After our character generation session last week, this was our first actual game session of Blades in the Dark. The crew were a cult based in an ancient abandoned church in Six Towers, and consisted of:
- Sargent Spid – a Skovolan Cutter
- Rue – an Akorosian Leech
- Erina – an Akorosian Lurk
- Dominus – an Iruvian Spider
- Tamasis – a Tycherosian Whisper
To kick things off, another minor cult of a forgotten god were encroaching on their recently claimed turf, so they needed to flex their muscles and demonstrate to the locals who was in charge around here.
The way a ‘score’ works is that the players come up with a high level plan, with a brief description of basic detail, such as the point of entry for a burglary, or a type of fake identity for a more social plan. The basic types given are:
The idea is then that an Engagement Roll is made to determine how well things start, and then the game cuts to the first action scene. There is the opportunity to gather information before hand, but it’s all quite artificial in an attempt to skip the ‘boring’ planning that tends to happen first in most games. For groups that enjoy the planning, or are good at it, it could be viewed as missing out the best bit. From my perspective as GM, it’s also skipping over the bit of the game where the players give me ideas on what interesting things could go wrong, and time to flesh out the details of the adventure.
Often, the line between planning and information gathering, and the actual action of the adventure itself is often blurry, and I found it difficult to enforce a hard break between the two stages.
Things started with watching the encroaching gang walk the streets and try to spread the word of their god. They called themselves the Empty Vessel, and were waiting for the location of their holy land out amongst the star light seas to be revealed to them. The PCs figured out that they were based in an old theatre that was on one of the nearby canals.
Ryan Dunleavy has done some nice maps for Blades which came in useful, though the game itself doesn’t need maps in the same way that a more tactical game like D&D does. The majority of the cultists seemed to be little more than homeless or poor folk who had joined for the free food and warm roof that the cult provided, so though there were more of them, they probably weren’t that much of a risk.
It was decided to approach using Stealth, stealing a small boat and rowing up underneath the theatre where there was a small jetty and an entrance into the basement. They had 2 dice to roll for the engagement check, getting a 4 which meant they started the score in a risky position.
So as they pulled up to the jetty just as the evening (not that the concept of evening meant much in the eternally dark city) prayers were starting, a man was coming down the ramp out of the theatre carrying a barrel. Spid stands up and commands the guy to help them tie up their boat – getting a 6 and succeeding in convincing him that they are members of the cult and meant to be here.
I’d decided that the area was claimed by the Fog Hounds, a faction of smugglers that operated around the canals in the eastern side of the city. The Empty Vessel were renting use of the theatre, whilst the smugglers used it for short term storage of goods. They wouldn’t really care what happened between the two gangs, as long as the PCs didn’t cause them any trouble.
So obviously, as the second smuggler appeared, and they made comments to each other which made it obvious that they were another faction not part of the cult, the PCs decided they wanted to see how combat worked. As it turned out, they succeeded in taking them both down without killing them, though considerable noise was made in the process. Enough to disturb the other inhabitants of the theatre.
The smugglers were transporting barrels of mushroom mead, which the PCs decided was probably now theirs.
Sneaking up into the theatre, Erina found dark, abandoned dressing rooms which felt very cold, and she could feel the hairs on her neck standing up as if there was some presence in the room. She quickly retreated back, and let the Whisper Tamasis investigate.
Looking into the ghost field, she tried to attune to the ghostly apparitions that were appearing. There were five of them – with bruised and broken necks, their faces covered in makeup that was smudged in tears. She could also hear the sounds of mocking laughter from above. In trying to attune to them, she also got a complication, so she suffered a level one harm of “bruised neck” as the spirits tried to choke her.
I suggested that she could have a flash back at this point, to have performed some research on the theatre and its ghostly inhabitants, which I figured would be zero stress cost. She described reading up on the theatre, and discovering that the last play that performed here ended to terrible reviews, and the actors committed suicide because they couldn’t cope with the ridicule they received.
So Rue had a flashback where she had purchased some flowers and chocolates, to give to the spirits to reward their skills as actors. I was unsure exactly how ghosts should work, so was mostly making it up as I went along. I missed out that there should have been some resistance rolls to not be terrified by them, but it seemed to go okay. The flowers wilted and died and the chocolates decayed as the spirits ‘accepted’ them. Tamasis convinced the ghosts that those who had mocked there were upstairs, and so the ghosts left to get their revenge on those.
By the time the PCs got to the main theatre, the bulk of the worshippers were fleeing at the sight of the ghosts, leaving an old woman on stage guarded by four thugs.
The Cutter Sarge charged in to fight them, and I ruled that it would be a Desperate action if he went in alone, so Erina joined him whilst the others went to the back of the stage.
I put up a four-clock for fighting the thugs, and with aid from Erina the Sarge got a critical success using a spiked chain as his scary weapon. Given they were already spooked from the sight of the spirits, the chain was particularly effective and three of them went down.
At that moment Rue, fiddling with the mechanisms at the back of the stage, caused some of the scenery to drop from the ceiling onto the head of the remaining thug. Dominus tried to intimidate the woman using physical violence, and though he bloodied her up quite severely, she was not cowed.
Eventually they determined (as they had guessed) that she was the cult leader, and dragged her back to their lair to find out more about her god (their own god seeks to consume knowledge). Though Sarge tried to get the thugs to join with them, they fled as soon as they got the chance.
I had planned a second part to the Score, but there didn’t seem to be any need for it and the timing worked out that ending things at this point was best. They’ve broken up the cult that was intruding on their turf, and obtained some scrolls and information which they can sacrifice to their goddess, so for the PCs it was a success. They even got several barrels of mushroom mead out of it.
However, just before they left, it was decided by Sarge and Tamasis that the two unconscious smugglers down below were better off dead, so they pushed them into the canal and let them drown. This will have consequences later, for even though the Fog Hounds won’t have solid evidence that their men were killed by the PCs, they’ll strongly suspect it.
We left experience and such to next session, which gives me time to refresh my memory of the rules of how that works. We can also do downtime then, and decide what their next score is.
Overall, I think the session went well, and the players seemed to enjoy it and I had fun running it. Though I had some difficulty getting used to the mechanics (or lack thereof in some cases), it went reasonably smoothly, and the bits I couldn’t remember I just made up to suit the narrative.
There’s also some rule questions I’d like to figure out by next week (I can’t find anywhere which says how much stress each character has for example, which is sort of crucial). so I definitely have some reading to do.