Grant is the creative force behind such games as Goblin Quest, One Last Job, Unbound, Honey Heist and the latest edition of Paranoia. In a previous life, he was a video games journalist, and before that he was a chef for a while, but it didn't really work out. His work is famous for short-form, easy-to-learn rulesets with an emphasis on quick play and accessible humour.
Given the global protests against police brutality and systemic racism, it’s become sensible to make our stance clear on the matter in case there’s any confusion: we are in support of those protesting against police brutality and systemic racism. (Please refer to our earlier work, Spire, for more information.)
We are going to donate 50% of the profits from our new Spire sourcebook Shadow Operations to Black Lives Matter UK – backdated to when it went on sale, and continuing in perpetuity.
We are committed to working with POC creators to bring a breadth of voices and perspectives into our community.
Sanctum is out now.
Sanctum is a sourcebook for the Heart roleplaying game – inside, you’ll find advice for building settlements with your player group and, once everyone’s invested, rules for destroying them with four new variations of Angel. The whole thing is underscored by increasingly mad excerpts from Beyond The Edge Of Madness by Gris Hannemann, a down-on-his-luck travel writer who attempted to escape his debts by fleeing into the Heart for a year-long bender.
SHADOW OPERATIONS is eleven one-shot missions for the Spire RPG written to be run with as much ease and as little prep as possible.
VERMISSIAN BLACK OPS is a sourcebook for Heart which gives you additional rules for running strike forces of delvers against high-value targets determined by the Ministry of Our Hidden Mistress.
They’re both out in PDF form now! And: if you get the PDF and decide to get the physical book later on once we’ve had them printed, we’ll discount your order with the cost of the PDF, because we’re nice like that.
SHADOW OPERATIONS is an upcoming supplement for the Spire RPG which features eleven one-shot missions all designed to be as easy to run as possible written by a variety of authors.
WHAT ARE THOSE SCENARIOS?
LIFE AND SOULby Grant Howitt: The legendary Red Row gangster Mr Winters is having an extravagant birthday party in his spacious mansion, which is a shame, because you’re going to murder him for selling weapons to the cops.
THE LAST TRAIN by Nathan Blades:The Last Train is the only functioning train left on the cursed, infinitely fractal mass transit network of Spire. It can never stop, and you don’t steer it – you pray to it. Now: steal whatever’s powering it.
A SHOTGUN WEDDINGby Christopher Taylor: Can you defend a wedding between Brother Hellion’s only biological daughter and a renegade noble-blooded Knight of the North Docks? Bear in mind that it takes place at the Church of the Gun, so everyone is armed.
HOUSE OF LEAVING by Sharang Biswas: When a prominent researcher – and her research, and her office – go missing within the boundaries of the Infinite Library, the cell is dispatched to bring her back intact.
HOW TO STEAL A BODY by Pauline Chan: Simple enough: all you have to do is get a magically-radioactive corpse through the streets of New Heaven while both the blood-hungry Charnelites and the sanctimonious Morticians are trying to stop you doing it.
JAILBREAK by Basheer Ghouse: Liberating an infamous gnoll prisoner of war from the Hive would be hard enough, but once you make contact, it looks like he’s in no hurry to leave.
THE MOON BENEATH by Jabari Weathers: A useful moon priest has defected to worshiping something strange and chthonic in the environs of the Heart. Pull her out of the darkness and bring her back to the light.
POWDERKEGby JP Bradley: Two rival houses of Knights are pitching the North Docks into turmoil. Can you squash the beef tonight before the police turn up and start shooting?
RIME AND REASON by Christine Beard: A renegade Warrior-Poet has been magically frozen in a block of ice; can you get him to a safe house so he can aid the revolution, even though he’s rapidly defrosting and warping reality around him as he does it?
THESE FERAL SAINTSby Pam Punzalan: Drow Saints reincarnate when they die. One of them has shown up in the religious tinderbox that is Pilgrim’s Walk: recruit her as an operative before the church of Our Glorious Lady or the sect of the Crimson Vigil execute or sacrifice her.
THE SHOW MUST GO ON by Jason Pitre: For one night only, a revolutionary desang play will be performed on the streets of Spire. The authorities want to stop it – and it’s your job to run interference. Also, the play magically alters reality as it’s performed, so best of luck.
I think there was a period of five days last year where, unprompted, three different people asked me which Spire adventures were best to adapt to one-shots. The best answer I could give was “Blood and Dust” but the honest answer was “none of them,” because we tend to write adventures that take at least three sessions to play out. SHADOW OPERATIONS is an attempt to give people what they need to get Spire up and running as quickly as possible.
Each scenario is about 1,500 words long, and is broken down into the following elements:
Mission Parameters. An outline of the mission to give you (and your players) an understanding of what sort of events will take place. You can read this aloud to the players to set the scene.
Suggested classes. Most classes can fit into most missions, but these ones will have an easier time of it thanks to their typical abilities, skills and domains.
Intro. Use this section to guide the players into the story. There will often be questions for the players, generally around how they arrived in (or infiltrated) the mission area. This is intentional, as it gets right to the interesting bit.
Non-Player Characters (NPCs). A list of NPCs for the GM to use as they wish. Some of these will be vital to the plot (if you’ve been sent to rescue or kill someone, they’ll be here); others are up to you. As with all the scenarios we write for Spire, we’ve intentionally given you slightly too many to choose from so you can mix and match for the best experience.
Suggested scenes. Events involving the NPCs that explore their characters or advance the plot. Some of these are written in order and others are a spread of ideas to be accessed as you wish. Keep a note of these as you play and use them where appropriate – for example, if the players seem directionless, you want to introduce a new character or if you need to amp up the pace.
Locations. Every situation in these missions takes place within a defined location. This doesn’t have much of a mechanical effect, but should help to focus the players and maintain the game’s pacing by making their position in the world as clear as possible.
Props. Props (or approaches) are small, often throwaway details that can give the players a means of influencing the story or just doing something cool.
Twist. Each of the scenarios has a defined twist that you can reveal towards the end of the session (or the middle, depending on the adventure). If you’d like to run a scenario more than once, you can get a lot of mileage out of it (and keep it interesting for yourself) by changing the twist to something else.
Reward. If you’re using the mission as part of an ongoing campaign, this section has some ideas for what you can give to the player characters in exchange for completing their objectives (in addition to normal advances).
A NEW WAY OF RUNNING ONE-SHOTS
Maybe it’s not entirely “new;” makes for a more interesting headline, though. Basically – you write down the locations on index cards, and then the props and NPCs on other index cards, and arrange them appropriately. Here’s a picture of LIFE AND SOUL laid out in such a fashion:
If there’s any hidden props or NPCs, you can slip those inside the locations, and reveal them when the player characters investigate. (Seeing as we’re all trapped indoors for gaming at present, this should all work online on your gaming platform of choice, too.) You conceal as little information as possible from the players because you’ve got maybe three hours to play out an entire story – so it’s not worth messing around.
What’s more, we’ve consolidated down our NPCs into Iconics – broad types such as The Queen, The Fool, The Monster and The Rising Star – that have their stats outlined at the start of the book. This allows us to save space, and allows you to quickly find the rules for an emergency NPC from a short list.
WHEN’S IT OUT?
SHADOW OPERATIONS is written and illustrated, and it’s in the final stages of layout now. We’re planning on releasing the PDF within the next month or so, and on printing the physical book alongside the Heart supplements (June, or thereabouts). The PDF will be £5 and the softback – with a free PDF included as standard – will be £12 (tbc).
If you’ve backed Heart and you’d like to get a physical copy of Shadow Operations at the same time as your Heart books to save on shipping, we should be able to sort you out. Send an email to email@example.com and we’ll have a chat.
After over eighteen months of development, testing, rewrites, editing, illustration, layout and troubleshooting, we’re proud to announce that the digital edition of Heart is now live! You can buy a copy from our store here.
It’s been a tremendous journey for all of us at RRD and we’d like to thank Felix Miall for his excellent artwork, Jay Iles for her tireless efforts in layout, and Helen Gould for editing something legible out of Grant’s randomly-punctuated manuscript.
We’re still on track to deliver the supplements, and the physical copies, on time – but with the way the world is at the moment things can change from day to day, so we’ll keep you informed as best we can as to the status of the books.
For now, if you’ve got a copy, go read and enjoy it! (And if you don’t, we recommend you buy one.)
Burned and Broken is the final form of the Spire Conversion Guide – a set of rules for adapting characters from the City Above in order to send them on journeys into the City Beneath. We had a lot of requests quite early on in the process of Heart development – before we’d released playtest documents, even – for a means of converting characters between the games – this makes sense, and given that both games a) are set in the same world and b) use broadly similar systems, it shouldn’t have been too hard, right?
Here’s the problem, though: we wrote that. It wasn’t hard to do. It just wasn’t good.
Heart is a very different game from Spire; it uses the Resistance system as a base, and some of the skills and domains are the same as in Spire, and you can definitely see where one system has evolved into the other. (We’re going to overhaul the Resistance Toolkit, too, once Heart is released, with what we’ve learned. It’s not that Heart is a better game than Spire, per se, more that we’ve figured out a lot about adapting the core of the system to make it more fit for purpose.)
But it tells different stories about different people, and the characters from Spire just don’t fit properly into the Heart. In both games, we’ve tried our level best to bake the setting into the character classes, because that’s where players interact most with the game. It just doesn’t work properly when you try to strongarm one set of rules into another.
The translation guide we put together was dry and unexciting. The characters could never hope to be as viable as characters built using the Heart rules, because their core competencies lay elsewhere. An Idol wouldn’t last ten minutes in the Heart; a Knight, torn away from the culture of the North Docks, barely felt like a Knight at all. It felt like a waste of time.
So: we went back to the drawing board. We thought about how we could still deliver what we’d promised but make something interesting and fun; and Burned and Broken is that something.
Why would Ministers choose to go into the Heart? If they had no other options. (Or, I guess, if the Ministry sent them there. But Spire already has setting and rules for the Heart, so you can use that if you’d like.) Rather than get into specifics, we assumed that everything bad that could have happened to the cell had happened or was about to happen: attacks from the Paladins, assassination attempts from Ministry kill-teams, betrayal by old allies, the destruction of safehouses, and so on.
We started working out how we could use the already-established mechanics from Heart to represent a cell being hounded out of the City Above, and came to two main conclusions:
Your Origin is who you were – your class, in Spire terms. Considering how far you are from your network of bonds, allies, supply chains and your normal life, each Origin is vastly underpowered compared to the originating class. That’s deliberate; on one hand, we wanted to illustrate how messed up you are given the nature of your departure from Spire. On the other hand, we wanted to give you room to grow into your new class.
By which we mean: Burned and Broken isn’t a way of perfectly converting your character from one system into another. It’s a way of showing what’s left of you and your abilities after the Ministry decide you’re worth more to them dead than alive, and how you’ll become someone capable of surviving in the City Beneath.
Instead of a Calling, you start off with a Fall.
(Your Calling is how you advance in standard games of Heart – it’s the driving force behind why you’ve chosen to spend your life in a nightmare labyrinth. It’s broken down into a whole bunch of beats (things like “Take Minor Blood Fallout” or “Kick someone off a really tall building”) which, when you hit them, allow you to choose from the abilities available to your class.)
The whole group shares the same Fall, and you’ll each choose three beats from it. When you hit them, you pick out a Calling and a Class, and take elements from that to add to your character. Once you’ve hit three, you’re a fully-fledged Heart character, ready to go headlong into the chaos under Spire, and maybe even prosper down there.
The Fall functions as a means of illustrating your descent from Spire (with beats like “Evade a Ministry Silence team” and “Get revenge on someone who sold you out”), learning the basics of how to survive in the Heart (“Complete a Delve,” “Fight an adversary with Protection 2 or higher”) and developing into a new class (“Get paid for work,” “Establish a connection between two landmarks”).
That’s enough explaining our working for a bit. The book contains:
A breakdown of Derelictus, the City Between, as a series of delves and landmarks so you can run it like a sort of mini-Heart to get players used to the system
Advice on running Burned and Broken games, both as a means of translating characters over from Spire and as a standalone prologue for a new game of Heart
The Fall, and how to run it
Origins for all of the Spire character classes, even the Inksmith and the Shadow Agent from Strata and the Blood-Witch from Black Magic
Rules for stealing pigs
We really hope you like it. It was one of the more challenging parts of the whole creative process, and we’re proud of what we managed to pull off with it.
We’re doing previews of all of the sourcebooks that are launching along side the core rules for Heart. This week, we’re focusing on VERMISSIAN BLACK OPS.
The Vermissian is a centuries-old cursed mass transit network that pierced the Heart Itself and, as a result, got jam-packed with the sort of predatory twisting unreality that really makes it hard to catch the train to work. Walled over and long-abandoned, the Vermissian is now home to no end of dissolute weirdos, illegal wizards and mad scholars – and, as it happens, highly-trained squads of operatives in the service of The Ministry of Our Hidden Mistress, a secret paramilitary cult who have sworn to break the aelfir rule of Spire through misdirection, subterfuge and assassination.
In Vermissian Black Ops, you’ll play those operatives. We’re using Heart rules to power the game (even though you’re playing Ministry operatives) because they’re focused around combat and exploration rather than revolution, social maneuvering and audacious gambits.
WHAT’S IN THE BOOK?
ALTERNATIVE RULES for running Ministry spec ops games, including streamlined healing and advancement mechanics and a bunch of new fallout results intended to represent paramilitary, cult and espionage threats, such as FLANKED, NO EXIT, SHOCK AND AWE, BURNED and SACRIFICE.
Advice on BUILDING OPERATIONS as a group – structuring them around a central core Major objective and supplementing that with Minor objectives.
A guide to each of the FIVE LINES OF THE VERMISSIAN: the ramshackle Candle Line that runs the length of the city from top to bottom, the submerged Fathom line which served the lower city, the twisting and unpredictable Spiral line in the middle city; the aelfir-only Loft line on top of Spire, and the nightmarish Pulse line that connects the network to the Heart Itself.
Stats and motivations for the different FACTIONS at work with and against you: the Ministry of Our Hidden Mistress, the sanctified Paladins of the Autumn Church, the mysterious Vermissian Collective, the Spiral Council, and the, uh, Gutterkin, who are also there:
We’re doing previews of all of the sourcebooks that are launching along side the core rules for Heart. This week, we’re focusing on DOORS TO ELSEWHERE.
Elsewhere is a nexus point between realities – the gateway to a dozen worlds, protected by a cadre of overworked cartographers, threatened by hungry shadows, and panicking as the lights go out.
It’s up to you to save it – and the Heart, and maybe a few other dimensions as well.
WHAT IS DOORS TO ELSEWHERE?
Doors to Elsewhere is a campaign frame for Heart – it’s a scenario, a set of NPCs and factions, some adversaries to fight, lots of details on Elsewhere itself and a situation so dangerous you’ve got no choice but to intervene.
Elsewhere is alive – but it’s a city, and it only speaks in doors and pathways. The lights that keep it safe from those aforementioned hungry shadows are winking out one by one, and it’s thrown open doors to the Heart to try and recruit some proactive individuals to come and save it. (And maybe to let some of the shadows out to eat someone else for a bit, too.)
We mentioned Elsewhere in Spire – the Gentlemen who run L’Enfer Noir are from there – but that’s pretty much it. As with most of our setting details, we had intended it as a throwaway line that wouldn’t attract much attention, but people started to ask questions about it.
With the arrival of Heart, we were able to leap feet-first into the subject of otherworlds, and Elsewhere (along with UnSpire and the Moon Garden) was already waiting for us. We wanted Elsewhere to be everything the Heart wasn’t: comprehensible, modern, and… nice? Maybe not nice, actually, as it has the whole “hungry shadows” thing going on – but during the day, at least, we aimed for something like La Belle Epoque Paris crossed with Planescape’s Sigil.
Rather than go into exhaustive detail on all the alternate realities accessible through the city, we’ve tried to focus on Elsewhere itself – we reckon it’s interesting enough to warrant it. (My favourite bit is the way that, if you break the unwritten and inscrutable rules of Elsewhere, the City simply walls you off into a cellar and waits for you to die or starve long enough that you learn your lesson. There’s a roaring trade in finding the corpses of thieves trapped in basements and crawlspaces and reselling their stolen goods.)
Should your players end up spending several sessions there, we’ve provided a set of minor advances available to any class that give access to magical tricks such as sealing dimensional portals, making yourself understood in any language or summoning a temporary bridge.
Inspired by scenarios such as The Armitage Files and the loose way that we run our own games, Doors to Elsewhere is not only open-ended but open-beginninged and open-middled. We’re looking to provide you with something to spark an interesting story, so we’ve done our best to provide you with as many hooks as possible. If we’ve done our job properly you should be able to adapt the adventure to reflect whatever the players are interested in.
In short: the crystals that power the lights are going missing. We’ve provided means and motive for any one of around six interested parties to have carried out the theft, and reasons that the other five would try to hire a bunch of disposable rubes to steal them back. You can decide whodunnit before play and sculpt the adventure yourself, or – as we’d do it – go with whatever the players reckon is going on but add a couple of twists along the way.
We’re going to do previews of each of the four Heart sourcebooks we’re writing to release alongside the core book. First up, SANCTUM:
SANCTUM was previously titled ABSOLUTION, but as we wrote it, we realised that ABSOLUTION didn’t make any sense as a title so we changed it.
(That’s one of the challenges with stretch goals, especially when you work as organically as we do: you end up having to tweak things after the fact.)
SANCTUM is divided into two parts. Firstly, there’s an in-depth guide to working with the players to build a haven – an island of relative calm in the gristly chaos of the Heart – for them to defend and support. The gameplay of the core Heart experience assumes that the player characters are going to be moving around a lot, so we wanted to split out the idea of haven-based play into a separate volume.
While Heart isn’t a political game – there aren’t really rules for it, and we only have a single social skill – we wanted to come up with a quick and easy way to create some tension within the haven to spur drama. Each haven has three faces – people who represent different philosophies in the landmark – called the caretaker, the rebel and the voice. These three people act as a way to communicate the difficulties and decisions that the haven must face without getting bogged down in relationship maps. because at the end of the day, Heart is a game about descending into a nightmare undercity in search of answers, not about brokering village council disputes.
As with all our work, we’ve tried to add rules by expanding on existing concepts rather than adding sub-systems. To that end, you’ll be able to find Haven-specific fallout, triggered as normal, that reflects the dangers of having people rely on you for support.
THE OPPOSITE OF PEOPLE
The second part of the book is devoted to our favourite type of adversary – the angel, agents and messengers of the Heart Itself, alien creatures whose arrival is heralded by a scraping, screeching song of rust and entropy. We’ve detailed four new types of angel for use in your games, and they’re described in appropriately mad prose by Gris Hannemann – a human travel writer, drug addict and inveterate liar. You can read the unfortunate tale of Mr Hannmann below:
The four new additions are more specialised than the standard angel: the Blossom angel is a twitching, muscled lump of chaos that can impart the Cursed domain into the landmark in which it occupies; The Cacophony angel is a bone-armoured battering ram that sings a nosebleed song with a dozen mouths; the Logos angel, a walking sense organ, gets less visible the more people are looking for it; and the Penumbra angel delivers sanity-blasting revelations to the worthy and curious.
Put both parts of the book together, and you get the ability to build unique, engaging settlements within the Heart – and then destroy them utterly with horrific creatures with inscrutable motivations. Which is fun, we think.
There is a disease, deep in the City Beneath, that worms its way inside the blood and binds the victim to the place; they become a part of something far greater than themselves. Those who have made such a bond are called witches, and are viewed with a mixture of suspicion and awe by the other inhabitants of the Heart.
Each strain of the disease has a lineage and history associated with it, and witches are careful not to infect those who they think would squander the gift. This long tradition, combined with the way that some witches can easily kill the average person simply by glancing at them, means that the sect is treated as nobility, or emissaries of the Heart Itself; they are almost fae-like, existing in their own world of strange practices and esoteric arts whispered from teacher to student over several centuries.
The witches’ base of power is Hallow, a ramshackle town built within a burned-out cathedral within the Heart; almost every witch has passed through there, is going to pass through there, or is trying to avoid it at all costs.
The witch has two core abilities, and they’re both rather neat:
CRUCIBLE represents the way that they take energy from the Heart and transmute it into magical power using ritual and rite. At any time, the player can roll a D6; if it’s equal to or lower than the amount of Echo stress they have marked (Echo stress being the warping effects of the Heart on the body and soul), they clear that much stress and roll with mastery when they next use magic. If it’s higher than their current Echo stress, they mark that much stress .
This gives them a quick-release value for Echo stress, which is good, because they have no other way of soaking it.
Secondly, TRUE FORM allows them to – in fact, forces them to – turn into a terrifying unreal monster at moments of extreme stress. Once in their true form (we use the phrase “flickering zoetrope horror” a lot to describe it) they roll with mastery on Hunt and Kill actions, but everything else becomes riskier to achieve.
Witches are the fae royalty of the Heart, and their abilities are appropriately grandiose and mystical.
GREAT AND TERRIBLE allows them to fully control the transformation into their true form, and can be further upgraded to stun anyone, or anything, that sees them change into inaction. (Even Angels of the Heart are given pause when witnessing such majesty.) THE OLD BLOOD lets them view auras; DIVINITY gives them access to the secret places where witches are revered as messengers of the Heart Itself. DISTINGUISHED LINEAGE lets you offload stress onto bonds without risking fallout, as people are used to just doing what you say and dealing with the consequences themselves.
They are, of course, magicians too. EXSANGUINATE allows them the option of yanking a pint or two out of their target’s mouth and nose, and it can be upgraded to not need line of sight as long as they have a sympathetic token. ASCENDANCY rewrites the world around them into something raw and bestial that they alone control; CRIMSON MIRROR lets they use their blood to scry into the future and determine what’s going to happen on a delve before they leave their haven; WILD-WITCH lets them brew healing drafts from animal bones and wild mushrooms.
No witch would be complete without their FAMILIAR; in Heart, familiars are used as a place to put harm sustained from casting – or being the target of – magic. They can be improved through training, or heartsblood transfusions, to become expert trackers and attack beasts.
And, crucially, being a witch gives you access to a LAIR. I’m just going to post the whole ability below, because I think you’ll like it:
As a witch, you have three endgame options:
THE RED QUEEN puts you in charge of the witches of Hallow, for a time, and lets you control their immense power until you’re overwhelmed and must be interred in the Red Vaults beneath the settlement.
FINAL FORM transforms you into a mighty, landmark-spanning version of your true form; you decide who lives and dies within your domain. You fade away, gradually, etching yourself into the spirit of the place.
PERFECT RESURRECTION lets you make an absolutely perfect copy of someone who’s died, right down to the soul; and what’s more, now they can never die again, and will just wake up naked and screaming in the City Beneath a month after their current body is destroyed. They don’t get a say in this, but you know what’s best.
The witch was the first class we wrote for Heart. In fact, we wrote it before we started writing Heart; it’s from the Black Magic sourcebook for Spire, where it was called the Blood-Witch and was a bit… gorier. They were the weirdest class by far, which is saying something when you consider the others.
In our first draft of Heart, they were the Crimson Aspirant, which sounds a bit daft now I write it out loud in public; they were witches-in-training, en route to the Heart to acquire the disease. But we realised that someone who didn’t have any magical powers in a game where every other bugger had them wasn’t hugely interesting, so we widened them out to be carriers of the disease in general, and we got to speak about the culture of witches in the City Beneath too.
We originally had them split between two facets – the wild witches, who live under trees and shout at wolves, and the noble witches, who live in houses and shout at people. With the arrival of the cleaver as a stretch goal during the campaign, we realised that we were trying to do too much with the class, and cover too many bases. We cut away the wilder elements from the witch and portioned them off into the cleaver, and firmly positioned the class as Heart nobility – from blood, but not from parentage.
The true form of the witch – something which has always been iconic to them – is inspired in part by horror movies where weird-looking creepy people move in ways that people shouldn’t move. Chris watches these; I don’t, and instead just look at clips that he sends over. This test footage from Mama is pretty much what we imagine when a witch pops into true form, but with more cockroaches and flickering.
Secondly, we’ve significantly reduced our shipping costs to the US thanks to efficient distribution and no small amount of awkward zip code data entry. Postage to the United States should be around $5 for our hardback books, which hopefully makes them a bit more accessible to those of you across the pond. If you’d like to order something, check out our online store here.
In other news, we’re quietly plugging away on Heart – we just finished the landmarks section, and we’re excited to see how you and your groups fare in the cursed and disorientating City Beneath. We’re still on schedule to have the text finished and ready for proofreading in the new year.
That’s all for now.
Chris, Grant and Mary
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