Hello scoundrels, apologies for the long absence.

Hello scoundrels, apologies for the long absence.

Hello scoundrels, apologies for the long absence.

I have a design question that may have a very Blades flavored answer.

I’m toying with a game in a Dune-ish universe of Emperors and ancient schools, an rpg played out on the Imperial capitol, (Think 40K Terra, or Trantor)

The players are high-level con artists and thieves come to relieve the Emperor of his wealth, and instead of a map, I want to play over a Kingsburg style flowchart of the Imperial court. The criminals will have to take advantage of the eccentric rituals and rites of the court to get close to the Emperor and keep their marks from getting wise.


Any suggestions from you folks on incorporating Blades mechanics into a pyramid-flowchart? I really want to emphasize the suck-up/kick-down nature of the court.

If the players’ markers (and thus, their false faces) are under the protection of a duchess three levels below the Emperor, then they should be able to ruin the life of a fourth level duke, and order the summary executions of a fifth level marquis.

So, Stainless Steel Rat meets Dune meets Foundation meets Gentlemen Bastards. Any ideas?

7 thoughts on “Hello scoundrels, apologies for the long absence.”

  1. oh I Like this kind of discussion. It Has been too long

    If you haven’t already: replace Tier with Level and start borrowing mechanics for engagement rolls. 1 is emperor, and 5 is weaker, and maybe make unranked a Thing* too).

    Create operation type: demand summary execution. Create another operation type: ruin a noble’s life. Or don’t (these are just deception or social plans)

    This should help the game get close to making what you described a Thing as well, and allow you to lay your fiction on top to get on the right track.

    *: by Thing I mean game mechanic

    You might add a rule that restricts the available operation types according to the crew’s Level difference with their target. I suspect you wouldn’t have to though, because if Level works like tier but in reverse (-1d or more for being higher Level) it should take care of itself and make an early attempt at the emperor foolish. And accentuate the tension of their rise to power .

  2. This is awesome and exactly the courtier game I’d want to play. Tier as social status is especially important as Mark Cleveland Massengale says, since narrative factors for making tasks easier/difficult are built in.

    Additionally, use of Blades-style flashbacks for all this grafting is amazing, something I’ve loved since the Leverage RPG since I’m worthless as an actual grifter, but my PCs are amazing. Flashing back 5 years to being in battle (or bed) with some key NPC would be splendid, as would flashing back to show your hired privateers choking a rival’s merchant marine holdings, or kidnapping and replacing their household steward.

    Claims could become prominent patrons whose trust and recommendation you earn, as well as formal titles or ranks. Each claim would open access to new exclusive locations, events, or people. Turf could be like your toadies while Rep stays Rep. Heat would be far more subtle and dangerous than wanted posters for bodies in the street. It’d be suspicion, blackmail, evidence of falsity. Faction status could be for court factions and parties (the military officers, imperial household staff, diplomatic regions and people groups ruled by the Emperor, revolutionaries, crime families, religions, as well as maybe key individuals, like the Emperor’ immediate family, advisors, bodyguard, and upper nobility.

    Many of the playbooks would work as is, but you’d need more subtlety violence. You’d still have assaults but the more powerful option would usually be verbal, financial, relational, legislative, or business blows against your enemies rather than a knife in their back. Slide and Spider would be perfect as they are, while the others could probably use more nonviolent, long-term grifter punch.

    You’d probably benefit from a longer overall timeframe so the PCs’ efforts unfold over a background of shifting geopolitical landscape and various events befalling the various peerage. Each downtime could represent a season perhaps.

  3. I love the idea of making Tiers and Factions into a more explicit pyramid.

    I wonder if it might be worth looking at Night’s Black Agents‘ Conspyramid model for some inspiration?

  4. +Benjamin Davis The Conspyramid is definitely the inspiration! Good spot, and combining it with Claims and Tiers is bang on as well.

    So, instead of the Claims map on the Crew sheet, we’ve got a giant map of the court. You could be anywhere on Imperius, but if you’re currently false-facing as servants of the Master of Credits, then that’s where your marker is!

    The map would start with faces and names, but as the Crew works their targets, they learn motivations, which gives their use of each claim some direction.. (VERY rough sketch included.)

    That way the players would have agency over the actions of the NPC’s, and I don’t Elminster them.

    This could work for several crews too. Assassins need to get a blade close to the Emperor, Thieves need to steal the jewels of Office, Bravos are here for a Push. Cults are there to recruit as many nobles as possible…

    Wasn’t there supposed to be a Grifters playbook?


  5. Consider as well what Hunting Grounds should be in that fiction..

    Like: this is a physical area in Blades, but for espionage and intrigue games against a central authority, i imagine them being changed to circles of influence or even coconspirators in this treason. Some who stand to benefit from the emperor being taken out and some who gain less.

    And maybe you pay 2 coin for greater loyalty, pay 1 coin, or stiff em like in Blades, but this person is the one that got them into the lower rungs of the imperial courts to begin with. And they know how to expose the characters (which also happens to sound like a good motive for murder! especially if the penalty for treason is death)

  6. So we’re doing decadent nobles as just the same criminals, but with better tailors? I love it.

    Reskin the original playbooks and make it more about the poster map, or go whole hog and invent millennia old crime schola?

  7. Yeah! Anyone who helped them stands to get summary executed should things get discovered anyways though (or revealed on purpose by the crew, to justify execution demands! Gasp). so they may be new school criminals, old school plotters, or unwitting victims of the PCs’ plot.

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