I’ve been hit by a roleplaying memory from a few years ago while discussing Blades in the Dark with an acquaintance.
I was playing Scum and Villainy, which is a space-opera/western themed game based on Blades in the Dark. The two games are, rule-by-rule, extremely similar, but that doesn’t make them the same game. Also, this is not a review of either of these games.
So, this is how it went: this was a small 3-player game and we were running a space-scoundrel crew running smuggling/retrieval jobs.
One of these jobs was set on a semi-desert planet in an underground facility, where some valuable macguffin was stored. Different factions showed up vying for the macguffin.
So, first of all: this is not a particularly pleasant gaming memory. The sesson was plagued by intuitive continuity as I struggled to make sense of the little prep that I had — the game suggests you prep nothing as a GM for your heists. “Well, I guess this is the time for them to get out.” and so it goes. Total bullcrap.
Fortune rolls in general work really well. You rank factions with a score that can be used to make Fortune rolls. These can be used at-will by the GM to provide information such as: how good is the equipment in that faction’s ship? Are these guys prepared for this? Did they set up sentries in advance? Et cetera. Removes the responsibility of having this info prepared or having to make it up on the spot.
I really struggled to use the action rolls effectively, especially when players piled on so many dice that it was essentially a done deal that the roll was going to succedd (with a cost, probably, but whatever). With a few dice it was fun, but with a lot of dice, we were essentially relying on the Resistance mechanic to actually provide resolution, since the Action mechanic was essentially pointless wankery at that point. It’s a lot harder to get loads of dice for Resistance,.
Now we get into one of the core ways in which Scum and Villainy is different than Blades. The difference in tone and themes means that Blades characters will tend to start out as nihilist traumatized edgelords already, while S&V characters tend to start out as more idealistic and naïve, although not idiots. This frames the stress&trauma mechanic completely different — in Blades, it’s just the natural progression of your character, it’s what they do. In S&V each trauma can potentially be a big character moment, usually changing them for the worse.
So, stress seems to have more meaning to me in S&V. Which is also why the game provides Gambits, a way to get roll bonuses without spending stress — but the one thing you can’t spend gambits on are Resistance rolls.
The two things (Resistence being effetively used for resolution & stress having a higher perceived value) tend to combine effectively, if and only if the GM doesn’t pull punches on the consequences.
I described the entire ship crashing and getting destroyed as the result of a “Success with consequence”. Resist that! That was fun — the player really pondered whether to spend the stress and trigger the Resistance roll, and potentially risk a Trauma, or let the ship crash.
This realization became more lucid while they were exploring the macguffin facility. At a certain point. I just stopped calling for action rolls, and directly described harsh consequences. PC walked in room with gorilla-sized enforcer, the enforcer just grabs him, yeets him to the floor, and starts choking him. No roll. Wanna resist that?
I’m pretty sure the game as written doesn’t allow this, and I wondered for a while if I had “overstepped” my GM boundaries. But fuck that shit. It was fun. It was more fun than rolling a watered down action roll and ending up with another “yes but” where I try to figure out something we were not rolling for to fuck over.
That series was the last time I played any Blades-inspired game out of my own accord, not consciously, but I guess I was done with it. Some months later some group asked me to demo S&V for them, and I did to be nice, and that session was really boring. I couldn’t get past how boring the action roll is as a mechanic. I couldn’t get past how arbitrary each result feels when you’re making up the heist as you go along.