New GM Campaign Log: How a train heist went haywire and caused major supply disruptions

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.


This, all in all, sounds like you all had great fun. So it’s a positive first game session.

It seems though that, as beginners for this game, you and your players did not exploit all the rules, some of them are her to help the PCs, not only to make life more challenging for them.

Here: " The first PC jump onto the train; the first one makes it, the second one fails badly and alerts the Bluecoats on board". Maybe it would have been possible to use GROUP ACTION for this stealthy infiltration or maneuver (check page 134 and the example there). With the success of even just one PC, the whole group would have been on board.

Then: “Out of the first carriage storm a dozen Bluecoat guards.” That was a consequence of a failed roll. Did the players try to resist that consequence to mitigate it, and did you remind them that they could resist any consequence? I’m not sure exactly what a resist could have done here, it would depend on what the action was and many fictional details that I don’t have.

Also: I wouldn’t say that you were wrong to use your prepping. But did you consider what was the Position of the failed roll? Maybe it could have been Controlled to jump on the train, since it was stopped and the PCs had positioned themselves to be in the right place to jump. So on a Controlled Failure, indeed a dozen guard storming out of the carriage was maybe a bit tough as a consequence?

Of course there are on this forum some guys who have muche more experience than me on GMing BitD ans who will give give you other good or better advice.

But ou seem to have hit right on the good mix of epic action and gritty “train wreck with reality”, so I wouldn’t worry too much, you will master the rules in good time.

But anyway, if your players decide all the time to charge a dozen bluecoats alone, there isn’t much you can do to save their sorry asses…

1 Like

Thanks a lot for your feedback. I appreciate it.

Yes, I’d say we did indeed have a blast! I can’t wait for the next session.

No, we certainly didn’t exploit all the rules. Jumping onto the train would have been a great group action. We all forgot about it.
The Bluecoats storming out of the carriage was the result of a full progress clock and thus of several failed rolls to keep things quiet. I believe at this point I had not yet mentioned that one can also try a resistance roll to avoid raising the alarm. So that’s on me. It’s a lot of rules for beginners :slight_smile:

There are a lot of rules, but not so many compared to other games. It is more a problem, I think, that from the players’s side, things are quite simple (everything on the playbook), so all the weight of remembering the rest of the rules is on the GM.

Also, it’s difficult from the POV of the GM to find the right balance. I think that at the beginning, the GM needs to be more lenient, because there is a risk that the players would feel disgusted if there is too much snowballing of disastrous consequences. After a while, though, when most players have their favorite action with 3 dots and 3 or 4 dice for most of their resistance rolls, you can go all the way…

Fictionally, I’m sure the scoundrels, competent ner’dowells that they are, would have planned for such an eventuality, and had set something up before to handle the Bluecoats.

Did you remind the crew that, because planning is “skipped”, they can invoke flashbacks. In the moment, describe what prep they did, make that planning have happened before the heist.

“Oh, I would have planned for this. I’m going to use a flashback to make sure the door latch on the Bluecoats car is jammed. I broke into the rail yard just before the train came into service, knowing that inspections aren’t happening today, and added a small trigger line to engage the lock when I stomp on this seat cushion here

Or something that makes even better fictional sense …

Take some stress, make an action roll in the flashback scene … describe the outcome of that set up, then back to the action in the present. The Bluecoats smash into the locked door, faces pressed against the window, unable to do anything for now, etc

Thanks for the input.
The players were aware of flashbacks. A jammed door would have been a great fix here. In fact, one PC did use a flashback in which he had summoned ghosts that distracted the Bluecoats. It worked for a while.

@ A_B
It seems that for the players it was challenging to remember all their options; by far the biggest challenge for me was balancing. I don’t want one single bad roll to snowball out of control and ruin everything. We’ll practise this some more. Can’t wait for session No. 2!

Session No. 2 Log:

We had our 2nd session - and again we had a great time; though it was noticably less action-packed than the train heist from last time. This session focused more on intrigue and social interactions and served as a set-up for what I expect will be a brilliant showdown in session 3. Can’t wait for it.

So, what happened?
Right at the start, one of the PCs got snatched by the Bluecoats. He had been bragging about his exploits to his prostitute lover while over-indulging. Also, he was still covered in ash and had suffered burns.
The Bluecoats know that the Crows were the ones who shot their men and women. When they learnt that this PC was somehow involved, they captured and interrogated him before they tasked him with spying on the Crows. They are out for revenge for the carnage. The PC also lets slip enough info so that the Coats can piece together that he belongs to a crew of smugglers.

The Crows contact the PCs again and want them to dump a body for them. The body they want dumped turns out to be the prisoner the PCs had “rescued” from train. Unbeknownst to the PCs, that man, the Crow’s former second-in-command, had sold many Crows to the Coats and they had hired the PCs to help them get their revenge. They gruesomely tortured him to death.
The PCs weren’t even fazed by this and cut the body into parts small enough that they would fit into a barrel. (GM thinks: WTF? Who are these people?)

The PCs go about the dumping quite cleverly. They buy barrels that were used to feed eels and they get themselves the proper paperwork to get inside an eelerie in Dunslough. From the start they find themselves in a controlled situation and manage to convince the guards at the eelerie that they really are supposed to dump the barrel’s contents into this massive black pool of millions of writhing eels. A quick distraction later and the body has already been destroyed. I didn’t even have time to make things tricky for them. They were, of course, followed by a deathseeker crow, and the Spirit Wardens catch up with them as soon as they’re out of the eelerie. Again, they manage to convince the Wardens they don’t know anthing about any dead body. Somebody else must be responsible for that.

This score was the exact opposite of the train heist: controlled, safe, no complications to speak of and a lack of suspense. That made me wonder: Was it too easy? I had a fight with the body’s ghost and Spirit Wardens throwing poisonous darts planned…

Now things are starting to get interesting. The PCs are approached by the Red Sashes. They know the Coats are circling in on the Crows and they want to gain turf in Crow’s Foot. They have seen the PCs enter Crow’s Nest. They hire the PCs to enter Crow’s Nest again and steal the Crow’s war chest to further weaken them. The PCs get to keep half of it. They agree to the deal.

The PCs, however, had other things in mind. They go to Lyssa, the Crow leader, and tell her everything. They ask for some of the money for the war chest to fool the Sashes and act as double-agents. They fail to convince her. The PCs scrape together some of their own money and hand it over to the Sashes to make them believe they are on their side.
Meanwhile, the Crow’s have now enough faith in the PCs to hire them again. They are to arrange a meeting between Crows and Lampblacks; Lyssa thinks an alliance is their only hope. The PCs must convince Baszo Baz to meet on friendly terms and on neutral ground. The PCs succeed and arrange a meeting on neutral ground, namely Tangletown - the only place where such a meeting is strictly forbidden.
Now the PCs, clever as they are, meet the Red Sashes and tell them all about the secret meeting between Crows and Lampblacks so that the Sashes can use the opportunity to attack them all.

What the actual fuck???

But that’s not the end of it: My PCs are hoping that the Sashes would wipe out the others and then plan to inform on the Sashes so the Coats would go after them and they, the PCs, can take over Crow’s Foot and the Docks!
This is their second session playing this game.
I love my players!

But I can already think of a few obstacles to put in their path…

1 Like

Hmm. It’s an interesting choice to have the Deathseeker Crow follow the dead body - I’ve always played that they stay around the point of death (eg where the Crows tortured the guy to death) because that’s where the spirit stays. And ultimately the Spirit Wardens care about dealing with the ghost, not the corpse.

Not at all saying you’re wrong to call it the way you did, by the way. It’s how we make each version of Duskwall our own :slight_smile:

I’ve wondered about that. But the book says it takes 1-3 days for a spirit to become free of the corpse and form as a ghost, so I figured the crow would circle above the body until it was either recovered by the Wardens or the ghost has formed, even if the body is moved. I like it this way because it makes disposing of bodies riskier.


Like I said, a perfectly fair interpretation. :slight_smile:

What happens if a gang of cutthroats hang, draw and quarter you … then separate the quarters? :slight_smile:

1 Like

In our last session my players had devised a plan that borders on megalomania. They had been hired by both, the Crows and Red Sashes, in their turf war. The Crows were in serious trouble and asked the PCs to invite the Lampblacks for talks, hoping to gain an ally. The PCs decided to have those talks in Tangletown, despite this sort of business being illegal there, and they would stand guard. The PCs told the Red Sashes about the meeting and the Sashes decided to raid the place and kill every Crow and Lampblack in sight. This way the PCs planned to get rid of two crews at once; afterwards they intended to inform on the Red Sashes and have the Bluecoats arrest them for their raid in Tangletown.

We jump ahead to the negotiations. Engagement roll: Controlled. The PCs are standing guard and waiting for the Sashes. They make a flashback as they suddenly realize they could also set a trap for the Sashes. The group’s tinkerer manufactures bombs and they spend all their Coin on acquiring two more bombs. They go to Tangletown ahead of the talks, pretending to organize a wedding at the venue. There they plant the bombs. They are mostly successful with their rolls, but some Tangletown folks noticed the PCs and remembered their faces.

Back to the future: The Red Sashes arrive, the PCs let them in, the Crow and Lampblack delegations are massacred, the PCs light the fuses and blow the whole place to kingdom come, killing everyone.

The players don’t know how large these 3 crews are. I wonder if they think they killed 3 entire crews off. They didn’t, of course. Instead, they are risking war with 3 crews simultaneously.

Chaos breaks out in Tangletown, innocent people are hurt, the PCs run – and are stopped by the Bluecoats who had been watching them ever since the train heist.

They fight their way through the blue lines, most are lucky, one PC suffers his second level of trauma (in his 3rd session). They get on their boat and take off.

Porter & Porter Inc., as the crew is called, garners some serious REP, but also plenty of HEAT and a Wanted level. Their Entanglement is a neighbourhood watch officer from Tangletown, but they can convince her that they weren’t responsible.

Behind the scenes, unbeknownst to the players, the Red Sashes put 2 and 2 together and decide to destroy the PCs. The Bluecoats don’t mind loads of gangsters dying, but they don’t appreciate an attack on Tangletown, they don’t appreciate innocent people getting hurt, and they don’t appreciate anyone detonating bombs. They could already link the PCs to the train heist and fought them when they fled the latest crime scene. They, too, will do everything in their power to end the career of the fledgling crew.

Meanwhile, the surviving Crows and Lampblacks are looking for suspects. They don’t have to look far.

At the end of the session, the players believe themselves real badasses who are able to get away with anything. One of them quipped afterwards: “We’re not really playing Blades in the Dark , we’re playing Explosives in the Open”. (Their last mission was derailing a train.)

There just haven’t been enough serious consequences yet. I ought to change that…

Like last time, I’m again left wondering if I made things a bit too easy for my players. Should it be this easy to kill loads of people?

How much heat did you assign? Because it sounds like you have loud and chaotic, bombs used (which specifically adds heat) and lots of deaths as well as acting on enemy turf and going up against a well connected target. That could easily top out to 10+ heat which is an automatic wanted level.

Killing lots of mooks and “normal people” is easy. Killing PC characters is harder. Escaping the heat, as Wildpark says, should be even harder…

They got around 10 Heat and therefore a Wanted Level.

This is a quick summary of our 4th session that I just ran and we’re going to be on hiatus for a while. Again, we all had great fun and I can’t wait to return to Doskvol.

When we last left off the PCs believed they had tricked everyone. They had been tasked to set up secret talks between the Crows and the Lampblacks, had told the Red Sashes about it so the Sashes would raid the place and the PCs had blown the better part of the fighting forces of three crews to kingdom come.

But people noticed. The survivors of the Lampblacks and Sashes figured out what had transpired. The PCs, cocky as ever, decided to now raid Crow’s Nest. Indeed, the lair was abandoned, but heavily booby-trapped. The tower that was the entrance to an underground dungeon collapsed above them; they had to fight wer-ravens, gas chambers, haunted mirrors, scythes, flesh-eating plants etc.
I hadn’t actually prepared a dungeon; instead I had brainstormed a few ideas for the Crow lair and asked the players to write down suggestions for curious room contents on cards. They drew the dungeon map themselves and I filled each room with our ideas as I saw fit. It worked great. We had a hell of a dungeon-crawl. In the end, they had to dive down a cistern and through sewers to the canals.

When they got back to their lair, the Lampblacks had broken in and stolen all their Coin. A Red Sash waited for them and informed them of the burglary; she also told the PCs the Lampblacks had moved their lair to a new location and that the Sashes would hire the PCs to take out the remaining Lampblacks. The PCs happily accepted.

But it was all a trap. The Lampblacks and Sashes have teamed up and shared the spoils of the war with the Crows. Now it was time to take revenge on the double-crossing PCs.

The PCs entered what was basically a hollowed-out hill filled to the brim with coal, controlled by the Lampblacks. They sneaked past guards who were very easily distracted. As soon as the PCs were inside, all the doors were bolted from the outside and fuses lit. My players were very surprised. They scrambled to find a way out the very last second - which, thank god, they did. One of them succeeded in climbing a coal mountain and jumped out the window, the others got into a wagon, that was used to transport coal on rails, and they crashed through a door into a neighbouring factory. The image of them riding the wagon while shooting up some surprised Lampblacks, being pushed on by the shock wave caused by hills of coal blowing up, PCs catching fire and finally being catapulted off the rails onto the street… - it could not have been a more Hollywood-esque ending.
My players liked the trap and I think they knew they deserved it. They now know their rise to the top of Doskvol’s crews is not quite so easy.

1 Like

This may be the most blades in the dark sentence ever, and i love it. Great story!

1 Like