Play Reports from the Blackwell Home for Foundlings

Session 0

15 July 2020

The players

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.

The prep

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

The crew

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
  • Crew Upgrades:
    • 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
  • Current Status:
    • 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 session

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.

Bottom line

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.

Session 1: The Back Door Score

Maybe my estimation of my players’ predilections wasn’t too far
off.

Gathering information

The first thing they wanted to do was Gather Information.
Harmattan, the lurk, cased the joint where the Jays, another Tier 0
gang working under the auspices of the Lampblacks, had set up a trance
powder den. Mylera, leader of the Red Sashes, had warned them it was going to be downmarket.

Rolling a clean success, Harmattan managed to sneak around the whole
building and follow some residents through the adjacent tenement to
what looked like a newly installed iron-reinforced door.

The plan and load

The crew decided to run an assault, with the back door as a point of entrance. Harmattan packs a light load, whereas Elijah Primm, the cutter, goes in normal. They already knew it had to go down before closing when the coffers were full but the Lampblacks hadn’t come to collect the score. So the wee hours of the morning.

Engagement roll

For the engagement roll, I gave them 1d for hitting them at the back entrance and they got a 6 on the 2d on their very first engagement roll. Good on. A controlled start.

Harmattan leads Primm to the back door. Harmattan then pushes himself to get an extra die. Being an Infiltrator with fine lockpicks, the Tier 2 quality of the lock placed there by the Lampblacks is no obstacle in terms of difficulty or effect. He rolls a 4/5 tinkering the door open. It makes a very loud noise, alerting anyone who might be in the room.

Flashback!

We flash back to where Harmattan noticed the Thompson dead bolt lock when he was casing the joint. Knowing how sticky they can be, he comes prepared with a stuffed pillow to muffle the sound. 1 more stress. That’s 3 stress already, but they maintain their controlled position.

Breaking the house

They ease the door open to take a peek, using a group survey action. Another 6. They see a Crank and Wheeler 12-pin, two-stage safe, and it’s cemented into the ground. Whew. That’s some classy safe for a two-bit gang. Must’ve been put there by the Lampblacks or the reason they chose this place, the characters conclude. They also see two mooks sitting on a table looking toward the regular entrance door from the rest of their hideout.

Harmattan and Elijah decide to stick with the assault plan and they rush the mooks, and using some brass knuckles (an exotic Iruvian hand weapon) they brought along from their knew hideout, proceed to knock them out. The situation is risky because the mooks have guns, but they’re not out and aimed at them, so it’s not desperate. They get a 4/5, so they manage to knock the Jays out, but not before one of them gets their gun out and discharges it wildly. Now there’s a clock for the Bluecoats. The main club was far enough away (I’d decided the safe was in the basement in the back) that it only started a clock for them, too. Had I had that to do over, the consequence would’ve been the rest of the Jays heading their way fromthe main club.

Cracking the box

Instead, Harmattan had a rather leisurly job at the safe. He pushed himself for effect and nailed the first stage, leaving the second stage open for his tinkering. He makes short work of that, again pushing himself for effect to make short work of the job.

Inside, they find a couple of beakers full of dull blue powder with some kind of shiny grit in it. Knowing where they’re at and Elijah having grown up on these streets, they immediately recognized it as some seriously stepped on Trance Powder. They also find bags of coin. As a matter of style, Harmattan shuts the safe back up the way he found it, nailing the roll (had that gone badly, it’d have ticked the clock on the rest of the Jays showing up). He considered changing the lock, but didn’t have the right tools or enough time.

Dodging the heat

They make their getaway still in a controlled position, alerting a young mother from the tenement who’s trying to still a restless child. Elijah gives her a piece of silver and tells her she didn’t see anything. She nods along. Not sure if I should’ve rolled Sway at that point. It’s not like she’d have yelled out an alarm or anything. This should’ve at least changed their position back to risky.

In the end, they just saunter right by the outside security gang posted in front of the drug den and head back to their own lair.

Downtime

So now we do downtime. The take worked out to 2 coin, one of which they gave to Mylera as a payoff to the Red Sashes. (Ack—I did this wrong compared to the original scenario, which said 4 coin and no tithe—I retconned them the coin and told them they had more than they originally thought so that they might be able to recruit a cohort for the next plan; nope, they just banked it.) Mylera was most impressed when they told her they used the knuckles to do the job without hurting anyone too badly. She told them to keep the low-grade Trance Powder and try not to hurt anyone with that, either. She asked whether they’d trashed the den so it couldn’t re-open, and they mumbled something about taking their product so it wouldn’t be operating any time soon. This isn’t over for Mylera or the crew.

Neither of them wound up with any trauma, so they didn’t have to indulge their stress. But they both wanted to indulge their vices from the stress they’d built up using assist others and pushing themselves. Elijah goes and sees Lame Maggie and overindulges. I ask him what that is, and he says he’s actually hurt hurt hur and is kicked out of her dungeon by her guards and told never to come back.

Harmattan goes in for more ritual scarification and winds up being so het up about it that he shows the entire Jolly Judge his new marks. This is going to get back to the wrong ears, because one of the mooks they knocked out noticed that one of their attackers was a Severosi with ritual scars. +2 heat for the gang.

It was smooth and quiet so 0 heat from that, but it was done on hostile turf, so +1 heat for that.

The entanglement roll is about as good as one might hope—the Usual Suspects are rounded up. The Bluecoats are lazy as hell, so they round up one of the older foundlings from Blackwell, Bucknell Jamison, age 13, and former ward of Elijah Primm. The ‘coats figure that if anyone knows what went down in that part of town, it’ll be the foundlings. At that point, we flash back to a scene where Elijah is enforcing his iron will on the foundlings and telling them that nobody likes a squealer. Basically Command. Full success, so I give the kid an extra die on his action roll to resist questioning and give Elijah one more stress. The complication would have been some of the foundlings really hating Elijah. We figure the kid has a die in resisting this kind of thing, being an older foundling. Bucky rolls a 2 and a 4, so manages to stay tough and not spill the beans about Elijah’s new crew, but as the Bluecoats rough him, up they leave him with a level 3 harm, broken arm, and a level 1 harm, black and blue. Elijah hears about this and spirits the boy off to see Sawtooth, the old physicker that takes care of the foundling boys’ and girls’ problems on the down low.

Next time

As a close, I asked them what they wanted to do for the next score. They want to put the Jays out of business for Mylera once and for all, as step one in downing the Lampblacks and establishing their own turf.

Session 2: The Front Door Score

Free play and planning

This time, the players had a long think about what to do next. They considered starting a front business out of the dojo and trying to sell their stolen trance powder from there. But they realized they didn’t have a big enough gang to run a retail operation.

Next, they considered trying to stake out the trance den and intercept the delivery of new products when the Jays had to re-up from the Lampblacks. They didn’t like the idea of splitting up to cover each entrance. From a distance, he’s in a controlled position, because this is a busy street. He stays at the end of the alley and watches the door. The survey is a partial success, so the ratty looking bowler-hatted thugs with crude planks as clubs notice him and he goes on down the street and now has a risky position for further exploits. He decides to try to sneak up to the front door like he’s a customer getting up his nerve; pushes himself for an extra die, and rolls a crit! He’s now standing right at the door eye to eye with two dudes in fedoras and expensive suits who are obviously packing on the door. They’re frisking customers before letting them in, so Harmattan decides to just size up the place and move on. But not before noticing with his last survey at the door that they’ve added iron bars as reinforcements, so a simple lock picking won’t be enough. Given that they’re frisking people, he decides not to try to go in, despite the critical skulking. So much for the plan of breaking in easily after hours. After the survey at the door in controlled position, it went back to risky as the guys on the door size him up again and he takes his leave. He still doesn’t know how big the place is inside, if there are other exits, or how many of the Jays live or hang out there at any given time.

So they repackage the trance powder they stole from the safe in the Back Door Score (Session 0) into their favored delivery form of straws like Pixy Stix. They fill up exactly one gross (144) straws.

The plan

The plan is to hit the street corners and hawk their product in view of the thugs outside the door in an effort to lure the low-class rabble to chase them away, at which point they can jump them. We decide the approach is going to be Social! They’re going to try to Sway customers headed to the Jays’ trance den to buy from them instead. As usual, Harmattan, the Lurk, is going light to blend in as a civilian, whereas Elijah, the Cutter, is going in with a standard load.

The engagement roll

I decide the approach is particularly daring for 1 extra die, and roll a 6 on 2d6 for the engagement roll. So they start the night in a controlled position. I’m wondering if they’re going to start trying to do the other things they can do to improve their engagements. Not much incentive if I keep rolling 6s!

Hawking on the street corner

Yup. They decided this is the level their crew is at. Street level.

The first possible customers they see is a high class couple literally slumming it down in row’s Nest. Smooth operator that he is (the crew are Silver Tongued Devils, after all), Harmattan compliments the lady and manages to seel the gent a couple doses. Laughing, they head into the club anyway, now having the thrill of making a street deal with an obvious hoodlum. Not what the gang intended, and the roll of 5 reduces their position from controlled to risky as the bowler-hatted thugs are now looking them over. They then target some dockworkers, trying to tell them the stuff the Jays are selling is crap and overpriced. Indeed, they’re underselling the stuff just to get people to avoid the Jays’ den. These guys buy some of the trance powder and then head back into Crows’ Nest. Now there’s a 4-clock for the thugs reacting with 2 segments clicked. Next deal, exact same outcome and now the thugs are coming for them, clubs swinging.

Baiting the Jays’ muscle

Still, it’s a desperate situation for Harmattan as he’s outnumbered two to one and is acting as bait. He waits for the Jays’ bowler-hatted ruffians to get close, then ducks around the corner where Elijah is skulking in wait. They decide it’s going to come down to a Skirmish rather than a Hunt—they’re just attacking, not laying an elaborate ambush or anything. We’re all getting used to the players setting the action. They don their exotic knuckle dusters from the Iruvian dojo they’re using as a lair, and lay into the thugs with a group action led by Elijah, the Cutter. It’s desperate given the approach, and before the boys succeed in knocking the Jays’ muscle unconscious, they are both clubbed in return. Elijah suffers a Level 2 harm, broken leg; no, he says, my Special Armor is going to reduce that to sprained leg, then I’m going to resist. He rolls a 6 on the Prowess resistance, and manages to sidestep the blow entirely. Harmattan’s clocked in the head for a level 2 harm of Concussed. No you don’t he says, my tricorn hat has armor plates, so now my Bell is Rung. He checks off his last two load. Then I’m going to resist that. Stress goes up, and it turns into a glancing blow off the armored headpiece. The thugs are in a heap on the ground and the boys toss them into the alley and go after the door.

Aside on Crimeworld

I can’t stress enough how much John Rogers’s Crimeworld for Fate Core helped me out in this planning. The basic structure for a heist is Breaking the House (getting in past security, etc.), Cracking the Box (e.g., getting into a safe), and Dodging the Heat. Breaking the House is broken down into three stages: first base, second base, and third base. In this case, it’s getting past the guards on the door, getting to the back room which leads to the safe, then getting into the safe room itself. Then, Cracking the Box is broken down into Accessing the Box (getting into the secure room where it’s stored; hacking into the computer system controlling the data to steal, etc.), Fooling the Eyes (surveillance, alarms, etc.), and Breaking the Bolts (physical security). Great for ad-libbing this kind of stuff with some structure.

Breaking the house

So now they’ve picked off the Jays’ hired thugs, but the Lampblacks aren’t so easily swayed from the door. As a reaction to the dumb muscle running down the street, they’ve pulled their fine Tier 2 pistols, closed the door to the den, and are on high alert. The situation’s desperate at this point for an assault. I can’t recall today exactly they lured away one of the Lampblacks. This was another desperate situation, and Elijah winds up taking a Level 3 harm, Serious Gut Shot;
that’s too much, he says, and throws one of his armored greaves in front of the bullet just in time, deflecting it to Level 2 harm, Bullet Lodged in the Gut. Resisting that then brought the harm down to Level 1, Bellyache, which he kept. Because they’re two on one against the Lampblack enforcer and have quality weapons, I figure it’s standard effect, despite being desperate. So they cosh him unsconscious and add him to the pile of unconscious bodies.

Next, Harmattan decides to Command the remaining Lampblack to run away home. If they hadn’t just taken out his partner and dropped the two thugs, it would have been zero effect. As is, it’s limited effect and also desperate as the Lampblack has his pistol leveled at the boys. Elijah helps for a full success, then they push for effect to actually make him run away. Given what the boys learn later, it seems likely that Lampblack won’t be going back to report to Baszo if he values his life and body parts.

First base: getting in the door. So now they open the door to the club again and enter the main den. The body funk smell is strong as there are about 30 bodies packed into couches and daybeds arranged in bunks; all in varying degrees of trance. The clientele runs the gamut from highborn ladies in lingerie to lowborn dockworkers forgetting their lives. There’s a bartender behind the bar, who looks terrified for his life. The boys tell him to make himself scarce for now, but to come back tomorrow and he’ll be able to keep his job. I’m not sure how to run this implicit growth of a cohort that comes from the fiction.

Second base: getting through the guards. They’re still on their toes because they know the stash is downstairs and probably protected by thugs with pistols like last time. And they still haven’t seen the two guys they knocked out in the Back Door Score (Session 1). They first check out the back room, which is storage. Elijah pulls a pistol and hands it to Harmattan, who’s out of load. Elijah picks up the Lampblacks’ fine pistol, then head down the stairs carefully, armed with their brass knuckles with pistols tucked into their belts. They emerge into a bunkroom where the two Jays are lying in bed, each with a knee wrapped in bandages and crutches next to their bed. It looks like they’ve been dosing lightly and are slightly out of it. So, controlled situation and full effect. They do another group Skirmish and fail, rolling a 3 between them. Ouch. The guys on the bed slowly dive for their pistols on the tables next to their beds. Now it’s a risky situation as the Jays’ are loopy and off guard, not in a good situation to fire. They try it again. Only a limited success, so the Jays get off their shots and they find flesh. Harmattan gets a Harm Level 2, broken leg from a bullet, but reduces it to Bullet Lodged in Calf. Now he’s suffering two Level 1 harms from Gunshots.

Third base: getting to the goods. They know the safe’s behind the next room and immediately just rush the door and bash through, this time shooting first and asking questions later. They manage to kill one of the guards and knock another one out. More stress, more damage, more reduced harm. They drag the dead bodies into the tenement basement hall and leave them there. They left the knocked out guys in the alley. And now they hold a piece of new turf. At least for now.

Downtime postponed

I haven’t upped the danger too much, but they were getting within striking distance of Trauma. One of my players actually said he thought it’d be interesting to see how Trauma worked. So stay tuned…

We had to wrap the session up before Downtime. I have to work on getting to the engagement roll faster. We play for about 2.5 hours and the players spent an hour of this one in planning, scouting, and considering alternative plans.

This Downtime should be fun. They’re suffering a lot of stress. They’ll get lots of ticks because of desperate actions this time for characters, and this time they were in over their head on tier, at least with the Lampblacks. Lots of using their crew’s properties, too, so crew experience is going to be good.

Also, there’ll be increasing heat, which will be coming from all sides with a dead body and this blow to the Lampblacks. I think it’s war with the Lampblacks. Mylera should be very pleased, though.

Thoughts on Blades in the Dark

I like this system a lot. It delivers on being easy to run and providing cinematic action.

Harm is awesome. I’m finding the combats are much faster, grittier, and more cinematic. And they don’t feel gritty because they’re swingy. They freel gritty because of the concreteness of the harm. Someone shoots you in Blades and you have a Bullet in the Torso if you’re lucky. I really like how the harm system plays. With loose descriptions of setting details and effects tied to the fiction, it’s impossible to just say a bad guy hits you for 5 points of damage and is AC 13 and thus so and so hard to hit back. The GM has to describe the effect. It’s a Lamblack fine pistol ball to the gut that’s going to reduce your ability to run and skirmish, not just set your hit points from 27 to 21. That might get reduced, but it might also be a lingering pistol ball that needs to be dealt with during the next Downtime. Just like in the movies (just watched Lawless and Public Enemies in my attempt to swot up on the genre). That’s a real consequence, too, in that characters have a lot they want to do during Downtime instead of bandaging themselves up. It’s not just sleep the night and back to full. My player’s very happy that his Cutter Elijah took Sawtooth the physicker as a friend so he doesn’t have to pay an expert so much to patch him up. It just feels so much more immersive the way it plays.

Don’t miss the maps. My conclusion is that gridded maps are too reductive and that hit points are way too abstract. I don’t mean that it’s not a fun game to play Squad Leader style combats in something like D&D, just that I wind up equating my character with the pawn representing him on a chessboard rather than taking a more narrative approach. I know the board doesn’t rule that out, but it encourages that if you’re a gamer like me.

“Monster” creation. It’s a double benefit. First, I find it much faster and easier to create the bad guys and their actions in the position/effect setting with modifiers now that’s all tied to the narrative than with the more abstract system of D&D. It’s easier than looking up a monster in a manual and then continually referencing it. Second, despite all being human, the bad guys are much more nuanced when you’re forced to think beyond HP and AC and ranged vs. melee attacks. I’m curious whether this is a system that’s easy for new GMs, not just converts from more traditional d20 and similar games.

Playing in the sandbox. I started hexcrawling with original D&D back in the 1970s. But I’ve never understood before how this sandbox style of play could work to create a proper narrative until now. Finally, I feel much less pressure as a GM to make a story and much more flexibility in setting up situations. Despite guessing they’d run another assault, I hadn’t planned anything other than the daily routine of the place and staffing, so I was totally OK if they wanted to run an intercept maneuver. At one point they even considered going to Baszo and asking him to put them in charge of the Jays’ hideout because the Jays were clearly incompetent. They were thinking they could play him off against Mylera. So I imagine that’s still a possibility.

The players really do hint at the kind of game they want, the kind of approaches they want, and where they want their characters to go. It was much harder to adapt to their wishes and have the result be a coherent story in other games I’ve run over the years. Now I know they’re thinking some kind of retail operation, so I can start thinking of counterattacks and complications. It’s nice that I don’t have to think about that much at all in terms of game mechanics. Or throwing the next plot point at the character. This player-driven narrative stuff really is working beautifully so far.

If I may stagger away from my usual prosaic style, I’d say the initial scenario’s just the little bit of grit around which a pearl will form. It didn’t need anything more than half a page of description and we’re off like dominoes.

Next time

Session 3: Dodging the Heat and Securing the Den

We only play for 2.5 hours and we’re learning the system and fleshing out the crew and hcaracter backgrounds, so we never got to a proper score. Lots of social interactions, though, some of which could’ve probably have been converted to a longer score format.

Remembering desperate XP

Having never played a game where XP accrues during play, we keep forgetting to track XP from desperate actions. Luckily for us, Roll20 keeps track of the position for each roll, so we were able to go back and see that there was a desperate command and some desperate skirmish actions. How Blades reinforces your character’s doing desperate things is starting to sink in. Spoiler alert: Harmattan gets his first trauma during free play this session.

Filling out some crew relations

I mentioned that they are considered to know everyone on their crew and character sheets, but should take one crew relation as their designated good contact. They haven’t done that yet and I’ve let them put it off.

The payoff for the Front Door Score

Our crew took over the Jays’ downmarket trance den last session, running off their Lamplblack protection.

REP: This was certainly no quiet score—they went in through the front door and left a dead body and a couple of disabled thugs with shot out knees in the hallway. They get 3 Rep because they were facing off mano a mano with the Lampblacks, a tier 2 operation that left them making desperate rolls with limited effect (hence all of the stress accumulation last session).

COIN: This was a small job so it’s a total of 4 coin.

The heat

[Edit: Forgot this first time.] This Front Door’s worse than the back. It’s 2 heat for standard exposure, +1 heat for hostile turf (think I forgot that last time), and +2 heat because killing is involved, for a total of 5 heat, bringing their heat status up to nearly full. This is why they worried about it later—they didn’t like the idea of having a wanted level and getting thrown in jail.

Entanglements

[Edit: also forgot this the first time.] This time, their heat was 6+, but they are still wanted level 0, so it’s the final column of the entanglements table. We do this one out in the open so the players can see how it works and we can decide what the right level is for the game. I roll two dice and the lowest is a 2, for “Flipped or Interrogation”. We talk about having the kid flip, but that goes against his loyalty to Primm in standing up to the interrogation. Sawtooth lives so hot he doesn’t even notice the extra heat on Primm. I suppose we could’ve tried to flip the old locksmith, but at this point he’s more friend than co-conspirator. So we decide it should be an Interrogation. They talk to Mylera about this while talking about everything else (see below) and ask her if there’s someone to bribe to dodge the interrogation—she tells them whoever the Bluecoats send is likely to take a bribe. We haven’t played this entanglement yet.

Faction status

Uh, oh. The Lampblacks were already at -2; This is going to take that relationship to -3 and start a war. The crew’s now at tier 0, weak hold while the war is on.

A tithe to Milera

At this point, it’s the next morning, and the first order of business is to report back to Mylera. They head over to the Dojo. It’s barely the crack of dawn, but they arrive to see the floor covered in battered Red Sashes among a sea of discarded staves. Mylera’s walking among them, cool as ever, carrying a thin staff.

She ushers them into her office, which stands in stark contrast to the spare setting of the dojo exercise floor. Rather than racks of weapons and a bare wood (!) floor, there are ornate rugs covering the floor, bookcases of ancient tomes in Iruvian, and scupture and wall hangings giving the whole place the air of a museum more than a swordmaster’s office. In her cool and measured tone, she asks them if the job is done. They tell her yes, but it was harder than they thought it’d be because they brought in Lampblacks for protection and they don’t think Bazso is going to be take this sitting down. She lets them know that was the plan—get Baz riled up.

They open by plonking down a sack of silver slugs (1 coin). Seeing propriety is met, she nods ever so slightly. Then they segue into letting her know they plan to operate the trance den. She raises an eyebrow inquisitively and asks them to go on. How are they going to operate it? They mention they have a bartender already and are going to roust a crew of rooks to operate the place while they provide protection.

Next, she asks what they plan to do for product. Clearly, they can’t use her high-end product in a low-end drug den. No problem, says Harmattan; I can cut it back in our lair so it doesn’t even look like it came from you. She asks them if they want anything specific, and they suggest Heaven Scent, a mild euphoric that’s a little less debilating than Trance Powder, but still has users on the quiet side. They’re in luck, because Heaven Scent’s a powdered form of cactus that only grows in the deserts of Iruvia and she has a line on a supply (no details given to the crew here).

She says she’ll have it delivered to their dojo later; she’s not foolish enough to store product in the dojo.

They tell her that there are a bunch of toffee-nosed nobs coming down from the nice parts of town to slum it in Crow’s Foot. They say they can refer them to her more upscale dens if she’d like. She reaches into her desk and pulls out a small stack of engraved cards. Apparently her dens are run in an Iruvian Nights theme, with multiple forms of entertainment including high-end drugs. They’re impressed just with the cards and carefully tuck them away.

Finally, she asks what they’re going to do about Bazso Baz and the 'blacks. They say that if the first two guys were any indication, they wouldn’t survive a full onslaught. She nods and asks them to go on. Then they lean in and tell her they want to go to Bazso, pay him off and tell him they’ll take over the den for the Jays. Meanwhile, their real game is going to be spying for Mylera. She asks them why she should trust them. They say that they’re doing this for pragmatic reasons, not out of a sense of duty—they’ve sized up the situation in Crow’s Foot and believe Mylera’s going to come out on top. So they are going in with a Consort roll—they’re actually telling the truth here. This is a desperate action any way you look at it, but the effect is going to be standard; if they manage to convince her, she’ll play along for a while. Harmattan decides to help Elijah make his case in the usual back-and-forth of completing each other thoughts and reinforcing the message that they are doing this in good faith. They get a 6 with two dice, and she agrees to let them give it a go. Just one condition—she wants a report on the disposition of Bazso’s forces after the meeting.

No time for a tipple

They head over to the Jolly Judge, which is in the Lampblacks’ back yard. They want to find a Lampblack to lead them to Bazso. The place is packed again as usual late after dusk. It’s cold and rainy outside, so the Judge is a welcome respite. There’s a fire going in the fireplace in back with a group huddled around it. The bar is thronged as usual, only this time the discussion is the recent dissolution of Crows’s Nest’s latest gang to go down, the lowly Jays. There’s speculation on who did it and what their gang name is. It sounds like they know who it is roughly (that Severosi kid and the guy from Blackwell’s) but there’s speculation on what their gang is called. One patron’s convinced it’s the Owls and someone else said he heard them called the Jokers. Our crew just chuckles and heads to the end of the bar, where they’ve spotted a guy in a well-tailored suit with a fedora next to him. He has his back to the corner and the seats next to him are empty other than his hat. Our crew tries to sit down and he looks up from his strange-looking drink to say, “these seats are for my hat.” Despite the crowd, everyone’s giving this guy a wide berth, so the crew doesn’t want to push it. Instead they ask the bartender to get him another drink. He brings out a crystal bottle and pours one out, charging them as much as a round for the whole house should’ve cost.

At that point, I figure it’s time to discuss food and drink and the pivotal role of mushrooms and eel. They know the upper crust can get real food, and they’ve even seen it from time to time. The Lampblack is drinking proper grain alcohol. They’re floored that the Jolly Judge even has such a thing, but then they are on the ‘blacks’ back porch.

Then they clear their throats and start to tell him that they are the ones behind the takedown and before they can get halfway into that sentence, the Lampblack holds up a hand, downs the whisky in front of him, and says, “Follow me.” He’s out of the bar in a flash and our boys try to keep up as he turns left away from the Lampblacks’ lair down the canal running along the west side of the district. When they’re out of any street light cover and near a dark alley he continues walk and says, “Talk.” They catch him up on the details and say they need to talk to Bazso. He tells them he can take them now, but they’re going to get searched and won’t be able to take anything into the meeting. They agree and follow him back to the lair.

Cutting the Heaven Scent

Harmattan gets to work cutting the Heaven Scent with Tinker. He rolls a success with consequences, and winds up inhaling enough of the dust that he has a temporary Level 1 harm, Euphoric, so he’s going to have limited effect on any thinking-related activity for a while. But he gets the job and they have a bunch of their favored Pixy Stix filled with their cut Heaven Scent. That’s one of Harmattan’s downtime activities.

Training with the Sashes

Harmattan decides to do a little Prowess training so that he can raise his Skirmish rating from 1 to 2 dots. They’ve been getting into a lot of scrapes. Mylera sends over a Red Sash trainee who instructs him in the proper use for a beginner of some of the exotic weapons in the place; the trainee’s young and attractive but all business. Clearly a fight with her wouldn’t likely turn out in Harmattan’s favor. The crew has Training:Prowess (I let them swap out their starting crew and starting character pips—I don’t know if that’s legal or not, but they wanted a kind of hard-hitting crew of Hawkers and I didn’t see why not.)

Meeting Bazso

They make their way through the rusty gates into a defunct colliery which still has an overwhelming whiff of coal dust. Disused machines and storage bins line the floor. There are gantries and skywalks everywhere with chains and hooks and buckets hanging down. They’re summarily searched and go in without weapons of any kind. The Lampblacks lead them up a narrow set of stairs and along a catwalk to a bare bones elevated factory office with fake wood paneling. Bazso stands up from a battered office chair and like the rest of the Lampblacks, his immaculae and perfectly tailored suit stands in sharp contrast to the surroundings. Before even saying hello, he leads with, “Tell me why I shouldn’t kill you where you stand.”

They start by dumping two bags of silver on his table, thunk, thunk (2 coin). “Hmph, he says, that’s what the Jays owed me. But I still don’t see why I shouldn’t just bury you and call the whole thing even.” The muscle is clearly packing and moves in closer.

They decide to double down and lay it on the line. “Those Jays were useless and your security wasn’t enough.” Bazso grimaces and stares them down, finally calmly saying, “Fuck yeah, I shoulda’ put a bullet in their heads, not their knees. At least you saved me that trouble.” Then they go in for the score, “We’d like to run it for you. The right way. We’ve already shown you we’ve got what it takes.”

We agree it’s a desperate Sway roll with limited effect. Baz basically wants them dead for humiliating his new gang and protection. They help and push and wind up barely convincing him not to cap them, but they haven’t convinced him to let them run the joint.

“What collateral can you give me? Loved ones. Infirm but beloved parents maybe? A large gem? That kind of thing.” They look at each other and can’t think of anything. “Don’t make me find the collateral myself,” he adds. They decide that they’ll try to sweeten the deal with money. This time they’re sincere and decide to Consort, offering him pretty much the full take until he believes in them. They manage to push their way through this, too and the next thing you know, Bazso’s negotiating details.

"So, he says, you’re going to need some product. He snaps his fingers and before the gang knows it, they have another pile of low-grade Trance Powder in front of them. They don’t need it, but can’t blow their cover. He tells them same deal as the Jays—this is a loan, but you repay me in a week. With the usual interest. He doesn’t even have to specify an “or else”. They don’t even ask about interest rates. They’re happy to be getting out of this alive.

They think he’ll probably have guys following them. I love how players come up with all the great ideas in this game! So far, I haven’t made a damn thing up ahead of time for this session other than the intents and dispositions of the gangs.

After this, their relation with Bazso and the Lampblacks goes back to -2. At least until they screw up.

Rustling up a cohort

Harmattan spends one of his downtime activities Consorting with Marlo, a local gang boss who’s been known to be able to raise a gang of mercenaries for short term work. For a good cut, of course. This is very controlled—Marlo knows Harmattan and Harmattan’s there to do business. No problem and they agree to a price and after a 1-3 result with one die (tier 0 plus help), resulting in a tier -1 cohort (one kid?), Marlo tells them the finding’s tough with the war between the Lampblacks and Red Slashes in full swing, so it’s going to cost more. They increase the result with coin (Harmattan’s player just figured that out by reading the nice “Rulse Reference 2” handout that has a summary of downtime), and wind up with a Tier 1 cohort of rooks that can run the social and operational side of the den. They rooks are fairly high class and well turned out for the neighborhood and our crew’s happy. They’ve already got Harlan the bartender if he shows up again. Plus Bucky, who’s healing as well.

Treating with Sgt. Laroze

They also remembered to ask Mylera what they should do about the crazy amount of heat they’ve just brought down on themselves. They tweaked the Lampblacks’ noses on hostile turf, they left a dead body—it’s pretty bad. Mylera tells them she’ll get word to Sgt. Laroze that you’ll be showing up at his chop house at lunch time with a donation to the Bluecoat Retirement Fund.

The Eel and Beast Chop House turns out to be a greasy dive near the precinct house. Its tablecloths have seen better days as have its fixtures. They can’t miss the Sgt, a well-fed man of middling years with a rum nose and large whisky and pile of greasy ribs in front of him. It’s not clear the boys have ever seen anyone eating ribs before. The smell is a bit overwhelming.

As is becoming their signature move, they begin the meeting by plonking down two sacks of coin on the table. Sgt. Laroze tells them this should keep the boys busy who might otherwise be sniffing around their new den. He then signals the waiter and orders a round of the “good stuff” for him and his new friends. Not quite what the Lampblack was drinking, but better than any booze Elijah’s had before. Elijah also tells the sergeant that Harmattan’s still trying to shake off the effects of the fights the previous night.

Harmattan’s trying to follow the conversation, but all he can do is fixate on the lights and the shape of the ribs, so he decides to keep quiet. No problem, because this isn’t the first drink the sergeant has had, nor will it be the last.

That counts as one of Elijah’s downtime activities—heat reduction.

Healing with Sawtooth

Elijah’s still got two fresh bullet wounds which aren’t getting better on their own. He can’t walk full speed and twisting his body hurts where he was shot in the gut. So he figures he needs to heal. We figure out how the healing clocks work and get to it.

He visits Sawtooth, the Physicker who used to help out with the kids at Blackwell’s Home for Foundings. Sawtooth, it turns out, is an old field medic who was drummed out of the army for buggery. When Elijah found him, he was working as a cut man in an illicit fighting pit. Elijah was more than happy to keep his sexual cravings satified if he’d consent to cutting the Foundlings rather than the pit fighters. After getting each other out of numerous scrapes, they’ve developed an odd sort of friendship, or maybe mutual dependence.

Upping the effect with yet more coin (for some drugs and clean sutures), Elijah’s back up to scratch.

Who’s Ebenezer?

I’ve been doing a better job than ever before of keeping notes. It helps that the actions form a part of a coherent narrative. I’m the kind of guy who can remember math I read 20 years ago, but can’t remember the plot from the movie I saw last night.

Transcribing my notes this morning, I found the name “Ebenezer Pr…” and then I can’t even read the rest of it. I’m going to have to ask the players who that is!

Next time on…

Harmattan’s player’s out for two weeks, so we’re going to be doing some Elijah-specific scores. Maybe we’ll roll up a sidekick or just play along with the cohorts. I’ve been playing 3-person games with the same two people since the 1970s, so we’re used to that scale. I’ve also done a lot of one-on-one RPG-ing with Elijah’s player, most recently completing the first book of Hoard of the Dragon Queen.

And there’s that lingering Interrogation from entanglements still to play out. Not sure they have enough coin to cover it!

Session 4: Introducing Beatrix Jolly

Only one of my two players could make it for two sessions, so we devoted the first to expanding the crew with a new scoundrel. The player had a character pretty well fleshed out in backstory, but had no idea which playbook to choose to make that happen. So a lot of the 2 hour session we had was just looking through the playbooks, looking up the special abilities and the things a leech can keep in their bandolier, where it would make sense to have a sweet shop and an upscale sweet shop, etc. My player also decided to put some dots in some actions that neither of the other two scoundrels took, Finesse, Wreck, and Attune. We need some more background on how she came to acquire those skills as a shopkeeper. But then hey, it’s Duskwall and she’s a scoundrel!

Beatrix’s backstory

Beatrix was born some 30+ years ago in Akaros to parents Pettigrew and Esther Jolly. She was born ahead of her brother Bertram, and likes to think she’s stayed ahead of him in every way.

Beatrix has grown into her role as a happy shopkeeper, quite enjoying the day-to-day bustle of happy customers. Over her underlying natural cheer, Beatrix layers a dithering facade to divert attention from herself. Her fair sex, deferential demeanor, and plump figure lead everyone other than children to underestimate her sharp wit.

The family business is the Jolly Sweet Shoppe, a purveyor of candy. The shop is located in the oldest part of town, the Charterwall neighborhood of Charterhall, within the original lightning barrier of the city. The kitchen is housed just off Alembic Street in the Alchemists’ Parish. Between the shop and the kitchen lies the Bellweather neighborhood, home of Bellweather Crematorium and the Death Wardens.

After Beatrix perfected several chocolate confections, the shop picked up an exclusive clientele from Brightstone. Pettigrew opened a second, flagship shop in Brightstone.

Pettigrew had always told the children that they’d inherit the shop when he died. Sadly, that day came sooner than expected. Yather Monk, Esq., gathered the family to read the will, which stipulated that Esther would inherit everything. “Dears,” she told the children, “Your father only intended you to be proprietor and proprietess, and that you shall be. Bertie, you’ll manage the flagship where you can put your business acumen to use; Bea, you can still run the original store and the kitchen, just like you’ve been doing so well all these years.”

Still seething from the will and thinking something is up between the barrister and her mother, Beatrix gets a visit from her brother. He tells her, “The books are a mess and it turns out father was in great debt; there are no earnings to pay out. We’ll be lucky to stay afloat.” Beatrix is not buying this for a minute. Nevertheless, Bertram continues, “But mum and I have a plan. We’re going to be expanding our business with a new partner. As long as you can keep cooking, we won’t have any problem.”

Beatrix soon realizes that chocolate and other sweets are not what Bertram has in mind. As he lays out the formula for a new concoction called “Heaven Scent” for her, the specifics come into focus. They want her to cook drugs. In quantity.

Esther and Bertram keep mentioning their “close friend” Legia Blackwell, of whom Beatrix knows nothing. When she finally asks, Esther replies, “I’m going to devote myself to good deeds. The lovely Ms. Legia Blackwell has appointmed me to the board of her little home for foundlings.” Knowing her mother and brother’s capacities, Beatrix deduces that Ms. Blackwell is the mastermind of this operation and the foundlings are her pawns.

When she finally meets Ms. Blackwell, she and Ester are chortling over the thought that the lowly Elijah Primm, himself a foundling, could have designs on the directorship of the Blackwell Home for Foundlings. Still chuckling, she says, "We’ve placed the Honorable Mr. Monk in that position.

Beatrix has a close friend, Stasia, who runs an apothecary shop right next to the Jolly Kitchen in the Alchemists’ Parish. Yather Monk, Esq., is now her nemesis. His offices are just to the east in the Legal Quarter neighborhood of Charterhall.

Character build

  • Name: Beatrix Jolly
  • Nickname: Trix
  • Playbook: Leech
  • Heritage: Akarosi
  • Background: Trade: shopkeeper/cook for Jolly Sweets
  • Vice/purveyor: Pleasure: gourmand / anywhere with good food
  • Action dots: Study 1, Tinker 2; Finesse 1, Skirmish 1, Wreck 1; Attune 1, Consort 1
  • Attributes: Insight 2, Prowess 3, Resolve 2
  • Special Ability: Venomous
  • Look: plump, cheerful

What’s next?

For this vice to play out, she’s going to have to develop a personal connection, like a devotion to a grandmotherly figure who sells homemade dumplings from a shabby cart or become a regular at a restaurant in Brightstone that she really can’t afford. How have others played out this kind of pleasure vice?

The character’s a good fit for the existing crew, who still haven’t established a source for drugs independent of Mylera or Bazso. She has direct ties now to the foundling home as do the other two characters. Of course, their problem is too much product now. Inventory control is hard when you’re a vice dealer. As is paying off the loans that come with the product. But of course, nothing operates in a vacuum and if you want to make wholesale quantities of Heaven Scent, you need a lab and you need to get the ingredients for Heaven Scent wholesale. It’ll invite a different kind of trouble than just buying the drugs wholesale from another gang of scoundrels. We’re veering from the Wire into later Weeds and Breaking Bad territory.

I had though Elijah would want to go straight for Legia when we were playing on our own, but no, the player said Legia’s way too powerful and wily to be taken out easily. He thinks we’ll need a longer story arc that builds up to a sweet comeuppance (pun intended, naturally).

Let’s talk about Blades

We also spent a long time talking about GM-ing a game like Blades in the Dark. It lives up to its billing as being unlike anything we’ve ever encountered before. We’ve both GM-ed a range of games over 40+ years including multiple homebrew systems and hacks of existing systems, but had never played anything derived from Apocalypse World before. So far, we’re liking it and plan to continue.

The player supposed that it must be extraordinarily hard to come up with complications, harms, setbacks, etc. on the fly. That was pretty much the conclusion of Oren Ashkenazi on the wonderful Mythcreants blog. My player said the first thing he’d do is create a table (his own homebrew game, which is a Georgian/Napoleonic fantasy setting, has an elaborate set of critical hit and miss tables). But that hasn’t been my experience running it all! I told my player that I was actually finding this much easier and infinitely more satisfying to run than looking up how many damage dice to throw or what saving throw to force. I love how every bad guy with a gun or a club feels threatening and that they had to find a physicker to cure the two festering bullet wounds from the Front Door Job in their downtime.

We also talked about how prep is so different for this because you don’t need elaborate stat blocks for monsters, just a sense of everyone’s role in the fiction. That’s so much more fun to think about between games than how to wrestle a monster concept into a Procrustean d20 system. As empowered as Blades characters are (which I like!), the world still feels threatening.

Session 5: The Inside Score

Wherein Beatrix Jolly is shot hijacking her own supply

The crew

Vengeful Hawkers, who believe it’s better to borrow product from better supplied gangs than pay for it.

  • Elijah Primm, Cutter, founder of the crew and former accountant
  • Beatrix Jolly, Leech, proprietor of original Jolly Sweet Shoppe

Friends

  • Sgt Laroze, Bluecoat in charge of the crew’s turf
  • Colin Forth, Scovlander gondolier
  • Lizzie Stewart, Scovlander madam of Dame Lizzie’s brothel in the Ease
  • Betsie (Campbell), one of Dame Lizzie’s girls

Foes

  • Legia Blackwell, head of the Blackwell Home for Foundlings
  • Yather Monk, esq., director of the Blackwell Home and Legia’s barristers
  • Bertram Jolly, brother of Beatrix, self-styled gangster proprietor
    of flagship Jolly Sweet Shoppe
  • Esther Jolly, mother of Beatrix, owner of Jolly Sweets

A trip to Silkshore

We still had downtime activities to resolve for Elijah after creating Beatrix’s character last session.

After overindulging and going too far with Lame Maggie after the Back Door Score, then having no time to indulge after the Front Door Score, Elijah needs to find a new dungeon and work off some stress. He’s never played with anyone other than Lame Maggie, so he’s apprehensive as he climbs down into a gondola and asks the poleman to take him to the Ease (the red lantern district of criss-crossing canal/alleys in Silkshore) after dusk.

The canals of the Ease are crowded with pleasure seekers of all variety. The gondolier, a Scovlander who introduces himself as Colin Forth, asks Elijah what his pleasure is. He mentions he’s looking for a girl with a high pain threshold and nothing too fancy or high profile. “Well then. Dame Lizzie’s is just the thing,” says Colin, “If you fancy Scov girls, that is.” “That’ll do just fine,” Elijah replies.

Colin poles them under the Bridge of Beauty, commenting on its name, and then poles south down Spicewater way, a narrow alley. Just up ahead, electroplasmic lights flash around a doorway, illuminating a sign in flowing script that reads “Dame Elizabeth’s Boudoir”. Elijah asks if Colin can wait, and he quickly aggrees when he sees the handful of coins Elijah’s offering him. “Give Lizzie my regards and tell her Colin sent ya,” he says poling back up the whence he came.

As soon as Elijah alights on the landing, a whiff of perfume is soon followed by the presumed madam herself. She’s tall, with long-strawberry blonde hair beginning to gray. More noticable perhaps, is that she somehow manages to appear both businesslike and as if she has just stepped out of bed. She leans out the door and waves to Colin as he departs; he tips his cap in reply before disappearing around the corner. Turning to Elijah she says, “Madam Elizabeth Stewart. Proprietess. And I must say I’m most pleased to meet a handsome gentelman as yourself, sir.” Elijah can only stammer in the face of Ms. Stewart’s manners. She sizes him up, continuing, “Well, no names necessary here. Maybe we can talk about what you like and we can find you a fine young lady.”

“Well, Colin told me you might have a girl who’s up for just about anything…,” he tails off. “Aye, you’ve come to the right establishment, sir.” “Betsie!”, she calls. “Yes, ma’am?”, comes the reply from downstairs.

Cut to two hours later, as Elijah makes his way back up the narrow spiral staircase. “Betsie!”, the madam calls. “Yes, ma’am?”, a bit wearier than the first time, echoes from downstairs. Lizzie smiles and turns turns to Elijah. “Now you come back soon. And tell your friends about my little boudoir.”

Colin notices how much calmer Elijah is as he steps into the gondola. “Told ya she’d set ya up right, mate.” Elijah just continues to stare into the distance as Colin poles him back to Crow’s Foot.

Elijah had to spend a Coin for this third downtime activity. He has a minimum attribute of 2. He rolls a 4 and 5, clearing 5 of his 6 stress. After hiring the rooks and paying off the Bluecoats, the crew and its members are skint.

Nicked

We still had the Entanglement roll to resolve from last time, which was Interrogation. It might have made more sense to have this be Harmattan, but Harmattan’s player was AWOL, so Elijah it is.

The next morning, as Elijah heads out of their dojo and walks down the main avenue in Crow’s Foot, e feels a firm hand on his shoulder and hears, “OK, lad, you’re coming with us.” He turns to see 4 Bluecoats with truncheons staring him down. As they start to walk down the street, the Bluecoat next to him clears his throat, holds out his hand, and mumbles, “Sgt. Laroze says we can do this the easy way.” Too bad Elijah’s tapped. So, instead we go into the interrogation room at the back of the precinct. They rough Elijah up, saying they really just want their payoff, but they can take information on that dead body in the tenement instead. Elijah’s tapped at this point, so stays mum. To show they mean business, they break his fingers (Level 2 harm) in an effort to get him to talk. Instead, he resists the talking. They literally kick him to the street and he has to bandage his own fingers for now.

Free play

Not surprisingly, soon after joining our vengeful crew, Beatrix sets her sights on revenge against her mother and brother, as well as their new partners, Legia Blackwell, of the eponymous foundling home, and Yather Monk, Esq., her lawyer and director of the home. What better way to do that than to get Elijah’s help to knock off their bagmen coming to re-up the candy shops and take their bags of slugs and the product for both hers and Bertie’s shops?

Gathering Information

Beatrix has been doing this for a while now and knows the basic protocol. Some time after the candy shop closes for business after the foggy dusk hour, a coach pulled by two Arkosian goats would arrive. The bagman would get out, come inside the shop without knocking, drop off the new drug supply, and collect the take from the previous few days dealings. It was always the same man, and he didn’t say more than one word at a time, no matter how polite and cheerful and engaging she was. He was decked out in a tight-fitting pinstriped suit, had very shiny shoes, and wore his wide-brimmed hat pulled down low. He even had the manners to take it off when he stepped inside.

Elijah thinks they need to know the path of the coach so they can hijack it en route so there’s no suspicion. He stakes out the Jolly Kitchens, which will be their first stop to pick up the new product. He lays in wait hoping to observe the proceedings and then follow the coach.

Controlled survey roll with standard effect; with 1d he gets a 3 and decides to back off and try another approach.

Elijah barely manages to see the tail end of the coach taking off and nothing at all about its disposition. So he decides he knows the neighborhood well enough he can cut the coach off before it gets too far.

Prowl, controlled, standard: 1d for a 1. Ouch.

No such luck. As he tries to follow the coach, he’s blocked down an alley by an upset cart of fruit and an entire flock of pedestrians, some of whom are helping and some of whom are stealing from the hapless vendor. He takes a quick look at the drainpipe leading to the rooftops and says, “Nah, too much work.”

Good, we’re going to cut to the engagement roll straightaway.

The approach the detail

Elijah returns with no useful news. He thinks they’re just going to have to assault the coach directly when it shows up at Beatrix’s branch of the Jolly Sweet Shop in Charterhall. That way, it’ll have the full amount of drugs and her takings.

Beatrix instead suggests she can just follow the bagman out and distract them with her usual chatter while slipping some binding oil onto the axle of their carriage so it won’t go anywhere.

Elijah goes with the standard load and Beatrix is packed lightly so as not to give the game away at the shop. I’m not entirely sure whether this is Social, as that’s going to be the first roll, or Stealth, as she’s going to try to finesse something onto the coach. I figure it doesn’t matter as the plan’s intent and form are clear enough to me, so we go ahead. I work out the engagement to be 2d and rolled a 5 and a 2. So this one’s starting out Risky, much to the chagrin of Elijah’s player whose two previous scores had both started out in a Controlled position.

The score

A couple hours past dusk, thue bell rings over the shop as the bagman walks in, dressed in a grey three piece suit, fedora in hand. Beatrix goes into her usual chatty routine, so nothing out of the ordinary; she’s been trying to get this guy to talk for weeks now. She clunks down two bags of silver on the counter, and he drops off a carton of drugs. He turns to walk out the door, pulling the fedora down low over his eyes again, when Beatrix interrupts him. She’s asking him if he’d like some chocolate for the road and that kind of thing. And he’s grunting monosyllables as usual. When she gets near the coach, he swings up, and says, “G’night, m’am.” She notices the coachman has a coach gun tucked in next to him (a wide mouth musket that’s easy to load on a horse or moving coach). The Arkosian goats seem well under control. The bagman opens the armored part of the coach and places the take inside.

I don’t ask for a roll to follow the bagman. She’s established her character already and is asking well within it.

Unbenownst to the bagman and coachman, Beatrix has palmed a dose of binding oil. As the bagman’s climbing into the coach, she makes her move and pretends to slip a bit and drop some of the oil onto the axle of the coach.

She’s trying to do this on the down low, so figures it’s a Finesse roll. She rolls a 5 with one die in finesse. That’s a success with a complication.

She manages to slip the oil onto the axle unseen, but there’s more in there than she suspect and some splashes onto her boot. She’s bound in place to the paving stones. As the bagman settles down next to the coachman, the coachman whips the goats into a jackrabbit start. Elijah, who’s hiding in wait well away from the action, sees the cart try to take off and then skew to the side and the two mean get whipsawed a bit. He takes that as his cue and rushes the cart with his fine Iruvian iron-bound bo stick. Can he knock out the coachman before he gets off a shot?

Elijah’s in a Risky position for his Skirmish, but the effect will be standard. He rolls a 2, 3. Uh, oh.

The coachman picks up his coach gun and fires. The shot goes wide of Elijah…toward Beatrix. It looks like it’s going to hit Beatrix in the collarbone, but she turns away at the last second and it goes through the meaty part of her shoulder and out the other side. (*Level 2 harm Resisted to Level 1 harm, Bullet Wound in the Shoulder().

Beatrix decides she should use all the training she did with Black Lotus to secrete a cloud of Black Lotus through her pores and take out the coachman.

She’s trying to Finesse the cloud in his direction. Neither of us quite knew what to roll here, but most of the obvious choices had 1d, so we just went with Finesse. The position’s still Desperate and the effect Standard. She rolls a 5. Success but complication.

The coachman’s woozy from the Black Lotus, but the Bluecoats are on their way (3 ticks of a 4 clock).

The bagman’s got his pistol out, leveled at Elijah. Elijah draws the fine pistol he took off the Lampblack in the Front Door Score and fires point blank.

Depsearate skirmish with great effect. He rolls a 1, 6. Nice.

The bullet goes straight through the forehead of the bagman and he collapses on the ground. The bells toll for the dead, and it’s almost as if the answering echo can be heard from the nearby Bellweather Crematorium. That means more heat on the crew long term, but in the short term, the Spirit Wardens will soon be joining the Bluecoats on the scene.

The driver’s looking a bit woozy. The whistle of a Bluecoat patrolman and heavy footfalls of several more can be heard through the night. Elijah hops into the coach, pushes out the dead bagman and woozy coachman, while making sure the coach gun stays put. He then tries to whip the goats into making a quick getaway.

Command roll, desperate position, standard effect. Rolls a 3,4.

Uh, the axle’s still stuck and the carriage slews around more. (Was this a dick move? Should I have reminded the player that the axle is still bound?)

Beatrix sees the problem pulls out a second bandolier stocked with Alcahest, and tries to drop it into place while shouting for help to the quickly approaching Bluecoats. She’s still stuck in place herself, too.

Another Desperate roll given the oncoming Bluecoats, but with standard effect. She rolls a 5.

The Bluecoats arrive on the scene with their truncheons drawn, but stop short upon seeing the dead bagman, woozy coachman, and an apparently helpless young shopkeeper who’s been shot in the arm! While Beatrix has them distracted for the momnent, Elijah tries another command.

  • Desperate roll for standard effect. He rolls a 3,4 on Command.*

The goats take off at a trot, but not before the Bluecoats get a good look at our man Elijah. (+2 Heat from this already hot score.)

The Bluecoats being on foot can’t catch Elijah, so they turn to Beatrix for her story. She gives them a great sob story about how someone was trying to rob her shop when all hell broke loose and she got shot and …

Given the situation here with the lady shopkeeper shot and bleeding in front of her burgled store, I make this a Controlled roll with great effect. She rolls a 5.

The Bluecoats are convinced that Beatrix wasn’t involved, but they have suspicion she’s not telling them everything. “Strange time to be opening a candy shop, they say as they turn and leave.” They’re going to be keeping an eye peeled for any shenanigans involving Elijah or the Jolly Sweet Shop in the future.

I totally missed the opportunity to have the Spirit Wardens show up in order to show up. I told the players about it, but they haven’t seen it. Plus, who doesn’t like the old “this is our investigation” set piece? I also should’ve turned the Bluecoats suspicion into some more Heat that needed to be taken or resisted. Now that I think about it, I’m not sure my players know they can resist effects other than harm.

Downtime

Lots of desperate rolls for XP, and the whole operation was a vengeful one to gain supply, so the crew’s near its first upgrade.

The Rep is 2 as they’re pretty much always punching up from Tier 0.

The Heat is nasty. 4 for loud and chaotic, +2 for killing, and +2 for the complication, for a total of 8 Heat! That rolls over into a Wanted Level of 1 with a few Heat left over. So I roll die for Entanglements, and get a 4, and cross-referencing with the low heat, leads us to Rivals/Unquiet Dead. I ask the player how he feels about moving into the spirit realm and he’s eager, so we can expect some supernatural goings on any time now.

Beatrix is so beat up she has to go visit Sawtooth to tend to the bullet wound. She’s there a long time and has to come back in a couple days to get all the bandages changed. He takes a shine to Beatrix’s blather and fixes her up as good as new if not better.

Sawtooth’s a 2d Physicker, despite being a wreck himself. One of the rolls is a 4 and the other is a 6, so bang, she’s as good as new with one tick of healing rolled over. But that was two downtime activities, so she’s done.

We also get a look in to see how the Tier 1 cohort of rooks is doing moving product at the new vice den. Luckily, it’s under Bazso’s and Mylera’s protection now, so no muscle was necessary. The rooks know their business and drop 4 bags of silver on Elijah (I rolled a 6 on their 1d, minus the Heat level of 2.). Elijah so impressed, the first thing he does is have a chat with Marlo, tip him, and rehire the gang. Rolling a 6, so it doesn’t even cost any coin to get the cohort back.

The rest of the downtime, Elijah spends training with the iron-clad bo-staff. Not clubbing the coachman down with a clean shot was just embarassing.

Next time

Elijah’s going to have to figure out what to do with the armored coach and two goats. It’s not like they have a stable for the damn thing and they can’t just park it on the street. So we’ll probably be starting there. Also, Harmattan should be back and we might want to hear if he’s been up to anything other than more ritual scarification.

This is the second time where the crew’s acquired an “upgrade” in the fiction that’s one of the mechanical Crew Upgrades. Should I then charge them two Crew Upgrades for it (carriage/stable for one upgrade, armor for a second) if they want to keep it? Fictionally, it could just be untenable to have the carriage and goats without the stable. And of course, someone knows it’s gone missing and not exactly inconspicuous.

Session 6: Introducing Timoth Chemelski, the Merrymakers, Ghosts, and … the Penumbra Drums

My second player was back and wanted to create a second character. He’s been watching Leverage and thought the gang needed a Spider.

The Penumbra Drums

My returning player also had a suggestion for a crew name, The Penumbra Drums. I love it, because “penumbra” is the edge of a shadow that exists between light and dark. Everyone’s going to call them the Drums, though, because polysyllabic adjectives are frowned upon in Crow’s Nest.

The Merrymakers et al.

After rehiring their gang of rooks after they did such a great job running the vice den, we decided it was time to flesh them out. They are

  • The Merrymakers: Rooks, tier 1
  • Heritage: Akarosi of mixed original heritage
  • Members:
    • Esemerelda: elegant and charming leader
    • Goldie Williams (aka Meg Murphy): the clown
    • Leroy Williams (aka Marcus Murphy): the straight man
    • Kittie Williams: the mule

While Esmerelda’s always the leader, like any good gang of rooks, they’re versatile in their ability to transport and hawk product, gather information, and run the front of a house.

And just like in a movie, we have an “also with” or “also starring”:

  • Jacob: the bartender

Jacob was working the bar the night the Drums took over the Jays’ den; they suggested he leave then invited him to come back the next day if he still wanted a job.

But wait, that’s not all. There’s also an “introducing” in the credits now:

  • Bucknell “Bucky” Jamison: Foundling boy who took the heat for the gang and is hanging around recovering and running errands

Timoth Chemelski

Timoth is a freckled, red-hair Skovlander hailing from Lockport. His long-term acquaintances know him as Chime. His father was a cop and he was a beat cop in Lockport for years. He was the chatty kind of cop who knew everyone on his beat and what they were up to. He left the force when the Unity War would’ve set him against his own people. During the occupation, he helped with the resistance where he could. He had regular run ins with ghosts when the Spirit Wardens couldn’t keep up with the massacres. To blot out his memories of the war, Timoth visits Mike Hadid, an Iruvian importer of Skovaln Rye, to remember the old country and drink himself into a stupor.

Obviously his consorting led him to the Drums. But what brought him to Duskwall in the first place?

  • Playbook: Spider
  • Special Ability: Foresight
  • Name: Timoth Chemeski
  • Look: freckles, red hair
  • Heritage: Skovan (Lockport)
  • Background: Law: Beat cop
  • Vice: Stupor (Skovaln rye from Mike Hadid, importer)
  • Action points: Study 1, Survey 1, Skirmish 1, Wreck 1, Attune 1, Consort 3*

* Being part of the Drums, he gets an extra point of Resolve in one action and can take that action up to 3 points.

The faction game

I’m taking the advice I read on these forums to start slowly with the moving parts, so I only just started ticking ahead the faction clocks. The clocks for the Crows, Lampblacks and Red Sashes are now out on the table. The 'blacks and Sashes focused on their war with each other and both made 2 ticks of an 8-clock to wipe out the opposing gang. The Crows focused on ascending in tier, but only made 1 tick on their 6-clock. I used Justin Alexander’s nice PNG clocks, but found rollable tokens to be too fidgety, so I just have unused clocks in the background I just cut-and-paste then freehand 'X’s.

The paper and the scuttlebutt at the Jolly Judge is focused on nothing but the war between the Sashes and the Lampblacks. Bodies are piling up in the streets, which they often describe euphemistically as “inviting the wardens for a look see”. Remaining Sashes and Lampblacks are visibly wounded. Everyone’s on high alert in the district. Meanwhile, Lyssa’s Crows, from their aerie a dozen stories over the central square of Crow’s Foot, are cementing their iron grip on Crow’s Foot to remind everyone who’s Ward Boss.

At the Jolly Judge: “Not like when Roric was in charge, no siree,” they hear. “Ah, them’s was the days,” someone replies. “Yeah, this is bad for business,” the bartender says putting down some glasses. “Business?” a driver asks, “I’m afraid for my life. I’m too old for another war in Crow’s Foot.”

Harmattan’s trauma

Harmattan trauma-ed out at the end of their last downtime before we had a chance to play through it.

Harmattan took the stress really badly and started focusing all of his attention on what he might have missed. We’ll soon find out if he starts missing the forest for the trees due to his newfound Obsessive tendencies.

The armored car

After The Inside Score, Elijah takes a circuitous route through the docks to get back to their lair with the goat-drawn armored car. When he gets back to the lair, Harmattan had gotten back from his walkabout and helps him offload the Coin and large supply of Heaven Scent. They also make sure to keep the fine Coaching Blunderbuss (specially made to be easily loadable on a horse or coach in motion). Beatrix is still back in Charhallow dissembling for the Bluecoats and waiting for the Wardens to show up as this was all going down.

The coach is obviously hot (they just stole it!), and someone’s going to want it back. They could dump it in the canal, but that seemed wasteful given its obvious quality. So instead, they drive it down Flint St a few blocks along the east side of Crow’s Nest to the Red Sash Sword Academy. The geography and cover of fog and rain work in their favor as does the time of night. No barflies from the Leaky Bucket decide this is the time to couple in the alleyway. They make it to the Academy without incident. (I’m trying to avoid rolls for every little detail in the game.)

The guards at the door of the Academy in the middle of the night do not look so pleased. When Elijah tells them that it’s a gift for Mylera, they tell our crew to wait right there. They start asking the crew how they can tell this isn’t some kind of trap.

Harmattan decides he may have left something in the back, so asks everyone to hold on while he opens it up to search the armored compartment in back. Elijah takes the opportunity to point out they’re working for Mylera in order to browbeat the guards into taking the coach. It’s the old, “Mylera’s not going to like this if you let the Drums sit out here and something happens to this coach.” Elijah knows this is dicey, because the Sashes are not easy to intimidate and this is all going on in the middle of Flint St. Harmattan pipes up in an attempt to smooth things over in a variation of the old good-cop/bad cop maneuver. He invites them out to investigate and plays up how pleased Mylera’s going to be with this huge present.

The position is risky, standard, where the standard effect is to get the guards to back off and trust them. The risk is mainly that they’ll be discovered here on the street or that the Red Sash’s escalate the matter. Elijah leads the group action and rolls Command and gets a 3, 4. Harmattan rolls Sway and gets a 6!

The second guard dashes back into the compound to alert their leaders and the first guard buys their story and steps outside. He investigates the carriage and sees that there’s nothing in it, then opens the full gate so they can bring the carriage inside the compound’s gates, past the well-manicured hedges, and into the inner compound.

Mylera eventually comes out and introduces the players to Krishnamurti, her second-in-command, who was the first Sash roused by the guards. As the guards pull the coach inside, Mylera and Krishnamurti look at each other, but are too well mannered to whistle out loud. “The Lampblacks are going to know this has gone missing and be looking for it,” they say almost in unison. The lightbulbs go off over the (players’ and) characters’ heads and Elijah realizes that Legia Blackwell and Yather Monk must’ve hired some Lampblacks to provide security for their new drug business. No wonder the thugs were wearing such nice suits and hats and had such a fine carriage and blunderbuss.

“What’s the heat situation on this?” Mylera asks. “Nothing immediate to connect it to us,” Elijah says. “It all went down in Charhollow and nobody knows Beatrix.” (That’s not quite true, but I think Elijah may have believed it when he said it and Mylera bought it.) “Well, then,” she says, “this is quite a score.” “Krishnamurti, I want security tightened for the next day just in case.” She turns back to the crew, “I’m afraid it’s too hot to keep, as fine as it is.” I have a guy over in the docks that can take care of this for a cut. She asks Krishnamurti to give them the details, then walks away, saying over her shoulder, “Then come see me about the payout when it’s done.”

So the boys hop into the carriage and Elijah tries to whip the goats like he’d seen the original coachman do in an effort to dash over the Press Gang Bridge into the docks lickety split. Ack, he rolls a 2,3; the Controlled position is now Risky. The goats panick from the undirected whipping and bolt off in opposite directions, jacknifing the carriage in the middle of Flint Street. This is way too out in the open under the streetlamps. Harmattan walks over to the tracers and begins untangling the reins. He then calmly talks to the goats and hops up into the running boards. A 6 on Finesse, which is apparently the skill for riding and controlling animals. Nobody’s alerted despite his doing it all patiently in the open. The goats clomp away in an orderly fashion and they’re over the bridge into the Docks.

They pull up in front of Henley and Sons, Parts and Wholesale. The corrugated metal gate is pulled down and there doesn’t appear to be a door. There is a light on in the upstairs window, though, so Harmattan attempts a stylized bird call/whistle to get their attention. *He rolls a 3 on Sway, managing only to reduce their position from controlled to risky." Several passersby look over and comment on the grown man in front of an armored carriage making bird sounds. Harmattan decides to pick up a small stone and chuck it off the window and then wheels the carriage off down the street to distract the locals. A head peeks out around the window shade. Before you know it, an old codger covered in grease comes out from an alleyway and approaches. Harmattan lets him know that Mylera sent them for “the usual.” Nothing stops this guy from whistling at the quality of the coach. “This is a nice piece of work,” he says, “It’ll be a shame to take it apart.” “But let’s get going,” he adds, opening the locks holding the gate shut and then cranking it open with what looks like a tire iron.

Inside, they’re greeted by undifferentiated piles of scrap boat and carriage parts, sparkcraft wiring, strange mechanical devices, and other unidentifiable pieces of metalwork. Nevertheless, there’s an empty space big enough for the carriage and he calls over some sleepy helpers. One of his gang leads the goats off down the street. The rest break out enormous spanners to work on the wheels and torches to dismantle on the ironwork. “Anything else I can help you with?,” Henley asks pointedly. The gang takes their cue and exits

The next day, they meet Mylera who hands them a small satchel (2 Coin). “This is your cut, a little less than half.” She continues, “It apparently broke Mr. Frederickson’s heart to tear that one apart, what with the nice leather seets and fine woods and metals.” “It’d have been worth a lot more whole, but we couldn’t risk that. I’m sure you’ll understand.” They thank her profusely and take their leave. “Also, this is a great blow against the Lampblacks. Even they don’t have unlimited coffers to replace this kind of thing, especially with the current trouble.”

They’re already +2 with the Red Sashes, but I’m still not sure they’ve earned quite enough trust to go to +3. Maybe a juicy piece of intel that really lets the Red Sashes hurt the Lampblacks.

Speaking of trouble

We still have Unquiet Dead entanglement to play out from the last score…

Later the next day, still somehwat beat from the long night before, our crew’s resting back at the dojo. Leroy Williams, the straight man of the Merrymakers rushes in and says, “I think you need to come take a look at what’s going on in the den.” He’s not very talkative, but when they get to the den, the audience at home realizes it’s been completely remade. It’s gotten a coat of paint, the floors are polished, there’s wonderful diffuse lighting, art ont he wall, tasteful antiques strewn about the place, and a surprising number of patrons, especially females, in this afternoon hour. Nothing too expensive and the crowd’s the same, but now the place looks inviting rather than seedy. Jacob’s at the bar cleaning glasses as usual.

Esmerelda walks up immediately and whispers, “Glad you could get here right away.” “See those two in the back?” It’s pretty obvious that the well-turned-out couple at the corner table in the back aren’t just getting intimate and aren’t just in a Trance Powder induced sleep like many of the other patrons; their pose is unnatural and stiff. “Dead?”, asks Elijah? “All but,” replies Leroy.

“What were they on?” Timoth asks, falling naturally into the cop role. “Just the Trance, sir,” says Jacob, immediately responding to Timoth’s bearing. (That’s the drug the crew stole from the Jays and then got re-upped from Bazso.)

They walk to the back, surrounding the couple and blocking them from the view of the other patrons. Harmattan slaps the man gently. When that doesn’t do anything, Harmattan rears back and lashes him across the face, whipping his face around and making a sound that’s only muffled by the thick carpets and wallhangings. Half the patrons are too stoned to notice, but the other half rubberneck around to look at the disturbance. “Want me to haul them in back?”, Leroy asks.

Before they can answer, the man’s eyelids pop open, but his eyes remain rolled back in his head. A strange voice emanates from his lips, and he half speaks and half moans, “Who dares disturb my feeding?” As the words trail off the possessed patrons lips, the man goes slack and a cloud of ectopasm emerges from his mouth and begins forming into human shape. A ghost!

Harmattan freaks out and dashes for the door, saying “I think I left something outside.” Timoth has seen this kind of thing before. He focuses his will against his fright, telling himself it’s only a ghost like he saw back in Skovlan. He rolls a 3, 6 on his 2d Resolve resistance roll. Elijah’s simply too tough to cave into something like a ghost, and just stares it down. He rolls a 5, 6 for resistance.

Timoth wants to find out what’s going on here, so he attempts to pull his mind and spirt closer to the ghost field in an attempt to communicate. Risky position, standard effect. If the ghost had more malevolent intentions rather than just being pisseed at being disturbed, this would’ve been Desperate. Timoth decides this is important and pushes himself for +1d. Damn, our first Attune roll and it’s snake eyes, 1, 1.

At that point we turned into pumpkins. Tune in next week to find out why the crew’s Vice Den is suddenly haunted. Not to mention to learn about the consequence of a straight up risky Attune fail.

DM notes

I continue my honeymoon with Blades in the Dark. The setting and game design encourage playing up the tense situations where character actions matter. I have to keep reminding myself and my players that we’re only resolving the dramatic stuff with action rolls, so that the action rolls should be for larger scale actions than we’re used to. They got off pretty much scot (Skov?) free; it could’ve turned into a chase if the Lampblacks had spotted them and they weren’t able to fully resist. I’m very much looking forward to our first chase scene.

Session 7: Ghosts and the Jinxed Store Score

Setting out how the game works

My players and I try to be honest about how games are working for us and what could be better. This time one of them said he wasn’t quite getting position and effect because he never quite understood how they were being determined or what the actual effect was.

D’oh! My bad. We then had a discussion about The Discussion. I said that it was on all of us to some extent to come to an agreement about position and effect before rolling. Obviously I’d just been jumping ahead like a traditional GM. I knew what the effect was going to be and was just assuming intention, which is not the Blades way.

After having that discussion, I think the position/effect conversations went much more smoothly.

Ghosts in the den, part II

We left our crew in their packed Trance and Scent den facing a rush of cold air as a ghost emerges from an unconscious patron and shoots straight toward Timoth. Timoth had ascertained he’d been taking the Trance Powder (Baszo’s stock), so tried to slap him awake. The patrons on Heaven Scent (a mild euphoric from Mylera and the candy shop’s stock) look amusedly in the direction of the crew and unconscious patients, but most of the Trance Powder takers remain deeply spaced out.

Timoth is about to get ghost burned (Level 2 harm stemming from the risky Attune roll where Timoth’s player rolled snake eyes: 1, 1), but it largely bounces off his chest armor and leaves him with an electroplasm singe (Level 1 harm).

The lurk, Harmattan, has already run for the door. Elijah, the Cutter, is pinned to the ground in fear. The leech and spider, Beatrix and Timoth resisted and are tangling with the ghost. The customers are either too stoned to notice or pinned to their chair. Lots of screaming going on.

Zipping by Timoth, the ghost starts whipping around the ceiling in laps building up to a speed exceeding a galloping horse.

Timoth pulls out a specially crafted electroplasm grenade from his kit of arcane implements (1 load), hands it to Beatrix and points at a spot on the ceiling saying if it lands there, it’ll probably just chase the ghost away (+1d for Foresight; checks off one of two uses [no way I saw to do that on the sheet, but easy enough to remember]). Beatrix takes the grenade and heaves it at the ceiling as hard as she can; the close quarters are almost certainly going to cause some collateral damage (+1d for the first Devil’s Bargain they’ve accepted—they’re really afraid of ghosts!). The ghost is just going too fast and she’s too hurried, and she smashes it against the edge rather than the center of the ceiling; the vial smashes open and the ghost lets out a wail as its path carries it through the electroplasm (*Risky Wreck action with standard effect; the player rolls 2, 1, 4, so success with consequences; I think I forgot the actual consequences in the excitement—we initially forgot the extra Devil’s Bargain die; I assigned even odds to customers, crew, or ghost taking collateral damage and it’s the ghost.)

With the patrons still screaming and/or frozen and/or too stoned to care, our crew turns to the other apparently possesed patron, a woman who appears to be the partner of the man who’s now groggy and barely conscious after being possessed.

Beatrix steps in and Timoth hands her a small vial of quicksilver (1D to Attune, side effect of being spaced out.), which she downs before concentrating her entire mental being on tuning her senses to the ghost field to approach the possessing spirit on its own terms and communicate with it (Controlled/standard Attune with 2 dice plus a bonus die from pushing herself. She rolls 4, 4, 6. A clean success. Those extra pushes and bargains are really paying off tonight!).

Beatrix zones out of paying attention to the physical world and lets her perceptions and energy enter the ghost field. She can see the spectral shape of a female ghost still occupying the vaguely identified body back in the material world. She asks the ghost what it wants (being able to communicate with it was the effect of the Attune as we were careful to establish). The ghost is angry and the woman’s head in the physical world starts rolling and shaking in an eery way. The ghost is rather agitated, but not quite hysterical yet. She asks Beatrix, “What have you done with my Winslow? We haven’t been separated since the day. Where is he?” Assuming that’s the other ghost, Beatrix replies, “He left without you.” And continues, asking the ghost her name. The ghost lets out a wail of anguish that matches the wail of Winslow being burned. Beatrix presses on, saying she can maybe help her find her lost love. She asks why they were at the den. “The spark. The spark,” the ghost replies. Beatrix knows that Spark is a stimulating drug made by mixing electroplasm and the spooky ink-black seawater of this world. It’s strong stuff. Beatrix is confused, because they haven’t been pushing spark. Beatrix knows that the Lampblacks have rough spark dives all over Crow’s Foot in old abandoned houses and other sketchy locations. She tells the ghost that Winslow must be going to one of the Lampblack’s small-scale spark dives, which fill rundowned rooms and spark houses all over Crow’s Foot and beyond. At that, the ghost whips out of the patron and away from Beatrix, who’s more than happy to see her go.

As soon as the second ghost is gone, the players said, “Hang on, we should’ve tried to get them some Spark ourselves and made ghost allies.” Maybe next time. I’m trying very hard not to lead, though I had considered what’d happen if they tried befriending the ghosts. I’m finding this all pretty easy to drive from straightforward NPC motivations.

Beatrix is still zoned out, so Timoth takes control of the situation. He and Esemerelda, with her crew the Merrymakers (the crew’s tier 1 cohort of rooks), start trying to settle down the customers along with Timoth. Jacob goes back to mixing drinks. The trance customers seem to have barely noticed, but the Heaven Scent users are clearly agitated. They’re passing out free merchandise and schmoozing, with the hopes of keeping the guests here and passing it off as an exciting Crow’s Nest floor show. Luckily none of the guests were hurt, but if those goes poorly, the guests are going to flee and word’s going to get out that their den is haunted in a bad way. Desperate Consort action with standard effect; Timoth and the Merrymakers approach it as a group action; the Merrymakers lay down a 4, then Timoth cleans up with a 4, 3, 6 — he’s had 3 dots from the get go as a Silver Tongued Devil.

Quicksilver says a user suffers a Level 2 Harm of Zoned Out (p. 226 of the v8.2 pdf). I took both the +1D in Attune and the Level 2 Harm as temporary, but nothing in the description said that. I also can’t find support for temporary Harm in the rules. Are the characters supposed to resist or get a normal, persistent Level 2 harm? That seems overly harsh for +1D, which they can get from pushing or with help. Or is that +1 Attune also supposed to persist? Or is this only for totally desperate times?

Before you know it, the screams have turned to chuckles and the patrons are exchanging excited stories about seeing a ghost and how cool Crow’s Foot is. The players could’ve pushed this for effect and turned it into a positive, but the characters decided to keep it on the down low for now, especially after siccing the ghosts on the Lampblacks.

Should that have been treated as a score? It sort of felt like one. I’m having a bit of trouble about when to call for a score or not. The actual score we ranned seemed more low-key than dealing with the ghosts. Maybe two little scores will equal a reasonable sized one for payout and we can call it a wash.

Interlude to discuss Turf and other Claims

Before deciding on the next score, the players wanted to know what the claims on their crew sheet meant mechanically and if they needed to take them in order. They were not liking the amount of heat they were bringing down and had already said they wanted a legitimate front business before they realized it was a claim on the sheet. The player who found it asked about the connectors—I told them they were suggested, not required, and it may just be harder to run a front business without the turf around it to go with it.

We then had a discussion about Turf and what it really meant. It’s very abstract in the game. Perhaps too abstract, because my players want to go after things with concrete benefits. And as you can see, they’re definitely thinking of claims fiction first. They had first discussed turning their dojo into a haberdashery before they knew it had a mechanical effect as a claim! (Both players really like hats and are regulars at Henry the Hatter in Detroit, as is my father; I stick to Tigers caps.)

Timoth changed his vice from Scovlan rye to gluttony and his nickname from Chime to Tiny Tim before this session. We almost never fail to lean hard into tropes like donut-eating cops. This will make a nice pair with both Beatrix, whose vice is gourmandise (eating good food, especially to excess, says the dictionary), and Sgt. Laroze, their contact on the bluecoats, and fellow gourmand).

The Jinxed Score Store

Back at their dojo lair, the crew starts planning their next score. They are feeling under a lot of heat, so settle on the goal of acquiring a front operation to reduce their heat. They are still considering a hat store, when Beatrix proposes hitting her family’s sweet shops again. They’ve already knocked off the shop she runs in The Inside Score. So they settle on a two-pronged plan of Timoth visiting Bertie’s branch of Jolly Sweet’s in Brightstone and spreading the rumor that the gangs are hard after Jolly Sweets in Charterhall, while Harmattan goes back to Blackwell’s Home and spreads the same rumor. They decide to throw in details, but not mention any gangs by name.

OK, that was easy. A Deception score with method of deception being the abovementioned spreading of rumors. The engagement roll is a 2, 1, so they start in a desperate position! This is the first score that hasn’t started controlled.

The reason this is risky is that they might get made and then the jig is up.

Timoth walks up to the Silver Market in Brightstone, where Jolly Sweets has a small shop. There’s a clerk tending to the shelves and Timoth spots Bertie from his description in the background. As he gathers more and more sweets, edging his way around the shop from the hard candies toward the expensive chocolates, he makes a show of eating as he goes and flatteing out the wrappers to pay for them. As he does so, he starts talking almost to himself and half to the clerk that he had to start shopping here because his usual shop in Charterhall is under siege from gangs. He’s heard that customers nearly got killed the other day when it was robbed and he’s afraid to go back.

Timoth makes a Consort roll, as he’s approaching this in a friendly conversation sort of way letting the clerk in on something. Perhaps I should’ve downgraded the effect for not using Sway? In any case, he follows up the snake eyes from last session with a 1, 1, 1 (a three-eyed snake?). So he decides to push himself for an extra die and throws a 5. I’ve insisted pushing for effect, help, and Devil’s bargains happen before the rolls so we can appropriately set position and effect, but I’m letting pushes for an extra +1d happen after the roll. I’m still not sure what’s going to work best in the long run. This game doesn’t have a lot of rolling (the flip side of which is that every roll counts).

As Timoth blusters around the place, he draws the attention of Bertie who edges closer. He’s managed to successfully plant the rumor in front of Bertie, a customer, and the clerk. But Bertie’s no fool and might get suspicious somehting is up. I start a 4-clock for Ligia and Bertie getting suspicious of the gang and give it three ticks due to the desperate position. I’m also now wondering if my players know they can resist all kinds of effects, not just harm. I’ll try to remember to remind them next time.

For the second part of this plan, Harmattan heads over to Blackwell’s Home for Foundlings, which occupies Strathmill House in the southeast corner of Crow’s Foot. He’s been blending in as a foundling there for months and knows the other foundlings. In particular, he knows which ones are nosy and which ones are gossips and which ones are trouble. So he manages to gather a gang of foundlings with the help of Bucknell Jamison, the foundling who took the heat and was rewarded by the crew. They’re both on the lookout for foundlings who don’t know what’s what.

It’s a group Sway in controlled position with standard effect, and Harmattan drops another 1. Bucky rolls a 5. I believe we stopped there before going into detail on the consequence, which I rule leaves them in a risky position if they want to push on any details or get any kind of concrete action out of the foundlings.

Harmattan and Bucky manage to convince the kids that something’s going on. The kids know the sweet shop and Harmattan tries to emphasize that they need to stay away. The kids immediately speculate it’s the Lampblacks from the description. He tells them that maybe they can go up to Brightstone. The kids look at him like he’s a confused old man—they don’t have the dress or comportment to shop in Brightstone. They only very rarely can scrape together coin for the cheapest sweets. Other kids who aren’t on such friendly terms with Harmattan start sidling up to see what’s going on, and Harmattan and Bucky slip away.

That was a short and sweet score, so to speak. Not sure how to run a Coin reward for that. I guess we’ll just continue to treat it abstractly and consider this a small job. Or consider this plus the ghost thing a kind of disjointed score.

Next time on…

As usual, I have almost no idea what they’ll want to get up to next week (which is tomorrow).

I have to figure out what the effect of their rumor spreading is in the meantime. Perhaps they should’ve pushed for effect to really get Bertie worried.

In the meantime, Baszo may just have a little favor to ask them to prove their loyalty (they’re still at -2 with the Lampblacks, despite pretending to work for them).

We still haven’t quite got the timing down of getting in free play, a score, and dowtime in a 2.5 hour session. But then we go slow and spend a lot of time just hanging out. Plus we’re still learning the system as we go.

Thanks for posting these writeups, they are great and inspiring! I’m about to tun Blades for the first time, and the side discussion of mechanics are especially helpful.

Session 9: The Jinxed Store Score (Part II)

I’ve lost track of the exact session boundaries, but I think this dinner played out in session 8 or I would’ve played it differently and had Beatrix roll to advance a clock.

Dinner at Fillmore’s

Beatrix sends a runner to Bertie’s to arrange a dinner. He sends the runner back telling her to meet him and mother at Fillmore’s instead of at their home. Ooh la la. That’s a fancy dinner/show club in Brightstone.

Beatrix tries to dress appropriately and heads out. There’s a boisterous line of wannabes at the velvet rope with both a maitre’d and a bouncer on hand. When the maitre’d sees her walk up to the line, he ushers her up front past the hoi polloi and straight into the club. “Mr. Jolly is waiting for you at his usual table, ma’am.” What? She heads back into the club with its small cocktail table, curving banquettes and live band and show going on in the background.

As soon as she’s arranged, the waiter hands her a menu with no prices. She’s wanted to come to a place like this, whose food is as legendary as its shows, for a long time. But she’s in no mood to take in the ambience. That doesn’t stop her from indluging her vice of gourmandaise and ordering one of each appetizer. This puts her on the same foot with the family as when she was a child (plus scores xp for playing up the vice!).

Beatrix knows that Esther’s still the domineering mother and is going to make any decision about the disposition of the shop. As mother’s nattering on about this and that and Bertie’s playing the big man, mother asks Bertie if he can get her into the Starlight Club. He just scowls and pretends not to hear her. All along, Bertie plays it like he’s in charge. “What’s this, sister?” he inquires.

Beatrix lays out that she’s scared witless. She’s been shot! The shop’s been broken into. She just wants to go back to making and selling candy like her old life. (I’m afraid I’ve lost track of which rolls are which now, and I’m not even sure a roll was involved in this.)

Bertie reminds her that they need the income from the shop. Obviously, she thinks, if you have a regular damn table at Fillmore’s. Beatrix holds her food without further embarassing herself and takes her leave. (I can’t believe two of the four characters are gluttons!)

Clocks, clocks, clocks

What a difference adding a clock makes! I started this session by throwing down the the 6-clock for convincing Bertie and Esther to hand over the candy shop. I put 4 ticks on it from last session. With a concrete progress marker, it was much easier to come up with the final piece of the score.

The crew considered for a moment where Esther was the weakest. Like Bertie, it’s her striving above her station. In particular, they know she wants an invite to the Starlight Club more than anything else. But how can they get to her? Well, it turns out there’s a benefit in Brightstone tonight for Blackwell’s Home for Foundlings.

The Foundling’s Benefit

Enter our man Timoth Chemelski. As a Spider, he has a fine cover identity (which I find strange as load, given that he’s just going in fine clothes from the start). He buys a seat for the benefit for his cover identity, Homer Simpson (name generation is hard—I should’ve given them one of mine—Winslow Crawford was the next on my list).

So off Homer goes to the benefit. It’s being held in the event atrium of a fancy hotel. Big machine-worked skylight overlight, waiters circulating with champagne and canapes. Lots of linen-covered tablecloths with rich folks about. A string quartet playing off to the side. And of course, a podium set up for the inevitable tiresome speeches about doing good by living well.

Homer makes a big show of catching Esther when she goes for a drink. She a rather large lady with bosom to match and he can’t help staring. She smiles, being used to it all this time, and frankly not used to so much attention from a handsome man, especially one a decade younger. Timoth is a smooth operator in these situations and sells the whole thing so well that Bertie is starting to get annoyed; he suspects golddiggers before there’s even gold to be dug (Timoth’s 3 dots in Consort is the high point of the whole crew’s skill set).

At this point, Esmerelda makes her appearance, decked out head to toe as the perfect young mistress for a gentleman of means. Before she even gets to Timoth, half the eyes in the place are on her. When she leads off with a canon shot slap across his face, she gets the rest of the crowd. She’s also playing it rather cool, but loudly enough says, “Just take your fancy friends and Starlight Club and keep them,” staring down Esther as she does so as if Esther were an equal rival.

We treated Esmerelda’s initial “scene” as a setup action, which she nailed. That gave Timoth additional effect when he makes his move to give her his number and make a date. He rolls a 3, 4, 2, 1 for consort and pushes for an additional effect, going past great to whatever comes next. The complication is obvious—two more ticks on “Bertie knows we’re up to something” clock.

Esther is sold on the ploy—she thinks Homer is smitten with her after the small talk about what kind of hors d’oeuvres they preferred with their wine, and she’s starting to act like a schoolgirl thinking she’s got a new boyfriend who’s going to take her to the Starlight Club. She talks of nothing but her new friend to Bertie, who’s beginning to get suspicious.

Lunch at Sal Anthony’s

Homer invites Esther out for lunch before their big date. He selects Sal Anthony’s in Brightstone, a faux rustic past joint down to wicker wrapped bottles of wine and checked tablecloths. He likes it because of the big portions and relatively low-key vibe for the neighborhood. He tips the maitre’d to go in on his next ruse.

Homer’s at the restaurant waiting when Esther arrives. She comes in and sits down and hangs on his every comment about the food and wine. And he’s not pretneding—his vice is gluttony and it’s all he can do to keep his composure and his cover intact.

At one point, someone comes into the restaurant. A plant from Homer. The maitre’d is grilling him on his background (!), and he mentions that he runs a successful business in Charterhall. When Timoth overhears this, he lets out an exasperated sigh and snaps for the maitre’d. The maitre’d leaves the prospective guest, and attends to Timoth. Timoth leans in with an exaggerated whisper and says, “My good man, I don’t think we should be associating with commoners who run businesses in Charterhall, do you?” (*This is brilliant and came out of left field for me as GM.) The maitre’d returns to his lectern and lets the prospective guest know that they don’t have any reservations open in the foreseeable future, and recommends another lesser quality restaurant. (Clock filled—Esther convinced to sell, because really, her crush on Timoth is way more important than a candy shop run by her pesky daughter.)

The next day

Esther lets Beatrix know that she can have the candy shop. She’ll be out of the loop in the drug business, too. And won’t be able to use the cooking facilities (that used to make candy, but is now doing double duty to manufacture drugs).

The blow off

A few days later, Homer sends another engraved card. This time he has it delivered by Sabu, a Severosi foundling who’s acquainted with Harmattan. They dress Sabu up in an Akarosian fantasy of Severos and send him off in a cloud of perfume to deliver the note to Esther. The note details the urgent family Leviathan oil refinement business in Severos that’s calling him away. He promises to write every day.

It works! Esther presses the petals of the flowers between a slim volume of poetry which she keeps close to her heart.

Downtime

Mechanically, this is a huge win in that it gives the Drums their second claim, a Cover Operation (Candy Shop). Their whole motivation was to lower the heat on their gang with a cover operation. (The players didn’t even realize it was a claim on their sheets—it just came up as their natural solution to lowering their heat; the game agrees, as it lowers heat by 2 per score.)

I didn’t write down the amount of coin, but I think we treated it as normal. It’s hard to get used to the abstractness of the coin.

The entanglement that comes up is Rivals. Bertie’s getting a bit annoyed with not being payed and is trying to throw his weight around; Beatrix bites her tongue and decides to pay him off with one coin.

We then play out the effects of the two Sparkhead ghosts they sicced on the Lampblacks. I just used the existing clock for “Destroy the Lampblacks” which the Red Sashes have been ticking off. They rolled a 5 and got two ticks on the clock, causing an immense amount of mayhem at the Spark dens of the Lampblacks (as a reminder, the ghosts were Spark addicts in life who the crew ran into leeching off of some of their customers). When the crew goes to meet Baszo during this downtime, there are two spirit bottles (wrought metal and crystal about the size of a thermos) on this desk.

  • Beatrix (1) Indulge Vice: Beatrix head to Cafe Sleur, Gaston Sleur, proprieter, for a huge gourmet indulgence to blow off steam after the successful operation. She has at least 2 action dots in each attribute, so rolls two dice and gets a 2, 6, relieving 6 stress and bringing her back to normal.

  • Beatrix (2) trains in Resolve.

  • Beatrix (3) pays a coin for extra supplies and tutelage and to pay temp workers to fill in for her so she can train with her Red Sash friend in prowess.

  • Harmattan (1) re-acquires the rooks, which costs him a coin to push to their tier 1 status (the Drums are still tier 0); he does get an extra +1d because he’s reacquiring the Merrymakers.

  • Harmattan (2) trains his playbook.

  • Harmattan (3) also kicks in a coin for Prowess training.

  • Timoth (1) train one tick playbook.

  • Timoth (2) train two ticks Prowess.

  • Elijah (1) train one tick playbook.

  • Elijah (2) train two ticks Prowess.

All four trained in Iruvian martial arts over downtime. This is really working the dojo, with help from a young Red Sash initiative who’s giving them training (which would give them an extra 1d if it was a rolling thing; instead, it’s costing them time and money).

My players are dead set on leveling up. I don’t think they’ve quite worked out that even with more action dots, the result’s still likely to be 4/5 a lot of the time. I can’t interest them at all in any long-term activities.

Welcome, Merrymakers!

Then after calculating all the crew XP, they got a crew upgrade. They take the rooks cohort they’ve been dealing with. The Merrymakers are now a permanent part of their crew. (I realize I owe them 2 coin for that—Harmattan shouldn’t have needed to recruit them with a downtime activity. Roll20 makes it easy for me to fix that right now on their crew sheet before I forget.)

They choose the initial edge Loyal and the initial flaw Principled (only in Blades is that a flaw). Esme and crew aren’t going to murder people for them.