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HOLLOWS is coming soon, and you can playtest it

We’ve been working on Hollows for a long time, alongside our other projects, and we’re happy to announce that we’re getting close to opening it up for playtest that you could take part in! But what is Hollows? Read on to find out!

All art by Lucas Utani

THIS WORLD IS SICK

Sin, death and fear collect in the dark places of the world until reality curdles and rots and becomes a Hollow – a place outside of time and space, a wound in the world, and traps people inside it. The land twists and shifts into unforgiving, inhospitable terrain; the inhabitants grow distrustful and furious and strange; and the beasts change into nightmare creatures of legend.

Every Hollow wants to spread and soak into the world around it. Every Hollow has a Lord – the creature that spawned the rift, or the worst infected with the rot, or just the biggest and strongest thing inside it. Kill the Lord, and you kill the Hollow – but normal people can’t enter a Hollow. (Nor would they want to.)

You’re not normal. Something terrible happened to you, and the seed of a Hollow was planted in your heart. One day, you will falter and be overtaken by the dark power that festers within the earth and become something unspeakable and dangerous.

Unless: you hunt down the hollowed creatures and kill them. You put the land to rest and clear the metaphysical rot in the bones of the world. You bathe in the sticky-black blood of these creatures and push back your doom by another dawn. Some people are happy to see you because you kill the pallid beasts that prowl between the shadows at night; others, wiser, know what you could become given one bad day and a handful of wrong decisions, and shun you.

You’re good at killing. It’s all you’ve got.

Hollows isn’t set in Spire or Heart or anywhere in the wider background of Destera. It’s pretty close to the real-world, aside from the stuff about rotting black magic and giant monster hunting. Don’t expect the sort of detailed setting you’ve seen in Spire – this is a world of stitched-together super-local nightmares, each the ultimate ruler of their own domain, and you’re going to destroy them.

YOUR WEAPONS HATE YOU

Each Hunter carries two Weapons; capital-W weapons that tap into the platonic ideals of what a weapon is rather than being a mere lump of sharpened metal or a lead slug and some gunpowder. The same magic that pumps through the Hollows and corrupts the land can be turned to your ends – and what ends are more human than weapons? What better ways of imposing your will on the world? What better way of elevating yourself above the luckless wretches stuck in the Hollow than brutal, unremitting violence?

Each one of the ten Weapons bestows different abilities on the wielder and acts as half of their class. The Knife is frantic and vicious; the Spear is relentlessly xenophobic and promises to protect you and yours; the Sword says you can lead armies; the Rifle is convinced that it alone can civilise the broken world; the Bludgeon says that you’re the top dog, the alpha predator, and that your fallible physical form is a barrier to victory.

In short: the Weapons are all different flavours of toxic masculinity, and all of their promises are lies, and we’re working through some stuff, as ever.

A GAME ABOUT KILLING MONSTERS

Hollows is very combat-heavy. We have neat rules for out-of-combat stuff, and there’s roleplaying opportunities and all that good stuff, but the meat of the game is the bit about killing big monsters. We wanted to focus on tactical positioning, teamwork, risky gambits and cut-throat battles without getting bogged down in calculations or sacrificing excitement and evocative action for interesting, if sterile, gameplay.

Players of Unbound will find something familiar in the rules-set – that game, too, is focused on combat and wants it to be a celebration of your characters’ abilities rather than a punishment for not rolling high enough on stealth checks. You’ve chosen to fight these monsters, so we might as well make it fun to do.

Chief amongst our mechanics is the tactical grid that puts the Entity at the centre of the fight and only ever defines your position as relative to the creature. Terrain only exists as a tag that you attach to your character; being in cover is less a matter of where you are precisely in space, but more a stance you can attempt to enter to gain an advantage against the creature.

Threat is the second innovation that we’re particularly proud of; Entities can place Threat tokens on the grid in response to player actions (and, to a lesser extent, wherever they want) which represent the creature’s attention, reach, speed and danger. Threat tokens are spent to move towards player characters, make quick interrupt attacks, or augment damage to set up killer blows. (A bit like in Dark Souls where the enemies telegraph their attacks, you know?) Often the presence of Threat is enough to keep a Hunter at bay, but there are no end of abilities which interact with it and allow you to shift it around the grid.

So: think Dark Souls, as we mentioned above, and Bloodborne, and Hunt: Showdown, and Monster Hunter as our design touchstones. Heart and Spire are quite loose in their approach to combat and have abilities like “you can now fall three storeys without taking damage” or “you can teleport as long as you’re dancing and on magical MDMA” and Hollows is much more focused on the nitty-gritty of footwork, weak points, keeping your guard up and getting smashed about by a dog the size of a transit van.

MORE TO COME

We’re not going to go into any more detail now because we’re still firming things up, and also we want to keep you excited by being vague. But you can sign up for the playtest by following the link below, and – in a first for Rowan, Rook & Decard – we’re going to have a go at a design podcast, released regularly, recorded during production rather than as a post-mortem.

PLAYTEST LINK

That’s all for now. Stay tuned for more details.

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DIE the RPG is coming to Kickstarter on May 17th (for real this time)

Kept you waiting, huh?

We’re proud to announce that the Kickstarter for DIE the RPG, based on the comic of the same name, is coming to Kickstarter on May 17th 2022.

DIE is a roleplaying game about you and your friends getting trapped in a nightmare fantasy kingdom of your own creation and fighting to get back to the real world – or fighting to stay there, as the case may be. Exploring the age-old tropes of D&D and RPGs in general, author Kieron Gillen has written a tremendous game – and we’ve made it as good as it can be by applying our wealth of publishing and writing experience. You’re going to love it.

We had to postpone the launch by six months, but we’re here now and we’re ready to rock. You can follow the project here to be notified when it goes live, or subscribe to our newsletter, or just come within a mile radius of Grant at some point over the next eight weeks.

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ORC BORG Kickstarter is live

Grant Howitt and ROLLINKUNZ’ ultraviolent technicolour zine extravaganza is now live on Kickstarter. If you want to forge your own path to a glorious DOOM amongst the stars, you can pledge for a physical or digital copy here.

In ORC BORG you play a cybernetic orc hooning through space on an out-of-control junkheap spaceship called THE DERELICT. The Derelict’s ultimate destination – you believe – is the DOOM, a fiery cataclysm triggered when it crashes into heaven. You are doing everything you can to survive until it happens and/or trigger it ahead of time, because it sounds like a laugh.

It’s based on the MÖRK BORG game engine, but it’s a standalone game which can be played entirely from the material inside the book. For more details (including the beautiful RISO printing method we’re producing the zines with) you can check out the Kickstarter page here.

WHY KICKSTARTER?

Kickstarter courted controversy late last year when they announced they were interested in implementing blockchain technology into their platform, leading to some users cutting ties with the company. Since then they’ve been noncommittal with regards to the decision, leading to a lot of frustration. We’ve weighed up the pros and cons of using Kickstarter as a funding platform and, for Orc Borg, we think it’s the best choice. It’s no guarantee that we’ll use them in the future, and we’ll continue to examine our funding methods as we release further products.

We’ve explained our reasoning in this document. If you’re not interested in supporting Kickstarter, ORC BORG will be on sale through traditional channels as soon as possible, and we’ll keep you informed via our newsletter.

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GenCon 2022 recruitment

Rowan, Rook and Decard are doing GenCon this year, but there just aren’t enough of us to do all the jobs we need to do. So: if you’re interested in helping us out AND getting paid in the process, take a look at the two opportunities below.

Both roles pay $15 per hour.

GAMESMASTER. You’ll be running two (or more) games of Heart using a one-shot scenario that we’ve specially written for conventions (along with pregenerated characters). You’ll be responsible for promoting the game, making sure players have a great time, and learning and demonstrating the rules. Apply here.

STALL CREW. You’ll be assisting us on our exhibition show floor stall by selling our games, answering customer queries, carrying boxes of books to and from places, and so on – general con stall stuff. This role includes accommodation for the duration of the convention as well as other benefits – please look at the application form for full details. Apply here.

Deadline for applications is February 21st 2022.

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SIN on general release

As of TODAY you can now purchase PDFs and pre-order physical copies of the Sin sourcebook, the Magister’s Guide, the Conspiracy Kit and the Spire Quickstart from THIS VERY WEBSITE. This is obviously wonderful news. If you’d like to learn more about those things then READ ON:

SIN is the second full-length sourcebook for Spire: The City Must Fall. It includes two new character classes (the divine con-artist GUTTER CLERIC and the bureaucratic hangman MORTICIAN EXECUTIONER), three full-length scenarios and intensive details on the Religion, Crime and Order Scenarios. It’s been written by us and a load of very talented people we hired and we think it’s great.

THE MAGISTER’S GUIDE has supplemental rules systems, advice, and additional content for every single class in Spire, Strata and Sin. Grant spent ages on it and it has rules for CHEKOV’S GUN, which increases in damage the longer it is referenced but not fired.

THE CONSPIRACY KIT and GM SCREEN is everything you need to craft a web of intrigue and mystery around twelve different NPCs and then get your players to infiltrate the whole damn thing in service of the Goddess. Plus it has a GM screen in it! (It’s nice.) We are happy to confirm that at least 50% of these NPCs are kissable. All NPCs (kissable or not) have been illustrated by the talented Rowan MacColl.

THE SPIRE QUICKSTART, rocketing out a scant four (five?) years after the release of the core system, contains a slimmed-down version of the rules, pregenerated characters and a cracking little scenario called SNUFF OUT THE SUN which is mainly about killing bishops. And it’s pay-what-you-want in PDF, so you can’t turn your nose up at that can you.

Right! That’s that. Pre-ordered physical copies should be with you by April but you’ll get the PDF immediately if you want to get started.

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Voidheart Symphony and Shattered City are now available!

This city is sick. The CASTLE dwells beneath the surface of reality, corrupting and twisting those who unknowingly siphon its energy into power. It is hungry for dominion, and it is winning; you can see it in the reflection of office block windows, the glint of expensive watches, and the tears of the oppressed. 

But YOU know a secret. You know how to break into the Castle. You know how to hijack the allegorical space for your own benefits. You are packing weapons made of dreamstuff but real enough to blow the brains out of any dead-eyed servitor demon that stands in your way. You’re going to fight the Patriarchy, one Patriarch at a time. And you’re going to look good doing it.

VOIDHEART SYMPHONY is Mina McJanda’s latest Powered by the Apocalypse game, drawing on her previous work with Rhapsody of Blood and using a modified version of Spire’s Resistance system to manage your real-world worries. Sure, you can fly on neon angel wings and carry a revolver that roars louder than thunder when you’re in the Castle, but in the real world, can you afford proper dental care? Time to find out. 

Pick up a physical or digital edition (or both!) of Voidheart Symphony here.

SHATTERED CITY, based on the popular board game Mysthea, is our game of post-colonial struggles and finding meaning amongst the fractured remnants of your culture. 

Mina McJanda channels Legacy: Life Among the Ruins into a grand narrative of warring power factions, century-long political machinations and a strange world of crystalline magic. Take on the role of not only a hero at the forefront of change but the house that gives them power, and watch the shape of the continent grow and shift over generations. A wide array of house and hero abilities allow for fascinating combinations of powers, and we’ve jam-packed the book with beautiful artwork from a wide variety of illustrators to really evoke the possibilities open to you with your game.

You can pick up a copy of Shattered City here and, if that’s not enough to get you playing, you can grab specially-made character sheets, factor cards and resource handouts as well to open up some more opportunities for you.

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ORC BORG coming soon

The DERELICT is a great big beautiful trash rocket smashing through space and it is jam-packed with ORCS, generations upon generations of them, sporing and scrapping, building murderous idols to their mad gods, and praying for DOOM when the Derelict will crash into heaven and disgorge every dead-hard big-toothed bastard in a glorious green tide.

You are an orc, and you fight and kill and pray and scheme and tinker and howl for a place in heaven.

Grant Howitt and Rollin Kunz are collaborating on ORC BORG – Grant’s doing the words, Rollin’s doing the art – and it’s coming to a crowdfunding platform near you soon. As you might have guessed from the name, it uses the engine from MÖRK BORG and is compatible with same.

Here are some of the things featured in ORC BORG, to excite you:

  • Everything you need to make a punch-obsessed weirdo desperately trying to accelerate the apocalypse
  • A unique orc cyborg class called, ingeniously, the ORCBORG
  • Rules for piloting, fighting and stealing legendary Big Robots such as BANG TEN THOUSAND, MASSIVE PROBLEM, and RUST BITCH
  • Permanent injury and cybernetic replacement rules
  • An actual theme tune
  • Guidance for jamming existing maps into the Derelict to avoid doing any actual prep work
  • Two new kinds of Power: distilled Technowizardry and yell-powered Orc Prayers
  • A junk spaceship full of mad humans, demon-worshiping aliens and worse things besides to beat up
  • Eight different musical genres including Trashcannon, Pianohammer and Drum Bastard

You can stay up to date with the release of ORC BORG by subscribing to our newsletter here.

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We’re delaying the DIE RPG Kickstarter

Some news: we’re delaying the Kickstarter for DIE until spring 2022.

At present, it’s really hard to make informed decisions about the state of the world. Here are the two big challenges facing us today:

  • There’s a worldwide paper shortage.

Seeing as we’re a business that a) writes books and then b) has those books shipped all around the world, you can hopefully see why this is a difficult time for us. We really don’t want to embark on a project like this and have it go dramatically wrong for reasons outside of our control.

To avoid fulfilling late, overcharging you, or running into unsustainable levels of debt from what will doubtlessly be our biggest ever Kickstarter, we’re delaying the launch. We’re sorry to have got you all excited for November, but please rest assured that when we do this, it’s going to be incredible. 

You can follow the Kickstarter here to be notified as soon as we go live.

  • Grant, Chris, Mary and Mina
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The DIE RPG Kickstarter launches in November – and we’re making it

We’ve teamed up with Kieron Gillen, comics author extraordinaire, to publish DIE RPG – the roleplaying game based on the acclaimed indie comic, DIE, in which a group of broken, desperate people are sucked into a magical fantasy kingdom after playing a roleplaying game and we get to watch them work through their emotional and physical trauma – and have a bunch of beautifully-illustrated fights, as well.

We’re really excited to work with Kieron (and Stephanie Hans, too, who’ll be making new illustrations for the project) on this – we’ve been huge fans of his work for years and we couldn’t miss out on the chance to make something incredible together.

We’re still firming up all the details behind the scenes as to what the books will look like and how special the special editions will be (here’s a clue: very), so until we launch in November, you can follow the Kickstarter here to make sure you’re informed as soon as we go live.

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Heart wins seven ENnies

Yeah, that’s right! Heart: the City Beneath won seven ENnies! That’s loads. We already thought it was quite good but it’s lovely to have that confirmed by a board of judges and the voting public.

Here’s the rundown:

GOLD AWARDS: Writing, Setting, Layout and Design
SILVER AWARDS: Internal Art, Cover Art, Adversary/Bestiary Design, Game of the Year

Which is nice, isn’t it? We worked really, really hard on Heart and it’s lovely to see our efforts be realised. If you’re just now learning about Heart, here’s the rundown:

In Spire, the city above, drow and aelfir fight a shadow war for control – but in the Heart, the city beneath, there is a rent in space and time that slumbers uneasy and spins red dreams around those who dare to enter. Gathering together into parties of delvers, those who descend in search of answers – or absolution, or peace, or transcendence – push deep into unreality and inevitably die strange and tragic deaths for their hubris.

They are torn to shreds by slavering beasts, driven mad by staggering revelations, or their bodies change irrevocably as the predatory dimension twists them into new and pleasing patterns. But – in that moment of destruction – perhaps they will find what they are looking, and their pilgrimage into oblivion will have been worth it.

Which is one side of the game. The other side of it is that Chris and I ran our brains hot for eighteen months and wrote down every over-the-top idea we had and mashed about half of them into a brilliant roleplaying game. In Heart: the City Beneath you can:

  • Have all your organs replaced with bees and honeycomb then set off to fight madness
  • Make powered armour out of cursed trains and hook it directly into your bloodsteam
  • Get eaten by a predatory building disguised as a perfectly normal-looking pub
  • Steal power from a dragon so powerful that it has replaced the entire dimension it lives in with fire and gold
  • Break into the back door of not one but eight different heavens in search of celestial valuables
  • Die, get better, and subsequently be followed around by a jealous death spirit who guards you against harm until you’re allowed to actually die
  • Eat quite literally anything you find (for power, or enjoyment)
  • Get pecked to death for trespassing in a Flightless Owl Hive

And many more! It’s a good book. And you don’t have to take our word for it any more. If you’d like to learn more about Heart – or pick up a copy – or get one of the four sourcebooks we wrote for it, one of which is about deposing the government using black ops teams of rebels deployed through a dimension-breaking underground transit network – then you can click here to visit our store.