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Hear Me Out: A Thief Tabletop Miniatures Game!


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I am a big fan of pen & paper RPGs, but I know from experience that thievery is difficult to convey in these games. The suspense you have during playing is not easy to describe in a pen & paper game. Even when you use tabletop figures, it is not the same. It is more of a tactical exercise (comparable to the computer game "Invisible Inc."

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Have I got a game for you: Blades in the Dark





Blades in the Dark is a tabletop role-playing game about a crew of daring scoundrels seeking their fortunes on the haunted streets of an industrial-fantasy city. There are heists, chases, occult mysteries, dangerous bargains, bloody skirmishes, and, above all, riches to be had — if you’re bold enough to seize them.

You and your fledgling crew must thrive amidst the threats of rival gangs, powerful noble families, vengeful ghosts, the Bluecoats of the city watch, and the siren song of your scoundrel’s own vices. Will you rise to power in the criminal underworld? What are you willing to do to get to the top?

In this stand-alone game, you’ll find:

  • Rules to create your scoundrel using the following character archetypes: the Cutter, the Hound, the Leech, the Lurk, the Slide, the Spider, or the Whisper.
  • Rules to create your crew, built from types like Assassins, Bravos, a Cult, Hawkers, Shadows, or Smugglers.
  • A robust core mechanic which puts the fiction first—the strength of a character’s position (desperate, risky, or controlled) matters just as much as the character’s ability scores.
  • A lightning-fast mechanic for planning criminal operations to cut through the usual slog of planning at the game table.
  • Rules for alchemical experiments, gadget tinkering, and weird occult powers—including rules for playing Ghosts and other strange beings.
  • A setting guide to the haunted city of Doskvol, with all the maps, factions, NPCs, schemes, and opportunities you need to run an exciting sandbox game.

Number of players: 3-6
Age of players: 13+
Length: 2-6 hours
Type of Game: Roleplaying Game
Languages Available: English
Product Number: EHP0030
ISBN: 978-1-61317-132-5
Page Count: 336
Format: Hardcover black and white interior and Digital formats.
Availability: Check here
Game Designer: John Harper


I played it when it was in an early playtest. It is good.

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Come the time of peril, did the ground gape, and did the dead rest unquiet 'gainst us. Our bands of iron and hammers of stone prevailed not, and some did doubt the Builder's plan. But the seals held strong, and the few did triumph, and the doubters were lain into the foundations of the new sanctum. -- Collected letters of the Smith-in-Exile, Civitas Approved

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Not an extensive one. The list includes categories like the unquiet dead, devils (anything monstrous), whispers (humans who consort with the occult), hulls (spirit-animated machinery), vampires, demons, and summoned horrors. However, "monsters" in BitD aretreated more like obstacles than something statted up in a traditional way. Here is a review that gives an idea.

Come the time of peril, did the ground gape, and did the dead rest unquiet 'gainst us. Our bands of iron and hammers of stone prevailed not, and some did doubt the Builder's plan. But the seals held strong, and the few did triumph, and the doubters were lain into the foundations of the new sanctum. -- Collected letters of the Smith-in-Exile, Civitas Approved

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I didn't want to reveal this here or at TTLG, but since August 2014, I've actually been working on a diceless tabletop game that's inspired by Thief. As with The Dark Mod, it has its own setting (largelly an excuse for me to also write fantasy-noir short stories), but you can feel the DNA of Thief in there (along with things like Arcanum, or Discworld, 7th Sea, real history, and loads of other stuff as a source of inspiration).


I have an almost 300 page long design document by this point, and I've managed to figure out most of the stuff involving stealth, lockpicking, how you characters can specialise (as there are no classes), etc. I tend to focus on narrative and exploration, and use cards and one or two other minor methods for deciding stuff, instead of dice. While there is plenty of Thief style sneaking and exploring, you can also focus on diplomacy, social stealth, cons, that sort of stuff. Though you can play a freelancer in the vein of Garret or TDM player characters, part of the shifted focus is on working as a team of thieves - either ones that form an informal fellowship of sorts, or come from an actual organised guild (yep, in the vein of the Downwinders, to use a Thief example). The whole thing is very much in the development phase, though, as I'm basically alone for the whole thing and progress can be sluggish. And I still need to do proper gameplay testing, as all testing so far has been rather surface-level.

I was actually surprised recently when I came across Blades in the Dark. Think it was at an RPG review site, possibly Mythcreants or something or other. Kudos to someone else trying stealth and subterfuge in a tabletop RPG, because it's seriously underrepresented. However, given what I read in the review, it seems the game has some drawbacks. It doesn't pay off to not kill, for instance. That rather discourages trying to go about things like a guy who doesn't want to slit everyone's throat. As I'm trying to design my own game to avoid a focus on violence (you still have combat, but it's more of an unwanted resort that easily draws attention), I suppose Blades in the Dark isn't tough competition for my concept... for now. :P But I'm glad someone took a proper stab at making a stealthy-minded RPG, even if it's more Dishonored in feel, rather than Thief or TDM. B)

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Aha ! Found the review for the game, over at Mythcreants. My memory served me right after all !


I'm sure there have to be other review of it elsewhere as well. I've spotted a few threads about it at RPG.net and a few other sites, and while opinions seem mixed, there seems to be appreciation for what BitD is trying to do.


On a sidenote, I remember how, in the late 2000s, someone at TTLG mentioned that there had been attempts to adopt Thief into unofficial pen-and-paper RPGs, but all those efforts stalled or failed. I wonder whether the verdict at the time was that you simply can't make an RPG with those sorts of gameplay mechanics, but even if it wasn't, I didn't hear anything about similar efforts since then. Digital Nightfall did that e-mail roleplay of his in the early days, but that's a bit simpler and really game-y, of course. My first inkling to try a project like this on my own was in 2011, but it wasn't until around spring or early summer 2014 that I became confident I want to try and design one.

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