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Friday 11 November 2022

Micro RPG IIIc: Blades & Spells IV

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 rulesBlades & 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, including the setting supplements of Blades & Spells: The Land of Aaman and Blades & Spells: The Lands Beyond. To date, Blades & Spells has been mostly focused on the Player Character and the Game Master, but that changes with the Blades & Spells – Dark Pack.

The Blades & Spells – Dark Pack contains not one, but three pamphlets. All three focus on the villains, providing them in turn with archetypes, dark spells, and even grotesque spells. They provide the means for the Game Master to assign basic descriptors and abilities to the villains in her campaign, as well as their henchmen and their mostly loyal lieutenants. Not just that, they offer over fifty new spells, dark and shadowy, bloody and aberrant. Together, these enable the Game Master to quickly create the basics of any vile enemy or other NPC, and if a spellcaster, equip them with a raft of horrid spells that embody their malicious and cruel natures. Alternatively, and for a very alternative campaign, there is nothing to stop a playing group from creating and playing a band of villainous Player Characters with dark designs upon the setting that the Game Master has created.

In the core rules, the 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. The second thing is provide spells for the roleplaying game. Blades & Spells – Dark Pack provides both of these, but more like an evil, villainous twin—or rather its set of evil, villainous triplets that Blades & Spells never knew it had.

Blades & Spells: Dark Archetypes gives twenty-five archetypes, five for each category. Some of these fall within typical roleplaying archetypes, like the Assassin or the Burglar for the Specialist, whilst Support Archetypes such as Armourer, a weapons and equipment engineer, and the Mender, are not necessarily dark in themselves, but rather that their clientele likely consists of characters who make use of the other archetypes in this supplement. Those other archetypes are definitely ‘dark’ though. For example, the Bloody Blade is a loyal servant to the gods, handing out their justice as instructed by the voices of the cursed weapon you wield on their behalf; the Parasite has taken possession of the character and grants extraordinary powers, but takes control of the character’s mind; the Fallen Noble has been reduced to near penury, but will do anything to restore his fortunes; the Thug is a bodyguard or muscle for a gang, ready to solve a problem using physical means; and a Shadow Sorcerer can shape darkness and command the things within it. Like all three supplements in Blades & Spells – Dark Pack, this does carry an advisory warning and archetypes like the Bloody Blade which suggests the player roll on the Insanity Table and the Drug Mage which manufactures and uses potions and drugs and uses the Optional Rules for ‘Poison, Drunkenness, or Insanity’ all support the necessity of those advisory. Tables for both can be found in Blades & Spells: Optional Rules.

Blades & Spells: Dark Spells details over thirty dark and nasty spells, with themes of necromancy, shadow manipulation, and more. In the case of necromancy and shadow manipulation, these neatly tie into the Necromancer and Shadow Sorcerer  Archetypes given in Blades & Spells: Dark ArchetypesFor example, Rigor Mortis causes the touched victim to suffer convulsions and their nerves to become painfully paralysed, as well as taking on the appearance and feel of a dead body, whilst Bone Weapon summons a temporary weapon from the ground that inflicts poison damage and can harm both material and immaterial beings. Cloak of Shadows shrouds the caster in living darkness and makes him undetectable in shadow or at night, whilst Umbral Binding sends his shadow stretching unnaturally out to touch the shadows of others and in doing so, temporarily paralyses them. Not every spell follows either them, such as Cauterize, which makes the caster’s hands as hot as red-hot iron, or Parasite Weapon which summons a mutated parasitic worm from the underworld which mutates into a weapon and defends the caster, but demands to eat the flesh of the still living, but defeated opponents. This a great range of spells for darker games or darker characters or villains, including a few more inventive entries. These are nasty spells that the players are likely to hate the villain—if not the Game Master—when he casts them at their characters.

Both Blades & Spells: Dark Archetypes and Blades & Spells: Dark Spells carried content advisory warnings, but of the three pamphlets in Blades & Spells: Dark Pack, it is Blades & Spells: Grotesque Spells that deserves it the most. The thirty or so spells it describes are all vile, unpleasant concepts. So be warned. They involve a great of manipulation of the flesh. For example, Decomposition forces the flesh of the touched victim to rot at a rapid rate through gangrene and then death; Cursed Cure first heals wounds and then turns the flesh cancerous and tumorous; and Flesh Armour forces muscle to strengthen and thicken until it is cable of protecting against injury. One can actually be useful, the unfortunately named Relink Members enables large cuts to heal and lost limbs to be reattached. The rest though are all foul, disgusting affairs, likely to be highly memorable when cast by a villain the Game Master’s campaign.

Physically, the three pamphlets in Blades & Spells: Dark Pack are fine. Their layout is clean and tidy, and all three titles are easy to read, though a slight edit would not have gone amiss. The artwork on the front page of each is good too.

Blades & Spells: Dark Pack is optional. Some of the ideas and things—especially the spells—in its three pamphlets are not going to be suitable for every campaign or even what every player wants to include or encounter.  As a potential source of character ideas and spells—especially the spells—for the villain or henchman in the Game Master’s campaign, Blades & Spells: Dark Pack is good for most Swords & Sorcery settings.

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