Feedback requested - Did I do things right?

Hey all, tldr: I’m recording our Band of Blades sessions for a future podcast project and could use your help. I’m the GM, and 2/3rd of the group has prior FitD experience. We had our first session (Zora’s starting mission) recently and I’ve been reviewing it as I’ve been editing the audio, and I just feel like I didn’t nail the tense and gritty tone at all. Can you listen (link here) to my group breaching the keep and exfiltrating the Commander and offer me some constructive criticism on how I might better run the game? Am I just spinning myself up?

Through luck and careful positioning, the group managed to completely avoid detection or suffer any consequences (minus stress from a few low rolls on otherwise successful group actions). The uncharacteristically good rolling completely threw me off, and before I knew it the mission was just a total cake walk. I spent WAY too long setting the scene (off the recording) and then felt like I had to make up ground in the session to not end it midway through the mission, but that ended up meaning the sewers were basically empty and Render’s troops were busy at the gates with Zora (who was critting on every clock roll). By the end or the session, no harm was doled out, no dead rookies, and no trauma (though 2 players had 5 stress)… I just feel like I completely dropped the session by not finding ways to inject more danger and tension, but I was so focused on trying to make sure my players understood the mechanics and how to play that I just… didn’t.

I’ve uploaded a rough edit of our session and time-stamped it to the one combat encounter in the entire session: the squad breaching the keep and saving the Commander. The ‘action’ kicks off about 15-20 minutes after the stamp, but I started it there so you’d see how I manage their attempts to plan their breach in case their were errors there. I’m hoping you all can give it a listen and really give me some constructive feedback. I’m a bit embarrassed and nervous to share because I was so confident going into the session, but now that it’s done I feel like I have so much more work to be done to make our next session let alone the rest of the campaign fun.

Good on you for making this thing. I listened from the in point you provided. It’s clear you are interested in engaging your players and making their characters feel cool, and in making their options clear enough for them to make satisfying choices.

From a gameplay/tension/grit standpoint.
I would simply advise you to have additional challenges up your sleeve and ready to deploy. If a party trounces your main encounter too easily, the next thing they hear is a slow clap as the “real” threat makes itself himself known. This can obviously conflict with real-world time constraints, but one way I deal with it (I run a 2.5 hour-per-session BitD campaign) is to quickly resolve encounters that are clearly going my players’ way (by making their good rolls result in extra-cool successes) and having those extra encounters ready. These extra challenges are often of the sort that can “roll over” from session to session until I actually need them.

From a podcasting/editing standpoint:
When editing, I suggest taking out as much “meta stuff” as you can stand to. Second-guessing, thinking out loud, deciding which alternative is going to be the “true” one. For instance, you don’t need to include all the explication of ways into the keep or all the player discussion of infiltration techniques. If you have good editing points, leave that out. It can make listeners impatient. (All the stuff I’m describing absolutely does happen at my table, but I’d probably leave 80% of it out of an edited audio version.) A lot of the talk in any game session is about things that don’t happen, and don’t ultimately advance the story.

I also think your scene-setting in this clip tends toward the practical/mechanical rather than the sensory/evocative. You might want to include both — one primarily for your players’ benefit and one for the listeners’ — and then skew toward the evocative in the final product. There will inevitably result in some back-and-forth between the two modes during your sessions, but I think it will give you good material for the final track, and encourage you to “paint the scene” in a way that is also enticing for your players.

It sounds to me like you’ve got the makings of a compelling podcast.


Also, note that the first mission is easy : all players have no stress and players don’t know yet how hard it is to get rid of stress so they tend to spend it until their track is almost full. It’s good, the choices will be that much harder down the road. :smiling_imp:

Thank you so much, Jay, I really appreciate all of your thoughtful feedback! I’ll take it all to heart.

Can I ask for examples of the kinds of challenges that can roll over between sessions? I would love to keep a collection of evergreen challenges and obstacles in my notes for exactly this type of situation. I’vd thought up a few that seem mission/location agnostic and that I can drop into sessions as needed but a little inspiration could go a long way!

On the editing front, I completely agree with you! I should have clarified in my OP that I don’t actually plan to use most of the session audio for the podcast, but rather will be trimming out specific moments for discussion at a later date. I figure there are enough actual play podcasts out there, maybe there’s an opportunity for an actual play-adjacent show! Regardless of how I intend to use the recording, I will definitely action your point regarding scene setting. Once upon a time, I was 100% sensory/evocative when setting scenes often at the detriment of mechanical factors. Always a delicate balance, but you are 100% right that it serves the listening audience and will keep them engaged, and I can’t imagine my players being upset about a bit more detail.

My experience with this mostly relates to D&D and Blades in the Dark, so ymmv, but here are some things I use:

Lieutenants. A big bad is going to need some middle managers. These can amp up the challenge in an encounter, especially if they travel with an personal guard or carry a special weapon or tech. They can also give a nice preview of things to come, and make the ultimate villain more dastardly by association: what kind of jerk hires people like this guy? A lieutenant can usually be added or removed on the fly, being an independent unit of challenge. If you don’t end up using one in a particular session, you can still drop some hints about them to create anticipation.

Shock troops. Similar to Lieutenants, but don’t require much personality or prep. A unit of Uruk-hai dropped in among the orcs makes them much more threatening, and being elites they only fight If necessary. If they turn out too powerful, a few of the them can scornfully exit the field with the excuse that they are “reporting back” to HQ. Their callousness toward their own overrun comrades may make them seem even meaner.

Prototypes. Whether magical or mechanical, ground troops are going to be the (un)lucky ones who do live-fire testing with new means of wreaking havoc. If one proves ineffective against the heroes’ party, it still provides data to the sorcerer or artificer to use on their next iteration. What’s convenient about this is that a tough challenge can be ramped down if needed for challenge or time (the experimental ectoplasmic array overheats, disabling the ghost cannon) while still building the sense that the enemy will get tougher in the future.

Pincer movement or tactical retreat. The enemy you’re fighting is only half the force, or is only there to draw the party in so a different unit can mount an attack. You can have this in your back pocket for those times when the party just overwhelms an encounter. It doesn’t have to mean big numbers of combatants — maybe the new arrival is just a real tank of a guy who couldn’t keep up with our heroes on open ground, but now he’s got them trapped in a big, round room.

I hope you find this helpful!

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Giving a listen right now, but advice from someone who has run through the entire campaign once and has a couple years experience with a few other FitD games: that’s just how it goes sometimes. Some missions end up being cakewalks. It happens. As long as your players are finding it fun, you’re golden.

Some notes: excellent redirection of the players when they started getting bogged down in “let’s over-discuss our plan in deep detail before committing.” So good job on pointing out they shouldn’t chase the “what ifs” and instead just say what they do, thinking about it like a scene in a movie “what’s the coolest thing to see happen here?”

However, I did notice you seemed to have told one of the players “don’t do that” or “that would be a bad idea” – I’m thinking specifically of the Medic player saying “it would be cool if I rushed in and slit his throat!” Which it sounded like you shut down. He was telling you outright what was cool and what he wanted the fiction to look like. It’s important that, when a player does that, to press on it hard and give them the options to succeed at it.

Remember, a player doesn’t have to use a particular action: slitting a throat doesn’t have to be a Skirmish check. It could be a Scout. It could be a Maneuver. Heck, it could be a Wreck. Depending on the fiction. Plus they can push to get a die, they can take a DB, they can get an assist. They might have potency, even at 0d (doctors know where all the most deadly places to hit are). The action used is always the player’s choice. Then you, as GM, decide how difficult doing whatever they’ve described would be, and how effective the outcome. (And they can change their mind after that.)

Other advice:

  • Don’t be afraid to use pre-emptive Resistance rolls (page 13), especially with the big, bad enemies (Threat 3 and up). “The enemy does a thing to you/the squad. Do you let it stand, or do you want to resist that?”
  • Don’t forget to use clocks for enemies greater than Threat 1: for getting past them, for taking them down, etc. Basically, require more actions to succeed than just a single roll.
  • Remember the fiction: armored enemies (like the Cinderguard) aren’t affected by blackshot (and are resistant to musket fire), unless you get through their armor first, or find a way around it. This a good time to make use of requiring multiple actions to achieve a success, or to start an action at either “No Effect” or “Limited Effect” unless the players push or gain potency.

Thank you SO MUCH for this feedback! I really appreciate the specific advice/notes, as well as the thought and time that went into your response. I also agree with you regarding my shutting down of a player; When it happened I knew it was bad, but I was really trying to make the session less of a cakewalk and thought it was just not realistically possible. But you are totally right, my job isn’t to protect my precious mission or preserve a sense of difficulty. It’s to make my players feel like badass soldiers fighting a grim, dark, and devious enemy who wants to rip their heart out and eat it in front of them. If they want to slit someone’s throat, that’s totally cool even if it ruins my plans. Tell me how you want to do it, and let me tell you what I think the difficulty is and how effective it might be.

I’ll definitely keep your words in mind next time we run, I feel like I’ve got a lot to work on but it’s all within reach!