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Blades in the Dark has been my role-playing obsession for close to two years now – so long, in fact, that I am beginning to wonder whether it is time to move on. And what better thing is there to move on to than the same game, but IN SPACE?! More seriously, though, Scum and Villainy is the first commercial Forged in the Dark product, published in late 2018 by Evil Hat. It transplants the mechanics of Blades (which I consider the pinnacle of role-playing game design to date) from the Gothic steampunk of Duskwall to the Standard Sci-Fi Setting™ of the Procyon Sector, inspired by everything "space" – from the Westerns like Firefly and Cowboy Bebop to the operas like Guardians of the Galaxy and Star Wars. Because I am a conservative weirdo, I have no interest in explaining the game to you, so I will assume familiarity with Blades on your part and cover mainly what SaV does differently and how it affects actual play.

Major Changes

Scum and Villainy implements a number of large and small changes to facilitate a narrative experience that is very distinct from the original Blades in the Dark. Perhapts the biggest change of all is the tone and mood of the game: while Blades was extremely dark and oppressive, with a huge thematic focus on death, trauma, and building a criminal empire on the foundation of human misery, SaV is much more interested in mystery and adventure, while still remaining as violent and cynical as its predecessor. Combined with much more instantly recognizable sci-fi playbook archetypes (see below), it makes for a much more accessible game, in my opinion.

No More Faction Game

The "Faction Game" (pp. 44-47) is one of the key elements in the original Blades, inevitably forcing the players (a.k.a. "the crew") into a political and/or territorial conflict with other in-game factions over the limited resources of Duskwall. Set in the vastness of space, SaV avoids this claustrophobic setup – consequently, its crews would much rather freelance for established factions, than be politically active themselves. This is expressed in a number of mechanical modifications, the combined effect of which shifts the core fantasy away from powers struggles to freewheeling adventures:

New Mechanics

SaV also introduces a number of original mechanics not present in the original game at all:

New Action Ratings

SaV features a different set of basic action ratings, even though the three attributes they are grouped into are the same as in Blades. Another difference is that action ratings only go up to 3 (this is effectively true in the original, however, given how its level 4 is locked behind a costly crew upgrade).

New Playbooks

Each of the seven playbooks corresponds to a character from Firefly: the Mechanic is Kaylee, the Muscle is Jayne, the Mystic is River, the Pilot is Wash, the Scoundrel is Mal, the Speaker is Inara, and the Stitch is Simon (Zoe and Book are conspicuously absent from the roster).

New Crew Types

As mentioned earlier, the more power struggle-oriented crews like the Hawkers and the Cults have been deprecated in SaV.

Other Changes

Clarifications and Supplements

Some changes SaV makes are small but extremely useful, so they can and should be re-applied to the original Blades in the Dark to make its gameplay smoother without changing much of its core experience.

Other Things I've Realized About the Original Rules Upon Reading SaV

One of the reasons why I consider Blades the best-designed RPG in the history of the medium is that every time I have re-read the core rule book, I've discovered some new trick or mindset that helped me to streamline and to improve my games. This, to me, shows just how much experience and fine-tuning went into the creation of this game. Scum and Villainy is, in many ways, a fresh look at the established formula that has helped me, once again, to understand many things about the original rules that I have been reading wrong before (and my games suffered for it).

Category: Role-Playing Games