Blades in the Dark: A Modern Setting?

As our Locke Lamorra infused game of Blades in the Dark begins to reach a natural end point, we’re looking for what to do next.

In part due to Leverage, as well as the nuance and degree of cultural touchstones, we’re thinking about a modern Blades in the Dark Game.

I’d likely run it – it’s been a while and is more or less my turn – and I’m concerned about two things:

  1. Politics. The central tag of Leverage is: The rich and powerful take what they want. We steal it back for you. Sometimes bad guys make the best good guys. We provide… [Leverage]

And, well, there’s a fascist sitting in the Oval and it’d be my natural instinct for the game to head in the direction of, say, stealing back an election. I don’t want it to, as that’s too serious to be fun.

How do I avoid it?

  1. System changes. Blades has ghost spirits and spirit bombs and whatever else. Our world … seemingly does not. What, if any, changes do I need to make to Blades for it to work in a modern setting?

What do you think?


What if one problem solved the other? That is, you avoid the problem of feeling too serious about the terrible status of our world by injecting a bit of the supernatural?


I think the British show Hustle might give a better fit.

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I’m not sure how that would work, and I most definetly want to avoid something like “the Oval office is controlled by a Vampire / Werewolf / Mage.”

But maybe you mean something different, more like Gaiman’s Neverwhere or, heck, American Gods? That is, that there is a parallel society of supernatural stuff?

  1. Set it in a specific non-D.C. city perhaps?

  2. Remove the playbook that is built specifically for interacting with ghosts (the Whisper?) and replace any of the others’ special abilities that relate to spirits. Or, perhaps trickier, reinterpret “ghosts” as “computers” and see if that works.


Oh, right. National politics are less important in, like, Seattle, right? Or Vancouver! That’s not even in the US.

I often forget that living 4 miles away from the White House for the past ten years has distorted my perceptions. Add on that my favorite sport reporting is 538, and we actually watch debates and … maybe my wife and I are weird?

It is, though, the city my gaming group knows best.

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It’s also where Leverage was filmed.

I think if you’re going to move BitD into the modern age, one of the big things you need to consider is the role of the hacker.

(I also think “Let’s steal us the US presidency.” is the perfect premise for a Leverage movie.)


So the one place things will get weird is that by default, Blades is about gang warfare. That’s easier to work with in a fantasy setting, but in the modern U.S. that means you’ve got things like treating the Bloods as a high tier faction. It’s very easy for that to go wrong, in portraying organizations like that.

So you’d want to figure out how you’re going to retool the meta game of crew advancement, especially if Leverage is your touchstone. The Leverage team doesn’t advance much as a crew, and they definitely don’t get involved in turf wars.


So in a lot of ways Blades is The Wire:The RPG. It is inherently political It’s about cycles of poverty, corruption and violence. If you keep the action close enough to the ground, you still have lots of ways to be political without getting involved in federal election theft. Would that sufficiently scratch the politics itch and keep you from going places that heart wants to, but your head thinks is a bad idea?


Agreed, and that was part of why a first try at Blades didn’t work. Though, it was an early playtest so I’ve always blamed that.

I think there are some turf wars in Leverage, but those are at a very different level than in Blades.They get attacked a time or two, and have to fight back against similarly powerful foes. But: That is rare and not the central part of the show.

Blades seems so close to what I want. I like the system, the rules, and even the metagame.

But, yeah: Taking turf, creating subsidiary gangs? That doesn’t sound like Leverage.

There’s maybe something similar that’d work: Instead of taking turf, businesses, and turning gangs to work for you – getting the corporate yolk out of territory, turning businesses honest, and making friends out of gangs.

That might only require a small change to the baseline system.


Maybe set it not in the US? Russia could work well. Factions: cops, mafias, politicians, immigrant workers. Good opportunity for a BitD gradual corruption/decrepitation/death spiral. Plenty of crime opportunity, and a Leverage Team could draw massive heat from all of those factions.

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Here’s what I’m thinking!

  1. Tier is not about size. It’s about teamwork. Size is one of the variables (like potency or whatever), but the primary thing is teamwork
  2. Instead of coin, favor. A hundred grand isn’t important to these people – they have an alternative revenue source. But what does matter is favors.
  3. Weird chemistry mostly works in place of alchemy and such: We don’t need ghosts if we can fake it with chemistry.
  4. To avoid the politics: Questions related to The Case, ostensiably on each sheet. Everybody asks a question, and someone else answers it. This tells us everything we need to know – like who is ripping off The Client – and as that won’t be the flimflam man in the Oval, then we can deal with a different thief this week.

That should help with many of the issues I’m having, and only the most recent one is hard.

Whatcha think?


This actually already kind of exists! It’s called Copperhead County, and it’s set in the American south; it’s currently still in early access, but seems pretty good. I’ve not had a chance to play it myself, but I know a few people who have, and they seem to like it.

I’d also check out Magpie’s Cartel, which has less strict territory-control and doesn’t use jobs in the same way, but treads familiar ground otherwise.

That said, a really dense, urban-focused Blades hack set in the modern day could definitely work.


There’s also a Kickstarter about to wrap up for a near-future action setting (basically, “heist movies, but with cybermods”). Can’t speak to the creator’s experience, myself, but it has just barely funded.

I also recall reading a playtest copy of another near future espionage FitD game awhile back called “5 to Midnight,” but I can’t seem to find it online…


I think I’ll need to do a little hacking to get what I want.

I don’t think its too much. I’ve got an email draft (yeah, i know that’s not ideal) filled with a few paragraphs, including what I need for a crew sheet.

This includes changes to coin, stash, and what it is to take a claim. As for this endeavor, I am fundamentally not interested in turning people into vassals, and money isn’t important.

Instead, favors and stash becomes how well you operate as a citizen. The ghost related complications becomes citizenry related. I think Attune becomes something like “Blend”, namely being about blending in and passing as a citizen. But, that then overlaps with how I want to use Stash levels, so maybe not.

Anyway. Work in progress. I think/hope it’ll remain straightforward.


Continued work on this:

  • Tier represents how well you can work together. Tier 0 is how Leverage starts – you basically cannot work together.
  • Stash represents how well you fit into society when you retire from crime.
  • Coin is replaced with Trust. Stuff isn’t important, but Trust helps your crew advance.
  • I’m thinking about a Helping Pool, limited by Tier.
  • The Whisper is becoming the Hacker/Chemist. This is both Walter White and Hardison.
  • Attune is Blend.
  • Consider starting with one skill unuseable for each character. This is Parker not understanding civilians, Walter White having no idea how to Prowl, etc. Choose one skill you are completely untrained at.
  • Instead of taking over, say, tobacco shops the crew develops good habits that lead to better teamwork – like having dinner together.

I’ve got incomplete sheets.


The supernatural can fairly easily be converted into natural forces.

For instance, THE WHISPER could have the unique ability to speak to anonymous sources in government and crime circles.

The juice that runs the world could be oil or solar energy or wind turbines.

To take things away from the Whitehouse, you could set this in Luxembourg. Or, if you want to bring back supernatural fantasy, set it in the Vatican City.