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Friday 15 July 2022

Micro RPG IIIa: Blades & Spells II

Lâminas & Feitiços or Blades & Spells is a minimalist fantasy roleplaying game from South America. In fact, Blades & Spells is another Bronze Age, Swords & Sorcery minimalist fantasy roleplaying game done in pamphlet form from Brazil. In actuality, Blades & Spells is a series of pamphlets, building from the core rules pamphlet to add optional rules, character archetypes, spells, a setting and its gods, and more, giving it the feel of a ‘plug and play’ toolkit. The Storyteller and her players can play using just the core rules, but beyond that, they are free to choose the pamphlets they want to use and just game with those, ignoring the others. So what is Blades & Spells? It describes itself as “…[A] simple, objective and dynamic minimalist RPG game where the Storyteller challenges the Player and not the character sheet.” It is written to pay homage to the classic Sword & Sorcery literature, uses the Basic Universal System—or ‘B.U.S.’—a simple set of mechanics using two six-sided dice, and in play is intended to challenge the player and his decisions rather than have the player rely upon what is written upon his character sheet. Which, being a minimalist roleplaying game, is not much. So although it eschews what the designer describes as the ‘classic restrictions’ of Class, Race, and Level, and it is very much not a Retroclone, there is no denying that Blades & Spells leans into the Old School Renaissance sensibilities.

Blades & Spells: An agile, objective and dynamic minimalist RPG provides the core rules to the roleplaying game. They are a simple, straightforward set of mechanics, emphasising a deadly world of adventure in which the heroes wield both weapons and magic. Beyond the core rules, Blades & Spells is fully supported with a series of optional pamphlets which expand upon its basics and turn it into a fully rounded roleplaying game. All together these might be seen as  the equivalent of a ‘Blades & Spells Companion’, although they just as easily could be combined into the one publication.

Blades & Spells: Beasts & Monsters follows the pamphlet format of the core rules and presents a set of twenty-one potential threats and hazards that the Player Characters might face. All have a name, a Challenge Rating, some Hit Points, details of its main characteristics, the latter amounting to no more than a sentence of two, thus giving no more than a thumbnail description of the monster. They include Shedu and Lamassu; the Akhazu, an evil creature which spreads plagues and can only be destroyed when whomever summoned it is killed; the Nommos, the humanoid amphibious ‘fishmen’, complete with tails, scales, and gills who hate the light and who indirectly built 
and rule the city-state of Nippur; and the Aqrabu, fiercely territorial, cave-dwelling humanoid scorpions created to fight a war between two gods in the distant past. Non-monsters are not ignored and Bandits, Cultists, Pirates, and Sorcerers are included as well. As with Blades & Spells itself, the entries in this pamphlet are inspired by Mesopotamian myths and other Bronze Age mythologies.

Blades & Spells: Characters Archetypes/Compendium of Magic does two things. First, it expands upon each Player Character’s Focus. This is his occupation or something that he is good at, either Fighter, Mystic, Intellectual, Support, or Specialist. The supplement divides some twenty-nine archetypes into these five categories with a simple thumbnail description. So for the Fighter, there is the Brute, the Exotic, and the Spearman; for the Mystic, the Warlock and the Beastmaster; for the Intellectual, the Actor and the Merchant; for the Support, the Artisan and the Musician; and the Specialist, the Deceived and the Pirate. These are again kept short and simple, but suggest some ideas as to what a Player Character is and what he can do, each one, just like the Focus, providing Advantage or Disadvantage, depending on the situation.

The second thing that Blades & Spells: Characters Archetypes/Compendium of Magic does is provide spells for the roleplaying game. Although every Player Character in Blades & Spells is capable of casting spells, the mechanics are objective orientated, but kept freeform. This supplement details some twenty-nine new spells which the Player Characters or NPCs can cast, whether they are doing so as arcane magic or divine magic. Some of these are nicely inventive, such as ‘Viper Venom’, which fills the caster’s mouth with water and after concentrating for a few moments, he can spit it out as a corrosive liquid or a toxic gas; ‘Dead Memory’ allows the caster to see through the eyes of the dead and so learn their secrets they kept in life and the fate that befell them; and ‘Thirty Coins’, an area spell which forces anyone who lies within its effects to vomit thirty pieces of silver that then disappear…

Blades & Spells: Optional Rules expands upon the rules presented in the core Blades & Spells: An agile, objective and dynamic minimalist RPG. They are all optional. They add in turn, rules to create non-Human characters, perhaps pushing Blades & Spells away from its Swords & Sorcery roots, but they give the species two positive physical traits and one negative physical trait. In addition, a Player Character of that species must still have a defect as per usual in addition to the species’ negative physical trait. Tables for ‘Wild Terrain’ cover the weather and ground types, plus random events, whilst the rules for poison are brutally nasty (options are given for less lethal effects as alternatives.) These are followed by rules for drunkenness too, and then insanity. Here a Player Character has ten Sanity Points, which are lost in moments of stress and terror. Once they are reduced to zero, a roll is made on the Insanity table. These rules and their effects are underwritten as not all of the results have a time length and there is no guidance as to what happens afterwards, such as how Sanity Points might be recovered. For the main part, the new rules in Blades & Spells: Optional Rules do what they suggest and cover aspects of play without adding too much in the way of extra complications. The disappointing element here are the rules for insanity, but the Storyteller can adjust as necessary to make them work and fit her setting.

Blades & Spells: An agile, objective and dynamic minimalist RPG is a simple, straightforward set of mechanics, but whilst that means that it is easy to play, it also means that it is easy to expand and add optional rules and extras to. Which is what these three supplements do. Not always effectively in places, but others, such as the Blades & Spells: Characters Archetypes/Compendium of Magic and Blades & Spells: Beasts & Monsters add a lot in terms of flavour and feel, but without without adding a lot of complications. Consequently, they are worth adding to have the options for both play and whatever setting the Storyteller wants to create.

So that really is it to . Or at least the core rules. It fits on two sides of a single sheet of paper. It is cleanly laid out, although it does need an edit in places to account for the translation from Portuguese to English. It has a decent piece of artwork on the front. It is also perfectly playable barring a couple of issues. One is that it does leave the Storyteller to wonder what sort of complications a failure of a dice roll might add to the plot and it does not state what the difficulty number is for hitting a Player Character in combat.

Blades & Spells is short and brief, but there are numerous optional pamphlets which expand upon its core rules and turn Blades & Spells into a fully rounded roleplaying game rather than just a core set of mechanics. Nevertheless, Blades & Spells: An agile, objective and dynamic minimalist RPG is a solid, serviceable, easy to learn and play, minimalist roleplaying game.

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