The underlying city will make you afraid to roll the dice – The Reed College Quest

So check this out: Heart is a storytelling role-playing game that uses the classic dungeon-crawling formula to tell tales of body horror and self-destructive obsession. It has a solid base resolving system and a really biting Stress / Fallout mechanic which I’ll cover later, but what initially appealed to me – what made me fall in love with this thing even before. to have had the chance to perform it – was the specificity with which he established his framework. For a while, there was a tendency in indie games to make things as vague as possible, to design systems to mimic the genre without having a specific framework in mind, and to leave the details of world-building behind. to the players and to the game master (GM). While this approach has its benefits and gave us some truly amazing games, it also left many of them feeling like they lacked a distinct creative identity. Heart rejects this trend. Not, thank goodness, with the traditional approach of pages on pages of meaningless lore, but by integrating its unique and captivating world into its mechanics on such a fundamental level that the two become virtually inseparable.

And what a world it is – a quirky punk fantasy steeped in body horror and weird science, evoking the best of the fleeting New Weird literary movement filtered through a post-Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) lens. It’s easily one of my all-time favorite Role Playing (RPG) settings, and due to the aforementioned specificity of the system, one that shines at all levels of mechanical engagement. For example, character creation: you are not just a fighter or a wizard, you are a vermissian knight (warrior-scholar in power armor from a cursed rail system), a deep beekeeper (mathematical druid whose the body harbors a swarm of extra-dimensional bees), a half-dead Ghostwalker, a magic-addicted Junk Mage, or something even stranger. Your class here isn’t just your skills, it’s an anchor that immerses you in a bizarre and unfamiliar fictional setting, establishing who you are and where you come from in this alien society. Or rather, who you were before you give up your old life and decide to risk it all in the hungry and ever-shifting darkness beneath the world.

Ah yes, the eponym Heart is not only representative of my love for Lady Salvatious Gryndel (page 204), it is also a place – a sort of self-conscious mega-dungeon perpetually rebuilding itself in an inexperienced approximation of the hopes, fears and desires of these brave men. or crazy enough to try to create a life there. In such an environment, there is going to be work to be done that people don’t want to do on their own – hence the player characters.

It’s a dangerous life to lead, as evidenced by the inclusion of the game’s peerless mechanic: Stress and Fallout. Essentially, stress is an abstract measure of how much your character is pushing their luck at any given time, and Fallout is a bunch of horrible things that can happen to you once your luck runs out. There are a few distinct categories of stress related to things like physical well-being, mental stability, supernatural corruption, etc., which builds up when you fail skill tests and the metaphorical sword of Damocles s ‘drops above your character’s head. Eventually, inevitably, you roll under your current stress tally and it solidifies into a fallout, which is sometimes general but often related to the grim geography or the corrupted nature of the heart itself. There is an entire chapter of Fallouts, and it’s wonderful.

As Fallout heats up, you’ll eventually realize that at some point this place is going to get the best of you. If your character is lucky, it means death. If not, well… take a look at your character sheet. There is not a single class in this game whose synthesis ability does not result in their death or horrific impairment, so they are no longer viable as a player character. Many of these could possibly be played out as cathartic or redemptive moments, but that doesn’t make it any less spooky whenever you flip through the book to check out some rule texts and spot the basilisk lurking at the end of your skill. tree.

If there is one place where the game fails, it is on the GM’s side. While the player experience is pure storytelling, the GM is surprisingly traditional in that he expects you to do a lot of preparation and essentially leaves you to yourself in every moment. I had built up enough traditional playing muscle memory from all those times I was forced to lead D&D in high school that the problem wasn’t insurmountable, but a list of GM moves in the present. World of the Apocalypse would have been greatly appreciated.

Overall though, I have had a fantastic experience with Heart. While the gruesome tone may not be right for everyone, if you’ve ever created a beloved original character just to put it to the test of emotions, you understand the cathartic appeal inherent in this kind of storytelling, and chances are it’s your jam. Round up a few weirdos, invest in their feelings, and prepare to have a good time watching them have a really bad time – just make sure you have your X Card handy.

About Johanna Gooding

Johanna Gooding

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