Band of Blades Review

The Battle of Ettenmark was supposed to be the end of it. A great host of armies from the Eastern Kingdoms marching west, led by the divinely-blessed Chosen, to strike down the Cinder King and his undead host once and for all. Instead, it was a slaughter. Some of the Chosen were Broken in the previous conflcits, and no one was prepared for the horrors they’ve created for their new liege. Now the Legion is a mercenary band all on its own – except for a single Chosen who helped to pull it out of the fire. Command has decided that the company’s only hope is to march back east, making for Skydagger Keep. If it can be reached, the Legion might just be able to hold the undead back long enough for the Eastern Kingdoms to find some way to save humanity. But the Broken are in pursuit, and winter is closing in . . . it’s going to be a hard campaign for this Band of Blades from Off Guard Games and Evil Hat Productions!

Band of Blades is a standalone Forged in the Dark roleplaying game of dark military fantasy, starring the mercenary band known as the Legion in a desperate cross-country fighting retreat after what was supposed to be the glorious Final Battle blew up in their faces. Accompanied by a Chosen, a hero blessed by a deity, they have to reach their goal before winter makes it impossible to reach . . . but the Cinder King won’t let them go that easily. Two of his Broken, Chosen who he somehow managed to corrupt, are in hot pursuit. Cut off from the other armies of the east, the legionnaires will have to undertake deadly risks to have any chance of making it to the Keep and making a difference in the war and the ultimate fate of humanity.

However, what you’re not doing is playing the Chosen. No, while they can help the Legion greatly (and how they can help is determined by which Chosen you choose from three options), you my friends are going to be playing the legionnaires stuck on the pointy end. Hopefully not literally stuck on the pointy end, but, well, the Broken (also picked from a list of options) might have something to say about that. It’s not all bad, though. I was lucky enough to get to interview Game Designer (and Fierce Commander) Stras Acimovic about the game (which is also, as it happens, a full campaign).

So, how did this whole thing get started? 

“So, very practically, John Harper was running the Blades in the Dark Kickstarter, and at the time I had just moved out – might have even been before I moved out – of Boulder . . . and we [Stras and John Leboeuf-Little, Fearless Marshal and Stras’s fellow Game Designer] were in a restaurant, eating lunch . . . and we were talking about fantasy heartbreakers. John’s a big fan of this question, which is before you write anything you should always ask ‘why?’ . . . if you’re going to make a fantasy game, what makes it different than any other fantasy game that’s out there? One of the things that I was talking about was, I wanted a dark fantasy setting that was a bit like Warhammer, but that reflected like, I don’t know, some of my own personal family’s experiences particularly with WWII and whatnot. So we sat down and talked a lot about what existed, and how the game would change, and then when Harper ran the Kickstarter he asked for pitches. 

I wrote this, like, 6-8 page short story or something which was essentially what I envisioned the game to be – a piece of a nonexistent novel about this group, which I believe at the time was called The Company. It became the Legion, because, uh, John has a little bit more military-fu, he grew up as a military brat, so like a lot of the lingo and stuff from that angle kind of came in from his side. So I gave it to Harper, and he was like ‘wow this is amazing!’, and I put it on the Blades forums . . . . that’s sort of how it became A Thing.

There are different drives to different projects, and dark fantasy has always been a passion of mine. This is kind of a cool thing to talk about game development: I didn’t actually know why it was a passion of mine until we made this thing. I came to this understanding that I grew up with fairy tales that were … slightly different than the fairy tales you read or have Disneyfied versions told to kids here, right? And so I grew up hearing all sorts of very dark Eastern European tales where a lot of people were based on historical figures and actual historical events. So I realized that ever since I was a kid the sort of fantasy settings that I read about had like witches that could kill you … undead warriors, and curses, and all this other stuff that doesn’t really appear in the slightly more cleaned up, heroic fantasy that you see in novels these days.

So Band of Blades comes from . . . my background and childhood and stories that I heard. That’s how we decided to do the thing!”

Like Scum and Villainy and Hack the Planet before it, Band of Blades is a Forged in the Dark game, using the same core system from Blades in the Dark (which, in several ways, is a descendant of the Powered by the Apocalypse ruleset). Like PbtA, all of your checks have different degrees of success and failure determined by the dice, from truly abysmal to critically successful. You roll a number of d6s determined by your action ratings and the situation, and you’re hoping to get at least a 4 or higher on one of the dice. I asked Stras to talk a bit about the creative process for the game, and he came back with thoughts on Forged in the Dark and what it does for the design, and how they had to think about the departures it was making – unlike previous FitD games, including Blades in the Dark, you’re not playing a crew of outright criminals or cyberpunks.

“Well, the first thing I want to talk about is . . . in standard [Powered by the Apocalypse] –  mind you I’m going to use some terms a little loosely – like Apocalypse World there are Moves designed to help narrow down input situations into output situations, and they do so in an interesting way. When you say that a certain thing happens you do it in the fiction, and then it engages the mechanism, and then it gives you three possible outcomes.So you can say certain things, for example ‘in the horror genre if you engage in violence here are possible outcomes’.

Forged in the Dark games are a little different. The thing that I think is kind of the beating heart for FitD is the Position and Effect [in short, how well off you are before you start doing something, and how effective whatever you then try to do will be]. The thing is, if I tell you how risky it is – someone just swung a sword at me – you can gauge that. You can ask some questions. Do you have armor? Yeah, heavy plate. Okay then, it doesn’t sound too risky. Then that person may ask how can I make it more effective? Oh, well, you might have to try and get inside their guard so you can strike at an exposed area or something like that.

We understand this intuitively because a knife and armor are things that we see in the world. But it gets really tricky when you ask questions like … how does alchemy change that equation? We don’t have answers to that because we can’t apply the world. So the first thing you want to do and the first thing we focus on in design is understanding the setting, because the setting will help inform [the actions you can take in the game]. 

So we decided, okay, in dark fantasy what are kind of the common verbs, in military fiction what are the common verbs? A lot of times we’ll watch movies and we’ll read books and then we’ll make notes of what everyone’s doing in any given scene and we’ll compare them and make lists to try and sort out what are the most common actions. How do we try certain things? Can we handle the situation if we don’t have this action? So that’s the core, we want to get to a point where even if you have no special abilities . . . you can still play out a scene using those actions.”

Here at CHG we’ve touched upon military-themed games before, ranging from doctors in the Korean War to Soviet airwomen in the Great Patriotic War to the space jockeys of Tachyon Squadron. We’ve also touched upon dark fantasy, both Warhammer and Zwei flavors. Band of Blades is the first time we’ve looked at a game that has both subgenres completely mixed together, and over the course of our conversation Stras had a lot to say about the nature of the two. This is absolutely a book where a lot of thought and consideration was put into the genre and themes and what that would mean for play.

“If you look at wars in the history of the world, you realize that wars have wins and losses and people retreating and dealing with stuff. But if you look at the history of war in fantasy novels, a lot of times it’s like ‘hold this famous elven capital until The End!” And of course even though the gates are broken through and they head towards the magical sacred tree at the heart of everything, you know that eventually the people sent off to get the magical doodad are going to show up and save the day at the end because that’s how fantasy novels work. They don’t talk a lot about loss. 

That’s the difference between dark fantasy and fantasy to me. There’s this moment in that first story that I talked about where a character throws a spear. In the high fantasy version of that her spear would shine brightly and she would utter a prayer to whatever deity she happens to follow and the spear would fly try and strike the undead. Even though the party had taken some wounds, they would rally and it would be fine.

But [in this dark fantasy version] she throws the spear in the darkness, so she can’t 100% see what she’s throwing at, so she makes this wild toss – first thing you’re taught in spear fighting is don’t throw the spear, because then your enemy has a spear and you have nothing – and she misses and she hits this thing the undead is holding and the undead gets extra angry and things get even worse. That’s kind of the beating heart of dark fantasy, that nobody’s protected, nobody has this destiny. Dealing with that loss is important, I think.”

The Legion is broken up into a quintet of squads, each of which consists of five Rookies at the start of the campaign, as well one of each type of Specialist: Heavy, Medic, Officer, Scout, and Sniper. Rookies can be promoted to the more experienced Soldier, and Soldiers can be promoted to become a Specialist. Each Specialist has, in addition to unique special abilities like any other playbook, a unique action whose rating does not indicate how many dice you roll. Instead, its rating determines how many uses you have of it per mission, with no roll required. The Heavy’s Anchor lets them count as a small group, fighting multiple lesser undead without losing any effect. The Medic’s Doctor lets them treat legionnaires so that they can ignore wound penalties for a scene. The Officer’s Channels allows them to acquire assets for the squad in a flashback. The Scout’s Scrounge allows them to find safe and secure shelter, or a load worth of supplies for everyone in the squad. The Sniper’s Aim lets them do just that to increase the effect of a shot, sometimes taking out particularly hard targets with a single bullet. Even the non-specialist Soldier has a unique action, Grit, which lets them add dice to resistance rolls.

The Rookie has some special abilities as well, but no unique action. You’ve got some fresh food from back home and Naive Hope in your equipment, though! Not that they’ll last very long . . .

The actual ‘adventuring’ in Band of Blades consists of missions, wherein one of these squads and up to two Specialists are sent out from camp to complete their objectives. Assault missions are about striking at targets of opportunity, disrupting the Cinder King’s always-encroaching forces and perhaps even driving the Broken back to buy time. Recon missions are about gathering Intel that can be used going forward. Supply missions are exactly what they sound like, trying to recover/earn/steal food, horses, undead-killing Black Shot ammunition, and more to keep the Legion alive. Religious missions center on protecting holy sites, or sometimes gathering artifacts that can protect the Legion and smite the undead. There are also special missions that can pop up, often offering great reward at high risk.

There are a lot of delicate balancing acts to survive. Time passes, bringing winter ever closer, potentially stranding the Legion far short of the Keep. Pressure builds as the Broken close in, threatening the Legion’s passage. Staying in one place for too long might see either of these ‘clocks’ overwhelm you, but when do you move on? Have you done enough at your current camp to even get you through the next phase of the march? Different mission types require certain Specialists; do you send the Heavy on a crucial Assault mission when they’re already wounded? Your only completely healthy squad is nothing but newly-recruited Rookies; do you send them up against one of the Broken’s Lieutenants? Who makes these decisions?

Enter the Commander, Marshall, and Quartermaster. On that note…

“One of the biggest challenges that we had . . .  was that we wanted people to feel like they were part of something larger. So you’ll see that even though you play very different characters – most people are used to thinking of . . . you have a character of your own, that character has a lot of adventures, and you sort of personify them and advocate for them. But in Band of Blades, the thing that is actually living is the Legion, the company. And so we wanted the only permanent characters to be sort of, like, the overarching command staff. And we wanted to have a question of scale. We introduced the Chosen to showcase that a lot of times these struggles, these day-to-day struggles, that you . . .  fight for your life in are actually kind of small potatoes with larger stuff that’s happening, and so on.

So we had to handle that, we had to talk about the core gameplay loop being missions, what the equivalent of downtime would look like. We talked a lot about resource loops, that’s sort of how we established the morale, intel, supply chain, things like that. We talked about what is important to us in military stories, what we don’t see a lot of in military stories and then tried putting some of that stuff in. There was a lot of discussion going on,took us almost four months before we had what we considered a minimum, viable playtest. Although what’s hilarious is, we actually wrote up all of these ideas and had these real long discussions, and John drew up this template . . . and then we talked about Skydagger Keep, and my idea was that you start defending Skydagger Keep, and then [the Keep] ends up being the destination of the first campaign.”

Aside from the GM, Band of Blades is a 3-5 player game. That’s a hard minimum, there, because each of the roles I mentioned above – Commander, Marshall, and Quartermaster – are mandatory for play. In addition to whatever Specialists, Soldiers, and Rookies the players are playing during the mission phase, each of them plays one of these command staff characters during a campaign phase, alternating between the two. The Commander is making high-level decisions: when to use Intel to ask questions or gain access to special missions, which of the missions the Legion undertakes (both on-screen player characters and off-screen secondary missions), when the Legion advances to their next destination, what that destination is when the way forward splits, and the meta-task of tracking Pressure and Time. 

The Marshall is the one actually sending troops into battle: assigning specialists and squads to missions, putting someone in command if there’s no Officer, keeping the roster of surviving legionnaires up to date, making the engagement rolls to see how well the missions get started (and whether or not the secondary missions succeed), and the meta-task of keeping track of the Legion’s Morale. The Quartermaster is in charge of the Legion’s resources: food, ammo, non-combat personnel like Alchemists, siege weapons, supply carts, reliquaries. In addition to keeping track of all these things the Quartermaster also decides how they get used, and can undertake actions to keep the Legion going – like acquiring assets or making sure everyone gets a chance to rest.

There are two more command staff characters, the Loremaster who keeps the histories of the Legion and the Spymaster who puts eyes in the shadows. They’re optional, ready for the 4th and 5th players if you have them, but they offer some pretty big benefits and opportunities to the Legion . . . but we’ll touch a little more on them later. For now, Stras had already explained a bit about why the command staff are separate from the combat-ready player characters: they give the players control of and a bigger stake in the fate of the entire Legion, instead of just 3-5 characters. Digging a little deeper, though, he said it also had a lot to do with putting the players and the GM on more even footing. 

“One of the things that I personally advocate for is – I’m not a fan of the myth that the GM is this, like, omnipotent sort of powerful being, and they have knowledge beyond ken, and these long-ranging plans that always . . . all that stuff. I kind of like making it accessible and part of the table . . . I very much believe that the GM is just a player. So one of the things we did is we actually made the GM role into a booklet that didn’t look any different than anyone else’s booklet, and had all the things you’d need to generate a mission on it. 

It was actually pretty funny, because in one of our earlier playtests we asked ‘what does everyone want to play’, and a friend of mine picked up the GM booklet. “I want to be the GM!” “Okay, I guess you’re running this game now!” Everybody laughed, like it was a joke, and I was like no I’m serious, he’s running. It came out to be fine! As a designer it was one of the most gratifying moments – a lot of times writing a game well enough so that someone else can run it is actually the challenge. Like you can write pages on some napkins for your own table and be fine, but when you have to hand it to someone else and be like ‘can you do this’, that’s actually the real test.”

Here’s one thing that you might have copped to, though. Sure, you’re playing the command staff before missions and legionnaires during them, that’s not too much of a mental hurdle. But let’s say your Heavy really is too badly wounded to risk being sent on that crucial Assault mission. That squad of Rookies that nobody has played as is the best option to take out the Lieutenant, you’re going to need bodies to keep the Sniper safe. Are you the player sitting this one out? No. Instead, you merely pick up another one of the characters and play them for this mission instead. It could be a character you’ve already played, it could be a fresh Rookie, it could be a character that someone else has been playing. None of the legionnaires are tied to any one player; only the command staff characters are assigned and permanent. You could, quite possibly, end up playing every type of legionnaire playbook over the course of the campaign. In fact I’d say it’s likely. As this is not the typical roleplayer’s experience – one character, one player is the standard rule – I asked Stras if he had any advice.

“I’ve gotten asked this question before, and I’ve got two pieces of advice. Well maybe three, let’s start with the easiest one, which is also the most flippant one, so I apologize: try it! Try it before you reject it outright. It is a little different. I remember I and one of my friends had the same hot take when we played Ars Magica. We played that game and that was actually when I was introduced to ‘troupe’ play and at the time I was like ‘Ahhh, my galaxy brain!” Try it. Give it a go, see how you feel. There is something liberating about knowing that if your character goes down you can just pick up another Rookie sheet. It’s okay! 

The second piece of advice that I have is, if it really doesn’t work for you, that’s okay. The first rule of any table is not leaning into the book. We do say in the book, discuss with your Marshall as to who plays what, so just talk to your Marshall. ‘Hey, look, I get a little awkward or maybe just like playing a couple characters, so maybe give me the Heavy I made at the start, and I played this one Rookie on a mission and want to follow their career, so whenever possible please just give me them’. That’s usually just fine.

Three: Realize that it’s an important design consideration. Because you’re not playing five people that will win the war, you’re playing five survivors of a terrible battle trying to make it to the end and make a difference. It’s a different position to put yourself in – a lot of the stories that we read are about shining characters in armor that have these narrative protections built in who are meant to save the day because that’s what the prophecy says. It’s a different kind of fantasy, and maybe test it out.”

Also, unlike a lot of PbtA and FitD games, there’s no ‘niche protection’ as Stras called it; your Soldiers can promote to whatever Specialist they want, even if there already is one in the legion. So there’s nothing stopping you from having multiple Scouts or Officers. Well, nothing except the casualty rate, I suppose.

I’ve mentioned that this is a game and a campaign, but Band of Blades is also a world. There’s a lot of setting information for you to tap into here, from the country of Aldermark to the Eastern Kingdoms where most of the (original, anyway) legionnaires will hail from. The cultures of Barta, Or, Panya, and Zemya are all pretty well detailed and unique, and there’s a great sense of history between the Old Empire (which the Legion originally served) and stories of Chosen down through the ages. There’s also a fair amount of information pointing towards places, peoples, and events happening off-screen. The Chosen and Broken who aren’t picked for the campaign are up to something, after all, and even taken together all six don’t account for all of their number. The Confederacy of Royin was famous for Blooded heroes descended from Chosen, but the country was razed by the Cinder King a decade ago. . . killing most of the Blooded. The Principalities of Andrastus in the east have apparently banded together to fight against a Broken foe of their own. 

This even happens with Skydagger Keep and the endgame. Provided the Legion makes it there intact and before winter comes, they’ve got to rapidly get the Keep back into fighting action. They don’t have the time or the luxury of continuing on to the Eastern Kingdoms, they have to make a stand here. Siege weapons are prepared, defenses are fixed, avalanches are triggered, and the Legion make what very well might be their final stand as a Broken comes over the wall . . . which all ties into the final score. Depending on how well the initial defense of Skydagger Keep goes, and on a number of factors throughout the campaign (how many surviving squads there are, special missions that succeeded, how many Lieutenants were slain, if a Broken was brought down), you get a final score of points. But that score doesn’t tie into anything in the book; it does reference a ‘next round’, and continuing the game is mentioned as well. I asked Stras about this, and I got a lot of good stuff about what their goals for this book were, as well as preemptive answers to my usual ‘what’s next’ question!

“It’s interesting, because John and I try to take a long-view approach to a number of things, and one of the things we tried doing with Band of Blades was take a look at what does a product look like, and what kind of stories can be held in this world. So you can easily imagine that we could write an entire game, sort of Harry Potter style, about teenage alchemists studying and having adventures in the middle of a more peaceful time. That’s totally a game that could happen in this world (not necessarily on the docket, although I’m making notes right now). 

I guess what I’m trying to say is we took a look at what the product should look like, how do we know that we put enough in this book so people can really sink their teeth into it and get a lot out of it. So ‘Campaign 1’ came out as ‘what is a satisfying arc of play’ – if you were reading a novel, when do you feel like is a good place to finish that novel . . . we took a look at Band of Blades and realized the stuff that we had was entirely too much. This book is massive (466 pages). You can’t fit everything that you want! You get people that are like ‘well why didn’t you just put more in’, but you just run out of room! 

So I didn’t want anybody to feel slighted or like they didn’t get a complete product. But I also know we’re going to tell more stories! And one of the things I didn’t want people to do is [to get to those other stories] and be like ‘well does everything in the past get invalidated? Do you just start a new game every time you do this?’ And that’s a way to do it, sure, but one of the things we looked at was how do you create continuity between the chapters, how do we tell this long-form narrative. And one of the things is that we need to talk about war stories, and there are different stories, and in some ways they are slightly different genres. So this is about a campaign that is about a journey in retreat. It’s about dealing with loss. It’s about dealing with a war that’s already partially failed! 

Are there more plans? Obviously! Campaign 2 we’re actually planning to do kind of a tower defense, which is like how do you survive a siege? It’s going to involve actually holding Skydagger Keep. I can give away a couple hints here, We’ve already designed a couple more Chosen and Broken, which will be retroactive so that you can theoretically play Campaign 1 with them. We’re tinkering because we’re trying to figure out exactly how things work – we actually made sheets and figured out how to do non-lethal characters like Mercies and Alchemists as playable characters. 

Then there is an even more loosely sketched out, completely theoretical campaign. We were trying to take a look at how war flows in a more populated area, less of a rout more of a long-form setting with different fronts, And how to handle time periods in the past. There are cornerstone events that happen and the Legion can only be stationed at one of the fronts, and there’s a lot more politicking, because humans even when they’re about to get annihilated still have factions and people vying to make a profit. So there’ll be a lot more dealing with humans and not just cutting your teeth on undead. 

So there are up to two more campaigns. We’ve talked about some more offshoot things, like how to deal with a small adventure where you have preset characters, where you play the Banner Guard [a squad of the Legion on detached duty, mentioned in the campaign but never actually seen] going off on a sequence of missions, and things like that.” 

Now, reading all this, you might be convinced that the Legion is having a pretty rough go of it. They’ve got Broken and undead on their heels, no dedicated supply lines, a distant destination with winter closing in, and civilization in Aldermark is starting to break down as their doom approaches. But wait, there’s more! In addition to harm that could kill them and stress that can mentally break them, our poor legionnaires are going to have to deal with something called Corruption. Undeath is less a condition and more of a spreading disease – which probably has something to do with how Chosen and even a goddess have been Broken – and as Corruption is gained from exposure to undeath mutations set in. Legionnaires may suddenly find eyes where there should definitely not be eyes, begin to experience horrible nightmares, or wake up craving raw flesh. That is definitely some Warhammer 40k Chaos horror going on there, so I asked Stras why the Legion had this particular problem to deal with.

“That’s a long and complicated story! Back when John and I sat at that lunch we talked about what makes dark fantasy dark, what are the things you’ll see in books. So if you pick up the book and pull it apart, we talk about how explicitly each of the Broken has certain types of horror. One of the types of horror, which I have to admit I kind of enjoy, is kind of squicky body horror. That’s kind of a big deal. There are more intellectual approaches to undead, different types of horror movies where you’ll see possession, that kind of stuff, that sort of suspense. The Thing has a lot of that, ‘who’s the Thing?’ Similarly corruption was, before we actually started working on Band of Blades proper, [in the original story] I called it the Rot. And there’s this wave of the Rot pushing in on the lands of the living, and it has to do with the corruption of the gods. So that’s ultimately why the gods have created the Chosen, these champions to actually try and stand against it, hold it at bay, because it devours and mutates everything.

Some of that comes from very staple fantasy fiction in the genre. Some of it comes from references to radiation, the kind of fear that atomic weapons bring to the battlefield – this unseen additional horror that even when you think you’ve gotten away from everything else is still gonna zap ya. It’s also about this long term wear and tear on you over the distance – that you can see in a much more concrete way. Now we fantasied it up – instead of saying you’ve got calluses and achy joints, oh no, it’s corruption. Some of that stuff, you have to make a balance between telling a fantasy story and trying to drive home historical facts and tales.”

Stras also pointed out, though, that how big of a deal Corruption is can be controlled by the group, particularly by picking your Chosen. Shreya, Chosen of the Bartan goddess of mercy and healing, brooks no corruption at all; be found with a manifested sign of the blight, and she’ll mercifully but swiftly end you. Zora, ancient Chosen of the Living God of the Zemyati, can gain the ability to actually drain corruption from the legionnaires, greatly lessening that particular threat.

As per usual, I asked Stras for the best piece of advice that could be offered to a prospective Band of Blades GM. I got it, but in the bargain we also revisited the command staff characters and what they do to make the GM’s life easier.

“This is actually a great topic to talk about. In most games, GMing is all on the GM. If you’re prepping for a D&D game, you’re probably making some notes about dungeons, you’re pulling up stat blocks, you’re reskinning monsters so that they tie into whatever it is you’re doing . . . we said no, that’s not right, there’s a lot of stuff to be done for the GM here. We wanted them to have help! So we divided a lot of the roles to actually handle that. 

It’s funny because I’ve actually had GMs thank me . . . we took away a lot of the work for the GM; So, you need to know how to make an engagement roll? The GM doesn’t have to look it up every time: tell the Marshall hey, it’s your job, it’s on the back of your sheet. Need to remember at the end of missions to tell people to get XP? No, that’s the Marshall’s job too. A lot of these things have been distributed so that other people think about it. Need to know how to rest and recuperate? That’s the Quartermaster’s job. Everybody helps the GM by taking away some of the responsibility. 

This goes back to that whole ‘I hate the GM as this monolithic figure’ thing, it’s like against my personal heart. The other thing is that you’ll notice that when the table gets bigger and you add another role, that role is secretly another GM helper. So the Lorekeeper takes over setting scenes and handling Back At Camp scenes so the GM can focus a little more on how to design missions and sort of things like that. If you play the Spymaster it forces the GM to answer certain questions that are not super hard. It’s like, ‘what is this Broken up to?” So the GM’s like ‘I guess they’re researching this foul mists power, so they probably have a lab or something!” Now the GM is focusing more on the roleplaying and narrative side of things in Back at Camp scenes and things like that [as opposed to setting them up, thanks to the Loremaster], and then they have the Spymaster who basically organizes their undead planning for them in a way. We do that on purpose, because if you have a bigger table, you’re going to need more help.

So, trust yourself and the fact that so many of us are used to telling stories; don’t try to be monolithic and ‘Muahahah’ a lot and pretend that you know everything. Feel free to ask your table questions. I think that a lot of our GM advice is encoded in the book. GM good practices, GM bad practices, notes on what’s a good way to handle certain situations . . . just read Chapter 8 real careful like, and give it a spin. And remember that it sounds really overwhelming and scary, but the first mission is written for you [another thing determined by your Chosen], so just read the mission and jump right in.”


On top of everything else, even in PDF form Band of Blades looks awesome. Top-notch work from Lead Editor and Deadly Spymaster Karen Twelves, excellent art by Orite Sniper Michela Da Sacco and others, and cartography from Vandal J Arden and Kitty Ninepeaks that looks very nice when printed out (the above image is from Blades in the Dark community member tomlommel, who went so far as to print them out 36”x48”). So, production values: high. That only seems fair, with the amount of thought and effort the writing team put into things.

Band of Blades is a book that will offer a unique campaign experience where no character is safe, where both the losses and the risks matter. The players have a larger degree of control over the story by playing the leaders of the Legion, while also getting to potentially explore many different characters, playstyles, and relationships via the troupe play with the rank-and-file legionnaires. And whether the Legion dies on the roads of Aldermark or stands victorious on the walls of Skydagger Keep, you’re going to know you took on a challenge worth facing.

You can find a PDF version of Band of Blades on DriveThruRPG and, a physical copy at Evil Hat, and more information and free downloads at Off Guard Games. You can find both Stras and Off Guard Games on Twitter, and there are some Band of Blades actual plays out there for you to find as well.

Join us on the road to Skydagger Keep. Our numbers are few, our supplies are low, and every operation is a deadly risk – but if any chance exists to make a difference in the outcome of the war, it is this cohort, the only remaining hope, this bloody band of blades!

Thanks to Stras for talking with me about the game, and to Evil Hat’s Sean Nittner for putting us in touch and getting CHG a review copy of the Band of Blades PDF.

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