Starting Your Blades in the Dark Campaign Right

Cover art of "Blades in the Dark" RPG

Blades in the Dark, the incredible award-winning game written by John Harper, portrays a steampunk world of darkness, where players navigate through treacherous alleyways, plot intricate heists, and confront supernatural menaces. Set in the gritty city of Doskvol, the game offers a unique blend of stealth, cunning, and eerie ambiance. But like all intricate tales, diving into a Blades in the Dark campaign without adequate preparation can quickly lead to chaos. As a Game Master, it’s your responsibility to set the stage, and that requires understanding both the mechanics and the rich lore that forms the game’s foundation. This article will guide you through the essentials, ensuring your Blades in the Dark campaign is as seamless as it is suspenseful.

Getting Blades in the Dark

If you haven’t done so already, you should pick up a copy of Blades in the Dark. This is one of the best laid out RPG books of all time, making it easy to find the information you need quickly in the middle of a score. If you prefer the tactile feel of a physical book, you can get one from your local game store or over at Amazon. If you prefer to get a digital copy, the best place is at Now that you’ve got your copy, read on!

Understanding the World of Doskvol

Doskvol, often referred to as Duskwall or simply Dusk, is not your typical city. Situated within the Shattered Isles, it exists in a realm of perpetual darkness—a result of a cataclysmic event that shattered the sun and plunged the world into an eternal night. The skies, though sunless, often shimmer with mysterious northern lights, casting an ethereal glow over the city’s foggy streets.

Doskvol is not just defined by its lack of sunlight, but also by the intricate web of factions that vie for power within its walls. The city is filled with dangerous criminals and every group has its own goals, strengths, and agenda. Understanding these factions is crucial, as their machinations can deeply influence the flow of your campaign. Players might align with a faction, oppose another, or even attempt to play them against each other.

Another key element is that death is not always the end. The cataclysm that robbed the world of its sun also tore the veil between life and death. Ghosts, once a thing of myth, are now an all-too-real threat in Doskvol. But the city is not defenseless. The mysterious substance known as electroplasm plays a pivotal role. Electroplasm is refined from the harvested blood of leviathans, massive demons that haunt the seas of the Shatter Isles. This glowing substance powers incredible inventions, including the lightning barriers that shield Doskvol from ghostly invaders. Yet, the barriers are not infallible, and encounters with these spectral beings are both frequent and perilous.

Deciding on your Blades in the Dark Campaign’s Scale and Focus

Doskvol is a vast city, and each of its districts pulses with its own unique life and dangers. Before you begin your game, decide where your campaign will begin. It is good to engage with your players so that you can run a game they will enjoy. Will the crew start their adventures in the affluent Whitecrown, dealing with the city’s elite and their political machinations? Or perhaps the industrial heart of Coalridge, where labor strikes and gang wars are a daily occurrence? The choice will set the tone, influence the challenges the crew faces, and shape the narrative.

While a Blades in the Dark campaign can support epic tales of intrigue and conspiracy, it’s equally adept at handling smaller, more intimate stories. Consider the scale you’re most comfortable with, and what your players are seeking. Do they dream of overthrowing the city’s rulers, or are they content with making a name for themselves one heist at a time? There’s no wrong answer—only what best suits your gaming group.

One of the game’s strengths is its emphasis on player agency and backstory. Don’t overlook the rich histories and ambitions your players have crafted for their characters. By incorporating these elements into your Blades in the Dark campaign, not only do you make the narrative more personal, but you also ensure higher player engagement. Maybe a clue from a big heist points to a character’s long-lost family, or a rival faction targets a character because of a past betrayal. These threads, when pulled, can lead to some of the most memorable moments in your campaign.

Familiarizing Yourself with the Game Mechanics

The heart of Blades in the Dark mechanics lies in its action rolls, where players roll a number of six-sided dice based on their character’s skills. But it’s not just about success or failure. Understanding the position (how risky the action is) and the effect (how successful the action is) will determine the outcome’s nuances. A desperate action might yield great rewards but can also lead to dire consequences.

As characters navigate through challenges they accumulate stress. Too much stress leads to trauma, and characters can carry multiple traumas with them, affecting their actions and decisions. To alleviate this pressure, characters often indulge in their vice—be it luxury, faith, or something more nefarious. The core gameplay loop typically involved going on scores to gain coin and likely stress, followed by downtime activities to escape their demons and work on projects to advance the narrative.

As the characters progress through the game, they’ll have opportunities to advance their skills and grow their crew’s reputation. Moreover, Blades in the Dark has a robust system for crews to claim turf, expand their influence, and wage wars against rival factions. Understanding how these mechanics interplay will allow you to craft a living world where every decision has weight and consequence.

Building a Dominant Crew in Doskvol

The player characters form a crew, each of which has a specialty. Whether you’re Shadows adept at infiltration, Smugglers navigating the treacherous waterways, or Hawkers with the best contraband in the city, choose a path that aligns with your player’s collective strengths and interests.

Reputation precedes you in the underworld. Will your crew be known for its ruthless efficiency, its honor among thieves, or perhaps its unpredictability? Your actions and choices will mold this reputation, influencing how other factions perceive and interact with you.

A crew’s lair is more than just a safe house. It’s a statement of their status, ambitions, and character. Whether it’s a former factory in Coalridge, a hidden alcove in The Docks, or a ritzy parlor in Brightstone, ensure it reflects your crew’s ethos. Lair upgrades can enhance its defense, provide new opportunities, and make it truly feel like home.

Your starting turf is your crew’s foothold in the city. It might be a small area now, but with ambition, it could expand into a sprawling empire. Assess its resources, strategize on future claims, and be prepared to defend or negotiate for it.

Interactions within the crew can be as intricate and meaningful as those outside it. Does the crew have a leader, or is it a collective of equals? Are there certain rituals performed before a job? A shared history or a code of conduct can further bond crew members, creating richer narratives.

A static crew is a stagnating one. Always have an eye on the future. Whether it’s climbing the tiers of power, expanding territory, or simply amassing wealth and influence, set goals, and chase them relentlessly. Every score, every alliance, and every betrayal is a step on this journey.

Crafting Unique Characters

Every player character should stand out, bringing a unique flair to the crew’s operations. Each player should consider the parts of the world’s setting that resonate with them. Are the electroplasmic lights casting dramatic shadows enough to inspire a stealthy Lurk, or does the talk of spirits evoke the idea of a Whisperer? Ponder on whether your character is the brains behind operations like a shrewd Spider, the muscle like a daring Cutter, or perhaps a saboteur and inventor like the Leech.

Each playbook in Blades in the Dark offers a unique set of abilities, gear, and gameplay merchanics. Choose a playbook that not only aligns with your initial character concept but also offers gameplay mechanics that you’ll enjoy exploring. There are also tons of fan playbooks, if you want to go beyond the ones presented in the main rulebook.

A character’s past often dictates their present actions and future aspirations. Explore their heritage and background—where were they raised? What events pushed them into this life? Were they betrayed, impoverished, or simply seeking thrills? Their motivations could range from desperate survival, revenge, power, or even a twisted sense of justice.

Special abilities, friends and adversaries, items, and load will all help define each character through play. You should also consider physical descriptions, peculiar habits, accents, or a particular piece of clothing can make a character memorable. Is your Lurk always shrouded in a cloak, or does your Leech have an unsettling fascination with electroplasm?

Similarly, what is the character’s motivation? Perhaps a loved one’s memory, a burning ambition, a promise made long ago is what keeps your character going. Equally, knowing what they fear—be it the spectral wails in the night or the cold grasp of the Bluecoats—adds layers to their personality.

Setting the Tone

Blades in the Dark is a game rich with themes of crime, the supernatural, and the grimy reality of industrial life. Emphasize these elements in your storytelling. Describe the soot-covered streets, the eerie glow of electroplasmic lights, and the whispered rumors of ghosts haunting the alleyways.

Keep players on their toes by introducing unexpected twists, betrayals, and moral dilemmas. Each score that seemed straightforward hides a darker truth. Perhaps the ally they relied upon has been compromised. By continuously challenging your players, you ensure that the story remains unpredictable and gripping.

Consider incorporating atmospheric music that captures the game’s moody essence. Dim the lights to emulate the perpetual twilight of Doskvol or use candles for a more ghostly feel. Props, like old maps, coins, or mock artifacts, can also add an extra layer of immersion to your sessions.

Mastering the Art of Running a Score

A score in Blades in the Dark isn’t just a mission or a job—it’s an opportunity. It’s the crew’s chance to advance their reputation, acquire resources, or challenge rivals. It’s the heartbeat of the game’s pacing, offering a balance of high-stakes challenges and intricate strategy, ensuring players are always on their toes.

Every score starts with a clear target, be it the vaults of a rival gang, a valuable artifact in a noble’s mansion, or a key individual. The world of Doskvol is alive and ever-changing, so knowing the ins and outs of the target, and the potential challenges they present, is essential for both the GM and players.

The players must choose an approach and a specific detail to shape their score. While they can gather information to guide these decisions, extensive planning should be avoided. After settling on the approach and detail, you’ll make the engagement roll. This immediately immerses players in the action, bypassing drawn-out planning and maintaining a lively game tempo. The initial conditions of the score—be it controlled, risky, or desperate—can differ significantly based on the roll’s outcome, establishing the atmosphere for the ensuing events.

In Blades, planning is reimagined through the innovative flashback mechanic. Instead of plotting every detail beforehand, players can utilize flashbacks to reveal how they’ve prepared for specific challenges, turning potential setbacks into surprising advantages. This allows for a fluid narrative where players are encouraged to think innovatively and adaptively.

Creating Your First Score

Your first score sets the stage for everything that follows. Engage your players right from the start with a scenario that captivates: perhaps an adrenaline-fueled heist, an eerie encounter with the supernatural, or an unexpected clash with a formidable rival crew. The score should be appealing to the crew’s type, so they can use their special abilities and resources.

Example Scores

Here are some example scores that could appeal to a variety of crew types:

  • Spirit Bottle Job: The crew must acquire a bottle containing a powerful spirit from a Spirit Warden’s secure transport. The convoy is heavily guarded, and if the bottle breaks the spirit may escape. This score introduces the Spirit Wardens, the concept of spirit bottles, and the dangers of handling volatile supernatural items.
  • Bluecoat Bribe: Tasked with delivering a bribe to a corrupt Bluecoat officer, the crew must tread lightly, avoiding patrols of other Bluecoats, rivals, and inquisitive civilians. The risk of a double-cross lingers. This score showcases Duskvol’s corrupt law enforcement, blending stealth and social interactions.
  • Red Sash Rumble: The crew must disrupt a Red Sash operation either by stealing their goods, damaging their property, or kidnapping a key member. However, the Red Sashe’s are a powerful faction, and this could escalate into gang warfare. This score delves into faction dynamics, potential alliances or rivalries, and the intricacies of combat.
  • Lost Treasures: Whispers speak of a sunken ship, holding treasures from Tycheros. The crew must explore Duskvol’s underwater caves, facing lurking sea creatures and other treasure hunters. This score unveils the mysteries of the deep, the relics of the past, and the risks of underwater adventures.
  • Sparkwright Sabotage: The Sparkwrights are about to demonstrate a new, revolutionary electroplasmic device. The crew is hired to either steal or sabotage it. As they infiltrate, they’ll face advanced security measures and moral questions about progress. This score introduces advanced tech, the ethics of innovation, and the Sparkwrights’ influence.

Every score will come to an end, but not all endings are created equal. Success might bring newfound wealth and reputation, while failure might lead to incarceration, injury, or increased heat from the law and rivals. These outcomes not only shape the immediate narrative but can also introduce long-term challenges and opportunities for the crew.

Optimizing Downtime Activities

Downtime is the calm after the storm—a chance for players to reflect, recover, and regroup after a score. It’s a crucial phase that allows both character growth and the weaving of personal stories, offering a respite from the dangers of the scores while still advancing the overarching narrative.

The streets of Doskvol are harsh, and injuries—both physical and psychological—are common. During downtime, players must prioritize their well-being, seeking healing with the aid of medics, alchemists, or whisperers, ensuring they’re fit for the challenges ahead.

Every scoundrel has their vice, a personal indulgence that keeps them grounded amidst the chaos. Whether it’s gambling, luxury, or something more arcane, indulging helps characters reduce stress. However, overindulgence can bring its own set of problems, from drawing unwanted attention to creating rifts within the crew.

Downtime offers the crew a chance to train, acquire assets, or engage in long term projects. They might also use downtime for relationship management and strengthen bonds with allies, reduce heat from their activities, or even broker new alliances. Through these downtime activities, the characters will also be presented with plot threads that can turn into the next score.

Creating Compelling Characters and NPCs

Every story, no matter how grand or intricate, is built on the foundation of its characters. As the Game Master, it’s your job to populate the city of Doskvol with rich, multifaceted individuals who add depth to your narrative. Whether it’s a noble with a dark secret, a ghost seeking redemption, or a dockworker caught up in a conspiracy, every character should feel like they have a life beyond their interactions with the player characters.

The key to memorable NPCs isn’t always complexity but distinctiveness. Give them unique quirks, accents, or habits. The faction leader who always plays with a coin, the informant who speaks in riddles, or the shopkeeper with a pet crow—these little details make them memorable. Consider the desires, fears, and goals of each NPC. Even the most minor character can have a backstory that adds layers to the narrative.

Characters become more real to players when they have personal stakes in the story. Build subplots around character backgrounds, relationships, and ambitions. A character’s long-lost sibling might be a key player in a rival gang, or an NPC from their past could return bearing grudges or seeking help. By tying the overarching story to personal narratives, you make the world more interconnected and the stakes more personal.

Tips for Long-Term Campaign Management

In a Blades in the Dark campaign, just as in any tabletop RPG, players will often make choices you didn’t anticipate. Embrace this unpredictability. The narrative is a collaborative venture; let it evolve naturally from the choices and consequences that emerge during gameplay.

Doskvol is a city teeming with factions, each with its own goals, rivalries, and alliances. Maintain a dynamic faction board or journal to track these relationships. It’ll not only help you keep track of the political landscape but also provide countless plot hooks for your sessions.

While having some sort of plan for each session is beneficial, be ready to pivot and improvise. Sometimes, the most memorable moments arise from spontaneous decisions. Remember, the goal is a cohesive and engaging story, not rigid adherence to a pre-determined plot.

Additional Resources for Your Blades in the Dark Campaign

The world of Blades in the Dark is vast, and many talented creators have expanded upon its lore and mechanics.

  • Official Expansions: The game’s creators haven’t stopped at the basic rules. There are official expansions and supplements that delve deeper into certain aspects of the game, introduce new mechanics, or explore other parts of the Shattered Isles. Keep an eye out for these as they can elevate your game to new heights.
  • Fan-Made Content: The community around Blades in the Dark is vibrant and dedicated. Many fans have developed their own scenarios, new factions, or unique locales within Doskvol. Some of these might offer fresh perspectives or challenges that can be integrated into your Blades in the Dark campaign seamlessly.
  • Scenario Books: There are compilations of ready-made scores or extended campaigns that can save you preparation time while offering intricate plots and unexpected twists. These can be especially useful for newer Game Masters or those pressed for time.
  • A picture is worth a thousand words, and this holds true for Doskvol’s grimy streets and districts. The Doskvol Street Maps are fantastic visual aids can help players navigate the city, plan scores, and get a real sense of the world they’re immersing themselves in.


The winding alleys and shadowed rooftops of Doskvol offer a playground for stories of intrigue, danger, and the supernatural. As you embark on this journey, remember that flexibility and player agency are the cornerstones of a memorable campaign. Let the narrative evolve organically, and don’t be afraid to adapt and change as the story unfolds.

A Blades in the Dark campaign is more than just rules and dice—it’s a living, breathing world, waiting for you and your players to shape its stories. Embrace the darkness, the mystery, and the thrill of the heist. Let the streets of Doskvol come alive at your table, and may your blades always find their mark.

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