Sign up for the HEART RPG playtest now!

In two weeks’ time we’re going to release the playtest document for Heart, our next big game – and if you’d like to help shape it from the ground up, we’d love for you to be part of our alpha playtest community. (If you don’t want to read any more and just want to sign up for the playtest straight away, click here.)

WHAT IS HEART?

Set in the Heart – the nightmare, unreal labyrinth that pulses and writhes beneath the city of Spire – Heart is a game about damnation, redemption, survival and obsession. It’s also a game about body horror, walls made of breathing meat, and exploring a possibly-malevolent parasite dimension. It’s also a game about dungeon-crawling, at the base of it; we wanted to take the classic story of descending into a dangerous underworld and see what twist we could put on it.

We’ve got amazing illustrations from Felix Miall (we’ve posted some of them here, you can’t miss ‘em) and layout from Jay Iles.

We’re going to Kickstart Heart towards the end of 2019, but before then, we want to see if we can make it really, really good.

CAN YOU JUST GIVE ME A LIST OF COOL THINGS THAT ARE IN HEART WITH NO CONTEXT?

Of course! In the playtest document alone, you can expect to find:

  • Flightless owl hives
  • Predatory libraries
  • Heretic priests of the Moon Beneath
  • Platemail made out of repurposed train parts
  • A mimetic virus that makes you build labyrinths
  • Full rules for accidentally becoming a messiah
  • The Ravening Beast, a hunting dog that hides in your thoughts

WHAT DO YOU NEED FROM ME?

We need you to play it. Get your friends together, make some characters, and play out a few games using the rules in the PDF. We’ll have some questionnaires for you to fill out, talk about how the game felt, ask you what you liked and disliked, and so on.  We’ll need you to actually play it – we want to see how it performs in practice.

We’ve tried to make Heart as easy as possible to run, and made it so that a GM and players can sit down with very little planning and improvise a session on the fly. (However, if you want to draw out your own mad undercity and expose your players to it, you’re welcome to spend as much time as you want to prepare for a session.)

WHAT’S IN THE PLAYTEST PACK?

The document will feature full rules for running games of Heart – the core systems at play, but also mechanics for exploring and mapping the undercity, making and reinforcing connections between landmarks, and developing relationships with the people you meet down there. We also have five of the (planned) nine classes, and five callings – reasons that you’ve chosen to explore the shifting, dangerous world of the Heart.

Finally, there are some details on the world of Heart – landmarks, havens, incidental details, non-player characters, and adversaries – and a scenario to run through, if you wish. It’s not representative of the final product, but it’s enough to be going on with for our purposes.

There will also be links to an exclusive Discord community for early discussion of the game, as well as at least one feedback form we’ll ask you to complete to help us improve the game.

WHAT RULES DOES IT USE?

Heart uses a modified version of the Resistance system that we created for Spire. Some of the skills and resistances you’ll recognise – we still have a Blood resistance to measure how hurt you are, and a Sneak skill to go unnoticed. Others are new and designed to tell stories unique to exploring a body-warping magical city – Echo resistance shows how much the Heart has changed you, for example, and Supplies resistance shows how much spireblack your lantern has to burn before it sputters out and leaves you in pitch darkness.

We’ve streamlined down some of the systems from Spire, making them (hopefully) easier to use on the fly.

We’ve focused on making fallout smoother to use in play and, with the addition of Critical fallout, used it to give your character a descending arc as misfortune and pain are poured upon them. We’ve added a little more complexity to the combat system, because there’s more of it in Heart, but not a great deal (and we aren’t using tactical maps or anything like that).

The systems will be instantly recognisable to anyone who’s played Spire, and we hope you enjoy the tweaks we’ve made.

IS THIS A SPIRE PRODUCT?

It’s not – it’s completely standalone. However, we will continue to support the Spire line – we’re in the process of writing our next supplement right now and will continue, if demand stays high, to release a new major sourcebook on a yearly basis.

WHERE DO I SIGN UP?

Fill out the form below and, once it’s all ready to go, we’ll send you a download link to the PDF documentation.

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NEW PRODUCTS ON SALE!

Hello! We’re happy to announce that, as the Kickstarter for Strata is now fully wrapped up (and those of you who backed it should receive your books very soon) we’ve got a load of new products on sale in our online store. Here’s what you can get (in print and PDF):

STRATA. A full-length sourcebook for Spire (it’s actually slightly longer than the core book) with new classes, extra advances, ten scenarios and a load of information on the richest and poorest districts of the city. If you’re late to the party, you can get Spire and Strata together at a discount through our bundle deal.

Spiral Muse Image

THE SPIRAL MUSE. A 12-page in-character newspaper designed for use with the scenarios in Strata – it’s absolutely dripping with hooks and leads to drag the players into the GM’s devilish schemes. Written and designed by Tim Wilkinson Lewis, who created the Spire and Underspire maps, this newspaper has the same obsessive level of detail and black humour that you’ve come to expect from his work. If you get Strata and The Spiral Muse at the same time, we’ll give you a little discount because we’re nice like that.

Book of Masks cover image

BOOK OF MASKS. Twenty fashionable, innovative and practical masks – complete with full-colour illustrations of all of them, and rules for using them in your games. Written by master masktress Lysk Thin-Hands-Scratching of the Amaranth district.

SPIRE SCENARIOS – IN PRINT! Blood and Dust, Eidolon Sky and Kings of Silver are now all available in physical form for the frankly absurd price of £4 a pop. They each come complete with pre-generated characters, so it’s never been easier to get started with Spire.

BLACK MAGIC – IN PRINT! Replace your organs with wax copies made by bees! Retch up a black-eyed, needle-toothed child that wants to hurt you – every night when you fall asleep! Make curry goat so good it brings the dead back to life! Make unspeakable pacts with unknowable creatures housed in unstable and dangerous machinery! All this and more awaits you in Black Magic, now available in print for the first time ever.

a range of beautiful art prints

ART PRINTS! Adrian Stone’s art has defined Spire. If you’d like it to define the wall of your lounge, bedroom, office or bathroom, why not pick up a print of your favourite piece? We’ve updated the store with the new illustrations from Strata, and installed a fancy new plugin that makes browsing the available prints a pleasurable, rather than frustrating, experience.

ROYAL BLOOD – IN PRINT! Nothing to do with Spire – this is a standalone game set in the modern day where players take on the roles of the Queens, Pages and Princesses of the tarot and attempt to overthrow the major arcana in a single night’s heisting. Played using a deck of tarot cards, this game has been laid out and illustrated by the fantastic Banana Chan – it’s absolutely gorgeous. It’s available in print right now!

ONE PAGE RPG COLLECTION YEAR TWO – IN PRINT! Following on from the first 13 one-page games (and their back pages) we’ve stuck another 13 together to make a second volume. These come with their exclusive, never-released-online back pages – extra hacks, content, and on occasion entirely separate games. At present we’re still getting these printed, so you’ll be able to back-order them and we’ll send them out when they’re with the distributor – should be within a fortnight of this blog post.

ALSO ALSO you can get discounted bundles of EVERYTHING, the WHOLE SPIRE RANGE, in print and PDF. An excellent present for someone you like very much, or at least someone who you would very much like to run Spire for you.

Right. Phew! That’s a lot of stuff. Please buy it.

Much love,

-Grant

Strata Kickstarter goes live Tuesday 16th October

We’re excited to announce that the Kickstarter for Strata, our first full-length sourcebook for the Spire RPG, will launch on Tuesday 16th October. Follow us on Kickstarter to stay up-date.

Strata will include, but is definitely not limited to:

  • Two new classes: the Inksmith, who is a pulp-fiction two-fisted literature occultist, and the Shadow Agent, who has given themselves up to the Hidden Mistress in exchange for the ability to mystically transform themselves into cover identities.
  • Five scenarios written by exciting authors: these range from a one-shot where the cell liberate the victims of artistic beautification surgery to a full campaign frame that sees the doomed drow house of Starys return to try and reclaim Spire.
  • Advances for playing a character from each of the nine noble families of the drow.
  • A huge amount of setting inspiration and details for the richest and poorest places in Spire: the glittering perversity of Amaranth, the folk tales of shadowed Derelictus, the warring factions of Ivory Row, drug-dealing speakeasies in the Works, and more besides.

What’s more, backers will be able to pledge at a higher level to be part of the book itself – suitably Spire-ified, of course.  Want to become a patron of the revolution, or set up your own organisation – complete with a set of advances that members can access? That’s a thing you can do.

We’re really excited to make this happen. See you on Tuesday!

Strata: Kickstarting in October!

STRATA: A SPIRE SOURCEBOOK KICKSTARTER

Since we released Spire, we’ve been so excited to see what the community has done with it We’ve heard so many stories of brilliant games of rebellion and intrigue set in the world we created, and now we want to createmore of it. So, we’re even more excited to announce that the kickstarter for our first hard-copy sourcebook, Strata, will launch in early October.

WHAT IS STRATA?

Hopefully, it’s more of what you like about Spire – more weirdness, more story hooks, more rules, and more words about a place that’s on the brink of revolution and waiting for the players to push it over the edge.

We’re focusing on the richest and poorest places in Spire. In the same way that our Black Magic PDF sourcebook focused on the Occult domain, Strata will be based around the High Society and Low Society domains. But it’ll be much more comprehensive book, stuffed with adventure frames and campaigns as well as details of the world itself.

We’re going to be releasing Strata as a high-quality book, using the same printers as the core Spire book, with all-new artwork by Spire artist Adrian Stone. We’re also hoping to release a newspaper, designed by Tim Wilkinson Lewis, that will act as an accompaniment and play aid for all the scenarios in Strata – and add some more secrets to the world in the process. You’ll hear lots more on this as the campaign goes on.

WHAT’S IN THE BOOK?

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but just from flicking through the document you can expect to find:

  • New advances for Idols based on their artistic school in the Sunlight Collective
  • Rules for possession-junkie ghost-gangs that stalk ruined mansions
  • A song-bow that plucks out your last breath as you die and turns it into music
  • A list of famous heists in the Silver Quarter, including this one time when someone stole the casino they were gambling in
  • Rules for giving your body to the Spire and being rewarded with beautiful flowers blossoming out of your skin
  • Music made by re-purposed industrial machines played to underground speakeasies
  • The child-gangs of Derelictus and their patchwork miracles, passed down in games and songs
  • A knife that loves you and wants you to be safe
  • The guild of ladder-men and the council of stairs, angry that unlicensed ropers are making climbing routes through their turf
  • Aelfir blinding parties
  • And much, much more

ADVENTURES AND CAMPAIGN FRAMES

We’re really excited to be working with several other writers to bring our world to life. In addition to a full campaign frame written by the original authors, Strata will include up to nine scenarios written by other people who range from established industry professionals to new talent with promise and a knack for words. (Exactly how many we’ll publish is reliant on stretch goals.)

We can’t wait to see what they bring to Spire.

THAT’S IT FOR NOW

We’re thrilled to have the opportunity to write in Spire again, and commission some awesome people to create stuff alongside us. If you’d like to stay up-to-date with the campaign, you can follow Grant on Kickstarter here to receive an update when we launch, or subscribe to our mailing list here.

Grant, Chris and Mary

SPIRE – CALL FOR WRITERS

EDIT – This call has now closed. Thanks for all your pitches!

When we started making Spire, we didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into. As the project has reached completion, we’ve been blown away by the enthusiasm and support of our players and readers – and we think we might need your assistance to give them what they want.

Spire is big. Bigger than we can handle ourselves. There are a million nooks and crannies to explore within the towering nightmare city, a million stories waiting to be told, and we want you to help.

WRITE FOR US!

What ideas do you have, when you flick through Spire? What stories do you want to help people tell? What weird twists and unexpected secrets have you hidden in your version of the city?

Take a look at our pay-what-you-want adventures: Blood and Dust, Eidolon Sky, and Kings of Silver. They’re an example of what we like when it comes to adventure design – lots of setup, lots of player choice, and very little in the way of scripting player actions. (Also: they’re not too long.) We like to think in terms of characters and motivations; of neat scenes that the GM can slip into the story wherever is appropriate; of giving the players difficult choices and no clear right answer. The adventures take the established locations within Spire and introduce a new element to them, then explore how that changes the already shaky status quo in the city.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re an established RPG author with reams of material under their belt or if this is your first stab at writing something for publication. We’re interested in hearing from you if you’ve got stories to tell in our world; especially if you’re part of a culture that doesn’t see much representation in the RPG industry.

Also, don’t worry about “getting it right” with regards to canon – we work in very broad strokes, and what’s true and what’s not in the world of Spire is a concept with a lot of wiggle room. As long as you have a broad understanding of the themes and concepts within our world, you should be fine – this isn’t a test to see whether you’ve memorised everything we’ve written and can regurgitate it back to us, but rather an exercise in seeing if you can use our words as a springboard to reach something better.

WHAT WE WANT

  • Original, punchy scenarios and campaign frames that give the GM agency to tell their own stories
  • Well-written, engaging words that spark the imagination; we’re proud of the standard of writing in Spire, and we want to continue the tradition
  • New extra advances, equipment and enemies that tie into your scenarios
  • New rules, descriptions and story hooks for things we haven’t covered in great detail – like the stuff we did in Black Magic
  • Interesting takes on well-worn fantasy tropes
  • Additional details, locations and characters for Spire

WHAT WE DON’T WANT

  • Scenarios set outside of Spire (that is, in Nujab, or the Eastern Kingdoms, or the Home Nations, or in an entirely different world etc; you can set stuff on the outside of Spire)
  • New classes
  • Huge mega-campaigns that require the player characters to act in certain ways to further the plot (write a novel instead, get it out of your system, then come back to us)
  • The big secret metaplot behind the universe (there isn’t one)
  • Brand new big secret organisations that mess with the world behind the scenes (we’ve got enough of those, use one of the existing ones)
  • Lists of unconnected weapons and monsters

WHAT WE CAN OFFER YOU

CASH. We pay our writers.

EDITING. All your work will be edited by us, and either fed back to you for improvement or published once we’ve made changes. Which means: your work will be better, which is good.

MECHANICS. If you aren’t comfortable writing mechanics for our system, we can do that – just tell us what you need the mechanics to do and we can fill in the blanks if we’re capable. If you are comfortable, take a go at writing it, and we can make sure that it lines up with the rest of the world.

YOUR NAME IN LIGHTS. Well, your name in print, or PDF, at least. But: you’ll be credited for everything you do. If you write something, it’s important that people know you did it.

THE NEXT STEP

Send a pitch to admin@rowanrookanddecard.com – no more than a hundred words or so – which outlines what part of Spire you’d like to explore, and what kind of scenario you’re interested in setting up there. What are the players tasked with doing? What opposition stands in their way? Imagine you’re describing it to a group of prospective players and you want to share your excitement with them.

Also, send over examples of, or links to examples of, other work that you’ve done. If you don’t have a portfolio, send us a link to your blog, or some other place that you store your words. (If you don’t have any examples of your writing to make available to us… well, wow us with the pitch, and we’ll talk.)

If we like it, and we think that the concept has the capacity to be turned into something special, we’ll be in touch.

  • Grant, Chris and Mary

Kings of Silver release date: 31st May

[edit: Kings of Silver is out now! Download it here.]

We’re excited to announce that Kings of Silver, the latest campaign frame for the Spire RPG, will be released on the 31st of May.

WHAT IS KINGS OF SILVER?

Kings of Silver is a campaign frame – a way to set up a series of linked games of Spire using the same characters – set in Spire’s Silver Quarter.

Some of the weekly happenings in the Silver Quarter, courtesy of The Silhouette

If you’ve read our other ones – Blood & Dust and Eidolon Sky – you’ll have noticed that we don’t really do pre-written scenarios the way a lot of other games designers do. As we don’t like to make reams of notes when we run games ourselves – and we’re not big fans of reading them, either – we wanted to create a setup that game the GM and players flexibility to explore the weird world of Spire but also a solid framework to guide them through the experience.

READ ALL ABOUT IT

Kings of Silver newspaper clippings

Kings of Silver starts with a sheaf of newspaper clippings cut from magazines and newspapers distributed throughout the city.  (We’ve included all 10 as stand-alone images, too, for ease of printing.) The cell are instructed to use the clippings as a starting point to investigate three power-players in the glittering Silver Quarter:

  • Hestra Wander-the-Lost, scandalous media sensation, master seductress and sister to the morose warrior-poet on the city council with the same surname
  • Lay-Deacon Strides-Out-Harmonious, a wealthy devotee to Father Summer, who has been building heavily-defended temple-casinos throughout the district, and
  • Loq Walks-On-Light, enigmatic ex-military playboy who boasts an increasingly large entourage and some strange philosophies

From there, we adopt a hands-off approach to adventure design. Each of the three main NPCs (and a few other important people) are given full breakdowns and a series of suggested scenes that the GM can weave into the story, and we’ve taken a guess at a few finales that might happen, but we can’t be sure how it will end.  After all, if you know how a roleplaying game is going to finish… well, what’s the point in playing at all?

EXTRA STUFF

Kings of Silver also boasts several pages of random tables designed to evoke the atmosphere of the gaudiest district in Spire – festivals, noble families, street furniture, whatever the gangsters who run the place are doing, and whatever the city guard are doing to keep things ticking over – six pre-generated characters with Silver-Quarter-ready backstories, and a full list of employees for The Manticore gambling house which the player cell has received as a cover identity.

Hestra is protected by the Order of the Querent Hound, handsomest knights in all of Spire

What’s more, we’re releasing this 45-page PDF on a pay-what-you-want basis! We’re really keen for you to hit the ground running with Spire – hopefully Kings of Silver can help, and give you inspiration for your own campaigns. We’re really proud of Kings of Silver,  and we’re looking forward to sharing it with you. Keep an eye on our Twitter account, or check back here next week, to pick it up.

Honey Heist is on Critical Role this week!

HEY SO our game, Honey Heist – an RPG in which you play a criminal bear with two stats, CRIMINAL and BEAR – is being played on Critical Role this week, which we are assured is a Big Deal. If you’d like to learn more about Honey Heist, you can download the entire ruleset (which is a page long) for free here.

Then you can buy it on a t-shirt here, if you’re comfortable with being the most popular person at any convention/bar/funeral you wear it to. That’s a burden you’ll just have to shoulder when you wear it.

The game will run on Thursday 9th November 2017 at 7pm PT. (Which is 3am on Friday if you’re in the UK, so we won’t blame you for not watching it live.) If you’d like to learn more about Critical Role, check out their website here.

Spire RPG: The Classes

We wanted to share some of the development we’ve done on the classes in Spire – our Kickstarter, which is nearly over – and how they reflect the system and the setting of the game. This is going to be a long post, so let’s get started!

We’ll go through the classes in alphabetical order, picking out one (or maybe two) abilities in particular from each that we feel are worth sharing. These abilities are all purchased in the same way – when you change something in Spire, you gain access to an advance. The bigger the change, the bigger the advance; these abilities are from all three levels of power.

AZURITE

The Azurite is a blue-clad priest of Azur, the god of gold, one of the rulers of the Blue Market to the south of Spire. They are deal-makers and traders, and Azur is surprisingly flexible as to what sort of boons they’ll bestow upon their followers – so long as they can pay. At earlier levels, sacrificing coin can earn the Azurite temporary access to skills, domains, languages and even allies that they don’t have – but the High abilities, as with all classes, allows them to do some weirder stuff:

BUY SOME TIME. [Divine] It’s expensive, but you can buy back a minute of your time. Mark D8 stress to Silver to cast this spell, which takes effect instantaneously. You travel a minute back in time, and will probably meet yourself from the past depending on how far you’ve moved over the last sixty seconds. At the end of the minute, you and your past self meld back into the same person as they cast the spell.

(If you stop yourself from casting Buy Some Time, then things get temporaly difficult. Each of you takes D8 stress every minute until one of you dies.)

Buy Some Time lets you do exactly that – purchase a minute of time back from the cosmos in exchange for what may well be enough money to bankrupt you.

 

BOUND

The Bound draws on traditional animist religions; members of a downtrodden underclass, they are something of a secret police for the poor unfortunates who live in Perch, nailed to the side of the city itself. Most folk in Perch refuse to devote their lives to the major deities, and instead worship the tiny gods that live in their possessions – knives, clothes, ropes, and so on.

For the Bound – a secret police amongst the poorest of Spire, who hunt down wrongdoers and pitch them off the city – they take it one step further, and capture loose gods then bind them, painfully, into their blades. This lets them go things like:

THE SECRET OF FEAR. You rattle the cage that keeps the god bound in your blade, and it terrifies your enemies. Mark D3 stress to Shadow; your bound weapon dice size increases by 1 for the next situation.

It’s not all captured gods, though; our favourite Bound power, and one that almost every Bound player has taken, is the Secret of Lucky Breaks:

THE SECRET OF LUCKY BREAKS. Your gods see to it that you’re never without small luxuries. Gain +1 Mind and +1 Reputation slot. Your bottle always has a little bit of liquor left in it, and your crumpled cigarette packet always contains three cigarettes, and your box of spireblack matches always contains one match. (You can’t use this ability to give out infinite cigarettes and booze to loads of other people in an attempt to make money; the gods will resent the abuse, and cease to aid you.)

We called all the low-level abilities for Bound Secrets, the mid-level abilities Saints (e.g. The Saint of Last Stands) and the high-level abilities Gods (e.g. The God of Getting Even). This has no particular in-game effect but we thought it sounded really cool.

 

CARRION-PRIEST

We’ve been through a lot of rewrites with the Carrion-Priest (and even changed their name a few times) but we’re really happy with where they’ve ended up. While they have all sorts of abilities focusing around their sacred pet hyena, we like this one:

GHOST SPEAKER: Your connection to the World After is strengthened through Charnel. +1 Mind, +1 Reputation. You have a close connection to death and the afterlife. Take D3 stress in Mind or Blood to activate this power for a situation – you can see, speak to, and physically interact with ghosts as though they were physically present in the scene. In addition, once per session, you find a ghost and talk to them about the present situation – ask the GM who it is.

We wanted to try and give each class some scene-framing abilities so player could push the narrative in a certain direction without relying solely on the GM to make it happen; most of them have one in their core abilities (the Idol, for instance, can make a party happen once per session), but we have a smattering as optional upgrades. With this one, we gave the Carrion-Priest to opportunity to speak to and interact with ghosts, but we also wanted to make sure that it’d come in useful in case the GM forgot to put ghosts in the game – and once per session, they can locate the spirit of someone useful.

 

FIREBRAND

The Firebrand is the most recent class – we wrote them after all the others had been settled on and playtested, after seeing a gap in the market for a pure revolutionary type. I think my favourite thing about the class is how their low- and mid-level advances focus around mundane elements…

THE PEOPLE’S CHAMPION. You are the rock around which the rebellion is anchored. +1 Reputation. You gain a street-level bond based on the cadre of revolutionaries that follow you around, espouse your virtues and (if you’ve written any) hold up your manifestos as intellectual principles for life. When you ask this bond for a favour, the stress dice is one size smaller than normal.

… which is all well and good, but given the peculiar nature of Spire, at high levels, their abilities shift to become divine in nature:

THE MEANS OF DESTRUCTION. [Divine] Your touch becomes anathema to your oppressor. Mark D3 stress to cast this spell. Any improvised weapon you touch (i.e. work tools, bolt-cutters, kitchen knives, crowbars, etc) inflicts D8 stress when used against your oppressors for the remainder of the situation, and gains the following tags: Brutal, Devastating.

What that power means is that not only do you triple the damage output of mundane weapons, but you also make them ignore all armour and the wielder gets to roll twice for damage and pick the higher dice. Which we envisage as you walking around with a box of work tools and chair legs, blessing them with the righteous power of the revolution.

 

IDOL

The Idol is an artist and magician whose main project is themselves – every Idol is impossibly beautiful, thanks to a combination of black-market charms and practiced poise. We wanted to make a social class who was so persuasive that they didn’t need weapons to hurt people, and someone who was so beautiful that reality had a hard time keeping up with them. For example:

INCORRUPTIBLE. Your mind is too beautiful to mar with insanity. Your mind is crystal, shining and pure, and madness rolls off you and onto others. Once per situation, when you take stress to Mind, a different nearby character (chosen by the GM) take it instead.

They also have a wide variety of spells that let them rewrite reality (or make people feel so unworthy that they start to rip and tear at their own bodies), but this subtle ability is one of our favourites:

RENDER UNTO ME. [OCCULT] The world is yours for the taking. Once per situation, you can command an NPC to hand an item they’re carrying over to you, and they must obey.

It’s a small ability, but it’s a powerful one; we primarily envisage it being used to calmly walk up to an enemy in a gunfight and ask them for their gun, but there’s a lot of wiggle room there which we can imagine players using to surprise their GM. And who doesn’t like surprises?

 

KNIGHT

The Knight of the North Docks (to give the class its full title) was the first we wrote, and the first solid faction I came up with when I was sketching out the core ideas for Spire this time last year. While almost all of their lower-level abilities focus around them being a load of unstable, pubcrawling brawlers, all of their high-level abilities involve quests for legendary items. (Although: all quests involve finding an ancient legendary pub, so.) We saw the Knight’s levelling as a sort of redemption; they start off pretty rough around the edges (and in the middle, too, honestly) but as the campaign continues they get a chance to go on a quest to heal the sick, reform the North Docks in their own image, or, as you’ll see below, pull the sword from the stone:

PULL THE SWORD FROM THE STONE. [QUEST] You travel in search of a legendary sword. When you accept this quest, you gain the Resist skill and Occult domain as you are ritually branded or tattooed with symbols of chivalric protection. You must journey to the centre of the Spire, find St Beneferas’ sword, and pull it from the floorboards of The Stone (a pub) into which he plunged it hundreds of years ago.

When you complete this quest, you gain a (D6, brutal) magical sword; as it’s magical, you can use it to attack ethereal creatures or those which are immune to normal weapons. In addition, choose two of the following upgrades to the sword

– Inflict D8 stress
– Gain the Ranged tag
– Gain the Stunning tag
– Gain the Defensive tag
– Gain the Bloodbound tag
 – Gain the Devastating tag

And one of the following “upgrades”:

 – Demons and ghosts are drawn to the sword’s powerful energies
 – The sword whispers eerie truths
 – The sword glows blue in the presence of… something, you’re not sure, seems important though
 – You know in your heart that you are the true King or Queen of Spire

LAHJAN

Lahjan means “silvered” in our drow dialect (which was built with a lot of inspiration taken from Haitian Creole) and the silvered are the priests of Our Glorious Lady. One of the big things we wanted to explore with Spire was the effect of oppression on religion; while there are three core goddesses at the root of the wider drow faith, only worship of one – Our Glorious Lady, the light side of the moon – is permitted in the city by the high elves. With worship of the other goddesses driven underground and into radicalisation, the Lahjan have become the spiritual guardians of the community.

They have a lot of your standard cleric-themed healing powers, but also some stranger abilities as well, such as turning into moonlight, reforming their minds into mirror-images of their enemies, or this one…

RITE OF THE THREE SISTERS. [Divine] You share misfortune between your allies. Mark D3 stress to Mind when you cast this spell. You and two allies take part in a half-hour ritual in which your blood is mixed with sanctified mercury and daubed over your heart. Until the next dawn, when you or one of the other participants in the ritual mark stress, it is divided equally between all three of you. If one of the members of trinity falls unconscious or dies, the spell ends.

 

MASKED

The Masked are our quiet social class, where the Idol is loud; once servants to the high elves, they are masters of subterfuge and quiet rebellion. They’ve also picked up the habit of permanently wearing masks in public, as the aelfir do, and combined with ancient drow sorcery and illegally-procured materials, they have access to weird magical masks. These range from black pieces held in the mouth that smother all nearby noise, terrifying copies of their own masks which can overwrite the minds of others who wear them, and the ability to become legendary dark elf folk heroes:

THE MASTERLESS MASK. [Occult] You create a version of a mask that is whispered of in high elf circles – the Masterless Mask, terror of the aelfir, scion of the Red Moon, who will visit their doom upon them. When you wear it, you roll with mastery and inflict D8 stress when you attack an aelfir, regardless of what weapon you’re using to do it.

What’s more, each night a drow in the Spire prays to you to deliver them from their masters, refresh. Ten or so people removes D3 stress, a hundred D6, and a thousand or more will remove D8.

 

VERMISSIAN SAGE

The Vermissian Sage was our attempt to write a bookish mage class whilst making sure it was uniquely tied to Spire; they are wizards, for sure, but they are primarily historians and researchers who are using the reality-warping tunnels of the Vermissian, Spire’s defunct mass transit network, to store relics from their race and explore the myriad potential futures available to them.

One of their most iconic abilities allows them to create a connection between any two NPCs (and let the GM figure out precisely what that is – remember, who doesn’t like surprises?) but we like this one, too, because it let us discuss the ancient noble houses of the Home Nation dark elves without having to do it in a boring box-out:

DYNASTIC MEMORY [Divine]. +2 Reputation. Mark D3 stress to Mind to channel the power of the ancient Houses of the Home Nations, and give you and your allies strength. The first time you use this power on a character, determine which House they originate from by choosing it from the list below. From then on, when you use this power on them, they gain access to the relevant power for the remaining situation. (This spell only functions when cast on dark elves.)

Destera, the Weavers –  Spiders adore you and will perform self-sacrificing actions on your behalf
Yssen, the Unquiet Blades – If you wear no armour, your attacks have the Brutal and Surprising tags
Malrique, the Unlidded Eye –  You cannot be surprised or ambushed
Valwa, the Silver-blooded – When you successfully Compel a target, gain a temporary bond with them
Gryndel, the Crimson Hunters – When you declare a target’s full name out loud and they hear it, you roll with mastery on Fight and Pursue actions against them. You can only do this for one target at a time
Starys, the Drowned Kings – You no longer need to breathe
Aliquam, Repairers of Reputations – At the end of the situation, remove all stress marked against Reputation
Duval, the Grave Cold – By focusing for a minute or so, you may not be seen so long as you remain motionless and you close your eyes
Quinn, the Noble and Most High – You can smell gold, silver, jewels and other items of value

That’s not all – we’ve got a lot of extra abilities too, such as worship of the Hungry Deep (the rotting hole in reality that hides at the centre of the city), the violent and unpredictable drow rebels of the Crimson Vigil, the luckless City Guard, and the hard-bitten noir investigators of the Greymanor Detective Agency. If you’d like to back Spire, check out our Kickstarter – we’re in the last few days!

MECHANICAL ORYX wins 2017’s 200 word RPG contest

The 200 word RPG contest is a cracking yearly challenge, run by the selfless David Schirduan, in which – well – entrants must write an entire roleplaying game using 200 words or fewer. Seeing as I write one-page RPGs quite literally for a living, I felt like it wouldn’t be fair for me to enter, and that I should make room for new and upcoming authors in the industry to showcase their work.

Then I went on holiday and wrote MECHANICAL ORYX while everyone else was at the beach because I’m a big saddo that hates fun, and it turned out pretty good, so I went ahead and submitted it – and it won, which is nice! The other two winners (there’s no “first prize” as such, but instead three joint top entries) are both rather serious and, to be honest, fairly moving art pieces about soldiering in modern Afghanistan and the onset of dementia while you’re abandoned by your family, neither of which are a fun time to spend an evening but both of which are fascinating topics to write a game about.

You can see MECHANICAL ORYX and all the other entries on the 200w RPG official website. Alternatively, because it’s only 200 words, I’ve reproduced it below:

You have many whirring eyes and strong, beautiful coiled-steel legs and were made long ago when the cities still stood.

You spread one: plants, light, music, warmth, power, knowledge, rust, something else. The longer you stay in one place, the more intense it gets. You have three installed modules; tell us what they do.

You walk the green places where soft brown people tend to fruit-trees and sing songs they don’t understand.

They pray: DISPEL THE CURSE ON OUR VILLAGE; DESTROY THE PHANTOMS THAT PLAGUE US; TEACH US THE SONG THAT MAKES THE FRUIT GROW.

When you act and the outcome is in doubt, roll 2D6 and spend fuel; if you get seven or more, you achieve your aims. If you roll a double, your solution causes an unexpected problem and something is lost forever.

When you act with love, roll 1D4+1D6. When you act with hate, roll 3D6.

You have 10 fuel. When you have none, you stop.

When you use a module, replace one D6 with a D8; if it shows 8, the module breaks.

Happy people build shrines for you containing fuel and modules. Without the shrines, you will become a dangerous, scavenging thief: a phantom.

I’m really happy with how it turned out (and I liked the other finalists too, especially Five Cards) but something that strikes me – with my game, and with the others as well – is that these games aren’t generally the sort of thing that you’d play on a given evening if something was available. I think that, in the same way as Game Chef or Threeforged, RPG design contests with such tight constraints produce and celebrate pieces of art, rather than pieces of craft – games that do something interesting and curious rather than the sort of thing that’ll keep you coming back for more and more. I’d go for playing D&D over pretty much any 200w RPG you care to mention, and I reckon that most other people would say the same.

Which is fine, of course. We don’t need another Dungeons and Dragons (despite what many, many fantasy heartbreaker authors seem to think) but as an art form we can always do with more people pushing the envelope and seeing what games can do. I suppose, given the presentation, is that these games primarily exist as texts rather than experiences, in that they’re imagined and extrapolated upon rather than played. (Which is why my game did well, I think: the worldbuilding is there, but just enough to get you to start asking questions about why on earth robot antelopes are helping people to grow fruit in, what, a post-apocalyptic setting?)

Anyway. If you play Mechanical Oryx, let me know, yeah? I’m curious to see if it actually works.