Beak, Feather, & Bone (BFB) is a game that generates a city setting through procedural world building. This zine was one of the first I received from Zine Quest 2 and as excited and impressed as I was when I first got my hands on it, this was my first opportunity to put pen to paper under its instruction.
To play BFB you’ll need to gather some materials:
- Something to write with;
- Something to color with (4-8 colors);
- Note cards (I used big post-its);
- Deck of playing cards;
- An unlabeled map.
Once you have your materials, you decide what factions are going to be present in your city. If you have multiple players, then each player will get to choose a faction or two and then make gameplay decisions from the standpoint of those factions. This results in a shared world building of the city based upon the regions of the map controlled by the factions.
I’m playing solo, so I’ll just pick a few factions that appeal to me.
Thieves, Clerics, Merchants, Miners, and Mages, sounds like a fun place to party to me.
First things first, decide where the city’s center of power is. I draw a big black square around the central complex on the map (a move suggested by the book). Next, pick a running order. I’ll go in the order they are written starting with Thieves and ending with Mages.
I take a turn for each faction, drawing a playing card and using the card to inform my decision about what to do with the map. I draw a nine of hearts for the Thieves. Hearts means the Thieves use this building for a social purpose. The nine means that they have an influence value of 9 out of 10, pretty big.
I find a nice spot for a tavern, just outside of the center of power. I color it purple, a claim for the Thieves. I write a little number 1 by the newly purpled square on the map. This indicates that the building was placed in the first round of play and will be helpful for reference once the map starts to fill with color.
I name Purple 1 “The Whiskey Whistle”
Now’s where we get to the title of the book. To find out more about The Whiskey Whistle, I write responses to three prompts. The prompts are Beak, Feather, and Bone.
First, I write “Beak,” then I record what it is that locals say about this location. “Food’s good. Service is bad. Avoid going on poker night.”
Next, I write “Feather,” then I record what the place looks like. “A modest and squat public house made of red brick. It’s colorful shutters are covered in green, leafy vines.”
Finally, I write “Bone,” then I record what the building is like on the inside. This description could be a physical description or a bit about the building’s purpose. “This pub is run by Joey the Post, a clever fence and information broker with powerful connections in the thieves’ guild.”
A wretched hive of scum and villainy. Cool!
After taking a single turn for each faction, I was out of time and needed to get to my afternoon meetings, but even in a single round an interesting dynamic started to emerge on the map. Two of the buildings even created built-in rivalries between the Mages and the Merchants.
I had a blast playing this and hope to expand on to my city with a few more rounds. I think I’ll play through round 5 and see what the city looks like. I highly recommend you check out this game. I can’t wait to play it again.
I’ll leave you with some pictures and the Beak, Feather, & Bone descriptions for each of my factions’ first buildings.
Thieves: Purple 1 – The Whiskey Whistle Beak: Food’s good. Service is bad. Avoid going on poker night. Feather: A modest and squat public house made of red brick, it’s colorful shutters are covered in green, leafy vines. Bone: This pub is run by Joey the Post, a clever fence and information broker with powerful connections in the thieves’ guild.
Clerics: Yellow 1 – Gardens of Glorious Repose Beak: The Gardeners mean well and are very helpful, but they get kind of pushy on questions of faith and they always want to talk about death. Feather: This enormous open air garden and cemetery facility features a large auditorium used for public gatherings, songs of praise, and readings of scripture. Bone: The church makes considerable coin offering prayers of healing and bespoke funeral services.
Merchants: Red 1 – The Mall Beak: No one is sure how this place is still open. No one goes there anymore. Feather: A stretching complex of booths and warehouses, the Mall is a dilapidated relic of a lost method of trade. Bone: Reginthal Goovmonger is the last remaining merchant lord with interest in the Mall. Goovmonger is desperate to restore the structure to its former glory. !Rival! Mages The Learned Company of Magisters Beak: The Learned Company of Magisters have a reputation for being manipulative, pedantic, and arrogant. Feather: The Learned Company of Magisters are a group of old, stuffy, arcane scholars and trinket collectors. Bone: This group wishes to gain control of the Mall and remodel it into an arcane library and college of divination.
Miners: Green 1 – Blastwall Mine Beak: The workers here are all gruff and mean and dirty. Plus, it is always noisy over there. I think it is dangerous and avoid the area. Feather: This open mine site on the edge of the city’s border is almost always abuzz with the clatter of work in both day and night. Bone: The mines are the regions main source of ferrous material required for making tools, machines, and weapons.
Mages: Gray 1 – Moondrop Tower Beak: They’ve been building that cursed thing for years. They’ll never get the roof on right. Feather: A massive, swaying, creaking tower juts into the sky, roofless and unfinished. Bone: The Learned Company of Magisters intend to finish the tower, which has become their greatest, most ambitious project, later this year. It is believed that the height of the tower will help resolve debate on the topic of lunar conversion frequencies. !Rival! Merchants Reginthal Goovmonger’s Mall Beak: Word on the street is that Reginthal Goovmonger blames the poor performance of the Mall to the ongoing magical construction of Moondrop Tower. Feather: Goovmonger can sometimes be seen pacing back and forth along the battlements of the Mall, talking to himself and shaking his fist to the heavens. Bone: Goovmonger is intent on revenge and will spend his last dime to see the tower sabotaged.