code black hack

Black Seven by Zero Point Information

This is a hack of Blades in the Dark, inspired by the RPG Black 7. In Black 7, you play black operatives infiltrating facilities and doing Bad Things. It’s a game laser-focused on stealth action, where you make rolls to get to mission targets and take conditions depending how much attention you draw (Noticed) or how much cover you find (Exposed).

The Code Black Hack changes how to set the position of action rolls on scores in Blades in the Dark. Position reflects the alert level of nearby hostiles and has rules for how the scoundrels’ actions worsen or improve their position.

This hack gives the GM more tools to reliably telegraph trouble, follow through on threats, and covey dangers inherent in what the scoundrels do. It’s entirely possible you could get the same gameplay using the standard rules, mainly by how the GM judges position and effect. In a way, that is all the Code Black Hack is: guidance for the GM on how to set the position and the effect level of actions in a consistent way.

It is meant for when the crew faces hostile resistance that they want to avoid. Black 7 is all about stealth plans, so this is the most direct port into Blades. Think breaking into the HQ of a gang of thugs, rather than mugging a couple in an alley. The standard rules already work well for smaller scale confrontations.

I want to explain the Code Black Hack for stealth plans today. I’m some way along rejigging these rules for other kinds of scores, particularly deception plans, but I’ll talk about them another time.

Stealth plans

When to use

These rules assume that most scores occur in a single defined area, which can be quite large; for example, a building, an underground lair, a prison, a city block, a ship. The idea is the crew’s position and conditions will carry across their activities during the score as they move around within the larger area, whether it’s between rooms, buildings or streets.

However, some scores involve linked plans. Where there is a significant shift in the area of the score, like ‘sneaking around a noble’s estate’ to ‘smuggling stolen goods across the city’, then a new engagement roll may be called for to see how well the next plan starts.

Stop tracking the crew’s position and Noticed and Exposed conditions if there are no longer any hostiles in the area, the crew leaves unpursued, or the score otherwise ends.

Action roll

The action roll is essentially the same. The major differences are that:

  • on a 5 or less, a scoundrel always gets the noticed condition and possibly further consequences
  • riskier positions reduce the effect of stealth actions and don’t allow certain consequences to be resisted
  • all scoundrels and their cohorts share the same position while they are in the same area.
Hostiles are not alerted that you’re nearby. You act on your terms.

Critical: You do it with increased effect.
6: You do it.
4/5: You hesitate. Avoid being noticed and try a different approach. Or else do it and you are noticed, and may also suffer lesser harm, a minor complication, have reduced effect.
1–3: You falter. Press on and you are noticed or avoid being noticed and try a different approach.

May resist being noticed, if not currently exposed.
Hostiles are alerted you’re about. You act under fire. You take a chance.

Critical: You do it with increased effect.
6: You do it.
4/5: You do it, but there’s a consequence: you are noticed. You may also suffer harm, a complication, have reduced effect.
1–3: Things go badly. You are noticed. You may also suffer harm, a complication, lose this opportunity.

Stealth attacks have reduced effect. Cannot resist being noticed.
Hostiles are closing in to attack you, alarms wailing. You go head-to-head. You’re in serious trouble.

Critical: You do it with increased effect.
6: You do it.
4/5: You do it, but there’s a consequence: you are noticed and hostiles attack. You may also suffer severe harm, a serious complication, have reduced effect.
1–3: It’s the worst outcome. You are noticed and hostiles attack. You may also suffer severe harm, a serious complication, lose this opportunity for action.

Stealth actions have reduced effect. Stealth attacks must be set up by another stealth action. Cannot resist being noticed.

Improving position

You can act to reduce Suspect to Hidden, but only if no characters or cohorts are Noticed or Exposed. You can only reduce Hunted to Suspect by eliminating all hunters present.

Consequences and Harm


If a character or cohort is Noticed, they’re still in or near cover but have drawn the attention of hostiles in the area. Usually, you become Noticed as a consequence of an action roll. You may also be Noticed if hostiles take the initiative and find you, or simply because they see or know where you are. You are Noticed if you act without regard to stealth—like sword fighting, shooting, exploding shit, ramming things, intimidating people—and the position also goes straight to Hunted.

While Noticed, you can’t stealth attack; for example, you can’t ambush, snipe from hiding, lay a trap, or trick a guard. Essentially, Noticed is a dominant factor and overshadows the situation, so you always have zero effect, no matter what effort or fine items you bring to bear.

At Hidden or Suspect, if you fail to remove Noticed promptly, the position worsens. At Hunted, if you fail to remove Noticed promptly, you may suffer severe harm from hostiles attacking you. This harm may be a consequence of a roll, including on the same roll when you get Noticed, or simply because hostiles take the initiative and see or know where you are. Hostiles prioritise attacking those Noticed and Exposed, then those just Noticed, and then those just Exposed. Hostiles can’t attack you if you’re neither Noticed nor Exposed.


If a character or cohort is Exposed, they haven’t been seen by hostiles, but they’re not in or near cover. You choose to become Exposed for increased effect. This increased effect remains while Exposed. You can’t resist or otherwise remove Noticed while Exposed, you must remove Exposed first.

Removing conditions

Noticed and Exposed are sticky conditions. Once you’ve gained one, you must act to remove it. Generally, that means making an action roll to evade or obfuscate. The player describes what the character does and what action rating they use, the GM sets the effect level. At Hidden, you may also resist being Noticed. At Suspect or Hunted, you may not resist: hostiles are too alert for you to easily recover from a mistake; instead, you may act to remove it. If you’re both Noticed and Exposed, you can’t resist or otherwise remove Noticed, you must remove Exposed first.

A cohort can’t resist consequences but may act to remove Noticed or Exposed. A character can use the teamwork move Protect to suffer being Noticed instead of a teammate or cohort. The protecting character may then roll to resist (if Hidden) or act to remove Noticed.


Harm can still be a minor consequence at Hidden and a consequence at Suspect. Not harm from hostiles, just harm following the fiction. For example, cutting through an electrified fence while Hidden is still dangerous. Because hostiles only attack you when you’re Hunted (and Noticed and/or Exposed), hostiles do severe harm (Level 3). Severe harm may also come from other sources, following the fiction. Harm may be resisted as normal, no matter the position.

The Score

Engagement roll

On 6, the starting position is Hidden.

On 4–5, the starting position is Hidden and each character and cohort starts either Noticed or Exposed, GM picks one for each.

On 1–3, the starting position is Suspect and each character and cohort starts either Noticed or Exposed, GM picks one for each.


Flashbacks are just another way to get to a mission target and you may still gain Noticed as a consequence. For example, you might have successfully bribed the guard, but he’s so oafish about his new wealth that he tips off other hostiles that something’s awry and they notice you (at the same time as getting you closer to a mission target).


Everyone who wants to benefit from a group action must roll. If the leader decides to boost the roll’s result, then everyone who rolled gains Exposed. If the roll results in a consequence of gaining Noticed, then everyone who rolls is Noticed. If the current position is Hidden, each character may resist that consequence individually.

A setup move can be used to temporarily improve position. If a character is currently Hunted and under attack by hostiles, a setup action could improve their position (and only their position) to Suspect for their next action, which means they’d avoid consequences from being attacked for that action.


Stop using these position rules and tracking Noticed and Exposed conditions if there are no longer any hostiles in the area, the crew leaves unpursued, or the score otherwise ends.


the great g+ export

As you may have noticed, I’m currently mid-way through importing post from my g+ here. It’s a little messy but also kind of satisfying reading over stuff from a few years back and tagging things.

I used the tool from Google+ Exporter tool and works better than the Google Takeout, especially for importing into WordPress.

fathoming the unfathomable

Torchbearer, like many old-styled RPGs, leaves open why the player characters came together as an adventure party. Why do they keep trusting and depending on each other? Why do they risk their lives for each other?

By Jeremy Weate from Abuja, Nigeria – Swords of Qādisīyah, CC BY 2.0, Link

Obviously in games like Torchbearer, the metagame reason is if they don’t, they die. But I feel it’s important for play to have an in-fiction touchstone. Not just for verisimilitude; I think it helps us care about the characters and gives players more to grab on to in play.

I made the list below a few years back. My idea was the players first agree on a shared background, a history or purpose that glues them together through thick or thin. Then they build characters to fit and support that concept. Not as a straitjacket or a wish list of power-ups, more a solid foundation to fall back on should things get existential.

There’s no reason for the PCs to have identical motivations, but sharing some will make sense of why they work together at all.

I put these motivations into four groups for convenience: desperation, money, ambition, and duty. Maybe they survived a disaster together, are paid by the same patron, or hunt the same enemy. Or all of the above: when you’re desperate, you often need money, which leads to ambitious plans…

This is similar to Into the Dark’s Adventuring Parties in the Twilight Empire, but higher level, more abstract. In many ways, I prefer Into the Dark’s approach. It has the benefit of providing depth to the setting, gives the players natural antagonists in the setting, and seems a little more gameable. It also reminds me a little of Blades in the Dark crews. Something like it might be useful for the Abyss, the adventure region I’m developing for Torchbearer. I’ll add to the list.

Nevertheless, a benefit of my motivational approach is it’s also useful for GM characters and people who aren’t adventurers. For example, the Abyss is such a terrible place, why does anyone live there at all? What drove them there in the first place, what keeps them there still?

This list may inspire some answers.  


  • Disaster – fleeing to find refuge, e.g. village destroyed, ongoing war, famine,…
  • Escape – fleeing persecution: slaves, gladiators, prisoners, criminals, soldiers…
  • Coerced – bullied into furthering goals of or entertaining <blackmailer/faction/god>
  • Conscripted – hoping for a pardon, citizenship,…


  • Poverty – climb out of the gutter any way they can
  • Indebted – owe money, fealty or favour to person/organisation
  • Heist – working on a really big con/theft/deception
  • Mercenary – Patron pays for bounty hunt, field research, discovery, mapping,…


  • Enemy – Bring down the <something or one>, revenge, assassination
  • Rescue – loved one, prince, persecuted people
  • Raiding – love of pillage and raiding
  • Pilgrimage – holy journey
  • Knowledge – Uncover ancient mystery, dangerous secret, personal history, wonder


  • Diplomacy – foment strife, weaken powerful, incite unrest; or prevent such
  • Religious – recover holy relics/artefacts, rever divinity, save souls
  • Crusaders – Crusade against <distant threat or monster>
  • Vision – myths about fate, ancestor, lands, ascendance, downfall, demons
  • Family – this is your family’s place and all they have ever known

an intro

Roleplaying games: I love ’em. Playing, reading, dreaming, designing, whatever! They’re great. So I thought I’d share a little of that love. Here’s trying.

When I moved to a new city 10 years back, I founded my best and strongest friendships around a shared loved of roleplaying. The kind where you go to someone’s house, sit around a table and shout nonsense and brilliance at each other for a few hours. I played a range of games, with independent publishers being my bread and butter. I haven’t played D&D since I burned out on 2nd Edition in the nineties.

I usually play twice a week. I’m lucky that way. At the moment, that means a few games of Blades in the Dark (running Shadows and Assassins crews and playing in Hawkers) and playing in Legacy: Life among the Ruins. 

I’ve also had few stop-starts designing, but most of my energy for games has been playing and facilitating. I’ve certainly seen a few designs crumble in my hands, after many months of meanderings. But that comes with the territory.

At the moment, I’m designing a setting to string together a few Torchbearer games I’m planning to play next year. It’s inspired by the central location of the novel Boneshaker.

The Maw. The Abyss. Hell. All names of a hidden valley, smote by the gods, forever shrouded in a corrupting fog, a poisonous wound filled with unplundered treasures and terror, and a haven for those who hunger to flee the world. For a whole society of exiles, criminals, and refugees hide in its murky depths, in safe harbours carved out of the wasteland. Maybe small, overcrowded and filthy, but to you, torchbearer, they’re heaven.

Torchbearer campaign: Abyssal lights

I’ll put up more of my ideas for this, and other things, here. Till then.

new iruvian sword arts

One of my groups has secured training from an Iruvian Sword Master. The Hound has made a deal with a demon and become adopted as foreign-born I’Yalim. We decided to develop a fighting style to fit the functions and powers of an I’Yalim. We borrowed a little from the move Tiger’s Fury out of Johnstone Metzger’s excellent Iruvian playbook: Faris.

[Adept] Falconer’s Scimitar: You may wield a heavy, broad-bladed scimitar favoured by the I’Yalim to punish the wicked and execute justice. The long handle of the scimitar can be wielded with a wide two-handed grip to create a whirling blade in close, where a sword is expected to be useless. Or it can be wielded with a close two-handed grip to use its sweeping length, allowing you to attempt to plow through the field of battle to any location you can see.

[Master] The Sweeping Wind: Your sword attacks involve acrobatic leaps with powerful sweeping slashes. When you make an attack in this way, choose a beneficial extra effect (this effect occurs regardless of the outcome of your action): The target’s armour is ruined—the target’s weapon is ruined—the target is knocked sprawling—the target is forced into someone where their limbs and lives become entangled.

flipping baszo baz

I use two big clocks on a score all the time, where crew races to fill one before the other. Recently though, I tried splitting up the main score clock into a bunch of little clocks and it worked great. I based it on ideas from Rob Donoghue’s long con setup:

Here’s how it went down: The Assassin’s crew, the Butcher Birds, wanted to flip Baszo Baz. It worked great.

The Friend: Attention clock 4-segments
Baszo was bestie’s with Chance, the Slide, so that filled the first clock for free. That opened up the Interest clock.

The Hook: Interest clock 4-segments
The crew did a series of linked plans simultaneously to flipping Baszo: forging an alliance between the Lampblacks enemies, assassinating one of the street gang leaders and their gang, the second-in-command of the Lampblacks and their master of coin. That filled 3 of 4 on the interest clock. Baszo knows things are going to shit, Chance just needed to show him that things were going to get even worse… tonight. The crew are Bound in Darkness so they communicated intimate details from each linked plan, so Chance could drop enough to hook Baszo enough to shift the conversation from much-needed camaraderie to the bleakest of business.

All this info obviously roused Baszo’s suspicions. How much was Chance actually involved in fucking over the Lampblacks? 3 tock on the 8-segments on the Suspicion clock. Though they resisted that, bringing the consequence down to 1 tick.

Filling this clock, opened up the next clock.

The Option: Confidence clock 4-segments
Now the conversation shifted about how Chance can help Baszo. Baszo thought Chance was doing little more than daydreaming, that Chance couldn’t actually help Baszo get out of the deep shit he’s in.

So Chance laid out that he wasn’t just a street urchin, but a part of the notorious Butcher Birds, assassins connected to some strange and brutal accidents happened to well-connected Nobles in Brightstone. That filled 2-segments.

Chance knew of Baszo’s commitment to the Empty Vessel cult, so he pushed on, revealing that his crew have the favour of Fortuna, a Forgotten God, who grants them the silence of Bellweather (Crow’s Veil). With a little wrangling, that filled the Confidence clock.

That opened up the final score clock as well as the options trust clock (which could reduce the consequences of the suspicion clock.

The Decision: Ambition clock 4-segments
I shortened this clock to only 4-segments. That meant the crew were racing to fill 9-segments faster than 8-segments of suspicion. It worked out to be a good size. For a longer-term con, yeah this could have easily been 6 or 8 segments, like Rob’s article suggested.

This is basically about Baszo making a decision right now. To walk away from the Lampblacks right now.

Chance plied his ambitions to seek revenge against the Red Sashes, the opportunities that the Butcher Birds have to fill the power vacuum, and the possibility of being a secret hand that can swoop down on the Crows and become ward boss after all. Throwing in a little occult membership, and Baszo was ruthless as ever.

So Baszo flipped.

Trust clock 4-segments
Chance never ticked any of these. He ran out of stress and things got extremely tight. But we’re keeping this open, as the opportunity to settle the suspicions Baszo has and bring him totally on board with the Butcher Birds.

a sky less travelled

The lightning barriers only go so high. The lands and seas are full of terrors. So taking to the skies should be attractive. But assume people, ghosts, hulls and hollows don’t. Why?

Now it could be because they’re flightless. But I’d like to explore a different angle: what if they could fly but choose not to, or what if they could fly but something grounds them. Ideas?

undying: plague empires

Finished our first nightly play of Plague Empires. And what a bloodbath! So much fun.

By the end of the proceeding downtime, the Princeps and two Plebian NPCs dead and the only Patricians cursed to be Pariahs. The only remaining predators are:
1 NPC Patrician (boosted themselves up from Plebian as a plot)
3 PC Plebians, and
2 NPC Pariahs

I was wondering how to handle having so few predators left but a pile of grudges to handout. I’m considering introducing new NPCs after downtimeplay but before introducing the crisis for the nightly play. I wasn’t sure if that would work, particularly with how the grudges come from the plots in downtime play. Otherwise, then what happens if every NPC is already your enemy or nemesis and you need a new rival? Must a PC take it up?

Also, what about the status of the current crop of predators? There are so many positions vacant, this seems good time to upgrade the only Patrician to Princeps (they have no betters) and two of the PCs Plebians to Patricians (because they have favour with the would-be Princeps and cleared all the old guard).

Any suggestions or advice?