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

Saturday 23 March 2024

Sic Transit Sicariorum

In the mile-high tower of the Spire, the Aelfir—the High Elves—enjoy lives of extreme luxury, waited upon by the Destra—the Drow—whom they have subjugated and continue to oppress the criminal revolutionaries that would rise up and overthrow them. In the City Beneath, where heretical churches have found the freedom to worship their forbidden gods and organised crime to operate the drug farms that supply the needs of the Spire above, the Aelfir find themselves free of conformity, the Destra free of repression. They are joined by Gnolls and Humans. Some simply live free of the stifling Aelfir control, whether by means lawful or unlawful, others are driven to beyond the Undercity, delving ever deeper into the bowels of the world in search of the fabled Heart, or perhaps their heart’s desire. There are also those who use the Undercity as a sanctuary, as a base of operations, from which they lead the rebellion against the Aelfir. They are members of the Ministry of Our Hidden Mistress, both a faith and a revolutionary movement, and outlawed for both reasons. As the Ministry of Our Hidden Mistress foments and funds rebellion and unrest in the Spire above, it sends cells of its black ops paramilitary wing, Throne Division, scurrying up the Spire to conduct assassinations, acts of sabotage and blackmail, abductions, extractions, and more. This is done via the Vermissian, the great public transport network that would have bound the Spire and the City Beneath together. Throne Division takes advantage of its non-Euclidean magic to access every level of the Spire, but there are dangers to travelling its length, let alone the dangers to be faced in the execution of its missions.

Vermissian Black Ops is a supplement for Heart: The City Beneath, the roleplaying game that explores the horror, tragedies, and consequences of delving too deep into dungeons, published by Rowan, Rook, and Decard Ltd. In Heart: The City Beneath, the Player Characters are concerned with what lies beneath, and very rarely will they concern themselves with events in the Spire above, but in Vermissian Black Ops, the reverse is true. They will be conducting missions in the Vermissian and in the Spire, thus going up rather than down. This requires some significant changes to the rules of
Heart: The City Beneath to account for this change. Thus, Player Characters gain advancements not from hitting story beats related to their Calling, but from completing missions; Domains, which represent experience of an environment or a knowledge of some kind, can be found in the Vermissian rather than just the Technology Domain; and in stead of using Haunts to remove Stress and Fallout from a character, the Ministry of Our Hidden Mistress has numerous safehouses and access to doctors and spiritual guidance! To reflect the more combat oriented nature of a Vermissian Black Ops campaign and that the Player Characters are working for a proscribed organisation, the Combat and Ministry Fallout and Resistances are detailed.

Notes are included for combining
Heart: The City Beneath and Spire: The City Must Fall via Vermissian Black Ops, essentially in troupe style play with players making characters for both roleplaying games and switching back and forth as necessary. Spire: The City Must Fall can also serve as a setting supplement for Vermissian Black Ops. That said, Throne Division operatives are advised not enter the Spire outside of their missions as they are wanted terrorists with a price on their heads, their time in the City Beneath has changed them enough that they stand out, and exposure to the Heart, even at a relative distance, means they leak weirdness…

Game play in
Vermissian Black Ops is conducted as a series of operations, beginning and ending with using the Vermissian to get and from the target. In between can be many scenes, including the actual execution of the mission. Mission creation is intended to be co-operative, the Game Master as the Ministry of Our Hidden Mistress assigning a mission and the players outlining together the objectives involved in completing the mission. One-shots are slightly different in that it is suggested that the Game Master creates the mission and its objectives herself. Numerous example operations are given here.

A list of Throne Division equipment is also detailed, such as the Coffin-Crawler, a multi-legged lead-lined box capable of automatically ferrying an operative juddering and lurching shielded from the invasive energies that flood parts of the Vermissian and the Witch-Hunter Railgun, which fires fizzing electro-magnets inscribed with runes designed to rip a magician’s soul from his body and pin it in place. Pride of place, of course, goes to the descriptions of the five lines of the Vermissian, from the Loft Lint atop the Spire with its access to the connected cathedrals to the Aelfir gods and the Autumnal Vaults, sanctified murder corridors where the masked adherents of the Harvest Church ceremonially hunt the Drow, to the Pulse Line which snakes underneath the City Beneath, all the way down to the Heart itself… Bar the Pulse Line, all of the lines are accorded a general description so as give each one a different flavour and feel, and numerous stations and accessible locations are detailed so that the Game Master can bring the transit from the Vermissian to the Spire and back again to life as well as the places that the Throne Operatives will be targeting with their Operations.

Rounding out
Vermissian Black Ops is a selection of NPCs and enemies ready for the Game Master to use in her campaign. Arrayed against Throne Division operatives and the Ministry of Our Hidden Mistress are the Paladins, the mighty army of one hundred killers sanctified by the Solar Church, which also uses the Vermissian to navigate the Spire and interdict against intrusion by Throne Division operatives, and the Spiral Council, the rulers of the city above, including each of its seven members and its elite guards, the Black Guard of Amaranth. Directing Throne Division operatives is the Ministry of Our Hidden Mistress itself, the most successful and possibly maddest of the revolutionary fronts against the Aelfir in the Spire, with possible motivations for joining listed. Between them are the Vermissian Collective, a group of scholars and explorers who map and examine the transport network as much as they collect and hide the secrets of the Drow, and Gutterkin—Goblins, Kobolds, Trash Fairies, Toadgirls, and others—which form a secretive underclass in the City Beneath, but flourish in the Vermissian.

Vermissian Black Ops is a slim, very well-presented book. The artwork is excellent and the book is easy to read and understand.

Vermissian Black Ops essentially inverts Heart: The City Beneath and sends its players and their characters in the opposite direction, that is, up into the territory of Spire: The City Must Fall, rather than down towards the Heart. Thus, it focuses on campaigns that are not ‘traditional’ to Heart: The City Beneath, and not necessarily of use in Heart: The City Beneath, more episodic in nature given the operation style structure and emphasis on action and combat, whilst the expanded details of the Vermissian will be useful in a Spire: The City Must Fall campaign. Otherwise, Vermissian Black Ops enables the Game Master and her players to bring the revolutionary fervour of Spire: The City Must Fall to Heart: The City Beneath and send it all the way back up the towering city from a different direction.


Dagger in the Heart, a full length scenario for Heart: The City Beneath written by Gareth Hanrahan is currently funding on Backerkit.

No comments:

Post a Comment