Blood and Dust play report

Eoin Dooley has recently been running the Blood & Dust quick-start adventure for Spire. What follows is an account of their first session. Be aware this will have spoilers for the adventure.

Blood & Dust – Session 1

Deep underneath Spire, a mile-high city where the masked Aelfir rule, is Red Row, a misbegotten quarter ridden with crime, drenched in smoke and hazy from the ruddy glow of red light districts where the Drow are allowed to live with minimal attention paid to them. It’s a place where gangsters tell the city guard who they’re allowed to arrest, and a sensible guard hopes members of the competing gangs agree, or takes enough of their drugs not to worry about the issue. It’s been a remarkably stable equilibrium, but in the last few weeks it’s been threatening to spin out of control. A marked uptick in beatings, shootings and serious swear words are symptomatic of anger in the air. Yet, most people are talking about the Weeping Maiden, an avant-garde play that’s the hot new ticket in town, doubly noteworthy as a bunch Knights of the North Docks are running security. This isn’t their territory – it’s not like Red Row is lacking for drunken goons with blades the size of their egos, after all.

To find out what’s going on, a cell of insurrectionist Drow have met in a loft, and, after a brief ritual dedicated to Lombre and the Ministry of Our Hidden Mistress, discuss goings-on. Ex-military Firebrand Lozyln de Vire is incredibly annoyed someone told the cops about the seditious texts he may or may not have been keeping under his bed. A new recruit of his, Lajhan priestess Dacien Theroux is ticked off the Crimson Vigil have been recruiting out of her church, probably because that should be considered Ministry turf and she doesn’t need their goddess Lekolé setting the place on fire. Her secret crush, Idol and former thief Quenelle Laurant is positively fuming over the attention the play is getting instead of them. Vermissian Sage Illyria Lox is rather vexed about someone blocking off her routes into the Vermissian, colloquially referred to as train hell for smart people, and where Quenelle has apparently been seen wandering around in a trance. Knight of the North Docks Ganford Seiger though, is just, like, real happy to be there and has already started on the rum he brought, wondering idly if he should bring up his 16 year old Dagger-addicted squire Vennis for a drink. Given how much the kid has seen when he and Loz go out a massively illegal secret society meeting should be no big deal.

The atmosphere is punctuated by a bullet cracking through the window and into the roof. Loz kicks over the table, shotgun out. Illyria rushes to the window and sees what appears to be an old blind Lajhan firing around wildly with a revolver. Dacien recognises her as Madame Cazanoux, a former scryatrix who didn’t quite make the cut for magical vision after she blinded herself in the name of Limyé, and runs downstairs to bring her in. Loz makes to head off guards coming to investigate, thankfully including a friend of his named Athelmayas who the players decided is Steve Buscemi. Madame Cazanoux is delirious, raging about the goddess who took her sight and the Aelfir that took the rest, but Dacien is able to coax her inside. Athelmayas has been working overtime thanks to orders from on high to crack down and round up criminals, and is totally exasperated to see Loz, but Loz makes everything better with a pouch of silver. Seiger decides Vennis is better off downstairs.

Upstairs, Illyria jury-rigs the ritual material lying around to diagnose and fix the nun. Cazanoux has been enchanted, both with intense anger, and with a desire to see the Weeping Maiden. As the enchantment is broken, Cazanoux snaps, babbling nigh-incoherently of visions of blood and dust and rot and the Hungry Deep that resides at the Heart of Spire and of all-consuming rage and decay. Illyria is mostly unperturbed and finishes repairs. The nun, sweet and kindly now, explains to the gang that her parishioners were kind enough to crowdfund a ticket for her to “see” the Weeping Maiden. It seemed impolite to refuse, and she figured she could listen along anyway. After she left the revolver was given to her, allegedly for her own protection, by a member of the Church of the Gun, which is headed by local lunatic Brother Hellion yet maintains a respectable following due to the incredibly large number of quasi-divine guns they have. It was sometime after she left the play that she started seeing visions again, and attacked them. Sadly, Cazanoux is not the best eyewitness, so the gang split in two to investigate. Loz and Seiger will chat to Brother Hellion in his church on Kiln Street, while Dacien, Quenelle and Illyria attend the next performance of the Weeping Maiden.

The debauched party boys arrive on Kiln Street to see a Sister of the Gun blessing a few beggars with the protection of Brother Hellion, which is to say, giving them a pistol each. Seiger quickly infers that this is probably the person who gave a gun to Cazanoux, and decides to put a stop to this mess. He walks up and decapitates her with his big fuck-off sword. The beggars flee in horror, Seiger stoops down to pick up the guns, and before Loz can explain they just wanted to talk to the Hellionites they are shot at from the church by multiple rifles. They duck into cover, and the Hellionites demand they come out to face justice. They do the opposite, and scarper down an alleyway.

The three mystics arrive in front of the theatre to find a line stretching around the block, with a Knight on bouncer duty, and doors not yet open. After a couple of failed attempts to get in by flirting, Quenelle stomps their feet, reminds everyone that they are famous damnit and that famous people get into theatres. The bouncer and the patrons agree out of sheer shame. They get a stall and Dacien scries on the cast and crew and learns that while they’re mostly in it for the art, they are secretly getting paid a tonne of money by someone. The trio head to the stage where the head playwright, Jessamyn, is shouting at her cast. Quenelle interrupts her to ask her about the play, and Jessamyn is displeased to see an arrogant celebrity walking in here. A ferocious conversation follows, which Illyria takes advantage of to access Vermissian-stored knowledge and determine the relationship between Jessamyn and Brother Hellion. She learns there is no direct one, but they are in fact estranged brother and sister. Illyria extorts the playwright by alluding to her relationship with the gun nut and implies word will get out if she doesn’t talk. Jessamyn, horrified, tells them they receive funding from human retroengineers and the enchantments in the play were their idea. She then commands Knights to escort them off the premises. The trio leave with new information, but are uneasy about the fact that the Weeping Maiden will continue to produce new hoodlums like Cazanoux.”

Eoin Dooley – GM – @eoin_dooley
Dave Fennell – Lozlyn de Vire – @MysteriousDrD
Jess Bernard – Quenell Laurant – @InfiniteJess
Aisling Reina – Ganford Seiger
Ciaran Monaghan – Illyria Lox
Samantha Keaveney – Dacien Theroux – @sampersand

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!