Band of Blades: A Tightly-Woven Military Fantasy

For all the swords, magic and monsters that run through the pages of Band of Blades it stands utterly distinct from traditional fantasy RPGs. Where others dream of shelf-spanning sagas, it instead captures the compact, carefully-plotted feel of a modern TV series – one soaked in all the darkness, blood and death that viewers could wish for.

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A large part of this comes from the fact that the game system is tightly woven into both a setting and a campaign. When you kick off a game of Band of Blades you’re always telling the story of The Legion’s desperate retreat to Skydagger Keep, pursued by a horde of undead and a trio of corrupted demigods. The route you take and the missions you embark upon will change from table to table, but this core quest is always going to be the same.

This tight focus may look a little restrictive at first glance, especially when placed next to the theoretically infinite scope of other games, but it all helps to create the incredibly tight experience that should be familiar to those who’ve played other Forged in the Dark games, such as Blades in the Dark and Scum & Villainy. Every aspect of the game, from the lightning-fast character creation to the horrific enemies, is designed to get games rolling quickly and keep them tied to its core themes.

For example, one of the most important of these is the fact that Band of Blades is a military fantasy, not a heroic one. It isn’t a story about a handful of destined adventurers shaping the entire world, but rather a unit of mercenaries trying to stay alive and finish the job they’re being paid for. It’s about a band, in fact, of blades.

This means that, instead of playing as individual characters, the entire party takes the role of The Legion as a whole. During the very first session each player builds their own specialist – sniper, medic, etc. – to control, but from them on individual missions play out like separate episodes of a TV show or chapters of a book. While a player’s first specialist will likely act as their primary character, as nights pass they may end up hopping into the mud-spattered boots of a previously faceless rookie or another hardened soldier as the missions demand.

The split between players and individual characters becomes even more important during the ‘Campaign Phase’ – the part of the session where they manage The Legion’s camp, plans future missions and plays out more domestic scenes away from the violence of the frontline. Again, the various players take up fresh roles as quartermasters, spymasters and marshals as they balance the practical details needed to keep their troops fighting.

Wrapping your head around this free-form approach to characters can be a little tricky for those of us raised on more traditional games. However, once you get a couple sessions under your belt it helps you to focus on telling a story with a huge ensemble cast and allows the party to really embrace the episodic nature of the game.

The downside to all these various aspects is that Band of Blades can be an intimidating game to pick up. The core mechanic is a simple d6-based system but there are a hell of a lot of moving parts to keep track of, a lot of which are spread out across the chunky rulebook. Fortunately, a lot of the more complicated bits and pieces are detailed on each character/role’s playbook, so once you get running you shouldn’t need to stop too often.

It also helps that a lot of the traditional GM tasks – such as organising XP, planning out routes and noting bits of lore – are delegated to players’ campaign roles. Of course, this only works if the players also have a solid understanding of the system, but this is true of the entire game. The rulebook encourages players and GMs to chat and negotiate over their actions, whether that means trading safety for the chance to kill a terrible foe or discussing the consequences of a poor roll. This all combines to create a game that drives the table towards telling a cool, if horrific, story.

If you want an RPG system that can do anything and everything, Band of Blades is not for you. Instead, it’s a game that picks just one thing to do and does it beautifully, even if the result is a little dark and bloody.
 
Richard Jansen-Parkes

Comments

imagineGod

Explorer
A superbly good game built upon the Forged in the Dark game engine, which was first used by the Blades in the Dark RPG, and then by the Scum and Villainy RPG.

What makes this series of FitD great is the strategic modeling of combat. Thus, instead of every dice roll determining individual hero and weapon slashes and stabs, the dice are better used to summarize the combat results.

This strategic design focus is therefore on how dice results, good or bad, move the narrative forward, instead of being bogged down in resolving the attrition of hit points in a single encounter.
 

Paragon Lost

Explorer
A superbly good game built upon the Forged in the Dark game engine, which was first used by the Blades in the Dark RPG, and then by the Scum and Villainy RPG.

What makes this series of FitD great is the strategic modeling of combat. Thus, instead of every dice roll determining individual hero and weapon slashes and stabs, the dice are better used to summarize the combat results.

This strategic design focus is therefore on how dice results, good or bad, move the narrative forward, instead of being bogged down in resolving the attrition of hit points in a single encounter.

So the engine is like Fate and other narrative driven mechanics systems?
 

Tonguez

Adventurer
So the engine is like Fate and other narrative driven mechanics systems?
Go here for the Blades in the Dark SRD. I havent played it but I did investigate)
Greetings, Scoundrel | Blades in the Dark RPG

From what I can tell its an interesting system based on hybrid of ‘Crews’ and invidual ‘Roles’. The game uses 12 ‘actions’, ranked 0-4 Dice with which the player can make ‘plays’ to do stuff from which builds the narrative
 

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
So the engine is like Fate and other narrative driven mechanics systems?
Not at all in my opinion. Everything (including combat) is resolved in a manner that is fairly similar to how we handle non-combat situation in a game like Fifth Edition. A player describes what they want to do and which Action rating they are using. The GM provides determines position and effect based on what is going on in the narrative. Position is how risky it is. Effect is how big of an impact it will have.

Players roll a pool of 6 sided dice. Only the highest die matters. 6 means they accomplish the effect without consequence. Double 6s upgrades the effect one level. 4 or 5 means they accomplish it, but have a consequence based on how risky it was. 3 or less means you just have the consequence.

Everything is strongly based on what is happening in the fiction.
 

Paragon Lost

Explorer
Not at all in my opinion. Everything (including combat) is resolved in a manner that is fairly similar to how we handle non-combat situation in a game like Fifth Edition. A player describes what they want to do and which Action rating they are using. The GM provides determines position and effect based on what is going on in the narrative. Position is how risky it is. Effect is how big of an impact it will have.

Players roll a pool of 6 sided dice. Only the highest die matters. 6 means they accomplish the effect without consequence. Double 6s upgrades the effect one level. 4 or 5 means they accomplish it, but have a consequence based on how risky it was. 3 or less means you just have the consequence.

Everything is strongly based on what is happening in the fiction.

5th edition? You mean DnD 5e?
 

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
5th edition? You mean DnD 5e?
Yeah. Basically it takes the sort of approach to everything that most traditional games without predefined DCs take to skills. Like imagine a game with no combat system or monster stats where we just have a Melee skill and base difficulty on how tough the opponent is, what approach you are taking, and other details of situation. Blades is a little different in that those details determine how effective you are and how bad failure is instead of your chance of succeeding.
 

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
I read the description and thought of Glen Cook's "Black Company" novels. Or was that just me? Sounds like you could tinker with the background a bit and do that for your campaign.
That's pretty much the inspiration. Down to the powerful supernatural patrons.
 

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