This week my group completed our Band of Blades campaign. Our game from start to finish took 16 approx. 3+ hour sessions. We completed 13 full campaign phases prior to reaching the Keep. Skydagger Keep took two sessions. I would love to hear what other people’s stat’s and experiences were like as well.
- We arrived at Skydagger Keep with 8 Specialists, 6 full squads, 1 injured rookie and full Morale.
- Our Commander chose to do all 5 missions, even though we could have skipped Holding the Lower Pass due to killing Render.
- The Reinforce the Gates & Ramparts mission went so well for our Officer and his team of workers that he completed it early and asked for the chance to take on an additional mission objective: building a siege weapon. He had 2 unexpended channels, it seemed fair at the time.
- We rolled 3d6 on the final Engagement roll and got a 4.
- We completed the game with 230 points.
- The funniest part of the game was adding up all of our points and hearing my players scream in disbelief when there were options they never even imagined had been available. “What the hell does Weaving Moonlight even mean?!?”
- We lost 24 Legionnaires on our journey to Skydagger keep. An additional Rookie died at Skydagger Keep.
- Of the dead, 21 were rookies and 4 were Soldiers
- 7 legionnaires were killed by the Infamous Devourer Silver across 3 secondary missions. Pure coincidence; my player’s were very mad they never got another chance for revenge.
- 5 of our surviving Legionnaires have at least 1 rank of Blight.
- 8 of our surviving Legionnaires have received at least 1 Trauma.
- We came perilously close to failing the game at Fort Calisco when the Legion was reduced to 3 squads with a partial 4th and chose to fight on without recruiting so that they’d have a chance to kill Render.
- The Legion killed 3 Infamous (Elia the Walking Curse, Eater and Ache), 1 Lieutenant (Zenya the Sable Arrow) and Render himself on their way to Skydagger. They killed an additional Infamous (Shatter) and Lieutenant (Ogiyer) at Skydagger Keep.
- You can read about how my group fought and killed Render here: https://community.bladesinthedark.com/t/dealing-with-downed-broken-and-chosen/1054/10
Horned One’s Chosen
- The Horned One’s Chosen started with the Anointed advancement and advanced 3 times, adding Shapeshifter, Horned One’s Thews and Horned One’s Bounty. As GM I chose all of the Horned One’s advancements with limited input from the players.
- The Horned One’s Chosen almost died on 3 separate missions, including the initial mission, the special mission for Talgon Forest’s Heartwood Tree and a custom special mission to kill Render at Fort Calisco.
- The Commander took the northern path through the Long Road and then through the Maw.
- Our Commander was very stingy with Intel. In the early game she always requested Reconaissance missions until she finally reached 3+ intel and only spent it if she earned more. She preferred being able to ask 4 questions to the GM rather than add dice to engagement rolls. When the Horned One took the Shapeshifter power, she began regularly spending Intel with the assurance that she’d earn some every other mission no matter what.
- The Legion had 10 Soldiers in its squads upon arriving at Skydagger Keep and had promoted 15 rookies since the beginning of the game. Only one rookie promoted from soldier all the way to specialist, although 4 were very close.
- The Marshal awarded 5 Swords of Valor and 1 Bronze Star medal. 2 more could have been awarded at Skydagger Keep, 1 posthumously.
- Our Marshal enjoyed shuffling his rookies and soldiers constantly. For most of the game he kept the Silver Stags 100% Panyar, and moved every Soldier to the Shattered Lions.
- Our Marshal took his naming responsibilities seriously but used almost none of the suggested names in the books. His Panyar names used much more evocative colors, instead of “black” or “red” or “green” it would be “onyx” “crimson” or “emerald”. His Bartans were pulled out of Indian history text books and he went looking for old Italian noble titles for his Orrites. It was really enjoyable.
- The Quartermaster completed 6 long-term-projects, including 2 that added new special powers to the Legion: Black Oil (melee blackshot) and Sign Language (allowing us to have complex conversations while sneaking around).
- The Quartermaster acquired 3 alchemists and lost 2 of them to Blight before arriving at Skydagger. He established in-game that it was his personal responsibility to “give them rest when the time came”.
- Our Quartermaster would beg and plead with the Commander for Supply missions, but only spend Supply in large towns. Huge boom bust cycles of development.
- Other special resources included 1 Mercy, 3 wagons, 1 worker and 1 siege engine.
- Our Lorekeeper told 6 stories to honor the fallen and provided us with a lot of great lore without being prompted. Here were a few of my favorite things he added to the game:
- The Legion was founded in Dar from a punishment battalion of convicted foreign criminals.
- All Legionnaires are tattooed upon entering into the Legion with ink made from the charred ashes of Legionnaire funeral pyres. Each promotion and demotion of a Legionnaire is tattooed on their arms. Officers have special alchemical tattoos derived from the same chemicals in crimson shot.
- The Legion had been almost destroyed 4 times prior to Ettenmark Fields. The post-Ettenmark Fields Legion is officially the Fifth Legion.
- The Legion demanded each patron provide them with a banner to fight under for the length of their service. When decommissioned, the banners are added to the Ragged Tent.
- The command tent of the Legion was called the Ragged Tent and was composed of the old banners of the legion stitched into a tent. Rumor held that there were still patches from the Old Empire sown into the walls.
- The Horned One’s banner was the skull of a bear fused with the antlers of a deer under which a bear skin painted in white runes.
- Legion dress uniforms came complete with an ornate wooden whistle that doubled as an improvised weapon.
- The Legion’s ancient motto from the end of the Empire was “All that lives must die.” The rebel legion that stayed loyal to the Last Emperor’s motto was “Everlasting life to the Emperor.”
- The Tantari Banner was also known as the Poison Banner because it’s beautiful colors were toxic and could kill the bearer with long-term exposure.
Playing Band of Blades has been one of the more rewarding gaming experiences I’ve had in years. I had a wonderful time running it and my players really enjoyed it. We are extremely excited for the next campaign. BoB is probably the most ambitious and complicated hack of the FitD system to date, giving each player the opportunity to play a staff officer making vital war decisions, a hyper competent military specialist and a half-dozen fresh rookies just hoping to make it through another night.
The Campaign Phase is by far, my favorite aspect to the game. In my 20+ years of gaming I have managed caravans, pirate fleets, spaceships, mercenary companies, rock bands, crime families and samurai clans. I have never played a system that has made it as fun and easy as Band of Blades. Most games that try to model complex organizations typically have two stumbling blocks: resource management and decision-making: someone has to keep track of the fuel, missiles and cows and someone has to decide where the organization is going or what it is doing. Many games don’t bother to delegate resource management, it becomes the job of an overworked GM or a poor player who drew the short-straw. Similarly, most games don’t provide any framework for making decisions. Your trip to the Crown of the World may involve a good hour of players just arguing over the best route. Band of Blades bypasses these stumbling blocks completely by dividing all essential statistics and responsibilities between three players. Each player has total control over their domain and has the last word over any decisions.
Some of my favorite scenes from our campaign were times when our command staff would disagree. Watching the Quartermaster, Marshal and Lorekeeper all implore the Commander to take the southern route to Skydagger Keep only to ignore them all and take the far north route through the Long Road. The Quartermaster refusing to spend anything outside Secondary Missions for the first 11 sessions, followed by an amazing military spending spree at the end of the game. The Marshal constantly inventing a reason to put his favorite rookie on the mission, squad be damned. Despite this, the rules are set up in such a way that the player’s can’t really interfere with each other allowing everyone to work as a cohesive unit even if they disagree about everything. In fact, one of the most interesting scenes in the campaign for was when we had a back-to-camp scene after killing Render. All of the commad staff had an opinion on what to do with the body. The Lorekeeper wanted to seal it in a steel coffin wrapped in silver chains and bury it under 20’ of rock. The Quartermaster and Marshal wanted to see if it was “valuable”. The Commander sided with the Lorekeeper. But because they were outside the campaign phase, there was no way to resolve the dispute and it got very heated! I eventually had to step in as GM and provide more context so that players’ could rethink their positions. It was a great illustration of how GOOD the rules for keeping the command staff working together really were.
More than just transforming some of the most tedious parts of organization management into a fun mini-game, the division of labor in Band of Blades improves the overall quality of the gameplay. The Commander, Marshal, Quartermaster and Lorekeeper are also invested in many of the creative tasks that are normally a GM’s responsibility. My Marshal’s names were better than the names I would have come up with, because it was his sole creative task each week. I no longer had to worry about names in the Legion, the Legion’s glorious backstory, which direction the army was going to travel, or any of the other jobs I had normally had to worry about in so many other campaigns. I could instead concentrate entirely on coming up with stressful, scary missions and scenery. Now that the game is over, this is what I’ll miss most. Having my players fully invested in creating our campaign world made roleplaying so much easier.
Mission Play is extremely well balanced and designed to give the player the impression that they. just. might. make. it… Combat is brutal and most enemies are at least as dangerous as the PC’s. After a few sessions where players exchanged blows with the undead on every mission they played, game strategy changed drastically. Suddenly the Legion wasn’t fighting hordes of Burned, they were pushing through them, all shields up so that they could maneuver to the next objective. Oil traps, rock slides and always always running became very popular strategies on every non-Assault mission. As the player’s Specialists began to advance gameplay remained conservative but with occasional explosions of demigod-like feats. All my players were extremely proud of their Specialists and their capabilities.
The campaign setting is wonderful. There’s just enough information provided to spin up everyone’s imaginations and fill in the details as they see fit. You can look at my Speculations thread for more proof of that. https://community.bladesinthedark.com/t/the-speculation-thread My players took the setting directions I didn’t expect. The Panyar Marks my players came up with were weirder than what was presented in the book, a man with a red beetle for a hand, complete with it’s own head and mouth, a person with an inflatable head pouch like an elephant seal. Orrite civilization somehow became a group of crypto-communists who’d outwitted a naieve ruling class and built an egalitarian society where everyone was literally kings. I built a world where there were secret Panyar monks assassins living in Gallows Pass and the ruling class of Barrak’s Mine were literally corrupted and insane.
I wish there had been more art that focused on the undead and I also wish that the art for each Broken’s Undead Armies had been larger; for a game that’s about fighting the hordes of darkness, the vast majority of the art is focused primarily on the legionnaires. It seems a shame to have such wonderfully described monsters without some big art panels to match.
The Favors awarded on Special Missions could have used a little extra playtesting and tweaking. When I built my first version of the Horned One I gave her the Wild Favor because it sounded interesting, only to discover after reading the book that there are only 5 Special Missions that have the Wild tag, and of those, you can only get 3 on any playthrough. The unique Favors available to the other two Chosen are both well represented, and most perplexingly, there are 8 missions that grant the Knowledge Favor which is not associated with any Chosen in the book.
There are rules that are slightly ambiguous or have multiple interpretations, and a few rules where certain mechanics could be inferred but weren’t explicitly explained. For example, the book often refers to “Specialists” in the rules sections, when they probably mean “Player Characters”, see the rules for the Protect teamwork action for an example.
A few minor errors, Wagons weren’t given a listing under the Quartermaster’s Acquire Assets roll, the Troops reward for Recon missions isn’t explained, some of the (+/-) symbols for mission rewards and penalties were reversed in the handout. There are some rules that are mildly different in the rule book versus the hand outs. For example, the book says that the final Fortune roll for Skydagger keep subtracts die equal to the number of surviving Lieutenants and Infamous, but the handout only says Infamous.
Overall, I would recommend Band of Blades to anyone who likes dark fantasy, military campaigns or is just looking for something different to play. I would also recommend it to anyone who is heavily invested in Forged in the Dark Games. Band of Blades is a proof-of-concept displaying the full versatility of the FitD system. 5 stars. 100% fresh. A good time had by all.