I did an actual play report for my first swing at Scum & Villainy. This is mostly written to players not familiar with Blades, but I have a short discussion of my technique for faction selection during crew creation that may be of interest to this community.
Originally shared by AD Kohler
Scum and Villainy – Actual Play and Impressions
I ran a session of Scum and Villainy at the monthly Indie Game Day event at my FLGS. A few people expressed interest in seeing an AP write up, so here it is!
I had five players for this session. They choose the Stardancer as their ship/crew, which is sort of the “Firefly” play model.
The characters, their playbooks, heritage, and backgrounds were as follows
• The Scoundrel: “Roulette” (Chasler Drex)(M) – Manufactured/Syndicate background. Has history with new syndicate “Onyx Twilight” with a presence on Warren. They did plastic surgery to remove the markings that betray him as manufactured.
• The Stitch: “Gardener” (Teegan Gree)(F) – Wanderer/Military. A combat medic found who meaning in the service. Obsessed with orchids
• The Pilot: “Ace” (Fox Hex)(M) – Spacer/Military. Old military pilot in one of the Hegemony’s fleets.
• The Mechanic: “Quirk” (Lotus Indigo)(A) – Imperial/Academic. “Black sheep” of an Imperial family looking for independence in the backwater Procyon sector.
• The Muscle: “Cyborg” (Orrin Hatch)(M) – Manufactured/Military. Last surviving member of a unit of synthesized super soldiers, looking for clues what happened to his crèche/unit.
Scenario Prep/GM Decisions
I used the default starting position for the Stardancer crew, which (minor spoilers!) begins with them hired to deliver a valuable artifact to a buyer on the city-moon of Warren, only to find their contact dead and find themselves being pursued by multiple factions willing to kill to get the artifact.
As much as it seems like that gives away, it is very much up to the GM to decide the details.
The players have an artifact called the Aleph Key. It’s up to the GM what this is and why people want it. My initial conception was that it amounts to an Ur (precursor race) mental video recorder. While that doesn’t seem super relevant, the recordings reveal the locations of a number of Ur sites on (following the name of the device) world of Aleph. The Lost Legion is a faction I am interested in, and decided arbitrarily that they have reason to believe that there are weapons to be found there (like a capital ship scale psychic cannon).
I decided the concerned factions that the PCs might brush up against:
• The Ashen Knives: Taking a cue from the Actual Play series on Youtube, I decided that Aya (a contact on the Muscle sheet) is here leading a gang of Ashen Knives assassins. The Ashen Knives were simply hired to get the item. But as our muscle has Aya as a rival, this adds a personal stake.
• Lost Legion: Has intel on what the Aleph key is, and that there may be Ur tech weaponry on Aleph that may assist them.
• House Malklaith: Is not certain what the artifact is, but has enough control over Warren (the city-moon where the adventure takes place) to have noticed factions making moves and sends a platoon of soldiers and kicks up the system police to investigate.
• Original Buyer: It is unknown who the original buyer was. He may have been working indirectly for the Yaru or the Cult of the Seekers, or may have been an opportunist or an agent of a faction yet to come on stage.
The crew set down on Warren to drop off the artifact. Their buyer is to meet them at a seedy bar in a crowded district. Roulette, Gardener, and Ace when directly to meet buyer while Cyborg kept an eye at the bar and Quirk providing remote support with the drone from the ship.
Things go south from there. Roulette notices the buyer is slumped over in his booth, with a pool of blood growing on the table. Ace notices a group of watchers (Lost Legion). Cyborg notices the system cops come in (2 trigger-happy cops and one keen detective).
Ace, Cyborg, and Roulette contend with the chasers making an opportunity for Gardener to exit with the case. Ace and Cyborg manage to peel away but Roulette gets nabbed by the suspicious detective.
Outside, Gardner notices that she is being chased by a group of assassins. Cyborg takes one pursuing assassin down and notes that he was one of Aya’s thugs.
Quirk takes note of the devolving situation and steals a rental car in maintenance bay at the starport. This required a little mechanical “massaging” from Quirk.
Gardener, relying on her urban combat training, gets out of the crowd by scampering up to the maglev rail. Bad timing finds a maglev train hurtling at her! Quirk comes racing by and Gardener dives off the rail to a hard landing, and burns herself on a manifold. The case goes skittering off the roadside. A local urchin boy grabs the case and goes fleeing into an old abandoned building.
Back at the bar, Roulette is having trouble with the detective. He makes up a story about how he is a bounty hunter (and produces false papers to this effect) and paints a picture of his contact as his mark who his rivals (the unidentified Lost Legion members who went chasing after Gardener) were rival bounty hunters who killed his bounty. That story flies and they let him off the hook. But he is way behind the rest of the group and has to hold a local motorist at gunpoint and steals her car (with attendant boost in the crew’s heat.)
Seeing that the kid with the case has gone into the cavernous old building, Quirk whirls around and takes their car into the structure. Unfortunately, the building seems to be built on an old, unstable honeycomb structure and the decking gives way, leaving Quirk and Gardener in a precarious position as their car is stopped on a piece of collapsing flooring that may give way any second.
Quirk and Gardener escape the car just as it plummets into the basement on the ancient building, but they can hear that the damaged structural members creaking, and look up to see a poor family living in rooms at the top of the now crumpling stairs.
Ace and Cyborg manage to corner the urchin and make him surrender the case. However, they hear the groaning of the building structure from Quirk’s vehicle. The kid gasps, knowing that his family lives in some rooms nearby.
The group comes together to evacuate the family before the structure collapses.
As it collapses, they flee into the alley to find themselves flanked by Aya (Cyborg’s old assassin nemesis) and her gang of Ashen Knife guild assassins. Cyborg faces off with Aya after Ace takes down one of the thugs and Gardener flees with the case. Cyborg takes down Aya as the rest of the group piles into the car that Roulette stole. Quirk was injured in the altercation, but seems more shell-shocked than the minor injuries suggest.
Arriving at the port, the group finds House Malklaith guards interdicting their ship. Gardener uses her medical credentials to get Quirk past the guard, and Cyborg, Ace, and Roulette sneak in to the hanger through a maintenance access.
After the group departs the port (“Job over”), they decide to check out what is in the case that is worth all this trouble. What they find is a cylinder covered with runes, an Ur artifact! Quirk and Cyborg attune to the artifact, which gives them visions of an ancient world, sans any vison of its occupants. With care and deliberation, however, it can be used to locate the sites that the visions portray.
Their contact, Citani, arranges an alternate buyer, the Yaru (a guild concerned with creating force-grown clones). Though they really need this payday, they wonder what the Yaru need with this object.
After offloading the artifact, the crew settles in for a little relaxation with their favorite pastimes. Gardener temporarily takes leave of the group as she finds that a rare flower is available on a nearby world for her collection (this is an instance of “overindulging in your vice”). Cyborg investigates his family background and others look into why the Yaru wanted the artifact.
Notes: Faction Selection
The default assumption is that during crew creation, the GM will choose a number of factions that the crew made friends or foes with along the way. I’m way to wishy-washy to decide all of that ahead of time and I am the sort of GM who likes players to chart their own course (and in so doing, let me know what sort of game they are interested in). So I flagged a few factions I find interesting in each of the three major categories (Hegemony, Criminal, or Weird) and three major dispositions: choice/”on the bubble” (as in step 3 of crew creation), or friendly or enemy (both of which crop up in each of steps 5 and 6).
Using this method, I gave the characters a choice of Hegemony, Criminal, or Weird at each step, so I only had to outline 2-4 factions for each choice.
For step 3, we determined that the crew is on good terms with the Starsmiths Guild, and owes them a favor.
For step 5, we determined that the Cobalt Syndicate are fast friends with the crew, but they really screwed over the Nightspeakers.
For step 6, we learned that their go-to info broker Citani has an in with the Cult of the Seekers, but is on the outs with The Agony.
For those interested, here are the factions I am letting the players pick from:
Choice (Step 3):
Criminal: Ashen Knives, Lost Legion, The Maelstrom, Scarlet Wolves
Hegemony: 51st Legion, Starless Veil, Starsmiths Guild
Weird: Acolytes of Brashkadesh, Sah’iir, Vigilance
Friendly (Steps 5 and 6):
Criminal: Cobalt Syndicate, Echo Wave Riders, Vorex
Hegemony: Concordiat Knights, Cult of the Seekers
Weird: Ghosts, Conclave 01, Mendicants, Suneaters
Enemy (Steps 5 and 6):
Criminal: Wreckers, plus any not chosen from the choice list above (Ashen Knives, Lost Legion, The Maelstrom, Scarlet Wolves)
Hegemony: Church of Stellar Flame, Guild of Engineers, House Malklaith, Yaru (Makers Guild)
Weird: The Agony, Ashtari Cult, Nightspeakers, Vignerons
My preference here is that players choose at least one from each category. The crew ended up with these faction relations:
Step 3 – Customize your Ship: The Starsmiths Guild helped the crew out, and Owes them One.
Step 5 – Assign Upgrades: The crew is on really good terms with the Cobalt Syndicate, and really screwed over the Nightspeakers (a cross between tomb raider and the Sith).
Step 6 – Contact Relations: Their friend Citani is on good terms with the Cult of the Seekers, but is on the bad side of The Agony.
As you can see, my players opted more towards the Weird end to the pool. That, coupled with the multiple instances of “manufactured” heritage and the final buyer for the Aleph Key possibly working for the Yaru has skewed the interests of the group towards factions that specialize in bioengineered life forms. This promises to give the campaign a bit of a “Blade Runner” feel.
Thoughts and Impressions
This “escape the planetary city” scenario bears some resemblance to ones I have run for Traveller and Bulldogs (Fate Core edition) in recent years. At a basic level, the feel of the scenario in the three game systems aren’t widely divergent, but there are some differences in feel and responsibility that might be worth noting.
The most immediate difference in threat to the characters. Fate Core is by far the most forgiving, It’s actively challenging to give the PCs a condition, much less “taken out” (and note that “taken out” is not “dead”). On the other end of the spectrum, Traveller will kill PCs dead if they entertain fights where they are outgunned.
Scum & Villainy occupies sort of a middle ground. Any fight with lethal weapon carries with it the threat of PC death, but with the Resistance Roll mechanic, that threat is never realized. But PCs can accumulate enough stress to accumulate traumas, which is the approximate equivalent of being taken out and suffering a severe consequence in Fate Core. My initial impression was that accumulating stress was slow enough that you might not see a trauma for several sessions. But poor Quirk suffered a trauma in a single session. Overall, I like the “middle ground” that Scum & Villainy occupies here.
Traveller is largely setting-driven. Though it still requires the GM to think on their feet, you largely work within the confines of the what the map and UPPs tell you your surroundings are like.
Bulldogs is more pre-plotted. Though you still pull from aspects to make obstacles for the players, if you need a place to have certain characteristics, the GM puts the action there. The setting is what the GM decides, not the last place the PCs were on the starmap.
Scum & Villainy seems setting-driven improvisational, but the most valuable setting component of the S&V setting is the factions. The selection of worlds is somewhat small compared to the vast expanse that Traveller’s OTU and procedural generation offers, so it won’t offer the same sort of wide-reaching exploration and world-building that Traveller does.
In contrast to Bulldogs, the biggest distinction may be the alien species. The interest in spending time to generate content at the table to create a xeno character in S&V went about like I expected. If you want a game where the PCs are a menagerie of strange and wondrous aliens, Bulldogs may be more to your liking.
The main distinguishing feature of the Forged in the Dark system (and its close cousin PbtA) is the “yes but” philosophy is baked-in. Fate Core has this a little (it allows you to read “fail” as “succeed with cost”), but Fate relies more on aspects to complicate the characters’ lives. In Scum & Villainy, players will routinely make rolls that succeed with consequences. It’s really incumbent on the GM to be at the top of their game to throw interesting complications at the characters during the game. This is both fun and demanding, and I think the game could use more resources to generate things that go wrong. A “screw up” menu, if you will.
Scum & Villainy, solidly in the “playbook” and “John Harper” tradition, seems like it would be superlative in the quick-gen/one-shot space. For one-shot scenarios in Traveller or Bulldogs, it’s advisable to have pregens ready, and then, they will lack being informed by player preferences. In play, it took me about an hour and a half to get the PCs and ship generated and briefed on the rules, and about 3 hours to play the starter scenario (with downtime game play at the end).