IN SHORT… I have a complex relationship to BitD. It’s the game that made me “rediscover” RPGs after a long hiatus, in a long 20-session campaign that I ran as a GM without having ever played the game as a player… Along the way, I can say that I didn’t always run it as intended, and learned that it doesn’t work as well. I love the background, and I love the system. Every now and then, I run a one-shot of it. It always ends up being a fun game — but after playing 30+ games of Blades, I do get this feeling of “having seen this episode before”, and that’s a bit of a shame.
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3.5-hour game, with 5 players. 2 regular, 3 new ones. Voice on Discord. VTT on Let’s Role.
One thing to note about Blades is that it is hands down the easiest way to find new, mature and interesting players — because it’s a “big enough” game that people have heard about it, but it’s different enough that it attracts folks who are a bit fed up with D&D.
I love Doskvol. For a long time, I thought that I enjoyed Blades only because of the system and the general structure, but then I found that I also really enjoyed the esthetics of this dark setting, with enough anchor points that you can’t just turn it into a sausage of your own, but with enough creative freedom that you can define what the world means to you. I tend to be low on the occult by default, but high on the faction politics.
In fact, I tried several “hacks” of Blades, and I have always been disappointed by either the lack of depth and esthetics in the background of these games, or by how convoluted of a system they managed to build on top of the core mechanics.
To me, Blades is a good example of a system <> background alignment that works — for me at least, although given how successful the game is, it seems to work for others too.
For Blades, even as a one-shot, you need a minimum level of player engagement before the game if you don’t want to waste a ton of time at the beginning of the session. We prepare on Discord, and that shapes up the characters. This way, we have 30 minutes of going around the table, and defining the crew before we decide on a score.
We played “as intended” — meaning we didn’t prep, we decided together what the score would be, and I laid out twists and developments along the way. Pretty typical score by a crew of Shadows — intercepting an artifact being delivered from the train station to a private buyer. An ambush, a counter-ambush, the group splitting into a diversion group and the extraction group. Blades as usual in a way.
I feel like a pretty typical scene of Blades involves a bunch of super intricate details of a plan unfolding through flashbacks, and that definitely happened. An armored carriage holding the artifact was very quickly stopped by a bomb, a diversion negotiated with another gang, other bridges being blocked, and the crew hiding under the bridge — all actions being done “in the past”, but resolved in a pinch “in the present”. Very Blades-like.
What I love the most about the system is how it flips the focus on the stakes of failing instead of the degree of success. It took me a while to really understand how to play with the trade-off between effect and positioning, but when I did, wow… This really makes the rolls count narratively. The trap in GMing Blades, which I fell into many times, is to just go to resolution without considering the stakes, and either spring something disproportional to the players, or just shrug and say “well, I guess you didn’t manage to do what you wanted”. But every few times in a game, the stakes are very high, the narrative consequences are clear to every before the roll, and there is a chill at the table as the dice get rolled. And that’s really cool.