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changing/leaving out mechanics

A topic by casskdesigns created Mar 16, 2019 Views: 2,542 Replies: 33
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I've really enjoyed seeing how different Forged in the Dark games change the mechanics used in Blades. I know my first hack started because the genre I wanted to design for didn't really fit the faction system, so that was the first thing I started modifying. I then ended up leaving out the claims system because competing for territory didn't make sense and other forms of claims didn't occur to me at the time. (I'm revisiting the claims idea now in my design).

For everyone else working on a FitD game, what were some of the first mechanics you decide to change? Or what were the systems you ended up leaving out entirely and why?


The first thing I took out was load, because it didn't seem to make sense for my game.  I'm not looking at putting it back in but changing what it means significantly.  I've pulled claims as well for more descriptive or networking style stuff, for roughly the same reasons you did.

I'm now looking at simplifying the action terms, as I've seen other hacks where that seems to be turning out pretty well and I might want to go that direction.


So, mine started as a FitD game, but I really slowly took all of Blades out of it: even the fundamentals like dice, progress clocks, etc. The only traces that are left these days are that there's a Score-like phase and a Downtime-like phase, and that it runs because of this chewy reward cycle of circumventing your place in capitalism. Which surprises me because of how much I like Blades and how versatile I think it is.

I think I eventually wanted to own my own design, and understand every choice I was making.

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The first thing I got rid of was the dice, but that was because I knew I wanted cards before I knew I wanted it to be FitD. I spent a long time figuring out how to "map" the success tiers onto a poker deck, but the artifact of a deck of cards was something I was committed to. It's becoming more central to the overall design as I move through the process, but every so often I think wouldn't it be easier if I just stuck with dice?

Editing to add another item I got rid of, pretty early on: Death by Trauma. I'm working with a slightly different system of harm, and I wasn't comfortable with the idea that psychological or social trauma would be something that a character couldn't overcome. It means also figuring out a better way to handle trauma, but I'm pleased with the concept of characters learning to cope with their traumas, rather than letting themselves be overwhelmed to the point of involuntary retirement.


I feel the same way, so I included a note in the game about overcoming trauma with a long term project. Characters should be able to forge that path if they work hard enough.


It's a good mechanism; for me the impetus was also partly that I didn't want to take that choice away from the player about how and when their character is no longer playable.


Oh, that's interesting. A character can't suffer trauma unless the player chooses to risk the stress. Have you had a situation in a game where a player felt like it wasn't their choice?


If you have four traumas and eight stress, it can feel like you don't have a choice. And sometimes that's appropriate, just not for what I'm aiming for with my game.


Oh, for sure, your game design should do what it needs to meet your goals. Thanks for replying about the core mechanic.


I came up with a Forged in the Dark hack for my FF2k19 game jam submission, but I realized pretty early on that I wanted to streamline the mechanics of the system—partially for ease of play (to make the game easier for one shots/making it extremely low prep on the GM side), but part of that was also because I was on a time crunch and didn't want to overextend myself at the time.

The biggest leap for me, mechanically, was changing the success metrics—instead of 1-3/4-5/6/crits, I gave players a pool of dice in every stat, and made success based on the number of matching dice you get. It skews the probability way different from your typical FitD game, which I find kind of a fun challenge.

(I also changed it because I have a friend who rolled snake eyes all the time during our Scum and Villainy sessions, so that was kind of a nod to him and to those players who consistently roll poorly)

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I'm starting to play with a FitD hack and the first thing I likewise took out was base building and claims, neither of which fit with the theme. Claims will make their way back eventually in a completely different (and completely optional) form that's tailor built for a specific purpose, but as it stands they're not adding to the genre emulation I want to have.

I also took out supports, like your gang, since I want the game to have much more narrative on the player characters themselves than gathering a small army of people. 

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This is actually what frustrated me about the game I'm playing with. (I'm working on two of my own custom systems and settings at the moment, but once one of them is done I'll push ahead on the FitD hack). It's a fairly? popular FitD game that seems to have left every part of Blades in the Dark in, even ones that don't make much sense to me.

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For Wands in the Aether, I um. I took out the GM? And the crews. And the equipment. And the positioning/effect framework...and the playbooks...and the die outcomes.

It's gm-less and only has 6 actions (fight, flee, flirt, steal, sneak, summon). It uses Facade Dice.  Oh also I changed stress so when you fill it up you choose a consequence from a list and start over (consequences like lash out at a friend, fumble a spell, etc). The only things really left intact are

  1. the actions being in categories that you roll to avoid consequences
  2. long term project clocks and downtime actions that help you manage stress or seek out assets between jobs

I'm still tweaking it, but yeah I stripped a lot of meat off there. My usual design philosophy is to always make a game smaller if I can, so there you go lol.

what are facade dice?

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Facade dice are the dice in Nora's game Facade (aka the only vampire related roleplaying game to ever be written). They're adapted from the dice randomization that the Spire (by Grant Howitt and Chris Taylor) uses, but are d6 instead of d10.

Basically: 1 is failure with consequence, 2 is failure, 3 is failure with benefit, 4 is success with consequence, 5 is success, 6 is success with benefit. Roll a dice pool of d6s and take the highest. Definitely check out the game if you're interested!

I'm still in the process of my hack, but so far I'm ripping out crews/factions, changing the way dice pools are calculated and chances are rep, heat and stress will change too. Blades has a lot of foundational stuff I really like, but part of my design process is carving away things I don't need and replacing them over time as other parts of the system redesign come together.

Taking out playbooks felt big, but they just weren't adding anything.  Instead I focused on including interesting and diverse abilities, and I already had sixteen distinct elements for four core traits, and every princess chooses a speciality anyway (Cookie Princess, Tiny Princess, Stabby Princess etc). I also had a good look at the territory/claims mechanic and eventually decided that for this game they could be replaced by a simpler system that flowed better with the other mechanics. Bit ironic seeing as this mechanic was one of the big initial draws to FitD as a base, but oh well.

I also added an escalation mechanic, influenced by 7th Sea's raises. Players can increase the number of sides of the dice they're rolling in exchange for increased effect. Being able to voluntarily raise the risk of a roll in exchange for increased effect has a feeling of drama and power that I really like. It feels very princess. I also wanted a mechanical representation of princess flamboyance--rolling d6s on an action means doing it in an efficient, conventional sort of way. Escalating to d8s or d10s or d12s or, hope bless you, d20s carries with it the chance of spectacular success, but also the risk of spectacular failure. This one feels like the biggest break from the pure core of Blades (those precious blessed ever-elusive 6s), but it works well in play and besides, I love having a chance to break out the polyhedrals once in a while.

There are a lot of smaller changes too, and honestly one of my favourite parts of designing this is getting into really pedantic examination of each mechanic, like 'what is this DOING, why is it HERE'. (And Blades in the Dark is such a nicely designed game, it was a joy to slowly pick it apart.) But, overall I was surprised at how well the mechanics for scoundrels doing crimes in a haunted fantasy-industrial city translate to a game about demigod-avatar princesses balancing tea parties and giant monster attacks.


Good question.

My first design moment I felt good about was using 9 actions rather than 12. I'm making a cyberpunk hack, and try as I might I couldn't figure out where to put the hack action. Attune made no sense to include, and putting Hack in the same attribute as all the social actions made no sense. Try as I might I always ended up with an odd number of action per attribute, which would've messed up how resistance worked, and aesthetically I hated it. Then I thought, 'Screw it, let's just collapse these actions as much as possible' and I ended up with 9 I feel really good about. 

Also seeing how Scum & Villainy has 3 ratings for each actions inspired me to use the same limit, and instead of using gambits to make up for that potential, let players acquire 4th action or attribute dots by getting cyberware.

Changing what the actions were called took some doing too. I've changed a bit of vocabulary in my hack (Traumas are Glitches, cohort gangs are teams, etc.) and that was just a lot of time spent on Ditto for what to call the playbooks.

Some of the biggest changes came straight out of Blades in the Dark, in Chapter 9: Changing the Game. I was tying myself in a knot trying to figure out how to design mechanics that Poor Beginnings and Tier Tied to Lifestyle already cover. These are important components for me as they highlight the fact that the players start as poor freelancers, desperate to try to get an edge, and the only way they can make significant progress is by the accumulation of wealth, to buy into the system, to hustle.


The first thing i took out for Fangs, Plagues and Gunpowder was the way heat and complications work. I much prefer systems where the GM knows what shoe is about to drop so you can effectively drop hints and build tension before things break bad. It felt like complications were intended to create a sense that Duskvol is a living place, but I much prefer running a faction turn so I'm not working backwards to justify what the dice told me occurred.


i'd love to hear how you implemented heat and complications! heat feels very much grafted in for me right now and alternatives would be useful


I made a few tweaks based on how I prep BitD:

During prep I play a solitare game where I write down any factions who are on the PCs radar (or should be!), what they're hoping to achieve, a clock for how close they are, and roll tier to see how things go. The factions in BitD already have a lot of these prewritten which is a great source for ideas. The investigators, bluecoats, or spirit wardens are always investigating someone (especially if the crew has heat), and someone is usually trying to get payback on the crew (usually in the form of trying to track them down).

I try to write down very brief explanations for what happened, especially if a clock fills or a high tier faction rolled really poorly. The Spirit Wardens are Staking Out Your Hideout, the Silver Nails screwed up a job, Lord Skurlock can't get the haunted statue he needs so he's hiring The Dimmer Sisters, whatever. Some of these are News that I can tell the players at the next session. Some of these are secrets that I keep in reserve.

In blades, the secrets are just to give me something to complicate things when players (invariably) latch on to the idea I have the least prepared. Fun BitD GM tip: tell your players its fashion week! They will rob it immediately. Knowing that The Wraiths are trying to steal The Maltese Falcon makes it easy to not only have something worth stealing but also a complication as you bump into each other on the job. Rather than roll for consequences after the action, their behavior might change The Wraith's goal to stealing back the Maltese Falcon, trying to convince a bigger crew to come after you in retribution, or just learning what your deal is and if they should try and broker a peace. For me, its all the benefits of complications without tying anything to heat (which I never have because my players are so heat adverse their hideout doesn't even have a kitchen). If something REALLY bad is coming, they'll learn about it ahead of time and can react.

As I type this, I'm realizing that Cultist Simulator was a huge influence. Weird!

What I'm experimenting with in Age of Beasts (which Fangs, Plagues, and Gunpowder is kind of evolving into) is a Doom Clock that works kind of like Fronts in Dungeon World. Basically you start the session with a couple rumors to follow up on (The Holy Reptile Empire has sent scouts to a nearby village and might try and raid for slaves, a member of your community is suspected of following the Cult of Man, the coyote bandit-lord who rules the area is raising taxes to unreasonable heights and nobody knows why). The PCs follow up one one (or none) of these, and the GM picks an unused one in secret.

When the PCs make camp, they can take as many downtime actions as they want for each action after the first, the GM gets a doom die. When camp breaks the GM rolls and begins to fill the clock, and begins to drop hints as to what kind of trouble is coming. They might bump into a band of fascist geckos mapping the area, that creep from the community might be following them, or you might hit a bandit-lord toll bridge.

I'm still testing this but the goal is to accomplish two things: to create a little more ludonarrative harmony with downtime actions and to build tension during play in a way that makes sense to the players. In blades you can spend coin or rep to do more stuff in town but out on a trail that doesn't really make sense. Also there's no cops which sounds great but means heat doesn't make a ton of sense. Players HATE to give the GM dice to do something bad to them, and it feeds into the sense that the characters have to keep moving before something finds them.

Right now I'm trying to get a better sense of how Trophy raises tension by encouraging GMs to write little descriptions for consequences and tone as they progress. I'm also trying to really narrow the focus of the game - I've found that when players know what their crew is about and how they operate (like in blades) then they actively CHOOSE the job they want, and the threat of complication is more meaningful. In my most recent playtest they kind of just picked what sounded cool, but when another problem started to emerge they were like oh ok lets do that instead. Not exactly the sense of doom I was going for, lol.

so the essential change here is that you make the GM create custom-tuned complications based directly on the players' actions? that's an interesting angle...i like the randomness of complications as is but i might see if there's a way to include more customization


i don't think this was the first thing but i think one of the biggest changes i made was to RADICALLY shift the nature of claims: i renamed them foundations and instead of runnings ops to steal them from people, you just build them in your own space during downtime. i think that was the biggest change for me, and the one that most represents what Songs for the Dusk is.

i also...ended up cutting the healing clock and the reason i did that was mostly bc i think healing is boring? i think my general policy is you shouldn't make shit both boring and slow. healing is boring (because it doesn't add any fiction) and it's slow (because it's unreliable), so i just made it fast and reliable since i didn't want to spend time twisting healing into something interesting, and it's just more fun if your character can go home for a weak and that's all it takes for a stab wound to scar over.

other than that i ended up cutting "gangs" (bc i think experts have more character) and...that's it, most of what distinguishes my game from Blades is in its tonal adjustments, not in outright cutting stuff out. i probably should go through the game with a pair of garden shears tbh but i feel wary of doing that without playtesting. probably it's the wrong impulse to design your game with too much to start instead of too little but that's who i am ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ 


Healing was one of the changes I liked from Scum and Villainy. iirc, healing goes MUCH faster and more reliably than in blades, which makes sense given the setting.


Oooooh, I really like shifting Claims/Foundations over to the Downtime phase. It feels like that's the mechanic that gets the least amount of engagement from people I've played with and if I had to guess I'd say it's because a) most of my fellow players are new to the system, and b) there's already a lot going on in the Free Play and Score phases!

Also with you on simplifying healing. I think a hidden design principle in BitD is that players ought to have more than one character ready to go. Get injured? play a different character until this one is healed up. Too much heat? send a character to prison to cool things off. Overindulge? might need to play another character for a bit! So I guess Heat as-written makes sense in that context but I'm not a big fan of it.


yeah that's super true, and a big part of why i play games is to follow specific characters, so swapping them out doesn't interest me as much. "go on a bender and play someone else" isn't an option in my game for this reason...i might end up tying entanglements to something else. chaos, maybe? we'll have to see

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The first thing I took out for Moth-Light was Coin. Money didn’t really serve a purpose in a game focused on a post-fall clan-based society, but I also knew I wanted to do something really different with the games economy, which is how Strings got added to the mix.

The second element to go was the randomized stress cost of Resistance. This begin as a way to reduce the already minuscule level of math in the game (Resistance is only common procedure that include an element of arithmetic) and that actually lead to some really cool changes to the rolling system that leave it feeling familiar but also unique.

Other things cascaded from those changes, including the removal of Armor as it operates in standard Blades and the reduction of Action Dice to their associated Attribute rating.

This is giving me Ideas.

Happy to provide more details

This is amazing, and has also given me a change for Blades. 


I'm in the process of putting together a working draft of my folklore-fantasy hack, The Blackwood Tales. The elevator pitch is that you are wandering adventurers inspired by (mostly European) folklore who have gathered together in an inn to recount adventures you went on together years ago. The GM is the Innkeeper and seems to know more about your adventures than they should...

I haven't thought in terms of "what I'm cutting out" because essentially I started with a foundation of GM/player principles and agendas and literally nothing else. When a principle or agenda requires a mechanic, I look at what exists already and figure out if I can use one of those pieces. So for now my hack is limited to:

  • Position/Effect
  • Stress ("Tangles")
  • Trauma ("Folly")
  • Vice ("Calling")
  • Playbooks (currently 4 character playbooks and 3 currently undrafted crew playbooks)
  • Push Yourself and Flashback have been combined into "Embellishment"
  • Devil's Bargains

Load, Reputation, and several other mechanics will probably become a part of the hack too but I'm not sure yet! Trying to build as lean a draft as I can at first so I can playtest and determine what's missing.

I had an idea (feel free to steal it, I don't have the time right now to make this game) that if a FitD game was about underground gamblers, instead of rolling to resist consequences, play a game of Russian roulette (simulated obviously) and if it's an empty chamber then you resist normally but if  it's a bullet then you trauma out (or die if you want to raise the stakes even more?), and the MC would keep track of where the bullet is so every six resists it's guaranteed to trigger unless there's also some action that can spin the barrel

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