Flashback Action Failed -- Now What?

OK, so a flashback can require an Action.

If the Action succeeds, nice, the flashed back tactic worked. The crew feels clever and the score rolls forward.

If it’s a partial success, cool, they did it, but at a cost. Heat from evidence left behind or ticks on an alert clock are obvious choices of consequence here.

But what about failure? Like, they paid the stress, flashed back, tried to do the thing and… failed? And there’s a consequence? But if they know they failed, wouldn’t that change the crew’s approach? Or tip off the target?

Is the flashback just, it doesn’t work? I guess that makes sense, but it feels weird and there doesn’t seem to be an example of how to handle this outcome gracefully in either Blades in the Dark or Scum and Villainy. Only the happier paths are portrayed.

Feels awkward. Anyone have a great way to handle this?


I would probably say it’s a failure, but in such a way that the failure and consequence don’t manifest until you’re back from the flashback. So, for example, if they’re using the flashback to pay off a Bluecoat to look the other way the night of the score, oops! Turns out that particular Bluecoat got reassigned, and now there’s a different officer on duty. Or, more dramatically, maybe the Bluecoat they paid off is under investigation for corruption, and now there are three Inspectors on the scene to catch him in the act.

If the purpose of the flashback action is to achieve some goal outside of the flashback, then that’s probably where you should manifest the failure — not least of all because that makes it easier to avoid time travel paradoxes.


I love this! During the flashback, the Action ostensibly succeeded, but then we flash forward to the present where a surprise problem is revealed. Now what?

So elegant! So dramatic!

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Hi Brian,

Always enjoy reading your posts and replies on here. I’m currently running my very first Blades campaign, which just so happens to be my first time as GM, or my first real deep dive into a TTRPG so suffice to say, take what I have to offer with a pinch of salt or two!

This happened on my very first Score. Our Scoundrels decided he had gambled with an NPC to acquire the key to a mansion cellar entrance. Flashback ensued, and naturally, it failed. By that point though we had already dived into the Flashback fiction, and so… we just kept going. Plan failed, so what’s the new plan? All within the Flashback. We ended up falling down a really hilarious and super entertaining rabbit hole, where our players were having to claw back a result that ended up fulfilling the original intention of the Flashback: getting the key. I think we spent a good day and a half in-game time in that stupid flashback, exploring a sub-adventure with ups and downs all of its own. You can’t imagine how relieved we felt when I could finally say… ‘you have the bloody key!’.

It was convoluted and daft, but at the same time, the making of our first adventure. Everyone knew it was absurd and everyone enjoyed it for that reason.

Having read @SymbolicCity’s reply, it seems so obvious now that the niftier approach was to simply return to the present moment, and have the gambled key turn out to be a dud. But that’s inexperience for you!

Anyway, I thought I’d share because while my approach wasn’t an elegant solution to that problem… it did end up being an entertaining one.


Hi, JackI Thanks, that’s really nice of you to say!

Congrats on starting to GM! Isn’t it the GREATEST THING?

But wow OK, your rabbithole of nested flashbacks?

I love this! So inelegant! So dramatic!

I love the way the stakes keep escalating as the crew doubles down on each failure, in a hole but continuing to dig, doomed gamblers trying to claw back to the break-even surface, growing more and more desperate and frenzied as the tunnel of nested flashbacks threatens to collapse.

I like to imagine your crew flashing back for an entire session, finally popping the stack, gripping this gleaming key, they unlock the door and the MacGuffin is just sitting there on a shelf.

“OK, Downtime. Let’s start with the Payoff.”

Like, just throw the prep away, that was an adventure!


“Okay, downtime! I see that you each have 3 trauma and 7 stress, so… anyone want to indulge their vice?”


Haha yeah, you’re basically both right.

I have a feeling tunneling Flashbacks of escalating misery, might become something of a trademark feature for our game.

Thanks for the kind welcome, chaps.