Band of Blades: Position/Effect Cheat Sheet

After starting our Band of Blades game last week, I realized I needed to get a better explanation of the game’s core transaction into my players’ hands. So I did up a cheat sheet, which is available here.

(Updated to version 0.4 on 8/27/19, 1222 AZ time — just a couple tweaks!)

When we use this tonight, I’m going to try it out as a laminated reference. I’ll mark an X right in the middle and then draw lines as we go through each step. Pictures later.

I’ve always found it so useful to design cheat sheets for games. Teaching is learning, as they say. I had already sensed some of the smaller changes in Band of Blades to original Blades in the Dark, which I wrote about last week. After going through my big read-through, this time with the context of actual play under my belt, I realized there are even more consequential changes than I first thought!

The big one is that “Tier,” a level-like metric found both in Blades and in Scum and Villainy, has been broken into two separate concepts in Band: Scale, which represents area and size of effect (so: how many troops, how far a grenade goes off, how far poisonous gas spreads, etc.) and Threat, which represents overall lethality and badassery (how hard a Broken’s lieutenant hits, an enchanted single round of ammunition). I like these changes — it leverages equipment and troops in a way that Blades/Scum doesn’t need to — but hooboy it is crunchier. The extended example of play in Band really drove home for me that you can’t eyeball position/effect the way you can in the earlier games. Going through all your options, considering all your advantages, is core to the Band experience.

Early draft of the cheat sheet in my handy-dandy dry-erase notebook. Don’t leave home without it!

One thing that jumped out at me doing this cheat sheet was the simple, straightforward relationship between earning ticks on clocks and risking harm levels on characters. Not sure why it wasn’t more obvious in the past. Even if you don’t inflict harm as a consequence, I think it’s useful to have that relationship crystal-clear for the players: if you’re making a risky/standard roll, you stand to earn two ticks but you also stand to get a level 2 harm. Other rolls might look like a 1/3, or a 3/1, or whatever else. I also like that you can factor a roll into oblivion, if the Effect level you end up with ends up at “none.” That’s terrific, and an option I don’t recall being on the menu in previous games.

Someone said in passing on the Slack the other day something like “I thought Forged in the Dark meant it was low-load like a PbtA game.” I mean lordy, I also characterized Blades as a far-afield PbtA “hack” once upon a time. And it sort of still is, in terms of the agenda and principles of play: be a fan of the characters, play to find out, be true to your prep, all that. But in terms of actual hands-on functional play? Much more like Burning Wheel. The game needs and wants the players to put their hands on every aspect of play, to master its systems, to min-max the bejeezus out of every roll and mold the fiction around that. There are still lots of GM calls to make, both before and after the roll, and those calls are made on an ad-hoc basis. I feel like providing these handles for players to grab onto at least creates the illusion of control for the players. When it comes to consequences and costs — that is, literally every outcome other than a “6” — it’s still GM calls all the way down.

We’re playing tonight, our first “full” session with prepped missions. I’ll write more about what happened later.

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