Seeing as we’re a business that a) writes books and then b) has those books shipped all around the world, you can hopefully see why this is a difficult time for us. We really don’t want to embark on a project like this and have it go dramatically wrong for reasons outside of our control.
To avoid fulfilling late, overcharging you, or running into unsustainable levels of debt from what will doubtlessly be our biggest ever Kickstarter, we’re delaying the launch. We’re sorry to have got you all excited for November, but please rest assured that when we do this, it’s going to be incredible.
We’ve teamed up with Kieron Gillen, comics author extraordinaire, to publish DIE RPG – the roleplaying game based on the acclaimed indie comic, DIE, in which a group of broken, desperate people are sucked into a magical fantasy kingdom after playing a roleplaying game and we get to watch them work through their emotional and physical trauma – and have a bunch of beautifully-illustrated fights, as well.
We’re really excited to work with Kieron (and Stephanie Hans, too, who’ll be making new illustrations for the project) on this – we’ve been huge fans of his work for years and we couldn’t miss out on the chance to make something incredible together.
We’re still firming up all the details behind the scenes as to what the books will look like and how special the special editions will be (here’s a clue: very), so until we launch in November, you can follow the Kickstarter here to make sure you’re informed as soon as we go live.
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.
The world is ending. The First and Final God, a primordial force of frost and stillness, the source of all winters, is slowly coming back to life; come midwinter, it’ll all be over. As the mortals of the land struggle to survive, it becomes apparent that this is an apocalypse against them; it is an ending of the world that they’ve built. The tools and technologies they’ve created start to flicker and die like a guttering candle.
[I’ve attempted to write this table as a list of things that steadily get worse, so you can use it as a tracker to keep pace of what’s going on in the general environment. Or: roll a D4 every session and add it to the previous result to see what fresh hell the player characters face this week. Or: when the players push back against the First and Final God’s agents, move it back towards 1, and when their enemies gain ground, move it towards 20.]
The sun is reduced to a dim red orb, occluded by a pall of smoke and drifting ash from burning forest and buildings.
Wild animals, their attacks once sporadic and desperate, become organised and vicious. Predators team up with each other to tear apart their targets, with birds of prey acting as spotters for packs of wolves that chase injured and bleeding humans into traps set by bears.
Domestic animals turn against their owners; you see someone getting stamped and gnawed to death by their once-loyal horse.
Gutters and roofs are lined with fellravens – great cackling bastard corvids the size of dogs with serrated beaks that rip and tear apart their prey. Fellravens absolutely refuse to eat Doom Elves [link]; you’ll often see a lone elf, scratching away at paper with their inky fingertips, surrounded by a protective, cawing spiral of birds.
The written word withers and dies. You have to concentrate to read even simple texts.
The cold becomes infectious, passed from person to person like a virus; stand too close to someone that’s shivering and the cold will spread to you. You can burn it out with warmth if you’re quick enough.
Every time you use a tool, there’s a [10% cumulative] chance it’ll break or come apart in your hands.
The sun no longer seems to rise – the heavens are taken up by the end of the world. Strange stars hang in the bruised sky.
Walls, machines and other structures start to break down as if what remains of the world is turning against the people in it. Rust creeps over metal and floors collapse as entropy accelerates.
One night, the full moon is destroyed and it crumbles into burning shards that tumbles toward the surface of the world.
Language breaks down; you struggle to speak words of more than two syllables aloud, and your words confuse rather than communicate.
Clothes become itchy and constricting, and armour doubly so.
Light sources illuminate half of what they used to; all luminescence they project is sickly and weak, tinged blue-green and flickering.
Stars come detached from their moorings in the night sky and streak towards the luckless earth.
Fires no longer ignite, unless there’s something divine or magical about them; they just fail to take.
Every night at midnight, through scattered clouds and smoke, you can see the war in heaven smash the sky apart. Deities of all types sally forth against the implacable majesty of the First and Final God who, while wounded and streaming star-cluster blood into the void, smashes them to pieces. On its crown it bears a terrible crown the shape of a Svartfjell itself.
Injuries stop healing. [Hit point loss is permanent unless magically-restored.]
Even magic healing falters in the face of this great undoing. [Reduce all numerical magical healing by half.]
The First and Final God kills a deity that was important to some or all of the player characters. You see it happen, and watch a force you thought implacable and unchanging collapse. You can take relics from the body, if you’d like; a fraction of the god’s power remains within.
Magic – the oldest and most powerful technology of all – stops. Practised cantrips no longer spark into life. Once-powerful spells are just strange words.
If you’ve ever wanted to delve headlong into the strange and dangerous world of Spire, there’s never been a better opportunity. You can pick up Spire, Strata and PDFs of all three of our campaign frames for only $12.95 – a saving of $32.
What’s more, if you donate over the threshold price – that’s the average donation, currently set at $19.95 but due to increase as the promotion continues – you’ll get everything we’ve ever done for Spire – $35 worth of material including Shadow Operations, Black Magic, Codex of the Deep Spire, Book of Masks, and Secrets Kept from the Sun, plus seven MP3 tracks of atmospheric ambient sounds from Tabletop Audio, previously available only as a Kickstarter backer reward and not sold anywhere else.
10% of all proceeds go to Direct Relief, a charity devoted to sending protective gear and critical care medications to doctors all over the world in order to support the struggle against the COVID-19 pandemic.
But wait – there’s more! One lucky participant chosen at random will win a physical copy of everything in the bundle, and additional bonus material not released on PDF (or even on general sale). In addition to hardcopies of all PDFs (apart from the audio tracks, Codex of the Deep Spire and Secrets Kept From The Sun, because we don’t print those), you’ll get a copy of The Spiral Muse, our in-character companion gazette to Strata, and a bundle of newspaper clippings from The Torch, Ambrosia, Liberate! and other vital publications from the world of Spire. Your hard-copy of Spire will also be upgraded to the Special Edition – out of print and no longer on sale – which comes with a slipcover and variant cover art along with a charming set of endpapers. It’s the most Spire you’re currently able to possess and could be YOURS.
During the festive period, all spellcasters can use these spells in place of their own – it’s just that magical a season! To do so, roll on this table to generate a result instead of preparing a standard spell. Once you’ve successfully cast a Festive Spell, you can treat it as a spell you know until Spring. (Optionally, during the festive season, roll a D6 for each spell a spellcaster prepares during a rest period – on a 1, it’s replaced with a random spell from this list when cast. Being suitably festive can remove this penalty.) If it comes up, all spells are level 1.
1: ANIMATE TINSEL. Allows the caster to animate and control tinsel as well as modify its colour, texture, shine and so on. Every time you cast this spell, your mastery of tinsel increases. Should you use this spell in combat (perish the thought) the tinsel inflicts D3+X, where X is the number of times you’ve cast this spell, and as it’s a magical effect it ignores Damage Reduction.
2: BAUBLE OF WONDERMENT. Conjures a beautiful bauble of spun glass that entrances and fascinates the viewer (Will save vs your spellcasting ability), filling them with festive cheer. If broken or pierced (on a critical fail whilst holding it, or can be done so deliberately) the bauble bursts in a dazzling spray of light (easy Dex save to avoid temporary blindness to anyone within 10ft).
3: GUIDING STAR. Marks out a star in the night sky that guides the caster towards their intended target; it doesn’t actually change the star, just their perception of it. Roll with Advantage on Navigation checks assuming you’re looking for something spiritually important or mentioned somewhere in prophecy.
4: DECK THE HALLS. Instantly decorates a 40ft x 40ft area in festive trimmings – tinsel, holly, candles, baubles, bunting, mistletoe, socks on the walls, roaring fire in the fireplace, monogrammed pajamas, you name it. These decorations last until the next morning – when dawn breaks they will crumple into dry, tattered paper and blow away in the slightest breeze.
5: MULL LIQUID. Makes a liquid you’re holding hot, spiced and fragrant – and safe to drink, too. Drinking it restores D6 HP.
6: CHANGE OF HEART. Target makes an average Will save vs your spellcasting ability or is struck with the true meaning of the festive season. This differs from target to target, and if they don’t recognise a “true meaning” or don’t understand the festive season, they take D8 psychic damage from conflicting information and their nose starts to bleed uncontrollably.
7: SUMMON MASSIVE CANDY CANE. The cane is about eighteen inches long and surprisingly heavy. Makes an excellent present for children, and functions as a D4 Bludgeoning weapon. If you roll a 4 on your damage dice, it inflicts double damage and then breaks into pieces.
8: STONE TO GINGERBREAD. The most reliable way to make a Gingerbread House. Turns a stone or brick wall into architectural gingerbread – tougher than usual gingerbread, but significantly softer than stones and much tastier. Also turns mortar into icing and windows into melted-down boiled sweets.
9: MAGIC MISSIVE. Conjure D6+Level cards featuring a fat robin, a cosy-looking cottage, deer, holly, and the like. Each card comes with an envelope and, when inserted into an addressed envelope and thrown into the wind, it will magically travel to the intended recipient.
10: ANIMATE SNOW GOLEM. Snow isn’t the most sturdy material to build a golem from, but it’s abundant and teaches us a powerful lesson about impermanence. This spell allows you to confer sentience, animation and a pretty good singing voice on a humanoid statue made out of snow assuming it has a hat. The snow golem is broadly loyal to you, and is aware – some might say upsettingly aware – of its own impending mortality, so will undertake dangerous tasks that other servants might balk at. (Snow golem has stats as Skeleton, complete with resistance to Piercing and Slashing weapons, and carries whatever weapons you give it. Any fire-based damage it suffers is doubled.)