I’m running a Shadows campaign, which I’m loving, with lots of factional stuff and not a lot of arcane weirdness (yet). I have run into an interesting problem regarding Heat and Rep, and thought it’d be a good thing to discuss.
(Incidentally, cf. this somewhat related discussion )
Seeking to Claim a Loyal Fence, the gang find Valentin, an art dealer of Dagger-Isles ancestry in the Docks who has a long career of fencing “poorly provenanced” valuables through art-dealer networks.
Valentin has a problem. His daughter married a nice Dagger-Isles (DI) man, Sylvian, who’s “in business.” Sylvian had an opportunity, took a loan, then things went south and Sylvian couldn’t make a payment. The DI fellows he borrowed from, they weren’t happy, but it’s okay, Sylvian’s DI like them, so they just raised the vigorish a bit. Then Sylvian really couldn’t make payments, and the DI fellows were very disappointed, and they said they’d like to let Sylvian off, good DI boy that he is, only a promise is a promise, and how would letting him off look? It’s like Sylvian’s not respecting them, see? So Sylvian assures them he’s full of respect, and they agree he is, and they suggest actually, how about they cancel the debt if he does them a favor—actually a favor from your father-in-law, don’t worry, not anything he’d be uncomfortable about, and he can always just pay off the debt. Sylvian is desperate, the DI boys are large. He says OK.
The DI boys come to Valentin and explain. Either he can pay the VERY large loan (he can’t), or he can let them put a few crates in his back room. In a week or so, somebody will give him the sign, next day somebody will take the crates away. This will happen now and then. Valentin doesn’t have to do anything, just forget it’s happening, all will be fine.
Valentin isn’t stupid: he knows the DI boys are using his shop to conceal contraband smuggling. The less he knows, the better. But he can’t fence art. See, the Law (Bluecoats, Inspectors, etc.) don’t care about art fencing, because it’s more expensive to hunt down than what you get, but they do like to warn the fences that they know. If Valentin is fencing, at some point Law officers are going to show up and search the premises, and if they turn up crates of contraband, he’s screwed. So now he’s both covering for the DI boys AND not making any profit.
He tells the PCs: you get me free of the DI boys, I’d LOVE to sell these lovely works of art that you received from your late uncle several islands away where they don’t write things down.
The PCs crack 2 crates, with Valentin out of the shop because he doesn’t want to know. I roll randomly and turn up explosives, and spirit-essence. Since the PCs know nothing about the arcane, they see a large crate full of military-grade explosives (figure half a cubic meter of C4) and a crate full of silver-traced crystal bottles with a liquid inside that gives them the squits to just look at.
I’d thought of several ways out of this situation, but not this one.
They attach timed detonators to the explosives. When Valentin gets told the DI boys will be coming to pick up, the Cutter who knows explosives hides in the back room. When the DI boys show up with their cart, the other two are passing in the front, and their own cart tips, some goods fall, apologies and swearing, and in about 10-15 minutes they’re able to move on, sorry about that, and the DI boys go into the courtyard. Meantime the Cutter has started the timers and sealed the crate, then ducked into the front and hidden in the closet. The DI boys load their cart and leave, crossing from the Docks to Crow’s Foot to Charterhall and toward the old freight railhead in Coalridge (the stuff came in on a ship across the Void Sea, and they’re shipping it out by freight rail). But the timers run out in SW Charterhall, in front of Charterhall Bank. Massive explosion, 4 DI thugs killed, also 2 homeless people. Fortunately this was at night or it’d have killed a lot more.
HEAT AND REP
A massive explosion in Charterhall triggers a huge Law response. The Military are convinced it’s rebel terrorists. The Bluecoats think it was an attempt to crack Charterhall Bank. The Spirit Wardens are concerned because the detonation of weird spirit essences annihilated the 6 ghosts/spirits, which seems like escalation in arcane weapons technology. The Inspectors note that some of the body parts have the bee tattoo of the Hive, so they figure the Hive was up to something that went wrong.
The DI boys are my version of the Hive. They don’t know they’ve been sabotaged, because why and who? Their best guess is it was an accident in transit. Regardless, they’re upset because they lost some good men, and above all now they’ve got major Law on their tails.
Just doing the numbers by the book, this job is worth 5 REP and 10 HEAT, give or take.
Here’s the problem.
REP: since nobody knows what the job was, and every major theory about it is wrong, how can anyone acquire Reputation? Almost everyone thinks the explosion was unintentional, or else that it was intended but did not serve its purpose, so almost everyone agrees that the explosion was a failure of some kind. So how come Rep for it is so high?
HEAT: 10 Heat is serious, but if the Law figured out someone on purpose set off this bomb in the middle of the city, it’d be life imprisonment or execution (Wanted 4 = 40 Heat). But as noted, it’s not anyone even suspects in the right direction of WHAT happened, much less why or how.
To keep things running, my idea on Heat is to split it into 2 numbers in my notes. I’m happy to explain all this to my players, but it’s more detail than they need, so I just sketch.
1: STREET HEAT 4 – For the foreseeable future, everyone connected with street underworld anything is living with 4 Heat. The Law sweeps them in and grills them constantly. The Law is trying to show everyone, especially the Underworld, that they are serious and doing something. In fact, they don’t know what to do, because they have no leads to speak of. (The Hive lead is being kept secret.) This number will not drop until Real Heat drops low.
2: REAL HEAT 40 – The Law wants these people, #1 Most Wanted, Dead or Alive. They will not stop until they nail ‘em. This number will not drop until Street Heat drops below 4.
Once these numbers drop, they all become the same thing once more, as usual.
Part of my idea is that various factions I’m paying attention to might put “points” into Reduce Heat instead of their usual clocks.
The Hive has their usual clock, “Avenge Roric,” and I’ve thought what some of them might do this session/week/period to tick that clock. But instead of ticking that clock, now they tick a box on the citywide Underworld clock “Reduce Heat” – and because they’re the Hive, seriously involved in what’s going on, they actually get to tick 4 boxes on that (Tier 4) out of 40.
Uninvolved factions get to put in only 1 point each. Whatever the PCs do to Reduce Heat is also added to this clock.
Adding it all up, I expect this Heat to drop at a rate of roughly 8-10 per session unless and until something happens to alter that plot-wise.
At the same time, each Law faction starts a clock on figuring out the explosion. They get one tick per session unless and until something happens to change that (getting a believable scapegoat, or a Law faction learning something important and significant in session).
All of this is mechanical: I just tick boxes, and don’t have to think about it much, all during non-session Downtime thinking.
Good things about this system:
- The PCs can’t just make the Heat go away magically when what’s happened is BIG
- The Hive is actively doing something about the Heat, as they should
- The Law investigations are actually in motion
- The PCs don’t automatically get rolled in and executed
Bad things about this system:
- It’s not easy to convey that all of this is happening behind the scenes, because unless the PCs ask specific questions and talk to their various contacts and whatnot, how would they know any of it? Everyone’s just hunkered down waiting it out.
- There is no warrant for any of it in the Blades rules.
For me, what this exposes is that the abstraction of Heat and especially Rep in Blades often causes as many difficulties as it simplifies. Suppose my Shadows achieve the Heist of the Century, stealing zillions from a moving train. Heat is colossal, and so is Rep — except the whole point is, nobody knows they did it. You can’t push that sideways by saying, “Oh well, the COPS don’t know what happened, but the Underworld knows and they’re really impressed,” because if a significant number of Underworld folks know who did it and aren’t getting cut in on the score (and even if they are), they’re going to grass on the PCs as soon as possible, in hopes of a reward, and if nothing else because the police crackdown has to go away so my gang can get back to business. So what exactly is Rep all about? How is Heat directed?
Another way of thinking about it: suppose my Shadows leave a white silk glove and a picture of a pink panther at the scene of their most daring heists. Rep is huge, but meaningless: how can they bank on the vast Rep of the Pink Panther without anyone knowing that they ARE the Pink Panther? And the end of the original Pink Panther film reveals this: the reporter asks Clouseau how he managed to be simultaneously a police detective and the most daring jewel thief of the age. Clouseau, spotting the value of the Rep which now can actually be claimed (though not by the actual thief), says, “Well, it wasn’t easy.”
Anyway, I hope this prompts some discussion and thought; apologies for running on so long and in such detail.