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Long Look: Blades in the Dark

Updated: May 14, 2023

Introduction


Blades in the Dark is an tabletop fantasy horror role-playing game that takes place in the dark and gothic city of Doskvol, inspired by Victorian London. Created by John Harper, the game was crowdfunded on Kickstarter in 2015. In this industrial world, the sun has long been gone and the dead linger in the world as ghosts. Players take on the roles of members of a criminal organization and work their way up the criminal underworld, seizing money, territory, and infamy.


Blades in the Dark features unique gameplay mechanics, with player characters chosen from a variety of broad character archetypes. Each archetype has its own playbook and triggers for character advancement points based on actions taken during gameplay, encouraging players to play their characters in a way that fits their narrative archetype. The game also features a shared crew or criminal enterprise, with its own communal character sheet. The crew advances on its own in response to the player's abilities to accomplish capers and gain influence in the underworld, providing a common set of boons to be invoked by the table.


The game elides the more granular aspects of combat simulation, instead taking a heavily player-facing approach. Players roll a number of six-sided dice equal to the number of points in their matching action, with the highest individual number determining the success or failure criterion. The fictional position of the characters is also taken into account when performing an action, with the player having the final say in what character stats are rolled to address a challenge. The game master assesses the strength of the player's position, ranging from a controlled to a desperate position, with a desperate position offering players a chance at gaining points towards character advancement.


Setting and Lore


Doskvol is a city of supernatural industry, powered by electroplasm and coal engines that belch smoke into the sky. The city is divided into districts, each with its own distinct character and challenges. The Docks district is a hub of commerce, where ships from all over the world bring goods and wealth to the city. The canals are a maze of waterways, where smugglers and pirates ply their trade. The Night Market district is a den of vice and debauchery, where anything can be bought for the right price.


The city is also home to powerful noble families, who control the city's resources and wield immense political power. These families are constantly vying for influence and dominance, using their wealth and connections to further their own agendas. The noble families are not the only players in the game, however. There are also many criminal gangs that operate in the shadows, using their illicit power to gain wealth and influence. These gangs are a constant thorn in the side of the nobles, and their conflicts often spill over into the streets.


The supernatural elements in Blades in the Dark are a key part of the setting and lore. Ghosts are a constant presence in Doskvol, haunting the city's buildings and streets. They are dangerous and unpredictable, capable of possessing the living or lashing out with violent poltergeist activity. Some people have even learned to communicate with ghosts, using arcane rituals and devices to harness their power.


There are also demon-possessed artifacts in the city, which can grant incredible power to those who wield them. These artifacts are highly sought-after by the powerful and the desperate alike, leading to deadly competition for their possession. The arcane powers of Doskvol are ancient and mysterious, with powerful rituals and spells that can warp reality itself. Those who wield these powers must be careful, however, as the consequences of misusing them can be dire.


Finally, there are strange, eldritch creatures lurking in the shadows of Doskvol. These beings are often beyond mortal understanding, with bizarre powers and motivations that are difficult to discern. They are a constant threat to those who venture too far into the city's dark corners, and even the most powerful gangs and noble families are wary of crossing them.


All of these elements combine to create a rich and immersive setting that is perfect for heists and criminal activities. Players must be careful and resourceful if they hope to survive and thrive in this world of shadows and intrigue.


Gameplay Mechanics


Blades in the Dark uses a unique system of mechanics that are designed to encourage player creativity and narrative-driven gameplay. The game uses a d6 dice pool system, with players rolling a number of dice based on their character's abilities and the difficulty of the task they are attempting. The dice rolls are then compared to a target number to determine the level of success or failure.


One of the key mechanics in the game is the action roll, which is used to resolve most of the player's actions. The player chooses an action they want to take, such as "prowl" or "command," and then rolls their dice pool. The number of dice rolled is determined by the character's level of skill in that particular action. The results of the roll determine the level of success or failure, with critical success, success, partial success, and failure being possible outcomes.


The stress and harm system


One of the most unique mechanics in Blades in the Dark is the stress and harm system. As characters take physical or mental damage, they accrue stress, which can lead to various negative effects. Stress can also be used to boost dice rolls, representing the character's adrenaline or desperation. However, too much stress can lead to a character becoming "traumatized," causing permanent negative effects.


The harm system works similarly, with characters taking physical harm when they are injured. Harm ranges from minor injuries to potentially fatal wounds, and can also lead to negative effects on the character's ability to act.


The flashback mechanic


Another important mechanic is the flashback system. This allows players to spend stress to "flashback" to a previous point in time and reveal a previously undisclosed action or plan that can help them overcome a current obstacle. This mechanic allows for a great deal of creativity and improvisation, as players can use their characters' skills and abilities in unexpected ways. However, players must be careful not to abuse the system, as each use of a flashback costs stress and can potentially harm their characters.


Character Creation


Character creation in Blades in the Dark is a collaborative process that involves both the player and the game master. Players start by choosing one of the game's playbooks, which define the character's starting abilities and special abilities. Each playbook has a different focus, such as being a skilled thief, a charming spy, or a dangerous assassin.


Once the playbook is chosen, players select the character's name, look, and background, which helps to flesh out their personality and motivations. They also select the character's heritage, which gives them access to additional abilities and helps to tie them into the game world's lore.


Types of characters and their abilities


There are several different types of characters in Blades in the Dark, including:

  • The Cutter: a tough fighter who excels at combat and intimidation.

  • The Hound: a sharpshooter and tracker who specializes in ranged combat and scouting.

  • The Leech: a mad scientist who creates strange and powerful devices to aid the crew.

  • The Lurk: a stealthy thief who excels at sneaking and burglary.

  • The Slide: a smooth talker and manipulator who can charm and deceive their way out of trouble.

  • The Spider: a master planner and schemer who excels at manipulating factions and controlling information.

  • The Whisper: a spooky mystic who can see and communicate with ghosts and spirits.

Each type of character has access to a unique set of abilities and upgrades, which allow players to customize their character and playstyle as they progress through the game.


Building a crew


In addition to creating their individual characters, players must also work together to build a crew that can take on more dangerous and complex jobs. The crew is made up of different specialists, each with their own role and abilities. Players choose the crew's initial focus, which can range from being a group of street thugs to a team of expert burglars.


As the crew completes jobs and earns money, they can use it to upgrade their equipment, recruit new members, and expand their operations. Building a strong and versatile crew is essential to success in Blades in the Dark, as many jobs require a combination of skills and abilities to pull off successfully.


Running a Game


In Blades in the Dark, the game master (GM) is responsible for setting the scene, portraying non-player characters (NPCs), and adjudicating the rules. However, the game emphasizes collaborative storytelling, and the GM is encouraged to work with the players to create an engaging and exciting experience.


Creating and Running a Score


A score is the game's term for a heist or mission that the player characters undertake. The GM is responsible for creating and running scores, and the game provides guidelines and tools to help them do so. These include random tables for generating obstacles, complications, and rewards, as well as guidelines for creating engaging challenges.


During a score, the players are encouraged to think creatively and use their characters' abilities to overcome obstacles and achieve their goals. The flashback mechanic also plays a significant role in scores, allowing players to reveal previously undisclosed actions or plans that can help them succeed.


Advancing the Game World


As the players undertake scores and make decisions, the game world evolves and changes in response. The GM is encouraged to keep track of the game's factions and their actions, and to advance their agendas even if the player characters are not directly involved.


The game also provides rules for downtime activities, during which the player characters can engage in long-term projects, recover from stress by indulging their vice, and advance their skills and abilities.


Community and Resources


Blades in the Dark has a vibrant online community of players and fans who share their experiences, creations, and resources for the game. The game's official website, bladesinthedark.com, provides a wealth of information and resources, including a free Quickstart guide, character sheets, and advice for players and game masters. The website also hosts a forum where players can discuss the game and find other players to join their games.


There are also numerous online communities dedicated to Blades in the Dark. The subreddit r/bladesinthedark has over 12,000 members and is a great place to find discussions, resources, and inspiration for the game. The Blades in the Dark Discord server is another active community, with channels for game discussions, character creation, and finding players for online games.


Conclusion


Blades in the Dark is a unique and engaging roleplaying game that combines elements of fantasy, horror, and crime fiction to create a rich and immersive game world. The game's mechanics and emphasis on narrative-driven gameplay make it a great choice for players who enjoy collaborative storytelling and creative problem-solving.


For those interested in delving deeper into the game, there is a wealth of resources available online, including fan communities, podcasts, and actual play sessions. In addition, there are numerous published materials and supplements that can enhance the gaming experience.


Blades in the Dark is best suited for players who enjoy collaborative storytelling and improvisation, and who are comfortable with the darker themes of the game. It is an excellent choice for those looking for a break from traditional fantasy RPGs and a chance to explore the criminal underworld of a complex and compelling world.


For those new to the game, the best first step is to read through the core rulebook and familiarize yourself with the mechanics and setting. From there, find a group of like-minded players and start building your own crew of daring criminals.



In this article, some content was generated using ChatGPT, an artificial intelligence language model developed by OpenAI. The generated content was then edited and arranged for accuracy and readability by RPGPDFs.


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