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This Game of Thrones and Godfather-inspired Blades in the Dark RPG turns heists into gambles for political power

Words are mightier than the sword.

Front artwork for Court of Blades.
Image credit: A Couple of Drakes, Dicebreaker

Court of Blades is a tabletop RPG that has players carrying out heists for political power instead of money or treasure.

Inspired by the likes of classic novels like The Three Musketeers, as well as A Song of Ice & Fire – otherwise known as Game of Thrones – The Lies of Locke Lamora, Dragon Age: Inquisition and even The Godfather, Court of Blades is a tabletop roleplaying game about court intrigue, secret assignments and the power of influence.

The TRPG uses the same Forged in the Dark gameplay system as Blades in the Dark, with players rolling d6 dice to perform actions. However, rather than carrying out heists for an independent underground gang in Duskvol – like Blades in the Dark – players in Court of Blades are completing errands for their chosen House in the city of Ilrien.

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Rather than being a dark and haunted steampunk industrial city like Duskvol, Ilrien is a bright city of romance, art, beauty and, most of all, political posturing. Like a mash up of pre-revolutionary Paris and Renaissance Venice, Ilrien is a city controlled by a council of political Houses, both major and minor, headed up by the leader of the most influential and powerful House: the prince. As members of the, currently, least powerful House in Ilrien, the players are tasked with doing whatever it takes to improve their House’s standing - discreetly, of course.

The players in Court of Blades are part of a coterie within their House, which is a squad of skilled professionals whose role is to further their House’s interests within Ilrien. What sorts of errands they perform could depend on whichever House the group becomes part of – whilst Lovell is a House that prides itself on its knowledge and socialite nature, the Al-Mari House is one formed of mercenaries and so isn’t afraid to get its hands a little dirty.

Court of Blades isn’t a tabletop RPG where low rolls automatically result in failure – instead, players will have to deal with more complications.

The sorts of errands the players’ coterie might be doing can be anything from avenging a perceived slight against their House, acquiring a lost or desired item, influencing an important decision or gaining a powerful ally. Successfully completing these errands will not only boost the standing of the players’ House but also their own place within it.

Artwork for Court of Blades.
Every season in Ilrien has its own major social event such as masque balls and festive parties. | Image credit: A Couple of Drakes, Dicebreaker

How the coterie decides to go about completing their next errand is entirely up to them. Players will have the opportunity to plan their errand by reaching out to associates from the many factions and other Houses found in the city to acquire new tools, useful information and possible allies to help. Their relationships with these factions and Houses will change depending on players’ actions throughout the game. Should players perform an errand that has a negative or positive outcome for any of the factions and/or Houses they work with, then their dealings with them will be altered for better or worse.

During the actual errand, players will be able to apply their unique skills and abilities to the job, as well as use anything they’ve prepared beforehand. A players’ chosen skills will depend on which playbook they’ve picked for their character – with the options ranging from the sword-swinging Bravo to the sneaky and observant Eye to the sweet-talking Key. Each of these playbooks grant characters points in specific skills, alongside a special ability of their choice, gear and a method of gaining the experience needed to advance.

Having a paramour in Court of Blades doesn’t just provide ample opportunity for dramatic storytelling and romance, it also provides genuine gameplay benefits.

Whenever players are asked to roll for a skill, they choose whichever they think is most appropriate for their action. The game master then decides on a position and effect for the roll – which represents the level of risk and the effectiveness of the action. This can range greatly depending on how players go about doing the action and what kind of resistance they face, with the outcome for the roll changing based on the position and effect. The riskier the move and the more resistance there is, means worse consequences if the player fails to completely succeed. Court of Blades isn’t a tabletop RPG where low rolls automatically result in failure – instead, players will have to deal with more complications.

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Alternatively, players can spend stress to push themselves for a better effect but at the detriment of their characters’ place in Ilrien society and possible wellbeing. Stress can also be spent on flashbacks, which enable players to react to obstacles by explaining how their characters have prepared for the current situation. For example, if the coterie is trying to sneak into a manor through the service entrance and get stopped by a staff member, someone could invoke a flashback to explain that they had already convinced another staff member to vouch for them. The riskier and more complicated the flashback, the more stress it costs.

Players can gain back stress by indulging in downtime activities such as dining and/or drinking at the many fine establishments throughout the city, visiting the theatre or opera houses, continuing a long-term project or something else entirely. Duels are a common occurrence in Ilrien, with many people resolving disputes and slights through dueling. Crafting new tools is also an option, if the player’s character is interested in tinkering and has the resources to do so. Players can also investigate possible plots against their House, with the potential for future errand opportunities to arise from this.

Court of Blades is a tabletop roleplaying game about danger, extravagance, romance, passion, sleaze and secrecy.

Another way players can use their downtime between errands is to pursue a relationship with a non-player character or player character. Having a paramour in Court of Blades doesn’t just provide ample opportunity for dramatic storytelling and romance, it also provides genuine gameplay benefits – and possible hinderances – to players. The more players interact with their chosen paramour or paramours, the stronger their relationship/s become and the more benefits they gain. Players can indulge in their paramours to gain back stress and can even call upon them during errands for aid. However, neglecting relationships or doing actions that negatively affect them can twist paramours from loving partners to devastated or vengeful victims.

Artwork for Court of Blades.
The Bravo is one of the potential playbooks players can pick for their character. | Image credit: A Couple of Drakes, Dicebreaker

The long-term goal of the coterie is to advance their House up the totem pole of Ilrien until it becomes the most powerful and influential, with its leader taking the position of prince. Individual players will want to secure their position within the House whilst working on this, proving themselves an invaluable member of the coterie and thus worthy of recognition.

Along the way, they’ll need to be careful not to involve themselves in too many scandals by running low on stress or overindulging too much – as there are eyes and ears willing to sell them out at a moment’s notice. Characters that become entangled in too many scandals will find themselves being pushed out of the House or the city, or possibly even into a casket if they’re not careful.

Court of Blades is a tabletop roleplaying game about danger, extravagance, romance, passion, sleaze and secrecy. If you’ve ever yearned for a game that simulates the kind of power-play and drama found in the likes of Game of Thrones, Romeo & Juliet, Rome, The Borgias or The Tudors, then seek out the Court of Blades.

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Alex Meehan avatar
Alex Meehan: After writing for Kotaku UK, Waypoint and Official Xbox Magazine, Alex became a member of the Dicebreaker editorial family. Having been producing news, features, previews and opinion pieces for Dicebreaker for the past three years, Alex has had plenty of opportunity to indulge in her love of meaty strategy board games and gothic RPGS. Besides writing, Alex appears in Dicebreaker’s D&D actual play series Storybreakers and haunts the occasional stream on the Dicebreaker YouTube channel.
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Court of Blades

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