I was fortunate over the weekend to shake the dust off my stored-away-for-months dice and play a new game, Blade Raiders, which is designed by Grant Gould. You may recall that I interviewed Grant last year about his freelance illustration work for such companies as LucasFilm and Topps. In the interview, Grant provided details on the Kickstarter he organized to fund the design and art for the Blade Raiders Core Rulebook. Grant has been playing roleplaying games for over 20 years and decided to build the type of game he wants to play. Many people talk about building a game from the ground up, but Grant has actually done it. Regardless of the outcome, I applaud that level of dedication. But it also turns out that Blade Raiders is really fun and introduces several unique components to typical RPG gameplay.
This week, I will post my thoughts on our playtest of Blade Raiders. Below, I share my initial impressions on the specific topic of character creation and the components that are involved in character progression throughout the course of a campaign. Later in the week, I will present information about a variety of interesting tidbits on gameplay and game management.
Grant walked our group of five through creating a character – a process that was slowed down as we waited for one of our players to get out of the emergency room. True story, he suffered facial wounds while buying a six-pack of beer en route to the game. The six-pack slipped from his hands, he failed a Dexterity check and the bottles crashed to the floor, exploded and a shard of glass still attached to a bottle cap cut him just below his eye. He was also gashed on his forehead and started bleeding like a UFC combatant after taking a hard elbow. At least the liquor store was kind enough to give him another six-pack free of charge. We later joked (when it was clear he was fine) that Blade Raiders claimed its first victim! Creating his character was thankfully much less painful.
Talents. Character creation can be logged on one side of one sheet of paper. The first order of the day is to select three talents. Talents are “areas of inborn strength that your character inherited from their parents.” A character will only ever have three talents and they cannot be changed. Talents are divided into Non-Magic (e.g., Explorer, Fighter, Thinker) and Magic (e.g., Earth Mover, Portalist, Manipulator) options. The player can assign these talents to one of three Talent slots on their character sheet – 1, 2 or 3. The Talent labeled 3 is your most powerful talent – anytime this talent comes into play, you get to add 3 to your roll. Likewise, the talent in Slot 2 grants +2 to any roll involving that talent and Slot 1 grants +1.
Although some of the talents may be reminders of typical classes found in games such as Dungeons & Dragons (Fighter, Sneak, Firecaller), many are focused on areas of gameplay other than combat such as Blacksmith and Entertainer. The opportunity to “multi-class” is certainly built into the game. Perhaps you want to be a warrior (Fighter) who happens to know how to command the weather (Stormcaller) and influence plants and animals (Druid). Or perhaps you want the ability to fly (Air Adept) and control portals (Portalist) to thieve your way (Sneak) to glory and riches. The talent slots allow each player to build the type of character he or she wants to play without any “class” restrictions. A character could ignore magic talents completely or select only magic talents. A catch in Blade Raiders is that magic can only be used in certain areas of the world (much more on this design feature later in the week).
Equipment. The next step to character creation is buying equipment; players start with 100 gold pieces each to purchase armor, weapons and equipment. Each piece of equipment has an associated weight value. Each player has a maximum carrying capacity, but none of the players in the game came close to the capacity limit. Players are able to buy armor for numerous areas of their body. For example, a player could have a leather cloak, metal-plate leggings, banded boots, metal bracers and leather gloves. The armor selection process is more interesting (and realistic) than buying a “set” of leather armor. My character ended up with a mishmash of leather and banded-leather equipment. In addition to a weight value each armor piece has a Resistance Point (RP) and Speed Adjustment (SA) rating. As expected, armor that offers more protection also slows a character down. Each player begins with a default speed of 10; this value is adjusted by the total of your armor’s Speed Adjustment. So leather gloves (RP = 2, SA = 0) offer two Resistance Points and do not affect a player’s speed. However, metal-plated gloves (RP = 6, SA = -3) offer three times the Resistance Points but drop the character’s speed to 7 (10-3 = 7).
Weapons are arranged from small, medium, large and ranged. Each weapon has an associated damage-die value. A mace does d10-2 damage while a two-handed battle axe does d10+6. Weapons also carry a weight rating; again, none of the players in our game came close to hitting the carrying capacity. But being over carrying capacity will negatively affect the character’s speed. All weapons (and all rolls in the game, for that matter) are based on a d10. A list of available equipment, tools and gear can also be purchased. Items like a lockpick, flint and steel, torch, rope metal lock box can be purchased. Jewelry and other treasures can be purchased along with potions and medicine.
Skills. The character sheet starts each player with five skills: language, brawl, physical feats, read/write and wilderness survival. Each character can start with adding a skill point to any two of these skills. If a character wants use his or her brute force to bust open a door, then they could add +1 to their d10 roll if they are skilled in physical feats. These are the only skills available in the rulebook. You might be saying to yourself, “What, where are all the skills?” Well, Blade Raiders gives the Storyteller (DM) and players a wonderful degree of flexibility.
In the early portion of our adventure, I stated that my character wanted to listen to different conversations in a bar to unearth any rumors. I rolled a d10 and was successful; Grant, who was acting as the storyteller, told me to write down Listen on my skill list. Players in our group added skills in this fashion throughout the session. Those that used the same weapon in combat later in the night gained a skill with that specific weapon, which adds a bonus to the d10 roll.
The system is extremely flexible; the storyteller and players can work together to make each character completely unique. So although there are only five skills listed on the character sheet as a starting point, the number of skills any character could have are literally infinite. And the more a character engages in a specific skill, the better they get at that skill. It is up to the storyteller when to allow a player to add a skill, although players were encouraged throughout the game to check in and ask, “I just did X, can I add that as a skill?” It’s an organic process; I really enjoyed the concept as it really fostered an atmosphere for players to try creative actions during the game.
Resistance Points. Blade Raiders has a different approach to armor and health. Each player has two pools of “hit points” on her or his character sheet – Body Points and Armor Points. Body Points are more aligned with traditional hit points; starting body points are assigned for the character by rolling a d10 and adding 15 so the possible range of body points for all characters is 16-25. Armor Points are another form of damage resistance, which is calculated by the various pieces of armor a character has equipped. When a character suffers damage, he or she has the option to take those points from the Body, Armor or split the damage between the two in any way they choose.
The assignment of damage to either body or armor adds opportunities for flavorful combat experiences not to mention increased tactical consideration. Should a player allow a hard blow to inflict damage on the body, which could be healed but leaves the character vulnerable, or sacrifice some armor, which may not be able to be fixed until a trip back to town? An interesting design twist has the players facing off against different monsters – some of which only do damage to either the armor or the body. The system provides the storyteller and players with more options, and I find it more interesting than the nebulous “hit points” construct.
Race. Choosing a race in Blade Raiders is easy; the only option is Human. This was perhaps one of the most surprising things about creating a character because I have grown accustomed to the wide variety of racial options in 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons. I asked Grant about this and he wanted to create a game that was focused on human characters and not populated with other common races found in other systems. It is a bold choice!
Some may cry foul about the lack of racial options, but once again, Grant is focused on creating a game that is simple to learn and play by experienced and casual gamers alike. The process of choosing a race – and associated bonuses that might be granted by that race – slows down character creation and gameplay around the table. It is a factor that has been removed from the game; while playing through an adventure, it did not seem like anyone in our group minded the lack of racial diversity.
And Away They Go
The character creation process was enjoyable and allowed for a good deal of flexibility in terms of combining talents and breaking some of the strict “class” constructs I have experienced in other games. Grant stated that his goal is for anyone to be able to pick up the rulebook and quickly play the game. He wants the system to be easy enough for inexperienced players to quickly dive into an adventure instead of spending precise time figuring out complicated mechanics during character creation. I recall assisting my wife with character creation for a 4th edition D&D session and she had no idea why she had to make all of these decisions about feats and powers; she just wanted to play.
Blade Raiders will allow new gamers to play the game. And I think it does a good job of allowing experienced players to create deep and interesting character concepts. The unlimited options for skill development provides storytellers and players with a vast canvas to explore for character progression.
Return in a few days as I will move the discussion of Blade Raiders to the experience of playing the game and pondering what it would be like to run the game.