Heat and Blowback outside Entanglements?

My co-DM and I are having a bit of trouble figuring out how to play blowback from rival factions outside of entanglements. The crew’s pissed off a lot of people, and just going with entanglements makes the other factions seem way too timid. As rookie season Blades GMs, we’ve been a bit reluctant to pile too much hurt on the crew outside of the entanglement rolls.

My question is about how to play this. I see several obvious alternatives.

a) Choose entanglements rather than rolling them to reflect the fiction (rather than having the fiction backfilled on top of the roll—Gang Trouble? hmm, which cohort did what this time?)
b) Have other factions retaliate during free play.
c) Have defensive plays and counter-offensives spawn a score of some kind.
d) All of the above.
e) None of the above.

If (b) is in play, how do you deal with session management? I could easily see devoting an entire session to defense, which seems to rob the crew of their score. That’s why I’m asking about ( c ), whether to just transition into a score at some point, and if so, when?

Running over is logistically messy for us because of player obligations, as is continuing next session because real-world entanglements tend to give us a varying group of players each session.

This question is also related to some trouble I’ve had deciding when to fade from free play into a score. Given that the engagement roll only covers the first action, I wonder what to do in situations where the first thing the crew wants to do is use their cohort to create a distraction to set up an assault. Is the set up action then the one governed by the engagement roll?

Not sure I can help but let me try. I’ve never given Entanglements much weight; they are short scenes that add a little trouble or allow others to learn about the crew. The real blowback for my players usually comes afterwards. Defensive plays are one option, but what I also like to do is send them, unbeknownst to them, on suicide missions that were designed as traps by factions that, in secret, hired them to get revenge. My favourite mode of play is that faction A hires the crew to attack faction B, B takes revenge on A and the crew must intervene, or retaliate etc. The next score is closely connected to the previous one and often PCs have to deal with the fallout. The Bluecoats investigate them and are building a case behind the scenes, bothering them during entanglements, but major blowback comes in form of scores. Hostages can be taken from faction A that must be rescued by the crew, important artefacts can be stolen from the crew, ambushes during free play, cursed objects that curiously find their way into the hands of a PC, false evidence is planted, the PCs must relocate their HQ. There are tons of ways to make your players pay. A major blowback is the status dropping to -3.

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I’ve seen this question come up a number of times, and I had to work through it when I began running the game too. Mr. Harper has said that entanglements are extra trouble – the special cost of doing business in Duskvol – but should not get in the way of fictionally generated trouble the crew brings on themselves.

I think your option d is the correct answer. All of the above, depending on the fiction and what you and your players are interested in.
Sometimes a rival gang might take an action in freeplay, and the players can react there. (There’s a great example of this in the Bloodletters campaign.)
Sometimes the pcs may take the initiative in reacting (“I flashback to my character carousing in the neighborhood taverns and catching wind of the impending raid on our lair. Gather information roll – a 5. Can I get +1d on an engagement roll for the ambush score we’re setting for them?”)
Sometimes you can choose an entanglement that fits the fiction perfectly. Do it! But also let other threats manifest.
The crew has a lot of tools at their disposal to deal with trouble. Letting them use those tools is awesome. A group I run for recently ended up at war with the Ministry of Preservation. An entanglement I rolled was “a rival faction takes one of your claims…” Perfect! They ceded the claim, but then did their next score against one of the Ministry’s enemies and used a flashback mid-score to illustrate meeting with a ministry official to negotiate the end of the war based on their actions against this mutual enemy. They even got their claim back.

Let trouble flow from the fictional world. Who has grievances? What do they know about the crew’s weaknesses? What are they doing to learn more? What does the crew have that others want? What tools do these rivals have, and how do they like to employ them?

Going from freeplay to score can be muddy sometimes. I’ve run events in freeplay, and then said, “I think that was actually a score – let’s do payoff and downtime.” In your example question, I think there are at least a few ways you could do it. One is to start the score off with the cohort’s action. Another is to start with the crew and flash back to see how the cohort did (I like this one). A third would be to roll fortune for the cohort and use the result to influence the engagement roll (+1/-1d?). It boils down to the players’ intent, and what seems fun to the table as a whole. Ask your players what they’re going for, which idea they like, and let that help you decide.


This is the Bloodletters session I referenced – a good watch if you haven’t seen it: