Having played a couple of sessions I think I have some.

Having played a couple of sessions I think I have some.

Having played a couple of sessions I think I have some… analysis? observations? ramblings? Dunno, ideas I guess, about Blades in the Dark. I’ll need some extended play to actually come up with substantial feedback for the overall game, but for now I have something that might worth a reading. My take after some sessions of play:

(Also: the g+ community exploded since the game got funded [yay!] so I couldn’t keep up with all posts. I apologize if I’m being reiterative. This comes from my own experience and is a completely personal take on the game). 

We ended one session early, the guys had taken up a lot of stress this and last sessions (two of them even got trauma) and we wrapped up arguing about stress (or discussing, something in between). Some neat takes came from there (specially from Uriel and Diego, I’ll expand on that later), but one of the ideas that formed in my head from that argument was that the game is not about characters, its about the crew. Trauma might take your character away, he might even end up as a cool contact in the future, but the crew? The crew goes on. I think that vice overindulgence, gang mechanics and trauma support this. There are rules that complement the idea of a player having more than one character. Hell even coin is managed as a group. So:


I started to notice that we were playing two interconnected but markedly different games. Every score has its own set of priorities, challenges and rewards. Action and Effect rolls, Teamwork rules, etc. This is the score game, an inside perspective of the adrenaline fueled lives of a scoundrel. S**t blows up, blood is drawn and characters dodge the bullet, come up victorious or die trying.

But then there’s the crew game. Development, Downtime and, specially, Tier and faction status rules. This is when you zoom out and get to play a bigger game. The crew is a low-level character struggling to reach true “movers and shakers” status. The players speculate who they’re going to help and who they’re going to screw, deal with the fallout, get contacts, get intel, move the gears inside the Duskwall clock. 

And here’s where it gets interesting: both games form a virtuous circle.

Lets start from the beginning: we five guys get together to survive in the streets of Duskwall through the dark arts of thievery. We move contacts, get a neat spot, and are approached by the Crows, they run the district, they are cool, they are powerful and above all, they are not starving. We want that, we will get there someday. But there are bills to pay, so we plan a score. Things get rough but we get some decent coin out of it and some minor entanglements as fallout. Not enough to rule, but enough to eat another meal.

Things move around us, there is a war in Crow’s Foot, people start asking us favors, we form contacts and hell, maybe we could get somewhere with this. We have to help this guy, Baz, he says we have future.

So we play the score game, things happen, people are killed, favors are earned and paid, ghost haunt us, coin is spent. But we don’t live in an isle, we make enemies and allies, we have s*t to take care of, we have a goal, we are playing the *crew game.

The cycle is: we start a score, the score introduces new elements in the fiction, those elements affect other factions, those factions react, we try to take the most of this reactions and climb the tier ladder, it affects other factions, we have to deal with it so we make another score… S**t happens.

*Score game -> Crew game -> Score game *

Why this is awesome? Because the game ensures that player actions MATTER. They affect directly and deeply the game setting. By zooming in and out in scope we as a gaming group form together a snowball of adventures.

Again, I have to play extendedly to see how this develops, but if I have to take something from Blades in the Dark, is how it addresses the issue of players having an impact on the game world. I think this is my feedback. What you think?

25 thoughts on “Having played a couple of sessions I think I have some.”

  1. Nice. Here we should debate about characters importance. If in BitD we don’t have a system that manages the characters’ “value” in the Crew, then it’s an “easy tabletop game”, where you can exchange characters quickly and easily when they become useless/dead. If the only “mechanic” is the attachment the player is feeling to his character, then we could make use of some additional rule like “introduce a new character in the crew costs X coins, or X Holds etc.”

  2. I agree that the two games feed into each other, the heist and the downtime cycle. That’s why the individual heist is not entirely the focus. Whether it goes well or poorly, the point is, it informs what happens next. It gives the downtime objectives, and provides context for future heists.

    For a 3 hour session, I plan to do 2-3 heists each time. The improvisations in each elaborate and embroider the world, which is critical for making downtime sing.

    I don’t think individual characters are interchangeable or totally disposable, but I do think that brash or unlucky characters have a sunset. This helps manage their durability, since a careful player is unlikely to have a character die in a heist from hit point loss equivalent activity. Mechanics provide for trauma, which is dropping out of the heist, but you only die if the fiction says so.

    The importance of individual characters comes in with how they are woven into the context and history of the crew, and how their ongoing presence has shaped it with relationships and decisions. Too high a rate of turnover and characters are constantly coping with fallout from decisions others made, and it’s nice to see a push and pull with a consistent crew living with the good and bad consequences of their push for success.

    Great insights!

  3. Great feedback indeed.

    Andrew Shields : You have ~Score per hour of game? Somehow that appears a bit fast to me?

    I am running my first game soon, so I should prepare more Scores than just 2 for 4h game?

  4. Josephe Vandel Oh, I don’t think you have to worry overmuch about “preparing” more scores. They’ll likely flow out of what happened before, either as entanglements or as things that interest the characters and their players.

    The heists I’ve done so far have focused on a single objective and the complications that orbit it. If we get through it pretty fast, then that’s fine, I won’t force more complications to make it last longer. Instead we’ll fire through downtime and set up the next one.

    Also, if the complications multiply, and a heist takes longer, I roll with that too–as long as the focus is on timely decisions and propulsion forward, and not on getting bogged down by deliberation.

    This game is somewhat like waterskiing. If you slow down past a certain point, you sink, and the GM has to rev up the boat to pull things back to skim along the surface again.

    I have not actually prepared a single heist. I get a sense of what they want to do, then start building details around it (with their help.) So the rhythm doesn’t affect my preparation much, except to watch how long it takes and keep an eye on the clock so I let the players go when I said I would. =)

    Heist example: they were to assassinate a Red Sash tough guy. The opening scene of the heist, they shot him from across the canal. The rest of the heist unfolded the attempt to get his jewels and custom dueling gear, because that was their payment. Those complications led to breaking into a rolling corpse wagon, pursuing in a cab that was eventually taken over at gunpoint, and ending up at the crematorium! So you don’t always know where the complications will come from. =)

  5. Yeah, I’m going to echo Andrew Shields here, let the heists flow from the fiction. The prep comes from the session and the players. Ask them what they want to do and roll from there.

    Hell, put them in a spot go a few actions into it and ask them how they got there and why…

  6. Great observations Duamn Figueroa!

    Andrew Shields the water-skiing analogy is great, and I’m feeling its effects especially in a pbp version of the game.

  7. I’m not sure I follow you Andrea Parducci, specially the “easy tabletop game” part. Player attachment feels like a nebulous area in game design and I don’t consider it a priority in Blades in the Dark. What I mean is, I don’t think BitD tightens the bonds between a player and her character more or less than any other game but do give you the tools to have more than one PC or replace yours when you lose it.

    On the other hand having the possibility to play two characters at once does have a cost. If you’re a starting crew, you can only support a 5 people gang, having potentially 5 new player characters at your disposal, when you go up tiers that rooster grows. 

    Andrew Shields I can totally see a group with an established crew of characters (one or two gangs, a large hideout, some nice hold) administering characters for the next score. “We are going to break Malevo out of prison, we should take Shade and Mijhail as lurkers and Blunt and Switchblade as cutters, maybe having Samedi handling any ghost that might appear.”

    I hear the idea that players might feel… less attached to their characters, but I think that this is A) completely on the players/GM side of the game and B) because we are used to a one player-one character dynamic. Blades might be different in this aspect.

  8. Duamn Figueroa I think Blades in the Dark could certainly be played intentionally as a platform to build a stable of characters, and take along the ones that best fit. Especially if that idea was pitched from the beginning, and the players knew that part of going up in tier was having more people available.

    Would that fit my style? Huh, I’m not sure. As a GM, that’s significantly more characters to keep track of, as far as who their best friends are and details about them. Also, having the same stale list of friends and equipment might become a problem. Still, that’s manageable, especially if you scale back on drawing from the characters to make the adventures.

    As a player, it would heavily depend on who I was playing with and how the dynamic unfolded. I would try it out, for sure. I can make very distinct characters. My main concerns would be in keeping straight who did what when, and also in losing the opportunity to really focus in and grow a character.

    I mean, I know I as a player raided the constable’s cellar. But which character did it? I forget! I need play reports because my memory tends to be fairly terrible. =)

  9. Heh. If I waited until the next session to do session recap, it would be a pretty sketchy affair. =) My players tend to say things like, “Oh yeah, what DID we do?”

  10. Same here, it seemed like a cool way to promote players remembering last session stuff (instead of one more thing falling into GM notes) since, you know, you wouldn’t “level up” otherwise.

  11. In my experience, trying to use carrots and sticks to help players remember things better, or engage in things like Obsidian Portal between sessions, have not been successful. They just kind of resent it, they want to show up and have fun without obligation.

    Add to that the normal drift where everyone doesn’t make it to every session, and ugh. The idea of motivating players by starting off with a downer if they aren’t diligent falls completely flat for me. At the start of the session I want to light their fires and gin up some enthusiasm.

    If we do that by recapping last time, great! But let’s not attach system to it, like leveling up requirements (especially for characters that are not being played in the current session.)

  12. Andrew Shields  I’m not sure what you are getting at. Is something happening at the start of the session that is bringing them down. I’m not sure what you mean by “starting off with a downer if they aren’t diligent”

  13. Carl Hickman If the players had to recount events from the previous session to get session experience benefit for it, then that could be difficult if they did not remember or you had different players there than were at the previous session. That could be a downer if they didn’t take notes or try to record the session dutifully.

    Changing from the front to the back of the session for handing out session awards was a shift between the first and second version of the quickstart.

  14. I think is a quality control. You tend to remember important stuff, like desperate situations (wink wink), achieved goals and how your character behaved. Also it is a group thing, I like the idea of everyone catching up (as a GM I tend to be as forgetful as the other players*)

    *Note: I use to say “players” meaning “everyone playing on the table” not just “players as opposed to a GM”. Yeah its confusing, but we all are playing a game after all.

  15. Duamn Figueroa I guess we agree what is at stake is quality control. I think the higher quality comes at the end of the session before we forget everything, you think it comes after time has sifted out all but the most memorable bits.

    And, as was added at the end of a conversation about this last time I was in it, it’s your game table so you can go with what works for you. =)

    We’ll be doing it at the end of the session.

    (Previous discussion: https://plus.google.com/113881370051836623777/posts/8ePNpjp3eWE)

  16. Sure thing. Actually we do it at the end of the session too, because we have players missing  and sometimes cancelling sessions altogether but it could be a tool to remember “who-did-what” in a multi-character, constant group. 

  17. One more thing on setting up a heist. Now once we know where we’re going, and where we are starting, I have a pause and tell my players to pick out their gear. That gives me a minute to think up some details and get some clocks ready to go, or at least center my composure before go time.

  18. As I said before there were some interesting observations left on the inkwell. 

    * Discussing the stress rules with Uriel, Lucia, Mariana and Diego, Uriel came with, I think, the right interpretation: by default the characters are going through stressful situations, by definition every roll they make should be insanely stressful for regular people. Any other person would take 4 stress every roll, is through sheer cunning and skill that characters can keep up with minimal sequels. So taking 4 stress is not punishing, its normal, and taking less is actually a reward. 

    Maybe a little stretch from the usual rpg outlook, but something that might ease out taking stress. 

    * The same idea can be applied to character’s special abilities. On the session Lucía was a little annoyed because she couldn’t Command a murderous ghost (actually I think that it was because she risked being possessed by it) the reason behind is that since she’s a Whisper she knows how to deal with the supernatural. My argument was not that her character Lovelia was an awesome, powerful spirit binder, but that her character was awesome because she could try to bind ghosts when any other person couldn’t. A perspective I love but that can be difficult to take.

    From this came a talk about misplaced expectations. Though Mariana, Lucía and Uriel are still to judge if this game is up theirs I think that the idea was clear: You are not an awesome crew of scoundrels that chose to live the life of crime. You are desperate people in a tight spot, and are awesome because you chose to go on. 

    There is no glorified image of the criminal underworld. These people are in deep s**t and are lucky if they can get out as decent citizen.

    * Less abstract ideas that are floating around my head are things like:

        ** Having to chose the Expert and Mastery upgrades to add more than 2 points to any action is a great way to promote characters diversifying their stats, avoiding the “damn, I don’t have points in this” factor.

       ** There is no correlation between character’s (or even crew) talent and raw aptitude to pull off scores and their place on the Tier scale, implying that talent doesn’t guarantee a profitable position (a close call to any freelance worker 😛 ), and that you have to enter the faction game to truly have a place on Duskwall (also implying that the big fish might not be as capable as your own crew!). This kinda solidifies my idea that there are two separate, intertwined,  games.

  19. Yes yes yes, Duamn Figueroa that is all so spot on. Exactly how I think about the game! I need to put some text like this in the book, about setting expectations and about the score game vs. crew game. So good! Thank you.

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