This weekend I played Blades in the Dark for the first time. I'm not up on all the really trendy stuff anymore when it comes to tabletop gaming so this may come as old news to some people, but it was a unique system for me, and extremely flexible.
Like a lot of people, I started with Dungeons & Dragons and then branched out from there. But for most of my tabletop RPG history, D&D of some form or another has been the staple.
It's the easiest thing to get people into. Everyone has a rough idea of what it's like and what the basic character classes are, even if they are only tangentially familiar with the game.
As I mentioned last week, my favorite class in high school was the thief. I'm not sure what that says about me as a person, but I liked the thief conceptually because they could sneak around and do all the clever stuff without anyone being the wiser.
Unfortunately, the thief the pretty much sucked when they weren't being sneaky and clever. Later editions of D&D fixed a lot of their earlier failings (backstab damage got pretty damn good), but they're still in the position of being the party's Swiss army knife. Aside from some scouting ahead, they don't really get to do the fun that I wanted to do as a thief.
Things like delving into guilds, setting up a job, choosing a mark.
I really wanted that stuff and my high school friends never ran a thief-centric campaign. To be fair, D&D isn't really built for it either.
So this is where Blades in the Dark comes in.
It's a thief-centric game! The players are a crew of thieves and instead of going on an adventure, you're out to do a job. And unlike most games, the structure is very loose.
This is the part that my gaming group told me is starting to become trendy. Rather than having a set adventure ready to go, the idea is that the players come up with what they want to do and then the GM frames the play session accordingly. From the GM's perspective, there's surprisingly little prep work, because almost everything happens at the table.
It sounds pretty chaotic, but it actually didn't come off that way when we played. I'm sure we did some things wrong since it was the first time for everyone, but it was fun being prompted to explain how we were doing something, and then being specific about it, because the GM wasn't going to hand out solutions.
My only complaint of the night wasn't anything to do with the game specifically so much as I really wanted to play a Hound and shoot something, but the crew (the player characters) decided to crash the party through a deception plan rather than an infiltration one and I couldn't take my guns with me since the party-goers were being searched. At the end of the session someone had a flashback idea that could have gotten my guns inside the party, but by then it was too late.
It's definitely a game where it helps if everyone is engaged and alert. If no one has ideas then nothing happens. This is especially helpful for the flashbacks, which were a new mechanic for me.
The idea is that the game should be immediate, so rather than planning everything out in advance of the operation like we would in D&D, we start in the middle of the job when we hit our first obstacle. Then if we need something that should have been set up beforehand, we can call for a flashback. Sort of like in a movie, when a flashback shows the prep work that led up to a particular event.
The flashback might fail to provide anything useful, but maybe it worked and something was fortuitously arranged ahead of time. In our session, I called for a flashback that ended up giving us an alternate escape route. It's not what I originally asked for, probably because my roll was only so-so, but still could have been handy.
What was hardest to get used to, was calling for the flashback in the first place, because this mechanic doesn't exist in other games. I think I was the only player who actually used one and the rest relied on innovating on the spot.
We played intending for this to be a one-shot since we have an ongoing Hackmaster campaign for our main game, but everyone had a good time, so we might do this one again.