What is the hardest part of Blades in the Dark to understand? I'm gathering feedback for a teaching actual play


I’m putting together a Blades in the Dark actual play that teaches the game as we play the game. Instead of watching a lecture, I want to teach the game by playing it.

But I need your help!

What should I make sure to include or comment on? What are the hardest parts of the game to wrap your head around?

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I’d say be sure to include concrete examples of Fiction First. It’s one of the most important principles, and it seems to be something that a lot of traditonal gamers have trouble with.

But it really does short circuit a lot of the 'video game" mindset that I’ve seen from some traditional gamers, where someone says “the rules don’t say i can’t do this thing, so i must be able to do it”. If the particulars of the actual fictional situation have been established and are such that doing the thing (whatever it is) would be illogical, nonsensical, or just straight up impossible, then the player shouldn’t do the thing.


My players struggled a lot with a few things, IMO this was mostly rooted in a lack of player buy-in and a focus on attempted system mastery, instead of having fun and holding on lightly. What stood out were:

  1. Actions are not Skills - to do a thing, you do it, then roll the Action that best describes what you did. Some of my experience with this issue had to do with certain players always trying to use their Actions with the most dots for everything, then crowing about “Player decides what Action to roll!” Then they’d get frustrated when I informed them that their roll had no effect or was impossible because it made no sense. There is a learning curve, especially coming from 5E and similar games that have Skill systems, granted. Especially while learning the game, determining what to roll, Position and Effect etc. are conversations between the players and the GM. Not everyone gets this or likes it.

  2. What happens in the narrative, happens - Years ago I read somewhere (it may have been in a D. Vincent Baker Apocalypse World thing but I can’t recall) a simple statement that explains the essence of games like Blades that went something like “Do what the Story demands, what the Rules demand, and what Honesty demands - in that order.” If a player says “I take complete cover behind the bar so no one can shoot me, then I want to roll a Desperate Hunt Action to shoot one of our rivals!” the appropriate response was telling them to not be a weasel (player’s best practices, p.183) and if they want that sweet Desperate roll XP, they need to actually do a desperate thing. Again, probably more an issue of player buy-in / attempted power-gaming than not understanding the rules, but worth noting.

  3. Take big swings - some players don’t really like games where one can “do whatever you want” more or less. They like having lists of abilities, feats, spells, etc. to choose from. And that’s okay, but it can cause a lot of confusion and frustration in a game like Blades, and despite holding their hand some people may decide this game is not for them. Likewise aversion to assuming higher levels of risk / wanting to play it safe - if you play it safe in Blades you’re going to be really bored, and the GM is going to be bored watching you, so they’re going to put you in danger to create action and drama. Then the safe-player(s) is/are going to be pissed because the GM is putting their character in harm’s way. If this describes anyone at the table, games like Blades may not be for them.

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