Heart: The City Beneath is a game about delving into a nightmare undercity that will give you everything you’ve ever dreamed of - or kill you in the process. It is a dungeon-crawling, story-forward tabletop RPG from the designers of Spire that focuses on what characters have to lose in pursuit of their dreams in the chaotic darkness beneath the world.
Heart is a tabletop roleplaying game, and will be released as a 224+ page hardback book and a bookmarked PDF. You won’t need a copy of Spire to play Heart - it’s a standalone game. Within, there are:
- Rules for creating characters with curious abilities and frantic obsessions
- Full details of the strange subterranean world of the Heart
- Adversaries both horrific and pitiable to hunt or be hunted by
- Methods for mapping the unmappable, and creating your own personal Heart to explore
- Evocative and fascinating consequences for failure and misfortune that push the story onward
- Pages and pages of beautiful, full-colour art from Felix Miall
Sharing a setting with Spire, Heart expands the unreal world beneath it. It uses an expanded and updated version of the Resistance system, the mechanics that power Spire, to help you tell stories of desperation, hubris and adventure in the City Beneath.
In addition, we are hoping to release a map board and stickers so you can create your own map of the City Beneath across your campaigns, as well as two special editions of the book. You can read more about these below.
QUICKSTART AND ACTUAL PLAY
If you back this project, you’ll immediately get access to download our Quickstart rules via a backer-only update. This is a cut-down, streamlined version of the game that gives you a taste of how the rules function, details of the City Beneath, five pre-generated characters, and Drowned, an adventure created to help both GM and players learn the systems. It’s got everything you need to start playing right away, and it’s been developed to showcase the new rules we’ve put in place after our open playtest.
If you'd like to learn more about Heart and listen to how it plays, you can listen to The League Presents: Grant and the other members of the UK Indie RPG League played through it on their podcast. Take a listen here.
WHAT’S THE GAME ABOUT?
In Heart, players make a group of delvers who venture into the bizarre, shifting depths of the City Beneath in search of something. Each character has two parts: a class, which provides their abilities and aptitudes, and a calling which explains the reason that they’ve decided to undertake such a risky endeavour .
Every class is baked into the setting, relating to specific factions, locations and mythos of the world whilst re-examining the things we’ve come to expect in dungeon-crawling roleplay. We have the Deadwalker, who steps between worlds to visit the many lands of the dead; the Vermissian Knight, who wears barely-understood technological armour and defends a city-wide haunted transit system; the Junk Mage, who siphons off power from unwilling entities on the edges of reality; and many more besides. You can see images of the classes throughout this project page.
Callings represent the obsessions that push characters on ever-deeper: a quest for knowledge, an instinctive desire to understand the Heart, a lust for adventure and danger where the walls between worlds are thin. Each calling contains a selection of beats - story events that push your character towards their eventual glory, demise, or glorious demise. Each player picks two beats at the start of each session, and these help the GM create the events that will happen during the game; when a player achieves a beat, they advance and take a new ability from their class.
The Heart is divided up into delves and landmarks. In delves, player characters delve through forgotten, changing terrain, forge their own way ahead, or trust to paths built by others. Landmarks are islands of relative stability, used for navigation and sometimes rest, and feature outlawed cathedrals, slaughterhouse mazes infested with pig ghosts, predatory buildings, rooftop communes who worship albino crows, and twisted forests that have never seen the sun.
There’s no canonical map of the Heart; instead, we’ve provided the gamesmaster with a blank grid to fill out with landmarks and delves that will challenge and excite their players. You’re encouraged to create your own places, but the game contains a huge section on locations to draw inspiration from and shuffle together into a pattern that pleases you.
Of course, no dungeon crawl would be complete without monsters. There are mirror spiders, shards of a fallen god, who form insectile congregations around themselves; sufferers of a memetic virus intended to stage a dance performance over generations; trees infected with a flesh-eating parasite, driven mad with unwanted intellect; a cult of knives that long for blood; demon-summoning birds; carnivorous pubs; flightless owl hives; and Angels, walking dreams of chaos and unmaking, scintillating agents of the Heart Itself.
It’s everything we want a dungeon crawl to be: thrilling, harrowing, desperate, and full of wonder.
WHAT IS THE HEART?
A red, wet heaven that slumbers beneath the earth. A place of infinite possibilities and an unknowable intelligence. A maze of teeth and sinew, of ancient stone, of long-forgotten machinery that grinds and scrapes. People have made their homes in the caverns underneath Spire for centuries, until the Vermissian Incident in which the architects of the train network that runs through Spire and the undercity attempted to power their engines with raw unreality by piercing the Heart Itself.
Since then, things have spiralled out of control. Paths shiver and fade, or reconnect themselves to new endings. Walls of flesh pucker and blossom into terrible life. Simulacra of men and drow walk the streets, eyes blank, stuffing their slackened mouths with whatever biomass they can find. Doorways to other worlds, to a dozen heavens and hells, creak open and promise riches from the World Beyond.
Time and space have come unstuck at the seams, and in their place, the Heart fills the gaps with desire - yours, and its own. It knows what you want. It is a god, more or less, in these lightless caverns beneath the earth, so it can give it to you. The only tools it has are meat, and stone, and time - but it is patient and strange, and it can wait.
HOW IS IT DIFFERENT FROM SPIRE?
While Heart shares DNA with the first title in this series, Spire, it’s a very different experience. Where Spire was a game of social brutality and revolution, Heart is set on the frontier of an unexplored and ever-changing world. Characters are more self-sufficient, less subtle, and rely far more on their equipment than their counterparts in the City Above.
We’ve overhauled the Resistance system and tweaked it to represent the environment of the Heart; veterans of Spire will recognise the system present in the Quickstart rules, but note that there are a few key changes too. We’ll outline what’s changed and what stayed the same in an update later on in the campaign.
“Imagine if China Mieville sat down and figured out a way to transmute the classical dungeon crawl into dank and delirious pop art. I give you Heart." Kieron Gillen, The Wicked + The Divine, Phonogram, DIE
"Grant and Chris have deftly navigated the challenge of creating an entirely new game in the established world of Spire while still utilizing the brilliantly streamlined mechanics of their Resistance System. Heart offers an evocative, eccentric take on the classic dungeon crawl that serves to highlight the depth and breadth of stories that can be told at a table, even in a well-established genre of games." Amelia Antrim, Character Creation Cast, playtester
"The thing I like most about Heart is that it's a nicely knowing slant on the Dungeon Crawl genre - the monster you're going to find down there is you, and you're getting more terrible with every step." Mink Ette, Oubliette, Good Omens Escape Room, playtester
"HEART's Callings and Beats perfectly lampshade the desperate narratives of the game — the story just pours out like flightless owls from a corpse-strewn crevasse." Sean Smith, Exuviae, playtester.
"When I read this game my thoughts immediately went to the Borderlands games by way of Junji Ito and Annihilation. I don’t know if that was intentional, but it worked brilliantly. My players were disgusted and intrigued by the world." Charlie Etheridge-Nunn, playtester
"Heart speaks to the inherent terror of going underground and finding what shouldn't be found, and the game brilliantly invites you to build characters who are crazy enough to try to do it anyway." Brendan McLeod, playtester
"I really want to praise the story beats as a method of progression… It made it so easy for me as a GM to set up challenges in the journeys between landmarks and to set up bonds between the characters. It also led my more risk-averse players to make risky choices to fulfil their story beats which made the world and story far more interesting. This is a great system and I can’t wait to play our next session, and the next one after that." Matt Tyrer, playtester
WHAT CAN I GET?
PDF - The PDF edition will be fully bookmarked and hyperlinked to make it as easy as possible to run games of Heart. You’ll receive the game as a PDF download through Backerkit, or if you’d prefer, we can add the game to your library on DrivethruRPG or Rowanrookanddecard.com. Every physical version of the game will come with a complimentary PDF edition.
Standard - Beautifully litho-printed on high-quality paper from sustainable forests (as are all physical editions), this full-colour hardback book is designed for years of use.
Map and landmark set - A cardboard fold-away map designed to make your journey through the undercity as evocative and memorable as possible. Illustrated by Felix Miall, the blank hex-grid map comes packaged with a set of stickers with multiples of (at least) 15 designs to represent the landmarks and delves that your players encounter - including some blanks for you to create your own landmarks. It’s large enough to be used several times, so you can dip back into your own version of the Heart in multiple campaigns.
Special Edition - The special edition comes quarter-bound in red Brillianta with a black faux leather spine and has a lovely wide bookmark ribbon, printed endpapers illustrated by Felix Miall, and a foil-embossed cover design. It’s a beautiful book.
Heartsblood Edition - Absurdly luxurious; hand-sewn with a wrap-around real leather binding and closure, by Wyvern Bookbinders of Barbican, London - the same company that made prop books for the Harry Potter films. You can choose to keep the book pristine, or have it distressed and messed up (by us, as instructed by the artisans at Wyvern) with the blackest black “heartsblood effect” ink, leaving the bindings intact and undamaged. Only 40 of these books will be made, and three of them are being delivered straight to us because we want one each.
Art originals - Original pen-and-ink drawings of the character classes, complete with concept sketches, thumb-prints and eraser marks, straight off Felix’s drawing board.
Adopt an adversary - You’ll be given your pick of the 30+ adversaries in Heart and given the opportunity to adopt one - Felix will create art especially for it to make sure it stands out from the rest. We’ll credit your kind contribution in the book.
Build a landmark - Working with Grant and Chris, you’ll sketch out details of a landmark that they’ll turn into a full location in the book complete with non-player characters, haunts where player characters can rest their bones, and details on how it fits into the weird ecology of the Heart.
Ultimate bundle - For the truly devoted, this tier gives you: a Heartsblood edition of the book, a map and sticker bundle, the opportunity to make your own landmark as in the section above, and our eternal gratitude.
All backers on the £10 and above will have access to all stretch goals.
FUNDED! £22,000 - SPIRE CONVERSION KIT. We’ll add an appendix that recreates the Spire character classes in Heart - the fast-talking Firebrand, the mysterious Midwife, the graceful Idol, and more - and lets you explore the City Beneath with a cell of desperate revolutionaries.
FUNDED! £30,000 - MORE ART. We’ll commission Felix Miall to create more grimy, unsettling, beautiful artwork for the book.
FUNDED! £35,000 - AMBIENT SOUNDTRACK. Working with TabletopAudio.com, we’ll commission a series of 10 loopable backing tracks available for free through their website intended to score your journey through the Heart. Backers will be able to download high-quality versions of the files for ease of use.
FUNDED! £45,000 - ABSOLUTION. Chris and Grant will write a scenario dealing with the terrible approach of an Angel of the Heart and release it as a PDF to all backers. If possible, we’ll print the scenario in softback and make it available during the pre-order period of the campaign.
FUNDED! £50,000 - DIRECTORS’ COMMENTARY. As they did with Spire, Chris and Grant will record a multi-episode commentary on the book, focusing on the design decisions behind the scenes. We’ll release the episodes for free online, and backers will be able to download the entire thing in one go to listen to at their leisure.
FUNDED! £60,000 - LEGENDARY ADVERSARIES. We’ll introduce five legendary adversaries, with accompanying illustrations, into the core book. These are the sort of monsters which campaigns are built around, and they’re all reinterpretations of creatures from classical myth - the pitiable, cursed, toxic Basilisk; a huge and unfathomable Minotaur attempting to escape from a prison dimension; the Gorgon, the Huntress, and more.
FUNDED! £65,000 - MORE ART. We’ll commission Felix Miall to illustrate bunch more things in the book. Felix is keen to “get really weird with it” after being somewhat restrained for the initial batch of drawings, and we can’t wait to see what he does.
FUNDED! £70,000 - DOORS TO ELSEWHERE Chris and Grant will write a scenario about exploring the curious otherworld of Elsewhere and release it as a PDF to all backers. If possible, we’ll print the scenario in softback and make it available for purchase during the pre-order period of the campaign.
FUNDED! £75,000 - THE CLEAVER. An entirely new class, included in the core book - a heartsblood hunter with spiralled horns of glistening bone, jet-black eyes that need no light to see, and the ability to predict the seemingly-random shifts in the Heart’s geography. If gazing into the abyss isn’t enough for you and you want to climb right into the abyss and take a holiday down there, you’ll love the Cleaver.
FUNDED! £80,000: PHYSICAL COPIES. We'll commit to making the stretch goal PDFs available as softback editions that you can add to your pledge after the campaign is over using the pledge manager.
FUNDED! £85,000: EVEN MORE ART. More art! Pity Felix's poor drawing hand, but know that we're paying him handsomely for his pain.
FUNDED! £90,000: INCREASED QUALITY. We’ll work with our printers to boost the quality of the standard and special editions. The exact details will come a little closer to printing, but it most likely means placeholder ribbons in every copy, spot lamination on the standard cover, and three-colour printing for the cover of the special edition. We’ll also boost the quality of the stickers and map board, and we‘ll work to offer an upgrade to reusable stickers for folks that want them.
£95,000: VERMISSIAN BLACK OPS. PDF. Rules and guidance for delving into the Vermissian to undertake dangerous missions on behalf of the Ministry, bringing the worlds of Heart and Spire closer together. In an organisation made up of deniable assets, you're doubly deniable - a cadre of reality-breaching revolutionaries who plunge into Train Hell in search of allies, and enemies, from alternate histories.
WRITERS: Chris Taylor and Grant Howitt
Chris (@TheMaddigan) and Grant (@gshowitt) have written, together or independently: Spire: The City Must Fall, Unbound, One Last Job, Warrior-Poet, Goblin Quest and a wide variety of one-page games such as Honey Heist, Crash Pandas and Jason Statham’s Big Vacation. Their dream is to keep writing games together and earn enough money to put food on the table, and so far it’s going well.
PRODUCTION: Mary Hamilton
Mary (@newsmary) has masterminded every Kickstarter that Rowan, Rook & Decard have done, and delivered on all of them. They are the primary spreadsheet jockey, printer wrangler and fulfilment panopticon of the project.
ILLUSTRATION: Felix Miall
Felix is a London based illustrator and a graduate from Edinburgh College of Art who has a knack for all things gothic and grim. Follow him on Instagram or Twitter, or take a look at his portfolio on his official site.
LAYOUT: Jay Iles
Jay Iles is putting together the layout for Heart. Her previous layout credits include LANCER, Feathers the 200 Word RPG 2018 Omnibus Edition and her own projects as UFO Press – notably Rhapsody of Blood, Free From the Yoke, Voidheart Symphony and more.
EDITOR: Helen Gould
Helen has written for or edited several table-top roleplaying games and books, from companies such as: Stygian Fox Publishing (including Fear's Sharp Little Needles, which recently won a silver ENnie award); Cubicle 7; Pelgrane Press; Black Armada Games; Draco Studios; and Up to Four Players. She also has worked with us on Spire and Strata, and we’re really happy to have her involved in this project.
1. Why are you using Kickstarter, given the ongoing accusations of union-busting activities?
We're taking our lead from the Kickstarter Union, who are best placed to tell us how to act. At this point they aren't calling for a boycott. Our stance is very similar to the one Lucien Kahn lays out in this open letter: until and unless the union tells us that it's helpful to boycott the site, we aren't likely to help their cause by doing so. That said, we will totally understand if you don't feel comfortable backing us here, and we will do our best to open up Backerkit quickly (assuming we fund) so that you can have access to preorders. If you'd like to stay updated on that without backing us here, you can join us on the Rowan, Rook and Decard Discord or subscribe to our newsletter here.
EDITED on 29th September: in the light of new information, we have put out a full statement setting our our stance here. It's still substantially the same as above, but with more details.
2. Will I be able to add on other Rowan, Rook and Decard books to my pledge?
Yes, after the campaign ends we plan to use Backerkit as a campaign manager and will make available the complete Spire line so you can combine shipping.
3. Will you ship to [my country]?
We will offer shipping worldwide. In the US we plan to work with Studio 2 Publishing to get your books to the right places; in the UK we will be working with Parcelhub, our existing distributor who handled worldwide distribution for Spire and Strata.
4. When can I expect to receive my books?
We are planning to go to print in May. UK and EU backers can expect their books to land about 2-3 weeks after we print; for US and global backers it may take an additional 3-4 weeks as we will need to allow time for international freight and a second pick & pack process. We are aiming to have everything distributed and in your hands by the end of July.
5. What will shipping cost?
We are asking for shipping costs as part of the Kickstarter this time around, rather than waiting for Backerkit, as that was confusing for customers during the Strata fulfilment process. Costs are as follows:
- UK: £5 for book only, £7 book + map board
- US: as UK
- EU: £6 for book only, £8 book + map board
- Global: £10 for book only, £12 book + map board
6. Does the standard edition come with all the stretch goals?
Yes - every level of the PDF and up will give you access to all stretch goals. We missed it out when we wrote the pledge and now we can't change it!
Risks and challenges
General - This will be the fifth Kickstarter project that Grant and Mary have delivered together, and the third for Rowan, Rook and Decard. After four successfully delivered RPG projects, plus the setup and day-to-day running of our business, we now have a wealth of knowledge of how to make things work well (and of what can go wrong, too). We're working with a team of brilliant, experienced professionals who share Rowan, Rook and Decard's commitment to both creative excellence and keeping our customers happy and informed about the process. You can join us in the Discord where we are always available to answer questions, and you can expect regular updates throughout the campaign, including (especially!) if there are any unexpected issues.
Brexit - Well, we were dealing with Brexit uncertainty throughout the Strata campaign and fulfilment process, and now it continues. We've taken a few steps to mitigate things, including:
- printing and binding in the UK, to avoid books etc getting trapped in infinite customs loops on the way to distribution;
- working with distribution partners in the US and the EU to make sure we can send books out in a way that minimises customs duties;
- extra contingency funds for tackling shipping and distribution in the event of a disorderly Brexit that crashes into our fulfilment dates.
The Kickstarter Union issue - We're aware that Kickstarter has been accused of (and has denied) firing people for trying to organise a union, and we stand in solidarity with those still working on that goal. As of the time of writing, the union has not called for creators with planned projects to boycott the site, so we're going ahead as planned, but we're monitoring the situation so that we can act if that advice changes. More info and a full statement here: https://rowanrookanddecard.com/kickstarter-heart-and-the-union/Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (30 days)