Strata Kickstarter goes live Tuesday 16th October

We’re excited to announce that the Kickstarter for Strata, our first full-length sourcebook for the Spire RPG, will launch on Tuesday 16th October. Follow us on Kickstarter to stay up-date.

Strata will include, but is definitely not limited to:

  • Two new classes: the Inksmith, who is a pulp-fiction two-fisted literature occultist, and the Shadow Agent, who has given themselves up to the Hidden Mistress in exchange for the ability to mystically transform themselves into cover identities.
  • Five scenarios written by exciting authors: these range from a one-shot where the cell liberate the victims of artistic beautification surgery to a full campaign frame that sees the doomed drow house of Starys return to try and reclaim Spire.
  • Advances for playing a character from each of the nine noble families of the drow.
  • A huge amount of setting inspiration and details for the richest and poorest places in Spire: the glittering perversity of Amaranth, the folk tales of shadowed Derelictus, the warring factions of Ivory Row, drug-dealing speakeasies in the Works, and more besides.

What’s more, backers will be able to pledge at a higher level to be part of the book itself – suitably Spire-ified, of course.  Want to become a patron of the revolution, or set up your own organisation – complete with a set of advances that members can access? That’s a thing you can do.

We’re really excited to make this happen. See you on Tuesday!

Resistance Toolbox: now available!

All the best indie systems have a creative commons rules-set that you can use to write your own games, so we figured ours should too. To that end, we’re proud to announce that the Resistance System – the rules that power Spire – are now available to download for free from our shop.

We’re calling it a “toolbox” rather than a full system reference document (or “SRD”) because this isn’t a plug-and-play system; when using it, you’ll need to define your own skills, domains and resistances – as well as the abilities that characters can use to help influence the world. There’s a bit of work involved, but we think the rules have the potential to make some really interesting games.

Download the Resistance Toolbox for free here. Oh, and just because it bears repeating, we’ve got a Kickstarter for Strata, our Spire sourcebook, coming up next month. Take a look at the exciting stuff in that here.

STRATA: AUTHORS, ADVENTURES AND NEW CLASSES

STRATA – Kickstarting in early October – will be the first hard-copy sourcebook for Spire, our game of fantasy-punk insurrection, and we’re really excited to tell you about what’s inside. Namely, a bunch of brilliant scenarios from nine different writers, and two new classes!

OUR WRITERS AND THEIR SCENARIOS

For the first time, we’ve brought in new writers – some seasoned RPG creators and some completely new voices – to play in the Spire universe..

We have five adventures, or campaign frames, included in the book at funding:

  • Christine Beard (Beast: the Primordial, Seventh Sea, Changeling the Dreaming 20th anniversary) writes Eye of the Beholder, where the cell attempt to rescue drow used as canvases for a cruel aelfir’s surgical arts.
  • Pauline Chan writes Lines in the Dirt, which sees a downtrodden and under-funded cell in Derelictus get evicted from their tenement apartment block, and fight to keep it.
  • Chris Farnell (Dirty Work, Mark II, Legacy: Life Amongst the Ruins) writes Dark Harvest, where the player cell are bundled off into a suspiciously idyllic community deep in the Garden district after a mission goes disastrously wrong.
  • Laurence Phillips (Primal Pathways) writes The Forgotten, where disabled and marginalised drow are caught between the machinations of the ministry and the brutality of the aelfir after the untimely death of their protector.
  • Chris and Grant, who you know, are writing Better the Devil which deals with the arrival of the powerful and damned drow lineage of Starys to Spire, and their attempts to take over the city.

We also have five scenarios lined up as stretch goals:

  • Helen Gould (Cthulhu Dark, Fear’s Sharp Little Needles) writes Home is Where the Hatred Is, which is essentially Downton Abbey except all the staff are revolutionary drow and all the posh people are undead high elves.
  • Ben Brock writes Ironshrike, in which the cell are tasked with killing a marketplace and also working out just what that entails.
  • Coman Fullard writes The Sulphurous Press, in which the cell are given control of a news-sheet and use it to spread revolution through the city.
  • Kira Magrann (A Cozy Den, Resistor, The Veil, The Sprawl, Dialect) writes Glasshelm, in which a cadre of rebels attempts to destabilise Spire’s banking system.
  • Xalavier Nelson (PC Gamer, “Screw You Bear Dad!” and MCV rising star) writes Bisquiet, which focuses on the unique art of overthrowing the government via precise application of gourmet baked goods.

All of our unlocked stretch goals will be included in every copy of the book – there’s no additional tier required to get them, and they won’t be released as PDFs only.

TWO NEW CLASSES

As well as plenty of extra advances – additional ability sets that any character can use – we’ve produced something special: two brand new classes to flesh out your Spire games and give you new ways to affect the city.

The first is the Inksmith:

“Ever since humans brought the printing press to Spire, the ability to control and channel the zeitgeist has never been easier; you know the occult power of pulp fiction, channel the magic of sensationalist journalism, and wear narratives like a cloak. You ride the razor’s edge between truth and fiction. As a writer, you’re not bad; as a magician, you’re top-notch.”

They’re pulp fiction con artists running a scam against reality, and they’re always in search of a good story. They have spells such as: A MAN WITH A GUN, that summons someone holding a gun into the room they’re currently standing in; STAR-CROSSED LOVERS, that makes two NPCs fall in love; and COMMON FEARS, which lets them access what a community’s scared of and use it against them in their writing – or otherwise.

The second is the Shadow Agent; they’ve devoted their lives utterly to Our Hidden Mistress, drow goddess of grace and revenge. As they grow in power, in addition to canticles and prayers to their patron, they gain the ability to own and maintain more and more covers – false identities that they can slip into and out of as they please.

At first, they’ll have a couple of tricks and a fake ID; at higher levels, they can animate their covers to act independently, summon choking shadows over the mouths of their enemies, or sacrifice their precious other selves on an altar to their goddess to gain her favour.

THE REST

So far, we’ve written about 40,000 words of setting information, supplemental rules, weapons, abilities, bonds and weirdnesses that you can find in the richest and poorest parts of Spire; as ever, we don’t want to talk about what happened in the past, but instead about what might happen tomorrow. Spire is a changing, dangerous, exciting place, and we want to give you what you need to put your players right in the centre of it and let them try to take control.

That’s it for now. If you’d like to stay up-to-date with the campaign, you can follow Grant on Kickstarter herefollow our Twitter account here, and sign up to our mailing list here.

– Chris, Grant and Mary

Strata: Kickstarting in October!

STRATA: A SPIRE SOURCEBOOK KICKSTARTER

Since we released Spire, we’ve been so excited to see what the community has done with it We’ve heard so many stories of brilliant games of rebellion and intrigue set in the world we created, and now we want to createmore of it. So, we’re even more excited to announce that the kickstarter for our first hard-copy sourcebook, Strata, will launch in early October.

WHAT IS STRATA?

Hopefully, it’s more of what you like about Spire – more weirdness, more story hooks, more rules, and more words about a place that’s on the brink of revolution and waiting for the players to push it over the edge.

We’re focusing on the richest and poorest places in Spire. In the same way that our Black Magic PDF sourcebook focused on the Occult domain, Strata will be based around the High Society and Low Society domains. But it’ll be much more comprehensive book, stuffed with adventure frames and campaigns as well as details of the world itself.

We’re going to be releasing Strata as a high-quality book, using the same printers as the core Spire book, with all-new artwork by Spire artist Adrian Stone. We’re also hoping to release a newspaper, designed by Tim Wilkinson Lewis, that will act as an accompaniment and play aid for all the scenarios in Strata – and add some more secrets to the world in the process. You’ll hear lots more on this as the campaign goes on.

WHAT’S IN THE BOOK?

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but just from flicking through the document you can expect to find:

  • New advances for Idols based on their artistic school in the Sunlight Collective
  • Rules for possession-junkie ghost-gangs that stalk ruined mansions
  • A song-bow that plucks out your last breath as you die and turns it into music
  • A list of famous heists in the Silver Quarter, including this one time when someone stole the casino they were gambling in
  • Rules for giving your body to the Spire and being rewarded with beautiful flowers blossoming out of your skin
  • Music made by re-purposed industrial machines played to underground speakeasies
  • The child-gangs of Derelictus and their patchwork miracles, passed down in games and songs
  • A knife that loves you and wants you to be safe
  • The guild of ladder-men and the council of stairs, angry that unlicensed ropers are making climbing routes through their turf
  • Aelfir blinding parties
  • And much, much more

ADVENTURES AND CAMPAIGN FRAMES

We’re really excited to be working with several other writers to bring our world to life. In addition to a full campaign frame written by the original authors, Strata will include up to nine scenarios written by other people who range from established industry professionals to new talent with promise and a knack for words. (Exactly how many we’ll publish is reliant on stretch goals.)

We can’t wait to see what they bring to Spire.

THAT’S IT FOR NOW

We’re thrilled to have the opportunity to write in Spire again, and commission some awesome people to create stuff alongside us. If you’d like to stay up-to-date with the campaign, you can follow Grant on Kickstarter here to receive an update when we launch, or subscribe to our mailing list here.

Grant, Chris and Mary

SPIRE – CALL FOR WRITERS

EDIT – This call has now closed. Thanks for all your pitches!

When we started making Spire, we didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into. As the project has reached completion, we’ve been blown away by the enthusiasm and support of our players and readers – and we think we might need your assistance to give them what they want.

Spire is big. Bigger than we can handle ourselves. There are a million nooks and crannies to explore within the towering nightmare city, a million stories waiting to be told, and we want you to help.

WRITE FOR US!

What ideas do you have, when you flick through Spire? What stories do you want to help people tell? What weird twists and unexpected secrets have you hidden in your version of the city?

Take a look at our pay-what-you-want adventures: Blood and Dust, Eidolon Sky, and Kings of Silver. They’re an example of what we like when it comes to adventure design – lots of setup, lots of player choice, and very little in the way of scripting player actions. (Also: they’re not too long.) We like to think in terms of characters and motivations; of neat scenes that the GM can slip into the story wherever is appropriate; of giving the players difficult choices and no clear right answer. The adventures take the established locations within Spire and introduce a new element to them, then explore how that changes the already shaky status quo in the city.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re an established RPG author with reams of material under their belt or if this is your first stab at writing something for publication. We’re interested in hearing from you if you’ve got stories to tell in our world; especially if you’re part of a culture that doesn’t see much representation in the RPG industry.

Also, don’t worry about “getting it right” with regards to canon – we work in very broad strokes, and what’s true and what’s not in the world of Spire is a concept with a lot of wiggle room. As long as you have a broad understanding of the themes and concepts within our world, you should be fine – this isn’t a test to see whether you’ve memorised everything we’ve written and can regurgitate it back to us, but rather an exercise in seeing if you can use our words as a springboard to reach something better.

WHAT WE WANT

  • Original, punchy scenarios and campaign frames that give the GM agency to tell their own stories
  • Well-written, engaging words that spark the imagination; we’re proud of the standard of writing in Spire, and we want to continue the tradition
  • New extra advances, equipment and enemies that tie into your scenarios
  • New rules, descriptions and story hooks for things we haven’t covered in great detail – like the stuff we did in Black Magic
  • Interesting takes on well-worn fantasy tropes
  • Additional details, locations and characters for Spire

WHAT WE DON’T WANT

  • Scenarios set outside of Spire (that is, in Nujab, or the Eastern Kingdoms, or the Home Nations, or in an entirely different world etc; you can set stuff on the outside of Spire)
  • New classes
  • Huge mega-campaigns that require the player characters to act in certain ways to further the plot (write a novel instead, get it out of your system, then come back to us)
  • The big secret metaplot behind the universe (there isn’t one)
  • Brand new big secret organisations that mess with the world behind the scenes (we’ve got enough of those, use one of the existing ones)
  • Lists of unconnected weapons and monsters

WHAT WE CAN OFFER YOU

CASH. We pay our writers.

EDITING. All your work will be edited by us, and either fed back to you for improvement or published once we’ve made changes. Which means: your work will be better, which is good.

MECHANICS. If you aren’t comfortable writing mechanics for our system, we can do that – just tell us what you need the mechanics to do and we can fill in the blanks if we’re capable. If you are comfortable, take a go at writing it, and we can make sure that it lines up with the rest of the world.

YOUR NAME IN LIGHTS. Well, your name in print, or PDF, at least. But: you’ll be credited for everything you do. If you write something, it’s important that people know you did it.

THE NEXT STEP

Send a pitch to admin@rowanrookanddecard.com – no more than a hundred words or so – which outlines what part of Spire you’d like to explore, and what kind of scenario you’re interested in setting up there. What are the players tasked with doing? What opposition stands in their way? Imagine you’re describing it to a group of prospective players and you want to share your excitement with them.

Also, send over examples of, or links to examples of, other work that you’ve done. If you don’t have a portfolio, send us a link to your blog, or some other place that you store your words. (If you don’t have any examples of your writing to make available to us… well, wow us with the pitch, and we’ll talk.)

If we like it, and we think that the concept has the capacity to be turned into something special, we’ll be in touch.

  • Grant, Chris and Mary

Free RPG day giveaways

It’s free RPG day! Which means – well, it means free RPGs. RPGs that we’re going to give to you absolutely gratis. Zero money exchanged. Of course, we have a load of one-page RPGs and adventures for Spire that are free (or pay-what-you-want) all of the time, and you can download those here.

HOWEVER, in addition to that, for this weekend only, the following games are one hundred percent free:

  • WARRIOR-POET, a haiku-based game in which you play a beautiful sorcerer-artist and fall in and out of love and die within a year, but you do your best to burn bright and leave a beautiful corpse.
  • ONE LAST JOB, a flashback-heavy game where you come out of retirement to carry out a heist. Unlike basically every other RPG ever you don’t have a character when you start the game, and everyone else defines one for you in play.
  • HAVOC BRIGADE. a madcap rambunctious farce where you play a bunch of tremendously loud orcs on an “infiltration mission” into a human city; comes with a nice map and illustrated pre-gen characters. One of the characters is just six goblins in a coat trying to fit in.
  • ROYAL BLOOD, a beautifully-laid-out book which pitches you and your friends into the role of half-blood junk magicians trying to con the Arcane, living embodiments of the major arcana from a Tarot deck, out of their power over the course of a single night. All you need to play is a deck of tarot cards and some tokens.

Each of these games normally costs nine full English pounds – so that’s THIRTY-SIX POUNDS all together, and we’re giving them away for NOTHING. Just think of the things you could do with the money you’ve saved:

  • For the next two weeks, you can buy two Tesco meal deals every weekday lunchtime instead of one, and give the spare one to a dog
  • You’re over halfway towards affording those nice £70 shoes you’ve been eyeing up – so go in the store and buy the left shoe right away and tell them WE sent you
  • Next time you’re out at the pub with five friends, you can buy them two rounds of drinks! Unless you live in London, in which case you can buy them a half each and the buggers should be grateful for it
  • You can buy seven ASDA rotisserie chickens  and try to eat them all before they go off; there’s even a quid left over that you can use to pay a boy to watch you do it
  • Walk up to a corner shop where they’re selling bowls of fruit and veg for a pound a bowl and wordlessly buy out the entire stall
  • You could even buy some of our other titles, such as Spire – a grim fantasy-punk game set in a city poised on the brink of rebellion, where the players form a cell of sacred freedom fighters and attempt to dethrone the corrupt government. In fact, you could get a hard copy for the money you’re saving, imagine that

Anyway. Don’t let us pressure you into anything. Enjoy the free games. Happy Free RPG day.

New Extra Advance – Corpsefruit Dealer

There was a cryptic crossword attached to the newspaper clippings that backers could purchase during the Kickstarter – we offered a prize for completing it, but never reckoned that anyone would. We were wrong.

Congratulations to Wil and Clare on the Spire Discord for solving the crossword in what seems like a tremendously quick time; in exchange for doing so, we have written an extra advance of their choosing. They opted for Corpsefruit Smuggler.

Corpsefruit is a drow delicacy, imported by brave (and some might say stupid) dark elves through secret underground routes that run between Spire and the Home Nations. It only grows in graveyards; the scarlet-skinned, sweet-fleshed fruit draws its flavour and powerful narcotic properties from the dreams of the dead that slumber eternally beneath the soil.

It is illegal in Spire, and those who choose to import it and move it through the city can make a tidy sum of money – if the guard, or rival dealers, don’t take them out before they finish the deal.

You can download the Corpsefruit Dealer extra advance here.

Kings of Silver release date: 31st May

[edit: Kings of Silver is out now! Download it here.]

We’re excited to announce that Kings of Silver, the latest campaign frame for the Spire RPG, will be released on the 31st of May.

WHAT IS KINGS OF SILVER?

Kings of Silver is a campaign frame – a way to set up a series of linked games of Spire using the same characters – set in Spire’s Silver Quarter.

Some of the weekly happenings in the Silver Quarter, courtesy of The Silhouette

If you’ve read our other ones – Blood & Dust and Eidolon Sky – you’ll have noticed that we don’t really do pre-written scenarios the way a lot of other games designers do. As we don’t like to make reams of notes when we run games ourselves – and we’re not big fans of reading them, either – we wanted to create a setup that game the GM and players flexibility to explore the weird world of Spire but also a solid framework to guide them through the experience.

READ ALL ABOUT IT

Kings of Silver newspaper clippings

Kings of Silver starts with a sheaf of newspaper clippings cut from magazines and newspapers distributed throughout the city.  (We’ve included all 10 as stand-alone images, too, for ease of printing.) The cell are instructed to use the clippings as a starting point to investigate three power-players in the glittering Silver Quarter:

  • Hestra Wander-the-Lost, scandalous media sensation, master seductress and sister to the morose warrior-poet on the city council with the same surname
  • Lay-Deacon Strides-Out-Harmonious, a wealthy devotee to Father Summer, who has been building heavily-defended temple-casinos throughout the district, and
  • Loq Walks-On-Light, enigmatic ex-military playboy who boasts an increasingly large entourage and some strange philosophies

From there, we adopt a hands-off approach to adventure design. Each of the three main NPCs (and a few other important people) are given full breakdowns and a series of suggested scenes that the GM can weave into the story, and we’ve taken a guess at a few finales that might happen, but we can’t be sure how it will end.  After all, if you know how a roleplaying game is going to finish… well, what’s the point in playing at all?

EXTRA STUFF

Kings of Silver also boasts several pages of random tables designed to evoke the atmosphere of the gaudiest district in Spire – festivals, noble families, street furniture, whatever the gangsters who run the place are doing, and whatever the city guard are doing to keep things ticking over – six pre-generated characters with Silver-Quarter-ready backstories, and a full list of employees for The Manticore gambling house which the player cell has received as a cover identity.

Hestra is protected by the Order of the Querent Hound, handsomest knights in all of Spire

What’s more, we’re releasing this 45-page PDF on a pay-what-you-want basis! We’re really keen for you to hit the ground running with Spire – hopefully Kings of Silver can help, and give you inspiration for your own campaigns. We’re really proud of Kings of Silver,  and we’re looking forward to sharing it with you. Keep an eye on our Twitter account, or check back here next week, to pick it up.

Advancement in Spire

ADVANCEMENT

Since releasing Spire, one of the pieces of feedback that we’ve received is that some people are finding it tricky to judge when to allot advances to their players. Advances allow characters to grow in power in exchange for changing the city around them, but what sort of changes do they need to make? We’ll discuss that, and what went into the experience system, now.

WHY CHANGE?

Spire is a game about change, and we wanted to reward players who mess with things. (We also wanted GMs and players alike to not be scared of changing the “canonical” Spire; roleplaying games never survive contact with the players, and settings of roleplaying games doubly so.) So: when a player character makes a change in the city of Spire, they advance. They gain a low advance for a small change, a medium advance for a medium one, and high advance for a serious, lasting transformation on the city.

Crucially, though, the change doesn’t have to be for the better. (And: it rarely is.) We wanted to step away from moralising at players and judging change as “good” or bad” – we’re rewarding chaos, not justice. (Spire is not a game about good and evil, but ends and means.) Also, we wanted to give people a chance to advance regardless of whether or not their actions turn out for the best, because it would be pretty dissatisfying to lose out on getting cool powers just because the guy you choked to death at the opera turns out to have been secretly funding orphanages all through the city.

But: how much change equals an advance? That all depends on the scale and scope of the campaign.

SCALES

Bonds come in three flavours in Spire – individual, street, and city – that reflect their size and influence, so we might as well use those flavours for illustrating change as well. An individual (low) change makes someone’s life different in a big way; a street-level (medium) change affects a group of anything up to a hundred people; and a city-level (high) change has wide-reaching implications for a lot of people – thousands, if not more.

But: these assume a default campaign, and by default campaign, we mean: a cell operating in secret throughout a handful of districts and attempting to overthrow or undermine aelfir interests within those districts. Success on a grand scale would see the city changed – rulers dethroned, buildings erected and destroyed, new festivals commemorated and possibly the odd giant statue thrown off the side of the city. There are other levels of resistance in Spire, such as:

A devoted cell of operatives play the long game and decide to take the Council back into drow hands through years of political maneuvering, assassinations, blackmail campaigns and several riots. (City-level.)

A hand-chosen team of ministers are tasked with taking full control of a single district – the Silver Quarter, say – and given resources to achieve their aims. (Street-level.)

A gang of Knights and a few layabout priests, new recruits to the Ministry, find themselves forced out of their tavern HQ by rival gangs of Knights. To carry on their mission of righteous justice, first they’ll have to save their pub, and the people who live around it. (Individual-level.)

In each of these, the scale differs, so the actions performed within shift in narrative impact. Let’s take the example of the following change: the players publically humiliate a local gang leader, dragging him beaten and bloody through the streets.

In the city-level campaign, this barely matters; the characters have bigger fish to fry, and they probably have bonds that can handle this sort of thing. It’d probably be a Low advance, if anything at all.

In the street-level campaign, this could represent a useful step in the right direction; it stamps their authority on the district and secures them some power. It’d be a Medium advance.

In the Individual-level campaign, this might represent the culmination of several games’ work: gathering info on the gang, ambushing the guy, getting a crowd together to watch him getting the tar beaten out of him, buying off his bodyguards, etc. This could be a High advance, and signal that the campaign is coming to a close – presumably after a fitting climax, where the gang leader comes back for revenge, or his aelfir bosses start asking difficult (and violent) questions.

WHAT’S REALLY GOING ON

In essence, levels of change are roughly equivalent to effort and impact. If a change took a lot of effort to enact – multiple game sessions, risky actions, expenditure of resources, suffering fallout – then the players have earned a bigger advance than they would if they’d just sent one of their bonds off to handle it during downtime.

In addition to bonds, advances are one of the ways that the GM can reward players for acting in ways that they like, and encouraging repeat performances. The scope of the change is secondary to the time spent and importance of the act to the group as a whole.

5 TIPS FOR USING ADVANCES

– Talk to your players at the start of the campaign and ask them what they reckon would constitute a Low, Medium and High advance; discuss it with them, and you can all try to get on the same page about what constitutes what.

– The scope of a campaign can change! Don’t feel stuck at one level, and trust your gut.

– Get your players to plan out their insurrection as a series of low and medium advances leading up to a high advance. Maybe get them to build a “murder board,” with pictures of important characters and buildings written down and connected with red lines. These can change as you play, but it basically amounts to having players do your campaign prep for you.

– Sometimes a bond can be as powerful, if not more powerful, than an advance – especially a bond in the right place. Don’t forget to reward players with new relationships and connections, especially as a means of mechanically codifying alliances with NPCs that arose naturally out of the fiction.

– Bribe your players! Tell them you’ll give them a Medium advance if they pull something off without a hitch, and a Low advance if something goes awry. (It’s all basically up to you anyway, you’re the GM, but it can be exciting to feel like something’s on the line.)