Strata (2019)

Spire does a lot of things I love. It’s got a straightforward system, its got an endlessly beguiling setting, it’s got a big pile of thoughtfulness about politics, oppression, violence and the cost of change. It makes drow cool, which is something I previously thought impossible. Strata expands on Spire, and like the best game expansions, makes the brights brighter and the darks darker. Also, lots of amazing Adrian Stone art!

Two new classes — a spy who is literally a vessel for their cover identity and a writer who can influence reality with their written words. The next section is a heaping helping of additional setting details, fleshing out ever more corners of the city, the individuals who live there, the factions they belong to and the stories they whisper to each other in hushed tones. There is so much evocative material here it is astounding. Better: it feels a bit more usable, presented with mechanical bits and plot hooks clearly marked. I loved reading the setting material in Spire, but the stuff in Strata makes me want to start throwing together a game and using it.

Which is good, because the balance of the book is scenarios. Ten of them, by different contributors, offering a good thematic selection of operations for your revolutionaries to throw themselves into. Five relate to high society and the oppressive high elves, five to the down-strata slums and warrens of the oppressed drow. They’re all interesting, but I’m fond of “Home is Where the Hatred Is,” by Helen Gould. Envisioned as a one-shot with pre-generated characters, all of whom have been living in deep cover as servants to one of the most powerful high elf families. As the scenario begins, the surveillance phase ends and the characters are tasked with killing the entire family. Though they are unrepentant oppressors, the scenario makes the mission morally complicated, robbing it of its expected wish-fulfillment and transforming it into something much more interesting.

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