Ready, fire, aim: a post-production playtest report

Ready, fire, aim: a post-production playtest report

After seven short sessions, I got some feedback from my players I’d like to share along with some brainstorming on how we might reshape the game going forward. Suggestions are most welcome. For reference, here’s the actual play thread.

Before running the game, I watched about half a dozen different groups play online, including a couple episodes of the the Bloodletters game. I also spent hours on these forums and Reddit looking for examples and clarification on everything from position and effect to how people have run ghosts and spirit wardens.

Who are my players?

I have two players, who now have two scoundrels each. We’ve been RPG-ing together for 40+ years (since before the first Monster Manual)! We’ve been on Roll20 pretty much every week for seven years.

Player 1

He laid out that his favorite part of gaming is the exploration, treasure finding, and leveling. This same player likes episodic games with clear direction and goals. He likes Marvel comics and movies, but not DC. He reads a lot of fantasy and sci-fi and his tastes are similar there—he likes clean wins for the good guys in the end. The games he runs are very session oriented, rules light and comic-book/pulp action in style. He’s run comic book action, time-travel save the world games, and most recently a kung-fu coming of age for two young monks saving their dojo from permanent destruction and the kingdom as a side consequence. He didn’t like seeing so much shit rain down on Jack Aubrey in Master and Commander and he gave up on Peaky Blinders after Tommy gets badly roughed up at the beginning of Season 2.

Player 2

Rather than rules light, he runs a homebrew system that’s nearly as crunchy as Squad Leader (we played a lot of SPI and Avalon Hill wargames in the 1970s). It’s phase based, with a host of conditions, disabilities, and positional modifiers. The critical hit and failure system is both brutal and involved. He found The Silmarillion interesting. For the last five years, we’ve had one party on the French side and one on the British side of a fantasy alt-history Napoleonic wars. With the number of subplots spinning off, we joke he should just write “RR” instead of a middle name. Leveling is pretty slow, but skill growth is relatively fast. Like in Master and Commander, things rarely work out easily for characters in his campaign over any period of time. His games focus on the minutiae of costume, manners, setting, etc.

Comments on Blades in the Dark

The Genre

Neither players are big fans of gangster, heist, or con films. I perhaps should’ve tried Band of Blades or Scum and Villainy instead.

Partial success

They both truly dislike the partial success mechanic and the relative infrequency of clean successes. Player 2 suggested we change the result ranges to allow 5 and 6 to both be full successes, but that won’t work with the exponential decay of failure and partial success probabilty with increasing dice in the pool. This hack would be milder with a 7/8 on a d8 and even less extreme with a 9/10 on a d10.

Player 2 clarified that he didn’t mind failure as much as partial success. He went on to say that one reason is that he felt it was taking too long to figure out consequences. I’ve actually been enjoying this part. And it’s a huge part of the games I’ve seen run online. Player 2 runs combats that take a very long time to resolve, but that’s mostly dice rolling and initiative/condition tracking, not open-ended discussion and improvisation.

Lingering harm

They also both dislike the way harm lingers. They say it’s making them very conservative in play. I really like the way the harm system works, but I admit it is brutal compared to D&D, where six hours in a tent clears (almost) all ills. That’s part of what attracted me to the game.

Minis and grids

Although we’ve always played with grids and wargame like action, they both seem to be totally OK with the theatre of the mind style gaming of Blades in the Dark. One thing they’ve both said they liked is the wall of titled mug shots I’ve created on Roll20 (an approach borrowed from examples on these forums). There’s so much great late 19th and early 20th century photography that’s usable.

Loot

They’re finding Coin to be a bit too abstract for their tastes.

Entanglements just happening

They are not fans of the entanglements just dropping out of the sky without their being able to plan/prep for them. They know that they depend on heat and wanted level, but so far we’ve only had a couple examples, so it’s hard to get that feel in play.

I like the entanglements It’s very much how fiction happens in books and on screen (like at the start of Season 2 of Peaky Blinders), and it enables scenes that I’ve found very hard to play out in a traditional RPG. But I can see how it feels like a screw job to the players that removes some of their agency in planning. I also sort of like that there are in-game ways to mitigate this through minimizing or reducing heat. But it’s certainly a lot to take in and juggle the first time through the game.

Not knowing what they need to do to succeed

This is really another aspect of position/effect not being defined with a table of hit points, weapon damages, etc. It feels more squishy going into a situation. Part of this is also my fault in not laying out effect and consequences clearly. I think I’m getting better at it in the last couple sessions.

The longer-term social aspect of the game means that things are developing like trying to scare someone away that they’re not sure when are going to land. That’s something I’m not making clear enough.

Addressing player concerns

Loot and magical treasure

There’s nothing to say our Duskwall can’t be jam packed with mundane heirlooms and spark-craft artifacts. Not how I was viewing it, but certainly well within the general framework of the rules. I am curious how I can put part of that development on the players without turning it into a craft project, which hasn’t interested them so far. I’ve really liked how little prep I have to do for games. Has anyone published a set of spark-craft devices from which I might borrow ideas?

Player 2 on the other hand, likes treasure with a backstory. I could probably keep him entertained describing the provenance and burnish on a new weapon they acquired.

So far, in eight sessions, they’ve found an armored goat-drawn carriage (which they had to take to a chop shop to avoid the heat from the Lampblacks), a coaching blunderbuss (easy to load musket on a moving coach), and a fine pistol from the Lampblacks. How much loot do others dole out beside Coin? I haven’t seen people picking up lots goodies in online play and there’s nothing like a traditional list of magical items other than the list of crafting examples, which are all pretty straightforward. In fact, I’ve had some misgivings about doling out things like crew upgrade level rewards (like the armoed carriage) without the crew upgrades. I finally just decided to follow the fiction and not be concerned with them getting too much stuff. Holding onto loot like a hot armored carriage is a different issue.

Leveling up

We’ve been going very slowly as we feel our way through the rules. I hope play speeds up and the XP ticks get a bit faster. I may also be overreacting to feeling superhero level of power growth in games like D&D 5e.

I also hope that new special abilities and leveling up more than 1 action dot will make them feel more powerful. Crew tier going up and crew upgrades or special abilities should help, which is happening soon.

Neither I nor any other live play I’ve seen seems to penalize Tier 0 crews as much as the rules seem to suggest (even fine tools having only limited effect against Tier 2 opposition), so the effect of going to Tier 1 won’t be as dramatic as it might be if I’d stressed them to the bone at Tier 0 (can’t imagine that would have went well). I’m reluctant to give them more desperate rolls with softball consequences to improve XP, because I don’t want to cut down on the feel of the desperate rolls. I’ve been using them pretty sparingly, but maybe I need to amp it up a bit. I’m afraid that’ll introduce more serious consequences, which my players really aren’t liking.

We could also shorten scores to kick up number of downtime sessions. But they haven’t been big fans of the complications brought by downtime or too keen to engage the crafting or other long-term projects.

None of us are used to narrative-based XP. I need to set up more situations that play into vice and trauma and encourage them to think about it more; the first player who likes leveling has figured this out and is leaning in hard to his obsessive tendencies (setup scene in Session 8).

We’ve just played so many play-to-win RPGs that thinking about doing things that go against you is something unusual in our games, not the status quo. I was trying to push use of vice during another scene (club scene in Session 8), but we were having trouble seeing how it’d play.

Partial success

This is the most worrying to me because it’s so central to the game. Hopefully I’ll get faster at figuring out or improvising consequences on the fly. Consequences and harm were my motivation for playing this game and I’ve enjoyed that part of the game so far.

The rule book suggests the group set a dial as to how much resistance reduces harm and other consequences vs. removing them. By reducing consequences more with resistance, the game will have a more pulpy feel.

Speeding up doling out consequences, harm, etc. should get faster. I found a super useful Google doc along those lines initiated by S. Tan:

I don’t need prepared scenarios, but more details of consequences to sprinkle in would be great.

I think I need to get the crew to spend more stress and try to consider a partial success with resistance is really like a success. So far, I haven’t sold that. Probably because I’ve been having resistances only reduce harm, not eliminate it. Their resistances, especially in Prowess, are really good (3 and 4 dots). But they’ve been very worried about harm and taking permanent trauma, so have also been conservative with piling on stress. Perceptions of danger and risk can differ wildly between players and the GM in an RPG.

I can also encourage the players to use more assist actions rather than pushing themselves, because they (a) cost less stress, and (b) are more fun. I think this may be practice on all of our parts because we’re so deep into alternating turn games where help actions are almost always wasted compared to acting oneself.

I’m trying to tread lightly and avoid pushing them into my idea of what they could do, but I do try to remind them they have other resources like contacts, their cohort of rooks, etc.

Also, a more liberal use of flashbacks will help. It turns out they were under the impression that flashbacks would always cost stress. When I told them simple things a crew could be expected to do if they had their act together would be free, I think that cleared the way for future games.

They now have four scoundrels between them, so spreading the action around Leverage-style should help a lot in reducing stress, too, if I can get them to do that.

Making consequences clearer

This one’s obvious. I need to get better with clocks! Where this got frustrating last session is when they were trying an involved social plot. This is the kind of place where I should have a clock on the table, not some vague notion of what’s required in my head. That way, their successes would feel like measurable success in ticking the clock rather than something abstract.

Episodic feel

I’m hoping the episodic organization of the game itself will be more apparent if we can get all of free play, a score and downtime into a single session rather than only making partial progress. I like the longer term plot entanglements, so I don’t want to get rid of those and make it purely episodic. But we can make it more about the score and less about the faction game. Only playing for 2.5 hours/week during which time we also want to socialize is constraining. We usually get in more like 2 hours of playing, though this week it was only 1 hour and 45 minutes of game time, which included my quizzing them on how the game’s going.

Entanglements just happening

Hopefully I won’t need to homebrew a fix to this! We’ll see if we can make it work as written. I can always play with making the scores more lucrative so that they can buy their way out of most of these entanglements. (They asked for a ghost entanglement last time, then didn’t like the results!)

Hi
This is a long post, but I’ll try to respond to some of the issues. If you make changes to address all the concerns of your players, you’ll end up playing a very different game. A lot of issues may resolve themselves once you guys have practiced more. Your session durations really are on the short side.

Genre: I think the game mechanic of BitD can be easily adapted to various genres. This is way a ton of people have created their own hacks. You could re-design Doskvol together with your players to make it suit their tastes more. For instance, if they like D&D-style fantasy, the factions could instead be your stereotypical fantasy races (elves, orcs etc.) embroiled in a sort of civil war fighting for control over the city; instead of going on heists, they raid the lairs of enemy factions that are underground dungeons full of loot and monsters. If you don’t/ can’t invest a lot of time into homebrewing, perhaps your players can help out too to lay the groundworks. Keep it simple and perhaps restricted to just one district and a handful of factions.
Band of Blades might be a good option.

Partial success: I love this mechanic and yes, it’s central to the game. But if they hate it, you might want to switch to another game. Meddling with the dice mechanics is risky. However, I think you might also be able to make them like it more depending on how you frame the partial success narratively.
Position and Effect: I always keep a table at hand that lists all the possible consequences depending on rolls and position. It’s best if you tell your players before the roll what the possible outcomes for this situation are so that they’re not surprised. If you are having trouble coming up with consequences on the fly, ask your players before the roll what possible consequences might be. This is not the kind of game where the GM has to come up with everything. You can create your own list of consequences by taking notes during gameplay.

Lingering harm: I think that’s something you could fix. If they like it the way D&D works, you can have them heal their harm completely until the next score if they use at least one - or maybe both - Downtime actions. As the G, you could balance this out by making the scores more dangerous.

Loot: You can revert back to traditional coin counting like in D&D. Like adjusting “lingering harm”, this would, however, have far-reaching consequences for the entire faction game side of things (levelling up, paying off people etc.). I wonder whether your players really like or care about the faction game, though.

Entanglements: Perhaps you could frame the entanglements differently, so that they don’t feel like dropping out of the sky. You could give them time to plan, but if they get time to plan you make the entanglement more challenging. I also don’t think that you necessarily have to do entanglements after every score. As I understand it, their purpose is to add to the story, to keep the players on the edges of their seats. If they don’t enjoy that, well…

Levelling up: How fast or slowly PCs level up, can easily be adjusted in any game.

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Excellent analysis of your game thus far! It’s something I don’t think enough GMs do, and it is a seriously good habit to check in with the players and get a feel for how the game is going.

All of that in mind, I do have some thoughts:

Player’s Best Practices

Genre and Abstraction Mechanics aside, I feel like a lot of the issue the players are having stem from not fully buying into the best practices. They really should be treating their characters like stolen cars and being daring and reckless with said characters. The game rewards this kind of behavior through XP for Desperate Actions, XP for Solving Problems in a “Scoundrel-y” way, and letting aspects of your Vice and Trauma cause you issues. If you want to have more satisfying level ups, you need to play your character like a Stolen Car. Otherwise, you simply won’t get all that you can out of the game.

Characters in Blades have this wonderful state of being both Durable and Expendable. In the long run, Blades is a game about the Crew- not individual characters. That in mind, character-centric play is also important on the session to session basis and characters can (and will) be important catalysts for the Crew’s continued success.

Just like the GM ought to “Hold On Lightly” throughout the, the players should do so as well with their characters. The game will flow even more by just letting the Consequences fly.

Of course, when it comes to Consequences, you need Trust- and given the history you have with your players, I’m sure it is there and established! However, there is always room for:

Transparency: Leveraging The Conversation Through Position, Effect, and Clocks

You’ve already identified this yourself, which is great, but it is helpful to reiterate these points as- like the Best Practices- Position, Effect, and Clocks are all tools that may help to alleviate issues with a dislike of “Partial Success” (which I don’t really like that term as it isn’t quite what a 4/5 is) and help to avoid that feeling of “what do we need to do?”

Before I get into P&E, however, let me just mention a really important distinction In mechanics that you probably already know- but I like to mention it because one reason that causes GMs to struggle with Consequences is that you’re pulling on the wrong mechanical support structure. Recall that, when we play fiction first, we are determining:

  • Where are things fictionally positioned? What are characters positioned to do or not do? What fictional permissions do they have or not have?
  • What is the Character doing? How are they doing it?
  • What is their intent?

We use this to determine:

  • If a mechanic is needed
  • Which specific mechanic, again- if any- is needed
  • How that mechanic will take us from our starting fictional point and pushes us forward

As such, in Blades, if:

  • There is no Uncertainty, there is likely no mechanic to pull on. Just let the fiction flow in whatever direction is the most appropriate and honest.
  • There is Uncertainty but no Risk: Fortune Roll. Formulate a Dice Pool and determine “how well do things go?” There aren’t “Consequences” to Fortune Rolls like there are for Action Rolls. The Engagement Roll is a prime example. You can’t Resist a 1-3 Engagement Roll Result. The Disclaimed Decision making of the Fortune Roll indicates the current Desperate State of the Fiction, but this isn’t quite like Consequences for an Action Roll. You typically don’t dole our Heat, Harm, Etc. from Fortune Rolls. It isn’t impossible, but it isn’t the norm for a Fortune Roll. The Result of the Fortune Roll may not be favorable, but it generally isn’t a “Consequence.”
  • There is Uncertainty and Risk: Action Roll. Set Position and Effect as usual.

Now, with all of that in mind, this is how almost all of Blades plays out- having a Conversation about the Fiction and determining which mechanic (if any) best supports the fiction. Once we get into Action Roll territory, the very fact there is Uncertainty and Risk apparent in the fictional situation should already be leading you- as the GM- to potential outcomes.

When it is clear an Action Roll is being made, no one rolls dice until not only have we established P&E, but we’ve established P&E! It’s perfectly fine and acceptable to just say “Risky/ Standard” and press onward, but it is a hell of a lot more effective to say:

  • “Hmm, yeah- so if you want to toss the vial of Silence Potion in the midst of this shakedown, you’re in a Risky Position. It isn’t so much a risk of them seeing you immediately, but it is certainly on the table. The main issue here is the time it takes to line up a good throw before the shakedown gets anymore violent because it’s pretty clear this Vendor is trying to stand their ground and having that Vendor alive will make your Job a hell of a lot easier. Effect? Standard. There isn’t anything really in your way of lobbing it into their conversation to distract them and create an opening for Cole to charge in. Make sense?”

Using P&E in this way leverages its primary purpose to set expectations. I’m not struggling to come up with Consequence because:

  • There is some kind of Risk here, so I know there needs to be a Consequence. I’m not just having dice roll willy nilly. There is a reason this is an Action Roll.
  • The Consequence is readily apparent to me: the Shakedown gets worse, so I will make that apparent to them!

In general, you shouldn’t need to think up a Consequence- the tenuous situation in the fiction should make that apparent for you. Sometimes you’ll need to put some thought into it to figure out how it manifests, but- again- in general, if you know this is an Action Roll; then it likely ought to be because you know what’ll happen if the PCs push forward.

By explaining this to the players, this may help to alleviate the “Partial Success”

  • As an aside, I don’t like calling things “Successes or Failures” or anything like that. It doesn’t quite describe what we’re rolling for. I much prefer the idea of “do you do the thing or not?” and “how much do you do the thing?” and “what- if anything- does it cost?”
  • “You do the thing about as well as expected, but with an associated Cost” or “You do the thing, but the cost here is not doing it as well as expected” is much more accurate than “Partial Success.” If they rolled a 4/5 that means they “did the thing according to their Effect level with a cost proportionate to their Position” not necessarily “Success” or “Failure”.

Anyway, Clocks are just an extension of P&E. They help to keep everyone on the same page. You technically don’t need any Clocks in the game (aside from intrinsic ones like Recovery and Long Term Projects). Clocks are a way to visually record progress being made in the PC’s favor (via their Effect) or against their favor (via their Position).

Be careful not to overly rely on Clocks as “Scene Hit Points” or whatever. The Scene is still progressing with Position and Effect, you’re just recording it when their Intent and their Effect is just incompatible. For example, killing a guard (or heck, even a small contingent of guards) is not likely a Clock. The PCs wouldn’t have Scale, but their intent for “kill the guards” could be done in an Action Roll or two.

However, when there is a much larger Contingent of guards- “kill the guards” isn’t quite on the table anymore. The PCs need to slowly strip the guards of their fictional positioning and that “interim intent” towards their “grand intent” can be measured with a Clock.

Just make sure, even when a Clock is totally valid and sensible to use, not to describe things in “Ticks.” That’s a mechanic. PCs don’t earn mechanical rewards, they progress the fiction that is represented by Clocks. So rather than “you got 2 Ticks on the Clock!” go for instead:

  • “Okay, so Standard Effect on trying to separate this like pretty significant gang of guards? Sure, no problem. By Tinkering with the pressure valves in the factory, pipes and sewer vents begin to burst and crack and explode- causing quite a ruckus. The guards peel off in different directions, making the contingent of them easier to deal with. Some have split off to check out the sewers and others are forming a perimeter around the factory. Let’s represent this as 2 Ticks on the ‘Deal with the Guards’ Clock, okay?”

Hacking Harm (sort of)

So the first thing to recall with Harm is that Harm only creates penalties when the Harm would apply in a given circumstance. So a Level 2 Harm “Broken Leg” won’t create a penalty for quickly Studying a series of files in a cabinet under a time constraint.

Of course, even if it doesn’t cause issues for Actions, Harm does take up slots and accelerates the process of taking more Harm. As such, streamlining the Recovery process can help greatly.

The first thing I do is make getting a Physicker easier. I don’t like the whole “Acquire Asset” for a Physicker routine, so I just explain to the players my preferred approach for handling Friends and Contacts:

  • You know all the NPCs on your Friends and Contacts list
  • Starting off, you know one Friend and one Contact very Closely. Another one of the “Friends” is a “Rival.”
  • For the purpose of extra dice in Downtime, a bonus dice from Friend or Contact Info, or any other time a Friend or Contact would be helpful; anyone- whether they are “Close” or not- can provide those benefits.
  • The “Close” Status of a Friend or Contact will entail that they will rarely make demands of you in return for their aid. They may still ask, but normally only if there is a singular monumental task you are asking of them or a series of smaller tasks with no returned favores. Not having a “Close” Status will entail the NPC Friend or Contact will be much more likely to require a favor in return. Not always, but far more likely than a Close Friend or Contact
  • Aside from the 2 NPCs mentioned for every PC (“Close” Friend and “Significant” Rival) and the 1 NPC Close Crew Contact; all other NPCs can be in a “nebulous state.” If you feel that a currently unused/ unmentioned Friend or Contact would provide little benefit, exchange them out for someone that can be beneficial. This include Physickers.
  • Once all 5 PC “Friends” have been mentioned and/ or all 6 Crew Contacts have been mentioned, no other Friends or Contacts can be added through this nebulous state. However, Friends and Contacts can be added in the Fiction, through Scores, LTPs, and the like if desired.
  • If a dice pool is ever needed for a Friend or Contact (namely for Physickers), a dice pool similar to an Expert Cohort should suffice (Crew Tier+1). Depending on the nature of the Contact, +2 may be acceptable. In such situations, keep in mind the demands such higher status NPCs might want.

Now, when it comes to Recovery, once the Healing Clock is filled, all Harm moves down 1 Level and then it gets Tagged as “Treated.” Treated Harm still remains and will still affect the PC and they may opt to continue Recovery. However, after the completion of the next Score and triggering of the next two free DTAs, all Treated Harm automatically clears.

It may also be helpful to consider Temporary Harm. In general, I try to avoid Temporary Harm and just keep in mind the negative effects of something. For example “Leg encased in Ice” probably isn’t Harm. However, if that has been around long enough, “Level 2- Frostbite” may be appropriate. Nonetheless, there are times where certain mental states may be sufficient enough to clog up a Harm Slot for the duration of a Job, but not any longer after that. In general, I keep these in mind for Temporary Harm

  • Bias Temporary Harm for Level 1 Harm, Level 2 at the most, and Level 3 hardly ever
  • Bias towards fictional harm that is emotional or otherwise psychological, and sometimes even Arcane; but rarely- if ever- purely physical. Things like Anger, Rage, Hopelessness, Guilt, Drug Induced Psychosis or Hallucinations, or some sort of Arcane Mental or Physical Hex may all be prime examples of things that ought to take up a Harm Slot, but don’t make sense to stick around once the PC gets a breather.

Entanglements

Probably the best thing you can do here, is remind them that they can always Flashback to “Plan Later” for aspects of Entanglements that you would like to play out. Entanglements needn’t be “Haha! I have caught you with your pants down!” They are supposed to be things that keep Scoundrels on their toes and keeps stacking more plates than they can handle. This is normal and is part and parcel part of being a Scoundrel.

Loot

I wouldn’t make Coin any less abstract. It is designed like that for a reason.

However, Coin needn’t be the only reward. Intel, Items, Cohorts, Friends, Contacts, Claims, Special Abilities, Upgrades, and more can all be products of Scores. They want a Workshop? Why wait until they have 10 XP? Just bust in and steal someone else’s! Want Quality Tools? Steal ‘em! The list goes on.

If they want other stuff, use Coin and Rep to fund extra DTAs to Acquire Assets, perform Long Term Projects, and/ or Craft/ Modify gear for all sorts of cool things. They needn’t be clearing out others for some sort of Dungeon Treasure when they can use their hard earned Coin to Craft up something of their own!

The sky really is the limit for gear and the like, let your imagination run wild. The Blades Discord has some great world building and invention/ ritual channels that could be fun to pilfer from. In general, I’d advise away from gear that is mechanical in nature. Avoid +1d for sneaking or whatever. You probably don’t even need to describe things as a blanket +1 Effect either. Let the fiction of the item dictate what it can and cannot do and how that can be of use for Position and Effect.

Quick Note on Tier

A common “mistake” when it comes to judging Effect is to use Tier Difference as an Effect Factor. This is not how it works. The Effect Factors are Quality, Scale, and Potency. Quality is determined by Tier (and Tier can help to define possible deployable Scale), but these are not absolutes. Not every Tier III Faction is traipsing around in Quality III gear. Not to mention that Quality of Gear only impacts the Effect of an Action when Quality of Gear is the most Dominant Effect Factor! If you’re Tier III or whatever and you stab some Tier I dude with your Quality III weapon, will you get Great Effect for that? Probably not. Quality of Gear just isn’t a factor (in or against) your favor to kill that Tier I dude.

That is a big component as to why you won’t see Tier 0 Crews always contending with Reduced Effect- the Effect Factors just aren’t playing a significant enough role in deviating from the baseline of Standard Effect.

Anyway, that’s my 2 Cents. Hope it all makes sense and hope it helps.

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Thanks, @Elvatuar and @Sully5443 for the thoughtful feedback. Now there’s a lot to reply to. Mostly my just agreeing with all this great advice.

Definitely. I was hoping they’d get into the consequences since they’re so much more interesting narratively than taking x hit points of damage. I’ll try to emphasize that. We’re used to playing characters for years at a time rather than focusing on something like a crew,

Definitely a concern.

I was starting to think about doing just this and I’m still trying to think about it. I had in mind more of a piratical, seafaring sword and sorcery. But then I thought a city-state in the wastelands of a magical apocalypse would be the easiest reskin.

What I’m really excited about now is Spell and Blade.

That’s why I’m worried a reskin may not be enough. We’ll see if they come to like it.

Yes, that we’ve been trying to actively address.

That could work. We’ll see.

Too much work. And you’re right about repercussions w.r.t. the faction game.

I think they’re enjoying that aspect of the game.

Hmm. I think reducing entanglements will really help. This kind of thing is also making me think about the size of scores, because downtime doesn’t change based on the size of a score.

Is there an easy way to do that organically? I could obviously just give them a few more character and/or crew ticks per downtime.

I couldn’t agree more. I think of it as factored into success on 4-6 and consequences on 1-5.

I’m also confused by partial success being a possible consequence as it seems to do just what the book tells you not to do, negate a success.

It is. All of the consequences I’ve introduced have followed the fiction. Rushing the Lampblack guard in a desperate situation? Gut shot. Trying to sneak by the Bluecoats in the middle of the night in a risky situation? Alertness clock ticks. Electroplasm bomb against the ceiling? Unintended ollateral damage to the ghost. Trying to sneak a stolen carriage to a chop shop? Extra heat. I think the problem is that these seem “random” to my players compared to rolling on a table. I feel exactly the opposite—given that they follow from the fiction, they seem less random to me.

But what I’d like is a list of things to keep me reminded of possibilities. In the heat of the moment, it can be hard to generate creative consequences. So I’m finding myself postgame critiquing the improv decisions I made in the moment. I’ve tried to slow down and be more thoughtful about this, John Harper style, but I think this slowdown and trying to engage the players is why they think consequences are too complicated.

I think the conversation part is where we’re getting stuck. The players are used to me telling them or looking up in a table what the consequences are. This whole “make it up” business is unnerving them. I haven’t been able to get them to suggest consequences or complications, which is what I have been hoping to do.

I think I finally got that down in Session 8. I’ve been much more explicit about consequences up front. But in the same session, I blew it on effect in the social situation.

This has been one of my favorite parts of the game. D&D actions feel more like chopping down a tree one axe-swing at a time, which was grinding me down at high levels.

Thanks—I really like that framing. I think it’s largely the costs and the time to figure them out that my players are objecting to. If I can’t turn that around, we’ll definitely have to switch systems. (Don’t worry—I have my local crew to run for after my childhood crew, so I’ll give Blades at least one more shot.)

No worries there. Getting rid of that kind of grind is one of the reasons I wanted to play Blades. And my players are pretty good at separating the fiction from the mechanics, which is how we survived with games like D&D so long.

Yup. We got that. I think it’s just having that resource filled in that’s worrying the players—to them, it’s like hit points in that it represents one fewer blow they can survive without dying.

That’s the same thing @Elvatuar suggested!

One of the characters took Sawtooth the physicker as their close contact, so that hasn’t been a problem (other than his breath and the occasional favors he’s requested in the past before our game started; I haven’t had him request any favors yet in the game—I do plan to treat that as rare). I treated him as Tier 2 for the sake of healing just so things weren’t so brutal and it seemed to make sense from the background my player made up for him (physician who pissed off the wrong person and due to their own vices fell on hard times and became a cutter at a fight club, etc.)

Also, they’ve been good about making up other contacts not on the original lists. I think they really do like the fiction and faction aspect of the game. And we’ve had a really hard time having that work in other games, so I’m liking how this works so far.

We’ve actually been leaning into the contacts. I read some of your earlier advice that said you actually knew everyone on the sheet, which we’d read the wrong way initially in the rules.

I hadn’t seen that. I thought you needed to continue to get it treated until it all went away.

That’s how I’ve been playing it because I couldn’t figure out any other system that made sense. For instance, one of the harms I produced was “bell rung”, which was reduced from “concussed”. But “bell rung” didn’t seem like it should linger until treatment. I found this part of the rules pretty confusing.

We hadn’t thought of that for entanglements. The book seemed to imply they should just happen. And then flashbacks shouldn’t change things happening, just avoid some of the consequences. So I’ll have to think through how that would work for being brought in for questioning.

I think it’s more that my player who’s into this wants the exploration and finding cool stuff part of traditional games. Making it up himself isn’t going to work for Player 1. Player 2 may be into it.

Cool! So I was doing it right. I was just trying to follow the fiction of shooting someone. Not something we’re used to from D&D, where a mid-level character can laugh at the firing squad.

Tremendously. Thanks. Your last reply to one of my queries really helped a lot too.

Glad to hear that I was of some help.

As far as Harm being “Treated,” that is a House Rule thing I picked up that takes the sting of the resource drain for clearing Harm. Once the Clock fills, whatever is remaining can be left alone and it’ll go away if you don’t want to shove anymore resources in that direction.

As for Entanglements:

  • Entanglements can happen anytime you want them to up until the next Entanglement.
  • The Flashbacks aren’t for stopping the Entanglement, but handling the Entanglement. Just like how Flashbacks can help give you the edge in a cruddy Engagement Roll, you can use Flashbacks to deal with Entanglements. Flashbacks can be used anytime they’re needed, they aren’t a “Score Specific Mechanic.” So I mostly suggested it as an avenue to help alleviate the “Man our characters should have seen this coming” situations. There is nothing wrong with handling Entanglements a little “off script” from what the book suggests.

Anyway, here’s hoping things smooth out a little more for the table!

You can (almost) easily do that. Reaching four trauma and having to retire can take a very long time, if your players accept switching to other PCs. Also, this helps tremendously with the Harm problem. Remember that you don’t have to overindulge to have your PC Lost in his vice. You can always do that voluntarily (page 156 “Alternately, you may choose to release your character to be “lost in their vice” during a game session, allowing
them to indulge off-camera while you play a different PC.”
The PC will came back with zero stress and wounds healed completely. The price is no score or DTA available.

Thanks for the clarification. I think that might work for us.

I got that. The entanglement was launched during the next free play, as that made the most sense fiction-wise.

It’s this part of the rules that’s causing an issue for my players:

Entanglements manifest fully before the PCs have a chance to avoid them.

I don’t see how to reconcile this with

We’re also struggling with how to put flashbacks into practice in some situations. The particular situation was an Interrogation entanglement. My reading of “manifest fully” here is that they’re hauled down to the station house and cuffed to a chair in a little room with two goons, with no way to resist any of that. Even now, I’m having trouble seeing how to flashback their way out of getting beaten to a pulp given that they don’t have any Coin. The character wound up resisting the Heat (which they’re super freaked out about), but taking the broken fingers (level 2 harm), which they were then very unhappy about. This is where I was really hoping they’d just roll with the punches, as people have suggested. I even let them know that broken fingers were only going to be a problem with two-handed weapons, climbing, or with fiddly manual dex things.

Thanks for the tip. That’s how I’m going to suggest dealing with the harm issue now that we have multiple characters. It solves the overindulgence problem and the harm problem at the same time. I hadn’t realized being lost in vice also restored harm—this game has relatively simple rules, but lots of edge conditions. Nothing like playing to help you figure out how they work!

So the idea here, again, is that the Flashback isn’t preventing them from getting arrested. The idea here is this:

  • The entanglement happens. They get cuffed up, ghosts come around, etc.
  • Even if the Entanglement doesn’t specifically provide any other method of addressing the Entanglement, if the players want- I’m fine with going a little “off script” and resolving Entanglements outside the intended rules.

So, for instance, Unquiet Dead provides the following:

  • A rogue spirit is drawn to you- perhaps it’s a past victim? Acquire the services of a Whisper or Rail Jack to attempt to destroy or banish it, or deal with it yourself.

(Emphasis mine)

So this entanglement would still happen, the PCs can’t avoid the rogue spirit showing up; but they can totally deal with it however they please. They may fight it and realize it’s a little more than they bargained for and can Flashback for a shock baton or a lightning hook or some other ghost fighting implement. The Entanglement blurb says they can’t avoid the Entanglement, not that they couldn’t have prepared for such problems to occur.

However, some Entanglements, like Interrogation specify:

  • The Bluecoats round up one of the PCs to question them about the crew’s crimes. How did they manage to capture you? Either pay them off with 3 coin, or they beat you up (level 2 harm) and you tell them what they want to know (+3 heat). You can resist each of those consequences separately.

… that there are only the solutions specified by the Entanglement and that is it. You cannot solve being Interrogated any other way. I’m not a fan of that. However, it does offer simplicity. So, some players are super cool with just glossing over the Entanglement. They’ll mark the Heat and Harm and be on their merry way. Some will want a little more of a scene. However, some might wish there were more ways they could handle this and I’d be fine with that. If they want to go “off script” from what the book suggests, then I’m game. The only stipulation is that the Entanglement does happen, but the sky is the limit to dealing with it.

So perhaps they’ve planned for such eventualities of being caught off guard and taken into the station. Time to do a Flashback- perhaps Consorting with Roslyn Kellis to get that lawyer friend of hers to help you out? Of course, the Bluecoats won’t just listen to any lawyer- it’s someone that strikes feat into their hearts. They’ll be pissed at the PCs for such strings being pulled and you’ll owe Rosyln (and perhaps the lawyer) a hell of a favor…

Did they get away free from their Entanglement? I don’t think so. Sure, they didn’t have to pay 3 Coin or get the shit kicked out of them like the Entanglement suggests; but they still pissed off the Bluecoats (maybe they made a Rival?), and they owe an influential noblewoman (and probably her lawyer) a pretty favor.

So sure, the Entanglement “fully manifests” and they can’t “avoid” it, but I don’t think that means they can’t be creative in how they address the problem. As such, it may include Flashbacks. As long as Flashback isn’t full on time travel (I killed the guard who is arresting me!) nor mess with the “finality” of the Entanglement (i.e. “We were hiding, so they couldn’t bring us in!); then I see no reason why we can’t reconcile “solving” the problems an Entanglement brings with a Flashback much in the same way Flashbacks can be used to alleviate the finality of a Desperate Engagement Roll.

Regarding advancement: Instead of giving PCs more XPs, you could reduce the number of XPs required for an advancement by blacking out some dots on the XP tracks. That way you don’t have to worry about what number of XPs you want to hand out and just stick to the rules.

They have no problem playing things out. It’s not that they want to rush through downtime and get back to a score. They just don’t like things landing on their heads without having any way to stop them. (For the record, they also hated being surprised in D&D; the thing I did in D&D that most pissed them off last campaign was “borrowing” the sniper scene from Full Metal Jacket with a goblin sharpshooter in a tree a long way away.)

Their complaint was specifically about the Harm and Heat just landing on Interrogation and then needing to be resisted. Given that this is also how high-powered adversaries are supposed to function mechanically, I’m getting worried about whether this is going to be the right game for this crew of players.

I’m totally OK letting them use flashbacks to try to mitigate the effects of the Interrogation (Heat and Harm). The question’s just a matter of how much srtress it might cost compared to the stress of resisting. Thanks a lot for the specific suggestions and the ensuing fictional entanglements. That kind of fictional entanglement is something they’d be totally OK with after pulling strings to get out of the Interrogation. They’d feel it followed more directly from a decision they made.

Now that I think about it, the character was a Cutter who should’ve been able to use their special armor to resist one level of that Harm. Given the uses of special armor in the different playbooks, I’m treating it as an abstract character ability rather than a piece of metal. In the fiction it’d be something like: He angled his fingers over at the last second to deflect the Bluecoat’s vicious truncheon blow (reducing level 2 harm, “broken fingers” to level 1 harm, “sprained thumb”).

Great idea and much easier than my hare-brained scheme!