How do make foes not feel passive?

The way that BitD works, a PC in a fight attempts an action and as a result the opponent might get what they want, the PC gets what they want at a cost, or the PC gets what they want.

What techniques do you use to make the opposition active opponents in the fight and not just end up reacting to what the PCs do? How often do you have bad guys initiate something in a conflict, and how do you reflect that? Stating some injuries and allowing resistance rolls at certain times during a combat?

e.g. half way through a tavern brawl, the GM says “Darkon smashes a lamp onto the floor, and the straw quickly bursts into flame burning you badly/creating a diversion while he escapes”

Cheers

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Yes, I use the “a dangerous NPC can take the initiative” rule a fair bit - both the “skilled” version (“tell the players what the NPC is about to accomplish, then ask them what they do”) and the “master” version (“tell the players what the NPC has already done, then ask if they want to resist it”). I go off gut feeling - do foes feel proactive? No? Then I have them take some initiative.

In your tavern brawl example, I would probably not have an NPC escape in that manner without any dice rolls. It would be more like:

  1. Cutter and Darkon are brawling. Darkon is a notable NPC and represented by a 6-clock. The Cutter rolls Skirmish and gets a full success, punching Darkon in the face and filling half that clock.

Now, do I just wait for the Cutter to declare another action and have them roll again? That’s where it can feel like the NPC is just standing there waiting to take another hit.

Instead, I would always pick up from the Cutter’s narration of their success and describe what the foe does in response. This is not a hard consequence that needs to be resisted (they got a full success, I’m not going to take that away from them) but it will be something that will prompt action from the PC. Remember the advice from the rulebook; “Every time you roll the dice in Blades, the situation changes.” This is commonly applied to failures (fail forward) but it’s important to apply it to successes too.

So I would do something like:

  1. Cutter and Darkon are brawling. Darkon is a notable NPC and represented by a 6-clock. The Cutter rolls Skirmish and gets a full success, punching Darkon in the face and filling half that clock.
  2. I describe Darkon staggering back, his nose bleeding. He grabs a lamp off a nearby table - he’s going to smash it on the straw floor to create a diversion. What do you do? [There is no hard consequence yet, no harm or clocks filled, so no resistance is required - just action]
  3. The Cutter wants to grab the lamp with one hand and put Darkon in a headlock with her free arm. She’s going to roll Skirmish for this. She’s pushing herself for Great Effect, so any success here will mean she fills the NPC clock and the threat would be dealt with - ending with Darkon subdued in a headlock.

Every dice roll changes the situation. The opposing NPCs will constantly react and change their approach based on the PC actions, even if the PCs get a full success. Try to vary NPC goals as a fight progresses - it gets a bit boring if it’s just trading blows to give each other harm, so think about moving around the environment, getting the high ground, putting your opponent in some kind of hold, getting in close where their pike is no longer effective, getting out of range so that they can’t use their knife, all of that good stuff.

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Thank you for the long and detailed answer!

It is probably because I come from a long (long!) history of games where the GM is rolling for the bad guys and taking decisions for them, and that makes it harder for me to grok this kind of situation where the player is making all the dice rolls.

In the example you give, Darkon seems very passive to me, and doesn’t seem to accomplish anything at all - seeing them ‘attempting’ to create a diversion it becomes trivial for the players to stop him.

However, if at step 1 Cutter didn’t roll so well, presumably it might go something like this?

  1. Cutter and Darkon are brawling (etc). The Cutter rolls skirmish and gets a partial success, punching Darkon in the face and filling one third of his clock. As Darkon reels back he sweeps the lamp from the table onto the floor, igniting the straw between them (the consequence of the 4-5).
  2. Cutter can now choose to resist that consequence (perhaps stepping back from the flaming straw, so Darkon can then escape, perhaps stepping through the flaming straw to continue the fight with Darkon but separated from his mates). If Cutter chooses not to resist the consequence “Leave him, he’s not worth it”, then Darkon just scurries away under cover of the flames.

In other words, is it when the PC rolls 5 or less that the opposition gets to ‘take some initiative’ in the fight?

Cheers

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Yeah, that sounds about right to me! I break it down into:

  1. The negative consequence of the roll (on a 1-3 or 4-5)
  2. What the NPC does next

So another example of a 4-5 result:

  1. The consequence is that Darkon sets the straw on fire, putting the PC in a desperate position. The Cutter can resist this.
  2. What the NPC does next is to flee, with or without the diversion. What do you do about that?

Do they resist the straw being on fire, and being put in a desperate position?
Do they attempt some action to stop Darkon fleeing? This might now be a desperate roll, high stakes!

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Fabulous, thanks - this has been a very helpful discussion for me!

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In other words, is it when the PC rolls 5 or less that the opposition gets to ‘take some initiative’ in the fight?

No.

You have to look at what is written on page 167 of the book, to which Timdenee referred.

Mostly, after an action roll and its consequences (or absence of) have been dealt with, the GM is free to present HOW the situation (“the fiction”) has evolved. The way it will be framed depends on how dangerous the NPC/enemy is.

  • If the enemy is a standard mook, generally one action roll will have been enough to deal with it (with or without consequences, maybe a second roll in a different position…)

  • If the enemy is “skilled”, you have to frame the evolution of the fiction in a way that shows that the enemy can sometimes keep or take the initiative. Which means that the PCs will have to react in a way which is more constrained, they have less choice because it’s a reaction. Maybe it is “I have to roll just to see if I’m not pushed over the edge of the roof”, as on page 199, instead of “I roll to see if I can decapitate this bastard”.

  • If the enemy is a “master”, then, sometimes, the GM will have it act and the PCs will have to roll resistance to avoid problems/harm even before they can just act. Maybe it is *I have to roll to resist because Darkon has burnt half of me", before “I roll to see if I move fast enough to catch him before he escapes”.

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