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Heart: The City Beneath is now on general release

We are beyond happy to announce that Heart, our RPG of cursed dungeon-crawling and nightmare body-horror, is now fully available everywhere. We’re going to show you what Heart’s all about in this blog post, so join us, won’t you?

WHAT KIND OF PERSON ENTERS THE HEART?

Following on from Spire, our 2017 game of urban fantasy insurrection, we wanted to create a game which let us explore a perennially popular subject for roleplaying games – the dungeon crawl. We took the concept of the Heart – the roiling unreality that rests underneath Spire, and the source of no end of strange magic and monsters – and expanded on it. What sort of people would willingly descend into the bowels of the earth in search of treasure, absolution, glory or forgiveness when a perfectly decent city exists directly above it?

Broken, dangerous people – that’s who. Every character in Heart is hell-bent on something – an obsession that burns at the core of their being and pushes them onward to power and damnation. This Calling – as we’ve named it – provides a road-map for advancement focused around a variety of story beats that push them in various self-destructive directions.

The Class part of your character is more traditional: what you do to stay alive and help your allies. The Deadwalker is a ranger, of sorts, who died and came back from the brink and is now followed around by a spectre of their own narrowly-avoided death; the Vermissian Knight patrols a cursed mass transit network wearing powered armour built from ancient trains; the Witch has contracted a blood disease which gives her mastery over the flesh and blood of the Heart; and the Deep Apiarist, who has replaced many of their internal organs and part of their brain with waxen simulacra built by industrious magical bees.

A RED WET HEAVEN

The book has masses of setting information, but none of it is set in stone (or flesh, teeth, hair, etc) – your group will create the world around them as they play, scarring the Heart into a mirror of their desires. Temples to forbidden gods are commonplace, as are vast and incomprehensible machines; trees who learned the trick of walking but also the curse of madness stalk through twisted forests that have never seen the sky; predatory buildings lay in wait like great pitcher plants, disguised as perfectly ordinary pubs or bookshops; and from the unfathomable depths of the Heart Itself, crimson Angels march forth and herald their arrival with a screeching, scraping song of rust and ashes.

Which should surely be enough to be going on with, right? However, thanks to the enthusiasm of our Kickstarter backers, we ended up publishing a variety of sourcebooks that shed more light on various aspects of the setting. We’ll take a look at those now.

SANCTUM

One of the most engaging ways to start a Heart campaign is to get your players to build their own settlement as a group and determine how they fit into the overall environment – and Sanctum gives you the tools you need to do just that. One of the most engaging ways to end a Heart campaign is to take an Angel, the Heart’s implacable messengers and killers, and send it to destroy the settlement that the players built at the start of the game – and Sanctum comes with four new kinds of Angel, described by the famous travel writer and liar Gris Hanneman, to do just that.

DOORS TO ELSEWHERE

Elsewhere is a city between worlds – a nexus of doorways and paths that stitch together the various realities that creep into the world of Heart. In this campaign frame, we detail the strange Belle Époque-style city of Elsewhere, the inhuman inhabitants, the worlds attached to it, and the ravenous shadow creatures that descend once night falls and consume anyone not wreathed in electric light.

VERMISSIAN BLACK OPS

Vermissian Black Ops cover

We use the expanded combat rules in Heart to lend weight to your Spire campaigns – by recruiting seasoned delvers as special operatives on dangerous missions for The Ministry of Our Hidden Mistress, the paramilitary organisation that lies behind the revolutionary themes of the game. With extra rules for firefight-themed fallouts, new weapons, details on the murderous Autumn Soldiers of the Paladin cult and a full breakdown of each Vermissian Line in full, VBlops (as we’ve taken to calling it around the office) is just the thing to satisfy players with a craving for action in their espionage games.

BURNED AND BROKEN

We tried to write a way to translate your characters from Spire into Heart, but: it didn’t work and it wasn’t good enough. So instead we made a meat grinder and called it Burned and Broken. This is a set of rules to rebuild your Spire ministers as Heart delvers once the Ministry has turned their back on them and damned them to a life of exile in the City Beneath – choose what you clung to as you fell from grace, navigate the dangerous streets of Derelictus pursued by enemies old and new, and maybe find absolution or revenge in the Heart.

QUICKSTART RULES

If you want to get a handle on what Heart is, you can download our free Quickstart rules. The PDF comes with all the rules you need to know to play and run Heart, five pre-generated characters and a choice of advances for each, and a basic starter scenario which sees you on a race against time to stop an extradimensional entity flooding the City Beneath with saltwater, making it somehow less hospitable than it already is. (You can get a physical print of the Quickstart for cheap, too!)

MAP AND LANDMARK SET

The thing about Heart is that it doesn’t have a canonical map – instead, each game builds it anew as it shifts and warps into a pattern that best suits the delvers that step into it. This thick boardgame-style fold-out map and associated hex stickers are, we reckon, the best possible way to illustrate your party’s descent into the ancient madness of the Heart. (Or you can do it on a bit of paper, too – that works. We just think the map is neat.)


We’re really excited to see people get their hands on Heart and explore their own version of this strange unreality. If you’d like to learn more, you can check out all of the Heart stuff in our store. Or if you run a games store and you’d like to stock Heart (or any of our products) in your business, you can drop us an email at admin@rowanrookanddecard.com to discuss discounted wholesale rates.

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UK Games Expo 2020 – Online

After the dust from GenCon has settled, we’re back at it again with another online convention – this time, our own home-grown UK Games Expo, which back in the day used to run at the NEC but now, on account of the wretched pandemic in which we continue to find ourselves gripped, is instead happening on the INTERNET.

Where once we would sit out front of the Hilton Metropole eating an overpriced burrito, now we’ll crouch in a MODEM and eat DATA. Cosplay pictures in that copse of trees that smells a bit funny? Now it’s cosplay pictures in your BATHROOM that smells a bit funny. Touting our niche roleplaying games in a massive hall full of people who are mostly there to buy boardgames and do something with their kids for the weekend? NO WAY – we’re YELLING MUTELY into the DIGITAL VOID because no-one’s really worked out how to do VIRTUAL TRADE HALLS YET.

In other news, we quite miss conventions. This was supposed to be our big year with the release of Heart – we had our own stall lined up, with staff and everything, after two years of exhibiting with the UK Indie RPG League. But the bastard pox had to take its toll, didn’t it? We’re looking forward to a world where we can go hang out safely and drink beer and talk shop with everyone. Plus no-one’s recognised Grant as That Guy Who Writes One Page RPGs for at least a year and he’s starting to get antsy.

As we did with GenCon, we’ll be offering free shipping for the duration of the convention with the code RRDUKGE – if you input that at checkout, we’ll take care of the cost of delivery.

That’s all for now. 2020 continues to be unpleasant and strange. Stick with it, eh?

  • Grant, Chris and Mary
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Gen Con Online with RR&D

Hey, it’s GenCon 2020! On account of the blasted pox, the entire thing is taking place online, which means slightly fewer opportunities for impromptu hangout sessions but significantly less travel time, given that we live on the other side of a massive ocean from Indianapolis.

We’re running games of Royal Blood, Heart, and Spire – and there are games of Honey Heist and Beautiful Space Pirates too, which we didn’t set up but we did write the systems so well done there.

FREE SHIPPING

We can’t replicate the sensation of being in Indianapolis in early August – it’s not nearly warm enough here, nor is there a sort of fierce biomass of geek present ready to swarm into any available space in case there are dice for sale there – but we’ll do the next best thing. If you use the code GENCON20 on this site during GenCon, we’ll deliver your items FREE OF CHARGE no matter where you live.

Several thousand copies of Heart (and all associated supplements) are currently on board a big boat somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic on account of the US government deciding that it should cost Too Much Money to send individual parcels to it in an attempt to put people off buying from small overseas creators, because that’s a cool thing to do. TO THAT END if you order Heart or one of the shiny new sourcebooks and you’re in the US or Canada then the books will ship to you in about three weeks once they’re on dry and land and have cleared customs.

ENNIES

We’re in them! Or rather: we’ve been nominated for some awards, which is nice. Royal Blood is up for best product and best game, Strata is up for best internal art, and Sexy Battle Wizards is up for best free product. (Heart came out just too late, which is a shame, but you can expect us to ride it into battle in 2021 like a massive warhorse and carry away all the awards we can steal.)

FREE BEES

We’ve got enamel pins made special for GenCon! We were going to hand them out with purchases but, well, pandemic. So instead we’re selling them through the store here and if you order more than $9 worth of stuff and you have a physical item in your order, we’ll throw one in for free.

The pins are lovely occult bees from Heart, as you can see here:

They were designed by Hari Conner and they’re great.

That’s everything! We hope you have a good GenCon 2020, despite… everything, and look forward to seeing some of you in Indianapolis for GenCon 2021.

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Spire (in Italian) is out now!

Want to overthrow a corrupt and cruel colonialist government? Want to do it in Italian? Have we (and Isola Illyon Edizioni) got the product for you!

You can pick up the Italian Edition of Spire from Isola Illyon’s website here (or if you just want the PDF, you can get that too). You’re also able to pick up PDFs of Blood and Dust (our most popular campaign frame) and Codex of the Deep Spire (a collection of weirdnesses by Jordan Shiveley) in Italian, too.

We’re also really happy to announce that Spire is a candiate for the most important role-playing award in Italy: the Role-Playing Game of the Year, organized by the Lucca Comics & Games event. So that’s nice, isn’t it?

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Black Lives Matter, Sanctum

BLACK LIVES MATTER

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

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.

All Kickstarter backers have access to the PDF through Backerkit; if you don’t, you can pick it up from our store.

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Shadow Operations and Vermissian Black Ops are out now in PDF

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.

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SHADOW OPERATIONS

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 SOUL by 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 WEDDING by 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.

POWDERKEG by 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 SAINTS by 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.

WHY ONE-SHOTS?

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:

Image

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 admin@rowanrookanddecard.com and we’ll have a chat.

Otherwise, if you’re interested in picking up a copy, you can subscribe to our mailing list and we’ll let you know when it’s out!

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Heart: The City Beneath PDF is live!

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.)

Yours,

  • Grant, Chris and Mary
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Burned and Broken preview

Let’s talk about how Heart interacts with Spire.

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.)

The Midwife Origin

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.

Raw deep-fish sounds kind of gross to be honest

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:

ORIGIN

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.

FALL

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”).

BREAKDOWN

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
See?

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.

If you’re interested in learning more about Heart, you can check out our (finished) Kickstarter here or pre-order a copy from our Backerkit store here.

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VERMISSIAN BLACK OPS PREVIEW

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.

You can find details on infamous Vermissian stations throughout the book

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.

The Goddess has some strange desires

Advice on BUILDING OPERATIONS as a group – structuring them around a central core Major objective and supplementing that with Minor objectives.

Some of the suggested operations from the book

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.

Features which might help or hinder Black Ops teams are detailed in each section

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:

They’re doing their best

If you’re interested in learning more about Heart, you can check out our (finished) Kickstarter here or pre-order a copy from our Backerkit store here.