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Action Roll

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.

Each game group will have their own ideas about what “challenging” means. This is good! It’s something that establishes the tone and style of your Blades series.

To make an action roll, we go through six steps. In play, they flow together somewhat, but let’s break each one down here for clarity.

  1. The player states their goal for the action.
  2. The player chooses the action rating.
  3. The GM sets the position for the roll.
  4. The GM sets the effect level for the action.
  5. Add bonus dice.
  6. The player rolls the dice and we judge the result.

1. The Player States Their Goal

Your goal is the concrete outcome your character will achieve when they overcome the obstacle at hand. Usually the character’s goal is pretty obvious in context, but it’s the GM’s job to ask and clarify the goal when necessary.

“You’re punching him in the face, right? Okay... what do want to get out of this? Do you want to take him out, or just rough him up so he’ll do what you want?”

2. The Player Chooses the Action Rating

The player chooses which action rating to roll, following from what their character is doing on-screen. If you want to roll your Skirmish action, then get in a fight. If you want to roll your Command action, then order someone around. You can’t roll a given action rating unless your character is presently performing that action in the fiction.

3. The GM Sets the Position

Once the player chooses their action, the GM sets the position for the roll. The position represents how dangerous or troublesome the action might be. There are three positions: controlled, risky, and desperate. To choose a position, the GM looks at the profiles for the positions below and picks one that most closely matches the situation at hand.

By default, an action roll is risky. You wouldn’t be rolling if there was no risk involved. If the situation seems more dangerous, make it desperate. If it seems less dangerous, make it controlled.

4. The GM Sets the Effect Level

The GM assesses the likely effect level of this action, given the factors of the situation. Essentially, the effect level tells us “how much” this action can accomplish: will it have limited, standard, or great effect?

The GM’s choices for effect level and position can be strongly influenced by the player’s choice of action rating. If a player wants to try to make a new friend by Wrecking something—well... maybe that’s possible, but the GM wouldn’t be crazy to say it’s a desperate roll and probably limited effect. Seems like Consorting would be a lot better for that. The players are always free to choose the action they perform, but that doesn’t mean all actions should be equally risky or potent.

5. Add Bonus Dice

You can normally get two bonus dice for your action roll (some special abilities might give you additional bonus dice).

For one bonus die, you can get assistance from a teammate. They take 1 stress, say how they help you, and give you +1d.

For another bonus die, you can either push yourself (take 2 stress) or you can accept a Devil’s Bargain (you can’t get dice for both, it’s one or the other).

The Devil’s Bargain

PCs in Blades are reckless scoundrels addicted to destructive vices—they don’t always act in their own best interests. To reflect this, the GM or any other player can offer you a bonus die if you accept a Devil’s Bargain. Common Devil’s Bargains include:

  • Collateral damage, unintended harm.
  • Sacrifice coin or an item.
  • Betray a friend or loved one.
  • Offend or anger a faction.
  • Start and/or tick a troublesome clock.
  • Add heat to the crew from evidence or witnesses.
  • Suffer harm.

The Devil’s Bargain occurs regardless of the outcome of the roll. You make the deal, pay the price, and get the bonus die.

The Devil’s Bargain is always a free choice. If you don’t like one, just reject it (or suggest how to alter it so you might consider taking it). You can always just push yourself for that bonus die instead.

If it’s ever needed, the GM has final say over which Devil’s Bargains are valid.

6. Roll the Dice and Judge the Result

Once the goal, action rating, position, and effect have been established, add any bonus dice and roll the dice pool to determine the outcome. (See the sets of possible outcomes, by position, in the table.)

The action roll does a lot of work for you. It tells you how well the character performs as well as how serious the consequences are for them. They might succeed at their action without any consequences (on a 6), or they might succeed but suffer consequences (on a 4/5), or it might just all go wrong (on a 1-3).

On a 1-3, it’s up to the GM to decide if the PC’s action has any effect or not, or if it even happens at all. Usually, the action just fails completely, but in some circumstances, it might make sense or be more interesting for the action to have some effect even on a 1-3 result.

Each 4/5 and 1-3 outcome lists suggested consequences for the character. The worse your position, the worse the consequences are. The GM can inflict one or more of these consequences, depending on the circumstances of the action roll. PCs have the ability to avoid or reduce the severity of consequences that they suffer by resisting them.

When you narrate the action after the roll, the GM and player collaborate together to say what happens on-screen. Tell us how you vault across to the other rooftop. Tell us what you say to the Inspector to convince her. The GM will tell us how she reacts. When you face the Red Sash duelist, what’s your fighting style like? Etc.

Action Roll Summary

  • A player or GM calls for a roll. Make an action roll when the character performs a dangerous or troublesome action.
  • The player chooses the action rating to roll. Choose the action that matches what the character is doing in the fiction.
  • The GM establishes the position and effect level of the action. The choice of position and effect is influenced strongly by the player’s choice of action.
  • Add up to two bonus dice. 1) Assistance from a teammate. 2) Push yourself (take 2 stress) or accept a Devil’s Bargain.
  • Roll the dice pool and judge the outcome. The players and GM narrate the action together. The GM has final say over what happens and inflicts consequences as called for by the position and the result of the roll.

Action Roll

  • 1d for each Action rating dot.
  • +1d if you have Assistance.
  • +1d if you Push yourself -or- you accept a Devil’s Bargain.

Controlled—You act on your terms. You exploit a dominant advantage.

  • Critical: You do it with increased effect.
  • 6: You do it.
  • 4/5: You hesitate. Withdraw and try a different approach, or else do it with a minor consequence: a minor complication occurs, you have reduced effect, you suffer lesser harm, you end up in a risky position.
  • 1-3: You falter. Press on by seizing a risky opportunity, or withdraw and try a different approach.

Risky—You go head to head. You act under fire. You take a chance.

  • Critical: You do it with increased effect.
  • 6: You do it.
  • 4/5: You do it, but there’s a consequence: you suffer harm, a complication occurs, you have reduced effect, you end up in a desperate position.
  • 1-3: Things go badly. You suffer harm, a complication occurs, you end up in a desperate position, you lose this opportunity.

Desperate—You overreach your capabilities. You’re in serious trouble. 

  • Critical: You do it with increased effect.
  • 6: You do it.
  • 4/5: You do it, but there’s a consequence: you suffer severe harm, a serious complication occurs, you have reduced effect.
  • 1-3: It’s the worst outcome. You suffer severe harm, a serious complication occurs, you lose this opportunity for action.

Double-duty Rolls

Since NPCs don’t roll for their actions, an action roll does double-duty: it resolves the action of the PC as well as any NPCs that are involved. The single roll tells us how those actions interact and which consequences result. On a 6, the PC wins and has their effect. On a 4/5, it’s a mix—both the PC and the NPC have their effect. On a 1-3, the NPC wins and has their effect as a consequence on the PC.