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.