Few characters I can think of have had to eat as much shit as Offred, the protagonist of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Yet she endures, somehow always able to count on a pool of resilience to keep her alive, her soul (semi) intact. The book and the show are a gruelling dystopian nightmare but it’s her resilience that kept me coming back for yet another serving of misogynist, broken glass stew. I like a survivor. So, strangely enough, it was Offred I had in mind while reading the Best Left Buried Zini Edition (for a review of the full edition, I , once again, recommend Ben Milton’s take).
Best Left Buried falls into the same camp as Torchbearer – fantasy rpgs that recognize that the life of an adventurer, well, sucks. Let’s face it, you’re a grave robber and a murderer, kicking in the door of some poor bastard monster’s home, killing them, and taking their stuff. Sure, maybe there are noble heroes out there righting wrongs, but you are sure as shit not one of them.
The zini edition is composed of five mini zines, four double-column pages each, covering character creation, advancements, playing the game, consequences and monsters. It’s a misery sampler plate, giving you enough material to get a taste of the game and hopefully convincing you to buy the full version. But there’s enough here to get you rolling.
From a gameplay point of view, it’s heavily influenced by 3rd generation OSR games like Maze Rats – three core attributes, advantage/disadvantage mechanics, random equipment, roll 9+ to succeed etc. There are classes like Cut Throat and Dastard to choose from which grant certain traits, and levelling earns you Advancements (think Feats) that give you new ways to deal with the horrors awaiting you underground. So far, nothing you’re probably not used to if you’re attracted to the OSR.
The secret sauce is Grip. And it’s Grip that kept making me think of Offred.
Grip is a mix of stamina, mana and sanity that is depleted by the blotter-acid bad trip terrors you have to endure on your adventures, or is spent to activate your advancements. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. As the rules say:
“Grip does not regenerate over time. It is not recovered by long rests or spa trips.”
So, like, suck it 5e.
In order to keep from completely melting down you can replenish your Grip by electing to get Afflictions. I love the Afflictions because they sound like awesome Darkthrone albums: “Despair of Worthlessness”, “Hoardlust”, “Love of the Dirt”. There are three flavours of Afflictions – character flaws which mostly affect roleplaying, growing afflictions that can get worse over time (I’m quite fond of “Man Eater” because: cannibalism) and Special Afflictions like Unholy Communion where some dark spirit is constantly fucking with your program. Over time your adventurer is going to get more and more broken which I find narratively and mechanically more interesting than being some blue-eyed paladin with exceptional hygiene and a clear conscience.
Now, to suck away all that precious Grip you need dope monsters. There is no bestiary so you’re going to have to make them yourself. But you’ve got some great stuff to work with. Check this out:
“Beetle Flesh: When killed the monster turns into a swarm of rats, bats, worms or insects. Unless this swarm is destroyed, the monster reforms in D6 days.”
Listen, Best Left Buried is not going to be for everyone but if you like your grimdark metal as hell, you’re going to dig it (see what I did there?)