15 July 2020
We went to elementary school together and have been playing RPGs since the late 1970s. We take turns GM-ing on Roll20, and I chose Blades in the Dark. It’s a big leap for all of us.
Our sessions generally last 2.5 hours including general hanging out time.
Besides setting up on Roll20 (which I detailed in another post), the main prep I did was finding nice photos to illustrate the NPCs and setting. I read the rules and watched about 5 or 6 hours of live play from five or six different groups. The only prep I did for session zero beyond reading the rules was thinking a bit about the starting situation, War in Crow’s Foot. It couldn’t be simpler. Just two pages in the rule book. Had I not played some one-offs like Golden Seas and Honey Heist recently with my local game group, I might not have believed that was enough. As generic as it all sounds, the result is a real hook with choices that really matter for everyone right out of the gate.
Character 1: Harmattan
A slight Severosi youth and recently-escaped slave. As a small boy on Severos, he was taken from the saddle and sold into a childhood of servitude in Akeros. To connect with his homeland and maintain his stillness in the face of all that he’s suffered, he’s taken to ritual scarification with cutting and ashes, performed with an old shaman at the Cult of the Unwritten Book (Severos). Darmot, a bluecoat from Crow’s Nest, has been harassing Harmattan ever since he escaped his slavery and began hanging out on the streets; maybe he thinks he can capture the youth and sell him back to his former owner. Harmattan’s on friendly terms with old man Frake, a locksmith who’s instructed him in tinkering using locks from simple deadbolts to elaborate multi-stage safes. Harmattan’s been called “Hat Rack” because he is so quiet, still, and wiry that his tricorn hat looks like it’s perched on a stand.
- Playbook: Lurk
- Heritage: Severos -> Akeros as child
- Background: Underworld; runaway child slave
- Action dots: Hunt 2, Tinker 1, Finesse 1, Prowl 2, Skirmish 1, Sway 1
- Attributes: Insight 1, Prowess 3, Resolve 1
- Special Ability: Infiltrator
- Vice: Faith (cutting and ashes for ritual scarification, Cult of the Unwritten Book [Severos])
- Look: slight, wiry, quiet, still, dark
- Alias: Hat Rack
Character 2: Elijah Primm
A severe and austere Akerosi man of 30-odd years. Primm grew up in the Blackwell Home for Foundlings, which was naturally a front for a criminal gang of urchin hawkers. As he grew, he began helping with the books and eventually rose to become the home’s shady bookkeeper, learning how to handle off-the-books income and expenses. Expecting to be made the headmaster when the former headmaster abruptly retired, he was passed over and still holds Legia Blackwell, the director of the Home, responsible. While at the home, he made the acquaintaince of Sawtooth, an ancient and decrepid physicker who’d sometimes attend to a sick foundling child. To blow off steam, Elijah takes what little pleasure he can find in his dalliances with Lame Maggie, a middle aged prostitute with a dungeon.
- Playbook: Cutter
- Heritage: Akerosi
- Background: Underworld; shady bookkeeper of a foundling home
- Action dots: Study 1, Survey 1, Prowl 1, Skirmish 2, Command 2, Consort 1
- Attributes: Insight 2, Prowess 2, Resolve 2
- Special Ability: Battleborn
- Vice: Pleasure: S & M with Lame Maggie
- Look: severe, austere
Harmattan, while lurking on the streets of Crow’s Nest after running away, noticed that gangs of urchins regularly filed in and out of the Blackwell Home for Foundlings. The next day he passed himself off as a foundling, no disguise needed. Soon, he began taking all his meals there. Elijah, ever canny with the accounts, noticed the discrepancy in the books and rather than playing Harmattan, became a fast friend. They soon began scheming how they could combine their considerable talents to achieve something bigger than they could accomplish on their own.
Harmattan and Elijah left the foundling home to make their own fortune as Crow’s Nest latest crew of scoundrels. They started making street deals for Heaven Scent, a euphoric that’s delivered in the form of grains in straws, like Pixy Stix. In the short time they’ve been operating, they’ve come to be known as a vengeful pair of bastards with scores to settle. Enough so that they’ve drawn the attention of more powerful gangs.
- Type: Hawkers
- Initial Reputation: Vengeful
- Lair: the old Red Sash Dojo
Hunting Grounds: Crow’s Foot
- paid 1 coin to Lyssa, boss of the Crows for 0 status
- Special Ability: Silver Tongues
- Lair: Quarters
- Quality: Weapons
- Training: Prowess
- Lair: Secure
- +1 status with Red Sashes for helping with upgrade
- -2 status with Lampblacks
Favorite Contact: TBD
- +1 (or +2) status with friendly
- -1 (or -2) status with unfriendly
- Tier 0, strong hold
- 0 rep, 0 heat, 1 coin
Free play 0.1: It starts in a tavern…
It’s early autumn and a storm’s brewing on the horizon and the air is electric. The dusk hour has passed, and our boys emerge from the lessening fog into the Jolly Judge public house. The place is jammed with ruffians and ne’er do wells of all stripes, but they immediately notice the buzz. Roric’s been knocked off! He was the big boss, the leader of the Crows, who run this ward. A fight’s nearly breaking out at the end of the bar as a pack of customers dispute whether Lyssa, Roric’s former second in command, was behind the killing. No way, one side has it, if Lyssa did it, she would’ve been sure the body was taken care of so there wouldn’t be a ghost. I hear Roric was too tough for her, even dead; my money’s on him to have the last laugh. Then the bartender leans in during a quiet moment and says, have any of you lot thought what ho about the ‘blacks the sashes, eh? Them’s gonna’ be at each other’s throats as soon as nothing. Everyone knows it was Roric keepin’ ‘em in line. You can’t just split the trade top to bottom, even I know that. Just askin’ for trouble. Don’t know what Roric was thinking. My money’s on Baszo. He’s gonna’ be the new boss, sure as night. He’s got the organization and the firepower. N’ah. Mylera and her sword goons are way too tough for that. Ha ha. Bringing blades to a knife fight. How cute. You musta’ never seen those blades, mister…
Free play 0.2: Room to maneuver
It’s the following morning and the stormy weather has arrived. The characters make their way to the eastern edge of Crows’ Nest and the Red Sash’s dojo, passing packs of dockworkers on their way to the job and citizens from all over Duskwall who are still suffering various effects of last night’s carousing.
Inside the dojo, a dozen initiates with safety masks and wicked-looking polearms slash overhead and side to side in graceful, coordinated moves. Mylera parleys distractedly with Harmattan and Primm as she corrects the stance and rhythm of the students. So boys, are you willing to do me a solid? I can scratch your backs if you’ll scratch mine, so to speak, a statement punctuated by blades whirling around her. Yes, m’am they say, what can we do? Well, I hear that Baszo and his 'blacks opened a new den on the wrong side of the wrong side of the tracks. Not the nicest clientele. Or the safest location. What I want you to do for me is go over there and make sure there’s no take. And no product for tomorrow, either. Just make sure to do it late enough that you get it all, but before Baszo’s lieutenant gets there to collect. Uh, m’am. What do we do with the money and the product? Your score, your take. I’d recommend destroying the product before it hurts somebody. I’ll be happy with the usual referral fee, say half the take? M’am, we respect your generosity and all, but we’re trying to get on our feet, and need to stock ourselves out with weapons. As they say that, they’re greedily eyeying the racks of fine weapons lining the place. Tell you what, says Mylera. How about I let you use our old dojo just up the road? It’s still got the old weapons we left there before we fitted this place out. It’s also got quarters for the little brothers and sisters, and we left the alarms, though you’ll have to put those to rights.
Next week, we’ll start with some quick information gathering, then hopefully cut straight to the engagement roll for their first score. I can’t wait to see how they approach it. I’m sure it’ll surprise me as much as their taking Silver Tongued Hawkers did. From 40+ years of watching my players survey and plan stealthy approaches to every obstacle, I had convinced myself they’d want to take Shadows and run stealthy heists. We’re all out of our comfort zone now!
I had no idea who they would side with and what the first score would look like. The players had no hesitation at all. Primm and Harmattan didn’t like the idea of messing with renowned swordfighters or the ward bosses, especially with ghosts involved; better the pistol balls they knew. I did not try to break this down into game terms yet so the players don’t actually know all three factions are all technically Tier II. They figured the Crows would be a lot tougher and so they are.
The rumors are true. GM-ing Blades in the Dark feels nearly effortless and the flow at the table is exhilarating. The story seems to write itself, though I know I have the initial situation and my players to thank. The beautiful part of the system is that the mechanics encourage player decisions that truly matter.