Thinking about Levels of Harm

I’m fairly sure I understand how Harm works but I’m just checking in to make sure.

Generally, we go by the position of the roll with Controlled = Level 1, Risky = Level 2 and Desperate = Level 3 but this is fiction first, so if the situation calls for more Harm to make sense we go with that.

There’s a device attached to a barrel of alchemical explosives. Your character has all of the tools they need and some time to disarm it while the rest of the team takes cover. Position-wise, it is still risky (maybe with great effect because of the tools) but the level of harm would be 4 (or maybe more) because we’ve already established in the fiction that this stuff is brutal.

Does that make sense?

As a piece of advice, set the danger equal to the consequence. The easiest way to do this is to think through what the dice results are. Often you’ll know in your gut what kind of position something is, but especially if you’re not used to making these calls it’s worth thinking about what the consequences would be on each type of roll.

I’ll give you 3 positions here.

“I want to rig that device off, I have great tools and as much time as I want”

Controlled/Standard: Why is it controlled? Because the worst that will happen (1-3) is you go to risky as a clockwork timer starts ticking. On a 4-5 you can either rig it risky, or back off and not push it because you noticed a trap, and you have to try a different approach or overcome the trap first. On a 6 it’s off, no harm no foul.

Note that I’m not talking harm here. We know what harm looks like (deadly stuff).

“I want to rig that device off, I have great tools and as much time as I want” “Ok, but there’s traps, and a timer running. This is risky because even if you can figure out the answer, you may not do it in time”

Risky/Standard: You set this if you already know this may not be a simple device or problem. So on a 6 they disarm it, but on a 4/5 you draw a 4 clock, put 2 ticks on it (standard effect) and apply 2 complications—you are in a desperate position and reduced effect (the device is not disarmed). Good luck on that desperate roll!

Note there is no explosion yet. Why? Because if harm is a consequence you have to flag how dangerous this is.

Desperate/Standard: This is where I go when I know there will be an earth shattering Kaboom. This is where you say “it’s level 3 harm, +1 for scale of dem barrels, +1 for potency of the chemicals vs your flesh. So you’ll take level 5 harm if you fail.” But there’s still a question. So we know what happens on a 6 - you’ve disarmed it. And we know what happens on a 1-3 (earth shattering kaboom). But what happens on a 4-5?

You never want to deny success. So the trap is disarmed.

Well if you’re coming here from the previous example (partial clock) I might apply some consequences. Your tools get damaged by the chemicals. There’s an alarm you miss: The barrel is disarmed but now it’s ringing attracting local blighter troops. Your hands are covered in the chemicals and you’re going to be easy to track. This is an important outcome to know and understand before you set the position.

Hope that helps!


That is very helpful.

Thank you.

I think Stras highlights one of the advanced techniques to running a game of Blades: understanding when to use one clock and when to use several.

Personally, if I can imagine the consequences to a single roll changing based on the result, that’s a sign to me that the goal of the action isn’t concise enough; it should be rephrased or the action should have multiple steps. That said, your mileage may vary. The system is flexible enough to accommodate multiple play styles.


There are always different ways to do something. I love talking to other GM’s and players about how things shake out at their table because sometimes similar stuff happens but they used totally different tools to get there.

In Blades in the Dark, what is a job in one game is a downtime project in another.

Does the soldier use a group action and take the stress from the rookies or use Marshal and give an order for the rookies to open fire and cover the sniper’s scouting?

Clock use is a powerful thing and I’m just now getting it, trying to have 2 or 3 on the table at once key, I think.

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