When I first started writing for this site I considered posting a review for Blades in the Dark (Blades). However, I soon realized the futility of such an endeavor, as anyone who has heard about it or played it already knows its merits. My review of Blades is the same as my review for chocolate ice cream… Yes, try it! With that being said, I was happy to run across today’s title, a lesser known re-skin of Blades known as Adrenaline.
Adrenaline (A Kickstarter funded project), created by Eric Brunsell, is a self contained 166 page TTRPG that utilizes the Forged in the Dark system. Unlike the dystopian steampunk themed parent game, Adrenaline takes place in a hyper realized version of our own world that cranks everything up to 11! After reading through the core book, I came to the conclusion that Adrenaline is akin to the movie Crank or Fast and Furious (insert current number). It’s a crazy fast paced action heist that is always striving to move forward, and never looking back. In an interesting twist, the game can be retrofitted with multi-genre elements like augmentations, artificial intelligence or supernatural aspects.
Also, a quick word on the art. I would like to take a moment to recognize the interesting art style throughout the book. Each piece takes little familiar characters or scenes from certain films or TV shows to creates some original pieces. There were several times where I easily recognized the original source, and I can see how the book utilizes that familiarity in order to help players make connections to the theme of the game.
Character & Crew Creation
In order to fit a modern/near-future setting, the core classes (called Playbooks) which govern the starting stats of any character. Here are the nine Playbooks as described in the core book:
- Fixer: A planner and manipulator.
- Driver: If it moves, you can drive it.
- Hacker: A computer & information specialist.
- Hitter: Sometimes a knife or gun really is the best tool.
- Player: A master of seduction, confidence and disguise.
- Tech: All the world loves a geek.
- Operative: Surveillance, sniping, and sabotage.
- Thief: All security systems have a weakness. You find it.
- Trickster: You trade in deception, sleight of hand, and misdirection
Once a playbook is chosen, characters must assign a number of dots across the given nine “actions,” that act as flexible skills. They are Assault, Analyze, Command, Connect, Engineer, Finesse, Hunt, Manipulate, and Prowl. For instance, Finesse can cover everything from using a light weapon, or vehicle handling, to any number of creative dexterity based abilities.
The rest of character creation covers making a background, choosing special abilities, selecting augmentations (setting permitted), choosing friends/rivals, picking a vice (used during downtime), providing an alias/look, and finally XP triggers (used to govern character actions/motivation for extra XP).
There are expanded rules for creating Transhuman characters like a Synth (Andriod), Proxy (AI construct that can only live in the digital world), or Precog (Someone with mind powers). If a character chooses this route, they are given an additional list of abilities to choose from during character creation.
Once the players have filled out the playbook, as a group they must decide on the type of Crew they want to be. Are they disposable heroes, redlines, or scoundrels? This crew also comes with a reputation, safehouse, special abilities, edges, and flaws. As with any Blades variant, the crew will level up providing a myriad of passive bonuses. Truly, the list for upgrades makes the decision hard, as nearly all of the upgrades provided something useful. The Cohort system, as in Blades, continues as a fun method for creating interesting allies (or groups) to work with the crew.
The one area that is noticeably upgraded from Blades concerns equipment. The list of Specialized equipment, vehicles, augmentations and drugs have truly made Adrenaline stand out amongst other Forged the Dark games.
Personally, I love the tradeoff when it comes to cybernetics. You have to pay a deep price when considering augmentations. You not only pay the heavy monetary price, but there is a toll on the body after surgery, and the upkeep cost should you get harmed. Sure, you might love that muscle augmentation, but the cost of keeping it may prove to be problematic in the long term.
Drugs and Poisons are another section of noteworthiness. Much like cybernetics, there is a tradeoff. Taking drugs gives a short term boost with a potential for addiction later. This again becomes a balancing act of taking something that could give characters an edge, but creating a problem that they will have to fight off constantly.
The core of Adrenaline is much as you would expect from the Forged in the Dark system. Simply put, your character is made up of a max of three dice amongst their nine traits and abilities allowing them to roll a number of D6s. 1-3 = failure, 4-5 = success with complications, and 6 = a straight success.
As with many Blades variants, certain aspects have been renamed. Stress is now adrenaline, Coin has become Stash (and has expanded uses), etc. Regardless of the new naming conventions, the core of the Forged system remains intact and easy to identify. A typical session of Adrenaline is structured around three types of play:
- Free Play – This is the default stance of the game. Players go around and interact with each other and the game world. They make rolls only as needed.
- Operations – This involves choosing targets, planning and eventually entering the engagement roll wherein the score is carried out.
- Downtime – In between missions the crew are able to resolve entiangments and pursue downtime activities.
Again, if you are familiar with Blades you know that each of the above mentioned types of play contain a wealth of possibility. Most of the true action may center on Operations, but there is a great deal to be gained in Free Play and Downtime. The three elements come together to create a self sustaining cycle of play. Free Play provides a means of world building and setup. Operations get the crew money and reputation to progress. Downtime helps both character and crew to de-escalate any problems that may have occurred, while progressing on any side projects.
The city of Miami is used as the default setting for Adrenaline, and provides some nice locations, and other prompts from which to build upon. However, the true strength of Adrenaline is the collaborative focus on worldbuilding. The game encourages the crew to create rival factions, exciting locations, and other elements to interact with. There is even a section in the core book for the introduction of supernatural elements or expanded use of a digital world (ala The Matrix in Shadowrun).
After reading this over, so many ideas popped into my head about what setting I could create as a GM or as a player. Here are a couple of examples:
- Batman Beyond – The city of Neo Gotham combines everything from Cyberpunk and transhumanism to action and more. Who wouldn’t want to create a crew to rival the Jokerz?
- Strange Days – The one thing that I kept thinking of when I read this book was the movie Strange Days. If you have not seen it… well, see it! But for those who want the cliff notes version, it’s an action/noir/thriller that takes place on the eve of the new millennium, and revolves around a new technology that allows for people to experience the memories of others. Since Adrenaline is so customizable I could easily see a “modern” game where a little future tech is inserted to make things interesting.
Adrenaline moves a step above a simple re-tool of Blades, as it combines modular genre elements to allow for a variety of desires. This game was designed for fans of cyberpunk, action movies, heist films, and beyond. Also, there is a ton of supporting resources out there like character/crew sheets, cards, and more.
As with any Forged in the Dark system, there is a moderate learning curve to overcome for new players. Additionally, some players may not love the idea of having to front load so many collaborative ideas into a single setting. I have gamed with many players who just want to roll dice and not think about world building.
Adrenaline is awesome! It hits so many sweet spots when it comes to gameplay, genre and modularity/customization, that the potential replay value is nearly endless. Anyone who even remotely likes Blades in the Dark must give Adrenaline a try.