I ran a three-part Blades in the Dark game at TotalCon this past weekend, and I had an absolute blast.
For a long time I have been of the opinion that one-shots are alright, but multi-part games give you a little more breathing room, and allow you to develop more story than a regular one-shot. However, there was always the problem of people not always signing up for multiple parts, even when the game description clearly indicates “Part 1 of 3”, or something similar.
My solution to this was to run three connected, but not strictly consecutive sessions. Session 1 showcased a brand new, up-and-coming gang in one of the lower-class districts of Doskvol. Session 2 was set two years later, when that same gang is now established, and is currently in the process of expanding into a new district. Likewise, Session 3 is also set two years later, and the gang is now a force to be reckoned with in the city, and they’re working on moving into a higher-class neighborhood.
It worked like a dream. I had set the max players at 5, and I had 3 people that signed up for all three sessions. One guy was only able to get into Session 1, so his character got sent to Ironhook after that, and he made a small cameo in Session 3. Another guy was only able to sign up for Sessions 1 and 2, but I was able to squeeze him in for Session 3, and the guy that inadvertently took his place was actually really easy to integrate into the already very established group.
I attribute a lot of the success of the game to the players at the table; no one was a dud, everyone was on point and there was complete buy-in. However, I also like to think that the massive amount of prep-work I put in to my player handouts also contributed in a not-insignificant way. Bottom line, for each session I had picked three Districts, and did up a 1-page summary sheet of each, including a zoomed-in section of the map, a description of the neighborhood, some notable locations, and some notable factions and the conflict they are currently engaged in. I used Crow’s Foot and the Lampblack/Red Sashes/Crows situation as a template.
For Session 1, players had to choose between Charhollow, Coalridge, or the Docks. Each had its own unique situation brewing there, each waiting for a fourth crew to come careening into it like a bowling ball. Session 2 gave the players the choice between Barrowcleft, Silkshore, or Nightmarket, each with its own flavor. Session 3 saw the crew move ever upward and having to choose between Charterhall, Six Towers, or Brightstone. I had an additional page that listed factions that could show up anywhere to cause trouble, like the Bluecoats or Spirit Wardens.
I also limited choice of Crew types to Assassins, Bravos, or Shadows, as the others are a little more specialized. In my game notes, I jotted down the names of notable NPCs in each faction, and possible jobs to offer the crew based on what crew type they chose, and who they were friendly with.
For this run, we ended up with a crew of Shadows called the North Company Sappers, a group of veterans of the Unity War who had been infiltrators and saboteurs. Some highlights from the game:
Starting out in the Docks, the Sappers accepted a job offer from the Fog Hounds to steal a painting with arcane properties from the Gray Cloaks. The crew was also solicited by the Gray Cloaks to steal a shipment of drugs from the Fog Hounds, which the Sappers used as bait to lure the Gray Cloaks away from their hideout.
In Barrowcleft, the Sappers found themselves in the middle of a labor dispute between the Brigade and the Ministry of Provisions, who have brought the Grinders in as scab labor while the strike was going on. The Sappers were hired by the Brigade (many of them fellow veterans) to sabotage the Grinders’ firefighting equipment. Scene of the night was when the Leech dosed two goats with Spark, and they proceeded to stampede into the firehouse, screaming the whole time.
Finally, in Brightstone, the Sappers were approached by the Church of the Ecstacy of the Flesh to assist in investigating a possible incursion by the Reconciled. The Sparkwrights were able to provide assistance in the form of a machine that detected ghosts (like the motion trackers from Aliens). The whole thing culminated in the Church turning out to actually be the agressors, and so the Sappers switched sides and freed a number of trapped ghosts.
For character creation, I gave them some extra Action dots and an additional Special Ability. There was a two-year gap between each session, so I didn’t bother with XP, very heavily abbreviated the downtime mechanics, and gave them a bunch more dots and abilities at the beginning of Sessions 2 and 3. I also gave them Traumas, which they chose the nature of and played to the hilt as the group started to succumb to the stresses of their own success. The crew was getting more powerful, sure, but the characters themselves were getting more and more broken.
The wonderful thing about the setup is the replay value. Even after going through three sessions, the players had only seen somewhere between a ninth to a third of the content I had prepared (three out of nine possible Districts, and one of three crew types). I am really looking forward to running this again at the next convention I attend. I’m also working on cleaning up my game notes and packaging them up to put on my site, so stay tuned.