Grade the Forged in the Dark System

How do you feel about the Forged in the Dark System?

  • I love it.

    Votes: 28 27.2%
  • It's pretty good.

    Votes: 17 16.5%
  • It's alright I guess.

    Votes: 16 15.5%
  • It's pretty bad.

    Votes: 6 5.8%
  • I hate it.

    Votes: 3 2.9%
  • I've never played it.

    Votes: 28 27.2%
  • I've never even heard of it.

    Votes: 5 4.9%

Kannik

Hero
Have you played or run the Forged in the Dark system? First introduced in the Blades in the Dark RPG, a CC licensed SRD was released and it now powers some 300+ games of all sorts of genres, including Band of Blades, Scum and Villainy, Beam Saber, CBR+PNK, Asphalt & Trouble, Crescent Moon, Mountain Home, and more. If you have tried any of those games, what did you think of it? (Though it should be noted that, as with the Powered by the Apocalypse system, though these games use FitD at their core many feature twists or alterations to the core as well as potentially adding additional rules to better fit and support their particular aim.)

One of features of FitD games is a specific and thematically derived play structure, revolving around the main conceit of the character’s group or gang. Similarly, the characters themselves are built around archetypal playbooks, each with triggers and special features that encourage actions that further support the archetype and overall narrative.

The core resolution mechanic in Blades in the Dark is described as such: “...players to roll a number of six-sided dice equal to the number of points in that character's matching action. A success or failure criterion is always the same and determined by the highest individual number rolled. Special focus is given to the fictional position of the characters to perform a given action, with explicit division of authority between GMs and players giving the players the final say in what character stats are rolled to address a challenge, while the game master is tasked with assessing the strength of the player's position ranging from a dominant to a desperate position.”

As noted in the previous “Grade…” threads, “the D20 System is the undeniable favorite for tabletop RPGs today, but there are plenty of options out there for those who don't like D20 or might be looking for something different. The goal in these little surveys is to highlight the different systems and options available to tabletop fans...not bash on anyone's favorites.”

So! If you’ve played one of the FitD games, I’d like to hear about your experiences. What do/did you like or dislike about it? If you haven’t played, was there something that dissuaded you from giving it a try?

And as before, just for fun we’ll take the responses to give the system a “grade.” :)

Grade: B
Of those who voted, 95% have heard of it and about a third (68%) have played it.
Of those who have played it: 41% love it, 25% like it, 23% are lukewarm, 9% dislike it, and 3% hate it.

Previous entries:
Grading the Cypher System
Grading the Pathfinder 2E (D20) System
Grading the Savage Worlds System
Grading the Fate/Fate Core System
Grading the Modiphius 2d20 System
Grading the GURPS System
Grading the Powered by the Apocalypse System
Grading the D6 System
Grading the Hero System
Grading the Storyteller System
Grading the Megaversal/Palladium System
Grading the Basic Role-Playing System
Grading the SAGA System
Grading the Warhammer 40K RPG System
Grading the Rolemaster/Spacemaster System
Grading the Cortex Plus and Cortex Prime System
Grading the Burning Wheel System
Grading the Genesys System
Grading the Silhouette System
 
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Strange engine for me. I neither love nor hate it unto itself but enjoy enough of the individual games to be pretty familiar with it. At the same time, there isn't a single one where I wouldn't be equally happy playing that setting/genre with some other engine entirely if someone wanted to do a port. The mechanics just don't grab me much while also not turning me off.
 

Kannik

Hero
So far I have only given the system a try in Blades in the Dark, and my experience was quite positive! I enjoyed the narrow but strong ‘mission based’ loop, the idea of flashbacks and downtime (and vices), the partial success/at cost mechanisms (and the idea of the devil’s bargain), and clocks. It created very tense and flavourful heists, with plenty of chances for interesting PC actions as well as showing off what made each character tick.

It was cool enough that I have gotten Beam Sabre and a few of the others, but alas haven’t had a chance to play them yet. I mean, I gotta try out the gonzo idea behind CHEW sometime!
 

I gotta try out the gonzo idea behind CHEW sometime!
Is that based on the comic series? Because that was a doozy.

Clocks are probably the best part of the general mechanics, but they're really just round versions of a linear tracker - it's the widespread use of them rather than the concept itself that's original. I actually played with a guy who actively disliked them because he was never taught how to read analog clocks as a kid (a surprisingly common problem IME) and the shape/name alone was off-putting for me. The minute we turned them in conventional linear trackers he stopped complaining.
 

It includes my favorite game, Scum & Villainy that hits on being a Space Scoundrel amazingly. I have also run quite of a bit of Blades in the Dark and read through a few other FitDs that were very close to the original. CBR+PNK and Band of Blades are very solid differentiations from the original formula but many others felt more like coats of paint on BitD with 95% of the same core mechanics.

While I do love it, there are these 2 major pain points were painful enough that I took it onto myself to create my own system (and one year later, its almost playtestable!!)

Improvisation of Consequences and Devil's Bargains: This is a serious mental toll for me even though I am pretty experienced in the genre (Firefly+Serenity is a yearly watch, Cowboy Bebop+ its Movie twice a year) of space operas, space westerns. No other sessions of running TTRPGs do I feel more mentally exhausted than running Forged in the Dark.

What I found was that many tables deal with this by having the entire table contribute when it comes to coming up with these. I can definitely see how that can work nicely at those kind of tables. But if you are player that likes to be in the traditional Actor Stance (as I do), I can see how you may not want to literally pick your poisons. Its not necessarily fun and you are rewarded by picking things that are the least painful from that actor stance. I find the GM is always in the best position due to their guidelines/principles and their knowledge of the world (thinking offscreen) to create consequences.

Several of the tables I ran these games didn't cooperate with this playstyle well. They actually would want to pull out of options once I came up with an interesting set of consequences and telegraphed what may happen thinking maybe a different option would be better. This goes against a key player agenda for BitD (which again breaks that Actor Stance), you are meant to use your PC like a stolen car.

As John Harper puts it, the game is designed player should act like a GM of their own PC. He cut this line from the book because it was intimidating, but you really see that in the XP Triggers. Where Masks, Cartel, Apocalypse World and Urban Shadows all use Playbooks to create these issues that the GM has control over, Blades in the Dark just says that the PC should struggle with their Vice or Trauma. There are no GM tools like the other systems to make that happen, so really its left to the players to find opportunities to make this happen.

So what I fixed for my own game is using a lot of FitD elements like its Coin/Cred economy, clocks and downtime but with a suite of Basic Moves, so the players already are informed and expectations are set on what they want to accomplish and what mixed success looks like. And Playbooks who have full GM guidance on how to make them struggle in their lives reminiscent of Masks or Urban Shadows. The main goal being to feel a lot like playing Scum & Villainy but in the traditional player Actor Stance.
 

Reynard

Legend
Supporter
I really like Scum and Villainy. if I have a complaint, it is that if you don't make an effort to stay in character, it can feel a little more like a "writer's room" than I like in play, as the table tries to come up with what works best or is coolest in the scene rather than what flows naturally from the established fiction based on the die roll results. I imagine a table gets better at that over time, but I have not been able to run S&V more than a couple sesions o I don't know. But generally speaking, i think for "procedural" games, FitD is one of the best. I'd love to see an X-Files version or a cyberpunk police procedural version.
 

What I found was that many tables deal with this by having the entire table contribute when it comes to coming up with these.
The twist mechanics in the Sentinel Comics RPG can be similarly tiring for the GM for the same reason, but goes out of its way to encourage the whole table to suggest twist effects as well as providing a pretty extensive list of more mechanical effects to use - which still need description to explain them, but at least it helps a bit. Purely narrative twists are still commonplace, and everyone's character sheet will include at least a few personalized prompts for those based on your Principles so it's still a quite fluid system in that regard. But it definitely works better when the players are shouldering some of the creative burden here as well, with the GM able to sit back and play arbiter a bit more often.

I've found players more willing to gleefully shaft themselves over in that game than in FitD, but that may largely be due to very forgiving life-and-death-and-healing mechanics as you might expect in the supers genre. The FitD games I've played make it a little too painful to recover from injury and other negative consequences for most folks to really enjoy wrecking themselves (or other PCs) the way you can when the long-term stakes are lower. Telling people to treat their PCs "like a stolen car" is all very well and good, but it's difficult to combine that with a system that's also asking for serious time investment in character advancement - another thing that's downplayed (or at least more automatic) in the SCRPG.

FWIW, my principle concern with S&V in particular is that the published setting feels a little constricting for longer-term play, but that's easily fixed with homebrew additions or just plain using a different setting altogether and making trivial tweaks to suit - Star Wars being the obvious choice, but I played in a brief but quite enjoyable homebrew that essentially used an old pulp-scifi solar system so all the planets and half the moons were habitable and had native life.
 

I've found players more willing to gleefully shaft themselves over in that game than in FitD, but that may largely be due to very forgiving life-and-death-and-healing mechanics
100% agree on Harm in BitD. Only one player out of something like a dozen I ran BitD and S&V really engaged with the "drive the character like a stolen car." Most are newer with mostly just D&D 5e under their belts but I did walk them through what the game expects. But Harm (more in BitD than S&V) is hugely punishing. Your PC likely has to spend all their share of the Coin and Downtime Activities just recovering from a single instance Level 2 Harm if they roll well. Harm is something I had to really avoid dishing out, thus I become a Complication generator. The temporary Harm (ends after Job is done) and cheaper recovery of it are good ideas included in S&V. And space opera genre lets you be more of a Big Damn Hero.

All my players hated the doom track that is trauma. They wanted to avoid it like the plague (I was able to convince them to get one for the XP trigger though).

Its a good tip for S&V. My play started breaking after about a dozen sessions. I ran a 2-session 6-hour Job. Of the 20ish rolls, I think 1 was a Miss, the few that were Mixed Success were all Resisted for super cheap. The math kind of breaks when PCs get too powerful and roll 5-6d on Action Rolls and 3-4d on Resistance rolls and just ignore Devil's Bargains that aren't softballs. Nobody was close to maxing out their Stress. Doesn't help that S&V suggested that resistance should negate Risky Consequences (2-step reduction) rather than reduce as the default - that is a BIG design issue.

I think too many Special Abilities just being +1d for X situation isn't interesting design. And its even worse that is breaks the math pretty hard.

My homebrew included gutting the XP system and just replacing with milestones (every 3 sessions you get a Special Ability and ship gets a level up). Action Ratings are ONLY increased if you do a Desperate Action Roll and you can have 1 XP training (reduced from 2) assuming your ship has the module. Resistance was also brought back to base 1-step reduction. The game is much nicer for my table when players are more incentivized to be Desperate, they get to stay in the Actor stance and the typical Action Roll is only 2-3d.

FWIW, my principle concern with S&V in particular is that the published setting feels a little constricting for longer-term play,

Yeah, I can see the homebrew setting being small in scale for Space Opera. Compare to Mass Effect or Star Wars that leaves the entire Galaxy open to your disposal and it seems disappointing. I think its bigger sin is that its not all that good - kinda overly tropey and not doing something new like Doskvol has crazy ghosts, vampires and ghostbuster police. Its fine but I can see why a lot of people have asked and created Star Wars conversions for it.

A big appeal of fantasy and space opera is wowing the players with a truly fantastical setting, which requires surprise. TBF, that is very hard to do because you are in some heavily saturated genres that have made planet destroying lasers cliche - in fact the current sci fi audience would probably ask why they didn't just accelerate a rock at light speed instead of an overly expensive, giant death weapon that like 20 starfighters can blow up.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
I really like BitD and many FitD games. I’ve enjoyed playing the few times I’ve had the chance. The ubiquity of clocks is fantastic. The flashback mechanic is inspired. Explicitly setting stakes ahead of time is great. Though I do prefer the newer idea from Legends in the Mist about starting the turn with a soft move, giving the PC the option of reacting or ignoring, then following up with a hard move (if applicable).

But, as a fan of rules-light games, I think there’s a lot of fat that could be trimmed. There’s just way too much there and a lot of it’s redundant or superfluous. Too many mechanics, too many subsystems, too much to track. It could be cut way, way back and only be made stronger for the cuts.
 

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
I really like Blades. Pitch perfect marriage between setting, thematic elements, intertwining rules, etc. Unfortunately, I have not really been able to dig into any other Forged in the Dark game besides Quietus, which has as much in common with Blades as Blades has with Apocalypse World. Most I have experienced just lack the pressure of Heat, Clocks, Turf, etc that makes Blades feel so great.
 

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