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Blades in the Dark is a tabletop RPG about a crew of daring scoundrels building a criminal empire in a haunted city full of thieves.
Blades in the Dark is a tabletop RPG about a crew of daring scoundrels building a criminal empire in a haunted city full of thieves.
Blades in the Dark is a tabletop RPG about a crew of daring scoundrels building a criminal empire in a haunted city full of thieves.
3,925 backers pledged $179,280 to help bring this project to life.

About this project

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"Blades in the Dark cuts right to the action of doing dirty deeds, then keeps cutting to the bone."— Sean Nittner, playtester

This project will fund the production of the tabletop roleplaying game, Blades in the Dark. With your help, I'll create a killer game book, maps, artwork, and supplements to give you all the tools you need to tell exciting stories of your scoundrels and their crew. Read on to find out more or watch the linked video below to see the game in action.

There's a treasure trove of supplements coming for Blades in the Dark! If you support the project at the $20 level or higher, you'll get everything that's unlocked as we go along. Here's what's coming:

UNLOCKED! ($160,000) Iron Edda: War of Mist and Blood: West of Midgard, across the Whale Road Ocean are the Isles of Mist. There, the people of the Isles wage their own war against the dwarves and automatons. However, here the dwarves can walk the land, protected from the light of the sun by the fogs that cover the Isles. Through force of arms and magic pulled from the land itself, the Isles Folk fight the dwarves in a battle as desperate as that fought by their cousins in Midgard.

Iron Edda: War of Mist and Blood is an official licensed supplement for Blades in the Dark featuring the world of Tracy Barnett's Iron Edda setting. The playset is a Celtic-inspired take on the world of Iron Edda, bringing another perspective to the setting. It will feature all the character and crew types, NPCs, factions, situations, maps, and additional rules needed to bring Celtic myth to life in the world of Iron Edda. By Tracy Barnett

More stretch goals will be announced soon! Be vigilant. For the descriptions of everything unlocked so far, see the bottom of this page.

I've arranged a partnership with Ragnarok Publications to produce a fantasy adventure novel set in Duskwall! The book will be written by James A. Moore, the author of over twenty-five novels, including the critically acclaimed Fireworks, Under The Overtree, Blood Red, Blood Harvest, and Alien: Sea of Sorrows.

To add a digital copy of the novel to your reward, simply increase your pledge by $5. Later, when you fill out the backer survey, you'll have the ability to indicate that you'd like to add the novel to your reward. This is a special kickstarter-only price for the digital novel, so grab it while you can!

"This game crawls into your mind and won't let go. I keep circling back to tell stories with it again and again. Definitely the game I'm most excited for this year."— Stras Acimovic, playtester and consulting designer

The streets of Duskwall are haunted. By vengeful ghosts and cruel demons. By the masked spirit wardens and their lightning-hooks. By sharp-eyed inspectors and their gossiping crows. By the alluring hawkers of vice and pleasure. By thieves and killers and scoundrels like you — the Blades in the Dark.

The noble elite grow ever richer from the profits of their leviathan-hunting fleets and electroplasm refineries. The Bluecoats of the constabulary crack skulls and line their pockets with graft. The powerful crime syndicates leech coin from every business, brothel, drug den, and gambling house. And then there's your crew of scoundrels: all the way down at the bottom rung. Can you make it to the top? What are you willing to do to get there? There's only one way to find out...

Blades in the Dark is a tabletop role-playing game about a gang of criminals seeking their fortunes on the haunted streets of Duskwall. There are heists, chases, occult mysteries, dangerous bargains, bloody skirmishes, and, above all, riches to be had if you're bold enough.

You play to find out if your fledgling crew can thrive amidst the threats of rival gangs, powerful noble families, malicious ghosts, the Bluecoats of the city watch, and the siren song of your scoundrel’s own vices.

When you create your scoundrel, you can choose from a variety of character types, including:

Gameplay focuses on criminal endeavors called scores. A session of play usually consists of 1 or 2 scores, each followed by recovery, downtime projects, and advancement for the scoundrels and the crew.

In Blades in the Dark, your crew gets its own "character sheet" (chosen from different crew classes, like Cult, Thieves, or Smugglers), earns XP, and levels up alongside the characters. As you advance the crew, you unlock new options and abilities for the scoundrels and climb up the ladder of factions within the city.

(Click for PDF Sample)
(Click for PDF Sample)

The game features a robust core resolution mechanic which asks the group to characterize actions as desperaterisky, or controlled. Each choice provides a range of multiple outcomes, beyond simple success or failure. To highlight the roguish nature of the characters, players can accept a devil's bargain (a bonus die with strings attached) to bolster their chances.

Check out the game play video to see how it's done!

(Here's a write-up of the game session from the video, above, which goes into detail about some of the game mechanics: http://www.seannittner.com/actual-play-six-towers-gang)

A good teamwork system is critical to making a game about a crew of scoundrels work. Blades in the Dark features a fun and intuitive teamwork mechanic that shifts the spotlight from one character to another as they go "on point" with their teammates backing them up.

Many RPG sessions grind to a halt when planning is required. The group ends up discussing options for hours -- talking about the game rather than playing the game. Blades in the Dark cuts through all that with a lightning-fast planning technique that takes less than one minute. You make a few simple decisions and you're off and running. In addition, the players can use their teamwork bonus to activate a contingency plan, which lets them cut to a flashback scene and roll a setup action their character performed in the past.

Blades in the Dark is industrial-fantasy. What's that mean? It means that the setting of Duskwall is similar to some fantasy cities you may be familiar with (Lankhmar, Camorr, King's Landing) but with industrial-revolution era technology, like steam trains, gaslights, and primitive electricity. It also means that industry and science exist alongside occult mysticism and demonic horrors. Here's a snippet from the intro:

It is the year 847 of the Imperium which united the shattered islands of the cataclysm under one rule—all glory to his majesty the Immortal Emperor.

The unquiet spirits of the dead—free to roam the world since the gates of death were shattered in the cataclysm—prey on every living thing in the blasted deadlands between cities.

The port of Duskwall, like every city-stronghold of the Imperium, is encircled by crackling lightning-towers which create an electrical barrier that spirits cannot pass. By law, the Wardens must incinerate all corpses with electroplasm to prevent a ghost from rising. However, wealthy citizens, heretics of the spirit cults, and the criminal element often arrange for a spirit to escape destruction at the incinerator. Rogue spirits and the illegal spirit essences derived from them are rich trade for the black market.

Duskwall is the home port for the titanic metal steamships of the leviathan hunters. The blood of those massive demons is the catalyst for the refined plasmic oils which power the city.

Duskwall is a place of wealth and poverty, science and magic, ambition and decay.

The Guide to Duskwall (included with the game) features 30 fleshed-out factions and their goals, dozens of NPCs and character artwork, and a giant map of the city plus detail maps of each of the 12 city districts.

Each map is provided in multiple formats: 1) a detail version, with notes, landmarks, and other notable information 2) a light gray version, suitable for printing and writing / drawing on during game play, and 3) a subterranean tunnel view which shows how the canals and underground passages connect in that part of the city.

 "This game knows where the fun is and helps you unlock it quickly."— Matthew Gagan, playtester

"Blades evokes a real sense of place: this isn't just about the job of the week. It's about taking turf, pushing others out, and trying to outsmart the powerful."
— James Stuart, playtester

"Blades seamlessly blends individual character development and organizational growth into an amazing game. Your crew is so much more than "We're here to do X together". It's an extension of all the players that doesn't overshadow them. An experience I've yet to see repeated in a game, tabletop or otherwise."— Phil Snyder, playtester

"Pick a neighborhood, form a gang with your friends and stab other criminals in the neck when they infringe on your territory. Do these things because life hasn't offered you any other choices that makes sense or just do it because this game is amazing."
— Judd Karlman, playtester

Check out the G+ Community for more discussions about the game.

When completed, the game will be available as a PDF, a softcover print-on-demand book, and a special edition hardcover book, with roughly 170 pages of rules, examples, situations, missions, maps, and artwork.

Everyone who backs at the $10 level or higher will get access to the Quick Start PDF for the game, which will be released before the end of the kickstarter run so you can start playing sooner.

Book Cover Mockup
Book Cover Mockup

THE SPECIAL EDITION HARDCOVER

If you back at the $50 level (or higher) you get the Special Edition hardcover book, which not only includes the game, city guide, and maps for Duskwall, but also an additional city guide for U'Duasha, the city of fire and bronze. The additional guide has detailed maps, factions, situations, items, and treasures unique to the Iruvian desert city of U'Duasha.

THE POD SOFTCOVER

If you back at the $20 level, you'll get all the PDF content, plus all the additional content unlocked during the kickstarter (see below). You'll also get a special code to print the book at cost from a Print On Demand supplier. They'll print and ship a softcover book to you (you pay shipping then). The print cost will be around $4.

CUSTOM PORTRAITS

At the $125 level, I'll re-create a photo you send me as a scoundrel portrait. These will be presented as wanted posters in the book. You also get the high-res artwork to use however you like.

IMPORTANT: Please get permission from the subject before sending the photo. Also, I reserve the right to reject any photos that don't fit the tone of the game (but I doubt that will be an issue).

Fine Print: By submitting your photo, you grant me permanent and non-revocable but non-exclusive license to use the resulting portrait in my products. This means I can use them in my work but you can also do whatever you like with them.

I have lots of great stretch goals for extra content lined up for the game. They'll all be revealed as the funding progresses. Here's what you've unlocked so far:

UNLOCKED! ($9500) The Leech: A sixth character type, the Leech is the alchemist and bonesaw of the crew. The Leech add-on also includes details for all the essences, oils, drugs, and poisons available in Duskwall city, as well as a system for creating your own.

UNLOCKED! ($11,000) The Ghost Lines: A playset that adds a whole new dimension to the game beyond the walls of the city. Play as the daring Rail Jacks that deal with deadly ghosts on the electro-train lines which connect the cities of the imperium.

UNLOCKED! ($13,000) Broken Crown: A playset for the game that adds new character and crew types so you can play a group of revolutionaries intent upon doing the impossible — assassinating the Immortal Emperor himself. By James Stuart.

UNLOCKED! ($15,000) Bluecoats of the Watch: A playset for the game that adds new character and crew types so you can play the meanest gang in Duskwall: The City Watch! Play as the inspectors, enforcers, and guardians that hunt and capture the scoundrels in the darkness.

UNLOCKED! ($18,000) The Spider: A seventh character type, the Spider is the mastermind and tactician of the crew. The Mastermind add-on includes an archetype that focuses on teamwork, long term projects, and mid-mission contingency plans. By Stras Acimovic and John LeBoeuf-Little.

UNLOCKED! ($21,000) Band of Blades: A complete dark fantasy hack, Band of Blades allows you to play a small band of soldiers desperately trying to shift the tide in a war against powerful sorcerer-kings and their undead minions. By Stras Acimovic.

UNLOCKED! ($26,000) Fully Illustrated Maps by Ryan Dunleavy. (See the bottom of this page for a sample.) Ryan will illustrate over my maps of Duskwall city to include a massive amount of additional detail (merchant stalls, boats in the canals, mysterious markings on rooftops, etc.) to help spark ideas when you play.

UNLOCKED! ($32,000) Moon Over Bourbon Street: A completely new setting for the game, plus new character and crew types. You are a thief in Crescent City, a bustling mélange of French colonials and planters, Spanish traders, American river men and adventurers, and Afro-Caribbean free men and slaves. Steamships traveling up and down the Mighty River disgorge a constant stream of valuable cargoes along with scoundrels and gamblers of every bent. But at night, the city turns dark indeed.... By Chris Bennett.

UNLOCKED! ($45,000) Leviathan Song: The hunting vessels sail out from Duskwall, enormous steam ships financed by the noble houses, captained by their unrecognized scions, and crewed by the unwashed masses. Following signs from shipboard dogs, gifted orphans, and madmen trained to hear the demon-song chanted in the depths, they sail the Never Sea, harpoons and hoses ready, preparing to drain the great beasts of their precious fluid. A new playset by Jonathan Walton (author of the Dungeon World Planarch Codex).

UNLOCKED! ($50,000) Grifters & Vigilantes: Introducing two new crew types for the game! The Grifters: Confidence artists who steal through lies, sell forgeries, exploit false identities, and get to the top, fueled by the greed of the rich. By Robert Wieland. The Vigilantes: Duskwall is a sewer of crime and corruption filled with thugs of one stripe or another. The Bluecoats? There for show. Servants of the rich and the powerful, oblivious and unconcerned with the plight of the people. There is no one to protect the downtrodden and the low. No one but you. By Sean Nittner.

UNLOCKED ($60,000): Blades Against Darkness. Get your dungeon-crawling fix with this total reskin and new playset for the game! You are a tomb robber — desperate for coin, driven by a thirst for knowledge, on a quest for your inscrutable deity, or, perhaps, just crazy. One way or another, you’ll take almost any job that comes your way. The Gods know there is plenty of bloody work to be had in the dark passageways below the earth. Damn little is honorable. Most all of it will get you killed. But you just might make it out alive... and rich. By Dylan Green.

UNLOCKED ($70,000): Sparrow's Folly. "The Central Pacific's barely built, but nonetheless shuttling folks in droves to our Great State of California, the land of goddamn milk and honey if you believe the papers. Wallowed halfway between Sacramento and the Sierras is Sparrow’s Folly, a Gold Rush shithole blessed not by lode, but by reputation. It's a haven for the forgotten, a heaven for the rich city bastards who get hard on secret sin. It ain’t on your fuckin map. It's a place where outlaws and outcasts vie for position among their own kind: highwaymen, whores, raildogs, scum. There’s a price for everything. Nobody never said it was fair.” – Ruby LaLond

Sparrow's Folly is a complete reskin of Blades in the Dark for playing gritty adventures in the Wild West, with new character types, crews, and factions, plus the guide and maps to Sparrow's Folly itself. By Allison Arth.

UNLOCKED! ($80,000) Null Vector: Four artificial intelligences secretly rule the world. You and your crew of cyber-augmented outcasts are some of the only people who know the truth. Will you oppose the invisible masters? Will you join one of the AIs, to bring its vision for humanity to life? What will you do to change the world? Null Vector is a complete reskin of the game for cyberpunk thriller action in the vein of Ghost in the Shell.

UNLOCKED ($90,000) The Doomed: "Look, we don't have to worry about The Dark Avenger; he's in the morgue. The Hero Squadron just got their minds swapped by The Mystic Eye or whatever, who knows. What I'm saying is: nobody's around to stop one little bank robbing spree. We just keep it low key and it's us and our powers versus a bunch of beat cops. What could go wrong? " The Doomed takes Blades in the Dark to the worlds of superheroes. You'll be playing the small-time villains trying to make it big in a world where an alien invasion is just another Tuesday. New characters and crew types give you everything you need to play in the style of The Superior Foes of Spider-Man and the Giffen/DeMatteis Injustice League. By Sage Latorra (co-author of Dungeon World).

UNLOCKED (2,000 Backers) Scum and Villainy is a complete reskin of Blades in the Dark for playing Rogues, Scoundrels, Bounty Hunters and aliens of all types looking to make a credit and keep their ship flying in a Space Opera setting. Includes new character types, crews, ships and modified basic moves that encourage blaster-shooting, hoverbike chasing and other over-the-top cinematic action. By Stras Acimovic.

UNLOCKED ($115,000) Womb of Night: A black expanse stretches between the stars, whose dim light shelters the thousand colonies of humanity. Riding the star-seas between them are crews of traders, marauders, explorers and pirates - all guided by the Sisterhood, whose Navigatrix acolytes portend safe passage through the hellish storms that make up the roiling mass they call the warp-space. In Womb of Night you play brave opportunists who seek out their fortune in the void of the cosmos, preying on fat merchant ships or finding rich new worlds to exploit. Space holds riches and power beyond your dreams, if you're bold enough to take them. By Adam Koebel (co-author of Dungeon World, and GM of Swan Song. Adam knows a thing or two about tense situations in space. His primary inspirations for Womb of Night are the art of Moebius, 70s heavy metal and a heavy dose of psychedelic culture.)

UNLOCKED ($120,000): Coneycatchers: It is a universal truth that mendacity and turpitude rule England, from Bankside trugging-house doxies to poor dying Queen Elizabeth. London herself is both procuress and homicide. Her markets are home to fat country rabbits with wide eyes and gold-filled purses, and her tangled alleys are home to the hard men and women with a million ways to separate the coneys from their coin. We are rufflers, whipjacks and foists, and in the service of every vice and crime we are as noble as princes. Cross us at your peril. It is a new age and we are ambitious. Coneycatchers is a reskin of the game with new character and crew types, factions, situations, and a guide for playing in Elizabethan London. By Jason Morningstar  (author of Fiasco, Durance, and Night Witches).

UNLOCKED! ($125,000): Throne of the Void "The forms must be obeyed." —The Great Convention The Interstellar Empire was unified less than a century ago by the first Imperator. Since then his iron fist has enforced the compact that binds the Empire together. But he ages, and his grip weakens. And now the churn of plans, schemes and politics begins. In this decadent world, inhuman nobles, merchant guilds and religious groups all aim to control the throne by any means necessary. You play a crew of Agents, serving a powerful faction of the Interstellar Empire vying against Agents of other factions ... and those of your own. You will be trying to move wheels-within-wheels as you play large-scale political and faction-based games in a deadly web of shifting alliances and rivalries. Throne of the Void is a complete stars-and-starships hack of Blades in the Dark and includes new character types, crews, factions, changed faction and downtime rules, plus galactic maps to the Empire itself. By Stras Acimovic. s

UNLOCKED! ($135,000) Blades of the Jhereg: The underworld of Adrilankha is ruled by a council of five ruthless bosses, known as the Right Hand of the Jhereg. You and your crew of scoundrels have been given a tiny piece of turf and are expected to impress them with your greed and opportunism. Will you rise to power in the Organization or be strangled by your ambitious rivals?

Blades of the Jhereg is an official licensed supplement for Blades in the Dark featuring the world of Steven Brust's Vlad Taltos novels (Jhereg, Yendi, Teckla, Taltos, etc.). The playset will include the character and crew types, NPCs, factions, situations, maps, and additional rules needed to play the exploits of a Jhereg criminal enterprise in Adrinlankha. Just remember to keep an eye out for that upstart Easterner. People say he's trouble. By John Harper (with editorial oversight from Steven Brust).

UNLOCKED! ($150,000) P38: Blood on the Streets. “Except for the Punic Wars, I have truly been accused of every possible thing” Giulio Andreotti, Italian prime minister, 1972-1973, and 1976-1979.

Italy, the 1970s. Upstart bank robbers compete and consort with the organised crime establishment, while the public follows from the front pages of newspapers, afraid and morbidly fascinated. This, however, is only the surface. The criminal underworld traces a wide, murky network, connecting the mob, terrorism and espionage. Some want to tear down the bourgeois state and start a revolution, others are building support for an authoritarian coup. Many are just in it for profit. Everyone is involved, and no one is innocent: terrorist groups and ruling parties, idealist students and national security agents, gangsters and foreign spies.

In P38: Blood on the Streets, you will step into this web, for money, power and ideology. What will you make of it? A playset based on one of the darkest decades of Italy’s republican history, by them crazy Italians: Flavio Mortarino, Alberto Muti, Renato Ramonda, Enrico Ambrosi, Daniele Di Rubbo, Luca Veluttini and Domenico Marino.

And many more!

Risks and challenges

I wear all the hats here at One Seven Design: game design, writing, layout, illustration, cartography -- the whole shebang. It's tough but rewarding work that I've been doing for over 20 years. Which is long enough to learn how to manage the challenges and obstacles that crop up with every project.

Fortunately, a lot of my peers have already pioneered delivery of games on Kickstarter like this, to great success. I'm following in their footsteps.

The game is very close to finished. The design has been playtested and refined for the past 26 months and about half of the book is written. The design style and layout templates are done. What remains is a chunk of explanatory writing and lots and lots of art and map-making.

I expect there will be tweaks and changes as you all start playing the Quick Start, which I'm very excited about. I will remain transparent about the process -- keeping you informed of revisions and progress as I go along.

If funded, this project will pay for more art, more maps, and more great content for the game. I'm excited to devote all of my attention to the game to see it to completion with all the care and craftsmanship I have to give.

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FAQ

  • Yes, if you back at a hardcover level, you'll get the additional hardcover content in digital format as well. I'm a big believer in useful digital materials. I'll give you lots of lots of that stuff.

    Also, the TINKERER level gets all the digital content -- including the special edition material in the hardcover (as well as all the source files).

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  • The materials will have a Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-SA license. (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/4.0/)

    Also, like Vincent Baker did with Apocalypse World, I'll also grant permission for commercial hacks and add-ons, as long as I approve them. This is just to ensure that something horrible doesn't end up with my brand all over it. I will most likely say yes to whatever cool thing you're dreaming up.

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    RECON: This reward gets you backer-only updates and sneak peeks at the game.

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    THE SHADOW: You get the Quick Start PDF, plus a PDF copy of the complete game when it launches. You also get credited as a backer in the game book.

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    THE INFILTRATOR: You get the Quick Start PDF, a PDF copy of the complete game when it launches, and credit in the book. You also get all the additional PDF content unlocked over the run of this Kickstarter campaign, plus a code for a softcover POD version of the book at cost.

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    THE TINKERER: You get everything from the INFILTRATOR level. In addition, you also get the source files for the game, artwork, handout materials, and all the maps, so you can edit them and make your own hacks or new additions to the game. (This is just like THE HACKER, but without a physical book included.)

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    THE HARDCASE: You get all the PDFs and Kickstarter add-ons, and credit in the game. You also get a copy of the Special Edition hardcover book, which contains an additional complete city guide and maps detailing U'Duasha, the city of fire and bronze.

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    THE HACKER: You get everything from the HARDCASE level. In addition, you also get the source files for the game, artwork, handout materials, and all the maps, so you can edit them and make your own hacks or new additions to the game.

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    TWO HARDCOVERS: You get everything from the HACKER level but you get two hardcover books instead of one.

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    SCOUNDREL PORTRAIT: You get everything from the HACKER level. In addition, you’ll have the option to send me a photograph of yourself (or a friend, with their permission) and I'll transform it into a cool scoundrel portrait. I'll add your portrait to a set of wanted posters of notable criminals in the game book. You'll also get the high-resolution file to use however you like.

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    FOUR HARDCOVERS: You get everything from the HACKER level but you get four hardcover books instead of one. A great gift for everyone in your game group.

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    CREW PORTRAIT: This is just like the SCOUNDREL PORTRAIT level, but you get a portrait of your whole crew! Send me up to 4 photos and I'll make an illustration of the group together.

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    THE MASTERMIND: You get everything from the HACKER level. In addition, you get to help me create one of the underworld factions of Duskwall, based on the crew and characters from your home game group. They'll be added to the canonical faction ladder, with a full faction entry, details of their lair and goals, and descriptions of their notable characters. I'll also provide a custom piece of artwork (their lair and a portrait of the crew) to accompany the entry, and you'll get the high res artwork, too.

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    THE OVERLORD: You get everything from the MASTERMIND level, plus you get an additional three hardcover books (4 total). This is the ultimate game group reward!

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Funding period

- (34 days)