Bone & Black Character Generation

filed under game design and actual play on 26 Jul 2021
tagged design, duet, and solo

For reference, this series is using Bone & Black.

Yesterday I mentioned that my favorite part of this game is the the character generation process. I also referred to how the names you pick in character generation, and add to your lists in play, define and steer your story. A couple of examples:

The tiny Mouse is a nimble assassin who questions everything (bone). Their hand brought forth the ruby dragon Gu’ninas, the scourge of Inkmul; in return they endure eternal youth and health as long as the dragon lives (black). They possess the two-edged gift of a Silvertongue, and thus they do not speak unless necessary (bone).

Names: Mouse, the ruby dragon Gu’ninas, Silvertongue. Will Gu’ninas ravage the countryside? Will Mouse’s gift get her into trouble, or out of it? How exactly does it work?

Hasnt One is a sly skulker who fights without honor, only efficiency (bone). He was cursed to be a shadow by day by the black metal wizard Minasa Nin; at dusk he is restored, painfully, as long as he serves (black). He has the gift of flow, a mark of royal heritage that makes him graceful to an alarming degree (bone).

Names: Hasnt One, the black metal wizard Minasa Nin, flow. What’d he do, to get cursed? How far can he push it before his curse doesn’t revoke itself? Is he a current heir or a long-lost one? What does using flow cost?

Both of these characters are drawn from a handful of d6s and d12s, each read against the tables at the back of the book as appealed to me. For a step by step demonstration of the process, I made a third rogue; this took way longer to write out than to do!

A couple of procedure notes: I generally roll a few dice (4d6, 4d12) at a time and apply them following the process in the book to create first an approach, then a patron and patron’s boon, then a strength, using the tables that make sense to me as questions crop up, all in a very organic way. If a die’s result doesn’t feel right, I use a different one I’ve already rolled. And I only use any given die once.

The first thing I do is roll outright (3, 5) on the archetypes and the themes charts, for results of “the coarse fighter-thief who sneers at danger and has big appetites”, and “moral ambiguity & objective evil; you shape what you touch, as it shapes you”. A Conan-type, with a theme to match. A world-shaper, but one who has been impacted by his own passage. An ambiguous hero, contrasting with Hasnt’s sharp-edged honor and Mouse’s embracing of the world. None of this is a character aspect, yet, but it will help me frame my character as I build, and has already helped me flesh out my two earlier characters a bit.

Then I take my pre-rolled d6s and d12s, and look at the approaches on page 16, applying the first couple of d6s (1, 5) to get “big” and “thief”. Still consistent with our Conan, but the first d12 (12) on the approaches chart gives me “logic and deduction”. I could apply a different die, but I’m suddenly tickled by the idea of a brilliant barbarian, so I’m going with it. It plays nicely into his ambiguity, his dual nature.

The second d12 (9) gives me my patron, “is Name’s child”. I could apply a second d12 to mix up the patron and boon, but I like this line so I just go with it.

Name is a big thief who relies on logic and deduction. Is Name’s child; they share Name’s gift in smaller measure.

I roll up the patron, choosing to apply my last pre-rolled d6s (1, 8) to the creature tables, for a dragon patron (and thus parent!). I roll up a name, Tarnas, and take a moment to name this Rogue, using the name chart (3, 4) for “Ruin”.

A freshly rolled d12 (7) gives me “aesthetic”, the next a Sorcery strength (10). What kind of Sorcery are we talking about? Elements seems like a good fit, with Sorcery and dragons in play! A 1 on the element chart says we need two, the first is an emotion, and then another 1, so two more, for water and spirit. Emotion (a d6) is “love”. I take a moment to incorporate what I’ve got so far plus the motif and archetype.

Ruin is a big, handsome thief who sneers at danger even as he relies on logic and deduction (bone). He is the dragon Tarnas’s child; he shares his parent’s nature in smaller measure (black). He has the gift of Sorcery, as yet unmastered, his aspects spirit, water, and love (black).

Okay, time to refine. I want to mix in some more of the archetype, and think about how it all fits together. The concept is of an obviously “Conan” type who is secretly a brilliant “Sherlock” type, with a dash of sorcery and a lot of roguish charm. So how can I riff on that? Well, first, let’s adjust the approach a little, to reflect my concept, and remove some extraneous stuff.

Ruin is a big fighter-thief who hides his brilliantly logical and deductive mind behind a rough exterior and big appetites (bone). He is the dragon Tarnas’s child; he shares his parent’s draconic nature in smaller measure (black). He has the gift of Sorcery, as yet unmastered, his aspects spirit, water, and love (black).

I can, optionally, choose one more Name, as bone, with this setup. Right now, Sorcery is part of his parental gifts (black) and not entirely under his command. Or perhaps they make him uneasy? It seems logical to me that at least some of his aspects are actually his parent’s, and that I could roll them into the Patron’s boon (“draconic nature”), and then choose a new Strength (either bone or black). But I could also declare the Sorcery as part of his other parent’s heritage, perhaps with a bone die instead of black. Looking at it carefully, I’m also a little uncertain if I can distinguish between “draconic nature” and his sorcery gift sufficiently in play, though I really like the way he’s turning out to be a mage wearing a barbarian’s guise.

So I roll up an element for Tarnas the dragon, and I get “water”. One I already rolled, for a nice callback; instead of adding it, I’m going to shuffle that over from Ruin’s sorcery strength, as his parent’s nature (big, draconic strength, water affinity). Which leaves his “Sorcery” as spirit and love; his other parent was clearly an interesting person!

I make one more refinement pass, rephrasing a few things, and reducing “sorcery” further, down to an unmastered bloodline gift. I also shuffle the dragon’s name a bit, because the wordplay of “Tyrant” and “Ruin” appeals.

Ruin is a big fighter-thief who hides his brilliantly logical mind and deductive gifts behind a tough exterior and big appetites (bone). He is the water dragon Tantyr’s child; he shares his parent’s nature in smaller measure (black). He has not yet mastered the gifts of his other parent, a creature of spirit and love (bone).

Names: Ruin, the water dragon Tantyr, spirit & love. Are the familial bonds stronger than those of friendship? What sort of creature was Ruin’s other parent? What are gifts of spirit and love?

Whew. That really did take a whole lot longer to type up than to work out on paper. The idea is to stay flexible, and go as evocative as you can, but also keep it shallow and leave a lot of unanswered questions – those will be answered in play, if they matter, or not, if they don’t.

Next time, I’ll do a little more framing, and then start the adventure!