Playbook focus: The Inhuman

For the most part, your rebels in Voidheart Symphony are people who brushed up against the castle in their day-to-day lives, seen its impact on the city, and decided to take up arms against it. The Inhuman comes to the group from an altogether different route – they were created by the castle, whether they’re a minion who went rogue or an ordinary human transformed by its taint. Can the other rebels trust them? And how will they form a new identity for themselves, away from their progenitor?

The Inhuman

The void doesn’t understand you, and hates you for it. I’m not sure I get you either, but I love every second. 

Basics

The Inhuman stands apart from the city, and from the castle. They use their castle-granted abilities to fight back against it, breaking down its hierarchies and channeling the hunger of the void to consume its agents. But their inhuman nature sets them apart from the mortal world. They have trouble blending in with humanity, getting the resources they need to survive, or form strong relationships with new people.

Inspirations: Aegis in Persona 3, Tobias in Animorphs, Teddy in Persona 4.

The Inhuman and the Crew

It’s quite likely that the crew are the most formative people in the Inhuman’s life. They might be the ones teaching them how to be a person, or the people responsible for the Inhuman’s creation in the first place. But what’s the particular dynamic your Inhuman seeks out?

The Moon

Creatures of the castle draw on the primal darkness of the human psyche. As the Moon, you’re a creature of chaos and illusion, nightmares and obsession. You’re the crew’s route into the impossible landscapes of the subconscious, and one of them is particularly obsessed with you for reasons they can’t quite explain. When you hang out, there’s no mechanical effects, but you have free rein to paint the scene in whatever dreamlike, hallucinatory colours you desire. In the city, you can consult your dreams for guidance, but it’s a coinflip – on a heads you learn something important and get a bonus dealing with it, but on a tails it’s distressing. You might choose to get fleeting disadvantage for the next day, but isn’t it more fun to pick ‘realise something uncomfortable about yourself’? And in the castle, you cut loose with wild and chaotic transformations, sprouting wings, tentacles, armour plates and more. The greater your bond with the crew, the more you’ll be able to twist your body to aid them.

Pick the Moon if: You want your mundane shell to house a primal nightmare of chaos and illusion.

The Star

Maybe what you used to be isn’t as interesting as what you might become. As the Star, you’re a creature of untapped potential, and one of the other rebels is helping you find out what that is. You’re a fount of creative energy – when you hang out with someone, you can show them what you’re working on and give them insight into their other relationships. In the city, you can always find an unexpected path. Ask the Architect for insight, and they’ll let you know where would be useful to go next. And finally, in the castle, you can awaken that potential – gaining temporary access to a Castle Move from a playbook no-one else is using.

Pick the Star if: You want to be a bright point of light promising to become something entirely new.

Death

It’s perhaps a cliche that the Death card represents transformation instead of mortality – though if you pick this arcanum, it might represent both. You used to be one thing, and now you’re something else. That could mean you’re a ghost, or an AI housed in a new robot body, or a pet who got too close to the castle and gained a human mind. One of the rebels knew you before all that went down, and you’ll need to reckon with how that affects your relationship. Do they support how you are now? Do you wish you could return to the previous state? When you hang out with another rebel, your questions about their regrets and worries pierce to the heart of them. They can lie, but both of you will know if they do. In the city, you can push people to see how they’re stuck in harmful patterns. The more in tune you are with this spirit of transformation, the better that’ll go for each of you. And in the castle, you can cut out part of another rebel to save their mundane life from their castle-based injuries, or push back the encroaching void.

Pick Death if: You want to transform other’s lives, just as you’ve been transformed.

Moves and Powers

The Inhuman, more than any other playbook, gains strange powers as the Shadow floods into them. Here’s what that lets them do.

Castle Moves

Simple and powerful, Unnatural Form lets you showcase your inhuman body’s strengths – and avoid harm in the bargain. Castle Guide is similarly effective – so long as you’re with them, the group’s attempts to travel the castle always bring them closer to their goal and you spot hidden details about the landscape. Soul Bond lets you become another character’s familiar, tapping into one of their moves and letting you always be there to help them. And finally, Child of Lilith is niche but very cool – when you have an opportunity to destroy one of the more potent minions of the castle, you can instead stay your hand and forge a lasting Covenant with them. Note that unlike other ‘recruit a minion’ abilities, this doesn’t earn you shrouds, and can form a lasting partnership with other castle denizens.

Shadow Moves

You’re already strange – how do you get stranger as the Shadow pours into you? Well, My True Form is a pretty direct route to that, letting you tap into the castle to grow new limbs and organs as your heart desires. Apparition’s Blade is the offensive counterpart, letting you shroud your weapons in the void’s hunger to slice through defences, reach across incredible distances, or whatever extra tag you prefer.

And then there’s the utility powers. With Ghost Eater you can take on the powers of minions you defeat, or sacrifice the consumed minion to hold the castle’s corruption at bay. And with Psychopomp you can use the castle-shard as a gate to far stranger places. Visit the inner landscape of someone’s psyche, the place where dead things go, or even the source of the castle – perfect for a final confrontation.

For your shadow look, you have the opportunity to truly define what your ideal self looks like. Is it more human than your form in the city, or less? Does it reflect your origins, or where you want to end up?

The Mundane World

More that the other playbooks, the Inhuman has a significant choice to make in the mundane world – how, exactly, they blend in with humanity. Are they a Pretender, trying to convince those around them they’re absolutely ordinary? Are they an Interloper living on the fringes of society, doing what they can to use supernatural powers to help humanity? Or are they a Lurker who doesn’t even try to be a normal human, instead presenting as an animal, a haunting spirit, or a fearsome monster? Whichever you choose, you’ll get advantage on checks against one clock and disadvantage on another, as you’re not quite present in society in the same way as other rebels.

Wrapping Up

The Inhuman has a unique perspective on the castle, and a key role in the crew. They can do things no-one else can, and bring their friends along for the ride. Humanity’s so crucial to Voidheart Symphony – finding the joy and beauty in everyday life, and the Inhuman gives you a great vehicle to explore that. You get to throw yourself into society from a fresh perspective, and truly work out who you want to be.

And looking at the society from a fresh perspective is something our last playbook is well familiar with. Tune in next time to hear more about the keenly perceptive Watcher!

Playbook Focus: The Provider

You’ll spend a lot of your Voidheart Symphony fighting. Facing down the Vassal’s guards in the mundane world, assaulting their minions in the castle, clashing in pitched battle with their avatar. But revolutions are built on more than violence and conflict – they’re also built on love and understanding and taking care of the weakest among us. Enter the Provider.

The Provider

Photo by Thiago Barletta

We have to care for each other. That’s the only way this becomes something that lasts.

Basics

The Provider is all about caring for others. They’re the worker at the soup kitchen, the teaching assistant trying to direct limited resources to those who most need them, the kid working two jobs and trying to keep up with school work to provide for a sick parent.

The Provider draws strength from helping others. They’re incredible in a support role, giving their friends the things they need to succeed and rescuing them from danger. Their weakness, of course, is that they’re self-sacrificing – working themselves to the bone to help others, and jumping in front of the blows that would strike their friends. To survive as part of this revolution, they’ll need friends to help share the load and take care of them too.

Inspirations: Shiki in The World Ends With You, Steven from Steven Universe, Cassie from Animorphs, Pluto from Heaven Will be Mine.

The Provider and the Crew

There are many ways to be there for others – here’s the three ones the Provider has available by default.

The Empress

The Empress is the most maternal of the Provider’s options. Your care comes from a place of authority – you make others feel like you know best, and can make them feel safe. Indeed, at least one crew member will start the game knowing they can always come to you to feel supported. The Empress covenant gives you a few useful tools to help with this. First up, your hangout move lets you give the others a project to work on – something that’ll improve their life as they understand it better. Your city move is more intensive care, salving many of your patient’s worries at cost to yourself. And in the castle, you have a spirit of care and protection haunting you, ready to offer you advice and let you know what the best solution is.

Pick the Empress if: You want to create a supportive environment for others, with many tools to ease their pain.

Temperance

Where the Empress is a top-down approach to care, Temperance is more mutualistic approach. You bring moderation, stopping your friends from going too far and bringing them up when they’re feeling low. In the city, you’re particularly good at moderating your own impulses, having a better time when you party with your friends and causing less collateral damage when you vent out the void’s power. In the castle, you can balance out Shrouds or Shadow between yourself and others, pairing nicely with the city move – you can safely vent out your own Shadow points, then bring other’s ratings down when they get too high.

Pick Temperance if: You want to mediate between your friends, and want to be protected against unintended consequences.

The Wheel of Fortune

A Provider following the Wheel of Fortune is frugal and wary, fortified against the shocks and surprises of fate and chance. In good times they stockpile, in bad times they share. They’re always aware of how luck can shift, and their hangout move lets them guide their friends away from danger or towards success depending on the whims of fate. Their city move gives them personal form of karma, building up good fortune by helping others; their castle move lets them reduce their roll results when they’re better than needed to bump failures and partial hits up to victories.

Pick the Wheel of Fortune if: You want to be buffeted against random chance or misfortune, and you’re fine with sacrificing a little now to achieve great things later.

Moves and Powers

The Castle’s power brings self-actualisation and increased strength – it’s fitting that the Provider fights back by using that power to help others.

Castle Moves

When they hit Shadow 1, the Provider has to choose how their drive to protect and nurture manifests. If you’re tempted to go heavy into Cups, you can use your talent for empathy and sorcery by tapping into the Vassal’s desires with Heart to Heart and jumping in the way of attacks with Self-Sacrificing. Alternatively, you can be less direct and lend support to the others, bolstering your Help and Stand With Me attempts with Soothing Presence so that your beneficiary is kept healthy and sane. Or with Mother Knows Best, you can verge on being an Authority, handing out advice that’ll help your fellows so long as they do exactly what you say.

You’ll have a weapon, too. If you’re looking to defend your friends, something with Stun or Hefty will let you push away your enemies and give your allies breathing room – think of a big hammer with Hefty and Brace, or a electric prod with Stun and Grazing. Or if you’re looking to keep your distance and be ready to help others, maybe something with Ranged is what you’re looking for? And then there’s the gear options you can pick from; do you want more protection with hard-wearing clothes, a bow you can use as a backup weapon, or home cooking to better help everyone else when you make camp?

Shadow Moves

And as you accept more of the castle’s powers, you become more active – not just offering advice and helping, but taking direct action against those that’d hurt your friends. Mama Bear‘s the clearest example of this – when your wards are in danger, you can lift and carry any weight for as long as it takes to keep them safe.

Tutor lines up with Heart to Heart, further augmenting Drink Deep by giving the entire party the ability to warp the castle; meanwhile Help to Heal is a great counterpart to Self-Sacrificing and Soothing Presence, letting you get rid of your own injuries when you help others. Finally, Mother of Monsters lets you bring life into the world – crafting a custom-made creature out of voidstuff. They’re more independent and wilful than the minions the Authority can sway over – you’re their parent, not their boss, even if they do love and support you.

The way you view providing and protection will manifest in your appearance, too. Think about the difference between a serene dryad in holy robes surrounded by floral wreaths and a terrifying medusa in bodyguard armour, carrying belts of potions to heal their friends.

The Mundane World

When you’re picking your Role, the question becomes: who do you provide for? Are you a Big Sibling, a Carer or a Parent, looking after someone close to you? Are you a Cleric, a Teaching Assistant or a Tender, shepherding your personal flock? Or are you a Bartender, a Medic, an EMT, helping whoever needs it in the moment?

And how does that manifest in your regular appearance? Are you practical, prepared, worn out? Are you kind, weary, intense? Think about what sort of mood you put out – would someone ask you for help, or even feel like they’re owed your assistance? Or does your look put people off, and it’s a surprise when you volunteer your aid?

Wrapping Up

The Provider is here to help, and they’re crucial to keeping your rebels in the fight. It’s definitely a support playbook, but support is invaluable in this game. It’ll give you more opportunities to nurture your covenants, and let your fellows focus on striking down the enemies. They’re earnest, practical, resilient.

So what about someone facile, impractical and flighty? How could such a creature ever help the revolution? Find out next time, when we look at the Harlequin.

Playbook Focus: The Heretic

Voidheart Symphony is a game of revolution in the shadows of the city. Who better to focus on next, then, than the Heretic?

The Heretic

Photo by Alexander Popov

Burning down the house.

Basics

The Heretic is here to bring it all down – every corrupt authoritarian, every cruel system, every watchdog more concerned with the status quo than justice.

The Heretic’s strength is independence – they’re very difficult to pin down, and skilled at operating on their own. They’re also extremely resourceful, great at cobbling together something useful in the nick of time. One weakness is that they tend to run hot – they can find it very easy to accept more and more of the castle’s power, and become vulnerable to its coercion.

Inspirations: Beat in The World Ends With You, Kanji in Persona 4, Elliot in Mr. Robot.

The Heretic and the Crew

Your revolutionary fervour doesn’t stop you playing an important role in the crew – but as always, you have a few choices for what this might be.

The Devil

A Heretic that takes after the Devil is following the path of Lucifer, constantly pushing against society’s codes and trying to shake people out of comfortable – but harmful – ways of being. They enjoy pushing other’s boundaries – but have to be careful to make amends if they go too far. Their abilities let the Heretic burn bright but burn quick, whether that’s by hugely boosting the rate at which they accumulate power in the castle, or casting aside mundane obligations that are weighing them down. Their Hangout move lets them do this to others, but they have to be careful that they respect what the other rebel wants out of the interaction. But, in counterpoint to all that, they have to pick which of the other rebels comforts them when this rock and roll revolution gets too much – they have a soft side that at least one other character has seen.

Pick the Devil if: you want to grab as much power as you can get, and help others do the same.

The Magician

The Magician supercharges the Heretic’s resourcefulness, giving them skills and tools that can blow through problems in this world or the void’s. They’re a practised and skilled individual, such that another rebel depends on their talents to get by. In the mundane world, they have the drive to pour everything into a project, impressing others and speeding the project’s completion. In the castle, they can perform literal magic, improvised rituals that can create impressive and freeform effects. And they can share these talents with the other rebels, teaching them little tricks and skills that’ll help them during the investigation.

Pick the Magician if: You want to have an answer to every situation.

The Tower

A Heretic that follows The Tower has been through absolute ruin, and after another rebel helped them put their life together they’re fearless in confronting the castle’s pressures. The skills they learned at rock bottom help them push themselves now. When they would max out a trouble gauge and be taken out, they can get a second wind to keep going. In the castle, they can get great power at a cost – automatically succeeding at a move without having to roll, but taking a deadly wound. But their Hangout move presents a challenge to their fellows – if they respect what you’re looking for your bond can grow much stronger, but if they provide unwanted assistance (or don’t take you seriously) it’ll cause problems down the line.

Pick the Tower if: You want to survive and endure, no matter what.

Moves and Powers

As the Shadow flows into them, the Heretic becomes what they always wanted to be – an avenger ready to bring down the castle and its servants. Each of their moves plays into their themes of mobility, independence and disruption in different ways, letting you pick what kind of spanner in the works you want to be.

Castle Moves

First up, Free Running. As a Heretic, you do your best work when you’re free and mobile – this helps greatly with that, letting you keep momentum as you move and avoid your enemies as you do so. You can chain multiple Flow Like Water attempts together so long as the dice favour you, or turn that momentum into a successful Dodge and pull your enemies out of position.

And if you take Hey, Asshole! you can get great use out of that momentum, because your opponent will definitely want a piece of you. This move makes you an excellent antagonist, getting under the skin of your enemies and forcing them to deal with you. The better able you are to understand them, the more you can mess with them, disrupting their attacks and weakening their defences.

But maybe you want to lever your understanding in other ways. Radical Empathy lets you get under their skin by showing mercy, getting valuable information on your true target and even recruiting them to your side. The void’s creations aren’t inherently evil – we’ll see that when we get to the Inhuman – and a Heretic that heavily invests in this move can end up building a whole shadow revolution in the castle.

Finally, Resourceful helps the Heretic always have an answer to the situation, even if it might be a little lacking in places. No matter how hard-pressed you are, a rifle through your pockets will turn up something.

Shadow Moves

And as you gain shrouds and your Shadow rises, your Heretic’s toolbox will unfold. If you’re focuses on mobility and up-front antagonism, Shadow Step and A Shadow Like a Mirror are ripe for use. They’ll let you dart around the battlefield from shadow to shadow, and leave duplicates behind that let you play a shell game with your true position. If you’re focused on getting under your enemy’s skin, Subversive Whisper is incredible – so long as you get the drop on their minions you can sow discord in their ranks. And Avenger’s Resolve keeps you in the fight as your friends fall, encouraging you to hurl yourself into danger early because you know you’ll be able to recover.

And your appearance will change, too. Will you become a terrifying outlaw hurling promethean fire flanked by pyrotechnics? A macabre punk performer with a skull face and your own illusory backing dancers? A shadow-twisting assassin revelling in your ideal gender and daring haters to gaze on your gorgon visage? Find out in play!

The Mundane World

The Authority is guaranteed to have a relationship with power, and so is the Heretic – but in a very different way. Every one of their roles puts them in some kind of opposition to society’s rules. Your main question, then, is whether you fight for a cause like the Activist and the Thinker, push against society’s laws like the Hoodlum and the Thief, or try and find safety for yourself and others like the Runaway and the Scene Mom.

There’s also the question of how that’s all reflected in your mundane appearance. Do you wear your work uniform grudgingly, defiance in your eyes? Do you stand out with clashing fashion, daring others to comment? Or if your identity is hidden away from others by a mask or other concealment, who will you reveal it to?

Wrapping Up

The Heretic is a fire you can’t stamp out, the whisper of a better world in the back of your mind, a lighthouse pushing back the darkness even as they burn themselves as fuel. What will you do with yours?

And tune in next time when we look at someone completely different – the nurturing, empathetic and resolute Provider.

Playbook Focus: The Authority

As the Voidheart Symphony kickstarter ticks along, I’ll be writing in-depth analyses of each of the character options you have available to you. First up, the Authority!

The Authority

Building a better kingdom.

Basics

The Authority knows that they’re not just up against individual bad apples – they’re fighting a pervasive system of oppression and control. That’s more than one person can fight, so they’ll need a movement. And if there’s a movement, someone needs to build it, guide it, lead it. Only temporarily, of course.

The Authority’s strengths are leadership, control, and insight into other’s actions. Their weakness is that their abilities largely benefit their allies instead of themselves – isolate them from their followers and supporters, and their ability to resist the castle drops dramatically.

Inspirations: Morpheus in The Matrix, King Mob in The Invisibles, Makoto in Persona 5.

The Authority and the Crew

Like every playbook, the Authority has three options for their crew covenant, all focusing on the question: what does the crew mean to them?

The Emperor

If you pick The Emperor, you’re in some way a formal leader of the group. Indeed, at least one of the other rebels works for you in some way!1 The Emperor gives you plentiful tools to help the others, so long as they accept your authority. When they spend time with you, you can offer them the support of your organisation to aid their projects, giving you some measure of control over their project’s outcome. In the city, you can keep the castle’s influence at bay, so long as you are willing to reject all the ways society has defined you. And in the castle, you can give up an opportunity to hurt a foe in order to blunt their claws and control their actions.

Pick the Emperor if: you want to guide the other rebel’s actions and be an insightful leader.

Justice

If you pick Justice, the group is instead your tool to redress great injustices and bring the powerful to account. Even before your story started, you had helped at least one other rebel escape an injustice – or bring vengeance to one who had wounded them. As a part of the crew, you give the others insight into the pulse of the city. When they spend time with you, they can look through cases or meet those experiencing injustice, and learn more about the actions of their opponents. In the city, you can appeal to the better nature of those sworn to protect society – forming an empathetic connection to them instead of relying on your status. Finally, in the castle, you can pull your group together in a collective effort, using an adversary’s crimes to spur your fellows into action.

Pick Justice if: you want a set of tools to help you uncover injustice, and set the world to rights.

The Hierophant

Finally, if you pick the Hierophant, your authority is spiritual, philosophical, academic. You provide advice and support to the others, and when they hang out with you and ask for your advice they’ll find it extremely helpful if followed. As a Heirophant, you’re a member of a prestigious group – maybe a think tank, an order of clergy, an artist collective. When you use this group to open doors in the city, it helps you overcome slander against your reputation, though failure here can harm the group. And in the castle? You’re far better able to understand the metaphysics of that place and to understand what the artefacts there mean to the Vassal, and you gain insight into the castle’s layout every time you use your will to reshape it.

Pick the Heirophant if: you want to be respected and respectable, acting in an advisory role.

Moves and Powers

Once you defeat your first Vassal, and seize their power for your own, you’ll have moves to pick from. This is another chance for you to define what kind of authority you’ll be. Will you concentrate on augmenting your ally’s actions by knocking the foes off-balance with First in the Fray and making effective plans with Tactical Genius? Will you instead exert control over your opponents, guiding their actions and laying traps with And Next You’ll Say…? If you do so, remember to make your predicted action something that’ll benefit you in some way so that their choice is lose/lose for them and win/win for you. Or, will you be a generalist and grab Inspiring Healer, passively benefiting your allies whatever you succeed at whatever else you were doing?

And as you gather shrouds and raise your Shadow, what will you then become? Your Shadow look will help you define what the ideal of authority looks like to you – a divine intercessor? A cosmic scholar? A being of elegance and beauty with mirrored eyes and haute couture? Feel free to define and redefine your image of authority, as your shadow waxes and wanes.

And then there’s Shadow moves. The Authority who leads from the front will get plentiful use from War Cry to stay in the fight, and the Authority who enjoys commanding the battle can use Just You and Me to trap the opponent and Heroic Intervention to disrupt their ability to hurt the other rebels. Finally, Voice of Command lets you flip the castle’s minions to serve you instead – fighting alongside you, helping you offscreen, or acting as sacrificial armour. You may note you can only use this ability once per delve, but it says nothing about the minion stopping serving you if they happen to survive. Whether they fade away with their Vassal’s defeat, or linger as your own minion from that point on, I leave as a matter for you and your Architect!

The Mundane World

Finally, there’s who you are in the mundane world. Across your options for your role and your contacts, there’s a tension – you are certainly in control of something, but you’re very likely not in definite control of it. You may have rivals trying to undermine your authority, greater powers offering you training or power so long as you serve them, students and apprentices seeking to learn from you.

And as for your particulars – are you scrappy and overworked? Pristine and authoritative? Ruthless and waving your authority round like a badge? What challenges will you face as an authority marginalised because of their gender, sexuality, race, religion? Or, alternatively, what challenges will you face as an authority trying to push against society’s orthodoxy when you’re precisely the kind of person it supports?

As you play, try to work out what it is that you’re building. Is it a movement? A school of philosophy? A corporation? An organisation? How will you feel the call of the Void, as more and more people owe you their fealty? How will you nurture the World, if doing so means accepting that your authority is specific and limited and you need to learn from others?

Wrapping Up

So, that’s the Authority – the different directions you can take the playbook, and the questions it’ll ask you as you play. Remember that you can check out the Kickstarter here, and download the newest release of Voidheart Symphony from my itch.io page.

Tune in next time, when we’ll be looking at the chaos to the Authority’s order: The Heretic!


1: It’s important to note that the questions you ask the others when picking your crew covenant can be answered by more than one rebel!

Voidheart Symphony hits Kickstarter October 16th!

​Hey folks! Just a quick note to let you know that Voidheart Symphony will be crowdfunding in three weeks – launching on Kickstarter on the 16th of October and running until the 15th of November. The campaign will help us fund more art, an expanded book, a tarot deck of covenant cards, and a physical print run of the book – I’m very excited to see what we’ll be able to put together with your help.

A picture of the draft Voidheart Kickstarter page

I’m planning on offering the following rewards:

  • Digital version of the book and all stretch goals.
  • A hardcover, full-colour print book.
  • A deck of tarot-sized cards, one for each of the Covenants.
  • Opportunities to put your own custom content in the game: example contacts for the covenants, vassals for rebels to confront, and and more!

The itch.io page will get a final pre-kickstarter update before the game launches – I’m planning on including major revisions to the investigation moves, an example Vassal and their castle shard, and fill out more of the guidance for the Architect.

I’m also looking into hiring more writers to flesh out the game’s breadth of viewpoints. This is a game about ​building communities and pushing back against oppressive power structures, and I’d say it deserves more than a single white British middle class lady’s perspective. Keep an eye out on the UFO Press twitter​/facebook​/website ​to hear more in the next few weeks!

Thanks so much for your support so far! I’d love to here any feedback you have on the game, either sent in to jay@ufopress.co.uk or on our Discord​. I want this book to have a big healthy list of playtesters at the front – send in your own play reports to get your name in the book.

Oh, and you’re listening to The League Presents: Voidheart Symphony​, right?  I’m about to put up a new episode today that’s our first complete delve, and I’m really looking forward to seeing where it goes.

– Jay