Starting Situations

As you may know, the starting situation in the book,-- The War in Crow’s Foot – is based on an early playtest campaign that I ran. The factions were slightly different back then (The Unseen were a major part of it) and our group didn’t exactly participate in the turf war – after Ryan’s character was murdered and spirit-body-swapped in the very first scene, things took a turn. : )

I’d love to hear about how you started your games of Blades. Did you use the War in Crow’s Foot? Do you have a “go to” starter situation for your games?


I’ve GMed over ~5 crews from their starts, and I’ve found creating a starting situation to be the hardest part of running Blades. The game is so good at keeping momentum once it gets going, but giving the players the right sort of push up front is challenging!

I think the book’s sentiment of starting the players out in the midst of an established conflict is a good one, but I’ve had far more success with it when I find a personal connection for the players. My Charterhall University sorority sister hawkers had a not great starting situation where I chucked them into a turf war between the Lampblacks and a home-brewed gang around campus. There wasn’t quite enough going on; the PCs allied with one side, and things went easy for them.

Had another game where some shadows were stuck in a brewing war between the Gray Cloaks and the Bluecoats in Six Towers. But that game went great, because one of the players was the exiled-because-he-killed-the-wrong-noble’s-son-in-a-duel scion of Lord Strangford. Because the PCs had a personal stake in the GC vs Bluecoats conflict, the game felt personal from the jump. I really liked this one.

Ran the War In Crow’s Foot once. That game was my most successful campaign, but it also ignored the war after the first session. PCs were a cult who decided to claim an orphanage in Crow’s Foot that was controlled by the Crows, and suddenly all that mattered were the orphans, the Crows, and Bluecoats. The starting situation was a helpful push to get us started, but we built momentum in a very different direction.

For my most recent game, I picked two factions at random that the PCs had positive status with (Billhooks and Gray Cloaks), pitted those factions against each other, and then gave the PCs a job that could help or hurt either side (Billhooks are about to do a train robbery, but word is they need a crew of smugglers like yours to get the goods back into the city - GCs might also be interested in the loot). The faction statuses made the stakes immediately personal, starting with a clear score felt really good, and everything was open ended enough that it immediately put the PCs in a position where they needed to make choices about who they supported. This isn’t even that far off the War In Crow’s Foot starter, but those personal relationships to each side made it juicy.

Also, everyone loves a train heist. Why wouldn’t you start with a train heist?


I used the War in Crow’s Foot to explain the starting situation in our campaign, which revolves around the growing opportunity in Nightmarket. The area is seeing a lot of new money coming in, and there are lots of opportunities. The Red Sashes and the Grinders are the two big factions vying for control. When the war with the Lampblacks breaks out, the Red Sashes lose their hold and so the Grinders are considered Ward Boss.

The PC Crew are Hawkers setting up shop there. They’ve paid up to the Grinders and have been in touch with the Lampblacks; Bazso Baz’s asked them to do what they can to disrupt Red Sash operations in Nightmarket in order to weaken them in Crow’s Foot.

The Crew has really gone after the Red Sashes after attempting to remain neutral early on. They finally came to the realization that if they want something, they have to take it from someone, so it may as well be the Red Sashes.

I have a feeling the Crew will knock the Sashes out of Nightmarket soon, and then I expect they’ll start working on taking control of Vreen’s Race Track…we’ve kind of set that up as the jewel of the district…but that’ll tick off the Grinders.

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I really wanted to play around with making my own starting situation, and I really kind of had to because the crew had really unique and guided interests (they’re a band of Hawkers who deal exclusively in the spirit and occult trade in the city).
I built their situation based on both that focus and the details they picked during crew creation to draw on factions they were already familiar with, as well as drawing on faction clocks I was interested in.
The result of that was a situation where the Gondoliers were clashing with the Dimmer Sisters, because the Gondoliers believed that they might be behind the desecrated hollows being dumped in the Dusk. The Hawkers had stolen a gondola from the Gondoliers in the backstory, but they also had reason to work against the Dimmers since they’re potential competition in the occult market.

Our first session was a little rough, but the actual handling of the situation was fun. They ended up working with the Gondoliers to sneak into the Dimmers’ manor and place a magic artifact there. One of the PCs started falling in love with Roslyn, they nearly got killed by a knife-throwing ghost, and eventually escaped by climbing over the Dimmer grounds wall and leaping dramatically onto a boat in the river positioned there by their contact Anya. Fun times!


First time I used the War in Crow’s Foot, Bazso hired the crew to plant a spirit well bomb fueled by leviathan blood under the Red Sashes HQ. Their curiosity got the better of them and they took the thing apart to see what it did. Their conscience got the better of them and they convinced Baszo that it wouldn’t do what he thought it would. Their current goal is to recover the barge of leviathan blood from under the Red Sashes HQ for Baszo. It was the first time we played BITD, and I have learned a bunch from it. Fun though.


I used a simple starting situation in a recent (short) campaign. The crew started in the middle of a job transporting legit stuff (and one secret envelope). They got attacked within the first 5 min. 4 sessions later, they were causing an international incident while trying to STOP a relic from being stolen.

I didn’t start with factions in mind. Instead, I hooked om contact in as the initial job source, a rival as the obvious antagonist and a second rival as the puppet master behind the scenes. I’ll use this model for starting scenarios in the future!

By the way, the only real prep was putting an old map of the Saqqara pyramid (without the names) I’m the secret envelope.


I was going to suggest the War for Crow’s Foot in the one campaign of this I’ve run, but the PCs were more interested in having hunting grounds in the Docks, so I just said to myself “Okay, their contact informs them of a job in their hunting grounds of their preferred type, maybe with an obvious opportunity to use a relevant upgrade or special crew ability.”

Which worked really well for nailing down right from the start “This is what this crew is about.”


I’ve recently come up with a set of handout sheets for various districts in Doskvol. This was originally created for use in my three-part con game Stay Hungry, but can be used by anyone looking to jumpstart a campaign. All the districts are there except Crow’s Foot (we already know the situation there), Dunslough, and Whitecrown (though I may add those two at a later date). Each district has a map with some notable locations, a list of notable factions in the area, and a situation into which a crew can insert themselves in a variety of interesting ways. There is also an additional page for factions that aren’t tied to any one particular location, but can cause trouble anywhere (like the Bluecoats).

Note: I have deviated from canon a little but in the placement of certain locations and factions, and I’ve added a few things of my own.

I will continue to work on bashing my notes for Stay Hungry into something that someone else can pick up and run, but for now the Districts file is available at:

– Ben


Hey, those district sheets are nifty. Share them in Fan Creations if you want to (and maybe ask Ryan if it’s okay to re-distribute his maps like that).

I try to generate a starting situation tied to the crew’s interests. For example, in my first campaign, the crew of Shadows were interested in playing the information game and several PCs were connected with nobility/university culture. So the conflict was between the Ink Rakes (a specific, independent paper) and a Noble House tied to a scandal involving one of its members. I like this as a clear start for Shadows. Spies operating between two public entities who are trying to sabotage each other, operating in murky realms of legality. It helped my players test the waters on what they could achieve in Duskvol, and there were plenty more directions I could have suggested for scores involved in the conflict.

My scattered thoughts on how it went:

  • It didn’t last long. The crew chose one faction and supported them hard, focusing on collecting evidence on House Cole and then getting an Inspector involved to make sure that justice was fulfilled.

  • The starting situation did not end up defining our crew. The campaign continued for a long run, and our final directions had little to do with where we started, although we were still nominally Shadows

  • We did end up generating some interesting characters who became involved in different conflicts further down the road. Besides figuring out how to play and establishing the PCs, I think this is what was most impactful about the first 3 sessions

  • But they were mostly from the Ink Rake side; only one notable character emerged from House Cole. I put this down to a lack of prep on my part. It was not a very well-developed conflict; looking back, I didn’t make House Cole appealing or interesting, nor was there much nuance to the situation, in terms of morals or personal links to the crew. Something I want to improve on in the future

  • I don’t think it mattered however. I was more invested in mining the new PCs for things I could use as later points of conflict, throwing characters against the wall to see which would stick, testing what my players were interested in. Maybe a couple of sessions of clear goals helped my players adapt to the sandbox, or maybe it helped me figure out what I was doing

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I should add that I do a lot of public speaking and have a couple of “rules” that I have translated to being a gm. Probably not too different than others though.

  1. I try to never break this one. Get people up and active in the first 5 minutes. I always start new campaigns or story arcs at a point of action. After it is resolved, players can go back to narrate/discuss events that got them to that part. I also don’t like long session zeros. Instead we spread that stuff over the first 3-4 sessions. We build the plane collaboratively as we fly it.

  2. I try to employ a “5E” structure to sessions and story arcs. This comes from my teaching background -. Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, Evaluate.

  3. I’m guessing every one agrees to this to some degree. Personal stories are the lynchpin. As a gm, my themes and “plot points” need to be exposed through the characters’ personal stories. A plot to overthrow a government doesn’t matter if it isn’t connected to the characters’ personal stories.


My first two campaigns I used the War in Crows Foot, and I still use this for one shots. However my most recent campaign started with a heist that was designed by the group at the table. I asked the players which factions they wanted to be involved (either because they liked them from the previous campaign or because they were interested in something fresh), and what kind of job they wanted it to be. They ended up stealing a ancient artifact (some kind of magic pre-calamity knife) from Charterhall University that was on loan from a leviathan ship captain (Strangford) out from under some extra hired muscle (The Billhooks). They got the knife, but the job was supposed to be bloodless and quiet, and as per usual it was anything but. A whole crazy game has spawned from the fallout of that first job, which was what I was hoping for.

TLDR: Starting situations are great for one shots and first time players, but I think the game is robust enough that experienced players don’t need them.

I used the starting situation from the book more or less. After crew creation my crew was +2 with the Red Sashes, to I had them sitting in their office instead of Bazos. But that was an easy to do switch around.
My crew then did a fabulous first job for the red sashes, and I expected them to get spiraled into the story from there on. But in the second session they completely abandoned crows foot, and got deeply engaged in some stuff for the Gondoliers (which i didn’t foresee at all). But then this is the beauty of Blades, the players have the power to just go a different direction.
They are still in contact with the Red Sashes and asked them for some help, but they’re yet to engage in the war again. Perhaps the come back to this story after a while.
Anyways, it’s a great starter, as it gives the crew some cool options, and good input for the MC.

I used it.

The missions are really nice starter, but the groups mostly focus on their own stuff more and more.

The ones where I think I pitched the factions more interestingly they kept coming back to the war.

After overly a year of weekly play, the Leviathan hunting grounds have been lost, Duskvol has run out of surplus Leviathan blood, multi-district power outages, a civil war is flaring up, and riots are breaking out in the city streets. The Butcher Birds have the map to the Leviathan hunting grounds and are on the cusp of deciding to save Duskvol from the fall of its lightning barriers or leaving with Iruvian seditionists and sealing Duskvol’s fate.

And we hard cut to a new crew.

The Walking Smugglers, working for the Butcher Birds enemies, fresh off a train in the middle of Severos, facing horselords, ferrying ghosts, running off wolves, bribing Imperial postal officers, getting outshone by horses, and bargaining with other mercenary opportunists milking the land of any goodness.


I was originally going to use the War in Crow’s Foot, but it wasn’t really jiving with my player’s characters. We started off as a crew of Hawkers, and instead we decided to go after a consistent supply, playing on one of the PC’s enemies (Stazia the apothecarist). We haven’t been playing in a strictly…by-the-book structure, as my group is me and 2 players, so we usually have one “guide” NPC involved, and this one has some shit going on with him that’s led to making multiple deals with a demon and dealing with her desire for a list of (seemingly) oddball items.

We’re also running 2 crews simultaneously, and the others are a crew of vigilantes. Originally, the idea was to have the vigs be hunting the hawkers-turned-shadows (our scores kept running subterfuge, so the criminals switched over), but instead we’ve ended up with some soft-hearted criminals and some vicious vigilantes with noble intent, just sort of puttering around the same main plot while they try to help out the citizens of Crow’s Foot!

That was a lot of text to say not a lot, but I just love my idiots so very much.

My group (The Shadow Puppets) started their first game mid-statue heist, trying to steal a noble’s statue of his grandfather to sell for cash money. They’d had a pretty solid idea from the get go they wanted to be art thieves, so the war in Crows’ Foot didn’t really make sense as a starting point (it did factor in later when they found out the one who wanted to buy it to use as leverage was none other than Bazso Baz).

Our second game was a one shot which worked suprisingly well. Again, started in the middle of the action with a trainjacking - the PCs on the train poised to make their move, but turned out someone else also wanted to trainjack the vehicle and the bluecoats had been tipped off…

Starting a new game tonight! Because we’ve not got a huge amount of time though, and a few haven’t played before, we’re going to run through their original turf acquisition. One of the characters has Bazso as a strange friend though so it’s only a matter of time before the turf war affects them in some way or another…

I feel the war is a great start off if your freshly created scoundrels have less in the way of initial direction (gives them a bit of space to just enjoy it the ride while they start to get a feel for the setting and make their own plans) but maybe is a bit less appealing to the players if they have a clear starting direction they want to take. I still often like to make it important in the setting even if not directly touching it though - gives me a bit of a GM get out of jail free card if neither me or the players have a good direction for a session even mid-way in.

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Game #1:
Crew of Shadows called “The Lorians” specializing in Sabotage. As a starting situation I put them in the middle of a fight between two major noble houses, both trying to sabotage the other’s leviathan hunting endeavors and drag the other’s name through the dirt. Looming in the background were agents from the Ministry of Preservation with a master plan to show that leviathan hunting can’t be left to squabbling nobles. First score was about planting false evidence for buying illegal explosives. It all diverged from that starting situation faster than you can say Devil’s Bargain, though.

Game #2
Unnamed crew of Assassins specializing in Disappearances. Here we basically all agreed the campaign was about bringing down the elusive Foundation. So it was not a typical triangle kind of starting situation. It was more about trying to make some influential friends in Whitecrown and digging out some of the names of secret members of the Foundation to find an initial vector of attack. A notable score was about braking Tarvul, leader of the Billhooks, out of Ironhook in exchange for some information about the Foundation who had been pulling the string behind the Billhooks for years and who ultimately put Tarvul into the hook.

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I love the Starting Situation, it made it really easy for me to jump right into running the game without much work. I had my first session ever last night. We spent most of the time creating characters and crew. They paid coin to increase their status with the Crows, then found themselves in Baszo’s office being told that the Crows are done for and now they have to pay the Lampblacks. They almost started a fight with him right there, but things calmed down and they took his job offer to steal the Red Sashes’ treasury. That’s as far as we got.

I’m starting another group next week and I’ll try my hand at creating my own starting situation. I think it’s going to involve the union and Skovlander refugees.


I have always come up with my own little set up to start campaigns, so far 6 crews have played. The players are always having mostly empty pockets and I ask them to come up with ideas how to earn money, which leads to asking their contacts of the sheets.
Slowly they get involved with Arachne, the owner of the local noble brothel named “The Spider’s Web”, who also run a crew of bravos (ex-rebels) lead by the Adjutant. Entangled are also the Nightchill Sisters (Elisa, Contance & Alicia) (replacing the Dimmer Sisters) in the Night Market, who run a striving drug manufacturing operation. The Kraken a former Leviathan hunting captain rounded up the enviroment with his smuggler crew.

The players are in the middle of these 3 factions forming a truce and starting up an operation of a more grander scale. So the players are early on involved and helps their allies with scores, while they are supported to build up their own turf.

My starting situations often involve finding strange Mushrooms in a sublevel cavern for the Nighchill Sisters, stealing a whisper-crafted dress for Arachne or raiding a local temple and bring a valuable artefact to the Kraken.