Zora First Mission AAR

Sat down, everyone was new to the system so I gave some of the worldbuilding/history background and then we made characters. Ended up with a Panyar Sniper, a Zemyati Heavy, and a Panyar Scout. Did everything except the load-out.

Introduced the Chosen. Their Zora is Fearsome and Radiant. I talked about what a hardass she is for keeping all the rookies in line and such. I also decided that she is, to some degree, literally radiant. (Like above and beyond the whole Halo of Fire thing.) Then introduced the mission and let them choose their load-out. And then we got into it.

Used this picture (which I found here) for the castle.

They’re standing knee-deep in mud and sewer water in that trench between the farm and tents at the bottom of the image. There’s a big pipe with an iron grate over it. Zora gives them a “Get in, get out, don’t fail” speech and hikes her squad out. I ask them how they got their intel that the Commander is in this keep. Turns out to be one of the butlers that escaped, but his info is a little out of date - the escape tunnel hasn’t been used in a long time.

We get our first roll of the night as the Scout searches for the activation method to open the grate. And I set up the “Commander’s Mind Breaks” clock and tick off a couple boxes. “Oh. Well… that seems bad.”

They get into the sewer and I pull the classic rookie GM move of “well it’s dark in the sewer, what are you doing for light?” Everyone looks at their loadout and realizes they cheaped out and loaded up on fighting gear but not the basics.

Good news: this is a prime opportunity for a flashback. In fact, I decide this costs zero stress because it’s such a no-brainer. But, someone still has to roll. The Heavy rolls… a 1. “Ok, you brought a torch. But you didn’t think to remind anyone else about it because it’s so obvious you’re all going to need them.”

The Scout takes the torch and moves into the sewers. Eventually comes to a T intersection where the water is really gushing down one fork of the sewer but mostly a trickle from the other. They look down the “dry” side to see a huge bloated corpse, like 8 feet tall and nearly as wide, blocking the sewer. “This must be the way we have to go.”

The Sniper examines it from a distance with his Alchemical Eye and determines that the corpse is not alive but the forces in the castle have been pouring a great amount of chemicals down the drain and this corpse has been cancerously swelling up as it absorbs this stuff. And there’s a backlog of more chemicals behind the corpse.

Not wanting to get splashed with this stuff (“you could hack the corpse down by hand but that’s risky position, if you shoot it, it’s controlled”), they back up into the other tunnel and fire a shot. Not a great roll which means I rule there’s even more stuff dammed up behind this thing and they have to wait 10 minutes for all the ichor to drain away. Perfect opportunity to tick the clock and also start the Zora Battle/Distraction Clock.

Zora crits on her first roll. She sets off multiple fires outside the keep, draws forth a squad of Rotters and a Crow and then systematically blows them to pieces.

The party gets into the dungeon of the keep. I do a fortune roll to see how good the intel is on where the Commander is being kept. A 3 and a 1 means the intel is out of date. We do a group action to search the dungeon. I honestly don’t remember what the result was, but the Commander is not down there. IIRC this failure also prompted another Zora roll. She continues to kick ass.

The Scout moves up to reconnoiter and gets a 6 on his scout roll. A Cinder Guard marches out from the chaos of the courtyard and right up the central staircase in this wing of the keep. They hear it clomp up 4 floors and then plant itself somewhere at the top of the stairs. “Aha. The Commander must be up there.”

The party sets an ambush halfway up the stairs and sends the Scout up to aggro the Cinder Guard and kite him to the bottom. I rule this is a set-up action.

It’s all a fine plan until the Scout rolls a double 1 on his maneuver and trips off the stairs, falling flat on his face in front of the Cinder Guard.
Heavy: “Are there critical failures in this game??”
Me: “You don’t need critical failures when you’re a Threat 3 tank with an axe for a hand.”

Great opportunity to walk through resisting Harm. Scout gets by with a slice to his shoulder instead of a deep, bleeding gash. Everyone else is like “Well we hold position, we want to spring our ambush!” Ok…

Scout makes a desperate maneuver roll and leads the Cinder Guard into the trap. The Sniper and rookies fire off a blast of shot and the Heavy lifts the Cinder Guard and hurls him over the bannister where it falls to its demise.

They move to the top floor of the keep and do a group scout action to locate the Commander, who is in a guest room midway down the hall. I think at this point Zora crits AGAIN on her roll. Just taking it to the forces at the gate.

The Heavy kicks in the door. They see what was once a lavish guest room with long velvet curtains and an ornate canopy bed. But the bed is badly stained with some sort of yellowish fluid and the Commander is there, tied face down.

I take a moment to go around the table: What’s something your character remembers or finds notable about the Legion Commander.

Scout: He was kind to the rookies.
Heavy: He’s a straight shooter.
Sniper: He values the lives of his troops and doesn’t take rash chances with his tactics.

Me. Hmmm… sounds like exactly the opposite of Zora. Was Zora sent to you to show the Commander the error of his ways? (insert Morpheus face here)

At this point we had one player show up very late. No problem, put a face on a Rookie, check off some boxes, and away we go.

Hey Rookie, what’s one thing you remember about the Commander?

“He had long hair. Like, luscious flowing locks…”

Perfect. You gaze upon the figure on the bed and see that his head has been shaved bald. A narrow wooden box is perched along the length of his spine and a whirring column of needles rhythmically poke and prod him like an infernal steel millipede. Three jugs of fluid are cabled into the top of the canopy bed, two of them drain purplish juice into the box below but one of them seems to be filling up with some sort of blue fluid. Behind the bed is a single solitary figure in a bright red velvet hood and cloak, it appears to be working some type of wooden bellows in its pale claws to power the millipede of needles…

So that’s all not good. I set a 10-clock for Overcome the Inquisitor.

The Heavy steps up and slashes the Inquisitor, cutting through the red velvet cloak to reveal that its body is riddled with various rubber tubes. A gout of vile fluid sprays forth. The Heavy reduces that from 2 points of Corruption to 1.

The Sniper takes a shot. He really wants to juice this roll so I offer him a Devil’s Bargain. If he takes this shot with the Heavy so close to the Inquisitor and the Commander, he may get a reputation back at camp for being reckless. Sounds good to him, I set a 4 clock and tick off 2 segments. He fires and gets a partial success. The Inquisitor clock advances but: the door across the hall bursts into a shards as a second Cinder Guard activates and advances on the party. Looking at how there’s only 4 ticks left on Overcome The Inquisitor, I set another 8 clock for the new Cinder Guard.

The Rookie takes a point of stress to help out the Scout. The Rookie picks up the doorknob that just bounced off the wall and wings it back at the Cinder Guard. The Scout fires but misses wildly. Our brave new (and basically stress-free) Rookie dives in front of the Scout and protects him, averting a killing blow. The Rookie and other squad mates skirmish the Cinder Guard and push it down the hall, away from the action.

The Heavy disarms the Inquisitor of its bellows and the Sniper fires another round of Black Shot into the wound in its shoulder, burning it to death from the inside. They set about unhooking the Commander from the spinal metalpede. “Hmm anyone have any dots in Rig? No? Noooo??”

Meanwhile, out in the hall, the Rookie decides he and the squad will gang up and push the Cinder Guard out the window. They get… a partial success. The Scout speaks up “That means one of the squad grunts goes out the window too, right?”

Friends, don’t pass up an offer like that. “YES that is EXACTLY what that means! Unless…” (devious look to Rookie) “…you want to protect your squad mate. He’s going to die for sure. You might be able to resist this.”

The Rookie takes up the challenge aaaaaand ends up falling 4 stories out the window with a smashed Cinder Guard on top of him. “You only break your leg, not bad!”

The rest of the party needs to escape. And also, it’s getting late. I decide to call for a group action to climb out the window. “Who’s going to take the stress?” Everyone looks at their character sheet.
Heavy: one box left.
Sniper: one box left.
Scout: zero boxes left, full stress.

Scout: “I’ll do it.”

Between all of them and the remaining squad mates, they roll three fails. The Scout takes two Trama and dies. I narrate how he’s overwhelmed by rotters, he prefers to assume he dies jumping out the window.

Either way the rest of the squad and the Commander gets out free…

That’s it, a good time was had by all and we’re planning to keep playing. I’ll post thoughts and rules f$ck-ups later.


Sounds fun! I love these write ups because it always interests me to see where I would do something similarly while running, and where my rulings would diverge (for ex I would have ruled the scout traumas out, but then is removed from the scene and can’t take more stress, ie they have to drag the scout away. That said! The scout can now come back as an elite or infamous!). Also it gives me ideas I can shamelessly steal, particularly because I’m running this mission on Saturday.

Very nice.

Haven’t you been a bit harsh ? How could the Scout take two Traumas with the group action at the end ? With three fails it should have been 3 stress max. Moreover, it sounds like you had all Rookies roll individually (“Between all of them and the remaining squad mates…”) I could be wrong but you should have had only one roll for the whole squad, either 1 die (threat 1), or the Maneuver rating of the PC Rookie.

It was a really bad roll for the group.

The Heavy, the Sniper, and the Scout all rolled for themselves and I rolled 1 die for the remaining four squad members. The Scout was maxed on Stress.

So when the three fails came up:
Fail 1 - mark a Trama, Fail 2 -mark your second Trama and according to the rules at that point (unless I am missing something) the PC dies. Doesn’t even account for the third point of stress.

We went around the table and everyone else was 1 point shy of max so with that roll, anyone would have been dead. The Scout just decided to take one for the team.

1 Like

OK. (More experienced GMs will correct me if I’m wrong)

At Fail 1, since the Scout is maxed on stress, he takes 1 Stress and First Trauma. At this point, he is taken out of action AND clears his Stress.

Her, I would have said, he cannot take more stress so Fail 2 and 3 are irrelevant. The Scout is out of action for a scene and must be dragged away by the others.

But even if you don’t do it this way, since the Stress is cleared, Fail 2 and 3 would NOT cause a second Trauma, but only bring the Scout to Stress 2. Or… maybe I have missed something !

1 Like

Yeah I think per rules the other failures would add stress, not trauma directly, as that would require another 7 stress total (because a trauma clears all stress by default), and the additional failures on a group action would only add 1 stress each. But c’est la vie.

The death could just as easily have come from the trauma’d scout being left behind. Or the consequences of a failed roll. It certainly made sense fictionally. What’s one Scout versus the Commander of the Legion? It was a cool scene, that if I was running would come back to haunt the players. :slight_smile:

“But c’est la vie”

As a French, I like that !

I have tried to list all the rules mistakes and omissions I did on my first session… but there were too many !

Can anyone point me to the passage in the rules that says you clear stress when you mark your first Trauma?

Seems like common knowledge but I honestly just searched the PDF and couldn’t find anything that indicates that.

EDIT: Nevermind. I see it’s in the errata. No wonder I goofed it.

1 Like

In fact I didn’t know it was in the errata but I did’nt ask myself the question. since that’s the way it is in BitD. But in BitD, after a Trauma, the characters are “taken out”, not just fo a scene, but for several weeks !

@tomlommel We do mention that characters are taken out for a scene until they recover (so they wouldn’t just chain-continue taking stress/wounds), but we need to be more explicit about the stress clear. I’ll see about getting that lingo into the book for folks rather than just in the errata.

– I love your Zora description. Reminds me of the rays of light from behind a deity (like the art in Hades from Supergiant).

– Your Sniper+Eye discussion is awesome. I love the bloating corpse effect but not really a gut-sack.

– I laughed at this quote. It’s SO Band of Blades.

– Holy shit that inquisitor setup. “Spinal Metalpede”. So creepy and awesome.

Let me ask some followup questions:

  1. Did you have fun? Did your group? What was your favorite bit? What was theirs if you talked to them afterwards.

  2. If you had to give advice to newbie GMs running this for the first time what would you say?

I know you asked some Qs beforehand, but I’m curious what to pass on because I get asked that question a lot.


Did you have fun?

I had a great time, although no one else had the rules so there was a little bit of “let me make sure I’m teaching this right” pressure.

Did your group?

I think the group really enjoyed it although there is certainly some D&D-aligned assumptions we had to get through. (frex, the traits you get for being Panyar come from the culture not as a “race”, so you may not get them if you decide your character was orphaned as a little kid). But that stuff was not a big showstopper. I positioned this as a one-shot and said “If you don’t like it we don’t have to play it again.” At the end, they all seemed to really enjoy it and we are going to play again, probably this weekend.

What was your favorite bit?

Probably that the mission and monsters were outlined to the point where I had a good framework for the action, but there’s enough ambiguity there to improvise and add my own details. This was initially a little bit confusing to me but after watching the AP you linked to, it was clear that the ambiguity in “Threat 2, pale, hooded, unsettling” can really be a strong design feature.

What was theirs if you talked to them afterwards.

We didn’t have a ton of time to talk about it because it was late. I think they like the premise and they seemed to appreciate the flexibility of the system. They did a lot of moves (i.e. picking up monsters and throwing them off high places) that really aren’t well-supported in D&D. Also, I made it clear to them that we’re jointly developing the fiction and I think that holds a lot of appeal as well.

I’m curious how they’ll take to the Campaign cycle of things.

If you had to give advice to newbie GMs running this for the first time what would you say?

1. Don’t teach the game all at once up front.
Use the various scenes of the starting mission the way a video game would do a tutorial. Roll out elements of the rules along the way. Action roll, resistance, flashback scene, group action, protect, set-up… There’s no need to explain everything in one fell swoop. In fact the game runs just fine if all you ever explain is action rolls and resistance.

Don’t forget that very basic flashback scenes cost ZERO stress - an easy, low-impact way to show this mechanism in play. Many first-time players are so used to strictly adhering to the fictional present, they forget they can call for an action earlier in the timeline.

2. The ambiguity is an opportunity.
Monsters are just a name, a threat level, and some key words that generally aren’t specifically-defined. That’s a feature. It keeps things mechanically simple, and it gives you room to make that monster your own.

Along those lines it would benefit everyone to have a discussion upfront about how graphic the horror should be and to deploy safety tools at the table.

3. The PCs are fragile but the game is not.
In D&D I’m always kind of worried about knocking a character out because then that player is bored if the whole action doesn’t come to a screeching halt so someone can heal/aid that PC. In Band of Blades, the Scout was close to trauma-ing and I was like “Ohhh man I better figure out if I can come up with some different consequences” when I realized “oh, he can just pick up a Rookie playbook and play one of the grunts if he wants to.” The fluid amount of character fidelity is a big bonus.

4. Set several clocks in motion.
The Castle Goes On Alert. The Commander’s Mind Breaks. When the players need to do something that doesn’t seem to provoke immediate harm or direct consequences, ticking a clock heightens the stakes of the game without dumping the game into needless combat. “Two ticks on a clock” is the Band of Blades equivalent of “Two guys burst through the door with guns.”

Important: If a clock doesn’t get filled, that’s not a big deal! That constitutes a victory for the party.

5. Your job is to play the game, not teach them every rule.
You’re going to screw some of the rules stuff up. It’s fine. It’s the first session. Explore the world. Show the terror of what’s happening. Let the party try to rise to the challenge and support their effort to do Cool Things. There are several wheels-within-wheels at work here. Don’t worry about spinning them all in the right direction your first time out.

I could probably go on, but that seems like a good chunk of my main advice for first-timers.


A quick note: in BITD, gaining a Trauma removes a character from action until the current conflict is concluded. Then they return to play with 0 Stress. This could be very quick, depending on how the story progresses.
A character might disappear from play for some time if they Overindulge their Vice (usually during a downtime attempt to reduce their Stress), but not from gaining Trauma – unless your table decides that better serves the story.

Yeah, we covered that later on in the thread. In Band of Blades it only takes them out for the scene, which depending on your judgement may be shorter than in BitD.

You’re perfectly right, I wrote too fast. Thanks for correcting me!

Just wanted to say these are great and useful takeaways! Hope you do another AAR. :slight_smile:


@tomlommel thanks so much for taking the time to write this up and lay out those points!

I’m planning to start a small doc with first-timers advice and I’d love to add a bunch of these to the list if it’s ok. :slight_smile:

The most interesting bit to me was your comment on ambiguity. As a designer I take this for granted, I didn’t even realize that it’s an actual feature that’s unusual. It’s probably something to stress.

But that first timer advice is solid gold.


Sure, feel free.

I think two things factor into my confusion on the ambiguity.

  1. I’m more familiar with tags in PbtA where “unsettling” has a definition. Still not a super-specific definition but those tags do mean specific mechanical things, and in DW there’s a glossary of what they are. FitD seems much more “you’re empowered to apply the fiction as it suits your specific situation in the moment at your table.” That’s great! I think that principle could be concretely underscored a bit more. Which leads me to…

  2. The “bestiary” section for each Broken is a great start, but while the book contains a lot of GMing advice, there’s not a section that explains the stat block listing or even a small bit about how to create your own monsters. It all came together for me when I watched the AP and went “oh you just interpret it however you want” but I don’t think first-timers (especially if they’re coming from D&D with its very proscriptive stat blocks) will realize that just from reading the text.

Something to ponder.

One thing I’m working on is a Dungeon World style block of instincts and actions for the baddies. Something like

Troop of Black Oak Cavalry
Composition 6-8 knights, one Hound or Thorn
Threat: 2
Scale: 2
Disciplined; Armoured; Intelligent; Fast; Alive; Impetuous

Instinct: Capture slaves and sacrifices

  • Ride them down
  • Charge home with lance and sabre
  • Caracole with crossbow and pistol
  • Feign retreat

Did you ever finish writing this up?

The entire campaign, or the set of description blocks?