Ages ago there was a conversation on StoryGames about the types of stories Apocalypse World in particular, and Powered by the Apocalypse games in general, is suited to. The temptation was to run everything in PbtA, despite it not being a universal system. This was when PbtA was in full swing, with a million hacks in development, and it feels like we’re hitting that point now for FitD, and it feels like it’s time to ask similar questions:
What is Forged in the Dark for, really? What sorts of themes, situations and people are its mechanics intrinsically good at dealing with?
By contrast, what doesn’t it do well, either at all or without so much hacking that you’d be better off using another game?
For Apocalypse World the answer came out to be:
A heavily interconnected and interactive community in crisis, where everything and everyone is fragile; intrinsically interesting consequences for failure / success-at-cost, where every action is grounded in fictional positioning; concisely conveying the setting and tone through its tools of moves and playbooks.
Zero-to-hero / “advancement” narratives; vast differences in power scale between characters; open-world / hexcrawl frameworks; stories without dramatic grounding in a set of relationships, usually within a particular community;
I hesitate to use FitD as an umbrella term for mechanics, seeing just how diverse and different the many hacks that exist are and how they do things. Therefore, I’m going to be leaning mostly into Blades specifically.
The word that comes to mind is teamwork. Blades in particular is very much about a group of individuals working together (sans the occasional betrayal) to achieve a common goal. It’s about starting a crew of your own and watching it grow into a sprawling enterprise over time. Most hacks I’ve seen have at least some variation on that theme included.
Inversely, I would think that it does not do individualistic campaigns well. If what you’re playing might as well be 3-5 individual characters in the same setting that occasionally intersect, Blades will probably not be the best fit for your purpose.
This is a complex question without clear-cut answers! Or rather, the answers can be clear-cut, but they require a lot of understanding to see the forest for the trees.
For instance, Murderous Ghosts is a PbtA game that doesn’t neatly map to the listed qualities, but is definitely PbtA! Beware simple categorizations – they’re always wrong.
I won’t speak directly about Blades here, because that’s cheating. I will say that Blades is a PbtA game, which maybe muddies the waters, but there it is.
If you want to watch Adam Koebel and I talk about this at length, go here:
Another feature intrinsic to the BitD/FitD system is that it specifically rewards desperate actions with XP, so it works best for settings in which the PCs choose to go up against overwhelming odds on a regular basis. The flashback and load size mechanics also heavily encourage a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants play style, so genres in which characters lean heavily on strategy (as opposed to tactics) and planning don’t feel quite right for the system.
These are both kinda obvious points, but either might be easy for someone to overlook when hacking the system.
Something I feel Blades is particularly good at:
Supporting and fostering player buy-in. The mechanics lean strongly into giving everyone at the table agency. When a player agrees to a roll they always have multiple options and those options tend to all be interesting and allow players to walk down different narrative tracks.
What’s more, players always have a clear idea of what the direct consequences of their actions will be and that keeps the conversation feeling clear and authentic.
At my table, the basic Blades package always worked best for mad, over the top action. Kidnappind, Murder, tence negotiations, Goat Chases under the moonlight, demonic maddness spreding through the mindscape of the crew, stuff like that.
I mean, it might just be how I like to run my games, but when I run Blades it always end in an Anime level of over the top action scenes.
I think the trait I see most shared amongst Blades and all the FitD games is that they tend to be about a group of underdogs taking on the powers that be.
In most of the games I’ve seen, the crew should be easily crushed beneath the weight of whatever institutions it faces. The game is about empowering these underdogs to actually be able to contend with these forces. By all accounts, they should fail…but the game gives them the ability to have a chance at success, however slim it may be.
I think the presence of some kind of institution is just about required for the system. Whether it’s a corrupt city riddled with crime, or a galactic hegemony, there meeds to be some system in place for the crew to struggle against.
A couple of observations, neither of them mine (the first is from the book itself, the second from the Evil Hat blog, I think?).
Blades in the Dark is basically two games - the scores and claims map. The scores do tense, heisty action well, the claims map does planning and expansion. You can hack either part - it’s probably hard to make the claims map bit work on itself (though not impossible), but the game I’m working on, Quietus, only concentrates on the scores part of the game because it’s intended for one-shot play. But each part could be repurposed separately. Because they’re separate but related, they don’t even need to be part of the same game world, so for instance you could make a cyberpunk game where scores represented hacking in VR, and the claims map could be you upgrading your rig.
The second point is that stress doesn’t have to be stress - it can be used to model anything, and it gives players control over how much they spend, and is an excellent expression of hit points as timing mechanism. So it does that well. There are technically harm levels as well, which are more literally hit points, but not in the pacing mechanism sense - mostly they’re there to be threatened, to make players use their stress - but only if they choose to.
@SinisterBeard I’d like to read / hear more about the “claims game”. Could you point me to blogs/video where it has been discussed? I have played around with different approaches bit would love to hear others thoughts.
I should probably add it as a topic too…
Just wanted to say I really appreciate this thread, as I’m not mechanically inclined, and knowing what systems encourage or facilitate is useful to me.
Can you talk more about this? What breaks about the system if you remove extra XP for desperate actions? Obviously the PCs progress more slowly, unless you compensate elsewhere; what else changes/doesn’t work?
Edit: fixed my quote block.
XP for desperate actions isn’t intrinsic to FitD. The way you reward XP is a dial you can modify for your hack to function in a way that suits that design.
One issue I’ve had with Forged in the Dark is modeling a specific rigid yet fantastical world (say, Eberron.)
You can easily do free-form fantastical. Blades in the Dark provides great examples with the ghosts, demons, and other supernatural content.
A rigid realistic world is easy since players know the rules. Nobody needs to check the book to find out how a horse or a wagon would be best modeled in the rules.
But doing a setting with its own distinct science that has to be adhered to for the setting to be coherent (D&D magic, Exalted Charms, Alchemy in my game, etc) is more challenging than it might be in other systems. Listing every item that someone might reasonably need on their list for Load is challenging, for example. And having a bestiary/ecology section with specific habitats makes it harder to create encounters improvisationally.
If anyone has solved that issue, I’d love to hear advice/see examples!
This is an excellent point.
As others have said, I think people can take systems in pretty surprising directions, so I’m not sure I’d agree there are things that all PbtA games must be intrinsically bad at, and I think people could surprise me with the ways they reshape the FitD framework.
That being said, one thing that’s always stood out to me about the original, and the various hacks I’ve seen so far, is that it seems to be a system that lends itself towards more “gritty” settings, for lack of a better word? Harm is severe and hard to get rid of, stress can be replenished but is likely to push further and further towards traumas and the eventual retirement of your character, your crew starts out weaker than pretty much every other faction, so you have to be extremely careful about who you go up against, or risk a lot of disadvantageous rolls/situations, you’re more likely to end up dead or in prison than retiring with any significant money saved up, and so on.
Again, I also think someone could surprise me by retuning and reshaping all of those things, but if you’re sticking close to the default system, you’re more likely to fit with dark or low fantasy, cyberpunk, urban supernatural, crime, horror, post-apocalypse, etc. settings, rather than super high powered, high fantasy sorts of things.
I’m not sure it is intrinsically good for anything. Well, actually it depends. All of the FitD games we (I) have seen so far set up some knobs and switches - but still leave a lot of room for table decision on how far reaching they are. @DeusExBrockina mentioned severe harm, true, except when your table decides to be soft and harm hardly ever hits the table.
Maybe the starting point should be: are the defaults that are set, and the defaults that are left for the table to decide good enough for you? What I mean by that is … is … sorry let my try with an example. Fate is a game that tells you to build it up and then you play, very few restrictions or lines are drawn. Apocalypse/Dungeon World games box you in by limiting/distilling your choices to the few things that they consider to be important for this game, and everything else is not cared about by the rules. Maybe the best example of this is the reaction I have seen by pretty much anyone playing DW for the first time and forcing them to reframe their question towards the options listed in Discern Realities. Blades, to me, sit squarely in the middle - a lot of stuff is defined for you, but some details are not.
I think the intrinsic value of FitD is different kind of exposure of why these mechanics are here than you see in PbtA. It’s like both games are very RPG process meta; but they talk about the different meta.
As a side note,I think of this speech on paradox of choice often when thinking about PbtA games and their focus.
I would posit that you can make a fully functional and coherent Forged in the Dark game that gives XP for Controlled actions. It would require a shift in what principles it’s about (Caution, planning, and heavy flashbacks over seat-of-your-pants action, for instance) but it would work.
I’m going to say that the general Forged umbrella leverages most often:
- Action Ratings & the 6, 4-5, 1-3 resolution system
- Stress (or an equivalent) and Resistances, and possibly Traumas
- Position/Effect (assumed, but not vital)
- Playbooks with specific XP triggers but (optionally) flexible Special Ability choice
- Downtime Actions
Action ratings are good for portraying characters who are competent underdogs. They will usually get things done, but it will usually cost them.
It’s good for giving a player’s say in How Bad Things Get through the stress/resistances/trauma triangle. It essentially gives means to mechanize the tone of a game. Same goes for Position/Effect.
Playbooks are a common choice but not a mandatory. Same for DTAs. But I like DTAs for giving some guidance to the pace and space between missions.
Thoughts on what I think it doesn’t/can’t do later.
I wrote two different replies to this in the last few days and deleted them because they were full of half-truths and lies.
I look forward to increasing numbers of “FitD” games that make any answers in this thread feel incomplete and a bit foolish on reflection.
Justin’s answer is pretty dang good.
I see Blades in the Dark as the latest iteration of Danger Patrol, though, so what do I know?
Compared to most PbtA games, FitD seem to have a specific setting built in. PbtA are largely created through play, but FitD are largely set before play begins.
I suppose this is due to the Crew part of the game? Seems to be the case anyway.
Are there any FitD games that don’t have a strong sense of setting before play begins? If not, I’m sure it’s only a matter of time until one is made…but thinking off the top of my head, most seem to have a very specific setting.
I think a big part of that comes down to Actions actually. If the Actions aren’t a good match for the setting you will frequently find yourself either with no Action to use for a given roll, or with one Action being the go-to for most interactions. Both of which hurt build diversity and character definition. With no Ghost Field, for example, “Attune” probably wouldn’t get used in play, and if the setting had, say, computer hacking, it might have no good action, or it might get lumped into an already very useful action like Prowl.
Most Special Abilities also seem to be setting dependent, though I think you could compromise on that somewhat if you determine the genre in advance (“battleborn” is going to be useful in any campaign with combat, but “alchemist” or “artificer” may not be.)