Class breakdown: The Vermissian Knight

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

The Vermissian is cursed. Intended as a revolutionary mass transit system within the city – the first in the world of its kind – the creators attempted to pierce the Heart Itself in order to power its engines, and unleashed a nightmare unreality throughout the dark corners of Spire. Within the bounds of the Vermissian, time and space come unstuck – but it provides limitless potential for those brave enough to explore it.

The Vermissian Knights are brave enough to explore it. They are protectors, avengers and guides for those who would step into the thrice-damned tunnels; they wear uncanny powered armour made from repurposed train parts, and channel the network’s loose grasp on reality into strange technologies.

CORE ABILITY

The Vermissian Knight used to have the core ability SHORTCUT, which made delving quicker. But it felt unbalanced, and also cut out quite a lot of the fun part of the game, so after playtesting we decided to swap it out. Having spent a while talking about what was the core image of the Knight, we kept coming back to their armour – hulking, semi-powered, repurposed and mysterious. We made it their core power.

Now, with VERMISSIAN PLATE, the Knight can consume resources with the Occult or Technology domain – presumably by repairing it with them or just shoving them into the furnace – to power it up once per session. You can find full details of this in the Quickstart game, but suffice to say it lets you, for example, burn the pages of a magic tome inside your suit and wreath yourself in shadowed energy to gain the Sneak skill, or ignite the parasite-ridden bark of the Blighted to release the resonance within and smash apart your enemies.

ABILITIES

Want to kill big things? The Vermissian Knight has an ability specifically devoted to that! DRAGON KILLER improves your damage and defence against anything that’s significantly larger than you, and in the Heart, lots of things are significantly larger than you. Upgrade it enough and you can summon a particular monster that’s hunting you – it’s still hunting you, but it might well kill some of your other problems along the way. 

AETHERIC FIELD protects you from the weird energies of the City Beneath, and allows you to reroute ambient power into augmenting your attacks or overwhelm adversaries with waves of force. ECHOING RAILS allows you to find back doors to the Vermissian – even if they weren’t there when you previously checked – and access moving haunts to heal your wounds and gain respite. GUARDIAN puts you into a classic knightly role; you become better at defending something, no matter what that is, and you inspire those around you to greatness.

ZENITH

We wrote the Vermissian Knight first, and the first Zenith power we wrote for them is THE LAST TRAIN, which informed a great deal of the rest of the abilities in the game. Using THE LAST TRAIN summons The Last Train – the only remaining functional locomotive on the Vermissian network, which is unable to ever stop and is only loosely steerable – and it smashes apart everything in the area. Here it is:

There are others, too; becoming electricity and blinking between Technology landmarks, or punching with the power of a flat-out engine, but THE LAST TRAIN is the one that really sums up the Knight for us.

INSPIRATIONS

Okay so:

Take a Paladin. (Paladins get a bad rap, I reckon.) Remove the whole “god” bit and replace it with a furious desire to protect people; to impose structure and understanding on a world that defies it. Combine that Paladin with Iron Man, because powered armour is cool. Channel the Vermissian Sage class from Spire into it, so none of the technology works properly and no-one understands how it functions, and tinge everything with the occult.

That’s the Vermissian Knight. The big turning point on was seeing Felix’s art – we knew that the Knight was cool, but seeing the dude in armour looking battered and faintly sci-fi really sealed the deal. Have I mentioned, also, how I’ve been playing Warhammer 40,000 for the last twenty years, and always been quietly fascinated with the blend of high-tech and low-tech that that game has? Maybe you can see my obsession in the Knight.

The Knight is easy to play; they’re a knight, and knights hit things and protect people. (In roleplaying games, at least. The less said about knights in real life the better.) They’re the Fighter class, for want of a better word, and they do the protecting and hitting that Fighters do, but they also have a special domain that’s all their own – the Vermissian. More than any other class, the Vermissian Knight allows the player to claim spotlight time and show off their abilities.

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

Class Breakdown: The Junk Mage

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

There is power in the Heart; ancient power, not quite asleep and not quite awake, burrowed in the red heaven beneath the earth. Gods sealed away for their crimes; extradimensional entities taking advantage of the tattered walls between the worlds; great sorcerers of ages past, now immortalised and far, far from the people they once were. Limitless potential, roiling away out of sight.

The Junk Mage is going to steal it. The Junk Mage – the sort of wizard who’s hooked on bad magic, the sort of wizard who makes up spells as they go along, the sort of wizard whose brain itches with scintillating madness – siphons off power from otherworldly sources and hopes they don’t notice. The risks are great, but what power comes without risk?

CORE ABILITIES

The Junk Mage works better when they’re slightly insane. If they have four or more Mind stress, they roll with mastery when using magic to achieve their aims. Seeing how fluid the fiction is in Heart, “using magic to achieve their aims” is a pretty broad category. We want to encourage players to show off how weird their characters are by drawing magic into their descriptions; a Junk Mage using the Mend skill, for example, could whisper broken items and bones back together, leaving spectral spiderweb over the pieces. Or set them alight, and have a new, repaired version emerge from the ashes and smoke. Mechanically, it’s the same as sitting down with some glue and string, but it’s up to you how magical you want your character to be.

So: by holding on to a little bit of Mind stress, but not suffering fallout, they do better at their jobs. This puts them into a knife-edge balance where they’ll want to freak themselves out a bit – expose themselves to the unnatural and strange – and then channel the stress into power.

They also get access to SACRIFICE, which allows them to destroy Occult resources in order to placate their – well, patrons isn’t the phrase, more “the beings that they’re stealing power from.” Consuming appropriate resource allows them to gain protection on their next magical action, allowing them to avoid taking stress and operate more reliably, at a cost.

ABILITIES

Junk Mages are, fundamentally, warlocks. (Just over half of the classes in Heart are warlocks, if you squint.) We wanted to use this as an opportunity to talk about the powers beyond the veil in the world of Heart; the big stuff that’s happening off-screen, and not central to the Heart vs Real World conflict that’s at the core of the game.

So: the Junk Mage uses elemental magic. Fire, Water, and Earth – we couldn’t come up with anything interesting enough for Air, so it got cut. The entity for Fire is some kind of unreal beyond-space-and-time red dragon; the entity for Water is the Drowned Queen, a colonialist monarch who’s also an extradimensional eel; the entities for Earth are the Stone Chorus, who are the Titans from Greek mythology but with added angst.

Each comes with dominion over two things – their Blessing (which is their governing element) and their Curse (which is their fundamental flaw – the Drowned Queen, for example, is very dead and this gives her power over ghosts). There’s no limit to how many entities you can access, assuming you’ve got the major advances to spend, so you can steal power from as many places as you like. 

ZENITH

Generally, the zenith abilities for the Junk Mage – the highest ones available to them – involve them bonding with the entities in some way. They also kill the user, because of course they do. The Drowned Queen offers up her hand in marriage to the caster as they summon her into the material realm and she seeks to make a pact to cement the transition. This gives the Junk Mage total control over a landmark, and all of its inhabitants, but the mental strain of being married to a mad ghost eel from beyond space and time is too much to bear for long.

INSPIRATIONS

We like warlocks.

They were always the best class in D&D 3.5; not the most powerful, but one of the most fun to play. They had spells you could cast as many times as you want rather than having to faff about with spellbooks and eight hours of rest; they were thematically interesting, rather than the grab-bag of everything that wizards and sorcerers ended up being. We didn’t have many warlock-like classes in Spire, so Heart presented us with a nice opportunity to talk about the weirdos who practice dangerous magic.

The first draft of the Junk Mage (back when they were called the Gutter Mage)  had much more traditional occultism – hands of glory, hearts with nails in, dream-quests for ominous doors, black candles, etc. It was good but it didn’t say anything about the world, and the best classes help sketch out the setting around the player. So we overhauled them, put the old-school magic to one side, and made them desperate addicts instead.

Here’s a clipping from a very (very) early draft of Heart where we were sketching out the spells for the mage

“Junk Magic” is an old term of ours – we came up with it, oh, six years ago? It’s in an unpublished novel about drunk wizards that Grant wrote, and it crops up in our game Royal Blood too. It’s magical hacking, lying to demons, throwing together spells from fragments found here and there, casting by the seat of your pants. It felt like a natural fit for the lawless environs of the City Beneath. We’ve also leaned into the other meanings of Junk, too; each Junk Mage is an addict, hooked on the rush of sensation they get when they plumb their tiny, fragile human mind into something huge and powerful.  They’re garbage, too – no magical school worth their salt would accept them through their doors.

In a world where your wizard is full of alien bees, your witch is afflicted with a magical blood disease she caught from a well that’s also a mouth and your fighter is wearing armour they stole off a cursed train, the Junk Mage gives players and GMs a way to drop weird and exotic stuff into the game and have it still make an impact.

You can learn more about Heart or order a copy through our Kickstarter page.

Class Breakdown: The Deep Apiarist

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

THE DEEP APIARIST

Felix came up with the idea that the Apiarist could carry a smoker and huff on it to clear out their bees for a while; we’ve put it in the game, now. Also worth mentioning is that the iconic class art is an unmasked aelfir, presumably exiled from the City Above.

The Heart is a parasitic dimension – one of chaos and disorder that manifests as blood, and bone, and ever-changing boundaries. The Deep Apiarist is the antithesis of the Heart; both a vessel for and part of an otherworldly megaconsciousness called the Hive, a primordial force of order that takes the form of thousands upon thousands of glyph-marked Deep Bees. They keep the bees – in hives, and within their wax-filled bodies – and do their best to keep the Heart at bay.

CORE ABILITIES

The Deep Apiarist is a magical weirdo. Are most of the classes in Heart magical weirdos? Yes. But they take it to a new level, we’d like to think. Their core ability represents the fact that they’ve plumbed their mind into something otherworldly and terrible; at the start of every situation, they clear all stress from Mind as the Hive dissipates it through itself. However, they can never receive Mind protection, or remove stress from Mind in any way aside from using their core ability. Which makes them an interesting blend of fragile and sturdy; they don’t need to worry about going mad so long as they can catch their breath for a minute, but they can’t stop stress from coming in.

Also, crucially – and there aren’t rules for this bit, it’s just a thing that happens – every Deep Apiarist is partially filled with bees. You can take advances to give the bees specific powers and abilities, but as standard, at least one of your organs is a wax copy made and operated by the swarm.

ABILITIES

There are two main strands of ability in the Deep Apiarist class. Firstly, there’s the way that they’re the opposite of the Heart – we wanted to double down on the fact that the Hive is as otherworldly as the Heart Itself, and opposed to it, whilst being completely distinct from drow, humans, aelfir etc. This manifests as powers which let them control probability (making Risky or Dangerous actions safer) or just outright stating what they want to happen and, through clever manipulation of sufficiently advanced bee technology, making it so. Or maybe you want to tear through heartblooded creatures; the ANNIHILATION ability turns your body into a living engine of unchaos that burns away the Heart with a touch.

Secondly, there’s the way that they’re full of bees. (Obviously.) We toyed with the idea of giving them a Mind heal power by making honey in their chest cavity for a while but that’s too gross even for Heart; so instead they can choose to create sacrificial bees whose narcotic sting brings sweet oblivion. Or spread their consciousness out through the swarm, seeing through a hundred compound eyes. Or just set their bees on people.

ZENITH

The ultimate expressions of the Deep Apiarists’ power is crystallisation; to encase something of the Heart in unbreakable hexagonal mineral and leave it there forever. So you can do that, and permanently stop anything you don’t like, but the strain of manifesting means your consciousness is lost entirely within the Hive. Alternatively, if you’re tired of a haven misbehaving – being full of unpredictable people, shifting in position around the Heart, riven with internecine conflict – you can take it over and become its Queen, and watch it fall into perfect order. 

Or maybe you just become a swarm of occult bees and can never die.

INSPIRATIONS

Hello. My name is Grant Howitt and my favourite kind of monster is where you have lots of little monsters inside a larger monster. 

There’s something horrific about it. I first came across it in World of Darkness – there’s a monster which is a load of rats inside someone, and they fight magical extradimensional spiders, so you can see some overlap with our Order versus Chaos trope too. I would also like to give credit to The Secret World, which has extradimensional bees who fight… extradimensional dirt? Flies? It’s not entirely clear. No new ideas under the sun, anyway. 

The Deep Apiarists themselves originated in Black Magic, a sourcebook for Spire, in which they were an extra advance that any character could take (if they wanted to fill themselves full of bees). We were toying with making it a full class for a while but, as far as revolutionary efforts go, there’s not a lot of room for a buzzing weirdo whose primary job is to counteract the energies of the Heart. 

There’s a lot of room for that in Heart. So; we took what they had in Spire and extrapolated on it, widened it, tried to offer a bit of variety. Also, we wanted to underline the fact that the Hive isn’t benevolent (or malevolent) towards people in general – it’s an outsider, something that can only exist in very specific terms, and it craves structure and order. It uses Deep Apiarists like armoured personnel carriers on the front lines of a war, and one of the fun things about playing one is to toy with the divide between yourself and megaconsciousness you’ve become a part of.

You can learn more about Heart or order a copy through our Kickstarter page.