same as sitting down with some glue and string, but it’s up to you how magical you want your character to be.

So: by holding on to a little bit of Mind stress, but not suffering fallout, they do better at their jobs. This puts them into a knife-edge balance where they’ll want to freak themselves out a bit – expose themselves to the unnatural and strange – and then channel the stress into power.

They also get access to SACRIFICE, which allows them to destroy Occult resources in order to placate their – well, patrons isn’t the phrase, more “the beings that they’re stealing power from.” Consuming appropriate resource allows them to gain protection on their next magical action, allowing them to avoid taking stress and operate more reliably, at a cost.

ABILITIES

Junk Mages are, fundamentally, warlocks. (Just over half of the classes in Heart are warlocks, if you squint.) We wanted to use this as an opportunity to talk about the powers beyond the veil in the world of Heart; the big stuff that’s happening off-screen, and not central to the Heart vs Real World conflict that’s at the core of the game.

So: the Junk Mage uses elemental magic. Fire, Water, and Earth – we couldn’t come up with anything interesting enough for Air, so it got cut. The entity for Fire is some kind of unreal beyond-space-and-time red dragon; the entity for Water is the Drowned Queen, a colonialist monarch who’s also an extradimensional eel; the entities for Earth are the Stone Chorus, who are the Titans from Greek mythology but with added angst.

Each comes with dominion over two things – their Blessing (which is their governing element) and their Curse (which is their fundamental flaw – the Drowned Queen, for example, is very dead and this gives her power over ghosts). There’s no limit to how many entities you can access, assuming you’ve got the major advances to spend, so you can steal power from as many places as you like. 

ZENITH

Generally, the zenith abilities for the Junk Mage – the highest ones available to them – involve them bonding with the entities in some way. They also kill the user, because of course they do. The Drowned Queen offers up her hand in marriage to the caster as they summon her into the material realm and she seeks to make a pact to cement the transition. This gives the Junk Mage total control over a landmark, and all of its inhabitants, but the mental strain of being married to a mad ghost eel from beyond space and time is too much to bear for long.

INSPIRATIONS

We like warlocks.

They were always the best class in D&D 3.5; not the most powerful, but one of the most fun to play. They had spells you could cast as many times as you want rather than having to faff about with spellbooks and eight hours of rest; they were thematically interesting, rather than the grab-bag of everything that wizards and sorcerers ended up being. We didn’t have many warlock-like classes in Spire, so Heart presented us with a nice opportunity to talk about the weirdos who practice dangerous magic.

The first draft of the Junk Mage (back when they were called the Gutter Mage)  had much more traditional occultism – hands of glory, hearts with nails in, dream-quests for ominous doors, black candles, etc. It was good but it didn’t say anything about the world, and the best classes help sketch out the setting around the player. So we overhauled them, put the old-school magic to one side, and made them desperate addicts instead.

Here’s a clipping from a very (very) early draft of Heart where we were sketching out the spells for the mage

“Junk Magic” is an old term of ours – we came up with it, oh, six years ago? It’s in an unpublished novel about drunk wizards that Grant wrote, and it crops up in our game Royal Blood too. It’s magical hacking, lying to demons, throwing together spells from fragments found here and there, casting by the seat of your pants. It felt like a natural fit for the lawless environs of the City Beneath. We’ve also leaned into the other meanings of Junk, too; each Junk Mage is an addict, hooked on the rush of sensation they get when they plumb their tiny, fragile human mind into something huge and powerful.  They’re garbage, too – no magical school worth their salt would accept them through their doors.

In a world where your wizard is full of alien bees, your witch is afflicted with a magical blood disease she caught from a well that’s also a mouth and your fighter is wearing armour they stole off a cursed train, the Junk Mage gives players and GMs a way to drop weird and exotic stuff into the game and have it still make an impact.

You can learn more about Heart or order a copy through our Kickstarter page.

Class Breakdown: The Deep Apiarist

The Deep Apiarist is one of the classes from Heart, our upcoming RPG. Check out the Kickstarter here.

THE DEEP APIARIST

Felix came up with the idea that the Apiarist could carry a smoker and huff on it to clear out their bees for a while; we’ve put it in the game, now. Also worth mentioning is that the iconic class art is an unmasked aelfir, presumably exiled from the City Above.

The Heart is a parasitic dimension – one of chaos and disorder that manifests as blood, and bone, and ever-changing boundaries. The Deep Apiarist is the antithesis of the Heart; both a vessel for and part of an otherworldly megaconsciousness called the Hive, a primordial force of order that takes the form of thousands upon thousands of glyph-marked Deep Bees. They keep the bees – in hives, and within their wax-filled bodies – and do their best to keep the Heart at bay.

CORE ABILITIES

The Deep Apiarist is a magical weirdo. Are most of the classes in Heart magical weirdos? Yes. But they take it to a new level, we’d like to think. Their core ability represents the fact that they’ve plumbed their mind into something otherworldly and terrible; at the start of every situation, they clear all stress from Mind as the Hive dissipates it through itself. However, they can never receive Mind protection, or remove stress from Mind in any way aside from using their core ability. Which makes them an interesting blend of fragile and sturdy; they don’t need to worry about going mad so long as they can catch their breath for a minute, but they can’t stop stress from coming in.

Also, crucially – and there aren’t rules for this bit, it’s just a thing that happens – every Deep Apiarist is partially filled with bees. You can take advances to give the bees specific powers and abilities, but as standard, at least one of your organs is a wax copy made and operated by the swarm.

ABILITIES

There are two main strands of ability in the Deep Apiarist class. Firstly, there’s the way that they’re the opposite of the Heart – we wanted to double down on the fact that the Hive is as otherworldly as the Heart Itself, and opposed to it, whilst being completely distinct from drow, humans, aelfir etc. This manifests as powers which let them control probability (making Risky or Dangerous actions safer) or just outright stating what they want to happen and, through clever manipulation of sufficiently advanced bee technology, making it so. Or maybe you want to tear through heartblooded creatures; the ANNIHILATION ability turns your body into a living engine of unchaos that burns away the Heart with a touch.

Secondly, there’s the way that they’re full of bees. (Obviously.) We toyed with the idea of giving them a Mind heal power by making honey in their chest cavity for a while but that’s too gross even for Heart; so instead they can choose to create sacrificial bees whose narcotic sting brings sweet oblivion. Or spread their consciousness out through the swarm, seeing through a hundred compound eyes. Or just set their bees on people.

ZENITH

The ultimate expressions of the Deep Apiarists’ power is crystallisation; to encase something of the Heart in unbreakable hexagonal mineral and leave it there forever. So you can do that, and permanently stop anything you don’t like, but the strain of manifesting means your consciousness is lost entirely within the Hive. Alternatively, if you’re tired of a haven misbehaving – being full of unpredictable people, shifting in position around the Heart, riven with internecine conflict – you can take it over and become its Queen, and watch it fall into perfect order. 

Or maybe you just become a swarm of occult bees and can never die.

INSPIRATIONS

Hello. My name is Grant Howitt and my favourite kind of monster is where you have lots of little monsters inside a larger monster. 

There’s something horrific about it. I first came across it in World of Darkness – there’s a monster which is a load of rats inside someone, and they fight magical extradimensional spiders, so you can see some overlap with our Order versus Chaos trope too. I would also like to give credit to The Secret World, which has extradimensional bees who fight… extradimensional dirt? Flies? It’s not entirely clear. No new ideas under the sun, anyway. 

The Deep Apiarists themselves originated in Black Magic, a sourcebook for Spire, in which they were an extra advance that any character could take (if they wanted to fill themselves full of bees). We were toying with making it a full class for a while but, as far as revolutionary efforts go, there’s not a lot of room for a buzzing weirdo whose primary job is to counteract the energies of the Heart. 

There’s a lot of room for that in Heart. So; we took what they had in Spire and extrapolated on it, widened it, tried to offer a bit of variety. Also, we wanted to underline the fact that the Hive isn’t benevolent (or malevolent) towards people in general – it’s an outsider, something that can only exist in very specific terms, and it craves structure and order. It uses Deep Apiarists like armoured personnel carriers on the front lines of a war, and one of the fun things about playing one is to toy with the divide between yourself and megaconsciousness you’ve become a part of.

You can learn more about Heart or order a copy through our Kickstarter page.

Class Breakdown: The Heretic

This is the first of several class breakdowns where we’ll take a look at each class in detail throughout our Kickstarter campaign. Up first: the Heretic.

We asked Felix to go overboard with the ceremonial jewelry and tattoos – we wanted to give the impression of someone who’s finally allowed to practice their zealous faith in public.

THE HERETIC

Followers of a twice-forbidden goddess, the Heretics are the disciples and descendants of those drow forced out of the City Above centuries ago for their faith. Having turned their back on the changeable moon above, they worship the Moon Beneath – a glorious and fecund mistress who offers great miracles and blessings to the faithful. Unlike the one in the sky, you can walk to the Moon Beneath and receive its scintillating wisdom – if you are strong of faith.

CORE ABILITY

The Heretic’s core ability is a classic one when it comes to clerics – they can hold a ceremony once per delve to remove Blood and Mind stress from their allies. We see the Temple of the Moon Beneath as a crucial organisation in the Heart who provide succour and guidance to hundreds of pilgrims every year, and to get across the fact that even if player characters aren’t ordained priests, they can still take part in the community-building and restorative aspects of organised faith.

ABILITIES

Channelling the power of the gods can feel a bit clean, sometimes, in roleplaying games – so we wanted to muddy the waters a little and see if we couldn’t make one of the classic dungeon-crawling classes, the cleric, a bit creepier.

So: the Heretic can speak in tongues and inflict stress on anyone who hears it, including their allies (so get ready with the wax ear plugs), or they can shift their consciousness into the realm of the supernal to see peoples’ souls through solid objects. Their most mundane power – FULL MOON SHIELD – makes them into a solid tank character, allowing them to hold their own in fights as well as lending protection to their allies. But even then, the shield they carry is covered in eyes, and it lets them see in pitch blackness.

The Heretic starts play with either a burning censer (depicted above), a double-barreled shotgun, or something called a “Relic Bludgeon.*” We picked these because they’re all over-the-top cool, which pushes them out of the traditionally passive role of a cleric and into something more active and strange.

ZENITH

Zenith abilities are tied to Zenith beats – the culmination of your calling’s story unlocks the most powerful abilities attached to your class, and while most of them will kill you in the process, they give you enormous power.

The Zenith abilities of the Heretic look at what happens to frail mortal bodies when you run divine power through them – they’re changed utterly. GODDESSES THREE, for example, gives you the capacity to come back to life after death twice – but the third time you die, you become an avatar of the Moon Beneath, and cause terrible destruction. MINE EYES HAVE SEEN THE GLORY makes your face impossible to look upon without causing madness and spontaneous miracles, and in Spire far above, word of your majesty reaches a special order of Paladins who will hunt you down and kill you within a month.

INSPIRATIONS

We really like Bloodborne.

Something about the way that it handles cosmic horror really appeals to us; it’s got a human element, and we see the unknowable through the very knowable lenses of obsession, desire and pride. Plus it’s coy about it too, and for at least half of the game it seems like it might be about werewolves rather than a big star cthulhu, so it makes for an exciting reveal.

We tried to channel some of the weird into the Lajhan abilities – the moon priests of Spire who are very much the forefathers of the Heretic – but it was tempered by the way that they had to use said abilities in a crowded city. With the Heretic, we got to let our hair down a bit and see how weird we could get.

We’ve drawn the line at silvery-grey tentacles and needle teeth as far as their abilities go, but don’t let that stop you from including all sorts of horrific “blessings” in the form of Echo fallout. The Moon Beneath is generous with her gifts.

You can back the Heart RPG, and download a Quickstart Edition of the rules, on our Kickstarter page.

*We’re not sure what a relic bludgeon is, to be honest. I imagine it as a stone plinth with wraps of cloth around it to make it easier to wield; it could be the fingerbones of a saint built into a heavy-duty reliquary, or a silver-plated statue wrenched off the front of a rival church’s lectern. Whatever it is, you can mark stress to Mind to commune with it and roll with mastery in combat, and I really like the idea of the Heretics being so mad and righteous that they rock up and hit you with bits of their own temple.

Sign up for the HEART RPG playtest now!

In two weeks’ time we’re going to release the playtest document for Heart, our next big game – and if you’d like to help shape it from the ground up, we’d love for you to be part of our alpha playtest community. (If you don’t want to read any more and just want to sign up for the playtest straight away, click here.)

WHAT IS HEART?

Set in the Heart – the nightmare, unreal labyrinth that pulses and writhes beneath the city of Spire – Heart is a game about damnation, redemption, survival and obsession. It’s also a game about body horror, walls made of breathing meat, and exploring a possibly-malevolent parasite dimension. It’s also a game about dungeon-crawling, at the base of it; we wanted to take the classic story of descending into a dangerous underworld and see what twist we could put on it.

We’ve got amazing illustrations from Felix Miall (we’ve posted some of them here, you can’t miss ‘em) and layout from Jay Iles.

We’re going to Kickstart Heart towards the end of 2019, but before then, we want to see if we can make it really, really good.

CAN YOU JUST GIVE ME A LIST OF COOL THINGS THAT ARE IN HEART WITH NO CONTEXT?

Of course! In the playtest document alone, you can expect to find:

  • Flightless owl hives
  • Predatory libraries
  • Heretic priests of the Moon Beneath
  • Platemail made out of repurposed train parts
  • A mimetic virus that makes you build labyrinths
  • Full rules for accidentally becoming a messiah
  • The Ravening Beast, a hunting dog that hides in your thoughts

WHAT DO YOU NEED FROM ME?

We need you to play it. Get your friends together, make some characters, and play out a few games using the rules in the PDF. We’ll have some questionnaires for you to fill out, talk about how the game felt, ask you what you liked and disliked, and so on.  We’ll need you to actually play it – we want to see how it performs in practice.

We’ve tried to make Heart as easy as possible to run, and made it so that a GM and players can sit down with very little planning and improvise a session on the fly. (However, if you want to draw out your own mad undercity and expose your players to it, you’re welcome to spend as much time as you want to prepare for a session.)

WHAT’S IN THE PLAYTEST PACK?

The document will feature full rules for running games of Heart – the core systems at play, but also mechanics for exploring and mapping the undercity, making and reinforcing connections between landmarks, and developing relationships with the people you meet down there. We also have five of the (planned) nine classes, and five callings – reasons that you’ve chosen to explore the shifting, dangerous world of the Heart.

Finally, there are some details on the world of Heart – landmarks, havens, incidental details, non-player characters, and adversaries – and a scenario to run through, if you wish. It’s not representative of the final product, but it’s enough to be going on with for our purposes.

There will also be links to an exclusive Discord community for early discussion of the game, as well as at least one feedback form we’ll ask you to complete to help us improve the game.

WHAT RULES DOES IT USE?

Heart uses a modified version of the Resistance system that we created for Spire. Some of the skills and resistances you’ll recognise – we still have a Blood resistance to measure how hurt you are, and a Sneak skill to go unnoticed. Others are new and designed to tell stories unique to exploring a body-warping magical city – Echo resistance shows how much the Heart has changed you, for example, and Supplies resistance shows how much spireblack your lantern has to burn before it sputters out and leaves you in pitch darkness.

We’ve streamlined down some of the systems from Spire, making them (hopefully) easier to use on the fly.

We’ve focused on making fallout smoother to use in play and, with the addition of Critical fallout, used it to give your character a descending arc as misfortune and pain are poured upon them. We’ve added a little more complexity to the combat system, because there’s more of it in Heart, but not a great deal (and we aren’t using tactical maps or anything like that).

The systems will be instantly recognisable to anyone who’s played Spire, and we hope you enjoy the tweaks we’ve made.

IS THIS A SPIRE PRODUCT?

It’s not – it’s completely standalone. However, we will continue to support the Spire line – we’re in the process of writing our next supplement right now and will continue, if demand stays high, to release a new major sourcebook on a yearly basis.

WHERE DO I SIGN UP?

Fill out the form below and, once it’s all ready to go, we’ll send you a download link to the PDF documentation.

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