Blades in the Dark

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.

24 thoughts on “Blades in the Dark”

  1. I want to hear more about that last paragraph when you have time! 🙂

    So – I haven’t read the latest iteration of BitD, so this might be off, but when I was fumbling with it this past spring, someone helpfully pointed out that players could suggest Devil’s Bargains too, which can offload a touch of the creative strain.

    I’ve enjoyed reading your thoughts about BitD. I had some similar struggles with it (and took similar enjoyment from it) and after we jumped through several iterations, our group, exhausted (or at least I was as GM), decided to set it aside until at least the more complete print version comes out.

  2. Same experience here. We spent most of the time engaging either the mechanics or the creative challenges, leaving not enough space nor energy for in character dialogues, thoughts, feelings during heists. Maybe it gets better with practice, but I decided to stop playing BiTD and wait for a more mature version before trying again. It was alright or good for some of the other players at the table. It’s more that I was (mistakenly?) expecting something the game does not deliver then a problem with the game per se.

  3. Yes, I am also getting tired of “read a person”-type moves short-cutting role-playing. It may be the way I’m handling it of course. I’m actually not a funny voices kinda guy and happy to narrate interactions but… sometimes you are in the moment, RP is happening and read a person then kills it at peak. Feels weird. I actually really like the strong character-based mechanical influence on the outcomes of these interpersonal interactions in AW but part of me longs for the BX reaction table roll by the DM at the start to inform how I should approach the scene.

  4. I’d be interested in hearing more about how the clocks worked for you, Paul Beakley When I tried running it, it kept feeling like no matter what the PCs were doing in the fiction, the players were just justifying rolling dice to fill in pie pieces. It felt like grinding a computer RPG rather than being clever thieves.

  5. I must say that my BiTD experience is very different from my “other PbTA games” where the system leaves enough room for “roleplay” and even pushes for it. (Even if those tend to mix rp and metagame more than other more classical game systems).

  6. Hm. Again, I feel like we’re getting a lot of the same takeaways from this game. My second mission was also a lot more low-key and low profit after a disastrous first.

    As for this wildly intriguing last paragraph stuff, if that’s coming from where I think it’s coming from, then I think that might be a case of “doing it wrong,” inasmuch as anyone’s subjective gaming experience can be “wrong”.

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