Handling Wars

Greetings Scoundrels !

It seems the time has come for my band to get in a war. They have angered the Rail Jacks, and pushes are coming to shanks.

But I’m quite confused as to how to handle the nitty gritty bits of the war. On one side, there’s a bunch of shadows with a secret lair ; on the other hand, there’s a bunch of public servants, with limited numbers and limited free time to break legs.

So far, the Rail Jacks clearly have the physical advantage - numbers and willingness to break legs. Also they’re clearly the provoked side : my band flipped their fence, refused to comply after being threatened, refused to comply after some of their friends got threatened, and also stole a briefcase in clear view in a crowded Gaddoc Station, an affair that ended with a smoke bomb and fisticuffs.

I don’t think any side is willing nor able to utterly destroy the other. But I’m not sure on how to handle a parley for peace.
My first instinct would be to involve larger organisations to negotiate at a higher scale, but it doesn’t seem very fun, and I’m not sure my daring scoundrels would follow that lead.

I’m looking for inspiration more than ideas, even if both are welcome !
So, how did Wars go at your table ? What are some good ways to handle this kind of friction like adults ? How did your band manage to clear things up with their sworn enemies ?

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Maybe it could be a blackmail arrangement? If you’re shadows are the dominant type, they could dig up some dirt on the Rail Jacks’ leaders and force the war to finish

As far as inspiration, I immediately think of The Wire which is full of realistic gang wars. Usually they go like the bigger but slower moving organization ramps up for a big beat down by acquiring assets like heavy weapons and extra muscle to try to ge them all at once (a clock perhaps) while the the smaller faction tries to disrupt that clock while degrading their enemy’s will to keep fighting.

Something like that can be the overall superstructure to a war with Shadows. The Rail Jacks need to locate their hidden base (a clock) or trick them into a trap somewhere in the open before they can do a beatdown so theres quite a lot of process here to drag a story out and I think that if you telegraph that early it can build tension.

As for them being currently unwilling to destroy one another, that’s a question about escalation. Right now they want to make good on their threats to protect their reputation, but after the Shadows assassinate key figures in their organization or continue to embarrass them? I’d just play it out through as many scores as feels good and see how far it escalates.

Because of that, I’m a bit confused why there’s even a push to negotiate for peace coming from your direction? Do your Shadows want peace? It doesn’t sound like it. Do the Rail Jacks? It doesn’t sound like it either. I think it’s good realism to realize that other factions may have a stake in them making peace, like institutions that rely on the Rail Jacks and that they may get involved. My first thought isnt that they’d get involved for peace though. I think they’d want to dogpile on against your Shadows unless they had a good reason not to. Maybe making sure the, I dunno Sparkwrights, have a good reason not to pile on against your Shadows is an idea for a score.

Good luck, it sounds fun!

If your Shadows lair is still hidden the Railjacks should be starting clocks to find it. You can foreshadow this in fiction by having characters tailed, have them notice people staking out the streets around their base. Make them feel like they’re being harassed.

Then put that clock on the table “the Rail Jacks find your lair.”

Because of that, I’m a bit confused why there’s even a push to negotiate for peace coming from your direction? Do your Shadows want peace? It doesn’t sound like it. Do the Rail Jacks? It doesn’t sound like it either.

Well, in the rules, war only ends if peace is brokered or one of the parties is broken down. And they’ve got a lot of stuff on their hands, so I think they’ll want to end it ASAP. If only because they need the extra downtime actions !

While they pushed “daring” to “foolhardy”, they tend to prefer peace to trouble ; assassination is not on the table, but embarassing them ? Yeah I could see that.

All in all, I think you’re right - I don’t need to anticipate so much, we’ll see how they do it when they do it. Thanks !

Ah yeah good idea ! If they ask me for ideas I’ll keep that in mind.

I wouldn’t say they’re the dominant type, tho - more reckless than anything. We’ll see how it goes !

The first thing to do when the crew goes to war is to couch all the default drawbacks of war (+1 Heat from Scores, loss of 1 Hold, one Downtime Action instead of two per scoundrel) in the fiction. Describe how it’s harder for the crew to source supplies (“You see a few suspicious-looking toughs eyeing you when you had to the market for foodstuffs.”). Tell them that there are more eyes on them (in the form of inkrakes, politicians, Bluecoats, other gangs, etc.), and that the Rail Jacks have been spreading rumors that the crew aren’t to be trusted or worked with.

When the crew pull a Score, and it’d be at all possible for some Rail Jacks to interfere as a complication, have them do that! The Jacks will try to mess with the PC crew “even when it’s not in their best interest to do so.” So, maybe some Jacks skip work (and get reprimanded by their shift leader) in order to confront the crew during a heist.

Beyond that: Start a clock for some sort of strike on the crew! The Rail Jacks are going to want to hit the crew hard. It could be anything from a 4-clock for “Firebomb Crew Holdings,” to an 8-clock for “Release Ghost Cache in Crew Hideout.” (The Jacks probably have a stash of ornery spirits they’ve cleared off the rails, right?) Give the PCs a chance to prevent the attack (“You’ve been hearing rumors of a nearby Rail Jack social club gearing up for something big…”), but if they don’t, you can run the strike as a “Score” (probably an “Assault” Score) where the PCs need to protect their assets.

Ideally, the PCs should struggle to balance doing business as usual (assassinations, selling drugs, heists) with “defeating” the Jacks. If they focus entirely on business, the war will escalate and they’ll start losing important people/assets. If they focus entirely on the war, they’ll lose out on coin and lucrative Score opportunities. Eventually, either the crew or the Jacks will sue for peace (I find it’s rare that a war continues to the point where one Faction/crew is completely destroyed, and the mechanics make that a pretty onerous task when it comes to the mid/high Tiers.)

I had a Shadows crew that negotiated directly with the faction they were a war with. It might be risky or desperate but it was successful in getting the faction status to -2 from -3. The faction is still hostile but it is an improvement over dealing with war penalties.

A Shadows crew could perform espionage to find a member of the RailJacks that is open to dialog. Then use consort/sway/command to get them to convince their faction that war is not the best way to go.

I should also point out that in my game the war came from the result of an entanglement roll. So the crew wasn’t really wanting a war and it made fictional sense for them to negotiate.

In your game there may be fictional reasons that they should indeed be at war. I’m just pointing out it doesn’t have to be all or nothing and someone must destroy the other. The faction status can change, still be hostile, but not at war.


A lot of food for thoughts and ideas here, thanks everyone !

But I don’t see a lot of war stories from peoples’ tables. Come on, scoundrels, share some stories !