code black hack: deception

Deception plans

This rejigs the Code Black Hack for deception scores, particularly longer cons. A deception is about getting someone to do something. It uses trickery but that’s merely the means, not the end. A con differs from a simple deception mainly by who you target and the payoff. Tricking a guard to get into the royal treasury might be a deception, but tricking the king to gift you the treasury is a con. And if that con goes smoothly, the king will thank you for the trouble to haul it away.

A lot of this is inspired by The Long Con by The Walking Mind. I’ve used this approach regularly in a Blades game I run, particularly memorable was when the Butcher Birds decided to flip Baszo Baz.

Action roll

Cool replaces Hidden/Controlled, Suspect remains the same (but deception has reduced effect), and Opposed replaces Hunted/Desperate (deception has reduced effect and requires set up action). Noticed becomes Questioned. Exposed becomes Honest.

You can act to improve Suspect to Cool, but only if no characters or cohorts are Questioned or Honest. You can only improve Opposed to Suspect by minimising or bypassing the preparations the mark has brought against you.

Consequences and harm

Questioned

Questioned replaces Noticed. When you are Questioned, you may have the mark in a web of deceit, but they are asking difficult questions and testing you. At Cool or Suspect, if you fail to remove Questioned promptly, the position worsens. At Opposed, if you fail to remove Questioned promptly, the mark will put into play something they’ve prepared to counter your well-laid plans. They’ll prioritise countering characters and cohorts that are Questioned and Honest, then those just Questioned, then those just Honest. They won’t counter those who are neither Questioned nor Honest.

Honest

Honest replaces Exposed. When you are Honest, you use truth to ground your lies and allay suspicion. While the mark does not cross-examine you, they may learn something to use against you later.

The Score

A con relies on finding a hook, something to leverage the mark into doing what you want. Think of the hook as a vice: pleasure, luxury, obligation, faith, etc. It can be an ambition for revenge, a thirst for oblivion, or something weirder. Good info-gathering work.

Pacing

In an infiltration, you don’t start at cracking the safe. First, you get past the perimeter guard, break in through the roof, bypass the inner security, and only then get in front of the safe. Likewise, there’s a way to pace a con. Get the mark’s:

  • attention: Try fitting a mould of people they expect to meet.
  • interest: Find or create a problem or solution related to their hook.
  • confidence: Convince them you offer an actual opportunity to solve a real problem.
  • decision: Push them to do what you’re conning them to do, to seize the opportunity while it lasts.

Each of these may be a clock depending on: the crew’s history with the mark; the mark’s Tier, savviness, or connections; and circumstances that make a problem more immediate, a solution more complex, or the mark more desperate. Filling these clocks completes the con and the mark does what you want. Taking advantage of their decision and action can be another score in itself.

The GM should also keep a clock to track the mark’s Suspicions or similar. If that fills, then the score’s bust and the mark sees the con for what it is.

Preparations and counterplans

A con can be one protracted scene but often works better as a series of connected meetings, places and people. Often you’ll run this is kind of score against a powerful person or group, so scenes can involve meeting advisors and experts that the mark relies on and trusts. Answering their questions and soothing their suspicions can be a great way to win over the mark.

Such advisors and experts are part of the mark’s preparations to protect themselves. These will be a mix of defences in place as well as new ones set up to counter the crew should you prove troublesome. The higher Tier the mark, the better prepared they should be. This prep may be as a simple as a handy blade and a ferocious temper (harm), a few brutes as bodyguards (harm), a well-connected information broker (ticks on Suspicion clock), or even bluecoats bribed to waylay characters or cohorts (harm or reduced effect). More elaborate preparations might be having false witnesses ready to frame the crew to gain leverage (complication), snoops collecting evidence to uncover the crew’s true agenda (ticks on Suspicion clock), or even actual leverage they have unearthed to keep a character or cohort inline (blackmailed, extorted, seduced which can mean harm, heat, danger clocks, etc.).

Flashbacks can be a great way to deal with these preparations when they jump out to bite you. Otherwise, part of the score is discovering these preparations and neutralising them. This can be a good way to involve characters and cohorts with a diverse range of skills.

End

If the score ends with the mark highly suspicious, that leads to problems as the mark later realises they’ve been conned, usually -2 with factions hurt by the con. Ending with little or no suspicion might mean the mark never realises what actually happened, perhaps they feel they dodged a much worse situation and just want to forget the whole thing.

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code black hack

Black Seven by Zero Point Information

This is a hack of Blades in the Dark, inspired by the RPG Black 7. In Black 7, you play black operatives infiltrating facilities and doing Bad Things. It’s a game laser-focused on stealth action, where you make rolls to get to mission targets and take conditions depending how much attention you draw (Noticed) or how much cover you find (Exposed).

The Code Black Hack changes how to set the position of action rolls on scores in Blades in the Dark. Position reflects the alert level of nearby hostiles and has rules for how the scoundrels’ actions worsen or improve their position.

This hack gives the GM more tools to reliably telegraph trouble, follow through on threats, and covey dangers inherent in what the scoundrels do. It’s entirely possible you could get the same gameplay using the standard rules, mainly by how the GM judges position and effect. In a way, that is all the Code Black Hack is: guidance for the GM on how to set the position and the effect level of actions in a consistent way.

It is meant for when the crew faces hostile resistance that they want to avoid. Black 7 is all about stealth plans, so this is the most direct port into Blades. Think breaking into the HQ of a gang of thugs, rather than mugging a couple in an alley. The standard rules already work well for smaller scale confrontations.

I want to explain the Code Black Hack for stealth plans today. I’m some way along rejigging these rules for other kinds of scores, particularly deception plans, but I’ll talk about them another time.

Stealth plans

When to use

These rules assume that most scores occur in a single defined area, which can be quite large; for example, a building, an underground lair, a prison, a city block, a ship. The idea is the crew’s position and conditions will carry across their activities during the score as they move around within the larger area, whether it’s between rooms, buildings or streets.

However, some scores involve linked plans. Where there is a significant shift in the area of the score, like ‘sneaking around a noble’s estate’ to ‘smuggling stolen goods across the city’, then a new engagement roll may be called for to see how well the next plan starts.

Stop tracking the crew’s position and Noticed and Exposed conditions if there are no longer any hostiles in the area, the crew leaves unpursued, or the score otherwise ends.

Action roll

The action roll is essentially the same. The major differences are that:

  • on a 5 or less, a scoundrel always gets the noticed condition and possibly further consequences
  • riskier positions reduce the effect of stealth actions and don’t allow certain consequences to be resisted
  • all scoundrels and their cohorts share the same position while they are in the same area.
Hidden
Hostiles are not alerted that you’re nearby. You act on your terms.

Critical: You do it with increased effect.
6: You do it.
4/5: You hesitate. Avoid being noticed and try a different approach. Or else do it and you are noticed, and may also suffer lesser harm, a minor complication, have reduced effect.
1–3: You falter. Press on and you are noticed or avoid being noticed and try a different approach.

May resist being noticed, if not currently exposed.
Suspect
Hostiles are alerted you’re about. You act under fire. You take a chance.

Critical: You do it with increased effect.
6: You do it.
4/5: You do it, but there’s a consequence: you are noticed. You may also suffer harm, a complication, have reduced effect.
1–3: Things go badly. You are noticed. You may also suffer harm, a complication, lose this opportunity.

Stealth attacks have reduced effect. Cannot resist being noticed.
Hunted
Hostiles are closing in to attack you, alarms wailing. You go head-to-head. You’re in serious trouble.

Critical: You do it with increased effect.
6: You do it.
4/5: You do it, but there’s a consequence: you are noticed and hostiles attack. You may also suffer severe harm, a serious complication, have reduced effect.
1–3: It’s the worst outcome. You are noticed and hostiles attack. You may also suffer severe harm, a serious complication, lose this opportunity for action.

Stealth actions have reduced effect. Stealth attacks must be set up by another stealth action. Cannot resist being noticed.

Improving position

You can act to reduce Suspect to Hidden, but only if no characters or cohorts are Noticed or Exposed. You can only reduce Hunted to Suspect by eliminating all hunters present.

Consequences and Harm

Noticed

If a character or cohort is Noticed, they’re still in or near cover but have drawn the attention of hostiles in the area. Usually, you become Noticed as a consequence of an action roll. You may also be Noticed if hostiles take the initiative and find you, or simply because they see or know where you are. You are Noticed if you act without regard to stealth—like sword fighting, shooting, exploding shit, ramming things, intimidating people—and the position also goes straight to Hunted.

While Noticed, you can’t stealth attack; for example, you can’t ambush, snipe from hiding, lay a trap, or trick a guard. Essentially, Noticed is a dominant factor and overshadows the situation, so you always have zero effect, no matter what effort or fine items you bring to bear.

At Hidden or Suspect, if you fail to remove Noticed promptly, the position worsens. At Hunted, if you fail to remove Noticed promptly, you may suffer severe harm from hostiles attacking you. This harm may be a consequence of a roll, including on the same roll when you get Noticed, or simply because hostiles take the initiative and see or know where you are. Hostiles prioritise attacking those Noticed and Exposed, then those just Noticed, and then those just Exposed. Hostiles can’t attack you if you’re neither Noticed nor Exposed.

Exposed

If a character or cohort is Exposed, they haven’t been seen by hostiles, but they’re not in or near cover. You choose to become Exposed for increased effect. This increased effect remains while Exposed. You can’t resist or otherwise remove Noticed while Exposed, you must remove Exposed first.

Removing conditions

Noticed and Exposed are sticky conditions. Once you’ve gained one, you must act to remove it. Generally, that means making an action roll to evade or obfuscate. The player describes what the character does and what action rating they use, the GM sets the effect level. At Hidden, you may also resist being Noticed. At Suspect or Hunted, you may not resist: hostiles are too alert for you to easily recover from a mistake; instead, you may act to remove it. If you’re both Noticed and Exposed, you can’t resist or otherwise remove Noticed, you must remove Exposed first.

A cohort can’t resist consequences but may act to remove Noticed or Exposed. A character can use the teamwork move Protect to suffer being Noticed instead of a teammate or cohort. The protecting character may then roll to resist (if Hidden) or act to remove Noticed.

Harm

Harm can still be a minor consequence at Hidden and a consequence at Suspect. Not harm from hostiles, just harm following the fiction. For example, cutting through an electrified fence while Hidden is still dangerous. Because hostiles only attack you when you’re Hunted (and Noticed and/or Exposed), hostiles do severe harm (Level 3). Severe harm may also come from other sources, following the fiction. Harm may be resisted as normal, no matter the position.

The Score

Engagement roll

On 6, the starting position is Hidden.

On 4–5, the starting position is Hidden and each character and cohort starts either Noticed or Exposed, GM picks one for each.

On 1–3, the starting position is Suspect and each character and cohort starts either Noticed or Exposed, GM picks one for each.

Flashbacks

Flashbacks are just another way to get to a mission target and you may still gain Noticed as a consequence. For example, you might have successfully bribed the guard, but he’s so oafish about his new wealth that he tips off other hostiles that something’s awry and they notice you (at the same time as getting you closer to a mission target).

Teamwork

Everyone who wants to benefit from a group action must roll. If the leader decides to boost the roll’s result, then everyone who rolled gains Exposed. If the roll results in a consequence of gaining Noticed, then everyone who rolls is Noticed. If the current position is Hidden, each character may resist that consequence individually.

A setup move can be used to temporarily improve position. If a character is currently Hunted and under attack by hostiles, a setup action could improve their position (and only their position) to Suspect for their next action, which means they’d avoid consequences from being attacked for that action.

End

Stop using these position rules and tracking Noticed and Exposed conditions if there are no longer any hostiles in the area, the crew leaves unpursued, or the score otherwise ends.

flipping baszo baz

I use two big clocks on a score all the time, where crew races to fill one before the other. Recently though, I tried splitting up the main score clock into a bunch of little clocks and it worked great. I based it on ideas from Rob Donoghue’s long con setup: http://walkingmind.evilhat.com/2017/07/27/the-long-con/

Here’s how it went down: The Assassin’s crew, the Butcher Birds, wanted to flip Baszo Baz. It worked great.

The Friend: Attention clock 4-segments
Baszo was bestie’s with Chance, the Slide, so that filled the first clock for free. That opened up the Interest clock.

The Hook: Interest clock 4-segments
The crew did a series of linked plans simultaneously to flipping Baszo: forging an alliance between the Lampblacks enemies, assassinating one of the street gang leaders and their gang, the second-in-command of the Lampblacks and their master of coin. That filled 3 of 4 on the interest clock. Baszo knows things are going to shit, Chance just needed to show him that things were going to get even worse… tonight. The crew are Bound in Darkness so they communicated intimate details from each linked plan, so Chance could drop enough to hook Baszo enough to shift the conversation from much-needed camaraderie to the bleakest of business.

All this info obviously roused Baszo’s suspicions. How much was Chance actually involved in fucking over the Lampblacks? 3 tock on the 8-segments on the Suspicion clock. Though they resisted that, bringing the consequence down to 1 tick.

Filling this clock, opened up the next clock.

The Option: Confidence clock 4-segments
Now the conversation shifted about how Chance can help Baszo. Baszo thought Chance was doing little more than daydreaming, that Chance couldn’t actually help Baszo get out of the deep shit he’s in.

So Chance laid out that he wasn’t just a street urchin, but a part of the notorious Butcher Birds, assassins connected to some strange and brutal accidents happened to well-connected Nobles in Brightstone. That filled 2-segments.

Chance knew of Baszo’s commitment to the Empty Vessel cult, so he pushed on, revealing that his crew have the favour of Fortuna, a Forgotten God, who grants them the silence of Bellweather (Crow’s Veil). With a little wrangling, that filled the Confidence clock.

That opened up the final score clock as well as the options trust clock (which could reduce the consequences of the suspicion clock.

The Decision: Ambition clock 4-segments
I shortened this clock to only 4-segments. That meant the crew were racing to fill 9-segments faster than 8-segments of suspicion. It worked out to be a good size. For a longer-term con, yeah this could have easily been 6 or 8 segments, like Rob’s article suggested.

This is basically about Baszo making a decision right now. To walk away from the Lampblacks right now.

Chance plied his ambitions to seek revenge against the Red Sashes, the opportunities that the Butcher Birds have to fill the power vacuum, and the possibility of being a secret hand that can swoop down on the Crows and become ward boss after all. Throwing in a little occult membership, and Baszo was ruthless as ever.

So Baszo flipped.

Trust clock 4-segments
Chance never ticked any of these. He ran out of stress and things got extremely tight. But we’re keeping this open, as the opportunity to settle the suspicions Baszo has and bring him totally on board with the Butcher Birds.

dimmer sisters

Loving the writing in the book, especially the flourishes and filigrees throughout that build the world and the mysteries, such as:
…the moon appears to multiply across the sky, in pairs and trios of sibling lights, as if reflected on the facets of a vast crystalline dome. It is not known what causes these pale, dimmer sisters to appear…
I laughed out reading that, so good.

bloodletters audiobooks

I highly recommend watching the Bloodletters Youtube series, GMed by John Harper with a stellar cast of players.

I converted the whole video series into audiobooks so I can listen to them while travelling and doing chores. You can download each session as a separate audio-only file from here:
https://app.box.com/s/gplta5ov08abgzy1lh4liodcqtdtzghf

FYI the playlist of the Bloodletters Youtube videos:
https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLQQW3Ew6DKsN0-Iv7n7144RbqKKRneqHH

Enjoy!

her name is truth

The Lurk of #theHulls gets lost overindulging on their vice. Picking the Cutter, the player notes on the Cutter sheet the contacts Grace (an extortionist) and Mercy (a cold killer), which triggers this epic background pitch:
___________________________

When the gates failed, and the known world was thrust into darkness, it could be argued that no archetypal legacy suffered more than that of the knightly orders. The secular military remained, the criminal underworld blossomed like never before, and the collective bodies of natural and supernatural knowledge became the keystones of sanity amid the chaos. The Paladins, however, were strong in sentiment, rooted in tradition, and completely lacking in common sense. The poor, shining twits sacrificed themselves faster than it took the spirit world to realise they’d even existed. In the millennia since, most of them have become no more than ancestral mascots for a certain grasping type of family, who enjoy styling themselves as “Sir So and So, of Such and Such’s line”, but whose knightly virtues fall slightly short of the common tax clerk’s.

One such individual in contemporary Doskvol was “Sir” Hubertus Myebrow, scion of the dwindling Order of the Weeping Rose. As you might expect, Myebrow was iron-grey of hair and full of moustache, however, his resemblance to the Paladins of yore ended there. He was a narrow-shouldered, bandy-legged, pot-bellied buffoon whose only achievements, by the old knightly measure, were to marry a woman far above his station and to subsequently sire three remarkable daughters. Being the token religious sort, he would shrilly proclaim that each daughter bear the name of a virtue he held nominally dear. The first born was Grace. Willowy, ethereal and highly intelligent, Grace learned how to use her looks and poise to command the attention of others from a very young age. She would grow to use this to thrive in a world of petty tyrants like her father. Next, there was Honour, who had the misfortune to have been born with a large frame, a dour expression and a temper that, while slow to burn, would strike white hot when it did. Naturally, her lot in life was to be the loyal dog to Grace’s scheming cat. Finally, there was Mercy, whose birth cost the life of the girls’ mother. Beautiful, brilliant and fragile, Mercy was actually the product of an unholy union between Lady Myebrow and a daemon, whose vicious attentions were brought upon by the secret dealings of Sir Hubertus with a supremely powerful occult society. Never one to accept blame when it could be avoided with bluster and cruelty, Myebrow chose to publicly blame the infant Mercy for her mother’s death. In private, he would routinely pretend to lock her in a cell within the family keep, using her madness as the excuse. In these “asylum” periods, isolated from her sisters and the wider world, Mercy was trained to become a pawn of her father’s nefarious benefactors. Sweet, mad Mercy became a daemonic assassin.

Years went by and the elder sisters received their educations too. Grace, ever the favourite, was taught the arts of statehood and intrigue by an esteemed, shrewd and indebted cousin of high birth. In the absence of a son, and because she was not Grace, Honour was reluctantly given the right to learn the science of the battlefield under the Order’s master at arms. She was just shy of her seventeenth birthday when she was sent to war, and her father never shed a tear. Her record in tournaments and mock melee had been astounding, and Myebrow saw little value in a daughter whose talents weren’t those of the stateroom, ballroom or bedchamber. Perhaps she could die gloriously in battle instead.

The war lasted a long time, but Honour lasted longer. When she finally returned home, she was even more heavily muscled, hideously scarred, and sported the giant claymore of a Skovlan chieftain. To this day no-one knows how she got it, but there are plenty of educated guesses. Upon arriving at the keep, she was shocked to learn of her father’s death at the hands of some supremely powerful occult society. What’s more, Grace said, the assassin was their twisted, hateful little sister Mercy. She had been in cahoots with the blaggards the whole time.

Honour’s temper kicked in. The first thing she did was to forego the name her father had given her. She’d adhered to its knightly implications for as long as she’d been aware of herself. Even in her darkest hour, in the icy north with the bloodwind howling and the beasts gnashing, she’d repeated her name like a mantra against the cold. She’d lived up to it the way she’d been taught that their ancestors would have, and it had kept her alive and whole. Now her father was gone, and along with him, dare she admit it, the burden of proving herself to him. She experienced the desire for vengeance for the first time, and she experienced elation as she was able to give into desire. She named herself after that other virtue called Justice.

Grace ably took over her father’s businesses and trebled his assets within five years. She became one of the scariest crime bosses in Doskvol, feared by nobles, peasants and scoundrels alike. Justice went on the warpath, and together they eventually tore the empire of their father’s shady enemies apart. At the heart of it, they found Mercy. Alone, confused and terrified, Mercy babbled in tongues only a Whisper could decipher. Justice insisted they bring her home for questioning before ending her life. A Whisper was hired, and eventually Mercy’s speech was restored and the truth discovered. Their father had made a deal with evil people, had got their mother raped and killed, and had condemned the product of that union, their baby sister, into becoming one of the Cabal’s tools. Grace, enamoured of her newfound (and hard won) power, still wanted to kill Mercy in the name of the family. Justice wanted to spare Mercy, and burn everything else down.

The subsequent war between Grace and Justice was bloody. The end result is that the Myebrow family and all its holdings are gone. Grace is alive, but is a pale reflection of what she once was, and now uses her opportunistic skills to survive as the consort and unofficial consiglieri of another prominent crime boss. Her memory is long however, and her hit-list is short. Mercy has disappeared into the shadows. Rumour has it that she has become a cold-blooded killer for hire, whose only social connection is the sister who remained loyal to her.

That sister, the hulking, scarred woman with the barbarian chieftain’s claymore, she has found work too. She’s a Cutter now, and she’s changed her name one last time. She now answers to the name Truth.

sextant in shadow

An old bounty returned from the #theHulls past, lurking around their hidden lair, searching for the Sextant in Shadow. The Hull’s concern for their lair’s security struggled against their curiosity to know more about the Sextant. And now they’re finally on the verge of its discovery. This is what they can find.

Appearance
The Sextant in Shadow has a large curved piece, one-sixth of a circle, nearly two hand spans at its broadest, made from darkly etched bone and bronze. Mounted on this are numerous polished lens, mirrored silvers, gears, toggles, crosshairs, scaled markings and other paraphernalia. It is chill to touch, with a faint pulse felt if you hold your breath and still your own. It has a small Makers plate: Tyrnkerian Companions. A grubbier engraving shows it was once the property of Milos Atah. It appears flecked by shifting shadows, even in the strongest light.

Ghostfield observation: In the ghostfield, the other five parts of the Sextant can be seen. The whole can be likened to a helix of sextants, spiralling out at impossible angles from the physical sixth. Gathered from anecdotes, talking with ghosts and others who’ve seen it, and through direct ghostfield observation.

History
This must be one of the last remaining mechanisms crafted by Tyrnkerian Companions. Records of the Companions have been rare since ___. They were known as master alchemists and mechanists, and their creations are sought by mariners, occultists, scholars and criminals. This Sextant was salvaged from the ship Blood Rose when it floated close to Doskvol, abandoned and scuttled at sea. From there the Sextant made its way into the black market inventory of the Hive, where it disappeared some __ years ago, only to reappear recently in the hands of ___.

Info for the gathering
Rumour: The Sextant can be held and controlled by a living body or a ghost, in more or less the same manner. Gathered from stories about the Hive theft, the Blood Rose and other tall tales.

Experimentation: By correct adjustment and use (of its physical instrumentation) the Sextant can allow the user to attune with the ghostfield and to perceive spirits and ghosts. Gathered from exploring histories of the Tyrnkerian Companions, journals of users and scholars, and through direct experimentation.

Design research: Broadly, the Sextant is designed to find shortcuts in the ghostfield that can be traversed. Technically, this involves a non-Euclidean transformation of the planar angle between an object and a referential constellation. In practice this requires using the Sextant (along with astrotidal charts, etc.) to:
– sight a destination point in the physical realm, typically an object visible from a distance
– sight a reference point, such as a constellation submerged in a large body of water
– correctly adjust all six parts of the sextant, both the physical sextant and its five counterparts in the ghost field, and
– make calculations referring to tabulations and predictive charts.

The end result is effectively sighting/calculating electroplasmic pathways to the destination that skip the intervening space and can be traversed by ghosts and other disembodied things. Gathered from technical manuals, reverse engineering studies, crib notes and journals of use, and through extensive research and study.

Occult ritual: There have been occult rituals performed that used similar instruments as a key component, that led to aspects of forgotten gods manifesting in the physical realm. This required sacrificing souls and overcharging the instruments, typically destroying them. This is perhaps one reason such masterworks of the Tyrnkerian Companions are rare. Gathered from the inner circles of secret societies and cults, Faustian bargains with demonic beings, listening to predictions of doom and the end days.

Experience
Traversing the electroplasmic pathways calculated by the Sextant has been described as turning a corner that’s not there, walking through a reflection of the world, paper-thin, sharp, and vast.

gm best practices

Make the scoundrels awesome even in failure. Blame the circumstances—not the characters—when creating consequences or complications. Even a PC with zero rating in an action isn’t a bumbling fool. Here’s a trick for this: start your description of the failure with a cool move by the PC, followed by “but,” and the troublesome circumstance. You aim a fierce right hook at his chin, but he’s quicker than he looked! He ducks under the blow and wrestles you up against the wall.

I think the trick is spot on, but the example could be better. The fierceness of the punch is meant to convey how good the action is, but it still kind of looks like they borked it; they look slow or a poor shot. Arguably, the circumstances are the character is facing a faster opponent, which is legit, but also borderline close to the character isn’t competent at Skirmish.

When circumstances are to blame, the failure is because of something the character couldn’t have prevented on their current course of action. Perhaps the fighters are hit by bottles from the rowdy crowd making them slip or slow down, the map is stained or damaged making it difficult to read, there’s a hidden mechanism revealing the lock is more complicated to unlock.

This also gives a different way forward from the failure. Command to disperse the crowd, Tinker to restore the map, etc.

session 5 of the hulls

Notes
The crew seemed to get in their groove a bit more here. This score was a more straightforward burglary, in their hunting ground, so that might have helped. No factions to tip toe around, no grand plans to fret about.

The info gathering was much smoother and cleaner. Good rolls helped, but also I think I pulled back on how many obstacles the crew had to face to actually get to the info roll. That is part of what made the Red Lamp info gathering session so difficult.

I think I set the danger clock with too many segments; if I set it again I’d probably have gone with 4-segments instead of 6. In part, I set it high because I wasn’t sure how the engagement roll might have screwed up the clock. We haven’t finished the score yet so it may still cause problems.

I also think I failed to establish the patrol danger clock properly in the fiction, which I think took away some sense of its urgency.

A tricky bit was coming up with complications that didn’t reflect poorly on the Lurk’s burglary skills but more on happenstance and bad luck. I had to correct myself a few times before I got the tone right.

I’m also not sure about how well I set the position of the rolls. Most of the initial rolls were dominant, but on reflection I may have not emphasised the danger of the patrol enough, either from noticing the break-in or at least the time pressure of the patrol passing by.

Still, Rat ended this session with eight stress, one shy of trauma, from starting with 2, pushing himself once on entering Hagtrees and then taking 4 stress from avoiding level 1 harm: strain. So there’s pressure enough on the players for what is a pretty small job.

Gameplay
After considering a few options, the players decide they need coin to splash out on Rat’s (the Lurk) long term project to shore up Dust’s (the Slide) fake identity as a Customs Officer. The unquietness of Ashlynn Daava, the war in Crow’s foot, the bigger play against the losers of that war, all got ignored for the simplicity and directness of getting more cash.

For fortune rolled in their favour. A good opportunity for a spot of burglary has appeared in “the Drop” their hunting ground. A Fight Club is setting up tonight and only tonight in Painter’s Court, which has a fair view toward Brightstone in the North. The Fight Club moves around the city, all fights are to the death so disliked by Bluecoats, Spirit Wardens and the like. By the same token, the brutality attracts many, and the betting flows like butter all night.

Which brings us to the score: the Fight Club tries to run a tidy, quiet operation, relatively speaking. Once the fights are over, the money is usually sat in nearby shop or warehouse overnight, then moved during day trade under the cloak of the legitimate business. The crew plan to infiltrate the safe house overnight before the cash is moved. However, there are several artisan supplies and collectibles stores around Painter’s court that could be the safe house. So the crew go gather info to establish necessary the entry point detail for the plan.

During the day, Dust goes shop-to-shop in disguise as a foppish merchant, stirring up the shop attendants and keeping for unusual activity. These goes well (a five), but takes most of the day. This set up move help Talon (the Hound) to track any unusual characters that Dust points out with his Spite, his mind linked fine flying serpent hunting pet that he has a mind link with. This gives them good info about the safe house, though Talon takes a Devil’s Bargain that someone in the Fight Club crew is someone he knows from his past.

The entry point is Hagtrees, named after a desiccated ancient wood that looms over the entrance of this mirror, glass and crystal shop. It has barricaded shopfront, which is no doubt why it was picked, in large part to protect the valuable breakables inside from errant rocks or vagrants. Dust noted a large, obvious wall-mounted safe at the end of the shop.

Three clocks
o Entry into Hagtrees: 4-segments
o Painters Court patrol notices break-in: 6-segments
o Get your hands on the loot: 6-segments

The engagement roll is excellent, so there’s no surprises at the start of the score.

The crew saw the fights, Talon on nearby rooftops, Dust as a beggar in a dirty alley, and Rat mixing with the crowd. They easily follow the money through the various switches and subterfuge, and confirm it’s locked up in Hagtrees.

Hiding with his shadow cloak, in the dead limbs of the hagtree, Rat waits till the Painters Court clears out and calms to a whisper. Using Talon’s rooftop perch and Dust’s slovenly corner to time his entry best against the patrol, Rat cracks the hinges of the narrow venting window above the shop door. 2 ticks down on entering Hagtrees.

Unfortunately a new guard stepped out from a doorway, stretching and yawning after obviously having a nap, directly opposite Hagtrees, putting Rat into a more difficult position. In danger of spotting the Lurk carrying a windowpane or just the missing window, Dust used his beggar disguise to sway the guard into sharing a drink, laced with trance powder, which knocked the guard out and left Dust a slight confusion. Improved position for Rat and 1 harm on Dust.

Rat athletically manoeuvres himself through the long window, sliding the window pane after him since there was nowhere to leave it on the tree. Rat gets stressed out though, (4 stress, bringing him to 8) from the strain of dodging all the crystal and glass, keeping quiet, and carrying the cumbersome pane. But that’s the last two ticks for the Hagtree clock, so they’re in.

Rat moves straight to the wall safe, passing the mirrors covering the left wall and the crystal and glasses shelved on the right. But the big, obvious wall safe is fake, a chunk of welded metal. Not wanting to burn too much time searching by himself, he signals Talon. In swoops Spite, Talon’s mind-linked flying serpent. Leading a survey of the room, Spite and Talon quickly uncover a trapdoor under the Iruvian carpet. Rolling it back, Rat reveals a shining safe with a clip goblin triple wheel lock. Crack goes his knuckles. 2 ticks down on getting hands on the loot.

downtime session 4 for the hulls

Payoff: 0 coin
Heat: +7

Player actions
Dust (the Slide) ended with 7 stress from the info gathering last session. So she indulges her Vice by going to her good friend Nyryx, in nightmarket, and listening to some of the bizarre and controversial secrets of Nyryx’s clients. Dust erases 6 stress.

Word is that it wasn’t the Red Sashes but the Hulls who garrotted a Red Lamp guard. Dust digs up truth that the dead guard actually enjoyed deflowering maidens, Iruvian and otherwise. This, along with bribes for a couple of prostitutes (found with Nyryx’s help) to spread rumours that embellish on those truths, Dust reduces heat on the Hulls by 2.

Talon (the Hound) spends time gathering info on Ashyln Daava, the occult collector and Talon’s last bounty hunt before the Hulls, and why her ghost might be back haunting the Wrecks (the Shipwreck graveyard within which the Hulls have hidden their lair). Talon meets his friend Fitz of Dunslough, who is collector himself. A good details result on the info roll means Fitz finds in his ledgers that, around when Ashyln had a bounty placed on her from stealing from the Hive, there was an item withdrawn from a black auction, the Sexton of Shadows. Fitz guesses if she nabbed it, and stowed it their when on the run, she might have come back to retrieve it. When asked how, Fitz describes how it is know the Sexton can be held by either a body or a spirit.

Talon also reacquires an asset, Vixen the ex-railjack Whisper. In the case of reacquiring the services of someone already known, we agreed the quality determined by the roll would be interpreted as how motivated and interested Vixen would be in continuing to work with the Hulls. The roll in this case shows she’s remained standard quality Whisper.

Rat (the Lurk) decides to starts a long-term project to shore up Dust’s false identity as Officer Strathmill, in part to help the Hulls hold on to the turf they took from the Seaside Dockers. So an 8-segment long-term project clock: Plant records to establish the identity and life of Customs Officer Strathmill. Rat marks a tick off the clock by breaking into the office of a money lender and planting a forged credit history for Officer Strathmill.

Rat also reduces heat on the Hulls concerning the brawling and break-in at the Red Lamp. Rat bribes some nurses at a hospital burn ward, establishing an alibi that Rat was bed-ridden for days after the Red Lamp inferno and certainly in no fit state to strangle a swarthy guard in broad daylight. Heat drops by another 2.

Entanglements
They rolled gang trouble, but they don’t have any gangs or other cohorts so that meant no entanglements.

NPC factions
The war between Lampblacks and Red Sashes. A Red Sashes drug den and manufactory burns down, rumour has it was demon fire. This brings down the ire of the Inspectors, normally allies to the Red Sashes but growing increasingly agitated as the war escalates. 3 ticks toward the Lampblacks destroying the Red Sashes, boosted thanks to the help of the Whisper Twins.

Word has got out that the Lampblacks pulled strings with Ironhook Prison and secured early releases for some of the Lampblacks’ heaviest, including the Bathos Brothers and Melindra Waneheart. This much needed boost to the Lampblack rep came just in time, because they took a heavy blow when their ‘Bitter Talent’ brewery was found tainted after civilians and gang members started losing body parts after drinking the popular performance-enhancing beer.

The Foghounds tick down their Find a patron clock: 6 to 5. The Foghounds have been working on building trust with some of the ship captains the smuggle from, and it’s finally paying dividends. Word has it they got an invite to a party in Whitecrown. No doubt they’ll be spruiking tax avoidance services to the nobles that own man of the Leviathan and merchant ships.

session 4 of the hulls

In contrast with the drawn out, stressful info gathering last session, the score was neat and quick.

Rat (the Lurk) was the bait the unquiet dead Mr Posselthwaite into crossing Brightstone bridge. Then Talon (the Hound) was in position on top of building and, when the ghost finally appeared for a final taunt, dispatched the spirit with a single electro plasmic-charged bullet.

The efficiency of this was definitely in part to the particular skills of the Hound, the canny rolling of the Hound’s player, and a unfamiliarity on my part with how to handle ghosts fictionally and mechanically. Nevertheless, this efficiency was helpful to balance out some of the misgivings from last session, that it was all swings and roundabouts and that the game wasn’t death spiralling away from the big picture—a fear raised because of the feeling the crew was beginning to deal with entanglements within entanglements.

The rule I had missed applying was Stress & the Supernatural (p7):
A close encounter with a spirit or demon is a harrowing experience. By default, the standard effect is to either paralyze a person with fear or panic them into fleeing from its presence. A PC can choose to roll to resist the effect. Characters with lots of exposure to spirits, such as Whispers, Rail Jacks, and occult weirdos become less susceptible and only face fear or panic from exceptionally powerful entities.

This slip had two immediate effects. One, the Hound wasn’t really sure why they had bothered hiring a Whisper; he was the one with the electroplasmic bullets afterall. Two, Rat conversed with the ghost and Talon aimed and shot the ghost, and neither suffered any stress or risk of freezing/fleeing. We’ll definitely be applying that rule in future though.

But we’ve come up with a fictionally satisfying explanation for the rules mishap. How it went down last session is how the Hulls retell it, not how it really went down. The experience was actually nightmarish, so much so the crew only remember fragments, their minds painting over the harrowing details to make themselves look better, and feel better too. Of course, Vixen the NPC Whisper knows the truth of the matter, but it’s unlikely the crew want to hear it.

promises and expectations

After some info gathering went badly in Session 3 of #theHulls, my table had a discussion about the game and their expectations.

One player hadn’t expected the info gathering and the action rolls to be so arduous. Further, they felt that the crew sheet promised all kinds of high stakes, strategic factional play, but the game was drawing them into brawling in the dirt on the street.

There’s a few things to unpack here. I think it’s clear that as soon as an action roll is called for, the story can take nose dive into complications. If it’s just a fortune roll for info, then its pretty clean, but if you action roll with a trait then in some ways inevitable you’ll land with 7 stress before the real score begins. That’s all cool.

Part of my players’ expectations were set I think by the crew creation and how I paced introducing scores. You know the step where players pick the factions they are friends or enemies with, I think my players got a sense that the game would focus on strategic, goal-orientated play, setting faction against faction, and expanding the crew. That’s obviously an interest of my players, the Hulls are Ambitious. They also started playing the high-stakes strategy game from the outset, by cleverly avoiding Baszo’s question, and then manoeuvring control of a Tier 3 factions turf without attracting too ire. This may be why this info gather session felt like such a slowdown for them. They felt they were struggling in the weeds, fighting to survive on such small fry and the big game where they thought they were playing was so far behind. After all the actions by NPC factions, I think they felt like the big game was go to leave them behind just because they couldn’t open a door to find out how to nail a ghost who’s taunting them.

Part of this might be because of how I paced the initial score options. I probably didn’t emphasis how insignificant it is being Tier 0 compared to say Tier 2 of the Lampblacks or Tier 3 of the Seaside Dockers. It makes me wonder if focusing the first score or two on some basic burglary or robbery might have given them a better sense of their place in the criminal world. Maybe slowly building introducing the effect of their activity on other factions, more slowly revealing what other NPC factions are doing during their downtime. In part I think the players have felt overwhelmed by their options for scores and lack a sense of what activity is above their station. The turf grab was interesting but perhaps gave them a sense of momentum before they had established their roots. Again, by allowing them to wiggle out of Baszo’s question, I may have done them some disservice here.

I don’t know these are issue with the rules so much as about how I might have paced and set expectations better. Any tips on that would be welcome.

There was also questions about when Downtime can be triggered. The game gives the impression that the phases are a clear procedure, but in many ways there’s lots of wriggle room and space for captain’s calls. As the text describes, an info gather might be too big to do in one go. I also think that, like our session 3, info gathering might leave the crew in such a sorry state they need to recover before tackling the score or they’ll get squashed. Or, if its a time critical score, they much just have to walk away.

I’m also not really using the effect system, just calling standard effect almost all the time. Part of the problem is I don’t really understand, when I’m faced with a roll, why I would call something other than standard, especially when I’ve already decided what position they’re in. It kind of feels like I’m double punishing them if I set effect low as well position difficult or desperate.]]>

session 3 of the hulls

Info gathering:  what could’ve been a single attune roll, or even a two roll distract and pickpocket, turned into a eight-roll brawling, murderous, stressful, heat-attracting mess.

Here the players had a few options for their next score. There was a rather ripe burglary in their hunting ground, as a well-appointed household seemed to be leaving the premises unoccupied. They had further ideas for progressing their plan to steal Baszo Bas’s whisky supply and sell it back to him. But the immediate problem that drew their attention most was Rat (the Lurk) being haunted by the ghost of a Duskwall Councillor, killed when Rat overindulged his Vice for stupor and almost destroyed the Red Lamp, and taunting Rat with revenge. Plus they acquired a Whisper for the next score so ghost hunting made the most sense.

They decide on an assault plan, but haven’t any idea on the detail: a point of attack. Mainly because the ghost hasn’t materialised or been spotted. So they decide to go to the Red Lamp to gather info on the ghost, it’s death and other peculiarities like how Rat did not die in the inferno. He was so stupid at the time, he cannot recall.

The Red Lamp is an opulently appointed four-storey circular building with a golden red roof. After the leviathan blood inferno, it is only operating on the top two floors, accessed by external stairs guarded top and bottom. The lower floors are gutted, burnt by the caustic fumes and effervescence of the leviathan blood that infamously flooded its lower basement and crawled uncontrolled over everything up to two floors above ground.

It’s dangerous for the crew around here because the Spirit Wardens are seeking the spirits that escaped this inferno, as well as someone to pin the blame.

To gather info, Vixen, the hired ex-railjack Whisper, tries attuning to the ghost field here, but it’s dirty and hazed grey. She finds prints of the Councillor here and there, matching those on Rat, and clear signs that the Councillor is lost and looking for his way somewhere, but nothing more. A poor roll result meant incomplete info.

Players decide to try another approach, to survey the scene within the basement for more info. Unfortunately, the windows are boarded up and the main doors locked. However, they spot keys on the guard at the foot of the stairs and decide to steal them.

Dust (the Slide) assists Rat’s pick pocketing by distracting the guard by requesting access to the burnt interior as railjack cleanup crew. Or something similar. Rat finesses the key, but the guard doesn’t buy Dust’s shit and calls two guards down to prod the three scoundrels aways away from the premises.

Once those guards eventually return upstairs, and only the single guard remains on street-level, Rat leads a group action to prowl into the alcove where the main doors are in shadow and off the street a little. Unfortunately, it goes poorly, and things get desperate as the lone guard is still alert for their return and comes to investigate “a noise” and Rat is fumbling to find the right key on the ring for the door. Dust quickly flips her cloak and becomes her Red Sashes disguise that she prepared earlier and leaps out to confront the guard, accusing him of deflowering her younger sister. In fact the guard doesn’t seem surprised and rather knocks Dust over with a vicious thrust to her neck. Dust resists a wound and ends that foray with 7 stress.

Instead of using the distraction to continue the unlocking, Rat ambushes and garrottes the guard, dragging him into the alcove. They get extra heat, as a baker putting out old bread locks eyes with Rat as the Bell Tower rings the guard’s death.

They now enter the ground floor of the gutted and burnt Red Lamp, hiding the dead guard, and survey the place. They find a ledger, with pages hastily torn out. With a bit of charcoal rubbing, they identify the patronage of Nigel Postlethwaite, hailing from Brightstone. Rat recalls the name and they settle on the Brightstone bridge, north of Crow’s foot, as (the plan detail) where they will jump the unquiet ghost.

Phew.

Next session, the execution of the plan is dramatically more straightforward, thanks to the appearance of the Hound, and they recover from this info gathering in a much-needed downtime.

downtime session 2 for the hulls

Payoff: 2 coin, mainly from loose cargo they found tidying up the warehouse.
Heat: +2

Entanglements
Usual Suspects: One of the Rat’s (the Lurk) friends in the nobility, Roslyn Kellis, gets picked up by the Bluecoats after she’s caught on a gondolier, loaded with contraband. Rat pays of the Bluecoats to get Roslyn off before they question her too hard.

Extra entanglement from Devil’s bargain
Unquiet dead: The ghost of Ashyln Daava, who as an occult collector and Talon’s last bounty and the one around which the Hulls formed, has been sighted amongst the ship’s graveyard the crew now calls home, searching for something.

Rat overindulges his Vice Stupor, through imbibing refined leviathan blood procured at the Red Lamp in Silkshore. Rat becomes a little unhinged, somehow getting to the distillery area underneath the Red lamp and opening up the still of leviathan blood, burning the first two floors of the Red Lamp and incinerating the body and spirit of an unknown number of patrons and workers in electroplasmic inferno.

Extra Entanglement from Rat’s overindulgence
Unquiet dead: The spirt of Nigel Posselthwaite, Duskwall Councillor and blood addict, escaped the Red Lamp inferno and has been trying to find his way home to Brightstone. In the meantime, he has been haunting Rat, taunting him that he knows the truth about Red Lamp, whispering the names of those he killed, and he will find a way to have him punished for his crimes.

Because of these hauntings, Rat Acquires an Asset: Vixen, an ex-railjack Whisper, to help them handle the ghosts themselves.

Dust Reduces Heat back to zero. Something to do with quelling the rumours about the Hulls stealing turf from the Seaside Dockers.

And finally, Dust Gathers Info through his friend Nyrx about rumours Baszo’s Whisky supply. Turns out, the Foghounds are going out to ships, particularly Skovlan merchant and refugee ships, before they reach the safety of Duskwall’s harbour, to unload contraband and bring it ashore and avoid customs. How do they protect themselves outside the fence? Anyhow, the Seaside Dockers won’t much like this when they find out.

NPC factions
Seaside Dockers have 4 segment clock: Take back North Dock turf.

The Foghounds seize turf from the Canal Dockers, friends of the Hulls, after failing to get North Dock. It’s an old Ink Manufactory on the South side of Crow’s Foot.’ And they have a 6 segment clock: Find a patron.

The war between Lampblacks and Red Sashes swings heavily toward the Red Sashes. Calling in a favour from the Seaside Dockers, the Red Sashes raid a Lampblack’s brothel, disappearing all who worked there and leaving a trail of damage. 2 ticks toward the Red Sashes destroying the Lampblacks.

Under increasing pressure, Dust hears word Baszo Baz is doubling down on favours. Soon he’ll realise her soothing words ain’t winning him the war. So another tick on the clock toward Baszo Baz demanding an answer to whether the Hulls with him or against him?

Furthermore, the Lampblacks Acquire an Asset: the well-known Whisper twins “Kain and Tory”, who are said to have been passengers on an electric train who took down a demon that had overcome the trains Railjacks.

There was an extra Action by one of these Factions from a Devil’s Bargain, but the crew haven’t discovered info about that yet.

session 2 of the hulls

I’m running an online game of Blades in the Dark using the Quick Start rules with three players, though often only two can attend.

Session 2 of #theHulls

The players immediately launched into long-term strategising to play factions against factions. Given they dodged Baszo’s question, they make their own work and decide to steal turf. This ends up being a disused dock of the Seaside Dockers, that’s been largely disused since a leviathan ship wrecked at the pier end.

Deception plan, they’re dropped off in a fog on the North Dock dressed as Customs Officers from the Ministry of Transport. The hope is the Seaside Dockers have the place not well guarded, on account that word as they’re busy helping the Red Sashes out.

A poor engagement result means, unfortunately, the Foghounds have the same idea and they spot four short shallow hulled dinghy hidden under the dock.

I setup three clocks
– Convincing the Dockers, Clock: 6 segments
– The Docker calls reinforcements, Clock: 4 segments
– Foghounds start shooting, Clock: 4 segments

Rat and Dust hear a loud conversation in the warehouse at the head of the dock. Rat (the Lurk) gets on the roof, but only because Dust (the Slide) creates a distraction by loudly banging the door open in full Customs Officer disguise.

Inside there is one swarthy, huge Docker (Clave) sitting at little card table playing cards and largely ignoring the four well-armed Foghounds confronting him.

The Foghounds leader (Moon) sends one of Foghound to dismiss the intruder. Dust (aka Officer Strathmill) begins convincing them he’s an official representing the Strathmill’s, the noble house that owns the shipwrecked Leviathan Hunting Ship sunk at the end of North Dock. She casts an appraising eye on the opposition, and summarily shouts “Stand down men!”, glancing at the roof. There’s shuffling and answers in return thanks to Rat’s acrobatic skill, adding +effect to convincing the Docker (and by corrollary the Foghounds) that Dust has significant backup. 3 ticks toward Convincing the Dockers. The Docker stops playing cards.

The Foghounds look trigger happy, trying to decide whether to start shooting or back out. 1 tick toward the Foghounds start shooting.

Rat has a flashback about reaching out to his connections with the Inspectors and asking for a couple of Inspectors to take a short detour on their patrol past North Dock at this time. A complication from the flashback roll made most sense as another tick toward the Foghounds start shooting.

Anyhow, back in the present, two Inspectors walk past, stopping asking the Custom Officer still in the doorway if he’s having any trouble. Inspector Booker takes a particular interest in Dust’s (fake) family name and a case she is working on. Accepted Devil’s Bargain: Inspector Booker wants Customs Officer Strathmill (Dust in disguise) to drop by her office in White Chapel to discuss a case.

Anyway, with a Critical Success, Dust fills out the clock Convinces the Docker (and the Foghounds by corollary) that she’s the real deal and has a legit claim on North Dock.

The Foghounds were close to shooting the place up, but the Docker stands up and gentleman-like escorts the Foghounds off the premises. The Docker agrees to relay terms to allow a small outfit “The Hulls” use of the premises as they working as agents for the Strathmills.

session 1 of the hulls

I’m running an online game of Blades in the Dark using the Quick Start rules with three players, though often only two can attend.

Session 1 of #theHulls

The Hulls have a hidden boathouse lair in an overturned hull in a shipwreck graveyard, in the canal North of Crow’s Foot.

The Hulls formed when Talon, the Severosi Hound, followed the bounty he was hunting, his last bounty as it turns out, to the ship graveyard where Rat and Dust were holed up. Their first job was taking down this bounty together.
Before the Hulls, Rat and Dust, the Akorosi Lurk and Iruvian Slide, worked together as picker and fence.

First scene straight from the QuickStart. Dust knows Bazso, so she’s brought a good whisky she says she obtained from an Iruvian smuggling whisky into Duskwall. She manages to convince Bazso that the Hulls will be more useful as a neutral party in his war with the Red Sashes. Lured by the promise of whisky, Bazso grudgingly puts his question on hold.

But I start the 4-segment clock: Are the Hulls with him or against him?

Also the Slide took the Devil’s Bargain: You are a pawn in a bigger play. Next downtime an NPC faction takes an extra downtime action and extra advances to their project clocks.

See the various clocks, questions, bargains, etc. on our virtual table here: https://pinitto.me/n/thehulls#