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Blades in the Dark

First Edition

Criminal Gangs in a Haunted Industrial-Fantasy City
Contents

Publisher Description

Blades in the Dark is a tabletop role-playing game about a crew of daring scoundrels seeking their fortunes on the haunted streets of an industrial-fantasy city. There are heists, chases, occult mysteries, dangerous bargains, bloody skirmishes, and, above all, riches to be had — if you’re bold enough to seize them.



You and your fledgling crew must thrive amidst the threats of rival gangs, powerful noble families, vengeful ghosts, the Bluecoats of the city watch, and the siren song of your scoundrel’s own vices. Will you rise to power in the criminal underworld? What are you willing to do to get to the top?

 

Criminals in an Industrial Fantasy City [ edit ]

Blades in the Dark is not your typical "modern crime" RPG.  Instead it is set in an industrial-era fantasy world where the sun has (mostly) died, and the barrier to the afterlife has been breached.  As a result the cities of the world (including Doskvol, where the game is set) are surrounded by "death fields" of ghosts, kept out by lightning generators.

It is in this "haunted Peaky Blinders" setting that the party plays as a criminal gang of some sort.  That gang can have a variety of criminal focuses, from stealing, to smuggling, to cult membership.  Each adventure focuses on a single heist, and as the gang completes each one they gain more reputation with other groups in the city.  Eventually they can claim turf by battling those groups.

Flashbacks Mechanism

One somewhat unique aspect of Blades in the Dark is that the game avoids the tedious over-planning of heists by utilizing a flashback mechanism.  This let's the group start with the action of the heist itself, and then if they need some resource that could have been acquired earlier, the GM pauses play and runs a mini flashback scene where the character can try to acquire it.

For instance, if the characters need to get on the guest list for a party they want to rob, the GM might run a flashback sequence where the player has a chance to try and bribe the guard earlier to get on the guest list.

Blades in the Dark, First Edition - Rules SummaryCollapse

Character Creation [ edit ]

As a heavily PbtA-influenced game Blades in the Dark, characters begin by selecting a playbook, similar to a character class.  There are seven options: Cutter (fighter), Hound (tracker), Leech (alchemist), Lurk (sneak), Slide (manipulator), Spider (mastermind), and Whisper (ghost/magic expert).

Next they select a Heritage (what country they hail from) and a Background (occupation).

Action Dots and Special Ability

Next the player assigns four "dots" to actions that reflect their background, heritage, or just their character concept.  There are twelve actions in the game, and they are similar to skills in other games.  There are, for example, Consort, Hunt and Skirmish actions, for socializing, tracking, or fighting.

The player also gets to choose one special ability, with each playbook offering several options.  For instance the Cutter can choose from eight different options, including Bodyguard (bonus die to resistance when protecting someone), Leader (can command a cohort in battle), or Savage (bonus die to command a frightened target).

Friends, Rival, and Vices

Each playbook comes with a set of NPCs, and the player can choose one to be a friend, and one as a rival.  For instance a Cutter might have Marlane (a pugilist) as a friend, and Mercy (a cold killer) as an enemy.

Finally, each character chooses a Vice, such as gambling in Spogg's dice game, being addicted to the food of Chef Roselle at the Golden Plum restaurant, or frequently visiting Father Yoren at the House of the Weeping Lady.  Characters can indulge in their vice during their off-time to recover Stress (a form of mental damage).

Crew

After each character has created their individual character, the group overall creates their Crew (gang).  There are six types of Crew to choose from, ranging from Assassins to Cults to Smugglers.

The group must also decide various details about the Crew, such as their lair, special abilities, favorite contact, etc.

Core Mechanics [ edit ]

Action Rolls

To perform an action in Blades in the Dark the player first chooses an action rating, similar to choosing which skill to use for an action in other systems.

Next the GM sets the "position", either "Controlled" (if the environment is relatively safe), Desperate (if it's not), or Risky (in-between: the default).  They also set the "effect level", ie. how much impact the action will have (limited, standard or great).

Finally the player gets dice for the action.  They start with one (d6) for each point they have in the specified action, and can get a bonus die if they are assisted by another character.  They can also get another die, by either "pushing" themselves (gaining two stress), or by taking a GM-offered "devil's bargain".

For instance, a GM might offer a devil's bargain to a character trying to intimidate a rival gang: they get an extra die to their Command roll, but in exchange risk irritating the gang so much that they return for revenge sometime in the future.

The Roll

The player rolls all of their dice and keeps the highest.  If they get a six the action succeeds without complication.  If they roll two sixes the roll is a critical success, and the player gains some sort of benefit.

If the roll is a 4 or 5 it is a partial success: the action succeeds, but there is some sort of negative side effect.  On a 1-3 the action fails, or otherwise has major negative consequences.

 

Clocks

Blades in the Dark makes heavy use of the PbtA "clocks" mechanism, where a 4, 6, or 8 spoke "clock" (circle with lines through it) records the progress of various effects.  For instance, a GM might use a clock to represent a patrolling guard, and every time a player fails a roll, it "moves the clock" one spoke closer, indicating that the guard is that much closer to discovering them.

Combat [ edit ]

As a PbtA system Blades in the Dark does not have traditional RPG combat rules.  For instance, there is no "initiative check": generally a GM will simply decide who has the initiative based on context, but they can instead opt to require the player to make a resistance roll to gain the initiative.

In combat fighting is accomplished using the same Action Roll system as outside of combat, often with a Skirmish action.

Resistance Rolls

When a character is injured, or otherwise suffers significant negative consequences, they can make a resistance roll to reduce the harm taken. The roll is based on the corresponding attribute for the consequences (Insight for deception-based ones, Prowess for physical ones, and Resolve for mental ones).

To make the roll the character suffers six stress, reduced by the result of the roll.  If successful it reduces the harm suffered by a level.

Harm

When a character is injured they suffer a harm level.  There are four levels of harm, with level one being "Lesser" (eg. distracted or confused) and level four being Fatal (eg. electoructed, stabbed in the heart).

Each character has a certain number of slots for each level, and if they fill up one level subsequent harm is applied to the next highest level (until it reaches Fatal level).

Multiple Distinctions [ edit ]

Aggregated Review Scores

SourceAverage Score# of ReviewsAs Of
Amazon4.8 / 57161/23/2022
Drive Thru RPG4.8 / 52861/23/2022
Good Reads4.56 / 54891/23/2022
RPG Geek8.44 / 101181/23/2022

Awards

Blades in the Dark won a couple of major awards when it was first released.  First it won the 2015 Golden Geek RPG of the Year, and then the following year it won the 2016 Indie RPG of the Year.

The game was also nominated for (although it didn't win) the Best Game and Product of the Year at the Ennies 2018.

TV Show

Finally, while it's not exactly an "award", it's worth noting that the game has the unique distinction of having its own television series (which was still in development at the time of writing).

But is the Game Any Good?

The real question of course isn't about TV series or awards: it's whether the game itself is any good ... and the answer to that is a resounding yes.  As you can see from the reviews, every single site gave an average of more than 4.5 / 5 stars, except RPG Geek.

However that site (which is almost always the harshest) still gave the game a very high 8.44 / 10, and more importantly they ranked the game #5 out of all RPGs on the site!

In short, fans love Blades in the Dark ... one even loved it so much that they convinced a TV studio to base a show off it!  If the idea of joining your fellow players to form a criminal gang in a dark fantasy industrial era setting sounds exciting, then it's time for your group to pay a visit to Doskvol: you won't be disappointed.