Understanding Potency: different than increased effect?

The core of my question is: how is potency different from +1 effect? In BitD, p24, potency is described in narrative (vs. hard crunch) terms. Also, “If the PC has an advantage in a given factor, consider a higher effect level.”

In Band of Blades (I’ve read BitD, BoB, and SaV) p.228, “Potency is binary: you are either potent against this obstacle in this way or you are not.” BitD might say something similar, but I can’t find a page reference.

So we increase effect level for factors. Potency is a factor. And potency is binary. If I did a find an replace of all references (in e.g. playbook special abilities) for “potency” in the PDF to “+1 effect”, what would be different?

There is a narrative nuance that potency conveys that I want to appreciate better, methinks. Ultimately, when I’m adjudicating the action for the PCs, if my mental fallback is, “potency = +1 effect”, what am I missing or undervaluing?

Many thanks! :slight_smile:


I’ll mention that I’ve searched both Google and these forums for potency references. I’ve read some stuff on e.g. Reddit and


That post. And a few things that Stras posted in the BoB sub-forums. So I tried to do my homework but I still couldn’t quite pull it apart per the questions I asked. Again, thank you!

My interpretation of “potency is binary” means that you either have potency or you don’t. If three different abilities give you potency, you have potency - you don’t have “triple potency”. This is the key difference from “+1 effect” - if three different abilities gave you +1 effect, you would reasonably assume you have +3 effect. I don’t know if that’s rules as intended, but that’s how I read it.

Bear in mind that a permanent +3 effect is fairly game-breaking - it takes you from no effect to great effect, before any other factors come into play.

As a more general note (and I wouldn’t use BoB or S&V rulebooks to interpret Blades in the Dark, since they’re all different systems), I would try to steer away from thinking purely in mathematical terms of +1/-1 effect, since it leads to power inflation (numbers go up! bigger clocks, more “+1 effect” bonuses!) and gets away from the “fiction first” mentality. That is where terms like “potency” are useful - it may mean +1 effect in many situations, but it might mean something else - a better narrative outcome that isn’t necessarily about clock ticks. It might stack with other things that give potency, or it might not. The meat is in the fictional interpretation, not the mathematical equation of effect ticks vs clocks.


A very helpful reply; thank you! I especially like the clarity of “effect stacking” vs. “binary potency”.

Also, it’s good advice to avoid too much addition in Blades. As you’ve suggested, we (I) should probably avoid thinking too much in terms of accumulated +1s for various factors (tier difference, etc.). To that end, I found this post quite helpful.

Again, thank you for the response! :slight_smile:


There’s an example of play in the middle of page 163 of the BitD book that suggests a “potent” threat would add to a Command roll currently at limited effect. That seems to be the most concrete example to me, and suggests +1 to effect like you say.

I don’t entirely agree with timdenee that potency is constrained to only a single +1 effect; I think it’s up to the fiction you’ve crafted at the table to decide. However, I don’t entirely disagree insofar as I feel it is harder to imagine and quantify greater orders of magnitude for “potency” than it is for “quality / tier” and “scale”.

A part of me wishes there were more concrete examples with numbers for potency, but I think the intent was to have potency be the catch-all for those things that aren’t easily measured, and that need more of a gut assessment.

But following that, the assessment should me made in conversation with the other players, as you craft the fiction together.

But my tl;dr comment would be to agree that “potency = +1 effect” is good for most cases.

All good stuff above and I want to add another point of view. I tend to treat potency as a narrative permission to do specific things that may be impossible or veeeery hard to do otherwise.
Like fighting a demon in melee. Depending of your game that may be impossible, not just desperate-zero effect but plain impossible even if you bring a large cohort, a steampunk cannon etc. etc.
Knowing the name of the demon, writing it on a piece of paper, making it part of a sword/axe/weapon and using that specific weapon may give you the potency you were looking for to use your Skirmish or Finesse Action (some may say that Attune is the easier path but that’s a different story).

For me potency is a cool hint what is not easy/possible for normal scoundrels. Like having a look at the Ghost Fighter special ability:
Ghost Fighter: You may imbue your hands, melee weapons, or tools with spirit energy. You gain potency in combat vs. the supernatural. You may grapple with spirits to restrain and capture them.
With Ghost Figher you might combat the supernatural (including demons…) as a in a normal combat because you have potency. Meaning something like Risky-Standard as a starting Position (if potency is the main factor to consider). All other may look at Desperate-No Effect/Less Effect or have-to-use-attune-not-combat-action.

So, for me potency is often the "secret it"™ you have to know to gain a significant advantage or even get into a fictional position where you’re able to attempt a particular action.


here’s my mechanical short version:

+1 effect will move the player one step up on their outcome.
Potency moves the player to Standard effect.

So Potency is more potent, to move the player as many steps as is needed to get to Standard effect. But it does not just mechanically +X to the effect, so the player cannot use this power to improve their effect over Standard.


Please let me say thank you, again, for the additional perspectives!

monkeyEcho: I especially liked your narrative treatment of the topic. “Doing things you couldn’t otherwise do” is very much the kind of “think outside the +1” approach I was interested in.

Full-Frontal-Yeti: This is an interesting idea, and mechanically distinguishes the +1 effect from potency in a useful way. Thanks for the post!



That’s how we run it, too.

We also try to reverse engineer special abilities to infer the game’s intent. If something is enabled as a special ability in a playbook, like Ghost Fighting as @monkeyEcho cites, then ordinary scoundrels can’t just do it. For Ghost Fighting, we’ve assumed no effect for ordinary non-Attuned scoundrels trying to fight or grapple with ghosts rather than zero effect.


Agree on Potency often allowing any effect at all, rather than merely giving a +1. I think the hard part is successfully establishing in the fiction what happens when someone lacks that crucial Potency. If you haven’t made a point that Billy Jack can’t just go around punching spirits, then their finally getting the Ghost Fighting ability will undercut the usefulness/coolness.


@Joe_Beason I agree that’s a really important caveat to establishing a shared expectation of what potency means and how it works. I’ve dealt with this issue most often adjudicating “feats” or feat-type PC mechanics where the feat allows the PC to do something. D&D comes to mind, where there are lots of feats (depending on edition) for things like grappling, shield bashing, tripping, etc.

How do you handle those actions when the PC lacks the feat? Often it is dissatisfactory to say, “you can’t do that”. But, especially if someone in the party has the feat, you need to respect they invested their PC resources to have that feature.

This is something I really like about Blades, if I think of an example like fisticuffs with ghosts. Attune provides an obvious way for anyone to interact with the ghost (with commensurate risk). And those with the Cutter’s Ghost Fighter special can cut straight to the can of whoopass.

I’m mostly rehashing things that were already said by others in this thread. I’m thinking of this post as the, “you understand it if you can explain it” post. So if what I said makes sense, it appears I learned something from the members of the forum that contributed to this thread. Thanks!

Cheers. :slight_smile: