I love Blades. I run it, I’m hacking it, I evangelize.
But I’m realizing I keep snagging on something with my group. We are very cinematic and action oriented and like to keep a fast pace during action scenes, and I find we often are skipping right past a lot of the “setup” for action rolls, like determining position, effect, consequences, etc. Players narrate and roll, I narrate with consequence. It’s fast, but it has its own problems (players can feel like the consequences are arbitrary, especially when facing something like a ghost where we don’t have real world common sense to draw from).
So here’s my question: How can my group include more of those action roll steps, without losing action pacing and narrative momentum? Is this something anyone else has experienced, or is Blades (devastatingly) just not the best fit for my group’s blow-by-blow action play-style?
In our group we love to narrate and are 90% of the time in character and rarely out of character as players. We have found that we explain the setup in character and those setting scene moments. An example of this from one of our sessions:
Crew is infiltrating a warehouse where some black market items are stored but also our target is located (we are assassins). Two of the characters are sneaking in one way, my character Minerva (Samaat playbook) is running interference and entering from the other end of the warehouse. Darkness and mist of the light rain surround all and multiple guards pace back and forth on the outside and in.
“Minerva watches as her crew mates enter through a back window and heads around the front, still shrouded by the rain and fog of the night. Knowing the guards rounds and steps she pushes herself to become like water and situates herself to latch onto a guard as he walks through the puddles and into the building, his shift changing.”
Her position is risky and effect is great due to her ability and how she narrated her actions. Moving forward in the story she changes from water into a mist form, sneaking through the building and taking harm from maintaining the form but gaining position and effect for taking out the guards.
“The condensation being densest in this corridor it seems to rise and fall as the guard walks through.”
“I sneak up behind him then enter his lungs to suffocate him.”
She is a mist and is hidden, she had controlled position and extreme effect on this action, and crit in session. Might I add that I am not doing that scene justice as the RP was glorious.
We naturally include these steps without it hampering our RP and action scenes but it can take practice. As a GM in my campaign it took me asking 'How did so and so prepare or set up this action?" for a few sessions consistently for my players to catch on and add that information into how they did an action. It may be a table thing for you but asking and making this part of the mechanics normal the players will adjust. It may be a slight adjustment to get to where you all feel comfortable with it but once you do, you won’t really notice those as stopping the action, but adding to them.
Let me know if this helps!
At one point we noticed the same thing happening in our group. We had to consciously cultivate the habit that any time a player reached for the dice, I had to stop and tell them their Position, their Effect, and summarize the possible Consequences of a 1-3 and a 4/5 (that they would be aware of).
It sounds like your group gets caught up in the narrative like mine! But it sounds like you are just allowing position and consequences to be intuit and implicit? That’s how we tend to play too, but I feel like being explicit is important to elements of the game. But when we remember to be explicit, it stops the action a bit. We get a long fine, but I wonder if we’re missing out on the intended rhythm of the game a bit.
Totally. I feel like this habit goes against the grain of habits built in other games, like D&D, too, so it’s hard. But have you found that once you got the habit, action scenes still flowed smoothly? It’s just hard for me to picture in play.
Takes practice and effort I will give you that. We let the fiction of the story dictate the position and consequences whether they seem implicit or explicit. Most of the time they are both and that did take us some time to get it to that point. High synergy between the characters/players and GM/situation.
I wouldn’t say you are missing the intended rhythm of the game as the rhythm changes per table and how you choose to play. Do what works for you and you table. If that means adding more of a dash of explicit set up by narrating the ‘action’ of it then do so. If you are fully behind the fiction and add that element to other mechanics of the game then they will begin to use it as well.
Setting up position, effect, consequences and devil bargains are just another tool in our box of expression in the game. My tables love using these are additional ways to express their characters, their beliefs, and drives. Having a motive behind the setup can earn XP as well as showcase RP that otherwise will never be shown.
Totally. It only takes a couple of moments to say (for example) “your position is Risky, your Effect is Standard, on a 1-3 you’re looking at Level 2 Harm, and on a 4-5 it’s Level 1 Harm.”
The other important thing for me to remember is after every roll we go through the mechanics of the result (“you got a 4, Level 1 Harm, care to Resist?”, etc), but then the operative phrase for me is “Here’s what that looks like…”, and I give the full description of the action.
That phrase also goes a looooong way toward preventing downtime actions from feeling too mechanical.
In my crew we don’t outright state consequences before a roll is made. The scoundrels don’t have precognition and won’t know for sure what the outcome is; it is to be speculated based on position. Besides, if they roll a 6 the consequences won’t matter.
Typically, as soon as a player mentions an Action, the GM will quickly state the Position and Effect without missing a beat. “Tinker”, “Controlled-Standard”; “Command”, “Desperate-Greater”. If either side needs clarification, or wants to improve something they can make further statements or questions. Otherwise the dice are rolled.
This tends to work out smoothly, although what typically makes the players reassess or backtrack is if they here they have Limited Effect. Some will push themselves, while others will take a totally different approach.
I have come across the same thing. I love a fast, tense scene, where everyone is engaged, the “camera” is shifting rapidly between characters, where words (even between GM and players) are clipped and staccato. Things are moving.
Blades has a different rhythm. The mechanics are constructed to foster a storytelling dialogue where everyone at the table has narrative power, and that does slow things down.
Setting position and effect before each roll is part of that (especially if you allow the players to reconsider their approach to a situation if they don’t like what they hear), but so are the flashback system and the teamwork actions. These change the rhythm of play, purposefully allowing the players to collaborate to set up cool moments in the story, moving back and forth in time and weighing radically different courses of action before settling on one – so they naturally disrupt the dramatic flow of the scene.
It’s quite different if you’re used to games that don’t incorporate so much “meta” play directly into the system. You don’t necessarily get the same sense of moment-to-moment immersion. There’s a lot more player-at-the-table level thinking that has to happen.
That said, if the players commit to actions (not reconsidering if the position/effect are tough), learn to choose action ratings appropriately, know the teamwork rules and use them efficiently, and are bold with their flashbacks and definitive with their resistance rolls, I think the game can speed up and get some of that in-the-moment intensity back. You kinda have to play like a badass.
Thanks everyone! It’s nice to know that I’m not the only one, but that you’ve found your way through things. This has definitely not gotten in the way of us having fun or loving the game. I’m just always curious about how different games bring out different play experiences.
And yes. Drive it like a stolen car. 100%.