Earlier in the week, I discussed the opportunity I had to play Blade Raiders, a new roleplaying game designed by Grant Gould. In the first segment, I outlined the step-by-step process of building a character in the system. The rules break away from many conventions such as “classes” and give the Storyteller (DM) and players a great deal of flexibility to customize characters. However, Blade Raiders was designed primarily with an eye toward accessibility – how quickly can players new and old create a character and get into an adventure.
I encourage you to read the first part of the review to learn more about the character creation process. Below, I turn my attention to the experience of playing the game and my thoughts on what it would be like to run a group of players through a brief adventure or long-standing campaign.
Gameplay & Game Management
While playing Blade Raiders, I had one eye on the experience as a player and another eye on the experience of what it would be like to run the session. I found the game to be extremely accessible and easy to learn. I believe it could be flexible enough to fit a variety of play styles. Combat-heavy groups can certainly enjoy a fast and streamlined system while story-oriented groups can really explore the talents and dynamic skill options to create a unique experience. Blade Raiders offers the storyteller a few wonderful tools to alter the style of play in the game, which can be used frequently or ignored entirely.
Magic. The world of Blade Raiders is influenced by a variety of runestones, which are “shards of rock (typically four to seven feet tall and half as wide) that are scattered across the continent of Aveggor.” Each runestone creates an aura of magical energy that can be harnessed by those who have a talent for such activity. As a character gets closer to a specific runestone, their talent for using magic increases. However, magic cannot be used if a character is too far away from a runestone. To put it another way, magic is not always available in the game.
This is another design feature that really breaks the typical mold of classes and specializations in roleplaying games. And it also allows the storyteller to modify the game experience as a campaign progresses. Perhaps one or two players use magic in incredibly effective ways to really make it challenging to provide a difficult combat situation for the party to overcome. Well, now the storyteller has the ability to focus an adventure away from a runestone for a bit – magic is no longer part of the equation. Problem cleanly solved!
The flip side is true, maybe the storyteller and players prefer a campaign that is more swords and less sorcery but would like just a taste of magic in their campaign. The storyteller can have most adventures take place outside the runestone areas with the option of dabbling near the runestones from time to time. It is not only the characters that have this restriction, but monsters as well. At this time, there are no “magic items” such as a wand, staff or rod that would store “charges” of magical energy. Magic is clearly only available when characters (and monsters) are near the runestones. As someone who played Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition for the past two-plus years, this idea is really shocking – but as a player and DM, I like the flexibility it offers.
Character Advancement Points. Blade Raiders does not feature a traditional Experience Point (XP) system, which is great because I completely ignored the suggested XP system in 4th Edition anyway. Instead, the storyteller can grant players Character Advancement Points (CAPs) whenever they deem it warranted. CAPs combine good features of concepts such as XP and Action Points (D&D 4e) into one system. Players can earn CAPs during gameplay for such actions as killing a monster, completing a quest, performing a cool maneuver or engaging in a detailed roleplay encounter. CAPs can be used like action points for in-game effects like adding to a specific die roll or healing Body Resistance points. They can also be saved to spend on improving an existing skill or unlocking or creating powers within a talent.
Once again, this feature gives the storyteller control over the pace of advancement in the game. It also allows the storyteller to reinforce the type of behavior they wish to see at the table. I enjoy that XP – or in this case character advancement – is very immediate. There is not an artificial XP system to keep track of; the storyteller can pace the rewards to fit their and the players’ style of play. For example, the storyteller can hold CAPs close to the vest or dole them out consistently. Blade Raiders does not feature levels. Damage dice expressions do not change just because a character moves up a few levels. The game remains simple to run and to play.
CAST. Blade Raiders runs on the CAST system, which stands for Chance, Advantage, Skill and Talent. Chance is the roll of a d10. As mentioned previously, all rolls in the game are with a d10. There is no fumbling around for the proper-sided die for a specific roll; one could play through an entire campaign with a single d10. This idea relates to behavior I first noticed in DM Extraordinaire, Chris Perkins, who uses only two dice (d20, d6) while running games. The storyteller sets the bar for how high the roll needs to be – an easy task would require a low target number while a difficult task would require a high target number. Regardless of the modifier applied to the d10, a 1 is always a miss. So, even though a character may have amazing bonuses for a specific task, there is still a 10% chance of failure with each action. A critical miss on a d20 only occurs 5% of the time, so it does infuse more chance of immediate failure into the game.
Advantage is any bonus or penalty the storyteller assigns to a specific task. In our session, a character effectively used a Sneak skill to hide from an oncoming monster in a dark, wooded area. Since the character was hidden from the monster, the storyteller gave him a +1 Advantage to his attack roll against the monster. Other bonuses and penalties were assigned in a similar manner throughout the night.
Once again, this gives the storyteller flexibility while running the game. A potential downside to this design is rules lawyers will likely hate this approach. Since most situations are left to the discretion of the storyteller and not on written rules, there could be disagreement about specific circumstances during combat or another situation where advantage may or may not come into play. It does make the game easier to pick up and play and keeps the game humming along. There was not one situation when either the storyteller or players were flipping through the rulebook to find a specific answer to a rule question, which is impressive given that it was the first time we were playing with a brand new game system.
Skill enters the equation when one of the character’s skills relates to a roll in the game. Each player starts the game with a bonus to one of five skills and players can earn new skills by interacting with the world. Any roll that involves a skill of the player will provide a bonus to the d10 roll; this includes the strength of the nearest runestone if the roll involves a magical talent.
The Talent portion of the system relates to the bonus a character receives from their selected talents. If the character has a talent that is applicable to the current task requiring a roll, then the d10 can have a bonus of +3, +2 or +1 depending on the slot of the character’s talent.
This system runs the entire game; there are no alterations to this system for other tasks in the game. Executing attacks, influencing people, picking locks, attempting to tackle an enemy and any other possible task in the game uses the CAST system to determine success or failure with a single roll of a d10 and some simple modifiers. Each weapon uses a single d10 for weapon expression. It was bizarre for me to only use one of my many dice – and to be honest I had to use two of my d10s, one for CAST rolls and one strictly for damage rolls! The use of one d10 for every action in the game certainly kept the game humming along throughout the night.
A Night Well Played
It was great to sit down and play a roleplaying game again after approximately a five-month long break. I’m sure I would have enjoyed playing 4th Edition or the latest D&D Next playtest, but playing Blade Raiders was a breath of fresh air. The game is built with the above core concepts and each storyteller and gaming group can decide how complicated they want to take the game from there. Blade Raiders is extremely accessible for casual players and provides more room for character customization than any edition of D&D I have played.
Grant is continuing to refine Blade Raiders; during our session, he took about two pages of notes on different questions and concerns that came up during the night. I probably asked the most “meta game” questions of our group, and believe some aspects of the rulebook could be improved. Grant plans to incorporate feedback from the playtest sessions (numerous other people are testing the game as well) to make Blade Raiders as good as it can be before release. The game should be released in the coming weeks.
I am obviously biased, but I truly believe this game is worth your time – even if it’s just to get ideas for mechanics you can incorporate into an ongoing campaign of another system. Plus, Grant has spent the last year illustrating the rulebook so it’s filled with great art throughout the pages.