The Precious Antiques Score

This is a continuation of my Blades in the Dark campaign on Roll20. We initially began by paying the Coin cost to upgrade the crew to Tier 1 after their previous score had obtained them new turf.

The crew have heard that there is a jewellers shop in Charterhall district named Precious Antiques, which has a reputation for providing jewellery of ancient and sometimes unnatural ancestry inspired by the forgotten gods. However it is said to be heavily trapped, and many have lost their lives trying to break in.

The crew’s spider, Dominus, talks to one of his contacts – Jerren an archivist working for the Bluecoats – to obtain some information about the target. It is in a part of town that is heavily patrolled by the Bluecoats, so there is a high risk of being spotted. The store is also paying extra for added protection, both from the Bluecoats and it is said the Dimmer Sisters.

A number of bodies have been retrieved from the store in the recent past, killed by mechanical traps, many of them poisoned.

Rue, the crew’s leech, wanted to investigate the traps on the place, so tried to climb up onto the roof to take a closer look. There were two problems with this. The first (which I didn’t realise until the end of the session) was that this wasn’t want the player was intending, but was what I thought she was asking for. The second (based on my interpretation) was how to play this out in Blades, because it was part of the gather information step, but was involved actually going to the location and doing things.

This was where I started to get a bit stressed in trying to figure out how to play things out in Blades. Normally this wouldn’t be a problem (and it was a perfectly sensible thing to want to do), but again the artificial divide between planning and action was causing problems. I decided to run this as a mini-score, with a starting Engagement Roll. She rolled a 3, so starting in a bad position.

Leaping onto the roof, what had appeared to be a safe spot turned out to be a trap designed to collapse and send someone off the side of the roof. A quick flashback ensured that Rue had a rope and harness prepared, so she swung back into the wall of the neighbouring building. Moving back onto the roof she managed to take a look at the other traps up here, getting a 4 with tinker. She managed to determine the types of traps, but managed to setoff the alarms so beat a hasty retreat. They do manage to determine that the Bluecoats turn up in a matter of minutes.

Skarlett, their slide, visits the shop looking for some nice topaz jewellery for a party, to go with her dress and ‘considerable assets’. There are three men running the shop, an older guy who seems to be in charge, a younger guy who spends most of the time ogling Skarlett’s assets, and a middle-aged guy who serves her. The jewellery on display is inside locked glass cabinets, which seem to be designed to fold back into the walls behind lockable panels at night.

At this point I make use of the Ars Magica form and effect bonuses for some of the description of which item of jewellery would be suitable for the lady. However Skarlett makes a request for something more ‘modern looking’, at which point the old guy tells her she should shop elsewhere then, and comes close to throwing her out.

At some time around here there is an in-depth discussion of anal beads, vaginal eggs and other exotic (and impractical) forms of jewellery. I don’t quite remember how the conversation got onto these topics, but there you go.

It is decided that going in via the roof may be too dangerous (not necessarily true, but Rue’s bad rolls had put them off this approach). They decide instead to mug the younger guy for the keys after they leave for the evening, and go in through the front door.

There is a bit more surveying of the target, then a plan of approach together to use deception to gain access. I did the cut to the action moment when they were getting in through the door, and have the ‘get the key’ parts as flashbacks. Possibly the first step of the action should have been the ‘get the key’ step. Which would have meant a lot of the action of the score happened far away from the target of the score, but maybe that doesn’t matter.

In a flashback, Skarlett found the younger assistant in a pub, and managed to sway him to get some information. She finds out that he doesn’t have the key (some sort of magical device that is waved at the locks to open them), and only ‘old fart breath’, the proprietor Garry Jacob, keeps the keys at night. The only times he doesn’t is when the other employee, Harry, has to lock up because Garry is ill or away. Since Skarlett rolled a 5 on her sway, the consequence is that she has to make good on her flirting, and there is some activity out back behind the pub.

So they need to give Harry a reason to lockup, so another flashback where Rue slips some poison into the food deliveries that an old woman makes to the shop each day, ensuring that the proprietor is ill that night. Harry locks up and takes one of the keys home with him. Skarlett is able to accost him as he makes his way home, using a dose of sleeping drug on her body to knock him out when he gets too close to her. She finds the key, but is also spotted by a prostitute who thinks Skarlett is trespassing on her territory, and has to perform a quick getaway.

So they have what they need to get into the shop, and Rue realises that the ‘key’ is a magnet, and that the locks seem to be magnetic in nature. They successfully manage to bypass the traps on the cabinets, and gain access to the jewellery in the front of the shop, which leaves the back of the shop where the more interesting things are.

Tamasis, their whisper, detects the voices of something ancient and unintelligible from the back room, getting a critical on her attune check. Whatever is there is weak, and bound, and there are many voices.

Rue tries to open the door, getting a 2 and though she bypasses the blade traps she had expected, is surprised by a sudden hiss from above as a mist of paralytic gas is sprayed directly into her face. Fortunately, with a flashback (and some coin) she had a antidote available and managed to stop the effect before it paralysed her lungs and heart. This also set off the alarm though, but fortunately Dominus had previously sealed up the outside of the room with the bell with cladding to soften the noise, delaying the arrival of any Bluecoats.

It is decided that speed is of the essence, so they proceed to wreck the door, getting through it and finding the most important of the cabinets with help from Tamasis. Dominus suffers a wound to the arm from another poison blade trap whilst breaking it open, but inside is a circlet decorated with rubies. There is definitely the echo of some ancient spirit attached to the item.

Meanwhile, Skarlett has gone out front to try and head off any Bluecoats that may hear the noise. There are two heading in her direction, though they haven’t heard the muffled alarm yet. Running up to them, she claims she was mugged, pointing in a different direction to the shop, and taking a devil’s bargain that they’ll assume she’s a prostitute and given what else has happened she’ll now have a reputation in Charterhall. She fails her sway check though, and one of them notices that she came from a different direction to the way she’s pointing. One Bluecoat heads down towards the shop to investigate, and she runs – the second Bluecoat in fast pursuit.

The rest of the crew break out through the back door, and flee the scene with their stash.

The score didn’t go as smoothly as they may have hoped, but they got some loot from it (6 coin, they could have got more if things had gone better) along with an item of occult jewellery. They also received some heat, as well as experience.

Much of their downtime was spent healing, indulging vices and removing heat, though their own gang was causing some trouble by enthusiastically spreading word of their goddess throughout their hunting grounds.

Given that I found parts of the session quite stressful to run, I opened up the conversation to see what the players thought, and how we could improve things. They had enjoyed the session, but there was general agreement that we possibly weren’t playing it how it “should” be played.

Now, as long as everyone is having fun, then it doesn’t really matter whether we stick to the rules or not, but if I’m trying to run things how it’s designed to be run, and that’s conflicting with what the players want to do, then things need to change.

With several players whose day jobs involves things like risk mitigation, planning comes naturally to them, so even if they don’t enjoy long planning sessions, they don’t feel comfortable not doing it. So we’re not going to get away from information gathering and planning, but maybe we can do something to streamline things.

One option that was suggested was to limit what each character could do before a score to one action. That allows everyone to do some initial investigation before hand, but limits the amount.

Another option is for me to simply declare at some point when the initial engagement roll begins. Possible during this session, I should have done an engagement roll when Skarlett first entered the shop to scout it out, and treated it as a Deception approach. What followed from that was definitely all action, so in hindsight that could have been a suitable point. It doesn’t have to be when the actual physical break-in begins.

At one point during the evening, I was seriously considering making this the last session, since I really wasn’t enjoying running it. After chatting with the players though (who would have thought it – talking things through and getting feedback can help), I’m willing to try it some more and see how it goes. When it’s fun, it’s a lot of fun, and it’s definitely a lot less prep than most other games I run. But it can be frustrating at times.

Samuel Penn