This is “Worlds in the Dark”, an unofficial hack of Blades in the Dark, including concepts from Savage Worlds and Hard Wired Island. For the most part, the rules are unchanged from Blades in the Dark and should be familiar to anyone who has played that system.

Table of Contents

Character Creation

Instead of selecting a playbook to use (as you would if you were playing Blades in the Dark), players build their character’s playbook during character creation by picking a set of Specialties, Hindrances and Talents. They also choose 4 Assets to start the game with - if the optional Burden rules are in use, they can take on Burden to start with more.

Specialties

Each character has a number of Specialties, which represent their specific skills and aptitudes and are each rated between 1 and 4. These Specialties are made up by the players and are intentionally open-ended; you can be specialised in pretty much anything, as long as it’s not so specific it’ll never get used or so broad it applies to every action. Whenever you perform an action that one of your Specialties is applicable to, you roll a number of d6 equal to your rank in that Specialty.

For example, if you have a Specialty in Station Infrastructure, you might be able to use it to bypass a keypad commonly used on space stations, to bullshit someone into thinking you’re a senior technician, or to dodge between the blind spots you know exist in station security systems. These would all be performed using the same Station Infrastructure Specialty.

Here are some example Specialties: Agriculture, Anarchist Groups, Asteroid Mining, Bureaucracy, Chef, Chemistry, Conspiracies, Corporate Security, Corporate Wage Slave, Criminal Underworld, Cybernetics, Detective, Economics, Hacking, Investigation, Knife-Fighting, Law, Linguistics, Mechanics, Military, Medicine, Parkour, Perception, Philosophy, Piloting, Politics, Shooting, Stealth, Therapy.

During character creation, you get 7 points to distribute between whatever Specialties you want. However, no Specialty can be increased above rank 2 at the start of the game.

Hindrances

Hindrances are character flaws, vices, principles, quirks or handicaps (whether physical or emotional) that occasionally make life a little tougher for your character. Like Specialties, you make them up - they don’t have specific mechanics, but they do have narrative effects whenever it makes sense for them to come up. They don’t always have to be bad things, either, they just have to make life complicated. Hindrances can be:

Your character starts with up to two Hindrances, but they can (and probably will) gain more during the course of your character’s career. You don’t have to start with any Hindrances if you don’t want to, but Hindrances do come with advantages in the form of XP when you struggle with them, or when they cause you to suffer significant hardship or setbacks.

Talents

Talents are special abilities that grant your character new actions, change the way a rule works for you, or give you a bonus in a specific situations. They’re similar to edges in Savage Worlds or class features in D&D, and are usually divided up into “playbooks” just like the special abilities from Blades in the Dark. You’re not restricted to just one playbook, however, and can pick Talents from whichever category you desire.

At character creation, you can pick one Talent to start with. Talents are always specific to the setting you’re playing this game in; each game will have its own specific set of playbooks to choose from. You can use the guidelines on “Expanding the Scope” from the Blades in the Dark rulebook to come up with new Talents.

Character Advancement

Characters accumulate experience in the course of their adventures, but they don’t mark it off on specific tracks of their playbook like they do in BitD. Instead, they accumulate XP into a pool from the following sources:

When you accumulate enough XP, you can spend it to advance your character:

Action Rolls

When a player character does something challenging, we make an action roll to see how it turns out. An action is challenging if there’s an obstacle to the PC’s goal that’s dangerous or troublesome in some way. We don’t make an action roll unless the PC is put to the test. If their action is something that we’d expect them to simply accomplish, then we don’t make an action roll.

To start with, the player must describe what they wish to do, including the concrete outcome they wish to achieve, and they must select an appropriate Specialty that applies to it. They get a number of dice equal to their rating in that Specialty - so if a player with Stealth 3 was trying to sneak, for example, they would roll 3d6. If you don’t have any relevant Specialty at all, roll 2d6 and keep the lowest result. You can always get one or two extra dice by Pushing Yourself or getting assistance from an ally, however.

Once the player has determined their action, the GM sets the Position and Effect and the player makes their roll. What happens next depends on the highest number that displays on the resulting dice:

The player’s roll resolves the action of the character, as well as any NPCs that are involved. It determines how those actions interact and which consequences result.

Position

Position determines how dire the consequences will be if your action goes wrong. There are three options:

For example, say the player is trying to use parkour to get through a group of enemies. If they haven’t seen you at all and you can ambush them, it’s Controlled. If they’ve seen you, but you have a headstart and plenty of terrain to lose them in, it’s Risky. If they’re chasing you over an open field and there’s nowhere to hide, it’s Desperate.

Effect

Effect determines how much of an impact your action can have and how close to your stated goal it gets you, if it’s successful. Once again, there are three options:

The GM should consider a few factors when setting the Effect:

Not all factors which influence Effect are equal; some are more dominant than others. For example, someone trying to take down a starship with a pistol is going to suffer Zero Effect. Even if they push themselves for extra Effect and roll a critical success, it doesn’t matter - none of that is enough to bring the action above Zero Effect, because what they’re trying just isn’t possible. In those circumstances, the players will need to figure out what they can do to bypass that dominant effect - for example, getting a bigger gun or finding a way to get the pilot out in the open.

To illustrate Effect, say that a character has set up a sniper position on a nearby roof and is watching a large group of enemies she needs to get past. If she decides to use her position of advantage to get just one headshot off on the leader, this would likely happen with Great effect. On the other hand, if she wants to fire a volley of shots and try to suppress the enemy into scattering, the Effect is likely to be Limited because the scale is much greater.

Teamwork

When the party works together, the characters have access to four special teamwork maneuvers.

Protecting Allies. If one or more of your allies is about to suffer consequences and it makes sense in the fiction for you to protect them, you can always intervene and suffer the consequences instead of them.

Assisting Allies. If it makes sense in the fiction, you can assist an ally with their action by spending 1 Stress. You don’t have to roll any dice yourself, but the ally you assisted gets +1d on their roll. You might get drawn into the consequences depending on the nature of your assistance, though.

Setup Action. This is another way to assist with an action, this time indirectly instead of directly. You can make your own action to indirectly help with an obstacle - for example, distracting the guards so that another character can ambush them. A setup action is a normal action roll; if successful, any member of the party who follows through gets increased Effect or improved Position for their roll.

Group Action. This allows one character to take the lead and coordinate the party through an obstacle - for example, when sneaking the whole party through a heavily-guarded area. Everyone involved makes an action roll against the obstacle, and the single best result is used as the overall effort for everyone who rolled. However, the character leading the group action takes 1 Stress for each character who rolled a 1-3 as their best result. This represents the strain of coordinating and covering for the party.

Consequences

Consequences usually occur when a player rolls a failure or a partial success on an action roll. More rarely, consequences can happen without an action roll - for example, if you stumble into an unseen trap or a powerful NPC takes action against you directly. There’s no such thing as a “you fail but nothing happens roll” - actions always have consequences unless they are a complete success. These consequences can come in many forms, both narrative and mechanical, but will usually resemble one or more of the following.

Loss of Opportunity. The situation has changed: your hiding place is compromised, the crucial moment has passed, the window of opportunity has closed. Often, this means that you must either withdraw and try a different approach (if possible) or press on at a riskier Position.

Narrative Consequences. A catch-all for consequences which exist entirely in fiction. If you were trying to sneak through a group of enemies, maybe you get spotted. If you were trying to disarm someone, maybe they disarm you instead. Maybe you get backed into a corner, onto a ledge, forced into cover, and so on. The worse the Position, the more dire the situation you find yourself in now.

Progress Clock. Similar to narrative consequences; instead of a single discrete consequence, the GM fills in a Progress Clock that is counting down to Something Bad. For example, consequences while sneaking through a high-security warehouse might mark ticks on a “General Alert is Raised” clock. As a rule of thumb, mark 1 tick for a Controlled action, 2 ticks for a Risky action, and 3 ticks for a Desperate one.

Reduced Effect. This usually only applies to a partial success, rather than a failure. The action succeeds, but the Effect is reduced. If you were trying to kill someone, maybe you only injured them. If you were trying to pick a lock, maybe you get it open but leave it visibly damaged. This should never negate the fact of the success, however - just reduce it to a partial or imperfect one.

Injury. This is the most straightforward consequence. You suffer some kind of physical harm appropriate to the Position of the action. Controlled actions inflict Minor Injury, Risky actions inflict Harm, and Desperate actions inflict Serious Harm.

You can mix and match these consequences however you want, as long as it fits within the fiction and the narrative. You don’t have to choose between injury or a narrative consequence, for example - you could choose to inflict a lesser version of both. Having a mixture of lesser consequences instead of one big consequence can make failure feel less punishing and also keep the narrative moving.

Resistance

Whenever your character suffers any consequence that you don’t like - including an injury - you can choose to resist it. Resistance is automatically effective, but is not without cost. When you resist a consequence, you must make a roll using whatever Specialty you have that could be reasonably applied to get you out of the trouble you’re in. If you don’t have any Specialties that make sense, then you must roll 2d6 and take the lowest result - an untrained roll.

When you resist a consequence, you suffer 6 Stress, minus the highest result from the resistance roll. So if you rolled a 4, for example, you suffer 2 Stress. If you roll a 6, you don’t suffer any Stress at all. You can only roll to resist each consequence once.

The GM will tell you whether the consequence is simply reduced in severity or negated entirely - they can make the game “grittier” by deciding that most consequences can only be mitigated, not entirely avoided. This can also be used if the Specialty being used to resist isn’t a great fit - dodging a spinning blade with your expert (but mostly theoretical) knowledge of Physics might not be enough to completely avoid harm the way Acrobatics would.

Injury

One of the possible consequences of failing an action is to suffer an injury. There are four levels of injury that a character can suffer.

Minor Injury means you are scratched, dazed, drained, fatigued, scared. It has no mechanical effects, and clears up as soon as you have time to rest for an hour or so. You suffer a Minor Injury if you take damage from a Controlled action.

Harm means you have suffered an injury that’s slowing you down and distracting you. It gives you reduced Effect on all action rolls. To heal it, you need to rest for a few days, get first aid or medication, or something else that fits the story (i.e. a hot meal and a bath). You suffer Harm if you take damage from a Risky action.

Serious Harm means you are gravely injured, and you’re having trouble functioning. It causes you to subtract one dice from all rolls. To heal it, you need serious medical attention and days or even weeks of rest. You suffer Serious Harm if you take damage from a Desperate action.

Incapacitated means you are down for the count. If you are incapacitated but really need to act, you can Push Yourself to perform a single action without the usual benefits of doing so. An ally can also spend Stress to assist you, which will also allow you to perform a single action (but without the usual benefits of assistance). Incapacitation usually clears up after an hour of rest, just like a Minor Injury - though you might still be suffering from Serious Harm afterwards.

These four types of injury are cumulative, so you can have a Minor Injury and Harm and Serious Harm. If you’re told to suffer a type of injury you already have, mark the next one up instead. For example, if you’re told to suffer Serious Harm but you already have it, you become Incapacitated.

Stress

Stress is an abstract currency that represents your character’s reserves of fortitude, skill and luck, but also represents the prep and legwork they do in their downtime - gathering equipment, doing research, recruiting friends, and so on. Characters can accumulate Stress in the following ways:

Once you accumulate 9 points of Stress, it overwhelms you and you immediately gain a new and permanent Hindrance. The players and the GM should work together to decide what an appropriate Hindrance would be, given the circumstances. You also can’t do anything else that would accumulate Stress until you find some way to relieve the pressure and reduce your Stress below 9.

Stress Relief

You can reduce your Stress levels during downtime in various ways. Some characters might carefully prepare for the next job, others might relax and recharge from their recent adventures, and still others will look for a way to blow off some steam and indulge their vices.

To reduce Stress, tell the GM how you’re spending the day and make a roll with a relevant Specialty. This works like a resistance roll in reverse - whatever number appears on the highest die, reduce your Stress by that number. For example, if you roll a 4 then you would clear 4 points of Stress.

You can spend multiple days reducing Stress if you have time, but you can’t use the same Specialty to relieve Stress twice in the same downtime period. If the group decides to “timeskip” over many days or weeks of downtime between adventures, then all characters can clear all of their Stress without rolling.

Assets

Assets are resources that your character can draw upon. Most of the stuff your character has is not an Asset; they’re assumed to have whatever basic items they need to go about their day to day life, so Assets are only the important stuff. After character creation, aquiring new Assets is usually done with Cash; it’s tracked in simple units, so a given Asset might simply cost “2 Cash”. Cash is separate from your salary, lifestyle, et cetera - it’s extra funds on top of the basic stuff you need to live, which you can use to purchase Assets. Some common examples of how much Cash is worth:

Most Assets don’t have specific rules or mechanics - their benefit is usually a narrative one. If you have a pistol, you can attack different enemies than if you are using a knife or your bare fists - and this will be reflected in the Position and Effect of your actions. Some Assets, like armor, do have their own special rules associated with them. Some Assets also have Tags, which allow you to customise them and change the way they work.

Assets generally aren’t consumable - you can’t use up an Asset and have to replace it with a new one. Unless something happens to deprive you of an Asset, they’re more or less permanent. If you have a gun, for example, you don’t have to buy ammo separately and replenish it with Cash. Instead, the fact that the gun needs Ammo is a Tag - it means that when you use the gun in a fight, the gun becomes unusable until you reload it by expending Stress.

Two special Tags that almost every Asset can have are Fine and Cheap. These represent especially high-quality items and unusually shoddy ones. Fine Assets have extra features, are more robust, or just plain work better - and often give increased Effect as a result. Cheap goods are the opposite - they are more likely to fail, break or just malfunction at the worst possible time.

Burden

Burden as a mechanic will not be appropriate for every game, so it’s presented as an optional rule here. If you’re playing characters that don’t have to worry about money on a day to day basis, ignore these rules. You can also use them as an incentive - maybe if you go solo and walk out on your wealthy patron you’ll have to start worrying about Burden, so you have to decide whether freedom or stability is more important to you.

Burden is a number from 0 to 4 that represents your socio-economic status and how comfortably you live:

   
Burden Description
0 Comfortable. You can pay your bills and handle emergencies. Not wealthy, but doing fine.
1 Getting By. You have some small savings, can keep up with bills and afford small luxuries.
2 Precarious. You can’t afford luxuries, live on cheap food, and a single shock can bring you close to ruin.
3 Struggling. You can’t always cover basic necessities, and you have no savings or even walking-around money.
4 Destitute. You can barely afford to survive, probably don’t have a home, and can’t even keep up appearances.

The default Burden for a player character is 1. Exactly what Burden means and how it’s tracked depends on the specific campaign. In a cyberpunk adventure, each character might track their own Burden individually. In something more like a space western, you might have a single shared Burden that represents how the crew is doing and whether you can afford to keep the ship running and in good order.

You can decrease Burden by 1 if you spend Cash equal to (10 - Burden). You can also increase Burden voluntarily (including during character creation) to afford a big purchase that wouldn’t otherwise be an option - a fancy new cybernetic, a new upgrade for your ship, an apartment, or anything else that makes sense as a “big life choice” in terms of financial expenditures. Story events, like natural disasters or serious emergencies, might also increase your Burden (but this should be used sparingly).

Economic Shock

If your Burden is any value above 0, you are vulnerable to economic shock. This represents the stark consequences of a life where a single emergency or sudden bill can throw you into disarray. At the beginning of each new adventure or mission, roll 2d6 + Burden. If the result is 13 or more, you suffer an economic shock. Exactly what this means depends on the exact situation you’re in - here are some examples:

Regardless of the exact mechanical ramifications of an economic shock, it sticks around until you can afford to mitigate it. You can undo an economic shock - get your house back, fix the broken spaceship part, etc - by spending enough Cash to bring the result below 13 again. If you rolled a 14, for example, you’d need to spend 2 Cash to undo the shock. In some cases (like the broken spaceship component), you might be able to go on a special mission to relieve the shock instead.

Creating Opponents

Because actions are driven by the player, it might seem like the actual NPCs don’t make much difference. You’re just making the same rolls whether you are fighting a random security guard or a cybered-up superhuman street samurai, right? Here are some guidelines for the GM to make NPCs feel unique, distilled from the advice in the BitD rulebook.

Position and Effect. Take the capabilities of the NPCs involved into account when you set Position and Effect, as well as when deciding consequences - this is the main way that those capabilities manifest. It’s way riskier to rush a soldier with a rocket launcher than one with a pistol. A veteran diplomat is more likely to see through your bullshit than a random guard. An enemy that’s covered in advanced armor is unlikely to suffer more than Limited Effect from small arms fire. The Position and Effect of the player’s actions against these characters should reflect these factors.

Initiative. If an NPC is skilled, they can take the initiative and force the players to react to them. The NPC still doesn’t make a roll, but they get to drive the narrative in a way that normally only players are allowed to. For example, you might say “She corners you at the top of the stairs and tries to wrestle you into cuffs. What do you do?”. The player then makes their action as usual, but they’ve been forced to react to the situation they’ve been placed into. The more an opponent takes the initiative and acts first, the more threatening they will feel.

If the NPC is a master or if they are acting completely outside of the player-driven narrative, narrate what they have already done and ask the players if they want to resist it. For example, there is a sniper on a nearby rooftop and the players haven’t noticed her. She takes a shot at one of the players, and the GM informs them that they have suffered Serious Harm. It’s up to them whether they wish to spend Stress to resist the consequence. This approach can also be used to handle “reactive” threats like a mechanical trap or sudden pitfall.

Progress Clocks. If an NPC is especially significant, don’t let a single action deal with them unless the narrative dictates it should. If an enemy is in a huge set of power armor, maybe a success just damages the power armor and forces the enemy to abandon it. If it’s a giant alien, maybe a success cuts off an arm, enrages it, or pokes out an eye. The same goes for non-combat scenarios, like sneaking through a complex that’s crawling with guards or hacking into a heavily-secured corporate network.

You can just use the flow of the narrative to keep track of this, or you can formalise it with a Progress Clock. If you decide to use a progress clock, you can determine how quickly the clock fills based on the Effect of the players’ actions. As a general rule: tick 1 segment for Limited Effect, 2 segments for Standard Effect, and 3 segments for Great Effect. As always, though, this is just a guideline. If you think the players have come up with an incredible plan that should take your tough enemy out in a single action, then let it happen - the narrative always comes first.