This is “Worlds in the Dark”, a Forged in the Dark game. For the most part, the rules are unchanged from Blades in the Dark and should be familiar to anyone who has played that system. The general idea is to take the core ruleset from Blades in the Dark and strip away all the setting-specific stuff. The main way it does this is by replacing the set action list and playbooks of BitD with a player-driven character creation system. This gives you a basic template that you can build up into a game for any genre, so WitD is not a “generic” hack so much as a template for you to build your own hack for any setting you can imagine.

This work is based on Blades in the Dark, product of One Seven Design, developed and authored by John Harper, and licensed for our use under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.

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 with a set of Specialties, Attributes, Hindrances and Talents. They also choose 4 Assets to start the game with.

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 rating 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 rating 2 at the start of the game.

Attributes

Each character also has three Attributes, which are used when resisting consequences. Every time you pick a new Specialty, you should also decide which Attribute it is linked to:

Each of the three Attributes has a rating from 0 to 4, similar to Specialties. For Attributes, the rating is determined by the number of different Specialties you have for that Attribute. For example, if you have two Specialties linked to Insight, then your Insight rating is 2. The more well-rounded your character is in an area, the better their Attribute rating.

The Attribute linked to your Specialty is descriptive, not prescriptive. If you decide that your “Medicine” Specialty is linked to Insight, that doesn’t mean you can’t use it to perform surgery (which requires manual skill and coordination). It just means that Insight is the best fit for the training and education you’d expect someone with a medical background to have. In short, just choose what feels right - and if there are two Attributes that seem equally correct, just choose the one you like most for your character.

Talents

Talents are special abilities that allow your character to break the rules in various ways. They 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. Here are some guidelines on what Talents can do, taken from the “Expanding the Scope” section of the Blades in the Dark rulebook:

Advanced Talents are additional special abilities that cannot be taken until you meet some special requirement. For example, you may be required to learn the secrets of a certain mystic order before you are able to unlock certain types of psionic discipline. These requirements must be met in play before the corresponding Advanced Talents become available.

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 - you can start with up to two, but your character 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. Hindrances might be:

Whenever your Hindrances factor into a situation, they’ll have a narrative impact on the fiction - for example, they may change the Position and Effect of an action. They might also affect the decisions your character makes - for example, maybe you decide your Code of Honour doesn’t let you abandon innocents to their fate. Either way, your character gets extra XP at the end of a session where they struggled with their Hindrances.

Hindrances are permanent. Once you get one, you can never get rid of it - barring some in-universe event that removes it, like replacing a missing leg with a cybernetic prosthetic. You can spend XP to change the form of a Hindrance, however.

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 in three ways.

Refocus. For 2 XP, you can trade one of your Specialties or Hindrances for a new one. You should be able to justify your character’s change in focus; maybe their training in Therapy has become more like Negotiation over time. Perhaps your character is no longer Bloodthirsty and has found religion, making them Pious instead?

Buy a Specialty. For 6 XP, you can buy a new Specialty with a rating of 1, or you can improve an existing Specialty by one step - up to a maximum of rating 3. The final jump to rating 4 costs 10 XP, as it represents the pinnacle of mastery in that Specialty.

Buy a Talent. For 8 XP, you can select a new Talent for your character from any of the playbooks in your setting. If you qualify for an Advanced Talent, you can select one of those.

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 go with their gut when setting the initial effect, then consider a few factors that may adjust it up or down:

If the Effect drops below Limited, then the action will usually have Zero Effect. You can still Push Yourself or roll a critical success to get a better Effect most of the time, though. Also, you can usually trade Position for Effect; if you’re willing to overextend yourself and take a bigger risk, then you can have a bigger impact.

If one factor overshadows the others, then the dominant factor is what determines the Effect. If you’re trying to take on dozens of enemies, it doesn’t matter if your weapon is high-quality or if you Push Yourself for extra Effect. You’re still likely to have Limited or even Zero Effect.

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.

Fortune Rolls

Sometimes the outcome of a situation is uncertain, but it doesn’t warrant an action roll. This usually applies when you need to determine the outcome of something the player characters aren’t involved in or when luck is the dominant factor. It can also apply when the outcome is uncertain, but an action roll is not appropriate because there is no danger or trouble at hand.

Examples might include:

Whenever the GM isn’t sure of the answer to a question and it isn’t something that can be handled by an action roll, you can make a fortune roll to determine the answer. If any kind of trait or rating is applicable - such as a character’s Specialty, the tier of a faction, or a starship’s system rating - then you can use that to make the roll.

If no rating applies, you can build up a dice pool from 1d to 4d by giving +1d for every major advantage, and -1d for every major disadvantage that applies. If all else fails, you can just roll 1d for sheer luck.

The results are as follows:

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 “you fail but nothing happens” - actions always have consequences unless they are a complete success. The severity of consequences usually depends on the Position of the action that triggered them.

Loss of Opportunity. The situation has changed: your hiding place is compromised, the crucial moment has passed, the window of opportunity has closed. This means that you must try a new approach - you can’t simply try the same action again, you must come up with something new.

Worse Position. This consequence represents losing control of the situation - the action carries you into a more dangerous position. You can try again, re-rolling at the new, worse position. A situation can easily go from Controlled, to Risky, to Desperate as the action plays out and the PC gets deeper and deeper in trouble.

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.

Complication. You encounter some trouble, mounting danger, or a new and unexpected threat. The room catches fire, you’re disarmed, there are witnesses, the target evades you and now it’s a chase, reinforcements arrive, etc. The Position determines whether it’s a minor complication, a significant complication or a serious complication. However, a complication should never negate the fact of success.

Progress Clock. Similar to a complication; 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. You fill in 1 to 3 ticks on the clock, depending on the Position.

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

A given circumstance might result in one or more consequences, depending on the situation. The GM determines the consequences, following from the fiction and the style and tone established by the game group.

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, the GM will tell you which Attribute you should use for the resistance roll:

When you resist a consequence, you suffer Stress equal to the lowest die result on the resistance roll. If your lowest roll was a 2, for example, you suffer 2 Stress. If you have 0 rating in the Attribute, then roll 2d and take whichever result is higher. 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. Resisting a consequence changes how much of the danger manifests or how bad it is, but it doesn’t negate the fictional outcome of the action roll. If your action roll results in you falling off the roof and suffering harm, the harm is a consequence and you can resist that. But even if you resist it, you have still fallen off the roof and you have to deal with that - your situation has changed.

Injury

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

Harm means you are hurt, drained, rattled, shaken or disoriented. It’s not debilitating, but it is slowing you down or distracting you. It gives you reduced Effect on all action rolls. You suffer Harm if you take damage from a Controlled action. You can suffer two levels of Harm; after that, any Harm suffered becomes Serious Harm.

Serious Harm means you’ve suffered a significant injury or you’re exhausted; either way, you’re having trouble functioning. It causes you to subtract 1d from all rolls. You suffer Serious Harm if you take damage from a Risky action. You can suffer two levels of Serious Harm; after that, any Serious Harm suffered becomes Incapacitation.

Incapacitation means you are hurt badly enough that you can’t function without help. You can only act if you Push Yourself or if an ally Assists you; either way, you don’t get the usual benefits of pushing or assistance. You suffer Incapacitation if you take damage from a Desperate action. You can only suffer one level of Incapacitation; after that, it becomes a Catastrophe.

Catastrophe means that something terrible has happened to you. Depending on the circumstance, this might very well mean death for your character. Even if it’s not, your character suffers some kind of catastrophic, permanent consequence that usually manifests as a serious Hindrance - like the loss of a limb or a crippling injury. Regardless of whether or not it kills you, a Catastrophe takes you out of the action - you’re no use to anyone, including yourself.

The GM can also inflict more fleeting forms of injury as a less severe consequence, if they want. If you suffer Incapacitation in a fistfight, then the GM might rule that you’ve been knocked out cold - but it will clear up after 10 minutes or so, when you awaken. Harm like “drained” or “exhausted” can also be a good fallback consequence if there’s nothing else threatening a PC.

Recovery

In order to recover from an injury, you must fill in a healing clock depending on the type of the injury (starting with the most severe):

Each day of rest gives you one tick on the healing clock, but you can receive medical attention once per day to speed up your recovery. This is either an action or fortune roll depending on the circumstances, and allows you to tick extra segments of the clock depending on the Effect of the roll (using the usual rules for progress clocks). When you fill up a healing clock, you can “roll over” any left over ticks to the next clock if there is one.

In addition to long-term medical attention, doctors and medics can also provide first aid in the heat of the action. This doesn’t heal any harm, but it lets their allies temporarily ignore the penalties from their injuries:

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. You immediately either gain a new and permanent Hindrance, or one of your existing Hindrances worsens in scope or scale. The players and the GM should work together to decide what is appropriate, 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

Stress levels are usually reduced by performing various kinds of downtime activities. 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.

If the group decides to “timeskip” over weeks of downtime between adventures, then all characters can clear all of their Stress without rolling. Otherwise, tell the GM how you’re spending your downtime over the next few days and build up a dice pool for the roll:

Relieving stress 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 make multiple attempts to relieve Stress in a row if you have the time, but you have to come up with something new for your character to spend their time doing.

However, there is a downside. Each time you take downtime to relieve your character’s Stress, the GM gets explicit permission to tick any Progress Clocks that make sense, to represent events progressing while your characters take it easy. Taking lots of downtime can result in the situation developing beyond your character’s control!

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.

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.

You don’t have usually have to “replenish” Assets - buying new grenades, magazines, power cells, et cetera. If scarcity becomes a serious issue in your adventure - for example, if you’re far from civilisation or you’ve entered an area where grenades and drugs are hard to come by - you can handle resource shortages with a progress clock. If the GM creates a progress clock like “Out of Supplies” or “No More Drugs”, they can tick 1 segment every time that Asset is used. If the progress clock fills up before you are able to resolve the shortage, you lose access to the Assets affected by it.

Quality: The quality of an Asset has an influence on the Effect of your actions when you use it. Fine Assets are higher quality and more expensive; they’re more robust, have extra features, or just plain better. Cheap Assets are old or shoddy, more likely to break or malfunction at the worst time, or just don’t perform well.

Load

You don’t have to tell the GM exactly which Assets your character is carrying on them at any given time. Instead, you just decide what Load your character is carrying:

Whenever you want to use one of your Assets, you use up some Load to have it with you - usually 1 point, but sometimes 2-3 if it’s very bulky. Once you’ve marked an Asset off, you have it on your person until something happens to deprive you of it. You might also use up some Load by picking stuff up during the adventure. Load resets whenever you get a chance to access your equipment and resupply.

Progress Clocks

A progress clock is a circle divided into segments. Draw a progress clock when you need to track ongoing effort against an obstacle or the approach of impending trouble. Generally, the more complex the problem, the more segments in the progress clock. A complex obstacle is a 4-segment clock. A more complicated obstacle is a 6-clock. A daunting obstacle is an 8-clock.

When a progress clock is counting up to something good, like overcoming an obstacle or completing a long-term project, then ticks are determined by Effect. Limited Effect gives you 1 tick; Standard Effect gives you 2 ticks; Great Effect gives you 3 ticks. Extreme Effect gives 5 ticks.

When a progress clock is counting down to something bad, like discovery by guards or the collapse of a building, then ticks are determined by Position. Controlled Position gives you 1 tick; Risky Position gives you 2 ticks; Desperate Position gives you 3 ticks.

Of course, you don’t have to only tick progress clocks based on Position and Effect. You can tick them for narrative reasons as well or instead - for example, if your progress clock represents how long it’ll take before word gets out of your latest heist, then maybe every day ticks a new segment.

One of the handiest uses for a “positive” progress clock is a long-term project. If your players want to work on something that will take a significant amount of time - like writing a new program, building up a network of contacts, or assembling a medical laboratory - you can use progress clocks to keep track of it. A basic long-term project is eight segments. Truly long-term projects can be two, three, or even four clocks, representing all the phases of development, testing, and final completion.

Planning and Engagement

This hack does not use the strict division of gameplay into score and downtime phases employed by Blades in the Dark. Despite that, we can use the tools in BitD when the players are planning something - in order to avoid the all too common situation when planning for a mission or operation starts to feel like a boardroom meeting, rather than an RPG session!

When using this system, your characters plan the mission offscreen. All you have to do is choose what type of plan your characters have already made and fill in a single missing detail:

No plan is ever perfect. You can’t account for everything. There’s no need to sweat all the little details and try to cover every eventuality ahead of time, because the engagement roll ultimately determines how much trouble you’re in when the plan is put in motion. This is a fortune roll, starting with 1d for sheer luck. Use the following guidelines to modify the roll:

The outcome of this roll determines your Position when you encounter the first obstacle:

Don’t make the engagement roll and then describe the PCs approaching the target. It’s the approach that the engagement roll resolves. Cut to the action that results because of that initial approach—to the first serious obstacle in their path. If the players come across some detail or obstacle that they think their character would have planned for, they can use the Flashback system to narrate exactly how they did this.

Creating Obstacles

Because actions are driven by the player, it might seem like the actual NPCs or the nature of a specific threat 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 obstacles and enemies feel unique, distilled from the advice in the BitD rulebook.

Position and Effect. Take the capabilities of the NPC or the difficulty of the obstacle into account when you set Position and Effect, as well as when deciding consequences. It’s way riskier to rush a soldier with a rocket launcher than one with a pistol. An enemy that’s covered in advanced armor is unlikely to suffer more than Limited Effect from small arms fire. A sophisticated network is more likely to ring the alarm at the slightest anomaly. The Position and Effect of the player’s actions against these threats should reflect these factors.

Progress Clocks. If an obstacle or enemy 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. As players become more powerful, it’s less likely that they’ll suffer consequences from a single action roll - as it should be! Competent characters should expect to succeed at straightforward tasks most of the time, but even the most skilled character can be challenged by a complex and difficult task represented by a progress clock that requires multiple successes to fill.

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.

Magnitude

The magnitude table is provided as an optional tool to help the GM make judgment calls when setting Position and Effect. You can use it to compare different types of factor like area, scale or distance. It’s not meant to be a rigid restriction or mathematical formula to replace those judgment calls, just a useful guide.

               
Tier 0 1 2 3 4 5 6
Scale 1 or 2 people 3+ people 12+ people 20+ people 40+ people 80+ people 120+ people
Area a closet small room large room several rooms small building large building city block
Quality poor adequate good excellent superior impeccable legendary
Force weak moderate strong serious powerful overwhelming devastating
Duration a few moments a few minutes an hour a few hours a day several days a week
Range within reach a dozen paces a stone’s throw down the street several blocks away a few kilometers across the city

Some ways to use this table: