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.
Gosh, we’d love to be at GenCon, breathing in and out and all over everyone, shaking hands, sharing swigs from bottles and generally engaging in the sort of behaviour that was perfectly fine before this wretched Coronavirus swept across the world and pinned us indoors for a good year and a half now – but unfortunately, given the global pandemic that we’re sure you don’t us to tell you about, we can’t legally travel into the United States. Seeing as GenCon is taking place in the United States, that really puts paid to our plans to shuffle over there and flog a metric tonne of books.
So: we’re not going to be there. Hopefully next year. In the meantime, please enjoy the following GenCon-themed benefits:
If you use the code GENCON2021 at checkout during the GenCon weekend, you’ll get free shipping on whatever you buy. It’s just like you’re shoving it directly in your bag after buying it off our stall except a) a postal worker will bring it to you and b) you don’t have to carry it around all day, so swings and roundabouts.
Pins! Enamel pins! We’ve got ’em, and you could have ’em too, after a few brief clicks and some money changing hands. On offer this year:
If you’ve always liked trains but wished that they were all haunted and that you could wear them as a sort of illegal power armour, you’ll love the Vermissian Knights. These ignoble paladins slash, kick and explode their way through the thrice-damned mass transit network of the Vermissian for fun and profit – and now you can wear their official logo wherever you like:
Bees! Everyone loves bees. If you love bees a bit too much then you could consider joining the Deep Apiarists, a sect of radical wizards who replace their fallible organs with waxy simulacra built, maintained and inhabited by strange glyph-marked bees. If you love bees a normal amount you can just buy the pin instead:
“Why would you sell an enamel pin of a perfectly normal-looking thief?” you ask – well, you’ve been fooled, because this is no ordinary thief. This is a bear in a cunning disguise. Leaping straight from the pages of Honey Heist, this charming little guy is ready to steal some honey – and your heart too:
“As punishment for your crimes, the city of Spire has declared you dead – and it falls to me to correct the administrative imbalance that sees you standing here, alive, breathing, in flagrant violation of several crucial edicts and one Grand Statute.”
Executions are illegal in Spire thanks to a law instituted over a century ago by a Legislator-Architect who found them unfashionable. However, the influential Mortician sect were able to find a loophole around the ban – declaring a person legally dead and then redressing the balance at swordpoint. You are a Mortician Executioner, and you have joined the Ministry of our Hidden Mistress; you live a double life as a state assassin and a revolutionary, and must shoulder all the burdens that brings.
The Mortician Executioner has been following us around for a while. (Not in real life, you understand: that would be terrifying.) They were one of the original Spire classes, back when the game had a Control stat for every fight, a Black Bag skill and used, god, playing cards or something to resolve challenges or something. We knew that we wanted a death magician, but they kept skewing too close to being in authority for us, and we couldn’t come up with enough interesting abilities to make them work properly so we shuffled them off to one side and forgot about them for four years.
And now! Here we are, older and wiser, with a better understanding of what Spire is about and hundreds of hours of games design experience under our collective belt. We figured we’d have another go at the Executioner, because it would be interesting to take a look at death (and the administration of same) through the lens of a culture that differs from the Carrion-Priest in the core book.
All told, the Executioner is a joke that got out of hand. We liked the idea of state executions being illegal but declaring someone dead and then correcting the real-world inaccuracy with murder being perfectly legal, because that’s the kind of Kafkaesque gag that fits perfectly into the black humour of Spire. In practice, it’s actually been really hard to work with, because the murderous insouciance of the aelfir has resulted in a lot of in-canon executions which we’ve just sort of glossed over, but here we are.
Let’s address the elephant in the room: the Executioner is a cop.
The Knight is a sort of cop if you squint and don’t worry about the fact that the only badge they have is tattooed onto their arm. The Bound is a vigilante. But the Morticians are directly supported by the city and enforce state law, in as much as they kill enemies of the state (or anyone important enough to have that title thrust upon them via bribery), and they’re part of a vast and influential bureaucracy that controls vast swathes of land and power within Spire.
In short: not your average revolutionary. Which is another reason why we didn’t include them in the first book, because they felt too powerful and too in-charge to be interesting to play, especially when we had the refugee Carrion-Priests who were doing the same job and got a cool hyena to play with.
What we’ve tried to do with this class is underline the fact that the player character is undercover in the Morticians – they’re a state executioner, but given the lack of oversight applied to their actions, they have the ability to manipulate and abuse the systems of power from the inside to benefit the revolution. That’s why their refresh ability is focused not around doing their job, as in the case of a lot of the other classes, but about subverting challenges and turning them into tools to be used rather than destroying them. That’s one of the central themes of Spire – subvert, don’t destroy – and it was nice to be able to reward it directly.
We’ve gone for two different flavours of Executioner using the starting equipment choices. Firstly there’s a witch-hunter, Inquisitor, cool-lookin’-guy-in-a-coat with a crossbow and an axe type; secondly, there’s the Russian-Orthodox-Priest-lookin’-guy who gets a big staff and a load of robes and holy symbols, who is more of a cleric. We spent a very long time researching names for particular kinds of holy attire (tippets, chasubels, kalimavkorai, etc) but most of them were so obscure or funny-looking to be of no use whatsoever, so we settled on “robes” and let you fill in the details yourself.
Once per situation, Executioners can automatically detect who in the immediate area knows what they want to know – getting it out of them is their problem, though. Hopefully this can speed up investigations and remove red herrings.
Crucially, once per session, they can declare someone legally dead. A few of their abilities key off this (see below) and they get increased combat capability against their target; they can mark extra people using this method, but doing so causes their Shadow stress to mount up as they risk discovery from their Mortician masters.
The Executioner is a combat powerhouse, if you want them to be – they’re easily the equal of the Knight or the Carrion-Priest once they get up and running. Abilities like ONE DROW ARMY and REAPER’S TOUCH allow them to chop through whole groups of assailants at once:
Single targets aren’t safe either, thanks to DEATH’S KEEN BOLT:
Which, you’ll note, is great unless you actually kill anyone with it, at which point you get in trouble with your boss and have to start falsifying records to cover up the fact that it wasn’t shot at an enemy of the state but, in fact, an aelfir arms dealer who you decided was easier to deal with once they were dead.
But! Honestly? The combat bits are the less exciting part of the class compared to their MAGICAL BUREAUCRACY and CORPSE SURGERY abilities. We wanted to show that the Executioners aren’t just Judge Dredd-style badasses running around and killing people, but that they’re part of a larger organisation with its own rules, benefits and restrictions. For example, you can use SPEAK WITH “DEAD” to communicate with someone who’s legally dead but not actually dead:
Why? Because we thought it would be fun to distract someone with a ouija board and then steal their wallet, or pretend to be someone’s subconscious and see if you can’t trick a password out of them. You can also influence the city around them to reflect the fact that they’re no longer a living citizen, to make them late for things, because we’re really into that kind of petty evil here at RRD Towers. Channelling the bureaucracy of the dead in different ways allows them to recreate events from official reports or half-forgotten memories, erase Shadow stress and fallout, and even – once – swap out their own death for someone else’s.
The corpse surgery elements come from the way that the Morticians have developed Undying surgery – a necromantic practice that fixes you at your current age and renders you immortal but prone to madness, moth infestations, curious leakages, etc. We figured that we could play with the idea that they’ve managed to implant stuff in people that shouldn’t strictly be in there, which leads to audacious and fashionable implants such as visible organs behind glass, nonfunctional megacorvid wings, hands of glory, dead men’s eyes, and so on. Do well enough and you can get the full Undying package:
The Mortician-as-state-badass is undoubtedly inspired by Inquisitors from Warhammer 40k and the Witch Hunters of real-world history; we can’t say that we agree with their methods or their goals but there’s a lot of scary imagery and association to draw on, there.
And: you know how there’s, like, funny laws? Like “you can’t carry a pig under one arm in the market square on Sunday in Canterbury” or “in Zachariah, New Michigan you can’t marry a Frenchman unless your door is painted green,” that sort of thing? We like those. Or rather we like what they say about law – that it is infallible and strange and a purely social construct, and that once you step away from it for a hundred years or a hundred miles it can seem perverse and ridiculous.
That’s what the Executioner is – an extension of the ridiculous and a sack of ideas about death and bureaucracy and ritual tied up in a bag that’s trying to overthrow the government. They’re the most organically Spire class we’ve ever done, I think – they’ve arisen out of the fiction and become something more than they started as, and they fit really neatly into the overall whole of the game.
“Azur! Charnel! Limyé! Incarne! Merhor! Great Damnou! Uh, Brother Harvest? Plür? Is ANYONE listening up there?”
You are on the cutting edge of Applied Theology. Wielding miracles granted by a dozen gods, you are somewhere between a field researcher and a metaphysical con artist who tricks forbidden, dead or merely unpopular deities into blessing you with their aid and hiding from their sight before they realise what happened.
We’ve been toying with the idea of the Gutter Cleric for a long time. They were one of the original classes in the Spire corebook, but we couldn’t figure out how to make them work without being jarring – despite the game definitely being about religious magic and unorthodox uses of same, they didn’t quite fit. We called them GODHACKERS as a placeholder name, which maybe explained why we never managed to make them fit into the game; it doesn’t gel with Vermissian Sage and Carrion-Priest.
Anyway. We’re better games designers now, and we needed classes for a new book, so we went back to our old ideas and saw if we could do them justice. Turns out that changing the name from Godhacker to Gutter Cleric – a name with heavy overtones of the Junk Mage, their counterpart in Heart – gave us the inspiration we needed to properly build them out. Rather than being an academic innovator, the Gutter Cleric became a sort of desperate con artist who was ripping off gods by pretending to be faithful just long enough to earn a miracle.
Gutter Clerics start with either a big heavy self-written holy book (D3, Defensive, Surprising) or a one-shot improvised pistol and a cut-throat razor, which are popular recruitment tools in the grim backstreets of Pilgrim’s Walk. You have two options: either a sort of bumbling scholar who hits people over their head with a bible or the sort of bastard who’d sell your grandma for a sack of hooky relics. Both are good.
PETTY COMMUNION allows you to speak with the small gods of objects and talk with them; the more important the object, the less it cares about what you have to say. BOOTLEG MIRACLE lets you go slightly mad or attract unwanted attention in exchange for rolling with mastery on any roll you like. I’m mainly telling you about these because I’m happy with the names.
We matched each tier of advances to a tier of gods – unpopular gods for low advances (or things that aren’t quite gods at all – they can siphon Idol powers, for example), the Nine Forbidden Faiths for the medium advances, and then ancient Titan-esque precursor gods for the high advances.
Eagle-eyed readers of Spire will note that we have not really defined what the Nine Forbidden Faiths are (and indeed we go on to imply that there are actually Seven Forbidden Faiths in the sentence immediately afterwards due to a typo) and that there’s been no mention of precursor gods at all so far in the text, so it was both fun and a challenge to come up with things that fit the tone of Spire whilst making for a fun class and not contradicting any lore that we’d established in the past. (Or: contradicting it in an interesting way, at least.)
So the medium advances focus primarily on the banned Old Gods of the aelfir (The Void Above, The Beast Beyond The Walls, The Fire Stolen) which was fun, because we got to flesh out the history of the high elves and imply some stuff about their difficult past in the Frozen North. It’s also nice to give players an option to use the gods of their oppressors against them, I think.
We wanted to show the experimental/improvised nature of the Gutter Cleric by giving them two different power levels in each medium advance – one for a low stress cost, and one for a high stress cost. This puts them somewhere between traditional reliable Divine magic users and riskier Occult casters. The high advances let us really mess with the mechanics of the game, because we wanted to show that these gods are different from the other gods we’ve seen so far, as you can tell from this ability which lets outright ignore fallout as long as you don’t mind it accidentally hitting increasingly familiar people instead:
I really like that scene in The Mummy where Benni, the sort-of-villain character who wears a fez, gets threatened by the titular Mummy, and starts cycling through holy symbols and prayers from different religions in an attempt to gain divine protection. The Gutter Cleric is basically a whole class about that.
Of course, there’s a lot of crossover with the Junk Mage, and both of them share DNA with the characters in an unpublished novel I wrote called God In The Attic which features a con-artist demonologist who spends the entire book lying to demons and passing off crap he bought at a pound shop as ancient relics in back-room sacrifices. I will continue making characters who lie to supernatural entities and maybe get away with it until my demands are met (i.e. the novel is published).
Since we formed Rowan, Rook and Decard in 2017 we’ve worked hard to produce what we believe are some of the best games on the market – beautiful, clever, interesting books that push the medium in new directions and open up new opportunities for players. We’re proud to have made a successful business out of it, too; despite the common wisdom being that there’s no money in roleplaying games, we’ve applied our talents to make things that improve the world, make us happy, and provide us with enough income to live.
We’re doubly proud, today, to be able to welcome a new member to our team: Minerva McJanda. Minerva has an established career in the industry as a designer and layout artist – her previous work includes (but is certainly not limited to) Legacy: Life Among The Ruins, Rhapsody of Blood, Voidheart Symphony and Lancer – and she did the layout on Heart: the City Beneath for us, too.
We’re absorbing her company, UFO Press, as part of Rowan, Rook and Decard – so pretty soon you’ll start to see her games for sale on our site and through our channels. UFO Press will remain active as an imprint of RRD, so you can still expect to see more of Mina’s games appearing through it as we move forward.
We’ve known Mina for years and we’ve come up through the industry together, so it’s exciting to bring her on board full-time and work with her to make our games as beautiful as they can be – and offer her support to work on her own games, too.
1: THE HEART OF THE MOUNTAIN. Which is also the heart of the First and Final God, set on an ancient stone plinth in a chamber of volcanic rock. It beats once a year in midwinter, normally – now, it beats once a day at midnight, stacking up successive winters atop one another. If you can time it right (you really don’t want to be standing next to it when it beats) then you could potentially stop the First and Final God by stabbing it with a powerful enough weapon. Or: just freeze to death as urfrost leaks out of the puncture wound.
2: DWARVEN GODKILLER BOMB. A handful of these devices were built in bygone times by a well-funded sect of radical gnostic dwarves. Not content with simply maligning and badmouthing the gods in their incendiary books of secular philosophy, they also took to actively seeking out and killing them as revenge for previous crimes against dwarfkind – and the most popular method of doing so was the so-called Godkiller bomb, specially designed to detonate in this and as many neighbouring dimensions as possible. Unfortunately you can’t just order one; you’ll need to break into the abandoned dwarven vaults (which are beneath the occupied dwarven vaults, full of nasty pro-religion dwarves self-shackled to a blind idiot god), bypass whatever twisted clockwork guardians they left in place to guard the bombs, and lug the tremendously heavy and unstable device out of there and into the path of the First and Final God. (And then make sure you aren’t caught in the pan-dimensional shockwave once it detonates.)
3: BLACKIRON SPIKE. The First and Final God was betrayed by its ungrateful divine children in a manner familiar to gods everywhere and, unkillable and primordial as it was, it was pinned in place beneath the mountain Svartfjell with the Blackiron Spike – a massive pitted pin the size of a full-grown man’s leg, impossibly heavy and ancient, the first metal tool ever created. About three months ago, the cult of the Pinned God [link] pulled it out and things have been going steadily downhill since then.
Here’s the thing: you can’t hope to destroy the Blackiron Spike, as it’s made from the bones of the First and Final God itself. The cultists that pulled it out (the ones that survived, anyway) have been transporting it as far away from the writhing body as they can – they’ve managed to get it halfway across the Bone Steppes, en route to a major port on the other side where they can hand it off to allies in the south. Presumably someone could put it back in, if they were quick enough. [Teleportation magic or any spells that increase movement speed don’t work in the presence of the Blackiron Spike – it’s just too heavy, spiritually, to be affected. You can lug it about with a successful Hard Strength check though, or put it on a cart, just fine.]
4: THE DEVIL’S HOT ROD. Let’s not mince words here: this is a car. This is a big fat open-topped car with plush sinner-skin leather interior, a speedometer with goetic runes instead of numbers, an exhaust that roars like a lion who smokes two packs a day and a sawn-off shotgun in the glove compartment [2D8+Dex damage; you can’t reload it but there’s a new one in there every time you open it]. It runs on the souls of the damned and is powerful enough to chew through anything that the First and Final God can try to slow it down with. You could probably use it as a ramming weapon too [3D10 damage at speed, ignoring magical protections] but the Devil would be awful upset if you damaged the paint job (he got Michelangelo in special to do it).
5: THE FIRST AND FINAL AXE. This is the hand-axe of the god of the same name – lost during its original fight against the upstart deities (or peacefully relinquished as the god went into torpor, depending on which version of the legend you go by) and transformed into the mountain Svartfjell itself. If you know the right words, and have power enough to speak them aloud, you can summon it to your hand. Thankfully, it appears at a regular axe-size for you.
[If it’s thematically appropriate, Svartfjell disappears when you summon the axe. If not, assume that the mountain is a pale imitation of the axe, and sticks around for now – especially useful if you want to have a climactic fight atop it.]
The stone-bladed axe is designed to fell World-Trees and behead gods, so it’s really not designed for mortal hands. You probably have enough divinity inherent in you to make two or three swings before your blood catches fire or you’re utterly hollowed out from the strain, so use them wisely. [+6 handaxe. If you hit, you inflict 5D20+6 damage, but you take an equal amount of damage yourself. Don’t try to get clever with this in regards to DR or feats or anything like that – you take the damage. If you take more damage than you have hit points remaining, you explode and inflict 2D10 damage on everyone around you.]
6: THE GREAT STONE CALENDAR. In one of the lesser-known monasteries of Dovescopp, the acolytes worship a stone calendar that predicts the end of the world. (Or rather: it stops, right about now-ish, and it’s been eerily accurate for the last thousand years or so.) Their sacred books (also in stone, but slightly smaller) say that their god of divisions, measuring and boundaries created and bestowed it upon them. How can something carved in stone a thousand years ago be accurate in terms of seasonal variations, dates and times? Easy: it isn’t describing the world. The world’s describing it. The Great Stone Calendar is calling the shots. So theoretically if you can get hold of some truly epic stoneworking tools, you can extend it – and there’s the corpse of more than one creator god rotting on the foothills of Svartfjell at present, so presumably you can rifle through their celestial pockets in search of something suitable.
Make sure you get it right, though. You don’t want to end up trapped in a time-loop forever because your chisel hand slipped. Or accidentally scrub out the last four hundred years of mortal civilisation before you die.
1: AUTUMN. Frantic and fractious Autumn, half-dead and gossamer-skinned, with ashwood bones and leaflitter hair. Their domain is least amongst the fae courts, but with spies everywhere; they bless you with secrets, knowledge, schemes and foresight. They are vicious and sharp in a way that Summer will never be; desperate and hopeful in a way that outstrips Winter; and wise beyond the grasp of gracious Spring.
[Once per session, declare that an NPC is actually in the pay of Autumn, and works for you now – or at least on the same side as you.]
2: HALCYON. Halcyon is a wine-drunk god of rutting and song; the kind they don’t make any more. He woke up this morning with a hangover that could kill a kraken at twenty paces and saw what sort of state the world was in, did approximately three minutes of thinking while he drank a coffee so black that light could not escape from the espresso cup it was stored in, and decided to sort things out himself. Reasoning that there can’t be any parties if there isn’t a world to have them in, he appears to you in a vision and offers you a drink from his celestial chalice – those who drink from it are blessed with a fortitude beyond that of mortal beings and a generally pretty chill outlook on things.
[When you get drunk and/or high (-1 to all rolls, cumulative until you sober up the next day) and have a bit of a party, heal all lost hitpoints. Whilst at a party you roll with advantage to bring other guests around to your way of thinking. Dead people, as long as they have a drink in their hand when the party starts, also heal all lost hit points.]
3. JONHUR, THE GOD OF TALES. There are few things better than a good story, and Jonhur knows this – so he’s looking for the sort of well-intentioned gang of vagabonds that would, in any good story, save the world from destruction. Your gang of vagabonds seem to be perfect for the job, or so he says. Full disclosure: you’re not perfect. You’re not the first gang of vagabonds he’s tried. All five of his earlier choices died in horrible accidents related to attempting to save the world. Jonhur would never tell you this (he’s a gentleman) but as you embark on your quest it’ll become clear that you’re not the first people to get torn to shreds in this temple and you probably won’t be the last.
[As long as you don’t resolve your central conflict, you can’t die – it just doesn’t make any sense. You always cling on to life due to your plot armour. (This is actual armour that he gives you – usually a helmet.) However, if your central conflict becomes unclear or unexciting, you take double damage from all sources until you get a proper plotline. Jonhur is forbidden from explicitly coaching you but will do his best to set you up with interesting lives.]
4. KYGERACH, MAINTAINER GOD. “It’s no fun being the central god out of three – one gets to do all the creation, one has the catharsis of destruction to look forward to, meanwhile muggins over here is stuck spinning cosmological plates and performing patchwork repairs on the universe. And now the world is ending! Not on my watch, sunshine.” Kygerach is a once-calm maintainer deity who isn’t about to let the world end now, just when things are getting good. As such, they’ve thrown open the vaults of heaven and are giving out god-killing (or at least god-injuring) weapons and armour to those that they reckon are in with a shot of kicking the snot out of the First and Final god. Get in there quickly before they change their mind!
[Open the DMG, pick out three magical items each – any of ‘em, doesn’t matter – and write them down on bits of paper. Draw two randomly from a hat. Enjoy your new equipment – it’s soulbound to you and you can’t trade it away. Kygerach is an equal-opportunities god and honestly easily tricked, so the remaining magic items are distributed amongst any mortal rivals you have at present.]
5. THE WINTER COALITION. Mother Winter, calculating and cruel, a craftswoman beyond compare. Dregr, hoary pig-man of the deep forest, laden with steaming gifts for young children. Jack, prince of snow, whose breath is a sudden squall and whose hair is a sweeping drift but who still manages to look pretty good in a waistcoat. Little Lost Holly who stalks the frozen backroads looking for a man to keep her warm. This rag-tag collection of gods, supernatural creatures, creatures from myth and embodied elemental forces all have one thing in common: Winter. They were under the impression that the fourth season was supposed to be their domain, and now this Johnny-Come-Lately (or Johnny-Come-Originally, depending on who you believe) First and Final God is stomping around demanding that it’s theirs. In an attempt to even the odds, they’ve (mostly) put aside their differences and teamed up into an unprecedented super-team of chilly immortals and are actively recruiting heroes to fight on their side.
[You are no longer harmed by becoming too cold or too hot; you can walk through the strongest blizzard shirtless without discomfort, or plunge your hand into molten iron and suffer no ill-effects.]
6. THE SPITEFUL ONES. The First and Final God had children. Not in the normal way that people have children; it’s more like it made smaller, flawed versions of itself without any interference from anyone else and sent them off to die in experimental attacks against whatever primordial forces occupied the world at the time. It felt no remorse over this; it doesn’t do remorse. It doesn’t do emotions, except perhaps hate, but that seems like too small and too human a word for how it behaves with respect to warmth and life.
Anyway: the kids. Not all of them died. Some of them hid away in the dark places of the world, and learned, and understood that their purpose in life was to die so their creator could gain an edge over what it perceived as its enemies. They didn’t like that, so they teamed up and killed The First and Final God – or brought it as close to death as it could get.
Now: it’s waking up from eons of a death-sleep, and they’ve gathered together to kill it again; a ramshackle collection of dusty angelic figures, missing limbs and teeth and eyes, having spent an eternity in hiding. It’s stronger than ever and they’re old, and tired, and imperfect, and desperate. They turn to mortals for aid and know in their hearts that, even if it works this time, they have another eternity to wait out before it happens all over again.
[Each member of the party gains a companion – a withered godspawn, monstrous and ancient, roughly assembled into a humanoid form. They phase in and out of reality as needed. When they aid you, you roll with advantage when you act against the First and Final God and its mortal servants. If you ever roll the maximum result on both of your dice, the companion is slain after the action is resolved.]
1: FLESH-ABOMINATIONS. Cast enough ritual spells as a group and something’s bound to go wrong eventually – usually it’s just memory holes and shared delusions, but the stakes are higher at the end of the world and there’s a lot of loose magic flying about looking to earth itself in some luckless occultists. Many of the cults that came to power as the First and Final God grew in strength have been reduced to shuddering, wretched piles of flesh and bone that crawl through shattered villages leaving a trail of red-black effluvia behind them, desperately searching for something to eat or at least a clean and final way to die. They’re not fast – anything but, really – but they usually have increased magical ability compared to what they exhibited before the transformation, and the spells they’re casting aren’t out of any book.
2. WIND-WOLVES. Legendary hunting animals of the gods, these are stiff winds that inflict damage and hunger for flesh in exactly the same way as a large wolf. They’re invisible and largely intangible (because they’re wind) but you can pin them in place with a metal spike, at which point they manifest physically and all you have to deal with is a large angry wolf.
3: SUNTREES. A pacifist earth deity, unwilling to directly fight against the First and Final God, has bestowed these strange trees on the world in an attempt to bring comfort to the beleaguered people on the forefront of the apocalypse. Each tree stretches at least a hundred feet into the air, their spiralling bark iron-hard to the touch and resisting any axe, and their creaking branches hang heavy with swollen, luminescent fruit. The trees themselves are warm enough to provide shelter from storms, but be sure that none of that fruit falls on you while you’re resting – they’re full of unadulterated life magic, which is powerfully carcinogenic to mortals.
4: THE SONG THAT ENDS THE WORLD. Don’t worry – it doesn’t actually end the world. The world’s going to end regardless of what tune you sing. But this mimetic virus spreads as a song, released into the world by the death-throes of a hubristic god of wizardry; when you sing it (and it’s hard not to once you know the song) the area around you is pitched further towards its undoing. [Once you’ve heard the song, roll an average Will save every few hours. On a fail, you’ve been humming it without noticing, and the GM rolls on an appropriately weird table to see what happened as a result.]
5: DOOM ELF QUEENS. The Doom Elves don’t mention their home lives much, because they don’t really have one – they’re summoned into existence as a side-effect of potential disasters. But who summons them? Doom Elf Queens, that’s who – flickering storms of burning gas, crystalline spurs and stuttering unreality produced by the explosion that created the universe, or as they view it, the worst and most important disaster on record. Things were much easier before existence got in the way. Indestructible and inscrutable, they have come to this world to witness the end of it, much in the same way you’d go down to the local park to watch fireworks. They have dressed up in local garb so not to alarm the indigenous inhabitants of this dimension, but seeing as they’re perpetual glitches in the fabric of reality, they’ve not done a great job of it.
6: THE SERPENT THAT EATS THE WORLD. This feathered reptilian nightmare is too large to comprehend; occasionally when you pass a valley or a fresh rent in the earth you can see a slowly shifting pattern of scales, pulsing impossibly huge beneath the world like sentient lava. It wasn’t planning on eating the world for another couple of millennia but here it is ending already, and it’s not about to miss its chance. In the limitless caverns beneath the world, the coils of it are tightening and writhing as it quests ever-closer to the surface to claim its prize; but not if the First and Final God destroys it first. It’s one of the few things big enough and mean enough to kill a god outright, but then you’ve still got a world-eating serpent to deal with, which is pretty much just as bad.
1: GOAT GUTTER. Guts goats. Wears the steaming entrails like an awful scarf. Takes off his trousers a lot, scratches his genitals with bloody hands, really just not a nice guy.
2: FIRE LAD. Fire Lad loves fire! Fire Lad will set your house on fire. Fire Lad will set you on fire! Fire Lad is building a flamethrower in the ruins of an inn out of oil and drainpipes, and before it explodes and kills him, it’ll do a lot of harm.
3: ARM-TAKER. Collecting arms to “build a woman” in a cave on the outskirts of Salen. Not entirely clear why he’s just using arms or what this woman looks like – or how far along he is with her. Last couple of nights she’s started making noise at night (you can hear her even over the driving wind) so clearly he’s worked out some sort of mouth-analogue.
4: KNEE-BREAKER. Knee-Breaker hates seeing people walk around on their big long legs so he smashes their knees apart with hammers to teach them a lesson. He never uses the same hammer twice; sometimes he leaves them as traps to attract people, which isn’t a great idea, because people generally don’t want to touch blood-soaked hammers. This upsets Knee-Breaker no end.
5: GRAIN SPOILER. Pisses or retches horrible black-brown translucent fluid into stores of grain and other food, which ruins it. Can be seen in the distance gulping muddy water out of a big wooden bucket, waggling his bushy eyebrows at you, and pointing excitedly at your pantry.
6: SAUSAGE-MAKER. This Yule Lad gives presents of cured sausage to good children; the catch is that the sausages are made out of bad children. Sausage-maker counts children who are disgusted by the thought of eating their friends as “bad,” so he has a near-endless source of potential sausage candidates.
7: NIGHT-CACKLER. Night-Cackler finds the end of the world hilarious – must be a Yule Lad joke that non-Yule Lads don’t get – and he sits on your roof and cackles about it whenever you try to sleep. In an effort to keep up with the other new Yule Lads (as laughing is pretty benign), Night-Cackler also has a gun.
8: CORPSE-DANCER. Crawls inside the bodies of dead relatives and animates them, fooling you into thinking they’ve come back to life, before tumbling out of their arse and running away laughing. Corpse-Dancer is terrible at this (and can’t get the voices right) but it’s still very upsetting even if it is a bit amateurish.
9: SLEEP-DRAGGER. Drags you out into the wilderness when you’re asleep and leaves you somewhere exposed to die. Sleep-Dragger has a magic sack with sleep-sand in it that he sprinkles over your brow to make sure you don’t wake up, but he often runs out of sand halfway through a night’s work, so the remaining victims just get the bag over their heads and are kicked about a bit if they complain.
10: MURDER LAD. Artlessly but effectively arranges murders so it looks like someone the victim trusted did it, sowing mistrust and discord amongst what remains of the communities in the north. Works at night, prefers blunt instruments to sharp ones, and can be warded off by simply never sleeping and constantly watching one another.
11: TOOTH-TAKER. Steals your teeth right out of your head when you’re asleep. This hurts a lot but he has a little knife that he holds against your throat when you inevitably wake up, then he winks at you and theatrically makes “shhh” noises whilst yanking out half a dozen more.
12: ANGEL LAD. Sits on top of pine or fir trees and opens his mouth extra wide; a reddish spotlight shines forth and illuminates anyone attempting to hide from wild animals, monsters, opportunistic raiders or other Yule Lads. Angel Lad smokes stinking cigarettes that give him a terrible cough, which means that while he’s hacking up a half a lung you might be in with a chance of evading his searchlight.
[All of these environmental terrors inflict X damage, where X is the number of hit points you happen to have at present. A successful save halves the damage, rounding up.]
1: URFROST FREEZES YOU SOLID. Urfrost is Cold, capital-C Cold – not just the absence of warmth but active, malicious cold that wants you dead. No protection – not even divine aid – is viable against the onslaught of Urfrost that roams the abandoned streets and blasted wastelands in clouds of glittering ice-crystals forming on the wind. It crawls in through keyholes, bleeds through the lining of the warmest coats, quenches fires and stops your breath in your throat.
2: NUCKLAVEE KICKS YOUR HOUSE APART. The Nucklavee – a giant half-horse, half-man immortal with eyes that shine like spotlights and the stink of disease on its ragged breath – is the harbinger of destruction and doom round these parts, but since the world started ending, it’s had its work cut out to keep up. You can build as many fences and light as many fires as you like to keep the wolves and the cold at bay, but when a monster the size of a warehouse wants to stomp your house to bits and kick you into the sea, there’s very little you can do about it.
3: EARTH OPENS UP, SWALLOWS YOU WHOLE. As the land is wracked and twisted under the weight of the rebirth of the First and Final God, the earth is rebelling against the unnatural cold – even soil and rock is withering and bending like wheat-stalks. Valleys have the habit of opening into yawning chasms, dropping anyone standing within them deep into the shadowed bowels of the earth. On one hand, it’s warmer down there, so that’s nice; on the other, it’s the domain of malevolent dwarves who are doing their best to go undetected by this new and vicious winter, so they’ll probably eat you and try to repair the hole before anyone notices you’ve gone.
4: FROST GIANT STEPS ON YOU. Frost Giants are big – too big, really, to make sense. They’re too large, too heavy to exist in this plane of reality and instead reside in some adjacent oversized domain of perpetual duels, impossible feasting, logistically-challenging sex and endless political manoeuvring. As the First and Final God makes even their reality an uninhabitable wasteland, they’ve gathered their horizon-walkers and are setting off to find a new, relatively lush place to live a couple of dimensions over. They’re bringing their massive oxen with them too, because they don’t want to carry all their massive treasure themselves. What this means for you is: on occasion a foot the size of a redwood tree or a cow the size of your average glacier will spontaneously manifest where you’re standing and crush you into a lumpy red paste, and there’s very little you can do about it. If it’s any consolation, the Frost Giants and/or oxen are far too big to notice you, so don’t take it personally.
5: STARFALL. The heavens have grown too cold, and the stars have become brittle and fragile as the sky freezes over. The slightest cosmological shift is enough to shatter a constellation and send it tumbling towards the earth – bright, scintillating, enthralling and utterly destructive. There are great gaps of void where stars once were, making navigation difficult if not impossible, but that’s the least of your worries – far more concerning is the way that large sections of the countryside are being lanced by high-velocity shards of star that explode on impact and bury glassy shrapnel sideways through tree trunks. You can use starfall shards as fuel for magic items, so some enterprising sorts are picking through the wreckage in search of large enough lumps to sell. [A shard the length of your forearm recharges D6 charges to a magic item, or if the item doesn’t use charges, it increases whatever it does by +1 for a scene.]
6: COLLATERAL DAMAGE FROM THE WAR IN HEAVEN. As the struggling deities of the new world strive to fight back the coming of the First and Final God, the luckless inhabitants of the mortal plane are caught in the crossfire. Three houses in Bostivol were destroyed last week when a 100ft glowing arrow, loosed from a brave and noble protector god’s bow, missed its mark and buried itself in the coastal town. The horned head of a wise sculptor god smashed into the north end of Dovescopp and took out a monastery, and now it’s just there and it’s starting to freak people out. (It’s still alive; it’s a god’s head, after all. You can talk to it.)