Grim Fantasy with Blood and Bone
What Do You Need to Know?
Blood and Bone (BnB) spouts “Game of Thrones meets Dungeons and Dragons” as its tagline. It is a dark and gritty new fantasy RPG with interesting mechanics and a vibrant setting.
The core mechanics are streamlined and easy to learn. But they are still complicated enough to make gameplay and character advancement engaging. BnB is a classless and skill-based system.
It smells like D&D 5e in a “give me the same - but different” vein. Mechanics lean towards combat and giving characters enough options to shine in such situations. It features a classic distribution of narrative rights.
The world appeals with a dark tone and flavorful descriptions. Player characters can have supernatural Blood powers, although the game claims to be without magic.
Blood and Bone (BnB) is an 89-pages beautifully illustrated color PDF. Get it for USD $9.99 HERE. A hardcover version is also available.
Bookkeeping Notes: The links on this page are affiliate links, which means that if you choose to make a purchase, I will earn a commission. This commission comes at no additional cost to you. Please do not spend any money on these products unless you feel you need them.
I received a complimentary PDF copy for writing this article.
This is a reading review!
Character Creation and Core Mechanics
BnB features a simple D20 system: roll 1d20 + Skill Die (None to 1d12) + Attribute (0 to 5). The game uses the well-known Advantage/Disadvantage mechanism.
Characters have five sets of factors: Beliefs, Complications, Attributes, Skills, and Traits.
I like the ideas of Beliefs as they give characters a strong vibe. The word choice itself is a bit misleading though.
This Belief combines an “Idea”(My family is weak. ) With “What” the Character will do about it (I must lead it if it is to prosper.) And “How” the Character intends to do it (I must earn the favor of the Lord Thorn.)
For me, that’s more of a conflict, and motivation combined with an action. Beliefs are wordy, and they demand that players front-load character development.
You then distribute points on Attributes and Skills. There are five primary Attributes which also yield three derived Combat Attributes. Skills have ranks like Novice or Expert.
Select a Complication, choose three Traits. Traits are one of the fundamental sources to set apart your character. There are no classes, and thus Traits offer mechanical benefits and uniqueness.
Your character should fit within the campaign premise. Examples include Party of Raiders or Contingent of Royal Guards. I applaud the idea. But it’s unfortunate that the game mechanically only supports action-oriented Sword & Sorcery fantasy.
The only thing that sets combat apart from the rest of play is that exact turn order matters. All Characters must act in this sequence.
Combat ends when one side is no longer able or willing to fight. It is not always about being the last man standing. Sometimes combat is about survival or escape. It can end in surrender, retreat, or the first blood drawn in a duel.
Combat seems traditional as it has rounds and turn order like in D&D. On your turn, you make an action. This action is usually a Skill check, for example, a Fighting Skill check or a Blood Skill check. Contrary to D&D, distances are loose.
I appreciate the fact that the Mind attribute plays a role in determining initiative. It is a refreshing departure from the sole focus on Dexterity as a bonus for acting fast in a turn order.
Armor is interesting. Armor = Evasion + Armor Rating + Traits
Malik’s Armor extends from 12-16. He has 12 Evasion, and an Armor Bonus of 4 from his scale mail. Any attacks that meet or exceed his Evasion but fall within this range are mitigated.
If an attack beats Evasion but fails to beat Armor, you half the number of Wounds you get. Characters die when they have a number of Wounds equal to their Vitality. Most successful Fighting or Archery attacks with weapons inflict one Wound.
There are rules for critical damage. A Major Wound equals two standard Wounds.
Malik’s Player rolls 1d20 +3 +1d8 for his Fighting Skill Check with an axe. Since Malik has a Strength of 3, he knows he inflicts Major Wounds on 17+. So if the d20 lands on 17, 18, 19 or 20, and his attack succeeds, Malik will have inflicted a Major Wound.
That means that a higher core attribute results in a higher chance to land a critical blow.
The authors took time to write an entire section on how to narrate combat. It’s clear that they intend the game to feel descriptive.
“Magic” and Other Stuff
There are optional rules for wilderness adventures: foraging, Waystones, extreme temperature. So the book is quite complete. BnB also has rules for Apothecary. I love that! For example, Shadow Root enhances night vision. Finding a herb and brewing an elixir are skill checks with CR (Challenge Ratings).
So, magic? The game claims to have no magic, and in some sense it is true. But BnB characters have Blood, a kind of superpower:
Humankind possesses a strange and terrible gift — the Blood. Blood is the powerful hereditary ability to manipulate the forces of life and death at will.
Blood is a defining force in the world of Ossura. Its inherent existence is essential to each of the unique cultures of the world. It is a core pillar of almost all aspects of society, shaping the faces of religions, economies, political regimes, and military forces.
You can access these via Traits and Abilities. You must choose the Blooded Trait as one of your three starter Traits. Abilities cost you a Trait slot. This sounds like a serious investment, as a character can only have 12 Traits total. It also ensures that non-Blooded characters are equally robust. They can choose more Traits than a Blooded character.
Power holds Blooded Abilities in check. Only Blooded Characters have Power. These are like mana points; you need to spend Power to activate a Blooded Ability.
The book comes with a detailed world setting with inspirations from different real-world influences (Vikings, Ancient Mediterranean societies, Middle Age Nobility). But you also have a society who revere the undead and who use them as their servants and in their armies. So there is a dark tone in BnB.
I enjoy how inclusive the setting is. For example, in the Abkhazi society, men and women are equal. And there are same-sex relationships.
All in all, the setting is not focused on one source (e.g., Tolkienesque Fantasy, or 1001 Arabian Nights). It mixes several ideas.
Artwork and Layout
The artwork is amazing. It also includes strong female characters (no chain-mail bikinis) and a few people of color. The look and layout remind of D&D 5e. The background looks like cream-colored paper. Printing this out will be a pain.
The PDF offers a complete game and setting at 89 pages. But it has no digital bookmarks and no hyperlinks.
It’s difficult for me to judge this without playing it but I like what I see:
- BnB has a streamlined system with no classes. The customization options for the player characters and the game system look like they will make a fun experience
- I like how one combat roll informs you about a successful hit, incorporates the armor rating and how many wounds you have inflicted. Combat is fast.
- The skill system looks workable, e.g., you need to broaden out to increase your skill ratings - one-trick ponies are not possible. I like how Thievery encapsulates sleight of hand and pickpocketing. So everyone can disarm traps or listen on doors. But dungeoneering doesn’t seem to feature strongly in this game anyway.
- Character creation is front-loaded. You need to create a detailed background with Beliefs etc. That is not so good for emergent play but offers hooks for the Game Master.
- The authors used plenty of examples to clarify rules except for Healing. It is intentionally open to accommodate different playing styles. Is it too vague to be a useful guideline?
- It has some ideas from story games. For example Tenacity: a meta-currency as a dissociated mechanism, rewarded when you play according to your Beliefs or Complications.
- There are still “superpowers” in the game, although the authors don’t call it magic.
- Tere is a “Saga variant”: players create several PCs but only play one per session.
- NPCs look quite detailed, so I’m not sure how much work it is for the Game Master to come up with them. NPCs have traits like PCs, that means I need to learn all the Traits as a GM or write them down on the NPC sheet.
- The game supports the standard fantasy play style. While the game says you can create “Court of Scheming Nobles” as a campaign premise, there are no game mechanisms for intrigue or social conflicts. I wonder how that fits into the promise that it is like Game of Thrones?
- I appreciate how dark the setting is: you gain Blooded power when others die, you can use poison and Apothecary, the Tarn use undead servants and soldiers, etc.
- Kudos for including an example adventure.
P.P.S. Here is the link for Blood and Bone again.