So today I just finished reading Blades in the Dark and I wanted to get some of my thoughts down about the game and the setting. The first thing that should be mentioned is this game is heavily influenced/inspired by games that are Powered by the Apocalypse. You can get the game from Evil Hat Productions. The basic premise is that you play criminals in a corrupt city after a cataclysm destroyed the sun leaving the world in darkness. Ghosts and Demons are only kept at bay by powerful electric fences powered by the blood of giant demons (think kraken or tentacled whales) that roam the oceans and are hunted by the ships from the city of Doskvol. Anyway, on to my thoughts.
This chapter covers the basic rules of the game. We start with the basics of what a role-playing game is, some of the setting, what the players do in the game, what kind of characters they play.
The basic task resolution mechanic is you roll a number of six-sided dice equal to the action you are taking and pick the highest value. If you roll multiple sixes, you get a critical success. How effective an action is based on a conversation about the appropriateness of the action you use to accomplish your goal. The basic spread of results is 1-3 a bad outcome, 4 or 5 is partial success and a 6 is a full success. There is more to it than that with different levels of effect based on if your action is particularly appropriate or just barely appropriate. You can also spend stress and get assistance from allies to increase the number of dice.
Damage and health is also abstract with each character having a set number of consequence slots that can be filled up on a bad result or even on a risky partial success roll. Consequences can always be opposed by a resistance roll. The consequence might be negated completely or just reduced and it costs you a number of points of stress equal to 6 – minus your highest rolled dice (you roll a number of dice based on your attribute). If you critically succeed with this roll you clear a stress box as well.
There is also a sub game for the role of factions and how they change based on things that in the game. So you could weaken a rival faction while increasing your crews influence.
There is a lot more to this chapter covering all the aspects of this game. About the only thing I didn’t find that was unclear is that the character types have three or more Veteran traits that can be chosen during advancement, but I couldn’t find anything that said if they had to do some number of advances before they could choose one of these.
This chapter covers the starting character types that you can play. They include:
1. Cutters who are the fighters of a crew.
2. Hounds who are the hunters who find targets for the crew.
3. Leeches who produce the items needed by the crew.
4. Lurks who are the burglars and infiltrators of the crew.
5. Slides who are the manipulators and con-artists of the crew.
6. Spiders are the masterminds and planners of the crew.
7. Whispers are the ones who deal with the spirits and arcane energies for the crew.
Each of the types get some ability to interact with the spirit world, but the Whispers have the greatest ability in this area. I personally found the Hounds, Lurks, and Whispers to be the most interesting.
Each of the character types get a base selection of actions which are then altered with some points for customization.
This chapter also covers what the basic actions are in the game:
1. Attune, connect with the ghost field or other arcane source.
3. Consort, socialize with your friends and allies.
4. Finesse, basically any task that needs careful or precise manipulation.
5. Hunt, basically track a target.
6. Prowl, the ability to move around unobserved.
7. Skirmish, your basic fighting ability.
8. Study, search for details and analyze evidence.
9. Survey, your basic notice roll.
10. Sway, persuasion.
11. Tinker, the ability to work with devices, pick locks, disarm traps, etc.
12. Wreck, the ability to break things.
The neat thing about this setting is that every character has the ability to interact with the supernatural aspects of the setting.
This chapter covers information about setting up the larger criminal organization that you run. The crew is important in determining what kind of jobs the group will be focusing on, and provides some extra resources that can be used during a job (like a distraction).
The crew types are:
3. Cult, a group that wants to make the world bow before their god or burn.
4. Hawkers, those who sell illicit drugs and services.
5. Shadows, basically burglars and spies.
Each of the crew types are interesting, and I have no particular favorites. The important thing to remember is that this selection is a group decision and drives the game with the preferred type of score.
This chapter is all about how to set up a particular criminal job. All I can really say about this is that if you are planning to run a crime heavy game, this chapter alone is worth the price of the book.
It starts each score off without pre-planning, but a roll to determine how the job starts. This could be from a strong position, a bad position, or somewhere in between. After that if the players want to, they can call for flashbacks to describe how they planned for just this scenario. All in all a great chapter.
This chapter details the events that happen during downtime. How much trouble the crew gets into because of the score, and if members go to jail. It also covers how to recover stress spent during your score by indulging in your vice. Finally it covers any long-term projects that the crew might be working on.
How to Play
This chapter covers a lot of information on Fiction first play. How to let the fiction drive the game, how to use stress, deal with threat levels and some of the design concepts in the game. It provides a lot of insight into how to play this game and why the rules are setup the way that they are.
Running the Game
This is very much like a chapter in a Powered by the Apocalypse games chapter on running the game. It talks about the Goals of the GM, the GM Actions, and GM Principles. It then goes into some bad habits for GMs, and follows up with a starting situation to get your game started. It finishes off with adding the concept of seasons into the game.
This chapter covers the strange forces in the world. So we get some information on Ghosts and Demons. We also get more information on Whispers.
This chapter also includes three additional character types for those that have died, Ghosts, Hulls (Spirits who are put into objects like dolls or machines), and Vampires Spirits who have possessed a living body.
This chapter finishes off with some rules for creating rituals for use in-game and crafting items.
Changing the Game
This is a short chapter about changing how the game is played. It contains examples about switching the focus from being criminals out for self gain to being vigilantes fighting for justice in a corrupt system. It also gives some good guidelines for altering the rules that are here and finishes off with some abilities that require in-game justification for getting based on organizations and aspects of the setting.
This chapter gives a lot of detail and background of the city that is the focus of the setting. There is a lot of good details here including some history, a breakdown of the various neighborhoods, and the criminal and legal society.
It then follows this up with a run down of the various factions that are setup in the game with a couple of goals that they are currently working towards.
It finishes up with a bunch of tables to generate things like city events, things that you might find in the city streets, what buildings might look like, and any other number of things that might be useful in play that can spark imagination or fill in details on the fly. The tables and list in this section would make it easy to use this setting and if you like me will probably use the setting with a different rule set will be one of the most valuable sections in the entire book.
The Shattered Isles
This is the final chapter and gives a very brief description of the world as it exists now. There is not a lot of detail here since the book focuses on life in the city, but you do get some basic ideas of the climate for each of the nearby islands.
In summary, while I like a lot of the ideas in the system, I am not sure that I would ever use it myself, but the setting is wonderful, and I am more than willing to pull it off and use with a different setting. Also the insight in the section on scores and how to set them up is pure gold and I have already made use of some of them in the Deadlands Noir game that I am currently running, and will make more use of them later.