Better Left Buried

Best left buried is a rules-light fantasy heartbreaker that seems to want to be the sidekick of Lamentations of the Flame Princess. It makes a big deal about how going into dungeons is a terrible idea and how nothing but death awaits those foolish enough to do it.

Okay, these are interesting points, but the game relies on characters wanting to do it, there's literally nothing else in the rules system. What happens if in the first session the characters get to the entrance of the deep and dangerous caves and then do turn back? What the game lacks is the motivation as to why the adventurers enter the dungeon despite the danger. You're expected to find dungeoneering compelling despite it clearly not being any kind of long term proposition.

Into the Odd, for example, deals with this a bit better by making the rewards, in the form of magical items, concomitant with the risks.

The copy-editing of the book is poor with repeated sections and grammatical errors. I'm not especially bothered but there are a lot of other games in this genre that don't have these mistakes so the feel is somewhere between an amateur and professional product without the charm of the former or the clarity of the latter.

The game mechanics uses three stats and a similar mechanism to PbtA games where you are trying to roll over 9 on 2d6 to achieve what you want. Stats added to the base die roll. Advantage and Disadvantage (by other names) can be applied to rolls.

To give players a bit more agency and to avoid bathetic failures there is an attribute called Grip that allows re-rolls.

The slightly brutal thing about Grip is that it also fuels supernatural abilities and can be eroded by bizarre or unnatural experiences as well as powering your re-rolls. So there's a lot of things that call on it but it is hard to refresh. The key way you get it back is by running out and having your character develop delusions or compulsive behaviours, after which your Grip points refresh.

Initially these disorders are easier to resist but the more times you need to refresh the harder the behaviours become to resist.

Just from reading the rules it feels all characters are on a pretty aggressive downward spiral and I wonder again what the incentive is to keep playing an increasingly deranged and unhappy character compared to retiring them and take on a new character.

The game actually mechanically encourages this as your character doesn't really massively change as a result of experience. They get an additional hit point and a point of Grip, which as I've pointed out already amounts to one re-roll.

All character abilities are open to all characters at the start of the game and they don't really seem to interplay so there's not a massive difference between characters that get a lot of play investment and those that are fresh.

Clever bits

The combat system uses three d6, two of the dice have to be used to try and meet the target number to hit the target while the third becomes the damage dice.

Should the damage of an attack be higher than six then it results in a critical as well so good rolls or the ability to improve your ability to land blows has a lot of mechanical satisfaction to it.

Some of the sub-systems that require Grip to fuel damage provider a multiplier to damage based on the Grip spent to avoid a double whammy of a high-spend attack resulting in an outcome no different from a low spend one. That's a good idea but it's an indication of the patch and mend approach to the rules design where the fundamentals are a bit weak and if the patches aren't applied consistently then the game systems get a bit broken.

Monsters are handled in an interesting way that rejects the "creature catalogue" zoo approach in favour of unique unnamed creatures that have an emphasis on the inhuman and truly monstrous.

Instead of stats a process is provided for either mapping the vision you have for the creature into mechanics or creating a mechanical of challenge with the right feel or colour of the creature you're imagining.

If you want to draw from existing bestiaries though there is also a formula for converting Hit Die based creatures into the games mechanics.

The game also has its take on "Iconic Characters" by having some distinctive characters appear in it's art and examples.

Final thoughts

Any fantasy rules system with a retro bent or dungeoneering focus needs to explain why it exists and why someone should play it rather than anything else. Better Left Buried struggles to answer that question clearly.

It's rules-light, it's not directly indebted to d20 systems or Dungeons and Dragons but consequently has an ambiguous relationship to the implied background that those games have.

Dungeon crawling is dangerous and characters are constantly in physical and mental danger. None of the inhuman monsters seem to pose a direct threat to human society. There are no unique rewards to delving.

There is no wider political or cultural situation for the characters to be part of. Any fantasy trope is welcome here with no particular reason for anything to exist or not exist.

It's rules light and has some interesting ideas but it is also a complex game with some entwined and involved sub-systems that threaten not so much to mesh and snarl up on one another.

I could see myself playing the game but probably at the instigation of others rather than pushing for it myself.


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