Every Week It's Wibbley-Wobbley Timey-Wimey Pookie-Reviewery...

Saturday 22 April 2023

Magister’s Miscellany

Magister’s Guide – A Spire RPG GM Handbook is supplement for Spire: The City Must Fall, the roleplaying game of secrets and lies, trust and betrayal, violence and subversion, conspiracy and consequences, and of committing black deeds for a good cause. It is set in a mile-high tower city, known as the ‘Spire’, in the land of the Destra, the Drow, which two centuries ago the Aelfir—or ‘High Elves’—invaded and subjugated the Dark Elves. The Drow have long since been forced to serve the High Elves from their homes in the city’s lower levels and allowed only to worship one facet Damnou, the moon goddess, instead of the three they once did. However, not all of the Drow have resigned themselves to their reduced and subjugated status and joined ‘The Ministry of Our Hidden Mistress’, or simply, the Ministry. Its members—or Ministers—venerate the dark side of the moon, the goddess of poisons and lies, shadows and secrets, her worship outlawed on pain of death, and they are sworn to destroy and subvert the dominion of the Aelfir over the Drow and the Spire. Published by Rowan, Rook, and Decard Ltd., Spire: The City Must Fall inverts traditional fantasy, making the traditional enemy in fantasy—the Drow—into the victim, but not necessarily the hero.

Magister’s Guide – A Spire RPG GM Handbook is a a companion to Spire: The City Must Fall. Born of four years development, it brings together a number of new systems, new stuff for every Character Class in Spire, including content drawn from the Strata and Sin sourcebooks, as well as advice for the Game Master. It is a fairly slim book, but comes packed with content for both the player and the Game Master. The book opens with four New Systems, beginning with ‘Liberty’, based on the ‘Control’ mechanic from Strata. This is a further measure of control and oppression applied by the authorities on the Dark Elves in response to actions of the Ministers that make the High Elves feel threatened. It does not target them specifically, but the Drow population in general. Liberty is a broad response and its Fallout can be Minor, Moderate, or Severe. For example, Light Fallout might be ‘No Congregation’, meaning that no Drow can gather together, Moderate Fallout might be ‘Branding’ or tattooing of Drow criminals, and Servere ‘Sanctioned Killers’ which arms the agents operating against the Ministry. Its broad nature means that Liberty is difficult to reclaim or remove. Only two options are listed, but the rules suggest using ‘Acquisitions’, the third of the new Systems to supplement these two.

‘Advancement Beats’ give a Minister and his player options in terms of challenges, goals, and achievements. Each ‘Beat’ can be a personal aim or shared with a fellow Minister, but is not specifically tied to the broader advancement of the Ministers’ cell and overall objectives of the The Ministry of Our Hidden Mistress. A Minister can have as many Beats as he wants, but only two are active in play at any one time. They are measured in terms of time they take to achieve. So a Low Beat such as ‘Sell someone out to the authorities’ can be fulfilled in a single session, a Medium Beat like ‘Research and perform a demonological ritual’ takes two or three, and so on. Essentially an adaption of the concept of ‘story beats’, this New System provides a player with story options that flag to the Game Master what he would like to have happen to his Minister—good or badin a session or more.

‘Acquisitions’ provides a further means of Player Character improvement, not just a means of getting items of equipment. One way to use them to is reclaim or remove the aforementioned Liberty, but options here include gaining an Ability from an entirely different Class, Favours, extra Advances, and a Safehouse. The latter nicely ties in with the rules for safehouses later on. For the Player Characters, this takes time, but they can push the attempt and act recklessly, to increase the Stress they suffer. Acquisitions are similarly categorised into Low, Medium, and High. The system is nicely worked through with a couple of good examples and enable a Player Character to have something going on in the background that he is working towards in terms of story and bring it into the action when necessary.

The fourth and last of the New Systems is for ‘Safehouses’. Out of all of the New Systems in the Magister’s Guide – A Spire RPG GM Handbook, this does like the most obvious addition. After all, the Player Characters do make a terrorist cell and will need somewhere to hide out and operate from. Once they have a safehouse
—and the rules here suggest a ‘starter’ safehouse—the Player Characters can upgrade it with facilities such as a secret entrance, a gunsmith, and even a sacrificial chamber! Each of these is rated as a Medium Advance or a Medium Acquisition, using the previously presented ‘Acquisitions’ system. Suggested too are options for making the sanctuary a community instead of a hidden base and for using it as part of the story, so again giving both the players and the Game Master some flexibility in how the System is used.

The bulk of the
Magister’s Guide – A Spire RPG GM Handbook is devoted to new options for the roleplaying game’s numerous Character Classes. Each is given various options including, but not all, new abilities, equipment and special equipment, adversaries, and Fallout (or consequences specific to the Class). For example, the Midwife emphasises the arachnid nature of the Drow and her role in the nurseries with Abilities such as ‘Hands of Silk’ which give her silk glands in the wrist from which can draw and combine with any hand-to-hand weapon to stun and bind, whilst with ‘Trapped Door’ she casts glyphs upon a door to hide it. She can use equipment such as a ‘Prosthetic Limb Array’, useful for the Midwife who finds it difficult to partially change into a spider, or a weapon like a ‘Arachnid Glaive’ . Her Special Equipment includes ‘Frenzy Incense’ which allows her to shrug off the negative effects from Minor or Moderate Blood Fallout. Her Adversaries include ‘The Black Sheep’, those that the Midwife raised, but which turn out bad—criminals, High Elf loyalists, apostates, heretics, and worse... Potential Fallout specific to the Midwife consists of ‘Spiders’ which crawl out her clothing, the walls, or even her mouth, much to the consternation of those around her.

In addition, the entry examines the nature of birth and child-care amongst the Drow, but also neatly provides a list of elements related to her role that the Game Master can bring into play. So, children, families, sacrificial altars, upholding traditions, and so on, and these work for NPCs as much as they do for the Player Character.
The Magister’s Guide – A Spire RPG GM Handbook does this again and again for each of the Classes in Spire: The City Must Fall, each time providing options for the player to chose from, as for the Game Master to add to the story.

Rounding out
the Magister’s Guide – A Spire RPG GM Handbook is a quartet of short essays in ‘Essays and Advice’. ‘Just the Basics’ is a relatively short blurb which the Game Master can use to explain the setting to prospective players or even for convention games. Even better is ‘Preparing For A Game of Spire’, which gives advice on how to prepare a scenario if a Game Master has no time, twenty minutes, an hour, or two hours. The advice of course, directly applies to Spire: The City Must Fall, but could easily be adapted to any roleplaying game. The essay also includes advice for preparing for a one-shot and again, is applicable to other roleplaying games. If Rowan, Rook, and Decard Ltd. was to publish a generic book of advice for running games, a version of this essay would definitely be included. Similarly, ‘When To Roll, And When Not To’ and the shorter ‘Creative Use Of Skills’, can apply to this roleplaying and others, but are not quite as interesting.

Physically, the Magister’s Guide – A Spire RPG GM Handbook is well presented and its contents are neatly organised and easy to reference, done in a succinct style for start to finish. All of that content is really very good, providing options in terms of Player Character abilities and actions, that both the player and the Game Master can use or effectively tag in the game. It is backed up by really good advice for the Spire Game Master, that is applicable in any roleplaying game. Overall,
the Magister’s Guide – A Spire RPG GM Handbook is great supplement for the Spire Game Master, which the Game Master for almost any other roleplaying game should borrow (from her Spire Game Master) just to read the essays.

No comments:

Post a Comment