We’re going to do previews of each of the four Heart sourcebooks we’re writing to release alongside the core book. First up, SANCTUM:
SANCTUM was previously titled ABSOLUTION, but as we wrote it, we realised that ABSOLUTION didn’t make any sense as a title so we changed it.
(That’s one of the challenges with stretch goals, especially when you work as organically as we do: you end up having to tweak things after the fact.)
SANCTUM is divided into two parts. Firstly, there’s an in-depth guide to working with the players to build a haven – an island of relative calm in the gristly chaos of the Heart – for them to defend and support. The gameplay of the core Heart experience assumes that the player characters are going to be moving around a lot, so we wanted to split out the idea of haven-based play into a separate volume.
While Heart isn’t a political game – there aren’t really rules for it, and we only have a single social skill – we wanted to come up with a quick and easy way to create some tension within the haven to spur drama. Each haven has three faces – people who represent different philosophies in the landmark – called the caretaker, the rebel and the voice. These three people act as a way to communicate the difficulties and decisions that the haven must face without getting bogged down in relationship maps. because at the end of the day, Heart is a game about descending into a nightmare undercity in search of answers, not about brokering village council disputes.
As with all our work, we’ve tried to add rules by expanding on existing concepts rather than adding sub-systems. To that end, you’ll be able to find Haven-specific fallout, triggered as normal, that reflects the dangers of having people rely on you for support.
THE OPPOSITE OF PEOPLE
The second part of the book is devoted to our favourite type of adversary – the angel, agents and messengers of the Heart Itself, alien creatures whose arrival is heralded by a scraping, screeching song of rust and entropy. We’ve detailed four new types of angel for use in your games, and they’re described in appropriately mad prose by Gris Hannemann – a human travel writer, drug addict and inveterate liar. You can read the unfortunate tale of Mr Hannmann below:
The four new additions are more specialised than the standard angel: the Blossom angel is a twitching, muscled lump of chaos that can impart the Cursed domain into the landmark in which it occupies; The Cacophony angel is a bone-armoured battering ram that sings a nosebleed song with a dozen mouths; the Logos angel, a walking sense organ, gets less visible the more people are looking for it; and the Penumbra angel delivers sanity-blasting revelations to the worthy and curious.
Put both parts of the book together, and you get the ability to build unique, engaging settlements within the Heart – and then destroy them utterly with horrific creatures with inscrutable motivations. Which is fun, we think.
The Heart is a wild place, and it calls to wild people – those on the edge of society who find that the yoke of civilisation chafes against their skin. The wildest of all are known as Cleavers; those who step out into the shifting nightmare of the City Beneath and make a home there. They are the first people to set foot in each new chamber of the place, forging ahead through a dark and strange frontier.
Their bodies change. Some welcome and seek out the transformation, being unsatisfied with their physical forms – they modify their bodies with surgeries impossible in the City Above, or hunt and consume beasts of the Heart to gain their power. Some struggle with the change, but it is inevitable. Just as they scar the Heart into new patterns with each footstep forward, the Heart scars them in return and remakes them in a more suitable form: twisting horns, night-black eyes, curious senses unknown to the surface world, and so on.
Cleavers are a common sight amongst parties of delvers, especially those in need of a guide – no-one knows the Heart like they do. No amount of research, no technological device, and no arcane scrying ritual can tell you as much as burying yourself waist-deep in the red wet heaven and eating of the bounty it offers up so generously.
The cleaver comes with two abilities as standard:
HEARTSBLOOD gives them a minimum Protection value in all resistances equal to the tier of the Heart that they’re currently on; this means that the deeper they go (and the more dangerous things get) the tougher they’ll become. Secondly, THE RED FEAST allows them to eat any resource they can get their hands on and claim any domain associated with it until the end of the current situation as their crucible guts pluck memories from the meat. (Or screws. Or rocks. Or their best friend’s watch.)
These combine to make the cleaver fairly adaptable, but they have a few gaps in their repertoire that comes from being a mutated hunter on the bleeding edge of civilisation. The only way they can get access to the Haven domain, for example, is to chew down a handful of coins (or some other resource with the Haven tag) and hope that sees them through whatever negotiations lay ahead of them.
Most of the cleaver’s minor abilities come with weird bodily aberrations attached to them, acquired from years of surviving in the raw frontier of the City Beneath. They can smell authority, see in the dark, sweat pitch and sprout glitching, unmaking claws to eviscerate their prey, if they’d like. (And if that fails they can perhaps summon a horde of furious beasts with their CALL OF THE WILD ability, which makes for a good distraction.)
Their majors go in three directions: hunting, transformation, and eating.
Hunting-wise, they can lead their allies in a semi-sacred ritual known as THE WILD HUNT which imparts their bone-deep understanding of the Heart upon them, they have access to something called an EXTINCTION BOW that probably counts as a siege engine in the City Above, and they can acquire the assistance of a BLOODBOUND BEAST who fights with them, sniffs out their enemies, and – once – rescues them from the brink of death before dying, heartbreakingly, in their arms.
As far as transformation goes, CHIMERIC STRAIN gives them the option of transforming their bodies into living weapons in exchange for automatic Echo stress – the further from humanoid they go, the more stress they mark. But it’s worth it to have the bark-tough skin of the blighted treefolk, the many-pointed horns of a butcher, or the flat-out refusal to feel pain of the dreaded carrion-pig.
Finally, if you’re still peckish, MONSTROUS APPETITE gives the cleaver the ability to heal directly by eating vast amounts of meat (and any other resource that you share a domain with), boost their HEARTSBLOOD resistances by eating tainted meat, and growing teeth so powerful that you can hamstring an angel with them.
Speaking of angels, they’re one of the more terrifying things in the Heart – walking, shimmering avatars of the Heart Itself, singing a scraping song of rust and unmaking, heralding the end of all things as they approach bound up in alien meat.
So: why not become one? The first zenith advance for the cleaver lets you do just that. The second turns you into a legendary beast of the ancient forest, and gives you full opportunity to act out your Princess Mononoke fantasies as you appear on the treelines and nod sagely to another group of delvers before messily consuming a deer that got too close to you.
Finally, if those seem a bit safe for you, you can instead choose to go to heaven – you get a happy ending – except it’s The Forest, the prehistoric heaven for ancient hunters and beasts alike, and to get there you have to a) die and b) summon a mighty explosion of trees and giant beasts in the landmark around you as the hungry loam rises up to claim you as its own.
Cleavers are rangers, at the core of it – people who exist on the edge of civilisation, but are crucial to its ongoing survival as they form the first line of defence but also the first line of expansion. We wanted to get the dichotomy into the class from the word go; cleavers are necessary for people in the Heart to prosper, but they’re treated with suspicion by most of the inhabitants – and the feeling is mutual.
We drew on existing adversaries to generate the cleaver’s abilities – it was useful that they were the last class that we wrote, as we could reference our big list of monsters and work out what would happen if someone ate one and, somehow, absorbed their abilities. We had a class very early on that focused around eating monsters and absorbing their attacks/abilities, but it proved largely impossible to balance. This version, where it’s implied that you’ve eaten – say – a tree that can not only walk and think but is insane, but you don’t have to go through and roleplay the entire affair nor can you start a grand tour of the City Beneath solely to capture high-damage abilities from monsters, is an adjustment from that original idea.
The EXTINCTION BOW, a giant creaking ranged weapon that can bring down a charging target in a single shot and uses specially-made ammunition, is basically 99% Monster Hunter and 1% Lurtz from Lord of the Rings. Chris likes Monster Hunter; Grant was willing to listen to him read the Wiki aloud while they worked on the class. We’re happy with the way it worked out.
The cleaver is a class from Heart: the City Beneath. If you’re interested in learning more about Heart, check out our (now finished) Kickstarter or pre-order a copy from our Backerkit store.
There is a disease, deep in the City Beneath, that worms its way inside the blood and binds the victim to the place; they become a part of something far greater than themselves. Those who have made such a bond are called witches, and are viewed with a mixture of suspicion and awe by the other inhabitants of the Heart.
Each strain of the disease has a lineage and history associated with it, and witches are careful not to infect those who they think would squander the gift. This long tradition, combined with the way that some witches can easily kill the average person simply by glancing at them, means that the sect is treated as nobility, or emissaries of the Heart Itself; they are almost fae-like, existing in their own world of strange practices and esoteric arts whispered from teacher to student over several centuries.
The witches’ base of power is Hallow, a ramshackle town built within a burned-out cathedral within the Heart; almost every witch has passed through there, is going to pass through there, or is trying to avoid it at all costs.
The witch has two core abilities, and they’re both rather neat:
CRUCIBLE represents the way that they take energy from the Heart and transmute it into magical power using ritual and rite. At any time, the player can roll a D6; if it’s equal to or lower than the amount of Echo stress they have marked (Echo stress being the warping effects of the Heart on the body and soul), they clear that much stress and roll with mastery when they next use magic. If it’s higher than their current Echo stress, they mark that much stress .
This gives them a quick-release value for Echo stress, which is good, because they have no other way of soaking it.
Secondly, TRUE FORM allows them to – in fact, forces them to – turn into a terrifying unreal monster at moments of extreme stress. Once in their true form (we use the phrase “flickering zoetrope horror” a lot to describe it) they roll with mastery on Hunt and Kill actions, but everything else becomes riskier to achieve.
Witches are the fae royalty of the Heart, and their abilities are appropriately grandiose and mystical.
GREAT AND TERRIBLE allows them to fully control the transformation into their true form, and can be further upgraded to stun anyone, or anything, that sees them change into inaction. (Even Angels of the Heart are given pause when witnessing such majesty.) THE OLD BLOOD lets them view auras; DIVINITY gives them access to the secret places where witches are revered as messengers of the Heart Itself. DISTINGUISHED LINEAGE lets you offload stress onto bonds without risking fallout, as people are used to just doing what you say and dealing with the consequences themselves.
They are, of course, magicians too. EXSANGUINATE allows them the option of yanking a pint or two out of their target’s mouth and nose, and it can be upgraded to not need line of sight as long as they have a sympathetic token. ASCENDANCY rewrites the world around them into something raw and bestial that they alone control; CRIMSON MIRROR lets they use their blood to scry into the future and determine what’s going to happen on a delve before they leave their haven; WILD-WITCH lets them brew healing drafts from animal bones and wild mushrooms.
No witch would be complete without their FAMILIAR; in Heart, familiars are used as a place to put harm sustained from casting – or being the target of – magic. They can be improved through training, or heartsblood transfusions, to become expert trackers and attack beasts.
And, crucially, being a witch gives you access to a LAIR. I’m just going to post the whole ability below, because I think you’ll like it:
As a witch, you have three endgame options:
THE RED QUEEN puts you in charge of the witches of Hallow, for a time, and lets you control their immense power until you’re overwhelmed and must be interred in the Red Vaults beneath the settlement.
FINAL FORM transforms you into a mighty, landmark-spanning version of your true form; you decide who lives and dies within your domain. You fade away, gradually, etching yourself into the spirit of the place.
PERFECT RESURRECTION lets you make an absolutely perfect copy of someone who’s died, right down to the soul; and what’s more, now they can never die again, and will just wake up naked and screaming in the City Beneath a month after their current body is destroyed. They don’t get a say in this, but you know what’s best.
The witch was the first class we wrote for Heart. In fact, we wrote it before we started writing Heart; it’s from the Black Magic sourcebook for Spire, where it was called the Blood-Witch and was a bit… gorier. They were the weirdest class by far, which is saying something when you consider the others.
In our first draft of Heart, they were the Crimson Aspirant, which sounds a bit daft now I write it out loud in public; they were witches-in-training, en route to the Heart to acquire the disease. But we realised that someone who didn’t have any magical powers in a game where every other bugger had them wasn’t hugely interesting, so we widened them out to be carriers of the disease in general, and we got to speak about the culture of witches in the City Beneath too.
We originally had them split between two facets – the wild witches, who live under trees and shout at wolves, and the noble witches, who live in houses and shout at people. With the arrival of the cleaver as a stretch goal during the campaign, we realised that we were trying to do too much with the class, and cover too many bases. We cut away the wilder elements from the witch and portioned them off into the cleaver, and firmly positioned the class as Heart nobility – from blood, but not from parentage.
The true form of the witch – something which has always been iconic to them – is inspired in part by horror movies where weird-looking creepy people move in ways that people shouldn’t move. Chris watches these; I don’t, and instead just look at clips that he sends over. This test footage from Mama is pretty much what we imagine when a witch pops into true form, but with more cockroaches and flickering.
Secondly, we’ve significantly reduced our shipping costs to the US thanks to efficient distribution and no small amount of awkward zip code data entry. Postage to the United States should be around $5 for our hardback books, which hopefully makes them a bit more accessible to those of you across the pond. If you’d like to order something, check out our online store here.
In other news, we’re quietly plugging away on Heart – we just finished the landmarks section, and we’re excited to see how you and your groups fare in the cursed and disorientating City Beneath. We’re still on schedule to have the text finished and ready for proofreading in the new year.
In the past: the 33rd Regiment were sent down to pacify the Heart by a mad warrior-poet from the City Above. Of the nine hundred or so enlisted soldiers who set off, three hundred survived. Surrounded by forces beyond their understanding and on the verge of total destruction, the surviving officers did what they could to save their troops – and they did something terrible.
Now: there are three hundred badges, each marked with the name of the original hero who carried it; when you steal one, or have it bestowed upon you, you join the Hounds – the new name of the 33rd, protectors of the fragile populace of the Heart – and you carry the weight of their deeds on your shoulders.
You hear tell that some of the original three hundred are still out there, still wearing their badges. You’ve heard of Hounds holding back the darkness alone, withstanding tremendous amounts of punishment, defending havens for days on end without sleep or food.
The Hounds draw on one another, and the people of the Heart, for strength. So long as someone draws breath in the City Beneath, they cannot be destroyed; this is their gift, and their curse.
The core ability of the Hounds, IN THE THICK OF IT, does two things: firstly, it lets you mark stress to Fortune rather than any other resistance. Secondly, when you take fortune fallout, you roll with mastery for the remainder of the situation.
Hounds are unable to gain Fortune protection; they’re a perpetual underdog and bear the brunt of the worst luck that the Heart has to throw at them. Their core gives them a way to super-charge their abilities in exchange for getting in over their heads, and puts them in a cycle of perpetually not having everything under control.
Hounds are tough. The UNSTOPPABLE ability lets you get more dangerous the more you’re hurt, and shrug off trifling problems like broken legs or sucking chest wounds; STARE DOWN turns your gaze into a weapon, filling your adversaries with terror.
Like the Incarnadine, Hounds are more concerned with people and havens than the other classes. A lot of their minor abilities come with once-per-session tricks that let them find shelter or work out who’s threatening the inhabitants of a settlement; CONDEMN, a major ability, lets the Hound gather evidence and name someone as a wanted criminal, which spells doom for them.
My current favourite minor ability for the Hound is OUR GLORIOUS LADY, which gives them access to the Religion domain, and lets them heal another character once per session as they beseech their goddess for aid.
Once you pick up the badge and you rise to power, one of two things happen:
Your first option is to be subsumed into the immortal gestalt consciousness of desperate soldiers that is the 33rd, and over a series of weeks you’ll physically change into one of the founding members of the regiment, the original owner of your badge – a legendary hero with their own motives and agenda. But before you go for good, maybe the 33rd can do you a favour for returning their fallen comrade to them.
Your second option is to forge your own legend worthy of the Hounds and change the name written on your badge to your own, overwriting the previous owner. Now filled with tremendous power from the hopes and fears of every person living in the Heart, you are capable of great things – but you are more than flesh and bone, and suddenly have bigger concerns to attend to than your own petty desires.
We took a while to find our way with the Hound.
Initially, they weren’t at all arcane – they were just people with guns who tried to keep the Heart safe, channelling cops and soldiers and the like into one broad class with a lot of situational abilities. It wasn’t great to play, and next to Junk Mages and Deep Apiarists it was easy to feel like they just weren’t special enough.
We did a lot of thinking, and we ended up with a Paladin. Not a Paladin of a god, mind, but a Paladin of people’s desperate, frantic desire to survive in a world that wants to kill them. An agent of that collective obsession who draws power from it as they foster its growth. There’s a lot of Vimes from Discworld in there, but without any of Pratchett’s trademark subtlety; there’s also a good deal of Ray Winstone in any role Ray Winstone’s ever played, because Chris has a soft spot for morally-grey characters who simmer with terrifying malice.
So: now they’re slightly outside of the realms of mortal power, and that gives us a bit of room to design some more interesting abilities for them that would have pushed the limits of credibility before. All their supernatural abilities are coincidental; you could write them off as toughness, determination, luck or intimidation.
They’re still mortal, and still punching way above their weight, keeping an eye out for the little guy. They just have a mystical force made up of three hundred eternal protectors to back them up, now.
The walls between worlds are thin in the Heart, and the difference between life and death is simply a matter of perspective. Having narrowly escaped their own demise, the Deadwalker uses their tattered soul to break into the afterlife – and they can lead others there too. It’s not always a good idea, but the Eight Heavens hold treasures and wisdom beyond the understanding of mortals, so they’ve managed to make a career out of it.
What’s more, they’re followed around by their own death in the form of a monstrous spectre that only they can see – sometimes it helps them out of trouble, in order to protect its investment. It has a vested interest in keeping them alive until the conditions for their death are perfect.
BACK DOOR TO HEAVEN is the Deadwalker’s core ability, and it lets them open portals into fractures – interdimensional landmarks that aren’t tied to any particular tier. These fractures are the afterlives of those people who’ve lived and died in Heart, or very good copies of them. The Deadwalker is there for players who want to double down on the wonder in Heart, and unlock unearthly spaces to explore and marvel at.
There’s a sensible way to get into every afterlife, which generally involves ritual, costume, and tricking whatever guardians or wards protect the place into letting them pass. But: there’s a quick way too, a brick through the window of heaven or a battering ram smashed against hell’s back door, which is dangerous and costly and, a lot of Deadwalkers agree, significantly more exciting.
The major abilities of the Deadwalker lean heavily into weirdo ghost magic; they can wear their death like a funeral shroud to turn insubstantial and float above the ground, possess others by forcing the spectre into their head, fill an area with terrifying phantasms to dishearten their enemies or fight back-to-back with a manifestation of their impending doom.
Many of their minor advances allow access to one of the heavens via their core ability, which include:
THE GRAIL ROAD, afterlife of the human kingdoms to the east, a desolate road of packed dirt and weary, insubstantial pilgrims
THE SLUMBERING DEPTHS, aelfir hell, a great submerged kelp forest where those graceless enough to die are trapped
THE PALACE MULTIFACETED, Incarnadine heaven, a twisting hotel where paradise is not eternal and definitely not free
THE MOON GARDEN, the tranquil silver heaven of the drow of Spire, and THE DARK CITY that waits outside it, watching
How can you kill a place? Sometimes, due to black magic, great tragedy or the strange machinations of the Heart Itself, locations in the City Beneath can become corrupted and dangerous and nightmare creatures can crawl out of them – feral psychopomps, blind arbiters, amalgamate souls of the damned, and so on. Sometimes they need to be stopped for good.
The Deadwalker can, as a zenith ability, travel to the core of a place – the very spiritual centre of it – and bring it a swift and painless death (or a drawn-out and cruel one, but it’s rarely the place’s fault). After that, the landmark will wither and die; people will leave, buildings will crumble, and the name of it will leave the thoughts of mortals. Of course, someone has to stay to watch over the corpse of the place to ensure that no-one reawakens it – and the Deadwalker must stand a silent and eternal vigil to keep the world safe.
The Deadwalker is, at their core, a ranger. We wanted a class that could handle exploration, and I’ve been quietly obsessed with doorways to other dimensions ever since I read The Subtle Knife as a kid. Something about locations that don’t map to rational space really inspires me, and we thought it would be fun to make a whole class about it now we have the chance. One of the greatest joys of playing a Vermissian Sage in Spire was opening a door to the train network where there wasn’t one before, leading enemies into a fight on your terms (or fleeing them more effectively). We’ve got this with the Deadwalker too, and I can envision all sorts of cool escape scenes as they hurriedly magic a portal to some metaphysical back room whilst running at full pelt down the streets of a ruined city.
We’ve messed with the animal companion of the ranger class, too – instead of a big wolf or a tiger or something, you’re followed around by a non-specific aspect of your own death that only you can see. Does it look like a ghost? A dead version of you? Your kid sister who went missing all those years ago? A dog made out of shadows and eyes? A flickering, stuttering blur of potential energy? It’s up to you. We drew inspiration from Wraith, Geist and Better Angels – all games where something inhuman sits in your head and gives you terrible advice.
The other big thing about the Deadwalker is our obsession with non-standard heavens, which are really just parallel dimensions if you think about it (but not too hard); we got a chance to give players some really weird places to explore, but by putting them in control of a player character, they become opt-in rather than coming as standard. We’ve had a lot of fun working out what different cultures in the universe of Heart view as a good or bad afterlife, and what that says about them as a people.
The Vermissian is cursed. Intended as a revolutionary mass transit system within the city – the first in the world of its kind – the creators attempted to pierce the Heart Itself in order to power its engines, and unleashed a nightmare unreality throughout the dark corners of Spire. Within the bounds of the Vermissian, time and space come unstuck – but it provides limitless potential for those brave enough to explore it.
The Vermissian Knights are brave enough to explore it. They are protectors, avengers and guides for those who would step into the thrice-damned tunnels; they wear uncanny powered armour made from repurposed train parts, and channel the network’s loose grasp on reality into strange technologies.
The Vermissian Knight used to have the core ability SHORTCUT, which made delving quicker. But it felt unbalanced, and also cut out quite a lot of the fun part of the game, so after playtesting we decided to swap it out. Having spent a while talking about what was the core image of the Knight, we kept coming back to their armour – hulking, semi-powered, repurposed and mysterious. We made it their core power.
Now, with VERMISSIAN PLATE, the Knight can consume resources with the Occult or Technology domain – presumably by repairing it with them or just shoving them into the furnace – to power it up once per session. You can find full details of this in the Quickstart game, but suffice to say it lets you, for example, burn the pages of a magic tome inside your suit and wreath yourself in shadowed energy to gain the Sneak skill, or ignite the parasite-ridden bark of the Blighted to release the resonance within and smash apart your enemies.
Want to kill big things? The Vermissian Knight has an ability specifically devoted to that! DRAGON KILLER improves your damage and defence against anything that’s significantly larger than you, and in the Heart, lots of things are significantly larger than you. Upgrade it enough and you can summon a particular monster that’s hunting you – it’s still hunting you, but it might well kill some of your other problems along the way.
AETHERIC FIELD protects you from the weird energies of the City Beneath, and allows you to reroute ambient power into augmenting your attacks or overwhelm adversaries with waves of force. ECHOING RAILS allows you to find back doors to the Vermissian – even if they weren’t there when you previously checked – and access moving haunts to heal your wounds and gain respite. GUARDIAN puts you into a classic knightly role; you become better at defending something, no matter what that is, and you inspire those around you to greatness.
We wrote the Vermissian Knight first, and the first Zenith power we wrote for them is THE LAST TRAIN, which informed a great deal of the rest of the abilities in the game. Using THE LAST TRAIN summons The Last Train – the only remaining functional locomotive on the Vermissian network, which is unable to ever stop and is only loosely steerable – and it smashes apart everything in the area. Here it is:
There are others, too; becoming electricity and blinking between Technology landmarks, or punching with the power of a flat-out engine, but THE LAST TRAIN is the one that really sums up the Knight for us.
Take a Paladin. (Paladins get a bad rap, I reckon.) Remove the whole “god” bit and replace it with a furious desire to protect people; to impose structure and understanding on a world that defies it. Combine that Paladin with Iron Man, because powered armour is cool. Channel the Vermissian Sage class from Spire into it, so none of the technology works properly and no-one understands how it functions, and tinge everything with the occult.
That’s the Vermissian Knight. The big turning point on was seeing Felix’s art – we knew that the Knight was cool, but seeing the dude in armour looking battered and faintly sci-fi really sealed the deal. Have I mentioned, also, how I’ve been playing Warhammer 40,000 for the last twenty years, and always been quietly fascinated with the blend of high-tech and low-tech that that game has? Maybe you can see my obsession in the Knight.
The Knight is easy to play; they’re a knight, and knights hit things and protect people. (In roleplaying games, at least. The less said about knights in real life the better.) They’re the Fighter class, for want of a better word, and they do the protecting and hitting that Fighters do, but they also have a special domain that’s all their own – the Vermissian. More than any other class, the Vermissian Knight allows the player to claim spotlight time and show off their abilities.
The Incarnadine is a priest of the goddess of debt. Incarne, as she is known, attracts few willing followers – instead, lives of cruelty and thoughtlessness accrue a karmic debt, and she will come calling for her due. Most of those she singles out die from sheer misfortune; Incarnadines ride the wave of debt and seek to master it, to turn the threads of want and desperation against their enemies, and to – maybe one day – pay off what they owe.
There are two abilities that all Incarnadines share:
Firstly, they increase the value of all resources that they trade at landmarks. This isn’t terribly exciting, but it is useful, and it can keep a party going on long treks into the Heart.
Secondly, they explode upon death. Given the nightmarish web of profit and loss that most Incarnadines weave around themselves, they accrue quite a lot of enemies – more than they could ever hope to defend themselves against. To that end, every Incarnadine is blessed by their goddess with a metaphysical explosive wired around their heart – should it stop beating, it explodes. This forms a sort of mutually-assured destruction agreement between Incarnadines, which allows them to function as a series of warring feudal societies in the Red Market.
Incarnadines mainly function around desire and debt; they’re not fighters, nor are they pulling off the occult weirdness of the Deep Apiarist or the Junk Mage. CRAVE, for example, instills a mad desire for an object of the caster’s choosing in the target, and can be upgraded to make it permanent or viral. KARMIC LEDGER shows a target’s greatest debt against another person – and Incarne is broad in her definition of the word “debt,” so it might refer to someone whose son they killed, and so on. When you offer up their soul to Incarne, you can remove stress – but it also sets up a lot of stories, and gives you leverage over characters to get what you want.
Incarnadines are the most socially-focused of all the character classes in Heart – they wouldn’t be out of place in a Spire campaign, really. If you’re interested in dealing with the unique weirdos of the City Beneath in a talking, rather than a stabbing, sort of way, you’ll enjoy the Incarnadine.
(That said: they can fight, too. BACKSTAB allows them to tear it up so long as their opponents aren’t aware of their movements, and DEBTOR’S REDS gives them a set of vestments that inflict harm on their opponents just by looking at them.)
The ultimate expressions of the Incarnadine’s powers are threefold: ULTIMATE CREDIT, which lets you buy anything; ULTIMATE DEBIT, which lets you drop the full weight of Incarne’s displeasure on any target of your desire; and ULTIMATE REWARD. Unlike every other Zenith ability, ULTIMATE REWARD lets you retire safely from the game. It guarantees you a happy ending – you will die years from now, surrounded by your loved ones. But will you take it, when you could own anything you desire?
Those of you who read or played Spire will see the link between Incarnadines and Azurites – the blue-robed priests of trade and cash who ran the Blue Market in the City Above. In many ways, the Incarnadines are a dark mirror to the Azurites; whereas the Azurite can fathom out exactly what a target wants and find it for them, the Incarnadine cuts out the middleman and rewires their target’s brain to tell them what they want. The sacred robes of Azur protect their wearer, and the sacred robes of Incarne harm their enemies.
Aside from just taking the Azurite and making them grim, the Incarnadine also ticks off our desire to make everything in Heart slightly reprehensible and slightly pathetic. They’re all being punished for things they definitely did wrong, whether they knew it at the time or not – and their goddess isn’t a kind or loving goddess, or even really on their side. She’s the manifestation of a cosmic bureaucracy that no-one really understands, and some days, we all feel like we’re part of that, don’t we?
At the time, that prompted us – along with a lot of other creators – to seriously consider our position. Some people took the decision to delay or cancel launches; others pointed out that boycotting before a union is formed can be actively harmful to organisation efforts, as the instability plays into the hands of management, who can then paint organisers as adversaries rather than engaging in good faith.
We came to the conclusion that the most important thing to do was to listen to the people who are directly affected by the issue – current and former staff, those who are still trying to unionise – and take our cue from them. They said, on Twitter, that they were not formally calling for a boycott. So we made the call to go ahead, but to clearly state that we stand in solidarity with the nascent union, to sign the petition to support them, and to do what they recommended – which at the time was not to abandon planned or live projects.
Last night, news broke on the Current Affairs site of a discussion that their editor had with the Kickstarter CEO. From the statement, which was later posted along with an FAQ on the Kickstarter blog, it appears that the company will continue to oppose the formation of a union. This is obviously extremely disappointing to all of us, and we know that many people, both creators and backers, will choose to withdraw their funding from the platform.
However, we still believe that the most important voices in this situation are the ones that are currently the least heard: we want to know what the workers organising the union need from us, and since the tweet embedded above – at the time of writing – there has been no update. There has not been a union election yet, and we know that early action can be deeply damaging to organisation efforts; it’s not entirely clear what the demands are that accompany the boycott, given there is currently no union to be recognised. So we have reached out to the organisers both by email and on Twitter, and we hope that they will update or reiterate their advice for creators. We encourage you, as the CEO suggests in his blog post and as we have done, to email email@example.com and tell them your opinions. While we understand (and feel!) the desire to act immediately, we do not want to cause harm while meaning well, so we are waiting for an update from the organisers before taking further action.
That said: if your personal moral stance is that you do not wish to give any of your money to Kickstarter right now, we entirely understand and support your decision. We are working with Backerkit to ensure we can launch our pre-order store there as fast as possible once our campaign ends, and we will be updating everyone via our social media accounts and our email newsletter when pre-orders go live. Another option is to back at the lowest £1 level, meaning you will still have access to all our updates and will be automatically grandfathered in to the Backerkit in a way that enables you to upgrade your pledges later without giving a larger fee to Kickstarter. To support that choice, we will make it possible for Kickstarter backers to upgrade to custom content levels in Backerkit for at least the first two weeks post-launch – that might push our schedule back a little, but it means if you want to back at a high level but don’t want to give Kickstarter a cut, backing at £1 will give you the option of an upgrade later.
Assuming the union does not call for a boycott, this is the approach we will follow. However, if the union does call for a boycott to begin before our campaign is scheduled to end, we will take down the current Kickstarter project and re-start it elsewhere. At the moment our best next option appears to be Indiegogo, and we’re getting everything prepped to launch there if we need to. If this happens it will be severely disruptive, and will cost us a great deal more in terms of time, effort and money than it will cost Kickstarter by comparison. Our business is tiny in terms of Kickstarter’s funding, but Heart is the biggest project we have ever worked on; it’s been in the works for 18 months, and at its current level it could fund our next two years of development. It’ll be difficult to get books out on the original plan, and it will require us to fund again, which means asking all of you to get out your bank cards and engage with a whole different website in order to get your books. That, honestly, would suck.
But it would also be the right thing to do, and we’re prepared for it. We stand by our principles, and we believe in supporting people who are trying to organise for better and more equitable working conditions. We are frankly astonished that Kickstarter, a public benefit corporation seeking to do good in the world, would set fire to its reputation and damage its communities of workers, creators and backers simultaneously in such a short-sighted way. We do not support the company’s actions.
Most importantly, we stand in solidarity with Kickstarter workers. When they tell us how best to support them, we will act accordingly. Until then, we’re watching.
There is power in the Heart; ancient power, not quite asleep and not quite awake, burrowed in the red heaven beneath the earth. Gods sealed away for their crimes; extradimensional entities taking advantage of the tattered walls between the worlds; great sorcerers of ages past, now immortalised and far, far from the people they once were. Limitless potential, roiling away out of sight.
The Junk Mage is going to steal it. The Junk Mage – the sort of wizard who’s hooked on bad magic, the sort of wizard who makes up spells as they go along, the sort of wizard whose brain itches with scintillating madness – siphons off power from otherworldly sources and hopes they don’t notice. The risks are great, but what power comes without risk?
The Junk Mage works better when they’re slightly insane. If they have four or more Mind stress, they roll with mastery when using magic to achieve their aims. Seeing how fluid the fiction is in Heart, “using magic to achieve their aims” is a pretty broad category. We want to encourage players to show off how weird their characters are by drawing magic into their descriptions; a Junk Mage using the Mend skill, for example, could whisper broken items and bones back together, leaving spectral spiderweb over the pieces. Or set them alight, and have a new, repaired version emerge from the ashes and smoke. Mechanically, it’s the same as sitting down with some glue and string, but it’s up to you how magical you want your character to be.
So: by holding on to a little bit of Mind stress, but not suffering fallout, they do better at their jobs. This puts them into a knife-edge balance where they’ll want to freak themselves out a bit – expose themselves to the unnatural and strange – and then channel the stress into power.
They also get access to SACRIFICE, which allows them to destroy Occult resources in order to placate their – well, patrons isn’t the phrase, more “the beings that they’re stealing power from.” Consuming appropriate resource allows them to gain protection on their next magical action, allowing them to avoid taking stress and operate more reliably, at a cost.
Junk Mages are, fundamentally, warlocks. (Just over half of the classes in Heart are warlocks, if you squint.) We wanted to use this as an opportunity to talk about the powers beyond the veil in the world of Heart; the big stuff that’s happening off-screen, and not central to the Heart vs Real World conflict that’s at the core of the game.
So: the Junk Mage uses elemental magic. Fire, Water, and Earth – we couldn’t come up with anything interesting enough for Air, so it got cut. The entity for Fire is some kind of unreal beyond-space-and-time red dragon; the entity for Water is the Drowned Queen, a colonialist monarch who’s also an extradimensional eel; the entities for Earth are the Stone Chorus, who are the Titans from Greek mythology but with added angst.
Each comes with dominion over two things – their Blessing (which is their governing element) and their Curse (which is their fundamental flaw – the Drowned Queen, for example, is very dead and this gives her power over ghosts). There’s no limit to how many entities you can access, assuming you’ve got the major advances to spend, so you can steal power from as many places as you like.
Generally, the zenith abilities for the Junk Mage – the highest ones available to them – involve them bonding with the entities in some way. They also kill the user, because of course they do. The Drowned Queen offers up her hand in marriage to the caster as they summon her into the material realm and she seeks to make a pact to cement the transition. This gives the Junk Mage total control over a landmark, and all of its inhabitants, but the mental strain of being married to a mad ghost eel from beyond space and time is too much to bear for long.
We like warlocks.
They were always the best class in D&D 3.5; not the most powerful, but one of the most fun to play. They had spells you could cast as many times as you want rather than having to faff about with spellbooks and eight hours of rest; they were thematically interesting, rather than the grab-bag of everything that wizards and sorcerers ended up being. We didn’t have many warlock-like classes in Spire, so Heart presented us with a nice opportunity to talk about the weirdos who practice dangerous magic.
The first draft of the Junk Mage (back when they were called the Gutter Mage) had much more traditional occultism – hands of glory, hearts with nails in, dream-quests for ominous doors, black candles, etc. It was good but it didn’t say anything about the world, and the best classes help sketch out the setting around the player. So we overhauled them, put the old-school magic to one side, and made them desperate addicts instead.
“Junk Magic” is an old term of ours – we came up with it, oh, six years ago? It’s in an unpublished novel about drunk wizards that Grant wrote, and it crops up in our game Royal Blood too. It’s magical hacking, lying to demons, throwing together spells from fragments found here and there, casting by the seat of your pants. It felt like a natural fit for the lawless environs of the City Beneath. We’ve also leaned into the other meanings of Junk, too; each Junk Mage is an addict, hooked on the rush of sensation they get when they plumb their tiny, fragile human mind into something huge and powerful. They’re garbage, too – no magical school worth their salt would accept them through their doors.
In a world where your wizard is full of alien bees, your witch is afflicted with a magical blood disease she caught from a well that’s also a mouth and your fighter is wearing armour they stole off a cursed train, the Junk Mage gives players and GMs a way to drop weird and exotic stuff into the game and have it still make an impact.
HEART IS ON BACK-ORDER! If you place an order now for Heart, its supplements, and/or the Spire supplement Shadow Operations, it will be shipped as soon as the books arrive with our distributors, and you'll get an email notification to let you know. Dismiss