If you’re playing GRAVEROBBERS for the first time this spooky season, this post will hopefully ease you into part of it!
Of course, like riding a bike, the best way to learn is to just get your bum in the saddle. Definitely not to read about it on the internet. But, since you’re here already…
GRAVEROBBERS has a couple of “phases” of play it switches between. The Black Market phase involves the players prepping for a stealth mission, and the Red Moon phase is them doing the job.
The way the latter works will be familiar to anyone who’s run a rules-light OSR-style game before, while the former is very slightly different. (If you have no experience at all that’s ok too, these games don’t require any skills you haven’t already practised on the playground as a kid.)
This is an imagined play report of how a Black Market phase might go. I’ve aimed to include some of the basic things a group playing for the first time might go through, and how a moderately competent Dealer might handle things.
This Dealer is using The Bell of Blackside, an introductory pamphlet adventure, and the Bare Bones of GRAVEROBBERS, which is the basic rules. They aren’t using any additional notes or prep. You can get both pamphlets here and read along if that helps.
One final thing to note is that, of course, your players will not do any of this. They never do what you expect. So don’t expect!
BLACK MARKET PHASE - PLAY EXAMPLE
Dealer: Ok we’ve all got characters so let’s just start I guess!
Player A: I can’t believe I died five times during character creation haha
Dealer: So this is a game about, like stealth. Stealth missions. Heists and shit. So, um, what we, what you have to do first obviously is prepare for the job. This is just a one shot so I’m just going to give you a job, but obviously like, if we played more games your characters would investigate and plan their own jobs or whatever.
Player B: So we’re playing these characters?
Dealer: Yeah. So the job is that there’s basically this legendary bell. You all live in this place that’s like, fantasy London, Dickensian kind of, or like Elizabethan era. I’ll be honest, it’s not clear. But anyway there’s this legendary bell in a tower that hasn’t been rung for years. The House have it locked up. But there’s a rebellion, that’s you guys, and you’re planning to ring the bell. As a symbol to the town that change is coming.
Player A: Oh, the House is like the bad guys, from what it says here.
Dealer: Yeah exactly. They’re the people you’re trying not to get caught by while you do these stealth missions. They run the city, they’re the government and the police and everything. And you’re criminals.
Player B: Ok cool. So it’s illegal to ring this bell?
Dealer: Yeah it’s like… a symbol of the good old days or something, I guess. Basically, your job is to break into the bell tower and ring this bell.
Dealer: Like, that’s it.
Player A: Ok well my guy has a rope so-
Dealer: Oh wait, so basically first up is the Black Market phase, basically the prep phase. So you’re going to prepare for the job before you do it. But each thing you do, you have to draw a card from the deck.
Player B: This deck we took all the face cards out of.
Dealer: Yeah. So the only cards are 1 to 10, Aces count as 1. And it’s… I mean, it’s literally just blackjack. Every thing you do to prepare for the heist, you draw one card. And if you get higher than 13 total, you have to stop and you lose 1 Luck. So it’s a risk of when you choose to stop.
Player A: Oh, sick.
Player B: Luck is like HP right?
Dealer: Yeah. Kind of. No. But yes.
Player A: Yeah that’s cool, so like you can only do a certain amount of things before you get caught. Like they’re onto you.
Dealer: Yeah, so literally like… you guys tell me what you want to do, and draw a card, and then I say what happens.
Dealer: So what do you want to do?
Player A: What can we do?
Dealer: I mean, anything. But obviously you want to stuff that’s relevant to the job. So like… I mean, think of heist movies and stuff. What do criminals do before the job? So like, planning, scoping out the location, getting tools and supplies, hiring people, finding out information -
Player A: Oh cool. But like, we don’t know anything really. You just told us we have to ring this bell.
Dealer: Yeah so like, you have to find out more first… Ok, let’s do it like this. You guys meet in a pub, it’s this shady tavern in Blackside, which is a district in the city. And you’ve agreed you’re going to do this job, you know the tower is nearby and the bell is there, you just need to plan your first move.
Player A: Oh so we know where it is.
Dealer: Yeah like you live here so basic stuff your characters would know, about daily life or what’s around or whatever, you can just ask me and I’ll tell you. No need to draw a card or anything.
Player A: Ok so first thing I want to do is go and have a look at the tower. Like, look for a way in.
Dealer: Like a stakeout?
Player A: Oh yeah, exactly! Yeah that’s so cool. Yeah I want to camp out outside, in like a tree or something and do a stakeout.
Dealer: Ok cool. So that’s a meaningful action that’s going to give you something helpful for the mission, so you need to draw a card.
Player A: Ok… 8.
Dealer: Oof. That’s kind of high.
Player A: Yeah we can’t go over 13 right? Shit. Ok well I’ll do the stakeout first and then I’ll think about if I want to draw again.
Dealer: Yeah like, you can go over 13 but you don’t want to. You still get the thing you draw for, at least it seem like the rules don’t say you don’t. But you’ll lose 1 Luck, and you only have 3.
Player B: How do we get Luck back?
Dealer: Drawing cards.
Player A: Haha, brutal.
Dealer: Ok so you’re going to camp out and watch the tower, you’re going to find out a lot of helpful stuff. I’ll tell you in just a sec, Player B do you know what you’re going to do?
Player B: Uh I have some ideas but I don’t know.
Dealer: Ok well I’ll say what happens on the stakeout and then we’ll go to you next. So Player A, you find a tree on the other side of the street from this tower. It’s like a big, thirteen yards tall tower. Thirteen metres ish I guess. This old, ancient looking grey stone, four walls going straight up. Like sheer walls, no windows. Then at the top there’s an opening in each wall. Y’know, like a bell tower. Not windows, but like -
Player A: The belfry.
Dealer: Yeah that’s what they call it here. Is that the word for it? Anyway. Yeah it’s like 13 metres up these straight stone walls, and there are gargoyles around it but nothing else on the main bit of the tower.
Player A: Is there a way in?
Dealer: Well there’s a door. Just a wooden door in the south wall. And what you see as you’re like waiting up in this tree, is that there’s a guard outside the door. He’s this big guy, like old times police looking guy, with a big hat and this big stick for like… beating people with. The sticks, by the way, that’s like an official weapon all the House guards have. “Official truncheon”.
Player A: And there’s no windows, no other way in?
Dealer: Nope. But you notice a couple of other things, waiting up in this tree.
Player A: Nobody sees me?
Dealer: No, because you still have Luck. You get caught when you run out, but you still have some so you can’t get caught. Obviously if you walk straight up to the guard and tell him you’re a criminal that’s different, but you can’t like… fail at hiding or anything yet.
Player A: Ok. I think I get it.
Dealer: Yeah just roll with it, it’ll come into play more when you’re doing the job. So what you notice during the stakeout, you’re up in this tree, well hidden. And there are two main things that stand out to you. First, the guards change at sunrise and sunset.
Player A: Oh I was there all day haha
Dealer: Haha yeah so at sunrise a guard actually comes out of the tower door, and a new guy comes in. And then at sunset same thing, a different guy comes and changes shifts. They go into the tower and wait there all day or night. The other thing you notice is that there’s a lamppost, kind of near the tower. And every night, just after the guard changes, this guy comes and lights the lamppost. Like an old fashioned… oil lamp or whatever.
Player A: Ok. Interesting. Does one guard look weaker or anything?
Dealer: Oh it’s a different guy every time. Just like generic, big strong mook guys. Bouncers.
Player A: Ok. That’s going to be an issue.
Dealer: Ok, think about whether you want to do anything else or draw again. In the meantime, Player B, what are you doing?
Player B: Ok so, uh, I have some ideas. I’m not sure.
Dealer: Well just let me know what you’re thinking and we can talk it out. And I can give you some basic info.
Player B: Ok well you said like… stuff people do when you’re preparing for a job. Like a heist, kind of, we’re not stealing this bell right.
Player A: We’re just ringing it.
Dealer: But yeah, same basic idea. Like Ocean’s 11, planning all the moves and what everyone’s going to do.
Player B: Ok cool. So what I was thinking, it says my person has distracting clothing. So can I get like, a disguise?
Player A: Or you could literally distract the guard.
Dealer: Well it’s up to you but yeah, I like the disguise idea. There’s a clothes shop nearby where you can buy a disguise. It says here a new outfit is £2.
Player B: Oh shit. £1 is 12d right?
Player A: Yeah.
Player B: Yeah I have like… 7d.
Dealer: Ok well it says a whole outfit is £2, I’m going to say that like… if you just want to get one thing, like a it cloak that covers your clothes or whatever, that would cost just 6d. Just like a big bit of fabric basically.
Player B: Hmm. Ok. But I’m still very poor.
Dealer: Haha yeah you guys are like street rats basically. That’s part of why you’re rebelling against this ruling class.
Player B: Ok well my other idea was to get a torch or something, but you said there’s a street lamp by night so…
Dealer: Outside, yeah. But you don’t know what’s inside.
Player A: Oh and there’s no windows, right? It could be dark in there.
Dealer: Actually yeah, that’s a thing you would’ve seen on the stakeout. The guard who goes in by night takes in a lantern, like an oil lantern. And it looks kinda gloomy in there when he opens the door.
Player B: Ok, huh. So we might need a lamp then.
Player A: Or we can knock out the guard and take his lamp. If we go by night.
Player B: Oh yeah I was just assuming we’d go by night. Yeah, I guess we could.
Dealer: Up to you guys.
Player B: How much is a lamp?
Dealer: Hm. Oh, actually ok, let’s see… ah. Yeah so you go to this candle shop. Seven Sisters Guildhouse and Chandlery. And a lamp there is like… £1.
Player B: Shit. Everything’s so expensive!
Dealer: To you, yeah! But they do have candles there. You can get a small candle for 1d.
Player B: Ooh, ok. I might do that then.
Dealer: Buying something is a draw, a card draw. Plus you subtract the money.
Player B: Should I get a candle?
Player A: I mean we don’t really know. But it seems useful right?
Dealer: I mean… you can imagine there would probably be at least some part of the tower where you’d need a light. Obviously the guard has a lantern. But you would have your own light source. Plus it’s a candle, you can use the wax to make a mould of something, or do whatever.
Player B: You can do that?
Dealer: You can do anything!
Player B: Ok yeah, I want to buy a candle. 1d?
Dealer: Yeah so draw and mark off the money on your record.
Player A: Which one should they do first?
Dealer: I don’t think it matters.
Player B: I got a 2.
Player A: Oh nice.
Dealer: That’s good! In fact you literally can’t get to 13 with you next card. So if you want to draw again, you’re guaranteed safe. Because the most it’ll add up to is 12.
Player A: Oh sick.
Player B: Nice, ok so I should draw again?
Dealer: Yeah, to do another thing though. Buy something else, or anything else you want to do to plan. By the way this shop has lamps, oil, soap, rope, scissors and sealing wax.
Player B: Soap?
Player A: Oh get that and make the guard slip on it haha
Dealer: Actually, one other thing you notice while you’re in here… You see someone that you saw, Player A, while you were on your stakeout.
Player A: The guard?
Dealer: Actually no, it’s the person who came along to light the lamp post. So this is a guild house, so basically the Lamplighters’ Guild work from here. And they light all the lamp posts. So we’ll say that this all happens after the stakeout, so Player A’s character already told you about this lamp guy.
Player A: Oh shit. You can bribe him to not light the lamp.
Player B: Oh, really? Would that be useful?
Dealer: Up to you. But you see him here and you know who he is.
Player A: Ohhhh ok, here’s a plan. How about this. You bribe this guy to not light the lamppost. Then it’s completely dark outside. Then I have a rope and grappling hook, I can climb up the outside of the tower. And nobody will see because the lamp is out.
Dealer: Just checking, how long is your rope?
Player A: Six yards. Oh yeah, the tower is tall, right? Shit.
Dealer: Yeah, thirteen yards. You’d need double the length.
Player B: Oh but they sell rope here right?
Dealer: Yes they do.
Player B: So you can buy like six more yards of rope and tie them together.
Dealer: Yeah, I’d say that’d work.
Player A: Ok so let’s say I’m there at the shop too, how much is rope?
Dealer: 2d per yard.
Player A: Oh yeah it says here. Ok I can buy most of that, can you spot me the rest of the money?
Player B: Is that allowed?
Dealer: Yeah I don’t see why not.
Player B: Yeah I can give you up to 6d.
Player A: Perfect. Yeah ok, if we want to go with this plan and you’re ok lending me the money then let’s do that. Six yards of rope please Dealer!
Dealer: Ok, are you buying this? Because you have to draw.
Player A: Oh yeah. Shit. Do I want to do that?
Player B: It’s ok I can draw.
Player A: You sure?
Player B: Yeah no worries.
Dealer: Ok so you can draw and we know you won’t strike 13. So you’re buying 6 yards of rope yeah? That’s 12d between you, so £1.
Player B: Ok I’ve crossed off my last 6d. And I draw… a 5.
Dealer: So you’re now at 7 total. Could draw again? Or could play it safe.
Player B: Yeah I don’t know, I really don’t want to lose any luck before we even start the job.
Dealer: Up to you. Player A, did you cross off the 6d on your record?
Player A: Yeah I have 2d left. What can I get for 2d?
Dealer: Hmm. Some soap? Or a hot pork pasty? There’s a few things around, or you can think of something and I’ll just kind of work out how much it would probably cost. But remember you’d have to draw again.
Player A: Oh yeah shit. Ok, maybe not then.
Dealer: Ok so are you guys done then do you reckon? Finished with the Black Market Phase?
Player B: Well I mean if we don’t want to draw… But do we have enough to do the job?
Dealer: Well you have a plan. You have supplies. You have information on the guards and their schedule. And you have a candle if you need it.
Player A: Yeah we’re set! You’re right, let’s play it safe, I don’t want to risk anything.
Dealer: One more thing, you are in this pub remember, so if you want to ask around for information or rumours this would be a good time. Just get some more intel.
Player A: Would that be a draw?
Dealer: You know what, yes, but I’m going to give you one rumour for free. Let’s see… Ok so you hear this old guy saying about how the bell in the tower is even older than the House. But the tower itself is even older than that.
Player B: So the tower was there before the bell?
Player A: And then the House came and shut it all down anyway.
Player B: So what was the tower built for? It’s just a tower, right?
Dealer: You don’t know. Maybe you’ll find out… Let’s start the Red Moon phase!