RPGs are amazing things, filled with fantasy and make believe to transport its players to a land of wonder! But what if that land is dark and gloomy? And the players are downtrodden and miserable? Well then you get Spire my friends, and you get a hell of a good time.
Who’d Wanna Live In A Place Like This?!
The world of Spire is a desolate place. It all takes part in a mile-high tower, the origins of which are unknown, consisting of multiple floors all of which hold creepy secrets and mysterious individuals ranging from people worshipping a train, to a cult who turn their bodies into beehives. The architecture is impossible, with rooms and floors being ancient and changing constantly, and the centre of which being a hole in reality called The Heart, a place of dreams and nightmares in equal measure. As (almost) everyone within the tower is a Drow, the residents very rarely go outside as the sun burns their skin, so transport in the Spire is either walking between floors, or taking journeys through something called the Vermission, a physics breaking subway severely lacking in trains. The Vermission is its own little mystery, existing like veins in the Spire and taking people anywhere. But also being nearly impossible to map as it seems the change itself on a whim. There are individuals who study the Vermission for years, trying to learn its secrets and gaining a small amount of its power, but the place is still mostly a mystery.
The main book has more pages dedicated to the setting than the mechanics! Not to say the mechanics aren’t good, because they are, they are just simple and easy to learn which is perfect for Spire as now that you won’t get bogged down in rules, you just experience the setting. The creepy, creepy setting.
Spire runs from a D10 system, where players roll between 1 and 4 dice depending on the skills they have in this certain task. They roll all of the dice and take the highest result as their score for that challenge with 1-3 being a failure, 4-7 being a success with a cost, 8+ being a success, and a 10 being a critical success netting you a little extra luck in the situation. For example, my character Carver wanted to convince their criminal informant, Jimmy Briggs, to look into a particularly risky situation. The GM said that this would be a Compel check using Low Society as a boost because he needs to know what’s in it for him. I don’t have compel, but I do have low society! I roll 2 dice (you always get one dice with the extra from my skill) and got a 6 and an 3. This means Jimmy will look into what I wanted him to but it means he either wont find much or might get himself into trouble. I’m not going to know what’s happened until way down the line (and at time of writing I still don’t!) and nothing changes until we advance along our path. And speaking of Advance!
Here For A Good Time, Not A Long Time
Levelling up is a interesting event in Spire happening very little. You don’t gain experience point or anything like that in this game, instead your character “Gains an Advance” whenever they change the world in some way. And to add a little spice, it doesn’t have to be changed for the better. See, the players of spire are downtrodden, lowest of the low in this melancholic hierarchy, so changing the world even a little is no easy feat. This encourages players to do things, just on the idea that the outcome will be huge. That way they get more cool Advances to play with! And boy, are the advances cool.
As you’d expect, each character has different advances and different levels of advancement depending on the scale of how you changed things. So if you stop a shop getting robbed by a gang of thieves then you’ve altered things a little bit and you’d get a small advancement. But if you blow up an entire university because there’s a strange hive-mind thing going on and its creeping you out…for a random example, then you’d get a pretty high advance. And these can really alter games as well. In our game we’ve seen random people fall in love, disappear from existence, or suddenly walk into the room with a gun and start shooting anyone! One player even has the ability to turn into an idea and leave the game for a week. It all makes for some really interesting experiences and some very strange games. But for full clarity, this can be a little stressful…
Lots Of Moving Parts
As I’ve only played the game as a character, I asked my GM to help me out with the review to give an opinion of what the game is like his sides of the screen.
“It’s really good to run, all the information of nearly everything you can encounter is there so players going in a different direction to the one you have planned is usually covered. This is the main issue though, because all the crazy powers your players have change things big time at any moment! You need to make plans but they’ve got to be loose, and you need to be able to think on your feet because you’ll be batting off curveballs all session. It is a great system to run full of stories to follow, you’ve just got to be ready for it. Id recommend it to anyone and id suggest buying the GM screen as well, it helps big time!”
I don’t want to put anyone off this system, as its one of, if not the best I’ve played. The sheer amount of options and paths the players can take is amazing. I would just recommend that whoever runs it for you and your group has a bit of previous experience with GMing role play games, because this can be a little taxing on a newbie.
Spire is an excellent system with a world that feels more like a factual record than a work of fiction. Not just the rule books as well! The publishers Rowan, Rook, and Deckard have also released supplementary material to assist in playing such as character cards, maps of the Spire and the Heart, and even in universe newspapers for your players to read full of story hooks to pull on. Every game I’ve played so far has left a impact, a memory for me of amazing games round the table with friends. No heavy rules, no checking the exact wording of spells, no whiteboard battle maps. Just a simple rule set in the theatre of your mind letting your players drive this sucker forwards themselves. It can be a bit grim, but its always great.
If your looking for a dark themed RPG but are still unsure about the setting of Spire, a similar theming can be found in the Dishonoured RPG. Same sort of grim dark feel with the added benefit of having the game art to describe things to players. Not as good a system in my opinion, but it is a single book so it might be a better starter game.
If you’d like something even darker, try Best Left Buried where the tag line is “the monsters are scary and the players are scared” another game that can be found in a single book (if you get the deluxe version) where alcohol dependence can be a genuine game mechanic.
Lastly, if your looking to start RPG games with your friends and you don’t have much experience, try Tartarus Gate, a sci-fi themed RPG in a magazine that contains everything you need to play including characters, hand outs and maps. All in one cheap little package. A brilliant purchase to give it a try