In Blades in the Dark, you achieve goals by taking actions and facing consequences. But how many actions does it take to achieve a particular goal? That depends on the effect level of your actions. The GM judges the effect level using the profiles below. Which one best matches the action at hand—great, standard, or limited? Each effect level indicates the questions that should be answered for that effect, as well as how many segments to tick if you’re using a progress clock.
|Great||You achieve more than usual. How does the extra effort manifest? What additional benefit do you enjoy?||3|
|Standard||You achieve what we’d expect as “normal” with this action. Is that enough, or is there more left to do?||2|
|Limited||You achieve a partial or weak effect. How is your impact diminished? What effort remains to achieve your goal?||1|
To assess effect level, first start with your gut feeling, given this situation. Then, if needed, assess three factors that may modify the effect level: potency, scale, and quality. If the PC has an advantage in a given factor, consider a higher effect level. If they have a disadvantage, consider a reduced effect level.
The potency factor considers particular weaknesses, taking extra time or a bigger risk, or the influence of arcane powers. An infiltrator is more potent if all the lights are extinguished and they move about in the dark.
Quality represents the effectiveness of tools, weapons, or other resources, usually summarized by Tier. Fine items count as +1 bonus in quality, stacking with Tier.
Thorn is picking the lock to a safehouse run of a gang renowned for occult dealings. Her crew is Tier I and she has fine lockpicks—so she’s effectively Tier II. The Occult gang is Tier III. Thorn is outclassed in quality, so her effect will be limited on the lock.
Scale represents the number of opponents, size of an area covered, scope of influence, etc. Larger scale can be an advantage or disadvantage depending on the situation. In battle, more people are better. When infiltrating, more people are a hindrance.
When considering factors, effect level might be reduced below limited, resulting in zero effect—or increased beyond great, resulting in an extreme effect.
If a PC special ability gives “+1 effect,” it comes into play after the GM has assessed the effect level. For example, if you ended up with zero effect, the +1 effect bonus from your Bodyguard ability would bump them up to limited effect.
Also, remember that a PC can push themselves (take 2 stress) to get +1 effect on their action.
Every factor won’t always apply to every situation. You don’t have to do an exact accounting every time, either. Use the factors to help you make a stronger judgment call—don’t feel beholden to them.
Trading Position for Effect
After factors are considered and the GM has announced the effect level, a player might want to trade position for effect, or vice versa. For instance, if they’re going to make a risky roll with standard effect (the most common scenario, generally), they might instead want to push their luck and make a desperate roll but with great effect.
This kind of trade-off isn’t included in the effect factors because it’s not an element the GM should assess when setting the effect level. Once the level is set, though, you can always offer the trade-off to the player if it makes sense in the situation.
“I Prowl across the courtyard and vault over the wall, hiding in the shadows by the canal dock and gondola.”
“I don’t think you can make it across in one quick dash. The scale of the courtyard is a factor here, so your effect will be limited. Let’s say you can get halfway across with this action, then you’ll have to Prowl through the other half of the space (and the rest of the guards there) to reach the other side.”
“I didn’t realize it was that far. Hmmm. Okay, what if I just go as fast as I can. Can I get all the way across if I make a desperate roll?”
“Yep, sounds good to me!”
When a PC suffers an effect from an enemy or a dangerous situation, it’s called a consequence. Consequences are the companion to effects. PCs have effect on the world around them and they suffer consequences in return from the risks they face.