Blades in the Dark - Game Mechanics & Functional Design

edited March 2015 in Story Games
John Harper's Blades in the Dark is going very well on Kickstarter:
https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/2080350433/blades-in-the-dark

A lot of details I've seen about "Blades" so far made me go: "yes, yes!" and reminded me a of a lot of RPG design ideas I liked or preferred recently.
(That being said, the actual setting is not my favorite background - and what's with the AW-style oversaturated b/w pics?)

So, here ist the publicly available information (as far as I know):
http://onesevendesign.com/blades/blades_qs_sample_02.pdf
http://onesevendesign.com/blades/blades_qs_sample_01.pdf
http://onesevendesign.com/blades/bitd_whisper_cult_samples.pdf
http://onesevendesign.com/blades/blades_episode_one_sheets.pdf
http://onesevendesign.com/blades/blades_action_effect_sample.pdf
https://plus.google.com/111573643764421321963/posts/GDz2hMyHrrW
http://www.seannittner.com/actual-play-six-towers-gang/
http://www.seannittner.com/actual-play-blades-in-the-dark-of-nerdly/
http://forum.rpg.net/showthread.php?751083-Kickstarter-Blades-in-the-Dark
http://briecs.blogspot.com.tr/2014/03/five-or-so-questions-with-john-harper.html



[Please don't post links to the restricted backer-only material, i.e. the full QuickStart guide]

So, here are some very subjective impressions based on my very limited background so far.

Stackable Generic Resolution System
This seems pretty solid along the lines of modern RPGs that have a unified, stackable resolution system.
I didn't fully get the mechanics. What I've understood, I guess you roll a bunch of D6s and pick the best (??)
If you look at the sheets, it's really cool what various things you can pull together, including "Devil's Bargain".

I don't know how many dice you would stack on an average roll. I hope it's not too many because I don't like the probability for Xd6 with a lot of dice.


Action Roll - Resolve Mechanic
Again, I'm not clear how it works exactly.

The basic resolve outcomes have a nice (and even more simplified) AW feel to it.
Example "Controlled":
6: full success
4-5: reduced success or more risk
1-3: nope (yet you can still try to succeed for more risk)

This is similar to AWs 10+/7-9 probability:
10+ on 2D6 = 16.6% = 6 on a 1D6
7+ on 2D6 = 58.3% // 4+ on a 1D6 = 50%

Adding "best of Xd6" gives a different curve than AWs "2d6 + bonus" which has a slightly more linear/smoother progression.


Action/Effect Roll - Three Difficulty "Flavors"
I'm strongly reminded of a recent discussion on this forum related to setting difficulty levels.
http://story-games.com/forums/discussion/comment/441501/#Comment_441501

John has very elegantly solved this problem by offering three "difficulty flavors":
- Controlled
- Risky
- Desperate
They use the same resolve mechanics. Yet for i.e a desperate move, even the positive outcome is not soo great ("You do it but suffer the effect of the danger.").

Anyway, this is brilliant and handles the problems in the discussion mentioned very elegantly. As a GM, it is much easier to choose and communicate what the players are up against.


"Progress Pies"
John assigns a graphic "pie" to each project (whatever that is exactly), looking similar to the AW "clock". You can have the pie split into 4, 6 or 8 pieces.

I've tinkered a lot with tracking progress of plots recently (I usually use 5 steps as default). This certainly is a very neat & welcome tool for tracking the progress of a story line as well as building the dramatic story arc.


Sheet Design
The character/crew or whatever playsheets... These are some of the most beautiful & functional RPG playsheets I've ever seen!
Just looking at them makes me want to play the game. It pulls me into the game already and gives me a certain confidence (though I have no clue how the game works) that the system will support me along the way.

So, this seems to me one of the most promising RPG designs.
Thinking how influential "Lady Blackbird" was for me, I'd be really vey happy if John Harper enjoys more mainstream popularity in the RPG world.

As mentioned above, this is my very limited sujective impression from a brief look. Feel free to enlighten us with more information/feedback about "Blades in the Dark"!

Comments

  • There's a lot here! I've played a bunch of Blades, so if you have any specific questions, let me know!

    But let me try and answer some resolution questions:

    Blades is a game about fictional positioning: there's a lot more input before the dice get thrown down than AW. You input in:

    The obstacle
    The character's method of action
    The desired effect

    and that gets you out a position, which is one of three:
    Controlled, Risky, Desperate.
    (there's also a secret fourth which is: "It doesn't seem like you can accomplish that, so how do you create an opportunity to make that happen?", where the roll is then about that opportunity)

    The position you get has a huge impact on your likelihood of success, so there's a lot of pressure to try and put yourself into good, controlled situations. As the heist goes all to hell, you find yourself under more and more pressure.

    Blades is a roll Xd6, take the best. You get dice for the relevant skill (0-2 dice for starting characters), 1 if your target matches your background (criminal, elite, etc), 1 for taking personal stress, 1 for accepting the Devil's Bargain (a GM's tempting complication).

    6's are success, multiple 6's a crit, 4-5 partial, 1-3 failure. But a controlled failure is so so much better.

    To avoid overplanning, there's downtime phases where you build pools and resources that you can then spend during the heist as teamwork or other info. There's also a lot of enthusiasm for: "Okay, let's flashback to how I gathered information about the basement by infiltrating the cooking staff."
  • edited March 2015
    I love everything about this, except for this:
    To avoid overplanning, there's downtime phases where you build pools and resources that you can then spend during the heist as teamwork or other info. There's also a lot of enthusiasm for: "Okay, let's flashback to how I gathered information about the basement by infiltrating the cooking staff."
    So, in a game about fictional positioning, you don't actually do that on a broad scale? You get mechanical resources and then slap fiction onto them when needed? I hope I'm reading you wrong. The planning is my favorite part of scheme & heist stories and play. I want to benefit from coming up with amazing plans, and suffer from coming up with less-amazing ones. Without that, to me it's an action game.

    On the positive front: is there a formula for "Ob + Intent + Method -> Controlled/Risky/Desperate", or is it someone's judgment? I like it either way, just curious.
  • edited March 2015
    @David_Berg,

    The way downtime phases work are that you get actions to recover from wounds, build teamwork pools (which represent bonuses and special moves you can do on the heist), gather information, etc. You're allowed to take as many of these as you like, bounded by the fiction of "well, you need to do this before X" and a mechanical incentive of that each downtime phase represents time passing that you're losing your Hold on your current status.

    I think there's a lot of flexibility to be detailed or not in plans, but I think the goal of planning and downtime is to not get bogged down. If that means your team is coming up with an awesome plan and then you just execute it, that's fine. Retro-play is I think, a lot more about "establishing things that support what's already in the fiction" rather than "revealing twists that swerve the narrative to help us get through problems". (So my example above probably wasn't ideal.)

    Like for example, if during downtime, you said: "I'm going to go gather information on the house by becoming a worker." it might make sense to make a roll there and give some information. But also, when on the heist, when it becomes clear that the weird metal door at the end of the third floor hallway is important, we might make a different roll in a flashback to see what info you gathered about that. Or you might have gotten that info up front! A lot of it will be table/situation dependent.


    Put Another Way: having good plans is vitally important in Blades, and there's a real sense of that when stuff goes wrong, sticking it out in a shattered plan could be very very bad. Sometimes you just have to try again or give up the job.
  • Controlled/Risky/Desperate -> It's a conversation. If the GM's like: "Well, infiltrating that household sounds pretty risky." The player can push back, or the GM can offer ways in which it might become Controlled, if they say, spread around some bribes, or spent more time.

    Oh, also, effect, forgot to mention that. You have dots you put into your assets (gear, connections, tools). Sometimes the effect is obvious from a roll, but sometimes, it makes sense to roll for how much of an effect you have, and that's where the quality of your assets comes into play. Effects often are about inflicting stress or harm on a personal level, or advancing countdown clocks on a larger scale.
  • edited March 2015
    Thanks for the info, James! The pacing does sound important, and "losing your Hold" sounds like a perfect way to frame the correct incentive.

    Rolling to see what I've previously learned about the big metal door is fine by me if I earned that roll with prior decisions. But if the prior decision was simply "I check the place out", with nothing in particular on the line, then I doubt that'd feel meaningful to me.
    Like for example, if during downtime, you said: "I'm going to go gather information on the house by becoming a worker." it might make sense to make a roll there and give some information.
    That sounds more like my cup of tea.
    A lot of it will be table/situation dependent.
    Gotcha. Play with people who want what I want, and it'll probably fly; otherwise, the game ain't gonna force anyone to sweat planning.

    A few more thoughts/questions:

    - Gotcha on the 3 positions.

    - When you talk about rolling for degree of effect, is that a separate roll, or are you just describing how we get more detail out of the initial attempt roll?

    - I dig the clocks -- the Projects on the Whisper sheet look awesome!

    - What does one do to build teamwork pools?
  • I find it very interesting (and surprising, for some reason) that this game appears to inhabit the same "game universe" as Ghost Lines...
  • @David_Berg:

    Effect can be a before or after type of thing, and it's kind of interesting how that plays out.

    Let's say that there's a project of getting through this arcane door, and you are running out of time, for any number of reasons. You can use that as input, where you say: "Okay, I really need a serious (4 tick) effect, so I can finish this up now, and I'm doing it with brute arcane force", and the GM might be like: "Okay, but that's desperate!"

    Or it can be on the other side, where you're spending time deciphering the runes, and you roll for effect (similar type of roll ,just slightly different inputs), to see how much of an effect you had. If you don't have a big enough effect, then that might put pressure on other people to distract the Lord before he enters the room with you in it, etc, etc.

    Reviewing this a little more precisely, teamwork pools can be created with Tactics rolls during downtime, but importantly, you create them by fictionally making a plan. You can call upon Factions you're friendly with to give you teamwork dice (but of course, expect them to demand your help at a later date).

    Teamwork dice are the resource that let you say "no, we had a contingency for this happening", but importantly, all teamwork dice are gained through the players describing and making their fictional plan. So the contingencies the PCs use are bound to the fiction they've established.

    That reassuring you on the "planning matters"?






  • Also, yeah, if someone in downtime was like: "I scope out the house!" there would be several layers of questions before we'd roll.
  • edited March 2015
    I still have some concerns, but they're just matters of personal taste, not any sort of critique of the game. This bit from the Kickstarter page is presented as a selling point; I can't imagine that anyone who jumps at this will be on board for the kind of play I prefer when scheming:
    Many RPG sessions grind to a halt when planning is required. The group ends up discussing options for hours -- talking about the game rather than playing the game. Blades in the Dark cuts through all that with a lightning-fast planning technique that takes less than one minute. You make a few simple decisions and you're off and running. In addition, the players can use their teamwork bonus to activate a contingency plan, which lets them cut to a flashback scene and roll a setup action their character performed in the past.
    Emphasis mine, for the parts that turn me off.

    If your groups have opted to spend more time on establishing fictional constraints for this stuff, though, James, that's cool, I'm sure I'd enjoy playing it with you! (And John too, if I understand his taste correctly from the internet.)

    Man, that KS page is amazing -- cool premise, cool setting, cool product, cool reward tiers, "source files" options I haven't seen before, lotsa art... I wish I could afford to back this at a high level!

    I've been wanting to play a "factions changing the landscape of power" game for a while -- were you satisfied with Blades on that front?
  • Oh, wait, there was a new release and a lot of the planning stuff changed! Soooo there's that. :) The new system is cool, I'm testing it out now.
  • edited March 2015
    Yeah, James is referencing an old version of the rules. Teamwork pools are gone, for instance. Downtime works differently. I had some similar issues with that stuff that you do, David, so it's been changed.

    I'm working to get the Quick Start PDF ready before next week, so people can see what the mechanics actually are. The game of internet telephone is never kind to RPG systems. :)

    The best resource right now is the Hangout game I ran:


    That's the final version of the rules in play.
  • edited March 2015
    My apologies! Funnily enough, there was a moment, with the shift from Blades -> Razors, where I was like: "What is going on with this game, the old version is so much better, hmph, hmph!" and then an iteration later I had totally forgotten about it.

    But yeah, the new planning mechanics are really good: they give me some fertile new ways of handling: "How do you handle a big, complex heist?"

    It's maybe one of small things I love about this game: especially as a GM, it challenges you to think about obstacles and situations in very new and interesting ways.
  • No worries, James. That's how playtesting goes. We had that experience with the rules iterations, too, until we hit on this current, final set. That's how I knew it was done! Everyone was like, "Oh man this is better than Razors!" :)
  • edited March 2015
    Heh, yeah, I totally hear ya on that. I will keep an eye out for Quick Start, and watch the Hangout if I find the time!
  • Is the planning stuff similar to battle plans in the Regiment?
  • edited March 2015
    I'm curious to know: How dependent is the game on having a stable roster of players? And how necessary is the playbook niche protection? My worry is, not knowing who'll show up from session to session: I'd like it to be not a serious impediment if, say, one session the Cutter can't make it, or if I have a week with a substitute Cutter, it won't matter if both the primary and the substitute show up the following week, you know? This was a spot where I felt Apocalypse World fell short, so now I'm conscious of it when I see the playbook format being implemented.
  • I'm very curious to hear about the Quick Start, as well.

    (And the answer to creases's questions, which are quite interesting.)
  • @creases : Not dependent at all. Fictionally, you have more people in your gang than just the PCs, so you've always got a pool of extras, plus hired blades to hang on.

    Niche protection is not much of a thing: for example, in abilities, loadout, and effects, only a very small percentage is pre-set for your character: there's a lot of different cutters, and you won't mind having two of them.

    The way loadouts and items work is one of my favorite things.
  • C. Jay: Yes, planning is similar to battle plans in The Regiment. But even better, imo.

    James is right about niche protection and the player roster. The game is very flexible in this regard.
  • Awesome! I'm super pumped about this project and now I continue to be pumped!
  • edited March 2015
    I have a question about the rules. As far as I can see, players use the highest number from a d6 dice pool made up of:

    One or two dice of skill
    One from assist
    One from a devil's bargain
    One from sharing a background.

    ... and then they roll on the appropriate table for desperate, risky or controlled.

    So, since skill may be only 1 or 2 dice amongst 5, and the subsequent interpretation depends heavily on fictional positioning, does that mean the characters will end up being quite similar?

    I.e. the result of an action will far more depend on the situation than how much of a badass any particular character is?

    (For background, I have backed the game - I'm just trying to get my head around what it's like in play).

    Also, as a supplementary question, how much is the dark and gritty part baked in? Could it handle a bunch of do-gooders, like the Librarians, who go places to face down evil, but don't really have the killer instinct.
  • Skills (called Actions in the game) are rated from zero to four. Beginning characters are capped at 2 until they unlock expert and master training upgrades for their crew.
  • So there is space to become a specialist? Cool.

    I really like what you're doing with this kickstarter, by the way. This level of engagement during the process really helps to make me feel I'm going to love the product.
  • I'm interested in if one of the goals is to provide support for the GM in terms of managing between session prep, or setup for one-shots and short games? If so, can you give us an idea what that looks like?
    My inclination these days is to minimise time spent on that- things that help me in one-shots are thoughtstarters: colourful seeds, random tables of jobs, clients, etc.
  • Thanks, summerdown. I'm glad to hear that.

    Cnpeh: Blades is my magnum opus on low-prep (or no prep) GMing. I never prep at all when I run it (except sometimes thinking about the NPC factions and advancing their progress clocks). I'll talk about it more when I have some time. Gotta get that Quick Start PDF ready now. :)
  • Blades is my magnum opus on low-prep (or no prep) GMing. I never prep at all when I run it
    That's great to hear!!
    Can't wait to get the (full) Quick Start PDF.
  • edited March 2015
    OK, love the Quickstart infos so far!

    I was just wondering:
    Shouldn't the Effect Roll example also include a bonus for matching background?

    Also, design-wise it isn't (yet) clear to me why there are seperate stats for Effect rolls (Force, Finesse, Influence...). Couldn't the stats for the Action rolls (Blade, Book, Cloak...) simply be reused for this purpose? i.e. use something out of Blade instead of Force or Book instead of Will?
  • edited March 2015
    OK, love the Quickstart infos so far!

    I was just wondering:
    Shouldn't the Effect Roll example also include a bonus for matching background?

    Also, design-wise it isn't (yet) clear to me why there are seperate stats for Effect rolls (Force, Finesse, Influence...). Couldn't the stats for the Action rolls (Blade, Book, Cloak...) simply be reused for this purpose? i.e. use something out of Blade instead of Force or Book instead of Will?
    John expressly said in the update on the kickstarter not to link it or give it out to anyone not in your game group. I'm sure you can ask questions without going against his wishes.

  • edited March 2015
    Hey all, I just edited those links out.

    EDIT: Here's links to the free samples which have been posted.


    Play sample:
    http://onesevendesign.com/blades/blades_qs_sample_02.pdf

    Putting it all together:
    http://onesevendesign.com/blades/blades_qs_sample_01.pdf


  • I believe BeePeeGee was linking to a preview in the open update number 14, which had no request for it to be limited to backers only?
  • I believe BeePeeGee was linking to a preview in the open update number 14, which had no request for it to be limited to backers only?
    If that were the case I wouldn't have said anything, of course. Sorry if I came off as overly forceful by the way, re-reading my post now it looks a little antagonistic and wasn't what I intended. In any case, we can still reference and talk about it without putting up links; I'm assuming most of us are backers anyway, just thought we should respect John's wishes on the not spreading the link around front.
  • @BeePeeGee: For effect, you can get a bonus die if you have a fine item. The background bonus applies to action rolls.

    Design-wise, separating action and effect ratings makes for more diverse characters, and also give more avenues of advancement so long-term play is rewarding.
  • Blades is my magnum opus on low-prep (or no prep) GMing. ... I'll talk about it more when I have some time. Gotta get that Quick Start PDF ready now. :)
    Very encouraging- looking forward to it.

    Already a backer and got the Quickstart- does your allowance of sharing it with a gaming group extend to running it at an upcoming games day run by our local gaming club? (I'd expect players will walk away with their character sheets per usual, but I wouldn't broadly hand out the material.)
  • Are there any actual play reports out and about on the wide, wide internet?
  • @Cneph: Sure, that's fine. :)

    Potemkin: Sean Nittner's account of our hangouts game (on YoutTube) is good:
    http://www.seannittner.com/actual-play-six-towers-gang/
  • I did a Q&A on hangouts last night. Might be useful to you!
  • I'm pretty excited, got my first taste of the system. Unfortunately, didn't get too much play-time in the game. We spent most of the first session talking about our crew and what we're trying to accomplish (kinda the point right?). However, we did get a little of in-character play going which is where my question arises from. So our question was, when you roll for an Action, is it always followed by a roll for Effect? If not, in what situation can you omit one step in that process? For example:

    We were doing a little flash-back work, describing how the leader of our crew went around inducting each of us into the cult he was forming. At one point, he was trying to charm myself and another PC to join the scientology-type cult we created. He rolled an action roll, it was a 5. Now, we weren't sure if we should have him roll for effect after that action roll or not. On the one hand, myself and the other PC were obviously not trying to resist this seduction into the crew, cause that's why we're a unit. However, we figured it would be important to determine just how far down the rabbit hole we fell with that initial sales pitch. Were we now die-hard acolytes or did we kinda buy the premise but needed to raise our thetan levels to get more on page with the tenants of the cult?

    One of the people in the game said he read somewhere that you're not supposed to roll twice for the same issue in question. But I took that to mean: you roll once for the Action roll and then you roll for the Effect of that action. Not rolling twice would be a reference to not just retrying a roll because it didn't go the way you wanted. Basically, a PC can't spend 8 rolls trying to get what they want, they roll once and then have to change the situation before they can attempt another roll.

    At any rate, we decided on progress clocks to throw our characters further down the rabbit hole. Right now the cult (and party) leader has a decent hold on us, but with a little more work we'll be die-hard believers.

    Did I interpret the intention of the rules correctly? Is there anything I'm missing or have incorrect which could be problematic for the future? Any insight on this would be much appreciated. I'll let you guys know how our games shake out as we go along.
  • edited April 2015
    "Don't roll twice" comes from this G+ post. I think it means something a little stronger than just "no rerolls."
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