The March to Skydagger: A Band of Blades campaign

So I’ve got a new Band of Blades game starting tomorrow evening on Roll20 (though we’re doing online for pandemic reasons, I’ve known all of these people for years now and I live with one of them). 4 players, all of whom have some Blades in the Dark experience, and myself running. Character creation is already done, so we’ll be tackling the first mission tomorrow. So far our starting Legionnaires are:

  • Alke ‘Red Axe’ Alikovna (played by D.): A tough/bold Zemyati Heavy, Alke is built to power through damage with whopping Prowess 4 right off the hop. Combined with her heritage traits, and the War Machine special ability, Red Axe is built to smash through the enemy lines.
  • Crimson Stalking Thunder (played by F.): An artisan/traveler Panyar Sniper, Crimson gets in quiet and secures his position, then guns down the enemy from hiding using the Ambush special ability.
  • Marque D’arl Antionetto Bennetzi (played by M.): A connected/stern Orite Officer, the Marque D’arl is less of a fighter and more of a leader. With his Lead from the Front special ability, squads under his command fight like twice as many men.
  • Onyx Flowing Wind (played by B.): A shrewd/traveler Panyar Scout, Onyx can get across any terrain quiet and quick. With his Like the Wind special ability, nobody moves faster.

The Legion is traveling with Shreya, and is being pursued by Blighter and Render. My players thusfar don’t really know anything about any of these three.

As their Chosen is Shreya, their first mission will be to blow Hozelbrucke Bridge. I’ll be playing it up that the Legion just crossed the bridge themselves, pushing eastward, leaving the four specialists and the Ghost Owls squad behind to prevent pursuit. Render’s forces, meanwhile, aren’t that far behind and are closing in fast.

Per the mission writeup I’ll be starting with a “bridge rigged to blow” 10-clock; once the clock is full the commanding officer can blow the bridge. Filling this in is pretty straightforward, except that action rolls to rig the bridge to blow will be limited effect at best (and probably only for rig or wreck or a really well justified other action). The reason is in previous games these players were a little gunshy on devil’s bargains/setup actions/using gear/trading position/etc. - they mostly just pushed themselves for +1d and that was it. So I want to create a bit of a tutorial that forces them to explore what the other rules offer them.

What’s forcing them to do that, instead of just taking their time, you ask? Two other special clocks: an “out of charges” 4-clock that gets ticked every time they plant a charge (and the alchemical charges have potency against the bridge), and a “vanguard arrives” 6-clock that gets ticked every time they do something that would eat up time, as well as being ticked by consequences as normal. Until then the only obstacles are some Hounds near the riverbank, the pouring rain, the slippery stonework, etc.

The plan is they’ll use setup actions to plant those charges in the perfect spots, use devil’s bargains or trade position to boost the effect, to fill that clock. There’s all kinds of abandoned materiel on the bridge from earlier battles - if they run out of charges, they’ll have to scrounge up (figuratively or literally, depending on how it goes) some barrels of gunpowder (which won’t have potency and will be more awkward to get into position) to finish the job.

Lastly, I’m going throw a curveball in once they get the bridge halfway(ish) rigged: I’m going to have some civilians, with a few soldiers escorting, from Karlsburg make a break for the bridge, with some Knights of the Black Oak on their heels. 100% bait. I’ll set up a pair of racing clocks, give the Knights a clear advantage. Mostly I want to communicate, somewhat harshly, that this is a dark grim world and that they aren’t heroes, they’re legionnaires. If they manage to bring these folk back with them, I’ll probably toss them a pretty badly-mauled extra Specialist (2 or 3 corruption and a level 3 harm) or something, as an extra reward.

Anyways, that’s the plan. I’ll come back after tomorrow’s session with an AAR.

1 Like

So I’m a little late posting this AAR, it’s been a busy week, but the session went off without a hitch this past Tuesday. We started with me presenting this intro to the adventure, which is really just a modified mix of some of the info from the book:

The Legion has been shattered and the Cinder King’s troops march east, bolstered with heretofore unseen horrors to fight humanity. You and your squad must secure a retreat for your comrades. To make it worse, Shreya has gone off on her own mission and left you to make do without her.

The Legion has marched across the Hozelbrucke Bridge - the only easy passage over the Tigeria River for miles - but the undead are ceaseless in their advance. Your mission is to blow the bridge with alchemical charges. The enemy must be delayed if the Legion is to gain enough time to advance and set up a defensive position closer to the mountains.

So I was pleasantly surprised how everyone just focused on the task at hand. I was really expecting a lot of “where did Shreya go?” and “who’s this Cinder King?” questions, but instead everyone fixated right in on the bridge. The questions were instead “is there a map of the area” (no) and “what does the bridge look like?” (I sketched a quick Roman-style arched bridge).

Like I said before, initial setup was a “bridge rigged to blow” 10-clock, a “vanguard arrives” 6-clock, and an “out of charges” 4-clock. Then I explained that the first mission skips the engagement roll (these guys have all played BitD, but not BoB before) and we were starting at a risky position, and we were off! It’s also worth noting I’d decided to use Render’s forces in this mission, though I didn’t tell the group that.

Onyx Flowing Wind started with a Scout roll (risky/standard) to get closer to the bridge and get as good a look as possible to figure out what they were dealing with. Unfortunately he biffed it: 2, 3. I didn’t want to start things off on too much of a down note, so I basically gave him the same information I’d already provided (the bridge was the scene of an earlier battle, lots of partial barricades and abandoned gear lying all over, no hostiles on in sight on the bridge itself); for consequences, I said that he had some issues getting there and back quickly, and ticked the “vanguard arrives” clock twice (risky position) to reflect the wasted time.

While that was going on, the other three specialists were discussing some approaches to placing the charges - most of which revolved around the climbing kit Onyx had brought with him. The Marq D’arl led a group Scout action (risky/standard) to lead the entire group stealthily into position - the plan was to break into two groups, with Crimson Stalking Thunder & Onyx Flowing Wind keeping back while the rest all moved up to the center. Crimson and Red Axe were each going to be lowered down to place a charge, hopefully saving on time by doing two at once. The group rolled a success with consequences (and the Marq took 2 stress); I put 1 more tick on the vanguard clock, and also put a scale 2 pack of hounds at the other end of the bridge, unaware of the group thusfar and mostly feeding on carrion near the road.

Since the group only had one climbing kit and was planning to lower two people at once, while they were stealthily moving toward the center of the bridge Red Axe made a Scout roll (risky/standard) to try and spot some rope or other material that might help her climb. With a 4/5, I said she was able to cut some rope free from an overturned wagon and bring it up to the rest of the squad, and then I gave the vanguard clock another tick (4 out of 6!) and also said she made some sort of noise, dropping out of sight just as the hounds looked up and started sniffing the air. Still not discovered, but now actively looking around the area for something amiss.

At this point I decided to describe the hounds in some detail, until now I’d just referred to some undead feasting on carrion on all fours. One thing I’m trying to do is make sure that I add one bit of unsettling detail or flare to each enemy type, to make it mine. So I said, as the hounds lumbered into view, that it was apparent they were the corpses of children - and they kept shambling, rising up on their hind legs for a step or two, before dropping back down onto their arms. Almost ape-like. The reason? It was pretty obvious that while their torsos (I think I used the word ‘frames’) were that of young teens and children, their arms or jaws were belonging to adults and had been bolted or grafted onto them. I specifically described a 12(ish) year old girl’s body with big, thick, muscled dock-worker’s arms covered in coarse black hair - the weight of these ‘additions’ keeps unbalancing the hounds, thus why they run around on all fours.

This skeeved my group out delightfully, which was the point. I’m also trying to feed this back into Render’s theme - the inhumanity of total war. He ‘uses every part of the murdered civilian’, and hounds are made when an adult body is too mangled to resurrect entirely so they graft the usable appendages onto the (otherwise useless) frames of smaller corpses. I went into a lot of detail about shambling movements and mismatched ‘parts’ which I learned after the session worked even better than I had hoped, and several players were suitably horrified. So that was great. Okay, back to our story.

On the eastern end Onyx set up his climbing kit and lowered Crimson down toward the first supporting column of the bridge. I let Onyx roll Maneuver (controlled/standard) to move Crimson into position (Onyx had the better Maneuver score), in retrospect I probably should have had Crimson roll, Onyx assist, and the climbing kit improve the position. Onyx succeeded with no consequences.

Crimson then rolled Rig (risky/limited); the alchemical charges had potency and Onyx’s Maneuver roll counted as a setup, and then Crimson spent stress to push himself for +1 effect - pushing that to risky/extreme. With a 4/5, Crimson marked 5 ticks on the “bridge rigged” clock (halfway there); I marked 1 tick on the “out of charges” clock, and said some masonry broke up above and while it didn’t hit Crimson, a bunch of water that had been pooling rushed down the side of the bridge slamming into him sending him scrambling along the wet column, spinning and flailing in the dark. I let him pick one utility item to drop into the river below (so long hand weapon!) and told him position was upped to climb out of there.

Up at the center, the Marq. decided to burn a Channels use to have a second climbing kit (he was worried about Red Axe going down with only a rope, after seeing what happened to Crimson). Yes, this made the Scout roll for the rope redundant, but they learned to rely on those specialist actions a bit. The Marq went to lower Red Axe down the side, though I told him those suspicious hounds were definitely going to spot them doing that. So he ordered (but didn’t personally lead, since he was manning the climbing kit) the Ghost Owls to move up defensively.

The Owls opened fire as the hounds rushed, the Marq rolled a 6 on a Marshall roll (standard/risky) so I described the Owls moving into position, a few dropping to one knee, and opening up with a barrage of musket fire. Their charge broke up and the hounds stalked backward down the bridge, shifting into a better position. At the same time, Red Axe was flying down the pillar in the climbing kit harness, hurrying to get in position: and rolled a 2 on her Maneuver roll (controlled/standard). She took level 1 harm (bruised ribs) when her foot slipped on wet stone and she swung out into the air, only to pendulum back right into the bridge; I also ruled the opportunity for a “get into position” setup action was lost. Red Axe made a Wreck roll (risky/limited) to place a charge - the charge’s potency boosted her effect to standard, and she rolled a 6 marking 2 more ticks on the “bridge rigged” clock, and 1 more on the “out of charges” clock.

Somewhere around this time I ticked the “vanguard” clock once to represent the passage of time.

Back to the eastern end, Onyx rolled a 6 Maneuver (risky/standard) to pull the soaking wet and spinning Crimson back up onto the bridge. After he caught his breath, Crimson hauled ass off the bridge - he used a flashback to have found a decent sniper’s nest overlooking the bridge; since this was crazy reasonable and he’d had time while Onyx was doing the initial scouting roll, I charged him 0 stress for that. On his way, Crimson dumped out all the oil he had near the end of the bridge, setting up a trap in case they needed to delay some undead while evacuating the bridge. I didn’t make him roll, saving that for when/if it mattered.

This is when that wagon full of civilians appeared on the road. This entire time I’d been describing the slow, ponderous, advance of the undead vanguard down the road from flaming Karlsburg. Basically it was pitch black (no moon, haven’t told them about what happened when Nyx was broken yet), so every now and then I’d describe a flash of lightning and the reveal that the undead horde was getting closer. By now they also saw the metal plating bolted and riveted to their faces, torsos, etc. I said that there was a narrow side road that merged with the main one, from the woods, and the wagon lurched out of there. It had a harness for four horses, but only had two in it - and they were lathered, sweating…I told the Marq that he was close enough to see, one way or another, those horses were going to be dead within the hour. They’d been ridden to utter ruin. Also on a horse was a man with a pistol, periodically firing at the undead in pursuit as he screamed and yelled at the wagon to keep moving and make for the bridge. Of course, in the dark, they had no idea anyone was there (much less rigging it to blow).

The Marq, still holding the other end of the rope Red Axe was dangling from, ordered the Owls forward. There wasn’t anything he could do if the horde caught up to the wagon, but he wanted the hounds pushed back. The hounds rushed in, and the Marq rolled Marshal (risky/standard) to push forward. 4/5: the hounds ate another barrage of musket fire, dropping them to scale 1 and sending them hustling back toward the western end of the bridge, but rookies Gallant Chiara Loprio and Amber Surging Storm were torn up by the hounds before they were driven off (I had the Marq decide their genders and heritages, then randomly generated their names, since we don’t have a Marshal yet).

With 1 tick until the vanguard arrived, Red Axe decided to take a gamble. She asked if she could jump from one column to the other with a Maneuver roll, saving time instead of climbing up then back down at a new location. Since she’s got the War Machine special ability, I told her I was fine with that if she pushed herself; but also that she’d need to disconnect the climbing kit harness to make the jump, meaning she’d have no safety net. She went for it (desperate/standard), and rolled a 6 - clinging to the broken masonry of the next column but otherwise no worse for wear.

Red Axe followed that up with a Wreck roll (risky/limited) - she took a Devil’s Bargain and burned her Wrecking Kit to use some acid to weaken the masonry, so she could plant the charge in the perfect position, for +1 effect. Crimson, who has the highest Rig in the group, flashbacked an assist where he gave her some pointers on the perfect way to prime an alchemical charge (I made him pay 1 stress for the assist as normal, and 1 more for the flashback to have done so). The Devil’s Bargain and the charge’s potency boosted the Wreck roll’s effect from risky to great, and the extra die from Crimson’s assist helped Red Axe get across the finish line, rolling a 4/5. She got those last 3 ticks on the “bridge rigged” clock, but her footing slipped while her arm was inside the column and she fell. I gave her a level 2 harm (“dislocated shoulder”) which she resisted, rolling a 5 and only paying 1 stress, changing it to her second level 1 harm (“pulled shoulder muscle”).

At this point, the Marq moved up to join the squad (since he was holding a rope with no one attached to it). I had that wagon just barely staying ahead of the vanguard, and had said more hounds had moved up from the riverbank to join the ones they’d driven off (restoring them back to scale 2). The Marq gave the order for everyone to line up shots but hold their fire - he wanted to open up on the hounds right when the wagon was about to hit them, because he wanted to make sure the hounds didn’t attack the horses. With his Lead from the Front ability, and now that he was actually leading a group action, I said the squad would basically function as normal (i.e. ignoring their losses, but not going up to scale 3).

Meanwhile, Onyx was hauling ass with his climbing kit to set it up on the other side and pull Red Axe back up onto the bridge. He pushed himself on the Maneuver roll (risky/standard), pushing himself for an extra +1d, and rolled another 6. We were all joking that Onyx is the king of clutch - he biffed that initial Scout roll but otherwise, I think it was all sixes all night long (and we were using the Roll20 roller, so there’s no way he was bullshitting us to be clear).

That’s when the wagon hit the line of hounds, and the Marq bellowed “fire!” Crimson joined in with his rifle from his sniper’s nest, and Onyx pulled out his fine bow as well. They rolled a crit on the group action, and nobody hit a 1-3, so no stress. Even though the wagon and civilians had been meant to be a “you’re gonna have to make sacrifices” lesson? They earned it as far as I was concerned, so the wagon poured through with that one soldier joining them while the hounds broke under sustained fire. The wagon was too wide to get past the makeshift barricades, and the soldier was pretty badly hurt; the Marq grabbed the soldier (who’d lost his sidearm and had been hacking at the vanguard with a cavalry sabre), who had blood streaming down from a piercing wound at his armpit, while ordering the remaining rookies to get the civilians out of the wagon.

Onyx came up to help with the evac, while Red Axe finally pulled out her namesake and made some pretty heavy sweeping attacks, aiming for knees and legs to slow the pursuit while everyone fought their way east. Crimson lay down some covering fire with black shot, and then blew the charges (it was getting late, so i sorta tossed in at the last moment “everybody good if Crimson has the detonator?”)

With the bridge blown, the mission was a success, and we called it a night shortly thereafter.

Favorite Moments

  • Red Axe lunging - I might be biased, since Red Axe is my girlfriend’s character, but her whole “we’re doing it live!” moment when she unhooked from the harness and lunged? I just loved it. I’ve since told her if she’d gotten a 4/5 it would have been level 3 harm where she still made it to the other column, but a 1-3? A level 3 harm and into the rushing river, in heavy armor. She’d have had one chance to fight the current, then I’d have washed her away. I probably would have put a rescue mission into place during a future mission selection (but not right away, let them think she was dead).
  • Crimson thinks about shooting out the wheel - no roll here. The Marq was bellowing orders, moving the rookies up to hold the bridge, while Crimson just sort of…mused…about shooting out the wagon’s wheel. The vanguard had nearly arrive, and he very specifically confirmed these people were soldiers but they weren’t legionnaires. If he took out the horses at range and the vanguard fell on the civilians, that would have bought the other legionnaires time to plant that last charge and bug out. He didn’t do it, but I loved the whole internal debate. I’m really thrilled my players are really getting into the “morally gray” nature of life in the Legion.
  • Crimson pockets the last charge - so they had 4 alchemical charges, Crimson took 2 and Red Axe took 2. Red Axe placed both of hers, Crimson only placed one. At the end of the mission he asked if he could keep it, just you know…not mention it to the quartermaster. I told him sure. No idea what’s going to come of it, if anything, but I’m really digging it.
  • The Details - the hound thing I already mentioned, but the other detail that came at the end was the alchemical charges. They didn’t explode - instead they transmuted all the stone in a 5 foot radius to glass, which sort of stayed put for a moment before shattering beneath the weight of the bridge itself. Then, with a 10-foot wide piece of those columns shattering, the bridge itself fell down on the remaining columns, fracturing apart, breaking the columns, etc. It’s these little details that are just weird and cool or unsettling, that communicate the setting (or, at least, my version of the setting) and the way my players are responding to them is great. Also several of these players really got into the terror of dangling off a bridge, in the dark; I really played up the “Onyx you hear Crimson cry out but can’t see anything down there” sort of stuff.

Lessons Learned/Mistakes

  • Onyx rolling Maneuver - Onyx has the best Maneuver rating in the group. Onyx is the one with the climbing kit. When I first allowed hm to roll Maneuver to lower Crimson, I didn’t think about long-term impacts. I just said he can roll, but the consequences will be felt by the person actually going down (and that person had to agree to that). In retrospect I should have had the person going down roll to Maneuver, with Onyx automatically improving the position (an automatically successful setup action, basically).
  • Marq rolling Marshall for the squad - When the Marq was in the squad, leading, him rolling Marshal for their firing was definitely the right call. When he was relaying orders at a distance, probably not so much.
  • Deciding who had the detonator - I should have just asked the group who had the detonator, rather than pushing for a quick solution. Honestly, this one was just it being late and us all having been pretty clearly ready to call it a night, and me wanting to wrap the mission before we did.
  • Devil’s bargains - Red Axe took a Devil’s Bargain to burn her wrecking kit for +1 effect. Technically Devil’s Bargains only give +1d. The vanguard was almost there, it was late, and if I’d let them go from 7 to 9 ticks and they’d had to do the whole ‘go to another column’ deal AGAIN? I think they’d have gotten pretty frustrated. It was the first session, I wanted to make sure no one left feeling negatively about the game.
  • Managing the pressure- Because the vanguard clock got ticked so much at the start, I eased off it later, meaning they only ever engaged with the weather/environmental hazards and the hounds. I actually think this worked, because they are really on edge now about the “terminator zombies” as we’ve been calling them, and also because they aren’t used to needing to worry about the wind being as much a danger as a monster, so hopefully that’ll school them. It worked for our session, despite not really being how I expected it to go.

Next session is our first campaign phase (due to time we’re doing one phase per session, so campaign nights are likely to be a lot more relaxed/chill and mission nights are going to be a lot more focused).

Nice and… veeeery detailed :upside_down_face:!
Some advice/questions.

  • Maybe, instead of the Heavy Red Axe rolling (and taking risks) to find a rope in the field, then your Officer wasting a Channels use, your Scout could have spent a Scrounge use to get everybody ropes and necessary material… much more efficient. Generally speaking, use Channels for bigger, more important things than just one kit.

  • Your Heavy (Red Axe) was in heavy load, right? So Red Axe had a Fine Wrecking Kit. You could perfectly have allowed him a +1 effect, plus a +1 dice for the Devil’s Bargain.

  • If you make people pay 2 stress for Assists in relatively simple flashbacks, they will be reluctant in the future to do so. IMHO you could consider that the flashback price was the assist price. No need to double on it.

  • Did the Officer roll Shoot on the group action there he lead? Normally everybody has to roll the same action.

Yeah, it wound up longer than I think I’d planned. I might cut some detail in the future.

Eh, I get what you’re saying here but I also think what you’re suggesting is a rules-focused approach that ignores the realities of the fiction. The Officer/Heavy were the ones who needed the climbing kit, the Scout already had one and they were in different locations. Also the Scout was reserving his Scrounge uses to find additional explosives in case they ran out of alchemical charges, which turned out to be a non-issue but they didn’t know that going in.

Good point. I forgot her kit would have been fine, and she forgot to mention it. I think I’d be more inclined to give two uses or something, than a double bonus, for a fine kit but that’s just a gut reaction. I’d have to think it over.

Disagree. The assist action requires you be present and able to assist in the action - in this instance Crimson Stalking Thunder was half a kilometer away, in the dark, while Red Axe clung for dear life underneath the bridge. Meaning a standard assist from that character wasn’t viable - given that Red Axe was all alone down there, a standard assist from anyone wasn’t really viable. I charged Crimson 1 stress for the assist action (as normal) and 1 stress for the flashback that opened up the option, as you do for a flashback that is an “unlikely opportunity”.

Nope, he rolled Marshal - as you do, when leading a group of NPCs. I know how you feel about it, we’ve argued about this before. I’m not interested in revisiting the topic.

It’s true that the “devil’s bargain” mechanic technically only gives dice, not effect. But it’s also true that you set the effect based on whatever fictional details are relevant. I think there are a lot of cases where you can justifiably say that using up an item completely, or being willing to lose it, would be more effective than trying to hang onto it.

Traditionally in FITD games, the difference between a fine item and a regular item is usually extra effect. In Band of Blades specifically, fine weapons and armor are the reason that Specialists are considered Threat 2, and Fine Reliquaries explicitly block 2 corruption instead of 1. There’s ample precedent, then, for a fine wrecking kit to grant extra effect, although as always these things are open to interpretation.

So despite the fact that this thread pretty much died right after I got it started, the actual campaign I started has continued trucking along (more or less) every week. I’d originally intended to do a weekly after-action report on here, but that obviously didn’t happen. I’m going to try and post a few AARs from memory to get caught up later today.

One of the reasons weekly posts never happened is because there’s been a significant difference between the structure of our game as I’d planned it and reality. Myself and my players are all very much adults (late 30’s/early 40’s), two of us have children, we’re playing on a weeknight (b/c that’s the only night that worked for all of our schedules), three of us get up very early in the morning for work. In short, we just don’t have the time for these things that we did when we were all in our teens & 20’s. The result is that I’m running shorter sessions (2-3 hours) than I would if it were entirely under my control (I usually prefer having 4-5 hours to work with, with room to go to 6 if really necessary).

So my plan had been that the separation between the mission phase and downtime/legion phase was a great breaking point - so I’d run a mission in one session, downtime in the next session, the next mission in the following session, etc. Which has happened…once, I think. Downtime in one session is totally fine, and that extra space gives my players extra room to roleplay out what’s going on in the Legion, how the legionnaires are interacting/feeling, which is great. Missions, meanwhile, are typically taking 2 sessions and I wouldn’t be surprised if they stretch out to 3 sessions sometimes. Which is fine, but does mean that we only complete a full “turn” of BoB play in 3 weeks or so.

That’s before life interferes. Which has happened. Because, you know…kids, jobs, illness, vaccination side-effects, etc.

So yeah, all of that means that once I get caught up, I’ll probably only have one AAR a month anyways. Coming up, the group’s first downtime phase.

1 Like

So I’m of the opinion that mechanical aspects of the game (Threat, Fine-ness, Action ratings, etc.) shouldn’t typically be considered when determining initial Position/Effect. Those things come into play during the second step, when you adjust the initial Position/Effect. The one exception to that is Scale, since (unlike Threat or Fine-ness or whatever) that has a much more evident presence in the fiction (since you establish the # of creatures in the fiction, and then determine Scale from that established detail).

To be clear, that’s just my approach and I’m not saying it’s the right way to do it (though I also don’t think it’s the wrong way, either, the book doesn’t get that detailed when it addresses determining Position/Effect) - but I personally think it’s important that GM’s try to be consistent with how they make those sorts of rulings/interpretations.

Anyways, despite that I have more or less come around to your point of view when it comes to…kits and tools and things that don’t already have a defined mechanical effect. Because otherwise a fine wrecking kit is indistinguishable from a normal wrecking kit.

The way I use these items now is that a normal kit can be used for a Devil’s Bargain (the bargain being “you can’t use the kit for the rest of the mission”), granting +1d to the roll. A fine kit grants that and either decreases position or increases effect by one step, depending on the situation. If either works, I let the player decide.

AAR: The First Legion Phase

So we got started with the group deciding which Legion Roles they wanted to occupy. I’ve decided I’m not going to worry about identifying players by initial, since I can’t imagine that stuff is very interesting to anyone but myself. We have all three required Roles (obviously) and a Lorekeeper.

One thing I found interesting is that while nobody wanted their specialist to be a Bartan? The entire command staff (all four Roles) is Bartan. This was decided piecemeal, so it wasn’t an intentional group decision. Just kind of interesting. Also, all my players decided to give actual names to their Roles. I’m kinda curious if most groups do this, or they go through the whole campaign using just the titles.

Anyways, after I gave them a crash course in things like Time/Pressure/Morale/Materiel/etc. we got to it.

(As an aside, since I’m going from 4-month old memory, I don’t recall specific details like what Time/Pressure they were at at a given time. When I catch up with real-time, I’ll include those details).

The first Legion Phase is pretty solidly on-wheels, given that advancing is mandatory. They lost 2 rookies during the Hozelbruck Bridge mission, dropping their Morale to 6. I believe the Quartermaster went with the Liberty action since they’d used a bunch a stress, and they wanted to get their Morale up, but I don’t really recall. After that, they advanced to the Western Front.

Then I presented them with their mission options. Since I keep all that stuff in a Word document, I actually do have details for that. Their first slate of missions was:

  • Operation Shattered Fire (Assault: Undead)
    +4 Morale, +1 Holy Favor; +1 Pressure, +1 Time
    Denied the Hozelbrucke crossing, the undead are fording the Tigeria at its southward bend, where it briefly narrows. They’ve overrun the farming village of Hanar’s Rest, massing less than a day’s march from the Legion’s fortified camp. Crush the threat, before it grows out of control.
  • Operation Amber Storm (Recon: Troop)
    +3 Intel; +1 Pressure
    Patrols spotted a few wagons and a good number of bodies on the far side of the Tigeria, south of Hozelbrucke: wagons blown apart, bodies melted or twisted strangely. If the dead are using munitions now, we need to know about it. Cross the river, track down what did this, and get word back to the Legion.
  • Operation Flying Light (Recon: Area)
    +2 Intel; +1 Pressure
    Tin and copper mines in the Sunward mountains, timber camps on the edge of the Karlsbaum - they all produced scores of dead, and there’s a mass-grave out there to prove it. Reports say the Broken never got that far across the Tigeria before, so the dead shouldn’t be up and about. Make sure.

As it happens, Holy is the type of Favor that Shreya is drawn to - so the Legion got pretty lucky off the hop. I was a little surprised, then, when the Commander selected Operation Amber Storm as the primary mission, with Shattered Fire as the secondary. I even brought it up, because I wasn’t sure he understood how rare random Favor as a reward was.

The Commander’s take on it was that at the beginning of the game, knowing more about the whole situation was just more important to him that one tick on Shreya’s clock. The whole group has kind of taken an aloof attitude toward their Chosen - she isn’t of the Legion, so they more or less think of her as a presence they don’t need to think about.

Which probably means I need to do a little more with her, but I have some plans for that.

I don’t recall which squads were assigned to which mission. I don’t even 100% recall which specialists went where. I’ll dig into that stuff in my next post.

This was great. Did you continue? Would you consider posting anything further?

We did! I think we did two more missions before I had to put the game on pause, because the girlfriend (who plays Red Axe) and I were about to move.

We’re settled in the new place now, and I’m trying to get the game up and running again. I’ll try and post a few more mission reports from memory.


So, months and months later, let’s get to Operation Amber Storm:

Patrols spotted a few wagons and a good number of bodies on the far side of the Tigeria, south of Hozelbrucke: wagons blown apart, bodies melted or twisted strangely. If the dead are using munitions now, we need to know about it. Cross the river, track down what did this, and get word back to the Legion.

This was the first Band of Blades mission that I created myself. I ran it back in…probably May, which means my memory is 5 months foggy, so this isn’t going to have anywhere near the same level of detail. Before I get started, I figure I’ll at least briefly outline my approach to mission creation.

I don’t start missions in the middle of a session - if we wrap up a Campaign Phase with lots of time left over, we do some extra character-building rp to pad the time out or (more frequently) we all have an extra beer, and do some more in-depth metagame chit chat (this is where a bunch of brainstorming for potential Long-Term Projects can happen, or where the Commander lays out his strategy for the campaign and gets feedback from the others, among other things; I also tend to field a lot of “what if X” questions here, that I try to avoid getting into during play).

This means that there’s always a week between the Commander designating the primary mission, and when I need to run it. Which is when I design the thing. Until I know for sure I need to run it, I don’t put much effort into mission design - beyond rolling the name/types/rewards/penalties and writing the 2-3 sentence in-character briefing (at the top of this post).

My design process is usually pretty straightforward: I decide which Broken they’re going up against (I intentionally don’t mix the two Broken’s forces, so I’ve got a holy shit! moment up my sleeve for later) first. Then I outline the three (usually three) major obstacles they’ll face - this is usually just a bullet list. If I remember correctly, the obstacles for Amber Storm were “cross the Hozelbrucke, avoid Blighter’s forces, find the Gutsacks”. They were written out, just like that, on a piece of note paper. Nine words total.

There’s not much more. I’ll try to have a rough idea of what enemy forces I specifically want to use, and I’ll give mechanics some thought and jot down some notes about mission clocks and whatnot. But that’s pretty much it. Amber Storm didn’t call for any special clocks, and I already knew that discovering the existence of Gutsacks was the point of the mission.

The Marshal sent the Grinning Ravens squad to investigate. The specialists were Onyx Flowing Wind (Panyar Scout), Crimson Stalking Thunder (Panyar Sniper), and Fran “The Man” Stalinovskovichdavidovitchsky (Zemyati Medic). I’m just going to call them Fran (our Marshal thinks he’s hilarious). This was Fran’s introduction to the group - they’re the only Legion specialist who wasn’t at Hozelbrucke with the others.

I remember more or less glossing over the Hozelbrucke crossing, so I’m pretty sure the Marshal nailed a crit on the Engagement roll, letting the group bypass the first obstacle and start in a controlled position. I established them as being within a stone’s throw of the destruction that the patrols had spotted - blown up wagons, scattered body parts. I remember Onyx Flowing Wind biffing the first action roll of the mission - getting a 1-3 on a Scout roll to stealthily approach the camp and check for traps or enemy forces. It’s memorable because Onyx’s player is one of those guys who just seems to knock every dice roll out of the park, I think it’s the only complete failure he’s ever put up the entire campaign (and he’s tied with the whole rest of the group for crits too, I think). I don’t recall the consequence I tossed out, level 1 harm maybe?

The group ultimately went to investigate the scene, where Fran and Crimson did some CSI-type forensic investigations. Fran checked the bodies, Crimson checked the wreckage. There were a couple rolls, I don’t recall the details. They concluded it wasn’t munitions, as the Legion feared - no shrapnel, no powder burns, etc. I told them it looked kind of like acid, but was something else - whatever it was had eaten through stone, earth, wood, flesh, bone, and leather exactly the same as through metal, which was odd. I also told them there were tracks leaving the area, shambling tracks that were almost certainly the undead.

Knowing it wasn’t munitions wasn’t enough to conclude the mission, they needed to know what caused the destruction. So they set out after them. There’d been another (controlled) consequence at some point. I decided to go for a worse position through escalating action, and had them spot another group of undead advancing in their direction. Hadn’t spotted them yet, but close enough to risk being seen/heard. We were all still getting used to the rules, so I didn’t want to go too hard right off the bat. On the plus side, this meant the entire rest of the mission felt pretty tense as there was a bigger force just hovering nearby.

The rest of the mission consisted of them tracking & pursuing the group of undead that had left the scene of the attack, while also trying to evade and hide from the other group moving in their direction. I’m foggy on a lot of the details. At some point they failed another roll and the other group spotted them, started chasing in earnest. Then they ran right into the group they were following, meaning they were on the verge of defending themselves on two fronts. What I do remember is they hadn’t lost a single Legionairre, or even had any injuries (other than maybe harm 1 at the beginning, with Onyx) - and they were all tense and nervous as hell. Delicious.

While I don’t remember all the specifics, I think the Grinning Ravens opened fire on the undead that were closing ranks with them. The idea was a volley blast might hold them off a bit, since the group didn’t really have much in the way of melee power (no Officer or Heavy). Onyx had been using his bow earlier, as it was the only silent weapon, but between a rock and a hard place, they’d given up on silence. Fran led the group action roll (they have Shoot 1), mostly for lack of options - Onyx was desperately trying to make a Scout roll to try and ascertain what the (further away, but approaching) undead could have done to destroy the wagons. He did well enough to guess it had something to do with the bigger undead (the Gutsacks), but not enough to succeed on the mission.

Meanwhile Crimson Stalking Thunder, with his Rig 2, was busy trying to throw some sort of makeshift barricade or trap or anything that might slow the approaching undead. But once Onyx identified the Gutsacks as somehow related and I relayed some of the descriptive details (bloated distended torsos, most of the their orifaces stitched shut, etc.), Crimson abandoned his Rigging attempts and went for his rifle.

If I recall correctly, he was very much trying to target the mouth - he wanted to burst those stitches. I think I declared it a risky position (since there were no enemies near him at that time, the Ravens were engaged with the closest undead), and limited effect (basically the odds of him hitting the exact right spot, at that distance on a moving target, was crazy low). If I remember right, he boosted the effect to great by pushing himself and burning his only use of Aim. He also snagged +2d from help (Onyx acted as a spotter) and pushing himself again.

He succeeded. I can’t recall if there was a consequence or not. The bullet sheared through the stitches, resulting in a thick plume of green-grey vapor erupting from deep within the gutsack’s throat, a half-second before it detonated. Technically this isn’t quite rules-as-written, as a great effect shot like that would advance a threat clock by 3 segments - and an Elite like a Gutsack would be represented by an 8-clock. I’m not a huge fan of the threat clocks as described (I feel like that subject really needed another half a page of discussion in the core books), but that’s not a topic for this thread.

The short of it is, if they had engaged the Gutsack group? I’d have represented the whole squad with a 10- or 12-clock (there were 3 total Gutsacks as I recall), and retroactively ticked it 3 times to represent Crimson’s first shot. But I felt that single roll was successful enough (and invested in enough: they poured 5 stress and 1 special Action use into it) to warrant revealing the secret: that the explosion was caused by this new type on undead.

Having achieved the success condition, bugging out became the priority. By the time they fought their way free and fled into the forest that I’d previously described as being between them and the Hozelbrucke, the Grinning Ravens had lost a pair of Rookies (I remember the # because so far? They have lost exactly 2 NPC squaddies in every mission, primary or secondary) - Shaz Matas and Hansa “Tickles” Meliuex, if you’re interested. Onyx (who was in command) ordered everyone to stop firing their guns and make for the river, and covered the withdrawal with his bow for a bit before rejoining the rest.

By this point it was pretty late, so I think I just had them do a group Maneuver roll to get across the river and called it good. If we’d had more time, I probably would have dug a little deeper into the “sneaking through the woods” aspect, but we were all tired and I wanted to start the next session in the Campaign Phase.

So yeah, that was Operation Amber Storm. I’ll cover the scecondary mission & next Campaign Phase next post.

1 Like

Since the campaign phase usually takes less than a full session, we typically wrap up the secondary mission at the start. For the secondary, the Commander had selected Operation Shattered Fire:

Denied the Hozelbrucke crossing, the undead are fording the Tigeria at its southward bend, where it briefly narrows. They’ve overrun the farming village of Hanar’s Rest, massing less than a day’s march from the Legion’s fortified camp. Crush the threat, before it grows out of control.

I remember that they a) succeeded on the mission, and b) lost exactly two Rookies. So that means the Marshal rolled either a 4/5 or a 6 on the engagement roll. The Marshal had sent the Ember Wolves this time, with Scarlet Surging Spout and Belatre Rebecca Moarte lost in action. Available specialists for this the mission would have been the Marque D’Arl (Orite Officer) and Crimson Stalking Thunder (Panyar Sniper); I honestly don’t recall which was sent (or if it was both). We marked harm, applied rewards, and moved on.

I will say that, in retrospect, I think the way I handled secondary missions was a bit of a mistake (both this time and the next time). I mostly just treated it as paperwork: Marshall rolls, apply the effects, move on. Going forward, I’m going to spend at least a few minutes sketching a brief narrative of what the mission entailed, and probably tap a player or two to do a bit of characterization for the specialists that went - “hey F., how does Crimson Stalking Thunder feel after seeing the entire village of Hanar’s Rest being put to the torch?” etc. Going to turn the secondary missions into more of an opportunity going forward.

Once the secondary was dealt with, we applied all the rewards for two successful missions and then deducted 4 Morale for losses (two Rookies dead in each mission). Our Lorekeeper ran the Back at Camp event: “A soldier is caught selling supplies to locals for special treats or favors.” Our LK is pretty new to TTRPGs in general, so she was a little nervous to be narrating an entire multi-character scene herself, but she did great. I jumped in briefly because she kept on saying “the soldier, the soldier” - so I just interrupted briefly to say “hey [Marshal], which soldier is selling the supplies?” And then a bit later I prompted one of the other guys to ask how his specialist felt about the situation. With those mild prompts everyone got involved, playing out some fun camp drama. Was a good time.

Then we started the Campaign Phase proper. Time passed, the Quartermaster fed the troops. Then the Lorekeeper told her first Tale of the Legion - the story of the Legion’s first Commander, I think. The Lorekeeper writes her Tales in advance, I’ll see if she has a copy and if she’s okay with me posting it here if people are interested. I don’t recall which bonus she took. They only had one campaign action, which they used to Recruit, after having lost 6 Rookies across 3 missions. The QM boosted it with a Supply to snag a couple Soldiers.

With all that done the Commander decided to advance, declaring that “the Western Front is garbage” (he’s not wrong). I don’t recall how the Pressure roll went, though I think they spent horses to keep it under control. When they arrived at Plainsworth I gave them a rough description of the area, revealed the special rules in play, and then the Commander picked his focus. I think it was Supply missions, but I’m not sure.

I do know what missions they had to choose from, though, because I keep them in a Word file. They also got lucky, because I randomly-generated them a special mission. Their second slate of missions were:

  • Kingfisher Knight (Special)
    Since this one is from the book, I’m not going to duplicate the information here. It’s the last one on p. 381 if you’re looking. In short, they need to recruit/save a cursed Zemyati Heavy who has retired to a holy site.
  • Operation Chosen Mountain (Supply: Mercenary Work)
    +3 Supply; no penalties
    Lord Schmeker is a grain baron, owning the largest granary in the region. Despite the danger all around, he seems focused on getting his grain exchanged for coin before the undead tear through Plainsworth. He’s willing to pay well for the Legion’s protection.
  • Operation Amber Light (Supply: Scrounge or Trade)
    +3 Supply; -1 Morale, -1 Supply
    The merchant House of Jeiker has, among its repository of stock, a few crates of Black Shot that it seems interested in auctioning off to the highest bidder. Convince them that the Legion’s need trumps crass profit.

Another specialist was just too good to pass up, so the Commander set the Kingfisher Knight as the primary mission. Operation Amber Light was the secondary, as Chosen Mountain had no penalties for failure and the exact same reward. The Marshal elected to send the Marq D’arl (Orite Officer) to command the primary mission, given that it was likely going to have some serious social elements. He also sent Fran (Zemyati Medic) and Red Axe (Zemyati Heavy), hoping that their Zemyati background would help them get through to the Kingfisher Knight. I think they took the Star Vipers squad on the primary, Grinning Ravens on the secondary. I don’t recall secondary specialist deployments.

Alright, next time I’ll dig into the Kingfisher Knight, which was definitely the coolest and most fun mission for my group to date.

1 Like

Excellent, and super interesting. Thank you!

I particularly like how the structure of the game allows the GM to do a lot of prep or not much (your 9 words). More prep is always good IMO – but the game is still perfectly runnable and fun with little; you just have to lean more into your players to fill in the gaps.

I would definitely like to see what the Lorekeeper wrote up, if they are ok with you sharing it!

They’re good with it, and she emailed me her first two Tales yesterday. I’ll get them up when I have a chance.

1 Like

I’m not sure I agree with that, when it comes to Forged in the Dark games, to be honest. There’s definitely a minimum bit of prep you want to do, so that you aren’t scrambling to come up with every detail - but at the same time, there’s only so much prep you can do that’s broadly applicable in all cases. If the mission is to do something on the far side of the river, then the squad is always going to need to cross the river and it’s a good idea to spend a few minutes figuring out what the river’s deal is (strong current, flooded and swelled beyond its usual banks, crocodiles, whatever).

But I usually find that after 30 minutes, maybe an hour at most? Any additional prep I could do is going to be more and more circumstance specific - as in “if the squad does A, then I can do B”. The problem with doing that? Is that, having done the prep work for approach A? Most GMs, myself included, are going to subtly (or not so subtly) ‘encourage’ their players to do approach A. Because that’s the approach we’re ready for. But the thing is, this isn’t D&D - the GM is not in the driver’s seat. The players are.

So, in my opinion, you should do minimal prep. If the squad is crossing a river? Think about the river. If they’re going to a village, think about the village. That prep will be valuable 100% of the time. But I try not to spend even a single second thinking “…and if they decided to get across the river by stealing/scrounging a rowboat or rigging a raft, then I’ll hit them with some knights of the black oak on their own barge, so we can have a river rapids chase…but if they try to swim the river then I’ll have the current threaten to drag them downstream…” because best case? I’m just wasting my time planning for contingencies that never occur (well, I mean, BEST best case my players choose the exact same contingency I planned for, without any strongarming or railroading from me, but how often is that going to happen?) - and worst case, I nudge and influence my players and take away the player agency (maybe without even realizing that’s what I’m doing) that is the core of the game. This is their story. It isn’t mine.

I’ve been running games for over 3 decades and Forged in the Dark games are the hardest I’ve ever had to run, because to respect the player agency you more or less have to improvise most of your missions/scores/whatever.

1 Like

So, just ran my first post-move session, and the first in-person session of the campaign (we moved back to my old home town, where the rest of my gaming group already lived). I need to catch up (including tonight I need to post about two mission phases, and the campaign phase in-between, before I’m current) - but I do have the Lorekeeper’s first Tale of the Legion for you all, the tale of the Legion’s first Commander:

Let us remember our beginnings, taken from the recordings by Riya Khatri, Lorekeeper of the Seventh Emperor

Our legendary Legion was founded by Tantarus, the Seventh Emperor of his name, more commonly known as the Architect. He claimed the throne as his own in 404 of the Old Empire Founded age and a short 14 years later, he understood he required a force unlike any before. One that would value loyalty above coin, service above family, and strength above glory. Blood lines would be broken for him and this force would become a family to break whatever wall he steered it towards. And so, he called upon his Commander, Atlas Osias, to forge him a new weapon. And so, the Legion was founded in 422 OEF. Atlas Osias was no ordinary man. Cunning and deadly, he infused this new Legion with a loyalty to their Emperor that would be unbending. That loyalty would turn inwards when the last Emperor was slaughtered and the Empire shattered. But first, the Legion was forged by Atlas Osias. Recognizing what was in the making, a foreign god sent a Chosen, imbued with a deadly, blazing light, to blind the Legion shortly after its birth and make us useless. To mock Tantarus by rendering his newfound flock blind, withered bodies that no longer served his purpose. On the battlefield, Atlas Osias, stepped forward and in his sacrifice, took the full brunt of the Chosen’s searing light, shielding the rest of his Legion from harm. It brought him nothing but death, but the death of our First Commander, cemented our loyalty to one another and ensures that our Legion survives to this day. Hail the Legion.

My players ate it up. My players aren’t really checking out community forums or subreddits or whatnot, so they’re running on very little details about the setting/background - they certainly aren’t aware of all the amateur sleuthing the community has done in puzzling out the Cinder King’s identity or background or whatnot. So yeah, the first Commander dead at the “hands” of a foreign Chosen, but that death served as inspiration to only bind the men and women of the Legion tighter together. Pretty solid stuff.