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Written April 22, 2021

Cascade is a sci-fi thriller tabletop role-playing game about solving complicated problems using strange tools while under high time pressure and emotional duress.

The core rules are mostly solidified but it is still a work in progress. I intend to add some setting modules to help kickstart games, and to eventually lay the game out in a zine format.

Cascade is forged in the dark. For now I’m working under the assumption that you’ve already read Blades in the Dark or a similar RPG.

The Blades in the Dark



Actions from Blades in the Dark are called Approaches in Cascade. You might ask “how are you approaching this?” or “what’s your approach here?”

The actions are:

Fight someone; defend yourself from an attack; pull two people apart; survive or add to a chaotic brawl.

Scramble into a new position; climb, swim, run jump, and tumble; dodge out of the way; maintain or recover your balance.

Withstand an attack or harsh circumstance; soldier on despite great setbacks; ignore or recover from wounds or illness.

Swagger with confidence or bluster; intimidate, impress, or trick someone; fit in with a group or a crowd.

Imagine futures, pasts, and impossibilities; recognize patterns; express yourself creatively; take part in ritual; express empathy and love.

Lurk unnoticed; sneak and hide; take subtle action; blend into a crowd; ambush an unsuspecting enemy.

Focus intently on something, take time to study something or someone closely, hold your breath, keep your cool while doing something scary.

Scan the room to get a general impression; make snap judgements; keep watch; pick something out from a jumble.

Fix a broken tool; sabotage, hack, modify, or build something; treat a wound; understand & diagnose a complex system.

Instead of having dots in each approach, your character has 4 (maybe 5?) approaches that you can rely on: when you roll for these approaches, you get an extra die.

Making rolls

Making a roll follows these steps:


Attributes are used for resisting. Each attribute is equal to the number of actions under that stat you have. You also have one favored attribute that you get a +1 bonus to.

Hard is from Fight, Scramble, and Withstand. Use it to resist consequences from physical harm.

Cool is from Swagger, Imagine, and Lurk. Use it to resist consequences from emotions and social interactions.

Sharp is from Focus, Scan, and Fix. Use it to resist consequences from mistakes or misfortune and complex situations.


Maxing out stress doesn’t cause trauma. Instead, you reset your stress, suffer minor harm and trigger a stress response of your choice. Stress responses are actions you must undertake that will cause problems for the group.


Don’t be scared of stress responses! Take this as an opportunity to step back and have a little fun causing a mess before diving back into the problem solving.


I don’t like clocks for most situations. You can use the threat definition rules (below) for things that qualify as threats. For other tasks where a clock might make sense (like “I’m working on fixing up this truck a bit every evening”), instead make a to-do list with 1, 2, 3, or 4 items on it depending on difficulty.

Risk & Reward

Position is renamed to risk and effect is renamed to reward. The risk levels are reliable, risky, desperate. The reward levels are half-measure, plan, gambit. Communicated to the players like “That’s a reliable plan”, “That’s a desperate gambit”, “That’s a risky half-measure”. Default is risky plan.

Bonus reward levels for special circumstances: folly (no effect), decisive gambit (incredible effect)

Because there are no clocks, reward won’t ever be about how many segments get filled. Instead, plans can complete a task fully, half-measures only half-complete a task (another half-measure will finish it), and gambits get you halfway to accomplishing a second thing.


Players are expected to write down everything they have available to them (on their person, on their spaceship, etc), and any rules about how it works if it’s not intuitive. You can’t ad-hoc invent gear: if it’s not written down you don’t have it. Make sure you’re prepared.

Some tools will (ideally) be Strange, which is to say, unfamiliar to the players, maybe because it is very specific, or science-fictional, or supernatural, or whatever else. Everyone should be in agreement in how the tool works, maybe even writing down the things that are decided about it.

If you end up in the situation where there’s something you haven’t written down that nevertheless you should obviously have available to you (and everyone agrees), roll a die. On a 4-6, you do indeed have it. On a 1-3, it’s true that you should have it, but it’s missing, or broken, or otherwise has an unexpected issue.


Your expertise is the thing that you will always be assumed to be capable of. For specialized tasks, not having an appropriate expertise may make your approach desperate or a half-measure. For non-specialized tasks, a relevant expertise might make your approach reliable or a gambit.


The harm system works similar to blades. Minor harm has no effect. Major harm causes reduced effect when relevant. With severe harm, you can’t take relevant actions unless you have help or push yourself.


You can help one another to give the other player an extra die. No stress cost, but it does mean you can’t be doing something else at the same time. If your problems come one at a time, it should be fine!


There aren’t any. You are entirely unprepared for what comes next. Good luck!

Making characters

How to teach the game:

MC agendas:

Player agendas:

How to make interesting problems

Principles of problems: