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.

Kickstarter, Heart and the union

So, let’s talk about Kickstarter.

When we were preparing to launch the Heart campaign, the news broke about Kickstarter’s alleged union-busting activities, including the firing of two employees who were active in attempting to organise.

At the time, that prompted us – along with a lot of other creators – to seriously consider our position. Some people took the decision to delay or cancel launches; others pointed out that boycotting before a union is formed can be actively harmful to organisation efforts, as the instability plays into the hands of management, who can then paint organisers as adversaries rather than engaging in good faith.

We came to the conclusion that the most important thing to do was to listen to the people who are directly affected by the issue – current and former staff, those who are still trying to unionise – and take our cue from them. They said, on Twitter, that they were not formally calling for a boycott. So we made the call to go ahead, but to clearly state that we stand in solidarity with the nascent union, to sign the petition to support them, and to do what they recommended – which at the time was not to abandon planned or live projects.

Last night, news broke on the Current Affairs site of a discussion that their editor had with the Kickstarter CEO. From the statement, which was later posted along with an FAQ on the Kickstarter blog, it appears that the company will continue to oppose the formation of a union. This is obviously extremely disappointing to all of us, and we know that many people, both creators and backers, will choose to withdraw their funding from the platform. 

However, we still believe that the most important voices in this situation are the ones that are currently the least heard: we want to know what the workers organising the union need from us, and since the tweet embedded above – at the time of writing – there has been no update. There has not been a union election yet, and we know that early action can be deeply damaging to organisation efforts; it’s not entirely clear what the demands are that accompany the boycott, given there is currently no union to be recognised. So we have reached out to the organisers both by email and on Twitter, and we hope that they will update or reiterate their advice for creators. We encourage you, as the CEO suggests in his blog post and as we have done, to email thoughts@kickstarter.com and tell them your opinions. While we understand (and feel!) the desire to act immediately, we do not want to cause harm while meaning well, so we are waiting for an update from the organisers before taking further action.

That said: if your personal moral stance is that you do not wish to give any of your money to Kickstarter right now, we entirely understand and support your decision. We are working with Backerkit to ensure we can launch our pre-order store there as fast as possible once our campaign ends, and we will be updating everyone via our social media accounts and our email newsletter when pre-orders go live. Another option is to back at the lowest £1 level, meaning you will still have access to all our updates and will be automatically grandfathered in to the Backerkit in a way that enables you to upgrade your pledges later without giving a larger fee to Kickstarter. To support that choice, we will make it possible for Kickstarter backers to upgrade to custom content levels in Backerkit for at least the first two weeks post-launch – that might push our schedule back a little, but it means if you want to back at a high level but don’t want to give Kickstarter a cut, backing at £1 will give you the option of an upgrade later.

Assuming the union does not call for a boycott, this is the approach we will follow. However, if the union does call for a boycott to begin before our campaign is scheduled to end, we will take down the current Kickstarter project and re-start it elsewhere. At the moment our best next option appears to be Indiegogo, and we’re getting everything prepped to launch there if we need to. If this happens it will be severely disruptive, and will cost us a great deal more in terms of time, effort and money than it will cost Kickstarter by comparison. Our business is tiny in terms of Kickstarter’s funding, but Heart is the biggest project we have ever worked on; it’s been in the works for 18 months, and at its current level it could fund our next two years of development. It’ll be difficult to get books out on the original plan, and it will require us to fund again, which means asking all of you to get out your bank cards and engage with a whole different website in order to get your books. That, honestly, would suck.

But it would also be the right thing to do, and we’re prepared for it. We stand by our principles, and we believe in supporting people who are trying to organise for better and more equitable working conditions. We are frankly astonished that Kickstarter, a public benefit corporation seeking to do good in the world, would set fire to its reputation and damage its communities of workers, creators and backers simultaneously in such a short-sighted way. We do not support the company’s actions.

Most importantly, we stand in solidarity with Kickstarter workers. When they tell us how best to support them, we will act accordingly. Until then, we’re watching.

Strata Kickstarter goes live Tuesday 16th October

We’re excited to announce that the Kickstarter for Strata, our first full-length sourcebook for the Spire RPG, will launch on Tuesday 16th October. Follow us on Kickstarter to stay up-date.

Strata will include, but is definitely not limited to:

  • Two new classes: the Inksmith, who is a pulp-fiction two-fisted literature occultist, and the Shadow Agent, who has given themselves up to the Hidden Mistress in exchange for the ability to mystically transform themselves into cover identities.
  • Five scenarios written by exciting authors: these range from a one-shot where the cell liberate the victims of artistic beautification surgery to a full campaign frame that sees the doomed drow house of Starys return to try and reclaim Spire.
  • Advances for playing a character from each of the nine noble families of the drow.
  • A huge amount of setting inspiration and details for the richest and poorest places in Spire: the glittering perversity of Amaranth, the folk tales of shadowed Derelictus, the warring factions of Ivory Row, drug-dealing speakeasies in the Works, and more besides.

What’s more, backers will be able to pledge at a higher level to be part of the book itself – suitably Spire-ified, of course.  Want to become a patron of the revolution, or set up your own organisation – complete with a set of advances that members can access? That’s a thing you can do.

We’re really excited to make this happen. See you on Tuesday!

Spire RPG: The Classes

We wanted to share some of the development we’ve done on the classes in Spire – our Kickstarter, which is nearly over – and how they reflect the system and the setting of the game. This is going to be a long post, so let’s get started!

We’ll go through the classes in alphabetical order, picking out one (or maybe two) abilities in particular from each that we feel are worth sharing. These abilities are all purchased in the same way – when you change something in Spire, you gain access to an advance. The bigger the change, the bigger the advance; these abilities are from all three levels of power.

AZURITE

The Azurite is a blue-clad priest of Azur, the god of gold, one of the rulers of the Blue Market to the south of Spire. They are deal-makers and traders, and Azur is surprisingly flexible as to what sort of boons they’ll bestow upon their followers – so long as they can pay. At earlier levels, sacrificing coin can earn the Azurite temporary access to skills, domains, languages and even allies that they don’t have – but the High abilities, as with all classes, allows them to do some weirder stuff:

BUY SOME TIME. [Divine] It’s expensive, but you can buy back a minute of your time. Mark D8 stress to Silver to cast this spell, which takes effect instantaneously. You travel a minute back in time, and will probably meet yourself from the past depending on how far you’ve moved over the last sixty seconds. At the end of the minute, you and your past self meld back into the same person as they cast the spell.

(If you stop yourself from casting Buy Some Time, then things get temporaly difficult. Each of you takes D8 stress every minute until one of you dies.)

Buy Some Time lets you do exactly that – purchase a minute of time back from the cosmos in exchange for what may well be enough money to bankrupt you.

 

BOUND

The Bound draws on traditional animist religions; members of a downtrodden underclass, they are something of a secret police for the poor unfortunates who live in Perch, nailed to the side of the city itself. Most folk in Perch refuse to devote their lives to the major deities, and instead worship the tiny gods that live in their possessions – knives, clothes, ropes, and so on.

For the Bound – a secret police amongst the poorest of Spire, who hunt down wrongdoers and pitch them off the city – they take it one step further, and capture loose gods then bind them, painfully, into their blades. This lets them go things like:

THE SECRET OF FEAR. You rattle the cage that keeps the god bound in your blade, and it terrifies your enemies. Mark D3 stress to Shadow; your bound weapon dice size increases by 1 for the next situation.

It’s not all captured gods, though; our favourite Bound power, and one that almost every Bound player has taken, is the Secret of Lucky Breaks:

THE SECRET OF LUCKY BREAKS. Your gods see to it that you’re never without small luxuries. Gain +1 Mind and +1 Reputation slot. Your bottle always has a little bit of liquor left in it, and your crumpled cigarette packet always contains three cigarettes, and your box of spireblack matches always contains one match. (You can’t use this ability to give out infinite cigarettes and booze to loads of other people in an attempt to make money; the gods will resent the abuse, and cease to aid you.)

We called all the low-level abilities for Bound Secrets, the mid-level abilities Saints (e.g. The Saint of Last Stands) and the high-level abilities Gods (e.g. The God of Getting Even). This has no particular in-game effect but we thought it sounded really cool.

 

CARRION-PRIEST

We’ve been through a lot of rewrites with the Carrion-Priest (and even changed their name a few times) but we’re really happy with where they’ve ended up. While they have all sorts of abilities focusing around their sacred pet hyena, we like this one:

GHOST SPEAKER: Your connection to the World After is strengthened through Charnel. +1 Mind, +1 Reputation. You have a close connection to death and the afterlife. Take D3 stress in Mind or Blood to activate this power for a situation – you can see, speak to, and physically interact with ghosts as though they were physically present in the scene. In addition, once per session, you find a ghost and talk to them about the present situation – ask the GM who it is.

We wanted to try and give each class some scene-framing abilities so player could push the narrative in a certain direction without relying solely on the GM to make it happen; most of them have one in their core abilities (the Idol, for instance, can make a party happen once per session), but we have a smattering as optional upgrades. With this one, we gave the Carrion-Priest to opportunity to speak to and interact with ghosts, but we also wanted to make sure that it’d come in useful in case the GM forgot to put ghosts in the game – and once per session, they can locate the spirit of someone useful.

 

FIREBRAND

The Firebrand is the most recent class – we wrote them after all the others had been settled on and playtested, after seeing a gap in the market for a pure revolutionary type. I think my favourite thing about the class is how their low- and mid-level advances focus around mundane elements…

THE PEOPLE’S CHAMPION. You are the rock around which the rebellion is anchored. +1 Reputation. You gain a street-level bond based on the cadre of revolutionaries that follow you around, espouse your virtues and (if you’ve written any) hold up your manifestos as intellectual principles for life. When you ask this bond for a favour, the stress dice is one size smaller than normal.

… which is all well and good, but given the peculiar nature of Spire, at high levels, their abilities shift to become divine in nature:

THE MEANS OF DESTRUCTION. [Divine] Your touch becomes anathema to your oppressor. Mark D3 stress to cast this spell. Any improvised weapon you touch (i.e. work tools, bolt-cutters, kitchen knives, crowbars, etc) inflicts D8 stress when used against your oppressors for the remainder of the situation, and gains the following tags: Brutal, Devastating.

What that power means is that not only do you triple the damage output of mundane weapons, but you also make them ignore all armour and the wielder gets to roll twice for damage and pick the higher dice. Which we envisage as you walking around with a box of work tools and chair legs, blessing them with the righteous power of the revolution.

 

IDOL

The Idol is an artist and magician whose main project is themselves – every Idol is impossibly beautiful, thanks to a combination of black-market charms and practiced poise. We wanted to make a social class who was so persuasive that they didn’t need weapons to hurt people, and someone who was so beautiful that reality had a hard time keeping up with them. For example:

INCORRUPTIBLE. Your mind is too beautiful to mar with insanity. Your mind is crystal, shining and pure, and madness rolls off you and onto others. Once per situation, when you take stress to Mind, a different nearby character (chosen by the GM) take it instead.

They also have a wide variety of spells that let them rewrite reality (or make people feel so unworthy that they start to rip and tear at their own bodies), but this subtle ability is one of our favourites:

RENDER UNTO ME. [OCCULT] The world is yours for the taking. Once per situation, you can command an NPC to hand an item they’re carrying over to you, and they must obey.

It’s a small ability, but it’s a powerful one; we primarily envisage it being used to calmly walk up to an enemy in a gunfight and ask them for their gun, but there’s a lot of wiggle room there which we can imagine players using to surprise their GM. And who doesn’t like surprises?

 

KNIGHT

The Knight of the North Docks (to give the class its full title) was the first we wrote, and the first solid faction I came up with when I was sketching out the core ideas for Spire this time last year. While almost all of their lower-level abilities focus around them being a load of unstable, pubcrawling brawlers, all of their high-level abilities involve quests for legendary items. (Although: all quests involve finding an ancient legendary pub, so.) We saw the Knight’s levelling as a sort of redemption; they start off pretty rough around the edges (and in the middle, too, honestly) but as the campaign continues they get a chance to go on a quest to heal the sick, reform the North Docks in their own image, or, as you’ll see below, pull the sword from the stone:

PULL THE SWORD FROM THE STONE. [QUEST] You travel in search of a legendary sword. When you accept this quest, you gain the Resist skill and Occult domain as you are ritually branded or tattooed with symbols of chivalric protection. You must journey to the centre of the Spire, find St Beneferas’ sword, and pull it from the floorboards of The Stone (a pub) into which he plunged it hundreds of years ago.

When you complete this quest, you gain a (D6, brutal) magical sword; as it’s magical, you can use it to attack ethereal creatures or those which are immune to normal weapons. In addition, choose two of the following upgrades to the sword

– Inflict D8 stress
– Gain the Ranged tag
– Gain the Stunning tag
– Gain the Defensive tag
– Gain the Bloodbound tag
 – Gain the Devastating tag

And one of the following “upgrades”:

 – Demons and ghosts are drawn to the sword’s powerful energies
 – The sword whispers eerie truths
 – The sword glows blue in the presence of… something, you’re not sure, seems important though
 – You know in your heart that you are the true King or Queen of Spire

LAHJAN

Lahjan means “silvered” in our drow dialect (which was built with a lot of inspiration taken from Haitian Creole) and the silvered are the priests of Our Glorious Lady. One of the big things we wanted to explore with Spire was the effect of oppression on religion; while there are three core goddesses at the root of the wider drow faith, only worship of one – Our Glorious Lady, the light side of the moon – is permitted in the city by the high elves. With worship of the other goddesses driven underground and into radicalisation, the Lahjan have become the spiritual guardians of the community.

They have a lot of your standard cleric-themed healing powers, but also some stranger abilities as well, such as turning into moonlight, reforming their minds into mirror-images of their enemies, or this one…

RITE OF THE THREE SISTERS. [Divine] You share misfortune between your allies. Mark D3 stress to Mind when you cast this spell. You and two allies take part in a half-hour ritual in which your blood is mixed with sanctified mercury and daubed over your heart. Until the next dawn, when you or one of the other participants in the ritual mark stress, it is divided equally between all three of you. If one of the members of trinity falls unconscious or dies, the spell ends.

 

MASKED

The Masked are our quiet social class, where the Idol is loud; once servants to the high elves, they are masters of subterfuge and quiet rebellion. They’ve also picked up the habit of permanently wearing masks in public, as the aelfir do, and combined with ancient drow sorcery and illegally-procured materials, they have access to weird magical masks. These range from black pieces held in the mouth that smother all nearby noise, terrifying copies of their own masks which can overwrite the minds of others who wear them, and the ability to become legendary dark elf folk heroes:

THE MASTERLESS MASK. [Occult] You create a version of a mask that is whispered of in high elf circles – the Masterless Mask, terror of the aelfir, scion of the Red Moon, who will visit their doom upon them. When you wear it, you roll with mastery and inflict D8 stress when you attack an aelfir, regardless of what weapon you’re using to do it.

What’s more, each night a drow in the Spire prays to you to deliver them from their masters, refresh. Ten or so people removes D3 stress, a hundred D6, and a thousand or more will remove D8.

 

VERMISSIAN SAGE

The Vermissian Sage was our attempt to write a bookish mage class whilst making sure it was uniquely tied to Spire; they are wizards, for sure, but they are primarily historians and researchers who are using the reality-warping tunnels of the Vermissian, Spire’s defunct mass transit network, to store relics from their race and explore the myriad potential futures available to them.

One of their most iconic abilities allows them to create a connection between any two NPCs (and let the GM figure out precisely what that is – remember, who doesn’t like surprises?) but we like this one, too, because it let us discuss the ancient noble houses of the Home Nation dark elves without having to do it in a boring box-out:

DYNASTIC MEMORY [Divine]. +2 Reputation. Mark D3 stress to Mind to channel the power of the ancient Houses of the Home Nations, and give you and your allies strength. The first time you use this power on a character, determine which House they originate from by choosing it from the list below. From then on, when you use this power on them, they gain access to the relevant power for the remaining situation. (This spell only functions when cast on dark elves.)

Destera, the Weavers –  Spiders adore you and will perform self-sacrificing actions on your behalf
Yssen, the Unquiet Blades – If you wear no armour, your attacks have the Brutal and Surprising tags
Malrique, the Unlidded Eye –  You cannot be surprised or ambushed
Valwa, the Silver-blooded – When you successfully Compel a target, gain a temporary bond with them
Gryndel, the Crimson Hunters – When you declare a target’s full name out loud and they hear it, you roll with mastery on Fight and Pursue actions against them. You can only do this for one target at a time
Starys, the Drowned Kings – You no longer need to breathe
Aliquam, Repairers of Reputations – At the end of the situation, remove all stress marked against Reputation
Duval, the Grave Cold – By focusing for a minute or so, you may not be seen so long as you remain motionless and you close your eyes
Quinn, the Noble and Most High – You can smell gold, silver, jewels and other items of value

That’s not all – we’ve got a lot of extra abilities too, such as worship of the Hungry Deep (the rotting hole in reality that hides at the centre of the city), the violent and unpredictable drow rebels of the Crimson Vigil, the luckless City Guard, and the hard-bitten noir investigators of the Greymanor Detective Agency. If you’d like to back Spire, check out our Kickstarter – we’re in the last few days!