On December 31st, I ran a one-shot game, a session of Baal's Bonepunk. In accordance with a madcap, light style I prepared little beyond the premise and allowed myself a bit more freedom than usual in adjudicating the game. We guessed and contradicted ourselves in terms of what sorts of technology was commonplace, and we didn't feel bad about it. This was the opening crawl:
We are the people of San Holofernes, a city with no sky.
We are a religious people, who uphold the truth of the Canonikon Scroll. It is so holy, we are not allowed to gaze upon its laws. Compliance is compulsory.
Our gnosticators teach that the evil of the Adv*rsary corrupted the gift of God’s life, and that our distance from God is the reason we are dead. Only with self-denial and obedience to the Parliament can we hasten the day when we are reborn.
The Parliament represents the people. Anyone can claim a seat, as long as they have the independent wealth that makes them incorruptible against bribery and greed. They select among their sons the leaders of the Noble Army.
The Noble Army is comprised of all who do not choose to be independently wealthy, and it is led by the bravest among us. All in the military have seen the monstrosity the gnosticators warn of, save the highest rank which must keep an unblemished mind.
But tonight, a crowd of “soldiers” on shore leave have declared their rebellion. They have no plan, no supplies, and no leaders. They will surely by crushed by the week’s end.
You are those rebels : (
- Dead-Delver, playing gilded former guard
- Dogleaf, playing a former knight with a saint scrimshawed on his skull
- purplecthulhu, playing a gamewarden with a remotely viewing eye
- Ren, playing a ratcatcher that believes himself to be a ghost
- SunderedWorldDM, playing a skeletal former gardener
To start things off, I had each player establish one fact about the neighborhood that their rebellion had seized. So it came that the party, along with about 40 other rebels, was hiding in the bombed ruins of a glow-in-the-dark paint factory. This rebellion was introduced to the players as leaderless, so I opened the floor to anyone to try to propose step two of the Revolution. When no player jumped immediately in (foreseeable since everyone was getting acclimated,) I had two rebels suggest two courses of actions. The zealous Luca proposed marching through the city streets, telling The People to rise up. The cautious Santiago suggested getting supplies. As some members of the party tossed around the idea of getting fertilizer from a farm on the edge of the city, something fell through the ceiling.
Covered in dust and surrounded by corrugated plastic, a ten-year-old girl lay disoriented on the ground. Amazingly, she seemed to have all her flesh and be in all ways normal and living. The party knew that the existence of someone untouched by necrotic energy was a threat to the legitimacy of the regime. Looking up, they saw the hole in the ceiling of the city from which this girl, Evey, fell. As one PC explained to Evey the world she found herself in, purplecthulhu tried to fire an arrow carrying his eye into the hole above, hoping to glimpse heaven. The dart fell short and landed outside the factory, where he saw a gargoyle police inspector leading a team of government soldiers towards the building.
Alerting his comrades, they set a quick trap before fleeing. The party led Evey and about twenty rebels into the sewers where they knew they would not be easily followed. Rolling well for encounters, Ren's ratcatcher led them capably to an underground concourse and from there to the farm they sought. As they went, they discussed what to do with Evey and agreed to help her get home, though their comrade Luca demanded that she do her best to secure them weapons when they got to the surface. By this point, the rebels refer to her strictly as "the messiah."
Through a convenient sewer grate, they spy the farm. Like all farms, it is under military occupation, with towers surmounted by skull searchlights and fences that resembled neuron webs. Sundered's character offered to sneak onto the compound and turn off electricity feeding into these, but failed to account for the neural fence being electrified. As the searchlights shrieked, he ran for the electricity booth, dodging crops of unexplained corpse-hands before flipping the main switch. With the defenses offline but the soldiery alerted, a battle quickly ensued.
I didn't want to adjudicate a full-scale battle, so I abstracted the fight between the soldiers and the NPC rebels, electing instead to throw a zombie bear at the party. This beast of burden emerged from the farm's stable (as well as an example statblock in the host's section of Ball's rulebook.) If I had thought to, I could have simply represented the guards as members of the Horde class and done likewise for the rebels, but this went pretty well. Interpreting the combat rules as best I could, I essentially had each attack take the form of an opposed roll, which meant people hit fairly often but that when they didn't there was no result. I now believe that attacking shouldn't be opposed, just given a penalty for truly tough opponents, or else that failed attacks result in your potentially taking damage. Both would be in keeping with the fast-paced, high-impact ethos Baal describes in the rules, and I suspect the way Baal runs combats would probably not have this potential problem.
Triumphant against the soldiery and the zombie bear, the rebels freed the farm-workers, who were literally chained to their beds. They also recovered a (randomly rolled) exoskeleton called a Mule Framework, which Sundered would put to good use. Evey emerged from her hiding place in a nearby dumpster, excited at the bravery she witnessed, and the rebels got to business planning their next move. Taking stock of the materials at hand, they realized they could blow their way through the city's ceiling with three successive charges of fertilizer-based bombs, and thereby get the messiah home and free themselves from the tyranny of San Holofernes forever.
After the first blast, purplecthulhu's character's eye, still outside the factory, perceived mercenaries with dog-faced laser rifles turn and rush towards the farm, followed by a gilded rhinoceros skeleton, filled with organs and organ-grinder machine guns. Rebels hurried to climb up to plant the second charge, but by the time it was set the soldiers had arrived. A pitched battle began, with some player characters aiding in the bloodbath and some scurrying to detonate the bombs, scale up, detonate the third, and hurry through the hole to the surface.
A lot of small moments occurred around this time. One PC confessed his love for Luca before getting seriously injured by a laserburn, fall, and rockfall that destroyed the rhino skeleton. Another was surprised to face his own brother with a laser-rifle, tragically raised to oppose all that they once loved. Another struggled to lift himself up the hole despite his heavy artificial frame. In the end, all but two escaped, and I allowed those stragglers a single roll to see if they survived the battle, since the session was wrapping up. With luck, both survived.
Joining the rest of the party on the surface, they felt the wind on their bones, cooling the warm smile of a sun. Evey took one PC by the hand and led the group to an old house on a hill, from which they could hear music from an old record player-- not one made of bones or anything, just like a normal record player. They found Evey's parents and, while the party bowed to the "angels," she apologized to them for running out of her cousin's quinceanera and they apologized for not taking her seriously. Some kind of lesson was learned.
Evey's father eyed the party warily, despite her assurances. As she explained all about the tyranny of the city below, he tried to brush it all off as not his family's problem. But citing the lessons we all just learned, about taking things seriously and answering problems when they arise, Evey insisted. Her father took out his cell phone, extended its extendable antenna, and called the mayor.
We don't yet know what happens to San Holofernes, to Evey, or to those Bonepunks who found the living world. But I like to think that there are good things in store.
This game was a big success. The main system feels so nice, since when you're good at something you get to roll a big die. This session was about big action, but I can easily imagine games with more sedate scenes. It would have been great to get some literally hide-bound priests or earless bureaucrats in there somewhere. In future Bonepunk games, I want to use the 100 miraculous items table more extensively to add variety to potential threats and allies. The first two appendices are also gold. Maybe the only thing that I would do against the recommendation of the book is change the experience system. By default, Bonepunk uses the gold-for-XP standard, though it does have an alternate system which also replaces classes in the appendices. I really like the classes, but I'm not sure I like gold acquisition being central to a game about overthrowing authority. But basically everything else in the book is very good. Character creation is fun and the host's chapter is exactly what I want it to be, including explicit text on what the game is about.
Please consider running a game of Bonepunk. Those of us immersed in the OSR scene read so many games that intrigue us, that we may even wish their creators will run for us. I tell you, it is a rewarding experience to play these games, to run them even if we don't totally know how, to tap into the vision of creators who we not only respect but can communicate with and share energy with. I could have run this one-shot or the one I ran two days before with one of my own systems. But it was so engaging to run in Avatar GLoG and Bonepunk, and to explore them with other people excited to do so. When someone publishes rules for their game, they're giving you permission to use all their best ideas. Please consider running a game you loved reading.