A tabletop roleplaying game of psychic rebellion in the shadows of the city, powered by the apocalypse.
A tabletop roleplaying game of psychic rebellion in the shadows of the city, powered by the apocalypse.
This project will only be funded if it reaches its goal by Fri, November 15 2019 6:00 PM UTC +00:00.
There's a wound in the world, and nobody seems to care. You've seen it all around you - the glint of hellish fire in an abusive manager's eyes, the glinting fangs in the mouths of the loan shark's bodyguards, the twisting shadow of the corrupt politician. But everyone around you is too complacent, beaten down, or busy to fight against it.
You don't have the luxury of ignoring it. Maybe you’re a second-class citizen, forced to work yourself to the bone for the money to live. Maybe you have to hide crucial aspects of your identity, for fear of what would happen if you were exposed - or maybe you’re out, and are living with those consequences every day. Maybe you just can’t close your eyes and ignore the suffering.
But the main reason is because you’ve seen the wound: a nightmare castle, tucked away in backstreets and disused stairwells. The taint of the void seeps out, twisting those unfortunate enough to live nearby. And it seeks out the worst predator in the area, bringing them fortune and hurting their enemies and victims.
But, if people are causing pain with unearned power, so what? You’re used to having to fight for respect, survival, your safety and the safety of your community. You’ll dive into that castle, steal its power and strength, and see how that predator topples when the void abandons them.
And what then? Will you go back to the daily grind, putting out the fires that spread while you were focused on the other realm? Hold close to those dear to you, and form new connections? Or rest and heal, preparing for the next time? Because the wound is still there, and so long as someone is profiting off the suffering of others the void will have avatars to empower.
Voidheart Symphony is a game about mundane heroes fighting their city’s worst predators by delving into an abyssal citadel shaped by their target’s psyches.
It's about trying to achieve lasting change without being corrupted or co-opted by the system you're trying to change.
It's about a student, a single mum and an elderly activist shifting into their idealised, mythical forms as they take the fight to a nightmare labyrinth twisting within the mind of their target.
It's about taking the themes and motifs of works like Persona 5, Psychonauts and Inception, and using them to tell stories that are politically-aware and LGBT-inclusive - and feeling incredibly stylish as you do so.
Voidheart Symphony is a tabletop roleplaying game, played with your friends over multiple sessions using six-sided dice. It will be a 200+ page 6" x 9" hardback book, and a bookmarked, hyperlinked PDF. Within, there are:
- Rules for tense investigation in the mundane world and bloodstained, balletic combat in the nightmare castle realm.
- Several character playbooks to define your character's deal, giving different abilities in the mundane investigation and supernatural delving phases.
- Dozens of covenant archetypes who'll lend your characters their strength.
- Advice on building antagonists, running campaigns, and hacking the game.
- Long term campaign mechanics that track your war against the castle's network of vassals, your attempts to restore your community, and the castle's attempts to twist you to its cause.
This game has been developed in public over the past year, and has benefited greatly from public playtesting. You can grab the current draft of the core book, handouts and covenant cards on itch.io here. After this kickstarter, future updates will be backer-only, but the game is fully playable as it stands.
If you're interested in hearing the game being played, you can listen to our playtest campaign of it on The League Presents: I ran a game of it with my friends in the UK Indie RPG League, starting here.
And here's a one-shot I ran as part of GauntletCon 2019:
Building on the foundation of D. Vincent and Meguey Baker's Apocalypse World, Voidheart Symphony provides fast, dynamic rules that put the focus on the fiction you're building at the table. The greatest jump from 'standard' Apocalypse World is that the system is in two halves: castle-side play will be familiar to veterans, with your character defined by stats and abilities that are straightforward and dynamic. In the mundane world, however, you're defined by the pressures you're under, and use an entirely different dice mechanic to see how well you can escape the castle's grip as you act. For more details, check out the preview version of the game.
In Voidheart Symphony, you play a Rebel - a resident of the city who has decided to delve into the nightmare labyrinth of the castle to protect their community. Your Rebel will draw on one of seven playbooks - an essential idea of who they are in your revolution, with associated choices for their life in the city and their powers in the castle. Here are your options:
- The Authority pushes back against the castle by building their own kingdom. They're inspiring, brave, and intimidating for their foes. Read an in-depth playbook breakdown here!
- The Heretic rebels against the castle's insidious tendrils by spurning all authority. They're a troublemaker who's great at misdirecting foes, finding hidden paths, and laying traps for the opposition. Read an in-depth playbook breakdown here!
- The Icon is adored by society – but that adoration can be its own set of chains. They may be a paragon of excellence, an opponent their foes cannot ignore, or an unassailable beacon of perfection.
- The Provider keep those close to them safe. Whether they're a parent, a volunteer or a carer, the Provider spends their time protecting and nurturing those that depend on them. In the castle, they heal, protect and avenge their companions. Read an in-depth playbook breakdown here!
- The Harlequin tries not to take things too seriously - or at least, makes sure this revolution has some dancing in it. They're great at finding alternative solutions to problems, clowning on their foes, and keeping allies upbeat.
- The Inhuman is a creature given sentience by the void, somehow free of the castle's chains. In the mundane world, they may take the form of an animal, a possessing spirit, a doppelganger, a monster. In the castle, they can blend in with the vassal's minions, gain insights into their enemy's motivations and use mystical powers.
- The Watcher has developed the keen insight to match their hunger to know more – useful in their daily life as a nerd, an academic, or maybe an investigator, but also a great asset in navigating and surviving the castle.
But you're not just defined by your own abilities, or the pressures that society places on you. The remaining portion of your strength comes from your Covenants - strong bonds with friends, allies and lovers that have taught you new ways to face your problems.
Each is themed around one of the major arcana of the tarot. As an example, a friendship with an investigative journalist might unlock the Sun covenant - meaning you can go to them to learn about hidden connections between targets, draw on their lessons to speak truth to power, and bring out the light within in the castle to banish illusions, draw the attention of enemies, or wield the light as a weapon.
Your rebel also has a Crew Covenant: what the group means to them. This ebbs and grows as you form closer bonds with each other, unlocking more power the better you work with your friends.
Each Covenant is a lightweight addition to your playbook - appropriately sized to fit on a tarot card. To that end, we're also making a Covenant Deck. These 23 full-colour cards give complete rules for your relationships, plus the World and the Void - two special arcana that track your impact on your community, and the Castle's impact on you.
This deck is bundled in to the £25, £45 and £60+ tiers. If you wish to add a deck to your pledge, you can do so by raising your pledge by £10 per deck.
Of course, your Rebels have a horde of enemies opposing them. There's the Vassals - powerful figures in your city given dark power by the void. Then there's their Enforcers - aspects of the Vassal's psyche that guard their personal castle shard. Finally, Minions and Traps fill the shard, hazards you'll have to overcome to win your war.
All of these enemies work on the same, simple Confrontation system. All antagonists are a bundle of 1-5 Qualities - parcels of deadly abilities. To fight them, your rebels must identify openings in the enemy's fighting style or the environment, and exploit them to strike away a Quality and weaken their foe. When all Qualities are gone, the foe's defeated.
This simple but effective system means that an antagonist can be built in minutes, and still put up a satisfying, pulse-pounding fight against a party of rebels.
"Voidheart Symphony has a setting which makes you confront the nasty underbelly of the world reflected back at you in grotesque glory. Relationships are what matter, and the system of covenants put that front and center in the game!" - Becky Annison
"Voidheart Symphony is tremendously cool. Normally a game this cool would sacrifice substance for that style, but it retains such a strong underlying message that it all holds together. It’s a power fantasy that punches up, and it’s great." - Grant Howitt
"An amazing game of resistance and hope. It switches seamlessly between the gritty struggles of normal people, and slick high-action exploits in a surreal, allegorical landscape. Plus, it features some of the best mechanics for modelling relationships I've seen in a PbtA game." - David Morrison
"Voidheart Symphony delivers a rich evocative setting of weird urban magic that's utterly unique. I loved the mix of the characters' idiosyncratic, mundane(ish) personal lives and bizarre otherworldly combat in the castle." - Joshua Fox
This kickstarter is your opportunity to help me make the best possible version of Voidheart Symphony - complete with a hardback print run and decks of cards. As the majority of the book is already written, here's how the budget for finishing this project breaks down:
- £4000 goes on printing the hardcover book run and the cards.
- £1500 goes on editing the book for structural issues, spelling and grammar.
- £1000 is earmarked for Kickstarter fees and taxes.
We're not charging shipping as part of this Kickstarter - the fluctuations of international shipping make it difficult to estimate the costs at this point, so I'll be charging shipping in our BackerKit pledge manager. I estimate the following costs:
- UK: £6 for the book, £7 for book + cards.
- US: £6 for the book, £7 for book + cards.
- EU: £7 for the book, £8 for book + cards.
- Rest of World: £10 for the book, with or without cards.
Once we've hit our goal, we'll use the money saved from the discounts of a larger print run to help make this an even better book. This'll come in three ways:
- Hiring more people from a diverse set of backgrounds to write example contacts, vassals, and cities for play groups to visit.
- Pay those people I've hired a better wage. We're starting at £0.10/word, which is sadly pretty great for this industry, but I'd like to do better.
- More content for the book - advanced playbooks, rules hacks, and scenario creation mechanics.
As we approach funding goals where we'll be able to unlock these thresholds, I'll let you folks know. And if you're interested in working on this book, our open call for pitches closes on the 20th of October - read more details here.
£9,000: Scenario Spreads - MET!
Our first stretch goal is a tool to help build scenarios for the game. A simple card draw will provide inspiration for the Vassal’s strengths and weaknesses, their plans, their castle shard’s aesthetics, and how their machinations impact the characters.
£12,000: Voidheart World Tour - MET!
At £12,000, I’ll commission more writers to add to the book. This will include at least five city playsets: an introduction to a location (real or fictional), details on how its people are hurting and why it’s worth saving, example Vassals to fight and contacts to meet.
£16,000: The Trapped - MET!
The Trapped is stuck in the Castle. Maybe they were a rebel who died there? Maybe they stayed in a castle shard too long after the Vassal was defeated, and couldn't find their way back? Or maybe some strange malady has left their mundane body in a coma while their mind roams the castle's corridors?
However it happened, the Trapped's grip on reality is tenuous, anchored to one of the other rebels. They haunt that rebel, able to augment their actions or provide insight, and in the castle they're particularly able to work together with their bonded partner. And as their Shadow rises, they'll gain tricks to investigate the Vassal from the castle side of things, manifest in the mundane world, and pull their bonded partner out of mundane danger... and into the castle.
£20,000: Playbook Art
Past this threshold, I'll commission 8 new pieces of art - one for each playbook. I'm looking to commission Marie Enger for this - her bold, chaotic style is perfect for this game. Here's a test piece I commissioned from her, showing the Heretic!
£24,000: Rogue's Gallery
If we hit £24,000 I'll hire more writers for the book to write a range of different Vassals. They'll showcase a wide range of ways the Castle is working to make life worse, and give you a range of different Qualities to use in your own creations. At this level I'll also upgrade the quality of the Covenant Cards, wrapping each deck in a printed tuckbox and using a better card stock for the cards.
I stand in solidarity with those working at Kickstarter trying to organise and win recognition for their Union. As of the time of writing, the union has not called for creators with planned projects to boycott the site, so I'm going ahead as planned, but I'm monitoring the situation so that I can act if that advice changes.
I could write many more words about how I support the cause, or how it aligns particularly with the values of this project, but instead I'll link to the statement my friends at Rowan, Rook and Decard put together - it neatly summarises my position on the matter: https://rowanrookanddecard.com/kickstarter-heart-and-the-union/
The situation between Kickstarter management and the union has upset many of us who believe in Kickstarter's ability to empower artists to make creative work, and I fully understand if it reduces your willingness to back this project. If you want to both support an independent designer and avoid furnishing Kickstarter with too much of your money, consider backing at £1. You'll be able to upgrade your pledge once we enter the BackerKit preorder stage.
Risks and challenges
This will be my seventh Kickstarter campaign, and at this point we have the infrastructure in place to deliver on time and on budget. We have sourced quotes from UK-based printers and distributors, and have every confidence in their ability to deliver - but life happens, and we’re a small business working with small suppliers, so we’ve built in a contingency fund to help solve any problems we face over the development of this project.
We're also aware that Britain is due to exit the European Union during the duration of this project. It's impossible to say how this will affect our ability to deliver this project, but we have budgeted a significant chunk of money to pay for any Brexit-related costs that may crop up.
Finally, there's a chance that Kickstarter United will call for a boycott during the course of the project. We've signed a pledge to stop any ongoing campaign if they call for it; in the event of that happening, we have plans in place to restart the campaign elsewhere, and this won't have any effect once the campaign is over.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter