Lozlyn runs through the streets of Redrow, in a mad panic. The guards are knocking on doors, getting closer to his squat in a crappy tenement building. Across the road a man who built his religion around a firearm shouts obscenities at people for assumed wrongs. His armour belches out smog and his daughters threaten anyone who gets near to them with shotguns.
The drow know to get the hell out of the way when the agents of the high elf oppressors close in. Chefs of illegal meats, cultivators of malak, worshippers of forbidden deities and people who know the filth will see them and assume the worst.
Lozlyn’s got seditious texts under his bed. Propaganda, some to read and some he’s made. He stops and sees his friends dossing outside a café. Illyria Lox is a train occultist who scavenges in the piles of broken trains at the bottom of the Vermissian Line. Ganford is a knight who is sober for a rare moment. “They’re coming!” Loz says to them, “I need you to distract them.”
The pair look perplexed at first, but then they see one of the houses being raided. A drow boy is pulled out of the door, dragged up to his knees and shot in the face. His mother weeping as the guards move on. They are not fucking around and Loz needs to get his crap out of the squat ASAP
Spire was built as a haven for the drow, but then the high elves came. They invaded, occupied and now rule the city. Every drow who lives there is forced into four years of servitude and the rest of their life as the underclass. Outside, the sunlight burns the skin of the drow, making any long expedition a death sentence.
Spire is a city a mile high, with a literal beating heart in the centre, a tangle of ruined train lines running through it and countless strange gods infesting the city like rats. Nobles throw discarded mystical devices down the Vermissian without a thought about repercussions while King Teeth rules his cannibal cult in Derelictus.
Spire is the home you’re fighting for.
The characters here are the drow living in the lower levels of Spire, having lived through or hidden during their four years’ durance. My group took on the following roles:
Lee played Lozlyn de Vire – a Firebrand, the kind of revolutionary who gets more powerful the more his Wanted level rises, wielding a fantastical shotgun and mates with a blasphemous human retroengineer.
Our new player to the group, Mark, played Ganford Seiger – a Knight whose order fell apart with the occupation. Now they’re mainly drunk brawlers. He has the ability to sense pubs, also to pick out the best target to fight.
Ash played Illyria Lox – a Vermissian Sage (train wizard) who scavenges items from Endline, has an interdimensional library and can sense connections.
Vinnie played Dacien Therous – a Lajhan (cleric) whose church has been losing attendees recently, can sense strangeness and stop violent acts. His life is tormented by Madame Cazanous, the one attendee of his sermons.
The Goblin’s Foot was a good place to lie low a while ago, but not so these days. Drow toffs from floors higher up have come down here for the ‘atmosphere’. It’s quaint, they say, with their powdered faces and delicate clothes. Ganford vaguely remembered his squire dragging him out of the pub, so it must have been good.
He sat with Illyria, celebrating their distraction of the guards. Loz would show up sooner or later, after all if you wanted Ganford you just scoured the pubs of Red Row.
A gnoll with clumps of missing fur walked past. The bouncer, Patches. Ganford remembered something… a smell of tar, the sound of his squire laughing. He didn’t know where it came from or why, but he turned away to hide himself from Patches, just in case.
When you need to do something where there’s a sense of risk, you roll 1d10 and aim high. You might have a relevant skill such as, “fight” for when a gnoll bouncer notices you and decides to pick a fight, if so you add a d10. You might have a relevant domain such as, “commerce” which adds another one. If you have good equipment or masteries, you add even more dice to your pool. You roll them all and pick the highest result from your selection. There’s scaling success, so in this example, Ganford had some help from Illyria. He rolled a seven as his highest dice, so he managed to parry Patches’ strike using one of the drow toffs. The remaining two hit the pair on the back with parasols until they were told to bugger off.
The parasol battering brings up the next feature of the rules. Stress. Howitt and Taylor have mentioned (non-literal) bugbears like having to add a bunch of stats together for a roll, or hit points. You don’t suffer wounds in the traditional way, instead you suffer an amount of stress to one of; your body, your mind, your reputation, your wallet or your ability to be hidden from the police. The GM keeps track of these and rolls against your current stress level to check for ‘fallout’. Each class has some resistance, so Ganford didn’t care about the parasol-battering at all and Illyria was put out, but uninjured.
Fallout happens in moments like when Lozlyn was scaling a structure made of broken train carriages in Endline. He scrambled faster, to try and get past the cultists of the Crimson Vigil and rescue his friend Jackson Crouch. One of the cultists shot at him; a light wound which brought his Blood Stress up to 3. I rolled a d10 and got a ‘1’. The fallout he’d suffer wouldn’t be as much as if he had more stress, but he was bleeding now. Anything he did until he was patched up could cause more damage to his Blood Stress.
Then there was the gullman.
Scroggins was a horrible mutant, even for a gullman. He had a third arm, holding a machete as he scaled his way up the structure made of train carriages. Dacien hid, trying to sabotage the grimdark wind turbine the cultists had called a, “Dust Machine”. Several gullmen were pecking and hacking at Ganford, some even taking huge chunks out of each other in their feeding frenzy.
Lozlyn aimed his shotgun and prepared for Scroggins’ charge. The unstable train carriage structure shook and Loz’ shot went wild. The gullman ran at Loz, grasping with horrible greasy feathers and launching the pair into the air. Time seemed to stop for a moment. Loz looked out to the rest of Endline, the makeshift camps for the gangs, the maze of trashed trains and the open maw of the Vermissian Line, still glowing faintly red. He was flying. Then falling. The gullmen weren’t really known for their flying, magical castoffs that they were. Scroggins had managed to get them up in the air and past the tower, but now gravity was taking over. The pair crashed into the cacophony of metal and glass below.
We had a death in session two. Lozlyn suffered what is known as ‘Severe Fallout’ at the hands of a mutant seagull person. There are options, however. One of them was, “Chosen” and Lee being Lee, he took a dark pact with a god of ichor, rather than die. In his downtime later, he would start to feed vagrants into a pool of weird tar which was living in Endline. It wanted form and being fed bodies would help it. Lozlyn had a mission to do, so he had to go through with it. He also started to get weird, showing a fixation with the rippling black mould which was growing on the walls of Dacien’s church.
The setting of Spire is bizarre, outlandish and sumptuous. Howitt and Taylor’s previous game was interesting, but lacked any setting which made it tricky to sell in a group who tend to value the world more than the mechanics. Spire is a strange maze of a world. You’re indoors in floors which are cities in themselves. The tenements in Red Row, the market with rooftop gardens looking down at everyone. The Voloren Standard where the few guards get twitchy.
In my mind, it went somewhere between the seedier parts of Mega-City One, Bioshock, Final Fantasy 7’s Midgar and more. It was reminiscent of Dungeons & Dragons and yet also gleefully scummy and weird. While it can be a resource for making a grimy Bioshock, it can also make Che Parts One and Two or City of God, just with a fantastical viewpoint.
To bring things to a much smaller level, it made me think of the atmosphere of growing up poor in Thatcher’s Britain. Of my dad and his mates, sat around getting high, talking politics and ancient history around stacks of the Socialist Worker. Of my mum carting my little brother’s pushchair round Greenham Common’s picket lines and making Rupert Bear cartoons about the miner’s strike to distribute throughout town. Being told to be sceptical of the police, the ‘John Street Runners’. Being gifted a psychotic ex lab rabbit some environmentalist friends of my parents couldn’t get rid of.
Neither of my parents had coyote familiars, just a dog and that damn rabbit. Neither of them housed hives of insects or summoned crows to fight against The Man, as far as I know. My dad certainly loved making people think he was a baby-eating ogre. But in Spire you can be all of that. You can live through your low-level revolutionary dreams in a place where you have strange magics, weird gods and cannibal cults. Imagine Greenham Common but with drow midwives summoning spiders and clambering up barriers with their extra legs. Imagine Mrs Rabbit as some kind of horrible experimental demon you’ve been gifted by your more unstable friends.
In Spire, you can even rise up above those levels of resistance, reaching a point where you can transform into a song, a riot, you can edit something out of a person’s perception of reality or turn a lie into truth. Maybe you can lead a revolution and bring the Spire down.
Spire gets a definite recommendation from the preview material alone. I cannot wait to see the rest of the setting and the book.
You can pre-order Spire here
If you pre-order the book, you’ll get access to Blood and Dust, the quickstart which I ran for my group and provided the examples of play in this preview. Your adventure could easily be different from mine though, and I’ve touched on basically nothing of the main story here, so that spoilers are avoided.