BoB rules question : BULWARK special ability

Hi everybody. While rereading the example on page 226 of Band of Blades, of a Specialist protecting a squad from Harm, I wondered how this example differed from using the Bulwark special ability.

With Bulwark, a Heavy (or any specialist with the ability and points in Anchor) can “spend anchor uses as special armor against consequences to a squad you are defending”.

But on page 226, the Specialist (also an Heavy in the example, but fictionaly it could be another) does exactly the same, without Bulwark or spending Anchor, just by diving on the explosion with its helmet. Here, the Specialist just uses the Protect team maneuver, but to the benefit of a whole squad. And moreover, the consequences that the Specialist faces (taking the Harm instead of the squad), is the same, not worse, than if they had used Bulwark and spent Anchor.

So, if anybody can do it without Anchor/Bulwark, why would we take this special ability?

Is the answer just that with Protect only, it is not always possible to protect a whole squad, but, depending on the fiction, sometimes it will be only one squad member, while with Anchor/Bulwark, it is always possible to protect the whole squad?

Or is there something else that I’m missing?

(Edit: also, am I right in thinking that it’s not just Specialists, but any PC, who could protect a Squad as described on this page? Of course it’s more dangerous for a Rookie, but a Soldier with Grit would be better than many specialists, except the heavy, for this kind of action)


  1. As written, Bulwark does not require you to use the Protect action to activate Bulwark.
  2. Bulwark applies to not only the squad, but also the PC’s. The Protect action only applies to the squad and often not even the whole squad.
  3. Bulwark expands the number of protection style actions you can perform before exhaustion. A typical heavy will have 2-3 points of armor and 6 stress points to stave off the consequences of Protect actions. A Heavy with Bulwark gets 1+ opportunities to protect the squad before having to utilize their armor or stress.
  4. Bulwark says that you “protect the squad as a whole, including other PC’s but not yourself.” But it ALSO says “you can mark ANCHOR uses as special armor…even when not involved in the roll.” Which means you can use Bulwark in circumstances where the squad is in danger, but you personally may not be.

Thanks! A few comments on your answers though…

1 and 3. That’s my problem. I’m not sure that Bulwark gives the Heavy “1+ opportunities to protect the squad before having to utilize their armor or stress”. See the example on page 239 : Rodano uses Bulwark to protect the squad, but still has to spend armour + resist to reduce the Harm, and takes corruption. Exactly as if she had just used the Protect action (and in this situation, it’s quite plausible that the Protect could have protected the whole squad: stopping a wave of bile from a Gut-sack with a tower shield is perfectly plausible). Same on page 244: Rodano uses Bulwark, but takes the Harm.
So, reading those examples – but maybe i’m reading them wrong --, it does not seem to me that Bulwark gives the Heavy more opportunities to protect.

  1. Interesting POV but debatable… What do you mean by “Bulwark applies to not only the squad, but also the PC’s. The Protect action only applies to the squad”? I mean, squad members (Rookies and Soldiers) can be PCs. Why couldn’t a Protect action not be used to protect PCs?

4 . “Which means you can use Bulwark in circumstances where the squad is in danger, but you personally may not be.” Here again, this is not different from Protect. The whole point of Protect is to take consequences instead of another character who is in danger. To Protect, you don’t need to be in danger yourself before the Protect.

So the only difference between Bulwark and Protect would still be in your point 2, regarding the fact that Bulwark is sure to protect the whole squad, but Protect is not, as I was suggesting in my first post.

When you Protect, you step in and face a consequence someone else is facing. You can choose to reduce that consequence if you like, but you don’t have to.

If you want to reduce a consequence you face, you have a few options:

  • roll to resist
  • spend armour
  • mark special armour.

The GM’s says how much each of these reduce the consequence, typically one level of harm per option. For example, level 6 harm might be reduced to level 3 if you roll, spend armour and mark special armour.

Bulwark works a little differently. It’s special armour, so you don’t have to roll, but it doesn’t reduce consequence you face, only the consequences others face. So if you spend 3 Anchor you could reduce level 3 harm hit 5 squadmates to zero harm. A Protect move may reduce harm that much for that many, but really depends on the fictional context and risks much precious resource when you have to face the consequence instead. Bulwark always works and is a renewable resource.

If you also face that consequence, then Bulwark won’t help you, you have to deal with that with rolling to resist, spending armour, or marking other special armour.

If you’re not already facing that consequence, then you’re all good. Bulwark isn’t Protect, so it’s doesn’t force you to face the consequence yourself.

Hi @watergoesred, thanks for the clarification

I would point out that:

  • “Bulwark works a little differently. It’s special armour, so you don’t have to roll”: You don’t have to roll to use the Protect team maneuver either. You step in (provided it’s fictionally appropriate) and you take the consequence in place of the character you’re protecting.
  • “Bulwark always works and is a renewable resource.” I don’t agree, since you have to use to use Anchor to use Bulwark, and Anchor is not more renewable (nor less) than armour, for exemple.

But the rest of your post is interesting, and I guess, it it’s right, that that’s where I haven’t correctly understood Bulwark. I guess it’s also what @Udachnik meant in his 4th point above, that I did not understand:

What you mean here is there could be situations where you could use Bulwark in defense of a squad, but you wouldn’t face the consequences (contrary to Protect). Am I right in interpreting what you say? I mean, it’s the way I was reading Bulwark before I made the link with the two examples and the “squad Protect” situation on page 226.

My problem with that is both examples in the book go against this interpretation. Do you have good fictional examples of uses of Bulwark where it’s appropriate not to inflict the Harm on the Heavy?

You’re right you don’t roll to Protect, but Protect only transfers the consequences, it doesn’t reduce them.
Unlike Bulwark, which does reduce consequences without a roll.

Also, if you’re already facing a consequence, you can’t step in and use Protect to help others. But you can use Bulwark.

Example: the heavy uses their hook and chain to snag a great beast and then Anchors themself, holding back the beast’s colossal weight from crushing the squad of rookies it leapt on

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“if you’re already facing a consequence, you can’t step in and use Protect to help others. But you can use Bulwark.” Of course! It’s very logical. That’s the main difference and I was stupid not to see it.

Also your example is excellent and this is indeed a situation where Bulwark/Anchor makes full sense.

Only thing: “Unlike Bulwark, which does reduce consequences without a roll”. I’m not sure here. If I understood you clearly, there are two different situations for Bulwark:

  • One where you use Bulwark, but you still have to face the consequences. There are two examples of this in the rulebook. It’s more akin to Protect, except: 1/ You’re sure to protect the whole squad, and 2/ You can use it even if you’re involved in the original consequences (unlike Protect). But the consequences are not reduced, if I read the examples correctly.
  • One (your example above), where you find a good fictional way to protect the whole squad, but there is no immediate consequences (in your example, the beast would probably jump on you, but that’s another action). Here, there is no point in “reducing” the consequence, because the fiction says it’s cancelled.

Thanks a lot! Things are much clearer.

By renewable, I meant that the heavy always has their Anchor uses at the start of mission. Whereas they only have more than 1 armour if they carry it. They only have the stress to burn if they rest sometime.

I also meant to say that stress and armour are usually in short supply, whereas a Heavy often has Anchor leftover unused at the end of missions.

Happy to help and glad I’m making some sense.

So the text for Bulwark is ‘You can spend anchor uses as special armor against consequences to a squad you are defending.’ As I described earlier, special armour is one of the ways you resist consequences. This means that Bulwark lets you reduce consequences for your squadmates or avoid it entirely, as the GM allows.

Sure, they’re not reduced for the Heavy, but I was just pointing to how Bulwark reduces consequence for their squadmates. Now Protect takes the consequences away from the squadmates, so this can amount to the same thing.

Except when that distinction matters. For example, the Heavy can sometimes use both Bulwark and Protect together: reducing the consequences first and then stepping in to face what’s left themself.

Hmmm, not quite. I mean, you could be right, but it’s up to the GM to decide if the consequences are reduced or avoided. In my example, the great beast might still hit the rookies hard, just not fatally; so instead of sucking chest wounds (level 4), the GM might say Bulwark reduces harm to only broken legs and crushed ribs (level 3).

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Okay. But (excuse me, I’m kind of making myself the Devil’s advocate here), when you say “but it’s up to the GM to decide if the consequences are reduced or avoided”, that means that the GM can treat Special Armor as a Resist, by deciding how much the consequence is reduced or if it is entirely cancelled. This is unlike normal armour where one use of armor/heavy reduces the harm by just one level.

So I wonder: is that RAW?

If we look at the examples that I cited, it’s OK: the Heavy uses Bulwark and each time, the Harm to the squad is entirely avoided, not just reduced.

But if I look at the other place in the rulebook where Special armor is explicitely used against Harm, we see (page 172, “Horned One’s Thew” Chosen ability) : “When you use this ability, tick the special armor on your playbook. If you use this to reduce harm, you reduce the harm by one level.”

So, in some cases, we have special armor which is less generous as in other places. This has to be supported by the fiction.

Here’s how I would interpret that (but I would have liked it to be clearer in the book’s examples):

  • On page 239, it’s the fictional effect of the Tower shield that allows the Heavy to cancel the Harm to the squad, and not just reduce it by one level. With a normal shield, it would not have worked so well.
  • On page 244, it’s the fictional effect of War machine that does the same.
  • In your own example, the Heavy would also need the fictional help of something like War machine to cancel the Harm to the squad, instead of just resisting. Or he would have needed to take the time to make 2 turns of the chain around a tree or a stump, something like that.

Do you agree with that view?

Also: after more careful rereading of the book’s example, it is possible that the Harm inflicted to the Heavy in the two cases is not Harm as a consequence of using Bulwark, but just the Harm that the Heavy would have normally suffered just as part of the action (despite it being inflicted after the use of Bulwark). So this would pretty much nail it and clarify the ample difference between Protect and Bulwark.

Thanks again!

Page 42

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

Then it lists equipment and special armour and examples of both reducing or avoiding consequences. So I think it’s clear that spending armour (of either type) is just alternate way of resisting consequences and so still up to the GM whether it reduces or avoid a consequence.

Here I have to disagree.

I don’t think that Gear armor (armor and shield) is in question. Either in BitD or in BoB all examples and all interpretations are very clear that one use of gear armor = 1 level of harm reduced. That’s the case for the example of Gear armor on page 42. There is no example of use of Gear armor where the use of a single box of it would cancel more than one level of Harm.

Special armor is, well, special. When it’s applied to consequences other than physical harm, consequences which are not “levelled” like Harm, then mostly the consequence is cancelled. Or it is reduced in gravity, but there is no hard mechanical way of translating it, only fictional.

It’s when special armor is applied to Harm that things get more fuzzy, and that’s what I was noting. Sometimes (as in “Horned One’s Thew”), it’s clearly defined, Harm is only reduced one level. Sometimes it’s not so clear, up to the GM. Bulwark appears to be one of those cases.

Maybe no examples, but the rules text literally say armour can reduce or avoid a consequence. Another example on page 42:

If you also happen to bring a shield, it too can reduce or negate a blow.

Well, technically, if the Harm is level 1, a shield or a single use of armor will indeed negate it. It does not mean that it could negate a more severe harm.

I mean, you could probably find a really bizarre situation where it would be fictionally appropriate for a single use of armor or shield to negate more than one level of harm, but it would mostly be stretching.

The language is taken directly from Blades in the Dark (except BoB has corrected the part of the sentence in BitD that lead many people to believe, incorrectly, that resisting and armor could not be used simultaneously), and in BitD also, Gear armor has always been understood as one use = one level of harm avoided. I really don’t think that BoB is different in this particular regard.

You can call it bizarre if you like. All I’m saying is the rules allow the GM to decide if marking an armour box reduces or avoids a consequence. If a GM never decides to allow avoiding or negating a consequence with armour, that’s their choice.

But I don’t think it’s hard to encounter such situations. Like a venomous bite might be Level 4 harm, but if the fangs don’t pierce the skin then using armour might avoid the harm entirely.

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I love your examples, you have a talent for finding excellent ones.

But in this case, it does not work imho. Against a venomous spider or snake, you don’t have to spend even a single armor. Either it has bitten you in an unarmored spot, or it does not pierce the armor, and certainly would not render it useless (“used”, “spent”…) against a subsequent normal hit by a weapon.

Or… it’s a giant frigging spider/smake, but then its bite IS a weapon in itself, and you go back to 1 use of armor = 1 less level bite-harm. Then the venom takes effect as soon as you take even 1 level of bite-harm.

I think we’ll have to agree to disagree on this!

I recognise the rules are intentionally ambiguous in places. I thought this part was pretty clear, but I can see sense in what you’re saying.

I can imagine situations where the harm is all or nothing, just like you’re either disarmed or not. So while you’re counterpoints are good and fine way of adjudicating, I don’t agree they are the only possible. And that’s all I’m saying, I think the rules allow the GM to decide the best approach because who knows what will come up in play.

But if I can come up with examples all day, I’m sure you can pick them apart all day.

I do think that you spend armour so you don’t use it over and over to save you. Spending it doesn’t have to mean its destroyed or needs repair, only that the armour has had its moment to shine. It’s an abstraction, so it relies on you to make sense in the fiction what spending armour looks like. It may need major repair or replacement, but it might just need some straps retightened once the dust settles. The rules say armour is restored or reset at mission start and again this seems purposefully ambiguous and I think could mean either.

Armor can avoid if it makes sense. Trying to force reduction when it obviously should negate is not correct, this isn’t a mechanics first game (that’s in chapter 1). Bulwark literally shields people from harm because that’s the Heavy’s job. The whole point of FitD (which is where it comes from) was a discussion about fictional positions and how to make sure fiction comes first.

Things get fuzzy because resists can’t negate the original fiction (you were bit) but they might be able to reduce effects (you were bit in an armored area, and now that you take off the armor, look, the teeth are poking through but they didn’t hurt you). In which case it’s intentionally ambiguous - talk to your table and figure out if that means poison doesn’t count. If it’s a 20 foot snake, that leather armor probably reduced the bite damage but didn’t stop it. If it’s a single rotter … they probably can’t chew through the armor. Depends on the fiction.

Some powers bypass certain discussions (and this is their point).

That Threat 3 Cinder Guard is about to bisect 4 rookies. How much damage do you take to save them (because as pointed out, Protect puts the harm on you)?

With Bulwark this is not important. CLANG. The heavy parries the Cinder Guard’s blow. They lose the ability to fight as a small group another time (one anchor gone), but their small group doesn’t take a hit. Done. If the heavy is included in the damage (the swing consequence includes them because it was a group action), they have to resist/armor down for themselves, but they can protect their squad and you don’t have to deal with further details.

Now there are places where you still have to talk. If Blighter’s troops throw gas into the area… HOW are you protecting people? Because if you can’t fictionally figure it out, you can’t just Bulwark it either. But it shifts the discussion from “can you save them” to “how do you save them” which hopefully you can see also fictionally positions the heavy as incredibly capable at their job, and gives them 1-2 spotlight moments per missions (I’m assuming like most good heavies you also use Anchor for offense, leading troops, holding a position etc).

BUT WAIT (I hear A_B) asking, if the damage is negated why is Phaera taking damage on page 239!?

To answer that you have to actually read page 238. The squad AND Phaera take damage. Her Bulwark protects the squad, but she has to resist/armor down her own damage. Do you follow? She’s not taking damage because she’s protecting, she’s taking damage because she was in the blast radius, and Bulwark doesn’t protect her. (I’m pretty sure A_B catches this in a further comment but I wanted to be clear).


Thanks Stras.

Allright… but that sounds like Bulwark always cancel the entire hit to the squad (if possible at all). Wouldn’t it, in certain circonstances, depending on the fiction and the way it is done, only reduce it (like @watergoesred says, and his example was quite good in my view?)

As Stras stressed, consider the fiction first when asking how the mechanics work. So yes, the scope and effectiveness of Bulwark depends on the fictional position of the Heavy, the squad, the threat, etc. Based on that, the GM decides if it reduces or avoids a consequence.