TL;DR: Best Left Buried is a horror-fantasy game that tracks a dungeoneering party’s descent from fresh-faced recruits to grizzled veterans. You can buy it here: https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/254584
Bear with me, this goes on a tangent. I wanted to do something more than shameless promotion, so you get a blog article on something I think that is important in RPGs, but often overlooked in game design.
It is my opinion that many RPGs suffer from being overly generic in terms of genre and journey. D&D is a great example of this. You can use it to run (and this is a quote from the 5e DMG) games set in: Heroic Fantasy, Sword and Sorcery, Epic Fantasy, Mythic Fantasy, Dark Fantasy, Intrigue, Mystery, Swashbuckling, War, or Wuxia. It tries to hit a lot of notes, and while this gives it broad appeal and makes it very marketable, it also has downsides.
Good systems should try to sell a genre, or, better even, try to sell a journey.
The best new roleplaying game I have read in the last year is Blades in the Dark. It tries to run a gloompunk heist game and every rule in the book is designed to do exactly that. The planning flashbacks, the downtime rules, the gang playbook, the Stress/Vice system all turns Blades into a bullet that hits the target right in the bullseye.
A lot of people recognise this and try to pitch to a narrow scope of genre or gameplay style, but Blades does everything it can to carve out a singular feeling. That feeling is being Tommy Shelby from Peaky Blinders or Corvo Attano from Dishonoured or whatever heisty protagonist you are trying to nail.
Video games also sell feelings. Nothing beats sprinting around as the Doom Marine nailing demons with a shotgun, riding through Hyrule on a horse, or that “One More Turn” vibe that the good Civilisation games pump your veins full of.
What is this feeling that Dungeons and Dragons tries to hit? Was there an emotion or experience they were aiming for? Maybe there’s an art to that, leaving a system open an letting those emotions appear in play, but I honestly think Wizards didn’t even know. I think Gygax knows what he wanted from his game, but Mike Mearls certainly didn’t
Now, back to my stuff.
Best Left Buried is designed to run a specific style of game and give that same feeling. I realise now, but I tried to write a fantasy game and wrote a horror game with a fantasy setting.
The journey is fairly singular. The characters start off as badass adventurers, but then become destroyed by everything that lives in the dungeon.
Dungeoneering is a terrible career path. I discussed this in my first ever blog post. You go into the earth and fight monsters, deal with traps and get covered in mud and worse. You sometimes get rich, but you usually end up dead first.
Through their journey, they would see all of this crazy shit in the bowels of the dungeon. They would be cut down by the monsters, or at very least left with weird insanity and crippling injuries. I wanted to plot this journey from a fresh newcomer to a grizzled survivors with PTSD and a pegleg.
The came was originally called Descent, plotting both the descent of the characters into the dungeon both physically and spiritually. We also called it Crypt for a while, the environment where all of insanity was found. I eventually settled on "Best Left Buried", after dreaming up the tagline:
"There are things that dwell in the Crypt and some are Best Left Buried."
The end of the journey for our adventurers is death or worse. Eventually, as the injuries, insanities and mutations stack up, the character will become little better than the monsters they fight.
That’s the journey I’m trying to sell. That’s the journey of Best Left Buried.