Pro-active vs Reactive

BitD is pro-active; player-driven by design. But what game mechanic would you suggest to allow the opponents to take the initiative. Major things like an enemy group attacking the characters’ lair, or an enemy sniper targeting the party, or someone sabotaging the groups’ carriage, or minor things like a burglar stealing from the crew’s lair, or a street thug beating up one of the crew? Downtime entanglements sort of do this, so is that the best way to handle player-reactive things? Triggered by a progress clock, maybe? When the clock is filled, then what? Engagement roll?

No other, new mechanic needed.
Check page 167 “NPC THREAT LEVELS” :
NPCs which are “dangerous”, or “skilled”, they can take initiative.
If they are “master”, they can even directly inflict damage (or other consequences) on the PCs, who in this case have to (or can) resist even before they can act.

I interpret “dangerous” and “master” not only from the angle of the “level” of the NPC, but also from the fictional angle. So if you’ve decided that a sniper is in ambush, you can have the sniper shoot the PCs, anytime! THEN, the PCs can resist, they can declare their special abilities to counter the ambush (if they have anything relevant), they can do flashbacks…

However, you normally don’t need to do that often, because most of the time the action will flow from the PCs’ actions and consequences from their rolls.

If you fill a clock to wait for NPCs to act, that’s surely not the NPCs taking initiative. That’s consequences from the PCs’ actions. And in this case, do NOT make an engagement roll. The engagement roll is specifically designed to determine the position of the PCs at the beginning of a mission.

If you don’t wish to decide yourself if the NPC just takes the initiative or directly inflicts damage or anything, what you can do is a fortune roll, based (for example) on the Tier or on the Tier difference.


The foundations for what @A_B said can be found in the GM actions. Particularly:

  • Telegraph trouble before it strikes
  • Follow through
  • Initiate action with an NPC, and
  • Think off-screen.

In the book, many of the examples of these actions seem to be mid-score actions, but they can also be applied to faction actions and other downtime threats. This is pointed out here:

So telegraph the threat, then ask them what they do. If they react in time, they can make an action roll. If they’re hit with trouble, they can resist it. You don’t have to pull your punches!

You don’t always have to wait for the PCs to do something. What’s going on elsewhere, and will it have an impact on what’s on-screen right now? Are there characters that might have reason to arrive here and get involved in what’s going on? Where are the Bluecoat patrols in this district right now? Are there any ghosts that would be drawn to what’s happening here?

This all flows from the GM principle Let everything flow from the fiction. Think about the fiction first, then work out what mechanics to bring to bear to back that fiction up. That includes NPCs taking the initiative and furthering their own agendas, reacting according to their goals and methods. Events snowballing.