Struggling with score prep

I am preparing for the first game. We will have a crew setup, after which I would like to run a simple score to teach players the rules and give them a taste of how the game runs.

I understand that I should not prepare scores, but instead situations. I really like that - I don’t want to design what the crew will do, but rather the problem. What I struggle with is that I am used to preparing exploration heavy adventure sites. For example, a village would have factions, characters and problems to explore and then act upon by the party however they like. Ancient ruins would have dangers, curiosities and reward to claim. I find it hard to do the same thing with a score, which seems very goal oriented.

Because the score are a criminal activity, I expect it to be opposite of exploration - there is no incentive to look around and meet people, instead they will be focused on just getting it done. As such, I am not sure what to prepare in the score location to provide the gaming material. I wonder if someone has some advice how they prepared the situation - what exactly did you have prepare in advance? Maybe you have some rough notes that you could share for an example?

I’ve used the starting situation proposed in the book with a little twist.
Roric is the Crow’s leader. Lyssa wants him dead to take his place - problem is Roric has a ghost-bodyguard who can protect him from bullets. She hires an assassin known as Harpooner - his aracane skills can allow him to disintegrate ghost and kill Roric. Harpooner knows that she might try to double cross him - so he hires a bunch of “fresh” crews to secure a couple of his evacuation routes and escort him if needed- one of them would be our crew.

This gives players a lot of flexibility as only the starting point (Crow’s nest) is set - eventually you can assume that crew’s hideout will be the end point. The route itself? Up to players. Preparations on the way? Flashbacks. Translate engangement roll to fiction? How close are Crows to catching Harpooner when he meets the crew.

I had a list of potential problems at hand to use depending on player’s actions:

  • Crow’s pursuers. A few groups of 2-3 crows with some 4-segment clocks to avoid/beat/outrun them
  • Crows sending crows to warn other teams of the situation (Hunt them down? change route?)
  • An enemy Whisper that can trace Harpooner’s magical harpoon (spirit-boudned to Rorics soul)
  • Some closed gates you need to vault through or lock pick
  • A crowd exiting the floating theater and pack of Crows waiting on the other side of the bridge

And then just let if flow…

ps. To fajne forum jest - warto przeczytac stare wątki, bo sporo dobra można znaleźć :slight_smile:

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I can’t share my notes because they are in portuguese (they are also a mess, wouldn’t recommend reading them) but in my experience what you want to do is create a framework for your score. A bang, basically the way your score will start. A location, where is it happening. A situation, why does this score exists and what event made it possible. And finally extras, which are every other element involved like obstacles, NPC’s, clocks and devil’s bargains you can thow at your PC’s. To appease my anxiety I try to write at least 3 for each (Bang, Location, Situation and Extras)

One thing I started doing in my first sessions tho is using this “Getting the Band Back Together” prompt

To cut to the first score where the crew get their hideout from a enemy faction, all completly improvised.

So when I run a first session of Blades (especially for new players), I like to make sure I cover a few things:

  • I’ll have a generic scenario. A centralized Job or problem that can be approached by just about any Crew.
    • If you aren’t comfortable with a “Generic Scenario,” the “War in Crow’s Foot” (as has been mentioned) is already a perfect option to start with
  • I want to get right into the Action (especially if it’s a One Shot). If it isn’t a One Shot, then I’ll go a lot more in depth with Crew Creation (otherwise for a One Shot, I just get an idea for what Crew “Approach” they want and just focus on Character Creation). Once I have Character and Crew Creation complete, I start 'em off right in the Score. No Engagement Roll, nothing along those lines. They are in the metaphorical (or literal) room on fire and they’re gonna have to do something soon. I just start them off in a Risky Position and go from there.
  • I don’t want to bog them down with all the rules at once. I will inevtiably have talked about some of the rules during character creation, but I don’t want to go into every single thing they can do with each dice roll. That kind of stuff I will gradually add in as the situations present themselves (usually triggered through off hand comments by the players):
    • “Ah man… I don’t have any Dice if Tinkering is the ideal approach” (now is a good time to mention Push Dice and Devil’s Bargains)
    • “Hey, is there a way I could help out here in some way? Like I’d be calling out where to shoot” (now is a good time to mention Assist Dice and Set Up Actions)
    • “Before he Commands these guys, could I like punch someone’s lights out to try and make a point?” (Prime Set Up Action right there)
    • “Oh, if he’s Wrecking the Bridge, I’d totally grab my Demo Tools to do the same…” (There’s a good time to talk about Group Actions)
    • “Ah, if only I had like a Flashbang or a Smoke Grenade or something…” (Time to talk about Flashbacks)
    • Etc.

You’ll find that prepping a Score is really no different than Prepping for an “Exploration Adventure.” I’ll want a rough idea of the location, the possible people, and what the general point of Job could be.

So maybe my premise may be as follows:

  • There is a shipment crate of experimental semiautomatic rifles (about 5 in total) that has gone missing. It was meant for the Imperial Military Garrisoned in the City as part of some sort of rumored “Project.” Currently, the crate is believed to be in the hands of “The Styx,” a family business of arms dealers looking to hawk it off to some buyers.

From here, I’ll use elements of Crew and Character Creation to figure out:

  • Who gave them the Job? (it was probably a PC’s Friend, a Crew Contact, or a friendly Faction)
  • Where is the Job taking place? (Probably near their “Hunting Grounds” or whatever Crew Equivalent they have, this way they’ll have a convenient +1d to Gathering Information Rolls and they’ll have a Free DTA for the Job)
  • What will they want out of it/ what is the most broad approach? (Based off their Crew. Will they kill someone to send a message to hand over the guns? Will they burst in and bash some skulls in? Will they try to make a deal with the Styx using product of their own? Will they go in to quietly steal it? Are they actually working for the Styx to Smuggle the Shipment somewhere for transport to the client of the Styx? Something else?)

I’ll probably think about some interesting NPCs that could be related to the Styx (3-5 NPCs should do)

  • Beatrice Baxter (Oldest surviving member of the Styx and mother of Bethany Baxter, who is the current leader of the Styx. Irrational, Sadistic, Careful)
  • Bethany Baxter (Current leader of the Styx. Looking to profiteer off an upcoming Union Revolution between the Rail Jacks and the Bluecoats. Courteous, Demanding, Unstable)
  • Hassim Raq’m (An “Off the Books” Gondolier that is highly loyal of Bethany. Superstitious, Temperamental, Resentful)
  • Julius Cromwell (Styx Bookkeeper. Rarely speaks. Fastidious, Educated, Intolerant)
  • Selina Gaudium (A gun runner and a Whisper. Uses Ghost Doors. Abrasive, Discreet, Petty)

I’ll probably be making note of PC Friends, Contacts, Rivals, and maybe a notable or two from a friendly and a non-friendly faction (and may ask the PCs to give me some Traits or use a character trait generator if I feel it is pertinent or helpful) as well. That should give me enough people I could readily toss in. Worst case scenario, I just keep a list of names that I can pull out of thin air and drop someone in if something isn’t covered.

From there, I’ll want to know the basic approach (not necessarily a Plan/ Detail, but it wouldn’t hurt). That’ll let me shape the starting situation of the premise. We’ll say they opted for Assassins and the Crew is really big into kidnappings and ransoms. The immediate thought that comes to my mind is for whoever asked for the guns explained that Bethany’s weakness is her mother. Kidnap and random Beatrice for the guns. Beatrice is an expert “Pramacht” Player (basically a chess-like game) and there 'just happens" to be a local tournament being held in the Crew’s Hunting Grounds. They’ll be able to get here- but when the Scene opens, it’ll open with an attempt on Beatrice’s life. She’s still alive and hiding behind cover with the folks she’s making a deal with during the tournament’s post game celebration. She’s alive, but the Crew will have to act quick if they want to keep their ransom alive!

At this point, now would be a good time to call for a break. This will be the time where I think about potential problems:

  • The Assassins are probably rivals of the Crew or perhaps some sort of Vigilante cause or whatever
  • Beatrice is actually trying to line up potential buyers for the guns that her daughter plans to sell! Apparently, Beatrice has some plans of her own…
    • Maybe the whole thing was a Sting Operation?! Beatrice is working for the Inspectorate or perhaps the Imperial Intelligence Agency?
    • Perhaps Beatrice has one or two of the rifles to show off- I bet Selina won’t be too far away to escape with them (but if the Crew gets 'em- that’s a pretty penny right there… or maybe they’ll use the rifles for their own gain)
  • Allies for the Styx show up (maybe a Rival Faction of the Crew? If not, I’ll pick an interesting one from the list)
    • They may come with getaway vehicles (perhaps Hassim, the Gondolier, will be one of them? Are they using something more advanced than a Gondola? Like a rudimentary Jet Ski or Speedboat?)
  • The people Beatrice is selling to might include PC’s Rival (and they may have their own friends nearby…)
    • The Local Security for the Competition may be in that Rival’s Pocket- more people to muck up the situation
  • Extra Assassin Reinforcements arrive (note to self: make them fairly Potent NPCs to act in devastating ways- lots of tools for ambush)
    • Attacking from the Skylights, the Sewers, nearby buildings (snipers?)
    • Good old fashioned smoke pellets and flashbangs
    • Poisons (Lethal and Non Lethal)- syringes, gas grenades, etc.
    • Streetlights/ Lamps/ Building Lights and Lamps are all going out- fighting in near perfect dakrness (assassins have dark sight goggles, of course)

Armed with all of this “potential fiction,” I’ll now have some quick reference material to help me out during the game. I may end up using none of it! The starting scenario (Beatrice is attacked during post game celebrations while she’s trying to make a deal with some potential buyers) might spiral in completely different directions than I prepped. In that case, I just need to roll with it and maybe disclaim some decision making by polling my players for some ideas. That is why it is important to never “marry” your prep and just let things go where they need to go.

I generally don’t fret about locations and whatnot as part of my prep. I just know that, in the case of this place, it is probably like an open floor plan gala/ celebration room in like a Museum or Social Gathering Hall somewhere or something like that. I mentioned Skylights and Sewers and nearby buildings- so that’ll be good to know as well. Otherwise? I’ll leave the rest nice and open to allow me to add things on the fly (especially if they’d be convenient features for the players to do their cool stuff).

Hopefully that all makes sense and hope that helps.

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Thanks you all for amazing answers! @Sully5443 Thanks a lot for the enormous effort of writing the answer - this looks like a ready made material for me, I will definitely take advantage of it!

I think what I am most worried about is whether I have sufficient material during the score to keep it entertaining. For example, I thought about a potential score of retrieving a drug stash from a leviathan hunter ship. I am concerned there won’t be sufficient number of obstacles to keep it entertaining. The obstacles I have in mind are:

  1. Guards around the docks
  2. Lack of direct access to the ship
  3. Probably locks or finding unlocked doors onboard
  4. The crew on the ship
  5. Finding the place of the stash
  6. (Optional) Competition coming for the stash?

Is that sufficient number of obstacles to have? Do I need more or will the partial successes provide more (and will these be more than just attracting attention)? How many obstacles would you have during the score?

Ultimately that is up to you. I don’t think there is an “optimal amount of prep” or “the best number of potential fiction to keep in your back pocket.”

The example I provided above is way more prep than I usually do. I typically just have a couple of Job ideas, which is just composed of:

  • Who offers the Job?
  • Who the Job is going to Affect/ The Target?
  • What is the goal for the Job? What do the PCs need to do?

These come mostly from a mix of prior sessions, Faction Clocks, etc. The Players can follow up on these leads I posit to them or something else and I’ll workshop with them from there. As the GM, I’m not the principal story teller- that is on everyone’s shoulders.

The one thing I’m most concerned about having is how things might kick off and I’m normally formulating loose ideas when:

  • I’m jotting down these Job opportunities
  • As the PCs are poking around to get information
  • Once they select their Plan and Detail

Generally Speaking (so YMMV), the starting sequence is more than enough for me to snowball “what happens next.” It just becomes “what logical problems would come from this dice roll?” or “what new problems could be cropping up that would stand in their way?” Sometimes it’s a bunch of things and sometimes it’s just a few- not every score will be a full session of Action Packed Tomfoolery. Sometimes the more exciting stuff is the aftermath from a quick and dirty Score.

On the rare occasions that I do sketch out some Potential Fictional Problems, I’m really only doing it as “Backup Material” when I’m really struggling to think of something. Now, admittedly, as I’m thinking about Jobs- I probably am setting up some Potential Fictional Obstacles, I just rarely write them down (probably so I don’t get attached to anything).

So if I were in your shoes and the premise was “Steal Drugs from Leviathan Ship” my brain would probably go to the following places first:

  • Why are they tasked with getting these drugs?
  • Why would Hunters Risk being intoxicated on the open waters? Are these like Focus Drugs or Combat Drugs?
  • Who else would want these Drugs? Who has it out for the Hunters (or the Crew)?

Once I have those answers, I’m a pretty happy camper and I won’t really write down much more than that and I’ll let the Crew’s antics help me learn about more stuff.

If this was the first Job of the First Session, then I’d probably start them off in a Risky Position where they arrive just as a Ministry of Preservation Boat blockades the Hunter Vessel in the Dock, and around a half dozen Ministry Carriages arrive as they prepare to inspect the ship due to rumors of contraband.

At this point, I may have already had some ideas flittering through my head. There may be:

  • A “Cut and Run” escape from the Hunter Vessel!
  • The Crew may get Roided out from their Drugs in anger and protest!
  • The Drugs are booby trapped (explosives for a “tragic accident”)
  • The Drugs are hidden in a weird Ghost Echo/ Door/ Dimension Smuggling Compartment Thing… hopefully Ghosts don’t start pouring out or getting attracted to it!
  • The Hunters hired some Dockers and Sailors to mess with the Ministry, things might turn bloody!

As I said in the original comment: one, some, all, or none of those things may make it into the Score (or maybe they’ll appear in different ways!). It all depends on how they deal with that starting situation.

So I guess the Tl;dr here is:

  • There probably isn’t a “Golden Number of Obstacles to Prep.” If I had to place a number- I’d say 3-5 is always a good range.
  • Think about who is involved in the Job. Who’s the Target? Who are their friends? Who are their enemies? Does the PC Crew’s Enemies want what the Crew wants?
  • Focus on the opening situation- whether it’s the first session and you toss ‘em right in or it’s a more “normal” session and you’re formulating it as you go. Sometimes the problems that appear from the opening dice rolls will be enough to keep things rolling (even 6s can still lead to new problems down the road).
  • Talk things out with the Players. Sometimes talking about their Approach and possible Consequences based on their Approach and their expected Outcomes is a great way to verbally brainstorm and inspire yourself. “Hmm, you just want to go in as Ministry Officials, eh? Okay, well no one was expecting further back up and you’ll probably need to be cleared. I don’t think you’ll get Standard Effect to walk in on the investigations. Probably Limited Effect to head over to the Checkpoint folks to sign in and verify ID cards. So Limited Effect. The Consequences here, as I’m talking and thinking about it, are probably Heat and Suspicion, that sounds pretty accurate here, right?”
  • Not every Score has to be a long and drawn out affair. The game is rarely a question of “will they get what they want?” It is more about “They’ll get what they want… what is the Cost?” Eventually the Stress starts to build. At first they clear it really easily, but then they need to get some Recovery Rolls in there and Reduction of Heat, and there’s those Pesky Entanglements that can chew up some Rep and Coin and now they can’t afford to Indulge to 0 Stress so they start going into Jobs with 1, 2, 3 or more Stress. They have Factions starting to bite at their heels, etc.

Hope that makes sense and hope that helps

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@Sully5443 Thanks a lot! I think I get the part about thinking through the context of the game and using that information to flesh out the score’s details! That’s one of the things I am really excited about the game, as the story propels itself.

What I am specifically struggling with, are the technical aspects of the obstacles during the score. For example, throwing in the inspectors looking for contraband - that’s a new obstacle that is completely separate from the main context. I am trying to figure out what are the things I need to know in advance, so that I am not stuck with “Uhhh… You are on the ship and you get the drugs”, because I don’t know what obstacle to throw in at the players.

Maybe another example of play will help: https://bitd.gplusarchive.online/2015/12/08/im-running-an-online-game-of-blades-in-the-dark-using-the-quick-start-rules-with-three-players-though-often-only/

Most of this is me riffing off the players ideas and winging it. You have to be light on your feet because players will use flashbacks and all kinds of surprising approaches that you can’t really plan for. All you can do is commit to the fiction, building detail upon detail, and fall back on interpreting that fiction when you need to engage the mechanics.

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Thank you, @watergoesred! I will read through!