An experimental approach to an introductory Blades in the Dark one-shot: 3 players, 6 PCs, two jobs

So I just ran a very interesting session of Blades with my partner and another couple we’re friendly with and have gamed with a fair bit (who are both highly accomplished LARP authors, which definitely impacts their approach to play). I wanted to streamline setup as much as possible, so by email this week, I had them choose their gang type and playbook. The idea was that I would pregen the characters numbers-wise, but leave blank the names and look and NPC choices—essentially, allow personalization.

Well, they were each drawn to basically two things. For crew type, I decided on Shadows over Hawkers, since they were fine with either, and for an introductory game Shadows is a very straightforward crew type. But as for the playbooks, I decided to just go ahead and make all six PCs, and then run two jobs happening simultaneously, each with a sub-crew of three. As we finished the crew setup, working out the initial faction relationships, I also asked them to use that setup to figure out why there was some sort of opportunity and/or crisis that required them to do two jobs at once.

Here’s what ended up happening: their crew, known as the High Line, has their hidden lair in an abandoned train car deep in the bowels of Gaddoc Station, in Nightmarket. While half the crew is off doing a planned heist for their patron, the other half hears from their allies in the Railjacks (essentially the gang from which come the PCs from John Harper’s related game Ghost Lines) that there’s been a train derailment right there in the station—there’s a ton of chaos, dead bodies, etc., but among the wreckage is a major Dagger Isles pirate treasure chest that can be looted!

We played out the previously planned heist first, with the “brains” half of the gang—the Lurk (infiltrator), Whisper (channeler / ghost wrangler), and Slide (spy / manipulator / “face”). The group’s patron was the disgruntled wife of a corrupt and philandering Bluecoat (police) Captain—she wanted to use the gang to help get dirt on her husband. She found out that a contact of his, an Iruvian diplomat named Cyrene Akarat, had just died / been murdered, and his body was on its way to the Crematorium to be incinerated. (By law, all bodies in the city of Duskvol must be incinerated to prevent ghosts from emerging.) She believed Cyrene had dirt on her husband the Bluecoat, and wanted the PCs to prevent the Iruvian’s body from being disintegrated, and instead to get the dirt from his ghost.

The players had a little trouble at first with the “not pre-planning” and just being spontaneous aspects of Blades. It took them some time, for example, to choose an Approach to that first job. Once they did, however, everything went smoothly. They had the absolute best rolls I’ve ever seen, for one thing, but more important, the players were quite comfortable just improvising the plan and heist details as we went. It involved swapping out the body of the diplomat for some random corpse they had, doing some Mission: Impossible style shenanigans with an “ectoplasmic Faraday cage,” and then summoning the ghost from the body on the top of an isolated rooftop nearby.

They ended up with their only failed roll of the entire mission being the last one, to Sway the ghost to give them the dirt: he only gave them part of the information, insisting that they smuggle his daughter out of the city first, since she is now a target after everything that happened.

Triumphant, the Lurk, Whisper, and Slide head back to their secret headquarters, only to find the rest of the gang gone. Where could they be?

I may post more about the other job when I have more stamina. But big picture: it was a chaotic fucking mess, with a Hound (sharpshooter), Cutter (bruiser), and Leech (tinkerer) blowing things up and swordfighting and literally killing cops in alleyways, and two of them ending up with a Trauma by the end (meaning they filled out their Stress tracks by Pushing themselves and Helping each other frequently). The players agreed that if we play again in the future, they will definitely mix up the two subgroups—the Hound / Cutter / Leech trio simply didn’t have anyone there to reign them in and prevent the situation from escalating. A fun though quite violent job, and very different in feel from the first job, which was satisfying to me as a GM as a way to showcase the game and its setting to new players.

Questions welcome, of course.

5 Appreciations

Interesting: so the premise is a Gang of (at least) six people, played by three players, as two groups of three. (Presumably you didn’t actually play the heists simultaneously!)

One thing I always wonder about - although I guess it didn’t come up here - is lasting consequences in Blades in the Dark. I feel like a lot of the game feels a bit “light” in that sense; some stuff happens and it was bad but we spent some points and it’s ok now. Do you find that the kind of outcome you saw in the second heist - taking an actual Trauma - has long-term impact, and how heavy or light would you say that is? How do you make it “work best”, for what it’s supposed to do?

Hey Matt,

Some feedback: as an actual play post, it seems a bit too focused on the fictional content. Could you give a few more highlights of what you and the players did as people and how you realized and engaged the system?

In particular, I’m interested in if there’s any moments that came up where you thought “wow, that went in a completely different direction than I expected!”.

Also, I’m confused as to how you ran two groups at the same time. Were these two separate instances of play? Did you cut in-between the two gangs during play? If one score was played before the other, how did that affect and constrain the other one? Or were they completely independent from each other?

3 posts were split to a new topic: Blades in the Dark: What standard for reducing consequences?

I don’t have time to reply to everything or get into more depth right now, but briefly: we played the first job, then the second one, but in-fiction, the two were happening simultaneously. We talked about the possibility of cutting back and forth, but all agreed that would be too stressful.

I’d say I went medium-hard on the deadliness / seriousness / lasting consequences; it’s worth noting that the first job really went amazingly well simply due to absurdly good die rolls, including a crit on the Engagement roll, which I’ve never seen before.

3 Appreciations

If and when you have time, without stress, I’d love to know how and if the first job affected the second—if at all, maybe they’re just in two different parts of the city.

I’m experimenting with developing situations that have predetermined parts and parts that are open for play. Blades’s flashback mechanic is partially an example of this. I have a stronger flashback mechanic in my game in development Inquest. I’d love to know more about how that ended up working out for you—not flashbacks, but the first heist’s outcome acting as a constraint on the second heist.

1 Appreciation

That’s a really interesting and complex topic. I’d love to hear more about it.

I think that 99% of the time people just use the undetermined nature of the fictional space to remove any causal relationships between such events - easy enough, no complications.

But it’s very interesting to consider other possibilities, and see how we can think about, design, or play out such situations. There might be lots of different ways, and even some as-of-yet-untouched design space, which is pretty exciting. And I don’t mean that lightly; it’s a deep question.

1 Appreciation

Interesting approach as a way to showcase the game. My understanding is that you used how the game frames scenes to easily play two very different heists in succession with little relation between them. I can also imagine that experienced LARP players can particulary enjoy having two characters they can switch into, but here I’m also speculating.

Both heists have also pretty cool premises, more interesting than anything I’ve read in the book itself. How much of these situations was prepped by you or discussed by everyone before jumping into the action?

The topic of lasting consequences in BitD always reminds me of the Peaky Blinders TV series that is one of the inspirations for the game. With each season, it does seem that the protagonist always comes out unscathed, but not without major fallout on those around him. I guess that the theme of BitD is how the life of a rogue chips away at your place in the world until the best thing you can do is retire.

2 Appreciations