Hey, it’s GenCon 2020! On account of the blasted pox, the entire thing is taking place online, which means slightly fewer opportunities for impromptu hangout sessions but significantly less travel time, given that we live on the other side of a massive ocean from Indianapolis.
We’re running games of Royal Blood, Heart, and Spire – and there are games of Honey Heist and Beautiful Space Pirates too, which we didn’t set up but we did write the systems so well done there.
We can’t replicate the sensation of being in Indianapolis in early August – it’s not nearly warm enough here, nor is there a sort of fierce biomass of geek present ready to swarm into any available space in case there are dice for sale there – but we’ll do the next best thing. If you use the code GENCON20 on this site during GenCon, we’ll deliver your items FREE OF CHARGE no matter where you live.
Several thousand copies of Heart (and all associated supplements) are currently on board a big boat somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic on account of the US government deciding that it should cost Too Much Money to send individual parcels to it in an attempt to put people off buying from small overseas creators, because that’s a cool thing to do. TO THAT END if you order Heart or one of the shiny new sourcebooks and you’re in the US or Canada then the books will ship to you in about three weeks once they’re on dry and land and have cleared customs.
We’re in them! Or rather: we’ve been nominated for some awards, which is nice. Royal Blood is up for best product and best game, Strata is up for best internal art, and Sexy Battle Wizards is up for best free product. (Heart came out just too late, which is a shame, but you can expect us to ride it into battle in 2021 like a massive warhorse and carry away all the awards we can steal.)
We’ve got enamel pins made special for GenCon! We were going to hand them out with purchases but, well, pandemic. So instead we’re selling them through the store here – and if you order more than $9 worth of stuff and you have a physical item in your order, we’ll throw one in for free.
The pins are lovely occult bees from Heart, as you can see here:
SHADOW OPERATIONS is eleven one-shot missions for the Spire RPG written to be run with as much ease and as little prep as possible.
VERMISSIAN BLACK OPS is a sourcebook for Heart which gives you additional rules for running strike forces of delvers against high-value targets determined by the Ministry of Our Hidden Mistress.
They’re both out in PDF form now! And: if you get the PDF and decide to get the physical book later on once we’ve had them printed, we’ll discount your order with the cost of the PDF, because we’re nice like that.
After over eighteen months of development, testing, rewrites, editing, illustration, layout and troubleshooting, we’re proud to announce that the digital edition of Heart is now live! You can buy a copy from our store here.
It’s been a tremendous journey for all of us at RRD and we’d like to thank Felix Miall for his excellent artwork, Jay Iles for her tireless efforts in layout, and Helen Gould for editing something legible out of Grant’s randomly-punctuated manuscript.
We’re still on track to deliver the supplements, and the physical copies, on time – but with the way the world is at the moment things can change from day to day, so we’ll keep you informed as best we can as to the status of the books.
For now, if you’ve got a copy, go read and enjoy it! (And if you don’t, we recommend you buy one.)
Burned and Broken is the final form of the Spire Conversion Guide – a set of rules for adapting characters from the City Above in order to send them on journeys into the City Beneath. We had a lot of requests quite early on in the process of Heart development – before we’d released playtest documents, even – for a means of converting characters between the games – this makes sense, and given that both games a) are set in the same world and b) use broadly similar systems, it shouldn’t have been too hard, right?
Here’s the problem, though: we wrote that. It wasn’t hard to do. It just wasn’t good.
Heart is a very different game from Spire; it uses the Resistance system as a base, and some of the skills and domains are the same as in Spire, and you can definitely see where one system has evolved into the other. (We’re going to overhaul the Resistance Toolkit, too, once Heart is released, with what we’ve learned. It’s not that Heart is a better game than Spire, per se, more that we’ve figured out a lot about adapting the core of the system to make it more fit for purpose.)
But it tells different stories about different people, and the characters from Spire just don’t fit properly into the Heart. In both games, we’ve tried our level best to bake the setting into the character classes, because that’s where players interact most with the game. It just doesn’t work properly when you try to strongarm one set of rules into another.
The translation guide we put together was dry and unexciting. The characters could never hope to be as viable as characters built using the Heart rules, because their core competencies lay elsewhere. An Idol wouldn’t last ten minutes in the Heart; a Knight, torn away from the culture of the North Docks, barely felt like a Knight at all. It felt like a waste of time.
So: we went back to the drawing board. We thought about how we could still deliver what we’d promised but make something interesting and fun; and Burned and Broken is that something.
Why would Ministers choose to go into the Heart? If they had no other options. (Or, I guess, if the Ministry sent them there. But Spire already has setting and rules for the Heart, so you can use that if you’d like.) Rather than get into specifics, we assumed that everything bad that could have happened to the cell had happened or was about to happen: attacks from the Paladins, assassination attempts from Ministry kill-teams, betrayal by old allies, the destruction of safehouses, and so on.
We started working out how we could use the already-established mechanics from Heart to represent a cell being hounded out of the City Above, and came to two main conclusions:
Your Origin is who you were – your class, in Spire terms. Considering how far you are from your network of bonds, allies, supply chains and your normal life, each Origin is vastly underpowered compared to the originating class. That’s deliberate; on one hand, we wanted to illustrate how messed up you are given the nature of your departure from Spire. On the other hand, we wanted to give you room to grow into your new class.
By which we mean: Burned and Broken isn’t a way of perfectly converting your character from one system into another. It’s a way of showing what’s left of you and your abilities after the Ministry decide you’re worth more to them dead than alive, and how you’ll become someone capable of surviving in the City Beneath.
Instead of a Calling, you start off with a Fall.
(Your Calling is how you advance in standard games of Heart – it’s the driving force behind why you’ve chosen to spend your life in a nightmare labyrinth. It’s broken down into a whole bunch of beats (things like “Take Minor Blood Fallout” or “Kick someone off a really tall building”) which, when you hit them, allow you to choose from the abilities available to your class.)
The whole group shares the same Fall, and you’ll each choose three beats from it. When you hit them, you pick out a Calling and a Class, and take elements from that to add to your character. Once you’ve hit three, you’re a fully-fledged Heart character, ready to go headlong into the chaos under Spire, and maybe even prosper down there.
The Fall functions as a means of illustrating your descent from Spire (with beats like “Evade a Ministry Silence team” and “Get revenge on someone who sold you out”), learning the basics of how to survive in the Heart (“Complete a Delve,” “Fight an adversary with Protection 2 or higher”) and developing into a new class (“Get paid for work,” “Establish a connection between two landmarks”).
That’s enough explaining our working for a bit. The book contains:
A breakdown of Derelictus, the City Between, as a series of delves and landmarks so you can run it like a sort of mini-Heart to get players used to the system
Advice on running Burned and Broken games, both as a means of translating characters over from Spire and as a standalone prologue for a new game of Heart
The Fall, and how to run it
Origins for all of the Spire character classes, even the Inksmith and the Shadow Agent from Strata and the Blood-Witch from Black Magic
Rules for stealing pigs
We really hope you like it. It was one of the more challenging parts of the whole creative process, and we’re proud of what we managed to pull off with it.
We’re doing previews of all of the sourcebooks that are launching along side the core rules for Heart. This week, we’re focusing on VERMISSIAN BLACK OPS.
The Vermissian is a centuries-old cursed mass transit network that pierced the Heart Itself and, as a result, got jam-packed with the sort of predatory twisting unreality that really makes it hard to catch the train to work. Walled over and long-abandoned, the Vermissian is now home to no end of dissolute weirdos, illegal wizards and mad scholars – and, as it happens, highly-trained squads of operatives in the service of The Ministry of Our Hidden Mistress, a secret paramilitary cult who have sworn to break the aelfir rule of Spire through misdirection, subterfuge and assassination.
In Vermissian Black Ops, you’ll play those operatives. We’re using Heart rules to power the game (even though you’re playing Ministry operatives) because they’re focused around combat and exploration rather than revolution, social maneuvering and audacious gambits.
WHAT’S IN THE BOOK?
ALTERNATIVE RULES for running Ministry spec ops games, including streamlined healing and advancement mechanics and a bunch of new fallout results intended to represent paramilitary, cult and espionage threats, such as FLANKED, NO EXIT, SHOCK AND AWE, BURNED and SACRIFICE.
Advice on BUILDING OPERATIONS as a group – structuring them around a central core Major objective and supplementing that with Minor objectives.
A guide to each of the FIVE LINES OF THE VERMISSIAN: the ramshackle Candle Line that runs the length of the city from top to bottom, the submerged Fathom line which served the lower city, the twisting and unpredictable Spiral line in the middle city; the aelfir-only Loft line on top of Spire, and the nightmarish Pulse line that connects the network to the Heart Itself.
Stats and motivations for the different FACTIONS at work with and against you: the Ministry of Our Hidden Mistress, the sanctified Paladins of the Autumn Church, the mysterious Vermissian Collective, the Spiral Council, and the, uh, Gutterkin, who are also there:
We’re doing previews of all of the sourcebooks that are launching along side the core rules for Heart. This week, we’re focusing on DOORS TO ELSEWHERE.
Elsewhere is a nexus point between realities – the gateway to a dozen worlds, protected by a cadre of overworked cartographers, threatened by hungry shadows, and panicking as the lights go out.
It’s up to you to save it – and the Heart, and maybe a few other dimensions as well.
WHAT IS DOORS TO ELSEWHERE?
Doors to Elsewhere is a campaign frame for Heart – it’s a scenario, a set of NPCs and factions, some adversaries to fight, lots of details on Elsewhere itself and a situation so dangerous you’ve got no choice but to intervene.
Elsewhere is alive – but it’s a city, and it only speaks in doors and pathways. The lights that keep it safe from those aforementioned hungry shadows are winking out one by one, and it’s thrown open doors to the Heart to try and recruit some proactive individuals to come and save it. (And maybe to let some of the shadows out to eat someone else for a bit, too.)
We mentioned Elsewhere in Spire – the Gentlemen who run L’Enfer Noir are from there – but that’s pretty much it. As with most of our setting details, we had intended it as a throwaway line that wouldn’t attract much attention, but people started to ask questions about it.
With the arrival of Heart, we were able to leap feet-first into the subject of otherworlds, and Elsewhere (along with UnSpire and the Moon Garden) was already waiting for us. We wanted Elsewhere to be everything the Heart wasn’t: comprehensible, modern, and… nice? Maybe not nice, actually, as it has the whole “hungry shadows” thing going on – but during the day, at least, we aimed for something like La Belle Epoque Paris crossed with Planescape’s Sigil.
Rather than go into exhaustive detail on all the alternate realities accessible through the city, we’ve tried to focus on Elsewhere itself – we reckon it’s interesting enough to warrant it. (My favourite bit is the way that, if you break the unwritten and inscrutable rules of Elsewhere, the City simply walls you off into a cellar and waits for you to die or starve long enough that you learn your lesson. There’s a roaring trade in finding the corpses of thieves trapped in basements and crawlspaces and reselling their stolen goods.)
Should your players end up spending several sessions there, we’ve provided a set of minor advances available to any class that give access to magical tricks such as sealing dimensional portals, making yourself understood in any language or summoning a temporary bridge.
Inspired by scenarios such as The Armitage Files and the loose way that we run our own games, Doors to Elsewhere is not only open-ended but open-beginninged and open-middled. We’re looking to provide you with something to spark an interesting story, so we’ve done our best to provide you with as many hooks as possible. If we’ve done our job properly you should be able to adapt the adventure to reflect whatever the players are interested in.
In short: the crystals that power the lights are going missing. We’ve provided means and motive for any one of around six interested parties to have carried out the theft, and reasons that the other five would try to hire a bunch of disposable rubes to steal them back. You can decide whodunnit before play and sculpt the adventure yourself, or – as we’d do it – go with whatever the players reckon is going on but add a couple of twists along the way.
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.
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.
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