Class Breakdown: The Deadwalker

The Deadwalker is one of the classes from Heart, our upcoming RPG. Check out the Kickstarter here.

The iconic Deadwalker is a gnoll, showing that the City Beneath has few of the prejudices or laws of Spire.

The walls between worlds are thin in the Heart, and the difference between life and death is simply a matter of perspective. Having narrowly escaped their own demise, the Deadwalker uses their tattered soul to break into the afterlife – and they can lead others there too. It’s not always a good idea, but the Eight Heavens hold treasures and wisdom beyond the understanding of mortals, so they’ve managed to make a career out of it.

What’s more, they’re followed around by their own death in the form of a monstrous spectre that only they can see – sometimes it helps them out of trouble, in order to protect its investment. It has a vested interest in keeping them alive until the conditions for their death are perfect.

CORE ABILITY

BACK DOOR TO HEAVEN is the Deadwalker’s core ability, and it lets them open portals into fractures – interdimensional landmarks that aren’t tied to any particular tier. These fractures are the afterlives of those people who’ve lived and died in Heart, or very good copies of them. The Deadwalker is there for players who want to double down on the wonder in Heart, and unlock unearthly spaces to explore and marvel at. 

There’s a sensible way to get into every afterlife, which generally involves ritual, costume, and tricking whatever guardians or wards protect the place into letting them pass. But: there’s a quick way too, a brick through the window of heaven or a battering ram smashed against hell’s back door, which is dangerous and costly and, a lot of Deadwalkers agree, significantly more exciting.

ABILITIES

The major abilities of the Deadwalker lean heavily into weirdo ghost magic; they can wear their death like a funeral shroud to turn insubstantial and float above the ground, possess others by forcing the spectre into their head, fill an area with terrifying phantasms to dishearten their enemies or fight back-to-back with a manifestation of their impending doom.

Many of their minor advances allow access to one of the heavens via their core ability, which include:

  • THE GRAIL ROAD, afterlife of the human kingdoms to the east, a desolate road of packed dirt and weary, insubstantial pilgrims
  • THE SLUMBERING DEPTHS, aelfir hell, a great submerged kelp forest where those graceless enough to die are trapped
  • THE PALACE MULTIFACETED, Incarnadine heaven, a twisting hotel where paradise is not eternal and definitely not free
  • THE MOON GARDEN, the tranquil silver heaven of the drow of Spire, and THE DARK CITY that waits outside it, watching

ZENITH

How can you kill a place? Sometimes, due to black magic, great tragedy or the strange machinations of the Heart Itself, locations in the City Beneath can become corrupted and dangerous and nightmare creatures can crawl out of them – feral psychopomps, blind arbiters, amalgamate souls of the damned, and so on. Sometimes they need to be stopped for good.

The Deadwalker can, as a zenith ability, travel to the core of a place – the very spiritual centre of it – and bring it a swift and painless death (or a drawn-out and cruel one, but it’s rarely the place’s fault). After that, the landmark will wither and die; people will leave, buildings will crumble, and the name of it will leave the thoughts of mortals. Of course, someone has to stay to watch over the corpse of the place to ensure that no-one reawakens it – and the Deadwalker must stand a silent and eternal vigil to keep the world safe.

INSPIRATIONS

The Deadwalker is, at their core, a ranger. We wanted a class that could handle exploration, and I’ve been quietly obsessed with doorways to other dimensions ever since I read The Subtle Knife as a kid. Something about locations that don’t map to rational space really inspires me, and we thought it would be fun to make a whole class about it now we have the chance. One of the greatest joys of playing a Vermissian Sage in Spire was opening a door to the train network where there wasn’t one before, leading enemies into a fight on your terms (or fleeing them more effectively). We’ve got this with the Deadwalker too, and I can envision all sorts of cool escape scenes as they hurriedly magic a portal to some metaphysical back room whilst running at full pelt down the streets of a ruined city. 

We’ve messed with the animal companion of the ranger class, too – instead of a big wolf or a tiger or something, you’re followed around by a non-specific aspect of your own death that only you can see. Does it look like a ghost? A dead version of you? Your kid sister who went missing all those years ago? A dog made out of shadows and eyes? A flickering, stuttering blur of potential energy? It’s up to you.  We drew inspiration from Wraith, Geist and Better Angels – all games where something inhuman sits in your head and gives you terrible advice.

The other big thing about the Deadwalker is our obsession with non-standard heavens, which are really just parallel dimensions if you think about it (but not too hard); we got a chance to give players some really weird places to explore, but by putting them in control of a player character, they become opt-in rather than coming as standard. We’ve had a lot of fun working out what different cultures in the universe of Heart view as a good or bad afterlife, and what that says about them as a people.

You can back the Heart RPG, and download a Quickstart Edition of the rules, on our Kickstarter page.

One Reply to “Class Breakdown: The Deadwalker”

  1. This is the class that just outright inspires me the most about Heart. It sounds so weird and engaging beyond any of the other classes, and the others are plenty weird and engaging already. I’m a little concerned that the core gimmick of afterlife heists risks dominating the game in a way other class gimmicks don’t, but I’ll wait and see how it actually pans out in play.

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