Welcome to the table.
Recently I have had a chance to read through (a review is coming) Bones Deep by David Schirduan. This is a moody and atmospheric tabletop role-playing game that endeavors to do some really interesting things and, in my humble opinion, succeeds masterfully. I was able to sit down with David Schirduan about this project, creative inspiration, and the process of bringing a TTRPG full circle.
Anton: Hello David, and thank you for taking the time to talk to me about Bones Deep. Before we dig too deep into the game give me a little bit of background on yourself.
David: Hey! I’m the driving force behind Technical Grimoire. A (somewhat) mild-mannered software engineer by day, I work on tabletop RPG stuff in my spare time.
Anton: How long have you been in the tabletop RPG space?
David: I was a long-time lurker and occasional blogger. I published my first “real” game, Mythic Mortals, back in 2015. So let’s go with seven years of active involvement. But I’ve been a huge board game/video game nerd for my entire life and RPGs fit right in.
Anton: Do you currently play in any regular games?
David: COVID really messed up my local group, we’ve been struggling to keep a regular schedule ever since. I’m planning a few sessions using Desert Moon of Karth (a Mothership adventure) and I cannot wait for OZ by Andrew Kolb to come out so we can explore that weird world.
Anton: “You are a Skeleton. You cannot swim. You do not belong.” is one hell of a way to start a gaming book. I mean, I was hooked. Can you break down why this is so important in setting a tone for this game?
David: Bones Deep goes out of its way to avoid a lot of the annoying parts of exploring underwater. That’s the primary reason you play as dense skeletons walking along the sea floor. No complex swimming rules, no 3D combat confusion, and no tracking oxygen or food or sleep. Just dive in and get lost. It also forces some unique limitations: fish “fly” around freely above you, huge chasms present a major obstacle, and the sea floor is very very dark. All these aspects combine to make Bones Deep feel fresh and weird even in familiar environments.
I’ll also take a moment to say that Bones Deep is a labor of love between a bunch of talented and knowledgeable people. My wife dreamed up the original concept, a local boat captain added their ocean-faring experience, an underwater educator reviewed the science of each creature, and I did most of the exaggerating. We hope that our appreciation and excitement about marine biology spreads to the readers and players who enjoy Bones Deep!
Anton: You’re playing a skeleton that “hatches” from its fleshy form and wanders off like a newborn sea turtle. It’s such a surreal way to just fall into a tabletop experience but it really pushes back against tropes like “You meet in a tavern” or “You are all in a prison caravan together” or “The king called you all together to do something for someone.” It’s just a really easy transition into this strange landscape and gets into the headspace of your player character. Can you go into some details about the various things players will be able to do as they build their characters?
David: A lot of our games feature accelerated character creation; the best stuff happens during the game, not beforehand! For Bones Deep, since skeletons hatch without any memories of their previous fleshy lives they are hungry for new memories. Skeletons can absorb memories from anything they’re touching: learn new skills, gather useful info, and even “talk to fish” in a way. It just makes the underwater world more engaging and approachable (and then we don’t have to invent languages for crabs!).
Anton: The magic system is really cool as well. Can you talk a little about how you constructed the spells and magical abilities?
David: Bones Deep proudly uses the rules and magic of Troika. It’s a brilliant game with a flexible and powerful magic system. In Bones Deep we based most of the spells off of real underwater phenomena. For example, “Brinicle Strike” was inspired by the very real ice lightning that can form and freeze unsuspecting creatures. “Bubble Net”, “Halocline”, “Red Tide”, and “Undertow” are more spells inspired by real ocean events. My personal favorite, “Julia”, is based on a bizarre sound recorded by the NOAA in 1999. We still don’t know what made the “Julia” sound!
Anton: The creatures in this thing are wild, and what is even more worrying is that they all feel like they could be actual things living in our oceans. Where did you pull the inspiration for these monsters?
David: Like the Spells, most of the creatures are heavily inspired by real world sea life. We even include the scientific names next to each creature so players can learn more about them. Of course we exaggerate a little…or a lot. For example, it’s true that dolphins travel in pods and are highly intelligent. However the dolphins in Bones Deep can fire lasers and are close to becoming sentient! Our oceans are so weird and wonderful that we barely had to make any changes to the 50 creatures in Bones Deep.
Anton: Do you have a favorite?
David: My favorite creature is Stargazer. An ugly little squish-face that has both of its eyes peering upwards. I enjoyed making it kind of creepy and cute at the same time.
Anton: This book is stocked full of stories and settings with tons of charts to roll on and adventure hooks to fill weeks of gameplay if not years. As the creator what do you estimate the typical playtime should be in regards to a single session or even an ongoing campaign?
David: We had the pleasure of playing a bunch of Bones Deep while we worked on the game. I ran several successful oneshots just travelling from one place to another. The book includes 4-5 “campaign questlines” that could each take up a dozen sessions. We’re proud of how flexible it turned out. You can run a quick trip to the brine pools of Graveyard Lake, or embark on an epic quest to foil the cephalopods’ nefarious plans!
Anton: During playtesting did anything fun happen that made you stop in your tracks and go “…well I need to revisit that!”
David: My favorite bit of trivia is that an old version of Bones Deep featured entirely new skeleton senses! Skeletons could sense magical energy, detect subtle changes in the ocean current, absorb smells/sights from nearby fish, and hold hands to communicate with one another. It was a wild idea that never really quite worked, and in line with keeping things simple and fun we just ruled that skeletons magically have the same senses we do.
Anton: As we wrap up I really want to thank you for giving me a chance to talk with you about Bones Deep. Please tell our readers why they can keep up with you online.
David: Thanks for the opportunity to talk about it! We’re so excited for folks to get their hands on the book and explore what it has to offer. You can find all of our games, updates, free downloads, digital tools, blog articles, and newsletter updates at technicalgrimoire.com. Seriously, we put EVERYTHING we do on that site, and if you sign up for our newsletter you’ll get a free copy of Mythic Mortals and all our future game updates.
Until next time, keep your head above water… if you can’t see it coming it may hurt less.