BitD Rules FAQ / Clarification Reference Doc

I write FAQs when I’m learning a topic, and so BitD got the same treatment. This is the rules Q&A I wrote for my playgroups, and I thought others may benefit from it here. Many of these come from rules discussions on this forum and Reddit (especially posts by John Harper and Sully5443), so thanks to those I nabbed these answers from! Some of the “rulings” are based on what seemed to be the community’s consensus, and I tried to reflect when multiple approaches can be taken. I’m still learning this system, so please call out any errors or confusing text so I can fix them, or suggest Q&As to add.

== BLADES IN THE DARK RULES FAQ ==

Do downtime activities use action rolls?

Some downtime activities call for rolling an action, like working on long-term projects, reducing heat, and healing with TINKER. These are treated as fortune rolls with dice pools equal to the action’s rating. Position and effect do not apply to these rolls and cannot cause consequences or harm.

Do downtime actions rolls have position and effect?

Downtime activities are essentially fortune rolls without position, effect, or negative consequences. The assumption is downtime activities are accomplished without taking risk, and the worst a player can suffer is a lesser result or slower clock progress.

A GM may choose to bend these rules if in the fiction the character is exposing themself to risks during downtime. Maybe the GM introduces complications later during freeplay or a score due to the risky downtime activities.

If a downtime activity’s risks have immediate consequences, it may be worth discussing whether these actions would make more sense in freeplay where the GM has more narrative freedom to impose consequences and players can push themselves, take Devil’s Bargains, resist, and use teamwork.

Can you push yourself on a downtime action?

Yes, you can push yourself on downtime activity rolls. Page 13 of the rulebook says this about the effect of pushing yourself (emphasis added):

Add +1d to your roll. (This may be used for an action roll or downtime roll or any other kind of roll where extra effort would help you )

You can also spending COIN to boost the result (e.g. 1-3 becomes 4-5.)

Can another player assist you with a long-term project?

No, not per the rulebook. Players seeking +1d to long-term project rolls may involve a crew’s and character’s friends or contacts.

John Harper has said as a house rule he allows players to assist downtime actions if the character’s help makes sense in the fiction. This assistance still costs 1 stress.

Can a player take the XP trigger from another playbook?

Yes, a player may swap in a XP trigger from another playbook or create a custom one (with the consent of the GM, of course.)

John Harper has said he considered adding “You struggled because of harm” as an XP trigger, which you could use to make the harm mechanic more engaging.

Can a player take items from another playbook?

Yes, players can likely swap items between playbooks with GM approval. Players are encouraged to customize their characters through collaboration with the GM.

Can you push yourself and take a Devil’s Bargain for the same action?

You cannot do both to get +2d for the action roll, but you can take a Devil’s Bargain for +1d and push yourself for +1 level to your effect.

Can you push yourself for +1d and +1 level of effect?

Yes, you may push yourself for both bonuses at a cost of 4 total stress.

Can you roll to resist and use armor against the same consequence?

Per page 33 of the rulebook:

If you have a type of armor that applies to the situation, you can mark an armor box to reduce or avoid a consequence, instead of rolling to resist.

But in the gameplay examples on pages 32-33 of the rulebook, a player is described resisting an attack with PROWESS to reduce level 3 harm to level 2, then using armor to reduce it to level 1.

John Harper has allowed players to combine resistance rolls and armor in games he’s run. As a GM, decide if using both makes sense in your fiction, such as a character resisting a sword swing with PROWESS so it slashes their armor instead of their throat.

Can playbook advances be taken during play?

Yes, John Harper has said he intended for players to be able to wait and choose their advances during play in the same spirit as flashbacks and load allowing items to appear when needed.

Can crew upgrades and special abilities be gained outside of XP advances?

Yes, these may be obtained through scores or long-term projects. Acquiring these can be great drivers for story and gameplay, whether chosen by the players or offered by the GM.

Can effect change after the roll?

No, you should not be changing an action’s effect after the roll.

Before the action roll, the GM and players should be establishing the position and effect based on what makes sense in the fiction, the player’s goal, the character’s approach, and factors like potency, quality, tier and scale.

A player may propose an action then be surprised by its position and effect, leading to a discussion about why that’s the case and how they might approach it differently. Save the action roll until agreement is reached on position and effect.

If the player just doesn’t like the outcome of a roll, that’s what resistance rolls and stress are for.

Can you push yourself or take a Devil’s Bargain after a roll?

No, you cannot use those after the action roll to get +1d or +1 effect.

That said, in Example of Play (Showdown at the Docks) on pages 39-40, the scene ends with a player succeeding at a COMMAND roll, but not achieving their intended outcome, and so the GM allows them to push themself for +1 effect level, too. This is meant to show that the rules exist to enable smooth and fun play, not to be legalistically obeyed.

If a player simply forgot they could push themself or get a Devil’s Bargain (maybe as someone new to the game), then talk about it and see if rewinding or adding to the roll is OK.

Can you roll to resist then still choose to take the consequence instead of the stress?

No, once you roll to resist, you must take the resulting stress, even if you don’t like the result.

Can you flashback to indulge vice and reduce stress?

As the rulebook states, flashbacks are not time travel. Flashbacks cannot reduce stress gained after the vice was indulged.

A GM may allow a player to flashback to reduce the stress they had during the last downtime if that makes sense in the fiction, but not new stress gained during the current freeplay or score.

Can a long-term project clock be less than 8 segments?

While the rulebook says a basic long-term project would be 8 segments, nothing prevents them from being fewer. John Harper has done so during streamed games and said that’s fine in online discussions.

The question may be whether a simpler goal really needs to be a long-term project, or if it would be more appropriate to accomplish it through play. A player may still choose to do a simple long-term project as a way of pursuing it without risk of stress or consequences.

Does healing reduce all instances of harm or just one?

When you fill a healing clock, you shift all harm down a level, which removes all level 1 harm.

Do characters always freeze up or flee from ghosts?

Ghosts may be common in Doskvol, but they are no less dangerous. The “freeze or flee” consequence in the presence of supernatural horror is intended to create a sense of otherworldly menace. The effect isn’t permanent, and players are free to resist.

A player complained online that the Whisper in his crew kept compelling ghosts to appear that inflicted supernatural harm on teammates, which demanded resistance rolls and taking stress. John Harper replied with:

When the Whisper is doing something with a ghost, [their teammates] can choose to freeze up – close their eyes, wait for it to go away – instead of resisting and taking stress.

If the Whisper is constantly summoning and using ghosts in the middle of the action, then yeah, that’s kind of a dick move and there are ways they can operate without constantly scaring their crewmates.

About ghosts in general, Harper also wrote:

Freezing up and holding still while the ghost is nearby is sufficient. You don’t need to inflict harm unless the ghost is specifically targeting them.

And:

Imagine that a tiger walks into the room you’re in right now. Do you just… continue to go about your business?

A ghost is much worse. It’s not just a glowing light. It’s darkness and madness and soul-sucking horror.

The “get out of there or freeze up” rule is a reminder that your characters are human, not pawns in a tabletop game.

“Freezing up” might be as simple as holding still and going wide-eyed as unnatural darkness swallows the light in the room and your breath freezes in the air and something beyond death moans horribly in the corner of the room. It’s a temporary moment of hesitation, not permanent paralysis.

The ghost effects don’t remove character agency, anymore than saying “getting stabbed is deadly,” would. You can resist it if you want to, same as anything else.

In the RollPlay series, as the crew expanded their ghost abilities and had more experience with arcane stuff, I eased off on the horror aspect. Also, I generally don’t inflict the supernatural horror effect when Reconciled ghosts are around, unless the Reconciled wants to cause it.

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Actually you can push yourself on a downtime roll if extra effort would help you.

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Thanks for pointing that out! I’d edit the original post but I don’t seem to be able to anymore.

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Re editing, best I can do as a moderator is make your first post a wiki.That’d allow any user to edit it though. But if there was ever any trouble with spurious edits, mods can go back to previous revisions or turn it back into a normal post.

A wiki is fine with me and in the spirit of this type of document.

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Cool and done! Let me know if there’s anything else.

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Hmmm, is that section so clear cut? If my players ask to help on a downtime activity, I ask “I know you guys works together, but are you friends?”

I don’t think pushing for dice or taking devil’s bargain after rolling makes any sense. It certainly not allowed by the rules, except maybe the GM’s prerogative to break any rules rather than play something heinous. Also, I wonder at the wisdom of allowing pushing for effect after the roll. See: https://community.bladesinthedark.com/t/adjusting-effect-after-the-roll/1578

I wonder if the better answer is simply: you should make all your decisions before the roll. Only if you make a mistake or something else extraordinary should you allow pushing after the roll.

Regarding assistance for long-term projects (and other downtime activities) I am going by the discussion here and @John_Harper’s replies : https://community.bladesinthedark.com/t/assistance-during-downtime-activities/1256

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Regarding increasing the effect after the roll by pushing yourself, if I’m reading it right, the example of play on page 40 has a player rolling an action, then upon hearing the effect wasn’t great enough, pushing themselves to raise it to extreme effect.

That’s a good point about whether other PC’s count as “friends”. My reading was that “friend” referred to NPCs in the friends/rivals list, and “contacts” are from the contacts listed on the crew sheet.

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I may be mistaken, but my interpretation of those linked discussions and the action roll summary rules are that:

  • The GM should clearly set the position and effect before the roll.

  • Everyone can discuss why that’s the case and how to alter it based on the approaches and actions they take (plus tier, quality, scale, etc.)

  • Pushing yourself, Devil’s Bargains, or assists for +1d are done before the roll – no adding an extra die or two after the roll just because you didn’t like the result.

  • Regardless of the roll, the GM doesn’t change the effect level that was agreed upon.

  • But the player may still push themself for +1 effect after the roll, as in the rulebook’s example.

While its common for folks to interpret that example as the rules allowing you to pushing for effect after the roll, I think that’s a misunderstanding. See John’s comment, particularly:

Two things i read here:

  1. The rules don’t allow you to push for effect after the roll.
  2. Focus on creating a smooth, functional game rather than on following the rules perfectly.

Your FAQ is another good opportunity to dispel that misunderstanding.

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@watergoesred How about this updated answer? ^^^ Thanks for helping me get this straight!

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I think that’s great

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Wow. Thanks for sharing. This is very useful!

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Is it OK to ask additional clarifying questions here? If yes, how does the part “You are immune to the terror that some supernatural entities inflict on sight.” in

iron will
You are immune to the terror that some supernatural entities inflict on sight.
When you make a resistance roll with Resolve, take +1d.

work?

Is this just flavor text OR is it actually part of the ability? If a character has it, they don’t get frozen upon sight, but all other characters without this ability will?

I read that as two abilities united by the “iron will” theme:

  1. The first sentence allows the PC to ignore the “freeze or flee” consequence others would suffer when confronted with dangerous ghosts, demons, etc.

  2. The +1d to resistance rolls with Resolve seems to apply to all situations, not just the supernatural.

At least that’s how I read it.

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That would be my interpretation too, I just want to confirm.

For reducing heat: is the roll done with the Action dice used or with a fortune roll?

If with Action dice, is the intent that if the party has high Consort/Command/Sway character, they can very effectively reduce the heat after every score through having that character use that action after every score?