Spire Review

Disclaimer: I backed Spire’s Kickstarter campaign.

Spire (DriveThruRPG affiliate link) is a fantasy-punk (for lack of a better genre) roleplaying game designed by Grant Howitt and Christopher Taylor. The game is beautifully dark, focusing on cadres of drow forming resistance cells against high elf (aelfir) authoritarians ruling the titular Spire.

Ultimately, some of the difficulty of adequately reviewing Spire is the complexity of its narrative and the problem with putting it into words without stripping away the wonder and joy of a first experience with the setting. Spire’s setting is wonderfully complex, a thinking person’s setting with both massive systemic struggles between authority and resistance and small personal battles on every front.

Every part of the world feels interconnected, but each has its own distinctive feel to it. Reality around Spire is warped and distorted, and the world’s pantheons are innumerable. The result is a setting with surreal elements that does not overwhelm. Familiar tropes and conventions are played with, ignored, subverted, deconstructed, and played straight in ways that encourage explorers of Spire to find themselves in sublime and beautiful places.

All of this happens in a world that feels so deep you will have a hard time believing that Spire is as short a document as it is (and plans for future content are out there). Character creation builds the setting; characters are tied into their struggle with the choice of durance, a sort of indentured labor to the aelfir. The advancement is class-based, but the experience is far different from what you would find with D&D.

Rather, classes advance largely in a narrative fashion. Advance occur when characters accomplish acts of changing the world (for better or for worse; unintended consequences are a pivotal point in the game). Each advancement can come with a direct impact on the character’s attributes, but almost all come with more significant story-related consequences.

The core mechanic is complicated enough to allow characters to feel quite diverse; a player rolls a number of d10’s based on how skilled they are (minus a penalty for very difficult action), and want to receive the highest result possible to avoid taking stress.

The result is a system that feels incredibly natural and smooth to play. Not only is success instantly recognized (without having to consult any references to tables or mathematics), the system actively creates a healthy amount of risk to any dangerous action.

This is a game that’s fun to play, easy to learn, and gets out of the way of the storytelling when it needs to. The writing is sublime, and the art creates a mood and tone that is, to my knowledge, unrivaled in any other tabletop roleplaying game. The designers suggest looking to Fallen London or Sunless Sea for inspiration, but I feel that Spire has surpassed its inspirations and source material.

This game is a work of art. I have reviewed hundreds of games, and only rarely have I been able to make that statement wholeheartedly. It is one of very few games I can suggest without reservation. It is worth every cent of its price.

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