I ran Jason Eley’s Copperhead County (CC) at Big Bad Con and it was everything I had hoped!

I ran Jason Eley’s Copperhead County (CC) at Big Bad Con and it was everything I had hoped!

I ran Jason Eley’s Copperhead County (CC) at Big Bad Con and it was everything I had hoped! The post’s a long one; I tried to be thorough. Tl;dr: Copperhead is good, Big Bad is good, and games are great.

[cross-posted from the link below, if you’d like an easier reading format]

GM: Me! (Michael Crowley)

Players: James Donovan, John Jones, Simon Ward, Spencer Barcelona

System: Copperhead County (Forged in the Dark)

The session was last Friday morning. Copperhead, if you haven’t heard, is a Forged in the Dark rpg about life and crimes in the modern American South. Think Breaking Bad meets Justified! It was my first (complete) game of the con, and I loved every minute of it! A few things, before I get to the meat of the session:

1) I was extremely fortunate to have talked with Eric (@ericvulgaris) and Kelsa (@kelsa) the night before we played. They both have a ton of experience playing and running one shots and starters for Blades and related games, so their insight was welcome. Their advice boiled down to: start the session off in the middle of a small score (a handful of obstacles); set up the starting position with a fortune roll and exchange consequences for extra dice; do a full downtime, but give the players the option to spend both of their free actions in exchange for an advance (special ability or a new action dot); and finally, roll into the big score, playing out the final ripples of the consequences from before. I took their advice, structured the score after their model, and holy cannolis I will never run a Blades one shot any other way. It’s excellent, especially as a way to showcase a Forged in the Dark game.

2) This was the first time I’d run a convention game, and the first time I’d run a game for total strangers! And it far out exceeded my expectations. My players were great, engaged folks. I’m very happy to have run CC for them and pumped that they enjoyed the experience. It was also the first time I’d run CC! Lot of firsts.

3) Full disclosure, I’m helping Jason write the text of the final version of the game! The design work and setting materials are all him, but you’ll see my writing in the complete product!

The scenario we played revolved around a special election in the titular Copperhead County, TN. The County Trustee, a TN-specific position whose office collects property taxes and oversees the accounting and disbursement of public funds, has just died! Lynn Cupp, chairwoman of the County GOP, has an unexpected challenge to her party’s control of the post: independent candidate and PTA mom Betsy Wood, whose politics fall far somewhere to the right of Jefferson Davis. The players come into the equation as outside actors, lending their criminal expertise to find alternative ways of influencing the election. For Cupp, for Wood,

You can read the full blurb while it’s still up on the Big Bad website, here.

|The Characters|

The players made their characters and (retroactively) picked the Blood crew type. For those unfamiliar with CC, the crew types aren’t differentiated by the kind of crimes the crew does. Instead, they’re differentiated by their approach to the society in which they’re a part. An Outfit seeks to infiltrate the established order and exercise their influence to get what they want. Hellraisers want to upend that order and put themselves in charge (whatever that looks like). And Blood are a family, looking to increase their prestige or esteem in the county.

It turned out to be pretty simple to link the characters together as a family group, even though only one character was actually from Copperhead County.

-Austin “Denver” Shaw, the Mover (an uncatchable daredevil): a local boy, whose dreams of playing Division I football were crushed by an injury. Hot shit driver, helping the family.

-Shane Shaw, the Hazard (a volatile artisan): a Shaw family cousin from out of town. College educated. Left med school “of his own free will” and not at all due to his addiction to pills.

-Dustin “Digits,” the Stringer (a shrewd executive): a Minneapolis accountant and rampant embezzler, “asked to leave” his firm. Distantly (and unclearly) related to the Shaw clan.

-Carl (just Carl), the Cleaner (a steady problem solver): a farmer from a family of Midwest farmers, who fell into crime to get by. Married to Austin’s sister, Mary Lou.

The Shaw family business, as it turned out, was small appliance repair. Their business (and clan HQ) was in Adamstown, a mostly poor and predominantly African-American neighborhood of Patterson, Copperhead County’s biggest locale (and only city). Adamstown didn’t play a large part in the session, but it provided good background for why the (white) Shaw family didn’t get along with the Spearpoint League, a “neo-confederate” “militia,” who we’ll see later.

|Shitty Watergate|

The action started off with the PCs in the process of infiltrating the County Democrats office to plant some bugs. As stated above, I put together a fortune roll to see how this was going, building up from one die by asking the players to take on consequences. The ones they accepted were:

– One of you (Dusty “Digits”) is in debt to a powerful figure in county politics (Lynn Cupp). This was the reason they were doing the score in the first place!

You have a serious feud with a local gang. This turned out to be the aforementioned Spearpoint League. The Shaw clan apparently had a history of stomping racist dirtbags.

– One of you has been in trouble with the law. How? This was Carl, who chose to have an outstanding warrant for his arrest on account of a staggering pile of unpaid parking tickets.

The score went quickly. They filled a clock to place the required bugs, quiet-like, and avoided waking Brenda Garrett, the Democrats’ chairwoman, asleep on a couch in her office. Along the way they dropped a bug down the drain, got caught on camera, took and replaced the security tape (an actual VHS tape) to cover their tracks, and woke up Brenda as they booked it from the building.

Score complete, they were paid a pittance for the easy work. During downtime, a couple characters took the deal to gain an extra special ability. Carl proceeded to piss three of their four cash down the drain (can’t remember how, but everyone was good with it). An examination of the VHS tape revealed its unexpected value: proof that the county democrats were going to run a popular local chef for County Trustee. And, of course, the PCs dealt with trouble (CC’s replacement for entanglements) from another faction: Lynn Cupp “inviting” them to a meeting to call in the last of Digits’ debt.

|The Worst Fucking Barbecue|

Trouble lead to their score. The PCs relinquished the tape and Cupp gave them a job: infiltrate a “supporter’s only barbecue” for Betsy Woods’ campaign and try to dig up some dirt. She provided more listening devices and some information: the BBQ would be held on the lawn outside Betsy’s sisters’s ranch house, out in the county, and the Spearpoint League would be providing security.

To avoid getting spotted and stomped, themselves, the PCs opted to get into the party by getting employed as extra help for the catering company. Their aim was to plant the bugs all around the festivities (on Woods’ podium, at the tables, by the kegs, etc.) in the hopes of any one of them catching a damning conversation. For the most part, it went smoothly. Engagement roll started them off at a risky position, and they wavered between there and controlled for a lot of the score – though Carl was identified by a cop and accosted for his unpaid parking tickets, a desperate situation that Digits deftly defused with smooth talk. The four of them creeped and fixed their way around the party until the 8-segment bug clock was near completion.

And, predictably, Shane and Austin decided to place a few more recording devices inside the farmhouse, or at least pop in for a quick peek. Y’know. In case there was something inside that might net them a bonus. They pop through a basement door to discover Howard Hutton’s (Besty Wood’s sister’s husband’s) man cave: confederate flags, beer cans, flat screen playing football, and a quietly humming computer over in the corner, just begging to be hacked. Which Shane does, ripping the computer’s contents onto a hard drive.

A series of partial successes and failures, inside, leads to several Spearpoint thugs chasing Austin across the grounds, while Shane hides, causes a power outage, and raids the Spearpoints’ oxy-filled bathroom cabinet (not in that order). Eventually the four crew members, directed by Digits and his impromptu planning, pile (more like clown-car) into Austin’s stingray and burn rubber, leaving the Spearpoints in the dust and the score successfully completed.

We went over the ramifications, rapid fire: they got paid (handsomely – the hard drive had some compromising material), the county GOP had the leg up on the Democrats, Digits’ debt was square, and the Woods campaign was dead in the water. Lastly, we went around the table for a brief XP session (just to show how it worked) and wrapped.


If I ran the scenario again, I’d ask a couple more opening questions: Whose office are you infiltrating, the County Democrats or the County Republicans? Who for? And use the answers to drop them into the first score. I felt that I walled the characters in by stating to the players, simply, “you are breaking into the Democrats’ office.”

I would also interrogate the PC’s choices a bit more. The Dems’ office seems like a pretty shabby outfit. How does it feel, kicking the underdog? Why work for Lynn Cupp? You know she’s a treacherous snake. How can you stand to be around the Spearpoint thugs? How do you keep it together? Stuff like that.


Copperhead County. I was finally able to run this game I love so much. Jason’s done many great things with it. It feels like a sleek, snappy Blades, keeping all the parts that make Blades so good, but fine tuning the other parts so the actions, special abilities, trouble, game structure, every little bit fits perfectly into its realist, contemporary vision of the south.

I appreciate, as well, that CC gives an honest depiction of the politics of the South. If you wanted a primer on what local Tennessee politics look like, you could do a lot worse than the early access setting description. While our game didn’t delve too much into the depth of county corruption, or the PCs’ place in it (we went for a comedic tone), you can run a game of CC which takes as its central subject and themes the ways in which democracy in southern states is deeply and deliberately broken. And it gives the PCs the tools to, if they so wish, try taking on the structures of power that have made it that way. (My PCs didn’t, as it happens. They kept their heads down. But your mileage may vary!)

I also learned the difference between shocked and electrocuted (one of the players is an electrician)! When you’re shocked, you’ve been injured by an electrical discharge: cramps, burns, etc. When you’re electrocuted, on the other hand, you die!

Final good thing, of course: The players! Each of them was interested in the fiction, engaged with the setting and the mechanics, asked good questions, and kept me on my toes. I’m grateful they took the time on Friday morning to play games with me.

If you’re interested, you can find Copperhead County, here: https://zzzwizard.itch.io/copperhead


Another session in the bag, and for once we’re not careening toward disaster.

Another session in the bag, and for once we’re not careening toward disaster.

Another session in the bag, and for once we’re not careening toward disaster. What are we doing instead? Well, it involves at least three musical numbers.

I am consistently surprised (and pleased!) with the arc of this campaign. My players are awesome!

Originally shared by Eli Kurtz

Score #08: Breath of Air

Our scoundrels face a new nightmare together, the rumor of a challenge above and beyond the many fires they’ve left burning around the Docks. It leaves them rattled, but the current of the city never ceases. The Dockers demand that the crew of the EEK do something with all the momentum they’ve built up. Is it sabotage? Is it civil disobedience? Do they confront the bosses and demand better wages, hours, and conditions?

No, they throw a cookout to bring the people together, share music and laughter, and recruit hands for a project of mutual aid. A surprising course of action to be sure, but it’s well in keeping with the spirit of any workers’ movement.



Pallbearers End

Pallbearers End

Pallbearers End

My 9-month Blades in the Dark campaign ended last week. It was a hell of a ride and I wanted to share it with y’all.

The Pallbearers:

Ashen Crow: Leech, devotee to a dead sun god and master of the mystical and mechanical.

Finni Gyles: Bruiser, ghost-fighter and partially ghost himself, lover of sandwiches and seeker of eternal life.

Herrik Vanir: Smooth operator and team rakehell trading in whispers and favors to further his own ends.

Veretta Jingshen: Deposed Svoklan noble turned sorceress and burgeoning playwright.

The team had spent months fighting back against enemies like the Gray Cloaks, Inspectors, Spirit Wardens and Lord Scurlock while in the background a clock counted down to the arrival of a demon they had accidentally unleashed on their second score. The demon, named Murmur, finally emerged from the sea and began a campaign of terror against the people of Doskvol, killing and abducting as it pleased. It then approached the Pallbearers (minus Ashen Crow and Herrik who were imprisoned at the time) and marked them as its agents on a mission of pure destruction: they were tasked with infiltrating the Ministry of Preservation and destroying the city’s leviathan blood stockpiles, bringing down the lightning walls and letting Murmur rule over the survivors.

Without much choice, the B-team of Pallbearers, now including Dog the Skovlander tracker and Ioane the Dagger Island archer, broke into the fortress of the Ministry of Preservation and went about their task of sneaking past the hazard-suited workers to find the leviathan blood reserves. What they discovered was that the leviathan hunters have been failing to return for months and that the reserves were depleted, a secret not even known to Murmur. Veretta convinced the Director to use the reserves to protect the fortress with its own lighting walls, a last-ditch redoubt for the team.

Meanwhile, Finni Gyles led another B-team consisting of Lily the ghostly avenger and Jolly the Iruvian sniper into Ironhook Prison to break out Ashen Crow and Herrik. In the process, Ashen Crow assembled his arcane materials and unleashed his greatest ritual: summoning a demon that embodied the power of the shattered sun and bringing light to Dunslough in the form of a blazing creature that hung in the sky. Doing this earned him the devotion of the imprisoned sorcerers, who began to follow him. The team then released all of the prisoners in Ironhook and escaped while the prisoners overcame the guards.

The two teams came together in the fortress of the Ministry of Preservation, fighting their way past demons and defenses to reunite. The core team remained behind and the others were sent to organize the defense of their home Six Towers, using the sorcerers to ignite old wards left by the Emperor in the hopes of holding off the denizens of the Deathlands. The Pallbearers then waited for Murmur to arrive, and in the final showdown they managed to kill the demon, hooking its body to an experimental generator and transferring its essence into the sun demon summoned by Ashen Crow.

As the lightning barriers fell, the team tested their preparations with some Fortune rolls. They managed to save Six Towers along with Charterhall, Brightstone, Nightmarket, Coalridge, Dunslough and the Docks. With their new miniature sun and the ancient spells of power reawoken they were able to hold back the mass of Deathlands inhabitants. The sun demon’s power is great but not infinite, and it has to rest for half of the day, and during that time the lightning barriers are reignited to protect the reduced Doskvol. And the light draws the attention of powerful horrors from across the continent as well as the eye of the Emperor, who contemplates what to do next.

We had a discussion on how each character’s epilogue would go, and this is what we came up with:

Ashen Crow became the leader of the cult devoted to the sun demon, keeping it supplied with power. His cult becomes a very powerful force in Doskvol and is contacted by the Emperor about the city’s continued status as a part of the Empire.

Finni Gyles: His hands were turned to demonflesh during the fight with Murmur, and after the battle he left the criminal life to become a leviathan hunter, captaining a small fleet of ships that work out of Doskvol while still pursuing immortality.

Herrik Vanir: Falling back on his core talents, Herrik expanded his spy networks across the new city and became an information broker playing for all sides. He is entertaining offers to work for both the Emperor and his distant homeland of Tycheros, who are very interested in this new sun.

Veretta Jingshen: A master of the arcane in her own right, Veretta gathered up the sorcerers and witches who abhorred the light of the new sun and took them to the Deathlands, where she has built her own fortress to continue her studies and write her plays far from the light over Doskvol.

Since we kinda broke the setting, we decided this was the end of the campaign for the time being. We all had a ton of fun and I look forward to running more Blades of FitD games in the future. Right now I’m really eyeing Blades Against Darkness and Copperhead County. And we might not be done with our version of Doskvol! I’ve considered writing up the changed city a hundred years in the future and picking up from there with new factions and characters, and we’ve also thought about using a different system to play around in the aftermath of this campaign. Either way it was a blast to run and Blades is my new favorite system for how easy and fast it is.

I have a real love-hate relationship with naming crews, but I am very fond of our latest.

I have a real love-hate relationship with naming crews, but I am very fond of our latest.

I have a real love-hate relationship with naming crews, but I am very fond of our latest. The detailed Crow’s Foot district map helped – knowing straight away that their hunting grounds was on Black Goat Road in the Devil’s Furnace really narrowed down the options.

I just offered the most cliche Devil’s Bargain, the one I never thought I’d actually get away with: one of my…

I just offered the most cliche Devil’s Bargain, the one I never thought I’d actually get away with: one of my…

I just offered the most cliche Devil’s Bargain, the one I never thought I’d actually get away with: one of my player’s characters just promised his soul to the Dimmer Sisters for their assistance in retrieving an Artifact of Kotar.

The funny thing is: The Archivists, a crew of knowledge keeping assassins, just learned the ancient technique of the Emberdeath, which another character has promised to use on the pledged upon his death to rob the Sisters of their prize!

Sometimes, when your A plot is primed and ready to go, the right decision is to set it aside and explore a B plot…

Sometimes, when your A plot is primed and ready to go, the right decision is to set it aside and explore a B plot…

Sometimes, when your A plot is primed and ready to go, the right decision is to set it aside and explore a B plot for a little bit. But things are building to a head! How much longer can the Dockers stand idly by while the powers that be continue to add pressure to their struggle?

Originally shared by Eli Kurtz

Score #07: Leverage

After an explosive win in the canals, the crew of the Electrick EEK needs to lay low while all the fallout settles. The Dockers are finally organized and ready for action, but the crew doesn’t have a task for them just yet. While the laborers twiddle their thumbs, the EEK takes care of a certain thorn in their side: the Bluecoat Captain Laroze…


So second session, players had stolen a fence away from the wraiths.

So second session, players had stolen a fence away from the wraiths.

So second session, players had stolen a fence away from the wraiths. So it would have pushed them into war, since we were just learning, decided to give them a chance. Session started with Slate coming into their normal hangout, a gambling hall called Seven Bones. The Wraiths offered to make it all better if they convinced a Bluecoat Sergeant in possession of evidence to away. Players kidnapped the guy and recorded his testimony on a phonograph they borrowed. They then paid the guy off and made it look like a failed poisoning. There were some wraiths watching the outside and they played it up that they were incompetent and beneath notice. They put off war for a bit longer and gained a contact with the Bluecoats.

The next score was one they planned. They wanted to get informants and went to the Shady Orphanage (the second part after Shady has broken off and not been fixed). They found the name of the owner and killed him to free the orphans and take place over themselves. They broke into his house and he was up and ready. They fought against him and took some hard hits.

The engagement roll then called for a Demon. So they were back at Gambling Den and their dealer was possessed or replaced by a red eyed man that smelled of sulfur and was ignored by everybody else. He stated a group of his followers needed two people with certain tattoos already on them. They decided on a transport approach so we played that they already got the people, a rival and his wife.l, and tattooed them up. They then took them through the canals avoiding Gondoleers and Bluecoat inspections. They were met by some hooded figures who gave them a variety of gold objects taken from corpses (teeth, earring with earlobe attached, etc).

All in all a number of new things (flashbacks, resistance rolls, and more were tried out).

Fun game!