I’m pretty new to GMing Blades and I want to hear stories about the best devil’s bargains at your table! What was the situation? What was the bargain? How did it play out? What made it great?
My best so far happened early in my group’s first score. We started with the War in Crow’s Foot and the crew took a job from Baszo Baz to abduct Emeline—a corrupt bureaucrat responsible for channelling resources from Iruvian Consulate to the Red Sashes—and deliver her to the Lampblacks.
They decided to try to pick Emeline up right off the street on her way to the office, which seemed very risky but their whisper laid down some thick fog (with the tempest special ability) right off the bat and couple good rolls later it seemed like they might skate through the score with little trouble.
But then, one of the PCs was about to roll to trick Emeline into following them down an alley, and I offered the devil’s bargain, “The eldritch fog has attracted spectral attention,” and they took it… and then blew the roll.
Their position was desperate so I went hard and had the ghost of a Bluecoat fully manifest out of the fog ready to fight. It was a very exciting moment where things went from going very smooth to suddenly and completely off the rails. They ended up pulling it together and even bottling the spirit before fleeing the scene, and it became a defining moment early on establishing the stakes during scores.
My favourite devil’s bargains so far have been to do with increasing chaos or pulling in rivals.
A classic is “the curtains catch on fire”. It’s incidental, so players always go for it, and it gives me a tasty “the fire spreads” clock that I can advance on misses/mixed success. A raging fire in the background makes everything more exciting, but doesn’t slow down the action.
For rivals, I tend to play a slower long-game. Rather than having their rival show up for a fight, this is more about ticking long-term clocks. For example, one player’s rival is a hound who’s hunting him. A good bargain is that the PC leaves a bit of evidence, a little clue, and his rival gets one step closer… Another player’s rival is a perfectly decent, do-right doctor, so a fun bargain for her is that the good doctor suspects what’s going on and dobs in her activities to the bluecoats (basically just increased heat, but it’s fun to know that it comes from this dudley-do-right rival).
The third player’s rival is not a physical threat but he’s just really annoying, so that’s a fun devil’s bargain to offer for social scores - “your rival shows up at the party.” She always takes the bargain because the rival isn’t actually a threat at all, but it’s a lot fun for me having this annoying pest show up.
I love Devils’ Bargains. Favourite part of the system, great way of joining mechanics to fiction and getting the players invested.
In general, I love heating up the situation; a fire starts, your arm is stuck in that window you broke, your friend at a party notices you through your disguise.
I’ve also gotten great bargains initiated by players. A Spider with the ghost contract ability got her powers from a haunted dagger. When she needed a boost to her Attune rolls, I could let her advance the clock ‘My New Partner’. Needless to say, that was quite the reveal when it got filled, and it had huge effects on the character and campaign as a whole. A slow burn, trading immediate gain for future grievance…
I’m also fond ’permission’ bargains. You can have an advantage now, but if you don’t take the next devil’s bargain you’ll be at -2 effect. It’s a good way to play around with the mechanical structure of a score. My favourite however is the ‘hard choice’. You’re in a desperate position, you need any advantage you can scrape. But sometime later, who knows when, the world will throw you an impossible split second choice. You won’t be able to resist both consequences, and if you don’t act both will occur. My last campaign ended on such a choice. Pretty epic
@AndrewShields had something interesting to say about devil’s bargains:
Maybe this is helpful for you. For me it was the finding that you should aim for a 50/50 quote of bargains taken vs. rejected. It should be serious teasing and hard decicions for the players to make it fun. “Ah!, I should have taken that extra dice” and “ok, I got want I wanted but to what price?” are the good results
Thanks for linking that blog post!
In your experience with BitD, have you given (or seen) any particularly noteworthy bargains? Stories about rejected bargains weren’t something I considered initially but I’d like to hear stories about those as well!
I like to offer DBs where the player has the option to drive the story in a specific direction. Classical voice whispering in your head “I can help you” and a clock “Bound to a <Demon, Forgotten God, Weird Stuff>” worked really well in the past. Maybe this is dependend on the player but it shows me he/she/x is willing to spin the story in a weird direction or not.
Generally speaking I see complications and devils bargains as two side of the same coin. “House on fire” may be a complication or a devils bargain, the only difference is who decide if it manifests or not. Therefore I tend to offer the hard ones as a DB (because the player has the decision) and some softer versions as complications.
I don’t find achieving a 50/50 reject rate desirable. My players generally love taking Devil’s Bargains even when they feel they might be making a bad deal. I think they just enjoy getting themselves into trouble or increasing the stakes.
When a job seems to be going too smoothly, I like to offer bargains that will manifest immediately. When the crew is already in trouble, I like to offer problems for far down the road. Especially among the first type, I feel, often taking the bargain is not “worth it” for the players, but they still like taking them.
A long term DB I remember was: “After you kill her, her body will drop down the cliff and the Spirit Wardens will never find her. Her ghost will come back to haunt you.”
Also: I find Devil’s Bargains a good thing to think about in prep. When I can prepare a little bit for a score I usually write down one (seldom two) interesting DB related to the specific situation.
The most memorable bargain in our group was the time our Skovlan pit-fighting grandma was dressed as a mailman and trying to walk out of a Charterhall apartment building inconspicuously when she was accosted by an antsy resident who really wanted his mail. She skirmished him, intending to hurt him enough he’d get out of her way and she could skedaddle, and another player offered her the bargain of “you kill him.” She took it, and the roll went from “how hurt is this guy” to “how completely screwed are you in the aftermath?”
She missed the roll, so the whole busy block heard the bell chimes, and the Bluecoats just mobbed her.
Other than that, I always just love starting and ticking clocks. +1 heat is fine and all, but it’s so much more ominous if the Crows are one tick closer to finding out who stole their stuff last week.
I’m sure my players have better stories than I do. They offer each other (and themselves!) better bargains than I ever do.
Our best was simple and classic:
A player was trying to seduce somebody, and the Devil’s Bargain was “You get in too deep, and you fall in love with the mark”
Crowed-sourcing at the table is great for DBs. Love that.
In my Star Wars Scum & Villainy game, I finally figured out how the pull of the Dark Side could work. “Here’s +1d if you let me tick this ‘Fall to the Dark Side’ clock. You can take the bonus die and then resist the tick too, if you want”.
- The player can reject the DB, no problem.
- They can take the die and accept the tick on the clock.
- They can take the die and resist the tick, in which case the pull of the Dark Side potentially drives them closer to trauma.
I offered a player a tick on a “Family Gift” clock. When I offered it I didn’t know what it would be, but I figured I could think of that later. It turned into a medium-serious plot point 10 episodes later, when he got closer to filling it.
Yeah, those are cool. In my last Fistful of Darkness game I offered a clock called “The Mother of Bones” and yes, I did not know what that is except that it sounds cool. Needless to say that the player jumped on it and now we have a mayor theshold being as a new faction in the game trying to blend demons and nature spirits into the next step of evolution. How cool is that?
With most of my groups, I almost always get a bite with:
You are a pawn in a bigger play. Whatever you do here, you’re furthering the goals of another faction.
And then I pick an NPC faction next downtime and given them extra actions and advances on their project clocks. And let the PCs now later when comes back to bite them.