For Dungeons & Dragons players looking to embrace their dark side, look no further than the criminal underground adventures of Blades in the Dark.
Dungeons & Dragons tends to focus on good or heroic characters as they embark on epic quests, leading many players to create evil characters to try and subvert the trope. The problem of having misaligned characters in a J&D game is that they often come into conflict with their party, removing the cooperative environment in which the game thrives. However, for those interested in a walk through the dark side of roleplaying, Blades in the dark can be a breath of fresh air.
In Evil Hat Productions Blades in the dark, players take on the role of thieves, assassins and other criminals in the industrial city of Duskwall. With a suite of new mechanics and characters and a unique world to explore, Blades in the dark can give evil-prone gamers the darker, grittier role-playing experience they crave. Like J&D, players work together in a group; however, instead of being part of a group of heroic adventurers, they are a gang of criminals trying to make a profit. The city of Duskwall also offers an exciting new environment. Instead of being the classic medieval fantasy town of J&D, it’s a dirty, industrial Victorian-style city plagued by supernatural entities under a near-eternal night.
Set of two important mechanics Blades in the dark apart from the others. The first is the Flashback system. When the crew is ready to embark on a heist or other endeavors, the action begins immediately instead of the group spending time around the table with complicated preparations. Like many movies or shows, instead of showing the entire plan ahead of time, the crew uses flashbacks as the mission progresses. A basic example of a Flashback might be that the crew comes across a locked door and has no way of getting through it. One of the players can call on the game master for a flashback and then describe how they prepared for such an occasion. Regardless of what the player chooses to say happened in the past, they receive some sort of bonus in the present and the action continues.
Of course, flashbacks come at a price, and that’s where the second major mechanism comes in: stress. Similar to video games like darkest dungeon, or other tabletop games, players have an additional basic resource to their health, called Stress. Stress is gained and lost much more easily than actual health, and many abilities and other mechanics depend on stress as an equilibrium cost. Simpler flashbacks and preparations may only cost one stress, but the more complex or risky a preparation, the higher the stress cost, which will help balance the flashback mechanic. There are also multiple ways for players to regain stress after completing a mission, relying on chosen traits and relationships to recover both stress and physical health.
The flashbacks and stress management also highlight one of the most exciting things about how Blades in the dark short. The game is described as a “conversation” between the players and the GM in its rulebook. Both have essential roles in storytelling and decision-making at the table, as opposed to D&D, where the DM tells almost everything. This makes the game much more dynamic and fast-paced, allowing the crew to move quickly from job to job, allowing them to grow their gang and influence without too much downtime.
Blades in the dark also has a number of other interesting mechanics. Encounters with supernatural entities, a simple d6 dice rolling system, a fast and dirty combat system, and the Devil’s Bargain mechanic all provide an engaging and unique experience for tabletop veterans and new players alike. The mechanics, tone and tuning of Blades in the dark make it the perfect game for J&D players looking for a more sinister experience at their table, as well as players looking for a faster game.
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