I love John Harper's Blades in the Dark, and some friends and I are going to be running some one-shot games at an upcoming convention.

But, a lot of the things that make Blades so cool is how nicely it ties in long-term consequences and developments. You can start long-term projects; you have ongoing relationships with different factions; you have complications and entanglements from earlier events catching up with you now...

Even the most basic mechanic, Stress, isn't a big deal if you start out with zero Stress, and aren't likely to reach Trauma in the space of a single session.

I'm fine with having loose ends, or doing a "Previously on Blades!" schtick where I fill in some imaginary backstory and some existing complications.

Are there any adjustments that I should make, in order to give the full "feel" of the game, and its panache for long-term consequences, in the space of a single session?


3 Answers 3


Yes, it needs modification, if you want the players to have the best experience possible.

I played in a one-shot of Blades at Chupacbracon this year and it didn't go over great with all the players. The main issue was starting with no Stress, which coupled with Blades' economy of dice-rolling and no long-term consequences, essentially allowed every encounter to simply press the "win button". I didn't love that but liked the game overall, but a couple of the players were extremely put off by that dynamic. There's "daring scoundrels" and then there's "we automatically succeed at everything in the whole session." If I were to do it, I'd start with higher Stress levels already.

Also, Blades has a lot of rules. We spent at least an hour trying to figure out how it all worked and do chargen, leaving us time for about 2 jobs. I'd provide full pregens instead of just starting with the templates.

Of course a lot of the more ongoing, crew-development aspects won't be showcased, and that is where the game is actually different from other random DW-type games, so I'd be tempted to really think through a one-shot that maybe hits fast-forward and simulates a couple cycles by using an even higher level of abstraction - maybe one job with a randomized "and you lost 3 stress doing that" so you could highlight the more unique aspects of the system.

  • \$\begingroup\$ In my experience since December '16, I'd 2 jobs is seriously impressive. I've struggled to get through even one! Even with a team who knows the game, two scores in a single session is nothing to sneeze at. \$\endgroup\$
    – Standback
    Commented Aug 29, 2017 at 3:54

For the sake of anyone who comes across this question in future: Blades in the Dark would work just fine for a one-shot without any particular modifications.

Even the most basic mechanic, Stress, isn't a big deal if you start out with zero Stress, and aren't likely to reach Trauma in the space of a single session.

That's fine. Stress is still a resource that has to be managed. If the lack of long-term consequences makes the players more likely to throw caution to the wind and leap into danger, then that's exactly the kind of experience that Blades in the Dark is designed to give. It is a game about daring scoundrels after all.

It won't be possible to provide the full range of Blades experiences in a one-shot. Maybe there are ways to get a little bit closer to the experiences mentioned in the question, but the "cut to the action" philosophy of the game already gets you a lot further than one might expect. Even the "starting situation" suggestions in the book are perfectly suited for a one-shot.

And you can still give people a taste of how things like long term projects, faction statuses, and XP triggers work, even though there won't be time for those things to impact play. Just go through it anyway, so the players have an idea of what's possible.


Preload characters and crew. Make a few characters with only a few questions left to answer, like names and friends and maybe one or two points to assign. Abilities I find take forever for people to choose so choose them beforehand.

Same with the crew, do 90% but allow for customizing.

If you want to take a page out of Night Witches' book, go ahead and "fast forward" the PCs. Give them an advance or two and some trauma.

Put the crew in an even more precarious position than the base opening scenario, crank the tensions up even higher, force them into a decision right away, or even start them in a conflict (not necessarily a fight) and then ask them to flesh out the circumstances with flashbacks.


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