Blades in the Dark
So the crew did their second, and for now possibly final, caper tonight. After last week’s catastrophic failure, they wanted something easy-peasy, mostly so they could see how a job is supposed to go off. They targeted a courier employed by one of the embassies in town, drugged him, got him into bed, stole his diplomatic pouch, ghosted away. And all it cost them was enormous amounts of stress, a knife wound, and becoming disembodied via weird haunted steampunk shit. After spending the coin they earned, the net was 1 Rep. Ouch.
The game absolutely ran smoother the second time. Some thoughts:
* The countdown clocks are solid. I was super skeptical about them because it feels like you’re rolling to accomplish the same thing over and over, the “thing” being some larger goal. But in actual play, having lots of clocks running concurrent is a great source of tension, very visual, feels very much like a high-tension caper.
* Deploying lots of clocks also backed down how terrible complications can get. Now, instead of just inflicting instant fictional escalation and/or harm, I had a way to bleed off those complications into larger problems. Terrific.
* Still feeling tired out from evaluating each roll, but it’s getting better. Devil’s Bargains are still tough to cook up on the spot, and even just adding Heat to the caper gets undesirable after the first two or three. It’s a very interesting creative challenge to come up with shit they’ll probably bite on, because I do want them to take those bargains.
* Had a player sell me on making rolls Desperate, just so he could get the XPs. Madness, but interesting! I felt compelled to increase the Effect whenever that happened, just so he got something more out of it than, you know, the XPs. Never worked out, though. Just ended up with serious complications again and again.
* The players did a much better job of managing their Stress this time around, meaning they also did a better job of making resistance rolls. It’s a good decision point: risk trauma or take the complication?
* Flashbacks are fun and good tech. Really enjoying that. It does make the crew seem more competent, like duh, yes of course we already thought to negotiate with the hotelier. Of course we already prepped an escape route. And so on.
* The general takeaway of the game by the players is that your starting crew feels incompetent and wildly outgunned. There just aren’t enough dice to go around, and getting more of them hurts so very much. The fact that teamwork actions can’t earn more dice feels counterintuitive and punishing. Really the entire Tier 0 crew experience is punishing. They want Locke Lamora or the Grey Mouser, but that’s not what they get.
* That said, the in-game fictional stuff is fun! I still feel like I’m having to do a lot of creative heavy lifting due to the sketchiness of the startup kit, but it’s okay. Keep wanting to know just what all a psychonaut does (in our game, that NPC can invade someone’s dreams for intel-gathering purposes), for example. Lots and lots of evocative terms and items, and you just kind of make it up as you go. I feel like the built-up precedence could get pretty exhausting.
Interesting gut-punch of a quote from one of my players I want to talk about at some point: “I really miss Burning Wheel. You know what I miss about it? The roleplaying.” Kind of a general feeling he’s had about PbtA-like games that I’ll unpack at a later date, somewhat less true in Blades in the Dark but still interesting.