Do you get bored playing the same characters over and over and like to use different tactics? Are you tired of the same old refrain? Do you love dark, gritty and horror? Do you have a taste for both military and individual combat? Allow me to introduce you to a Forged in the Dark book named Band of Blades. If you answered yes to these questions, you’ll probably love this book.
Technical specs: The PDF is nicely done with bookmarks hyperlinked to appropriate pages (Yes, if I have a PDF I want bookmarks). The font is smooth and clean cut making it easy on the eyes to read when sitting at the computer or on your tablet. Now, let me be perfectly clear. There is a LOT of information contained in these pages. There are a number of smaller rules that are scattered throughout that you will need to understand at some level to make the game enjoyable. However, there is a bright side. Most of those rules are also character specific, so combine your book with the lovely playbooks and you’ll be set. You’ll need the playbooks to play the game, just like in Blades in the Dark anyway. The other information and smaller bits of rules that aren’t part of the characters can be found in the grey boxes, causing them to be highlighted out.
What it is: Band of Blades is a dark, military, horror fantasy. I have described it as Marcus Antonius meeting undead with his legionnaires. It’s almost HP Lovecraft in nature with a Song of Ice and Fire meeting Gods of the Fall. We haven’t bought the physical copy, only the PDF, however it’s written by Off Guard Games (the same people that brought you Scum and Villainy) and produced by Evil Hat Productions and they are known for their quality of work. (Only so much space on a bookcase you know?) It is also a two part game. Similar to Warhammer or Advanced Squad Leader, or if you like video games, Brothers in Arms. You play both a ‘Hero’ in this game and you control an army in a Legion Role.
First, if you’ve played Blades in the Dark, you’ll know the bulk of the rules already. You have your character, which in this game is called a specialist. They come in the flavors of Heavy, Medic, Officer, Scout, Sniper. Then you have the Legionnaire: The Rookie, and Legionnaire: The Soldier. The last two are special, they’re part of the Legion and also double as NPCs in the game as soldiers.
Similar to Blades in the Dark, during character creation you choose your specialist and their special abilities, pick your heritage, assign your action ratings, and review your details for your XP triggers. Page sixty-eight has a character creation summary that you can print or copy for your players to understand where they are during that process. (I usually have something like that in a laminated sheet that they can check off as they create their character. It’s helpful when I’m working with those that have learning difficulties.)
Next is the crew, or in this case the Legion. Unlike Blades in the Dark, each player assumes the role of a member in the legion. Remember where I said it was a two part game, this is the second part. You can choose, Commander, Marshal, Quartermaster, Lorekeeper and Spymaster. Each of them, like in any military outfit, have a specific job to do with the legion, so talk it out with your group. After all, the only way you’re going to survive this world is by working together.
Finally the last of this is the Chosen. This is an NPC that mostly stays with the encampment while the group is completing missions. If they take the field, the Legion takes significant risk, so it should only be done in high need. The Chosen are considered gods, or at least divine characters and so while they can occasionally work miracles, like the gods they are typically left to a last resort or the Hail Mary. Of course, to counter the three Chosen on the side of the Legion, you have the three broken, they have been corrupted to the side of the Cinder King. (More details starting page 157 of the book.)
So, during my reading I learned that Band of Blades introduces two new rules, corruption and blight. They work similar to the insanity of Call of the Cthulhu. You have the corruption of the undead, and then over time you can become blighted and join the legions of the undead. Which actually sounds kind of fitting, you know, the whole zombie thing that’s popular in modern culture right now.
Now, what I like about it. It’s a great game for quick adventures and short campaigns, so it would be perfect for groups that like to upcycle. You’re looking at maybe six months of weekly sessions for a campaign. So it’s great for the, ‘I want to take a break from x-fantasy trope.’ The locations section is also very nice, it gives you a location, a brief description, and then a set of missions you can do in that location. Which contributes to the quick and easy game.
That being said, someone who wants to make it last longer can. Nothing says you can’t slow the advancement of the legion, or adjust it to be more of a series of one shots over a longer period of time. After all if they can make some of those tv-shows last five or six seasons that aren’t exactly the height of awesome, there’s no reason a good GM can’t make this game go on for a year or more, particularly if they alternate grim dark with something of a little lighter fare.
It’s also just as attractive to me as the Blades in the Dark and I am seriously considering talking Josh into the two of us playing a round or two of it, just to feel. Second, it delivers exactly what is promised, a military horror fantasy filled with death, darkness and grime. This is not a game I would recommend for anyone under the age of eighteen.
What I don’t like. It’s a touch more crunchier than Blades in the Dark with a bit more paperwork. Mostly to keep track of your soldiers, however, it is neatly divided between the GM and players so it’s not all on one person’s shoulders. There are a lot of mechanics to keep the legion healthy. I’m sure most of you have noticed by now, I’m not super fond of crunchy and I get bored pretty easily with it. For this game, I would happily try to do it though. I hope you find this review helpful, and as always, this is just my opinion, that and two bucks will get you a soda. Happy gaming!
- Joann Walles