Last night, I ran my very first Blades session. I adore the Blades mechanics and setting. The game turned out to be just as good as I had hoped. That being said, I and my players felt that the mechanics make life as a scoundrel really challening. Just as the book promises. The fact that even a 4 and 5 roll result in some kind of a complication made last night’s game feel much tougher than any other rpg we’ve ever played. I do wonder if this feeling is going to change a bit as the characters advance and gain action dots.
I throroughly enjoyed our session, nonetheless there were some hick-ups as we were trying to get used to a completely new kind of rpg system.
So, what happened?
My players chose to play smugglers, with a lair in the Docks. They were hired by the Crows. The Crows are currently involved in a major turf war with the Red Sashes and they are losing. The Bluecoats are also closing in on them. A long time, the Crow’s second-in-command was arrested and deported out of Doskvol to a high security prison elsewhere. He is now being transported to another city and transported through Gaddock Rail Station. This is the Crow’s only chance of freeing their former second-in-command. (I didn’t provide a reason why he had been deported elsewhere or why he’s being moved to a new location; I just wanted a train heist.)
My players immediately started planning the train heist the way the always had in other rpgs. I tried to discourage them from planning too much, to little avail. Not planning, as it turns out, is very counter-intuitive and we felt we needed to properly set up the first encounter. In the end, I forgot to roll the Engagement Roll.
I believe my players chose Stealth as their planning type. Their plan, however, went sideways very, very fast.
One of the reasons why the Blades system had really caught my eye was that flashbacks replace planning, since planning is pointless. Every single time we had planned a stealthy infiltration or something similar in other rpgs, the whole thing turned into all-out war at the first encounter and the first failed roll by a player.
The same thing happened last night: The PCs get the train to stop by sabotaging the signal. The PCs jump onto the train; the first one makes it, but makes noise, the second one fails badly and alerts the Bluecoats on board, who were already suspicious due to the unplanned and sudden stop. By now, a progress clock has filled up.
Literally, within minutes a game in which I had hoped we could for once focus on stealth and cleverness turns into all-out war.
As a GM I always have a least a broad idea of what is going to happen during our session. Last night I had figured the PCs would find a way to get onto the train, search it without rousing every single guard on board, free the prisoner and, when the train reaches Gaddock Rail Station, where it would stop for 30 seconds, they would simply make a run for it.
I’ve been a GM for 15 years or more - I’m still as naive as I have always been. Things always go very differently than I expect. And that’s a good thing! Predictable is boring! And I love my players for many reasons, one of them is their creativity. They come up with so many good ideas and creative inputs. Way more than I ever could plan for.
But it did bother me a little - and probably the players too - that the whole thing went immediately sour. Out of the first carriage storm a dozen Bluecoat guards. A PC decides to use Attune to attract ghosts for distraction via a flashback. It works at first. Another PC, however, can’t wait for combat and runs towards a dozen Bluecoats. Now I’m getting worried. Did I, as a GM when prepping this, screw up? Was the task too difficult? Are there too many guards?
Fighting ensues. Two PCs enter the first carriage as does a ghost. It’s utter mayhem. The situation is desperate. One PC enters the locomotive, also followed by a ghost. He faces two drivers and a lookout. Another PC comes to his aid. The fifth PC is waiting down at the signal by the rails. He switches the signal back to green. The train drivers panick and start the train. It picks up speed. The PCs in the first carriage are dying but also battering the Bluecoats. More Bluecoats - who guarded the rear carriage - arrive. Ghosts wreak havoc. The PC by the railway tracks uses a flashback to sabotage the tracks in order to derail the train. He fails. Next, he gets sort of lucky and rolls a 4 or 5 and manages to decouple the locomotive while the train is heading for the bridge across the canal. There is a complication. I decide that the carriages come to a halt, but they begin to tip over slowly. A player, however, points out that, since we’re on a bridge, it would be more fun it the carriages dropped into the river below. Rules-wise that felt like a very disproportionate complication, but my players liked the idea. What the heck! Why not?
The train completely derails and the first two carriages crash into the river, the other three manage to stay up on the bridge. Two PCs are still in that first carriage, one had suffered level 3 harm and was incapacitated - now in a sinking train. The other gets disoriented. They are drowning along with the remaining Bluecoats. The ghost, of course, cannot drown. Luckily, they told the Crows to wait for them in a boat not faraway. They come to the rescue and open fire on the Bluecoats in the water. The PCs are saved.
Two PCs stop the locomotive and return to the train. They search it and free the prisoner.
Result: Tons of dead Bluecoats, a derailed train, a bridge in need or repair, Doskvol’s supply from other cities is disrupted, and lots of HEAT. But we had fun.