Game design: Touchstones

Let's talk touchstones for a moment. Not only is Blades in the Dark one of my favorite TTRPG systems, but I am also well aware that there are already plenty of other systems out there that can either be tweaked to run heists or that are in themselves already heist-oriented like BitD (e.g.: Dusk City OutlawsFor Blood and CoinHoney Heist,  Night's Black AgentsShadowrun), however, in terms of touchstones, these games remind me of more traditional heist media along the lines of Assassin's Creed (video games), Fast & Furious (media franchise), Inception (movie), Mission: Impossible (media franchise), Ocean's (media franchise), Peaky Blinders (TV show), Prison Break (TV show), The Driver (movie), Thief (video game), Thief: Deadly Shadows (video game), and Thief Simulator (video game).

While those touchstones do have elements of traditional theft that I wanted to include in HAT, I also wanted my game to go beyond the most common trope. In order for it to remain loyal to its source, I needed the game to be about more than just thieves stealing stuff to fill their pockets. It needed to be about honor, teamwork, and stealing only from other criminals.  When trying to think about what made HAT different from these other systems, the touchstones I had in mind were only four: Leverage (TV show), Now You See Me (media franchise), Sly Cooper franchise (video games),  and To Steal From a Thief (movie).

Why is this important? Because there are so many different variations within each media genre (action, comedy, historical, investigation, political intrigue,  romance, etc.) that mentioning the overall theme is not sufficient to evoke the vibe you're trying to go with for your game. Saying that HAT is a game about thieves doing heists does not capture the game's essence. For this reason, the right Touchstones can help convey to the players the tone and mood you want your game to have, long before they even start reading about its mechanics.

While the Leverage: The Roleplaying Game already exists, not many people know about it since its sales seem to have been discontinued. Also, the PDF is 210 pages long. My idea for HAT was to make a small FitD hack where, if you took out all the fluff (cover page, index, credits, etc., character sheets,  handouts...) the actual rules section would be small, straight to the point, and easy to learn. I also wanted it to be a bit more lighthearted and forgiving than the original BitD.

My point is (and I don't think I can ever say this enough): the premise of HAT is that you're "master thieves, who only steal from other criminals". This is not limited to gang members, but also includes other corrupt members of society (a corrupt cop, a corrupt politician, the corrupt president of a non-profit organization, etc.). But, if you're running a session of HAT to simply have your thieves steal an artifact from a museum only for their own profit, then you could be playing HAT or any other system - you're not being true to what this game is all about and you're not playing it how it was designed to be played. The core values of the game are meant to be honor and teamwork, not greed.

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