New GM: Asking for guidance

Hello All

I’ve recently started a new Band of Blades game with a couple of friends online. I’ve got a pretty good grasp of the rules if I do say so myself, but some of the more narrative parts can be a little challenging. I’ve already played the starting mission of The Horned One with them, and it went quite well! We’ll be playing again later this week, and since they’ve already fought Blighters troops on the first mission, I thought it’d be fitting to have them face Renders on the second, including a Heartless.

Here’s the thing though: I don’t really get the Heartless. Because as far as I can see, all of the Elites kinda have a special thing going for them that makes them threatening. Gutsacks explode, Spitters attack at range, Black Oak Knights come in groups/are intelligent humans etc.

Meanwhile, the Heartless kinda fills the same niche as Blighters Horror: Big Scary Undead Monster. But, there’s a big Difference: Horros fight at Scale, while Heartless get no such special rule. And while I’m sure a threat 2 Elite will still be dangerous, especially on future missions where most players won’t be specialists, I am worried that they’ll fight it and think “Hey wait a minute, this is just a less threatening Horror!” Not exactly the vibe I want for them.

Now, I have brainstormed a couple potential fixes to this problem, but I don’t think most of them will work in their current state. The list goes as follows, in no particular order:

1: Give Heartless Scale (Could work, but it just seems too derivative of the Horror to me)

2: Let Heartless’ armor counter Black Shot (Just seems silly with their entire chest exposed)

3: Let Heartless use their armored hands to block their chest until they reach melee, reducing the effect of ranged attacks (Interesting, but seems like a big middle finger to any Sniper characters, not to mention Rookies)

4: Let Heartless be Intelligent, since I’ve been portraying Horrors as single-minded brutes so far (Also Interesting, but I’m unsure how best to use such a trait effectively. The possibility of Heartless RP is definitely a plus though!)

5: Some ungodly combination of the above (Obviously not all of them at once, but maybe two of these traits together would make for an interesting/scary enemy?)

Any thoughts or advice? I’ll gladly compensate any assistance with a copy of what we’ve written in our Annals so far (Or should I say, what I’ve written in our Annals so far, since none of the other players wanted to pick Loremaster…)

I’m a new master too, so I’m not the expert here, but… the Heartless are taken from ranks of the holy order of the Knight of the Black Oak. They are the best of the best: so I think they are trained warriors and intelligent fighters, while the Horrors are screaming abomination of rage and pain.
They’re both dangerous in a very different way.

They are also bigger and stronger than normal knight and powered by the cinder blood (how does this effect them I think it’s up to you and your campaign).

I wouldn’t compare troops across Broken. They’re not meant to be balanced and in the heat of the moment, I don’t think the players will really notice.

But your general point, how to make Heartless feel as scary as a Horror, is a thing. And I think the game gives GMs lots of way for adjusting the difficulty of opponents. And the place to start is the fiction.

While Heartless don’t get a flat scale bonus, they are described as having a number of fictional strengths you can lean on. For example, “wielding oversized metal weapons that sever limbs and rend armour”. That might mean a heartless’ weapons can hit multiple squad members at once, so a squad’s scale might not apply when skirmishing a heartless.

As @TheCrimsonIdol suggested, the Heartless might work tightly with squads of Black Oak Knights. This might increase a Heartless’ scale as they coordinate so well with one or more squads of Knights. This might also lead to more desperate positions or complications where a Heartless targets PCs weak points or outmanoeuvres their defences.

I don’t think a normal Heartless has scale. But regular knights are threat 2 before they’re empowered with super strength by cinder blood, so I could see the heartless getting melee potency when strength is relevant. They also fit into smaller spaces, have more opportunities to hide or ambush, and might be able to fight in formation with gaunts or normal knights.

I do think black shot probably needs to hit unarmored flesh for full effectiness. If you allow black shot to affect Heartless at all, then they have enough skin exposed that I don’t think their armor would hinder a sniper at all, but it could reduce the effect of a mid-range musket volley.

That said, black shot kills things that are already dead, and it’s not 100% clear to me whether Heartless have died. Probably Render removes their heart (killing them) and then reanimates them with Cinder Blood. But maybe he actually corrupts them with cinder blood while alive and this somehow lets them survive without a heart?

I personally think Heartless do retain the intelligence they had in life, which should make most of them smarter and more tactical than it sounds like your horrors are. They might be extra arrogant, irrationally aggressive, or maddened by pain, though.

Also, one of Render’s abilities can give them corrupting weapons, which is pretty scary. Even without that they might come with specialized weapons or tools relevant to the tactical situation at hand.

Not all Horrors fight at scale, only some of them (p. 191). The 8 feet Horrors wouldn’t be that much bigger or stronger than a Heartless, if you look at the illustration on page 310.

For the rest, yeah, the others have already answered.