An Introduction to Blackwind
Distinguishing features, Q & A
Excerpts from the Kickstarter, or General Overview:
Q: Is there a Quickstart? Can you tell us more about the Blackwind System?
A: Respectively: no, and yes. It is not possible to sum up the system in a quickstart. This because the Core Manual contains no fluff whatsoever. Every page explains key concepts with concrete examples, and in order to understand the system fully you also need to understand how each of its “mechanics” interacts with the rest.
Instead, we provided a general overview that sums up the distinguishing features of the system, how they connect to each other and a partial list of perks.
#1 Main distinguishing feature: Plot Creation Kit
Fairly straightforward. The Core Manual is essentially split in two halves. The first half goes over system basics, casting the foundations of a plot, character concepts, characterization, character features, score, boards, determining difficulties, game philosophy etc. The second half is about 100 pages of story templates, split in five broad sections. Setup, Ascent, Midpoint/Midsection, Fall and Resolution. Each section has its own distinguishing features: we described their “typical” or “standard” execution, everything you need to piece together your own version.
- The plot is modular, simple to master, and its structure is built in a reliable, simple way.
- Game Masters may improvise faster and it takes a short time to build the complete backbone of the story.
- Game sessions will always have a clear direction and a consistent pace.
- The plot opens up to player impact, since its foundations are less shaky and generally harder to derail.
- More time dedicated to fine-tuning story content, atmosphere, non player characters, great locations and interesting events.
#2 Second distinguishing feature: SCORE
Part 1: Score and Statistics
A much more complex topic, but one that ties directly with the plot creation kit and the plot itself.
The SCORE is the tool that allows player impact on the session -and- the story to be translated into statistics. These statistics are dynamic, waxing or waning depending on multiple factors. As mentioned in the video, these factors range from good, intense, noteworthy or simply amusing roleplay (as voted by other players AND the Game Master) to beating in-built challenges, helping immersion, unveiling critical plot points, defeating antagonists and more.
It is particularly important to note that the SCORE (and as a consequence the player characters and their statistics) are deeply embedded in the PLOT: said “impact” may only be measured during play.
- Removes powerbuilding. Getting strong is tied to making the experience better for everyone.
- No one is ever doomed to failure or granted automatic success. Statistics change while playing, and it is common to see these values shift multiple times across sessions.
- Separating concepts and building means that all concepts have the same chance to shine. Unsual concepts that would normally correspond to an either “weak” or “overpowered” race/build (but that are amazingly fun to play) are now viable.
- Every concept may be played instantly, focussing more on characterization and less on classes and builds.
Quite a few. As an instance:
- We made sure that this will emerge from all the things that make a story and a session great, and will not be in the hands of the Game Master alone. Statistics will emerge spontaneously during play.
- Even “weak” characters have a shot at attempting grand feats. They just have a smaller chance of success. The gap between “useless” and “untouchable” concepts has been reduced, and even being at the bottom of the score does not lock players in the sidelines. It might even be funnier to play as the underdog, and just rolling with it is a great way to climb back up.
Part 2: Statistics vs Difficulties
Difficulties are as embedded in the story as statistics are. Tables, like anything else, scale depending on what you are playing and which characters you are playing with. Difficulty values are determined by the Director (Game Master): he will assess the situation, and pick a value. He may also decide if that specific action is a plot breaking one (for instance attempting certain spells in high-magic stories) and this is the only scenario where he may flat out deny a roll.
- Flexibility. The context of an adventure, the player characters are, which story section you are in all weigh in in determining difficulties. This also means that these tables are portable across settings and characters with very different power levels.
- A virtually infinite range of actions may be attempted. This opens the door to a lot of freedom on behalf of the players about how to tackle fights and riddles. Magic for instance, may truly be a matter of rituals, roleplay, and coming up with unique spells. How well the ritual is played will deeply influence its likelihood to succeed.
Flat mechanics: the SCORE is tied to the PLOT. Depending on their position in the SCORE and their career path (specialist or generalist) players will be assigned two dice. These range from D4 to D20, one for their role rolls and another for their off-role rolls. These represent a percentage of success against a given difficulty (ranging from one to six). Specialized skills are rolled with an improved dice, which is usually one tier higher, but these too scale up and down with score position.
#3 Third distinguishing feature: General Game Philosophy
This Core System is aimed at roleplayers. Rather than stark division between Game Masters and Players, this system balances and to a degree blends their roles. Players and Directors may cast the foundations of the story together, or in the case of game modules review and agree on the various story elements. This gives Players the opportunity to have a greater impact (and yes, this too factors in the SCORE) on the story and at the same time binds them to it, resulting in various “locking mechanisms”. This makes derailing less likely, while at the same time grants the opportunity to improvise and change everything that is not the story skeleton: for instance, spawning subplots or rewriting entire story sections on the go. And in turn, this is possible because plot-making is much handier, flexible, and simple.
This answer will likely open up many other questions, such as what was done to prevent this or that scenario, lenghty discussions about the interactions between individual areas of expertise/specializations of the player characters and the score, situational factors that interact with difficulties, what we did to prevent pointless or anticlimatic deaths, and more topics than could fit on this page. All of this is explained, streamlined and accompanied by practical examples in the Core Manual.
Quickstarts are not possible, because the core manual is -packed- with new features. While these are easy to explain over the span of one or two pages, they are much harder to convey in a more condensed format. And if so- rejoyce! Every single page is there for a reason, and brings something relevant and new to the table.
Free your stories from mechanical and strategic limits
The goal we had in mind when we created this system was to give absolute priority to the enjoyment of adventures. We believe that creativity and eventfulness is what makes the game fun, and that previous systems relied too heavily on a cold clash of statistics. Too much importance was placed on the mechanical values of a cheat sheet, resulting in many contradictions: one of them is that while most systems were created to play in specific settings, such as those seen in movies or novels, it was impossible to play as the same protagonists people grew passionate about, or as equally important ones. While they were organized as generic systems, they did not grant the freedom of action that is necessary to live an adventure to the fullest.
This happened because the values assigned to the original heroes of a saga, movie or book, were simply so high they made the game unplayable. At the exact opposite end, those given to new characters were so low to keep players from facing real challenges until later in the game. Other issues resulted in good storytellers being able to achieve less than rulebook-savvy ones, knowing the exact reach of a polearm but having only a vague idea of the direction of the plot, seeing wonderful protagonists die for banal reasons, and facing skewed mechanics that let high level characters survive absolutely anything, but penalized heavily low level ones.
Play any and all character concepts
Players may now pick epic, average, unusual and underwhelming characters with no difference in performance. Canonically weak concepts, such as hedge wizard, beggar girl, rookie pilot, dog, or old soldier may now dive straight into the action and face foes well beyond their league, like it would happen in any good story. On the other hand powerful ones such as archmage, superhero, battle cyborg, reality warper, angel, are just as viable and only restricted to fitting the theme of the story.
Craft flexible plots at the core of every adventure
For this reason the traditional level progression and skill point systems have been removed. Points are earned by players and are not lost when a character dies: they serve a number of purposes, such as granting better and more favorable die tiers or fixing the outcome of failed rolls. Rather than a collection of hard and fast rules, this system is a modular story structure that highlights versatility, flexibility, and tolerance of exceptions. Its dynamic flow allows to both build adventures beforehand and “as you go”, making it intuitive for new players and a powerful tool for veteran storytellers.
Instantly convert any setting or create custom ones
From the top, this system does not define a setting or a collection of campaigns that take place in a single universe, as we feel that playing in a premade world that leaves no space for customization is often a limit rather than an aid. The chapters that define a saga should emerge spontaneously, and while every new instance in an ongoing tale must introduce something new, this often happens just to keep the game fresh. Characters are also meant to change, but whether they will become stronger or weaker, how they will react to ongoing events and whether they will overcome the hardships of the journey is not something that can be decided beforehand. While it is possible to adapt this system to any setting in existence, its focus is not on describing a world but on building a Plot. Every other element, short of the enjoyment of players, must be kept conveniently flexible.
Ensure a collaborative and eventful game experience
The strength of opponents and the difficulty of obstacles is decided by taking these elements into account, and core rules must be adapted accordingly. Last, The role of the Dungeon Master has been revisited, making his job less difficult while at the same time giving more importance to players. Dungeon Masters are now called Directors as their role has shifted from crafting an adventure entirely on their own to directing, developing, and even playing a story whose foundations have been cast with the agreement of the entire group.