Convention Play/Short Heists

Has anyone used BitD for a short one-off (or if not 1, few) game such as convention play.

If so, did you

  • Just print out a bunch of playsheets and crew sheets and go at it?
  • Have pre-made characters set up with a sample score?
  • Have to introduce folks to the game? Did that slow it down appreciably?
  • Did you have to skimp on some of the rules (downtime, etc)?
  • Or did you have time to play through more than one heist?
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Maybe this article from @stras is helpful?


I’ve run a couple of one-shots at cons, and found that while it’s easy to showcase a heist from start to finish, the downtime cycle and the faction game do kind of suffer as a result, since these are things that really shine in a longer campaign. To that end, last February I ran a 3 session game at TotalCon in Boston, and it was a blast. I encouraged everyone to sign up for all three sessions, but it wasn’t required, as the events of each session were set two years apart. I drew up a one-page description for 9 of the districts, each one including a slice of the map, notable locations and factions in the area, and a starting situation for the crew to get involved in.

Session 1 saw a newly minted street gang of some stripe or another (I narrowed the Crew choices to Assassins, Bravos, and Shadows) trying to get a foothold. All character playbooks were available, but I had gone ahead and created “semi-pregens”, filling in some recommended action dot ratings and special abilities in advance, which the players were free to change if they wanted (turns out none of them did, so I guess I made good choices). Starting district choices were Charhollow, Coalridge, or the Docks. Factions on offer were smaller groups like the Lost, the Billhooks, Ulf Ironborn, the Gray Cloaks. I also made it clear that with many of these, someone else was pulling their strings.

Session 2 fast forwarded two years, so now the gang’s established, they’ve moved up in Tier, gained some claims and some territory, and are moving in larger circles, having expanded their operations to either Barrowcleft, Nightmarket, or Silkshore. New friends and foes have also come along, the likes of the Dimmer Sisters, the Path of Echoes, the Brigade, the Grinders, and the Hive.

Session 3 fast forwarded again, and once again the crew has moved up in the world. Now they’ve moved on to either Charterhall, Six Towers, or Brightstone, and they’re starting to deal with some of the real movers and shakers in the city, like the Ministry of Preservation, the Leviathan Hunters, the Foundation, Lord Scurlock, the Circle of Flame, the Church of the Ecstasy of the Flesh.

I placed specific factions in specific districts to give their actions context and position the conflicts they were embroiled in thematically. I left out Dunslough, Whitecrown, and Crow’s Foot, mainly because they were out of the scope of the game I wanted to run (in the case of the first two), or the starting situation had already been done to death (in the latter case, though I did use it as a template for the other starting situations).

Mechanically, I still greatly abbreviated the downtime stuff, limiting it mainly to the payout and entanglements, so the crew can see the fallout of their actions and how the rest of the city is affected. I also didn’t track XP, but just allowed them to level up a couple of times if they showed up for the next session, which most of them did. Out of 5 player slots at the table, 4 of the players were in for all 3 sessions. One guy only signed up for session 1, but his character made a cameo as an NPC in session 3 (in Ironhook, no less).

I’m working on writing up my notes for the whole thing, but for now the district sheets are available at I’m also working on simplified character sheets, without sections for XP and downtime stuff, suitable for one-shots and the like.

– Ben


I’ve never done a con, but I have run Blades as a one-shot several times and found that it suits the format really well, including for an online group half of whom had never played a tabletop RPG before. Because the core concepts are fiction-led and mechanically light but well structured, it didn’t slow things down very much to explain how it worked, nor to make up characters as I’ve never made pre-gens. If I had more limited time, I might do, but I think people engage more with characters they’ve created for themselves. The ‘just print out a bunch of playsheets and crew sheets and go at it’ method has always worked for me.

In retrospect, I have thought about whether there was much point in using a crew sheet at all for a one-shot, but I think it depends on the intent of the session. It might not be necessary to go into much detail with it, but if you’re giving the players freedom to choose their own adventure, then it’s a good way to let them get a feel for their place in the world. It might not mean much mechanically, but it can be good for player engagement if you have the time for it.

For the score itself, I made a couple of starter scores ages back that players have found really fun, and it’s been great as a GM to see how differently the same score can go when tackled by different crews, but I’ve also tried out the score generation tables in the book and found them a genuinely effective way of getting into it.

As for downtime, it generally only goes as far as the payoff and that’s your lot, not a lot of point in doing more unless there’s a narrative complication that came up in play that someone wants to see how it plays out. The one time the group did want to see the whole of downtime through, it accidentally turned into a long-term game I now have/get to run every time I visit my hometown. :grin:

It’s true that there are parts of what makes Blades great that you just don’t get in a one-shot, but it shines like gold in the way it gets you straight into the action, and because of the fairly distinct free play -> score -> downtime structure, it crucially doesn’t feel like you’re playing half a game, just a game that fills its play time really efficiently with as much action and danger as possible.

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Actually, that’s a lie, it can be worth going one step further into downtime: heat. Because it’s funny. One-shots have a habit of going a little gonzo, so finishing off with the terrible consequences of their antics is totally worth it.


I was thinking about this recently. One of the things I was thinking about was who would care about trauma?

What if you ran it like grizzled retired veteran scoundrels coming together for one more job? They’re rusty and retired so they don’t have quite as much tier but maybe have an OK stash fortune roll and some loose coin.

Give them a couple extra points and picks, but check a few trauma conditions. Ask why they’re coming together for this job. Is it going to finally clear their friend’s name? Someone finally found out who betrayed them and now it’s a revenge job to take them down, ruin them, or end them? Are they all running out of money so it’s that big score before they skip town on a boat to anywhere else for good? That choice could inform what crew sheet you hand them.

Maybe give them 1 or 2 chances to trauma out of a scene but keep going, but after that how do they go down? Do they die? Get busted? Take the fall so the rest can get away?

Great opportunities for free play scenes as the person instigating the last job brings the crew together. The retired spider watches from the balcony of her run down running out of money gambling den as that mad Whisper walks through the door. What do they want after all these years?

Downtime becomes all flashbacks. Acquiring assets or running a project. It becomes more focused on that cost though. Only let them spend their “starting coin” for boosting results and ignore the alternate coin cost for flashback downtime activities. Don’t have any 8 slice project clocks.


came here to read the advice, stayed just to tell ben that he did an absolutely fantastic job with that game!