Was talking about starting a Blades game with some friends on a discord and a buddy mentioned that he’d rather not play straight-up evil. Doskvol is a big corrupt mess, that shouldn’t be too hard.
Here are a couple of thoughts.
The 8th Family
You are one of the oldest families in Doskvol, born from a marriage between miners and fisherfolk that ended a bloody feud between the two original factions back when the North Hook wasn’t the Dark Gem of the Empire.
After a disagreement with the Lord Governor he destroyed your clan, killed the matriarch, sent the children into orphanages, and somehow he disappeared the 8th Tower. It is a decade later and few remember that your family ever existed, blotted out by an Imperial Arcane curse. You’ve gathered at an abandoned house the family once owned to form a crew and get your revenge.
Framed for a crime you didn’t commit…
Your commanding officer framed you all for a crime during the Unity War and you just got out (broke out?) of a floating military prison hulk. You know your CO returned to Doskvol but where are they now? What faction are they in charge of?
Time to secure your base, find the bastard who put you all away and get even…
The Weeping Lady is the one member of Doskvol’s original pantheon who the Imperial Church has been unable to destroy. You are the last of her True Cult, not a sanitized monastery or an Imperial nunnery. Uncover the Weeping Lady’s lost history, paved over by architects and Imperial Whispers.
You are a team of rogue scientists, traversing the Ghost Field and testing ghosts and arcane energies with one unifiied goal:
You are going to fix death.
When the sky broke and ghosts flooded the world it opened the door for the corruption you see all around you. Fix death and the rest of the world will figure itself out. It is going to take more resources than anyone could afford and so, you’ve all turned to crime, taking what you need to make the world a better place.
We just finished up our Blades in the Dark – Bluecoats campaign (playlist embedded at the bottom of the post). We rocked 5 cases in 18 sessions – The Ghoul Case, the Wizard’s Jar Case, the Unity Case, Roric’s War and The Last Case. The cases touched on all of my favorite bits and pieces of Doskvol factions and history (except for The Foundation and Tangletown – missed those). I’m putting my BitD book on the shelf very satisfied (but definitely interested in getting back to Doskvol).
I wasn’t sure how to prep for a case when I first started. I knew I wanted concrete facts in the cases but what I found is with crime cases, like with any bit of world-building it helps to have white spots on the map and make peace with the fact that players are going to find bits of the case that I had never planned for. I wanted a shape to the case with hard and fast facts but with space for everyone, including me, to discover new things about the crime.
I knew I wanted each case to revolve around some part of Doskvol history. The Undying Emperor’s immortality, the Unity War, the lightning fence, Roric’s murder as a domino effect for the factions going to war and finally back to the Emperor.
The Ghoul Case
Here’s the brainstorming e-mail I first sent to players who weren’t in the game:
Friends who have walked the streets of Doskvol, In a few weeks I’m going to start GMing a streaming Blades game with a few friends (Stras and Lauren) in which they will be playing a Severosi Investigator and a Doskovol local Bluecoat who will be investigating a new drug hitting the market.
I’m not so much about the whodunnit as about having this drug end up touching the rich and the powerful in Doskovol.
Our inspirations are The Wire and True Detective. We’re using the awesome Bluecoats crew book in which the turf map is more of an investigative map.
I’d make this a forum post but I don’t want Lauren or Stras to see it.
Here’s my idea:
The drug allows the user to exit their body as a ghost and come back after a while. The first doses might just be a party trick and a fun recreational trip for rich folk.
But when they start to run out they’ll start cutting the stuff with waterd down leviathan’s blood because a quick scan would reveal that it is an unknown distillation of demon’s blood and hey, leviathans are demons so who cares? Demons are demons, right?
Wrong. Those trips will go very poorly, creating a tentacled monstrosity of a ghost. The mix only works if the 3 demons are from different affinities. The leviathans’ blood will fuck that balance right up.
This drug is based on the delicate chemical mix the Immortal Emperor used to sever his soul from his body and become immortal while still keeping his will. The first batches of the drug were potent because it was made from different demons, of different elemental affinities the emperor caged out the the world. Someone bled 3 different ancient, caged demons, mixed the blood, did some ectoplasmic process to it that when injected into a living human severs their ghost from their body while leaving the body intact.
The Emperor isn’t going to say what the drug is but wants to know who the fuck is taking it. The Master Warden, Lord Governor or one of the older families might know what it is and will try to take it to become immortal and eventually replace the emperor.
There was a batch years ago that hit the city and then disappeared (maybe Scurlock or the Dimmer Sisters have it now). This batch is to tie the whole thing to the Bluecoat character with a scoundrel background, whose 0 tier crew tried to get involved with this original shipment and got in way over their heads, leading to the gang getting destroyed.
The more recent batch will be from a Severosi supplier who grabbed the blood from 3 bound demons out in the world where only Severosi could go but 3 different kinds of demons could be bled in the city if someone was smart and connected enough to figure out how to get that blood.
Maybe Tycherosi blood could be used with more modern ectoplasmic brewing?
I’m thinking that I’ll link the Red Sash/Lampblack war will be about this drug.
Here’s the timeline:
847 years ago, the Immortal Emperor and his Whispers imprison every demon they can lay their swords to and perfect a formula to sever one’s soul from their body, leaving only their will.
They hide the formula in a place deep and dark, far from any settlement or city.
12 years ago, some asshole finds the formula but can barely make sense of it – heads towards civilization and it is a long trip.
10 years ago, the formula hits the streets of Doskovol and scoundrels decide it is a drug and try to sell it. Powerful underworld figures descend and snatch it up and kill any rumors of its existence.
Now, the Emperor has received evidence that the formula has hit the streets, that it is his based on his formula and decrees an Imperial Mandate in order to find all evidence of his drug, anyone who sold it and anyone who took it.
Am I over-thinking this?
Thoughts and suggestions appreciated.
Some of this got tossed or changed or ignored. the timeline more or less remained intact, give or take.
What I learned is that an investigative case is like any world-building. Having a foundation of prep can helpful but don’t forget to leave white space on the map. The players will look into leads and corners of the case that I never considered. Sometimes I’d realize that an NPC was tied into this mess later on. The details of the case, the direct whodunnit remains the same but some details can shift around.
This case was directly inspired from re-watching the first season of True Detective after the third season came out. I wanted my cases on Doskvol to be relevant to the current going’s on but also linked to bits of history. This one was linked to the Undying Emperor becoming immortal. The next one would be linked to putting up the lightning fence.
The Wizard’s Jar Case
I didn’t write a brainstorm e-mail for this one, which surprises me. I wonder if I just knew that Sean or John (who were included in the other brainstorming e-mails) might be called in to play a visiting Spirit Warden.
It was a weird case with an antagonist I really enjoyed. I wanted someone whose job was destroyed by the lightning fence in the same way that lampblacks were turned to crime by the coming of eletryc lights. What was Doskvol like before the fences went up?
John came in as a Spirit Warden; it felt like when FBI agents stopped by Baltimore PD in The Wire.
The founding family’s towers were already established in the last case; it was cool to think of them as where warding stones were kept, that the city huddled under those towers to keep them safe from ghosts and monsters that might saunter out of the Deathlands. But now we have the much more reliable Lightning Fence and the Ward-Keepers were rendered useless.
Also in this case I pulled in the Archive of Echoes, an easily forgettable line that both setting gurus, Stras and John had forgotten about.
Next up, the next big sign-post in Doskvol’s history – the Unity War, especially how the war ended, with the Queen of Skovlan and her consort being killed by an assassin.
Who was that assassin? Were they still alive? Who trained them?
The Unity Case
Here’s the pitch:
The Game’s Intro
The Lord Governor calls the team in because a colleague of his, retired military, has called in a favor. This lady was counter-insurgency during the Unity War and she was responsible for putting the spy in place who eventually ended the war by killing the King and Queen. She thought the assassin was dead but a few men were killed in a shoot-out last night and he thinks it was her killer.
The Who and the Why It, in fact, is her assassin. She’s in Doskvol because this is where the best Skov resistance is currently being mounted. Ulf Ironborn and the Grinders are the best Skov resistance fighters that are left (yeah, there isn’t much left). The shoot-out happened when she tried to meet Ulf and an attempt was made on Ulf’s life by the Billhooks and the assassin had to shoot his way out.
Why is this assassin trying to contact the resistance?
Because she has a secret. She has the Queen of Skovlan, the 9 year old daughter of the king and queen who they kept secret from the world during the war. They agreed to be killed so they could end the war and save their daughter to fight another day.
She is looking to drop the kid off with Ulf because the Ironborn’s dedication to the Skov throne is legendary.
The Handler is riddled with guilt. She is the only agent of her’s who survived the war and yeah, she ended the war but still, everyone else she put in harm’s way is dead. She’s a hot mess and honestly just wants to find her only surviving agent and allow her to retire to safety.
The Handler’s also a smart operator and can help them maneuver around the Imperial government if they decide to go that route (and if the handler doesn’t vice herself to death).
They can go to the bar and talk to the people who saw the shooting. It is a Skov bar and they managed to keep Ulf’s name out of the whole thing when the Bluecoats came through and did a half-ass job interrogating them.
They could also talk to the Billhooks, who are far more dangerous than the Lampblacks. They could also talk to the Billhook’s leader who is in Ironhook.
The assassin was a Crow’s Foot orphan, so her records are sketchy at best. Her kid-brother was Roric, so if they figure that out before she finds out that Lyssa killed Roric (clock will be ticking) they can stake out Lyssa and try to catch her that way.
She is a super-bad-ass spy-assassin, definitely taking inspiration from Killing Eve.
More of this stayed relevant and I had clocks in my notes. I made the queen a bit younger, toying with the idea of making her much older but in the end I’m glad she was young. There weren’t many children in this campaign.
Stras and Lauren really gave the assassin a wide berth, giving her a real mystique. Maybe it was something I did in describing her and her ability to do violence. I thought about giving her some arcane edge, some kind of weird ghost field shit, storing ghosts with relevant skills and memories in her head but I liked the idea of a highly trained killer. It kept the case grounded and kept a handle on the Whisper Effect.
What is the Whisper Effect?
The Whisper Effect is how Blades in the Dark games turn from gritty crime games to epic fantasy as the Whispers push harder on the boundaries of magic and arcane science in the setting. On one hand, I love it and after running a few campaigns in this system and setting, I think I’ve got a better handle on this stuff than I had in the past but gritty is fun too.
The Roric War
The Hive and the Unseen divvy up the gangs and crews of Doskvol in order to make war on one another. Roric’s death is often seen as the spark that lit this fire.
I’ve got a jamboard with the gangs who have been divvied up on either side and some clocks. I’m not clear why the Silver Nails would be on the Hive’s side – thinking on that. Could be the Hive realized they needed more muscle and threw a ton of money at them. Or maybe I’ll find it more interesting to keep them neutral and see who can successfully woo them.
The Skov gangs are still up for grabs. Neither side took them in because they didn’t want to have to smooth over the racism within their factions in order to get gangs to work with them.
The Red Sashes and the Lampblacks are sitting this out because they just finished up a costly war but as things get grim, each side will put terrible pressure on these gangs to join, especially as they each try to profit from the chaos.
I’m thinking that this might be the next case after the Unity Case – An Imperial Mandate to chill this war out after a fight in Gaddoc station led to important Imperial shipments being damaged and/or delayed.
I’m thinking that the Bluecoats tend towards neutral on this but there might be precincts bought to one side or the other as the war drags on. I’ll also add a map to the jamboard, maybe figure out which districts will be controlled by which side and which are total battle zones where foot soldiers are vying for control.
The Hive Successfully Court Lord Scurlock 6 part
They know they need someone to lead their arcane efforts if they are going to succeed; this will likely mean Scurlock is brought into the Hive as a full partner. Once he’s on board they can begin a long clock to try and figure out who the Unseen actually are.
The Lost Decimated 4 part The Foghounds Decimated 4 Part
Both are Tier 1 gangs and seen as weak links, easy targets for the other side.
Hive’s prized Dagger Isle galleon burned to the water line 8 part clock This is a bigger, more ambitious operation for the Unseen.
Unseen Safe House Uncovered 8 part clock This is the Hive’s ambitious operation.
First, a prominent building 4 part Second, a city block, 6 part Third, a district burns, 8 part
First to purchase an Iruvian War Hull
Hive 8 part Unseen 12 part
I figure this is an easier clock for the Hive because of their smuggling background. The Iruvians are curious to see their new tech in action.
Spirit Wardens are overwhelmed by all this death 6 part Feral ghosts hunting in the streets, what a mess.
Dividing up the gangs into two sides under the Unseen and the Hive was so easy it almost seemed as if John Harper designed the death of Roric to escalate to this all along, a testament to how much I enjoy taking Doskvol’s setting info (factions and their clocks) and making it my own.
As a case, it was a bit odd. I was asking them to be more street diplomats than investigators. If I were to do this one again I would’ve had the top brass putting more pressure on them to make fruitless arrests, the Doskvol version of “drugs on the table” from The Wire. As it was, they had a pass to pursue the case however they wanted.
The Last Case
A Floater in the Canal A dead cultist is pulled from the canal and when the Bluecoats find papers on the body that look like plans to assassinate the Undying Emperor; an Imperial Mandate is issued immediately and Inspector Maia Tui and Sergeant Drav Aran are called in.
It is a few weeks before the Undying Emperor is going to arrive in Doskvol to drum up support for his upcoming war in Iruvia. He sends the Captain of his Quicksilver Guard to watch over the case and make sure the cult is crushed.
On one hand, I want a stone-cold whodunnit. Stras has mentioned that he wanted a murder case and this is kinda a murder case.
The murder is a set-up. The conspiracy to kill the Undying Emperor is all throughout his Quicksilver Guard, including the Captain(inspired entirely by Sean’s upcoming supplement, Broken Crown).
The conspiracy discovered this cult and supported it in order to have the perfect red herring. The cult was supported by a very well-to-do family in Doskvol who want to see the Undying Emperor fall so they could divert attention from the actual conspiracy at work as they put together pieces they have worked at for generations into place.
The cultist was killed by an Imperial Whisper-Assassin and part of the conspiracy who scrubbed the ghost (or maybe just futzed with it to cause it to go incomprehensibly feral faster).
Can they uncover that this is a ruse? Can they uncover the conspiracy and see how far up it goes? Will they warn the Undying Emperor and keep to the status quo or will they let him die or will they help him get killed and change the world?
Dreams of Kotar Maia Tui took damage when she Attuned to a hand depression created by the Hand of Kotar during the current gang war. She took level 2 harm, Spirit Burns. I have no idea what that means. I have a vague idea that Kotar was kind of a Spellcasting Rogue/Grey Mouser-like pal of the Undying Emperor’s back when he was a powerful sorcerer.
I’m very tempted to have the healing of that wound bring about a vivid dream sequence in which Lauren and Stras play out a rollicking fantasy adventure about the then-mortal Undying Emperor and Kotar being played by Stras and Lauren – showing how the breaking of the world happened.
I’m not exactly sure how I’d do that. Thinking on that a bit.
I wrote this before Roric’s War ended and changed things or even folded some of these ideas into things that happened in that arc. I had this odd idea of stopping the game and playing some World of Dungeons with Stras and Lauren with Lauren as Kotar and Stras as the Undying Emperor but that felt wrong. Kotar and the Emperor ended up being a fairly short dream sequence, rather than hijacking a whole session using an entirely different rules set (a gambit I’m glad I didn’t use because it makes me distinctly uncomfortable).
The way the Last Case shook out was satisfying. In a way it was an odd choice. We didn’t end on a decision, more of a decision to walk towards making a decision. It was understated and I dig it.
The Real XP are the Friends You Made Along the Way
I’ve seen this cycle before, where online acquaintances become friends through gaming. It continues to be delightful and surprising. Lauren and Stras have become friends, dear friends and that is really nice.
It isn’t clear to me how gaming does that. Meeting with them every other week (give or take) during these past months has been amazing. It was a crazy year for me, the biggest shift of my adult life – moving from NYC to upstate with a huge career change. Meeting up with Stras and Lauren online as a kind of consistent social touchstone was important.
Gandalf in the Midfield
Stras and I were chatting between games and for some reason we ended up talking about soccer and playing midfield and gaming. Midfield is about doing a little bit of everything, about stepping up and making the big stop or big shot when needed but mostly supporting your fellow players and making them look good.
Without Stras’ system mastery this game would not have happened. Having a player who knows the system and the setting cold was a huge boon. Having Stras play the Doskvol-born cop and Lauren play the Severosi immigrant trying to figure out this corrupt, alien landscape was the way to go.
This isn’t even mentioning Stras’ OBS expertise that allowed the game to be streamed and recorded.
Playing cops is complicated. I can easily see how a Bluecoats campaign could used to say really shitty things behind the facade of fantasy.
Sometimes I’d have NPC’s say so.
I want the players to be able to have a shot at accomplishing whatever they attempt but what happens when the game goes beyond what can be done with a badge. I didn’t think they could change any real corruption within the system. The only reason it worked is because I think Lauren and Stras and I agreed on the politics of it all.
Streaming changes the dynamics of the game. I don’t want the game to change but it just does. We had a lovely dozen or so people who would join us in chat and that was really nice. They were engaged and into it. The last bit of the game was entirely changed by an amazing person in chat who deftly reminded me that a key death at the end of the campaign would’ve caused the bells at Bellweather Crematorium to ring. That wasn’t the only bit of lore chat remembered and reminded us about.
Once I couldn’t think of an entanglement and someone in our chat came up with an amazing idea. I like being able to model that kind of thing and hopefully, take some of the anxiety and mystique out of not coming up with a cool idea on command. It happens and it isn’t the end of the world. I am thrilled that not only the amazing and dynamic choices we all made were recorded but also the messy stuff, the mistakes and the occasional blanks. Gaming isn’t perfect and that is okay.
Our Bluecoats Investigative game (playlist here) had two more cases left. Roric’s War and The Last Case.
I knew I wanted Roric’s War to be a gang war across all criminal factions of Doskvol, threatening to spill over across all factions if things get out of control. Roric’s death was the start of the Lampblack/Red Sashes war and I wanted to escalate that situation.
Looking over the criminal factions and putting them into two sides of a city-wide war was really easy. The Hive on one side and the Unseen on the other; the rest just fell into place. Yes, Roric was the fuse but the real situation was two powerful criminal enterprises that were ready to find out who ruled the Dusk.
This is what my little map looked like at the start.
The Hive was low on magic, so I had them courting Lord Scurlock.
The Foghounds and the Lost were clearly the weak at the edge of these criminal herds, so the wars started with each side trying to destroy them.
I kept the Lampblacks and Red Sashes as neutral because they had just finished a costly war and I reckoned that both sides would aggressively recruit them later. Ulf Ironborn and the Grinders were neutral because neither side wanted the political liability of the most marginalized people in the city (for now) but that would change was the war took its toll and boots on the ground became more of a priority.
The powers-that-be don’t care if the scoundrels murder one another in the streets but when a bomb goes off in Gaddoc Station, that is what got the Lord Governor to write up an Imperial Mandate and get them into the mix.
Looking back, a bomb site isn’t a great place for an investigator but it worked out alright. I might’ve started with a straight up murder getting the law involved but maybe not. It worked out fine. This could be me over-thinking it.
Other than the bomb, there were plenty of leads because everyone was involved. They went to the Silver Nails, the gang they had the closest relationship with. Their mandate was a bit vague; they were charged with ending the war. That means there is no real crime to solve.
Looking back, I might’ve had the Lord Governor be more aggressive with suggesting incarceration as a primary tool to end this mess. The Doskvol version of drugs on the table from The Wire. “I want criminal leaders in manacles,” he might say, putting pressure on the team to not only end the war but put crime lords in Ironhook. I don’t think that the Lord Governor’s suggestion is a good idea; I think it would’ve put inexperienced people in charge of gangs and led to more reckless acts of violence.
As it was, Stras and Lauren were smart and used diplomacy to eradicate the Unseen’s forces, causing them to have to sue for peace. They got the Dimmer Sisters to switch sides, finding out that they didn’t take the Hive up on their offer because they didn’t want to answer to Scurlock, whom they knew was being courted and so they got Scurlock to sit this out and seek out revenge against the Circle of Flame, who tried to light him on fire with the Hand of Kotar. They got the Wraiths off the board by getting them safe passage and a safe place to live in Imperial City.
One war-related fire broke out, burning one of the Six Towers, leaving it a burned out husk, like a burned bone shard on the Doskvol skyline. Is there any game of Blades in the Dark where one of the Six Towers isn’t decimated?
This is what the map looked like at the end.
The Foghounds and the Lost are upside down; that was how I noted that they had been destroyed.
During downtime, I picked factions for a clock and rolled those dice. If two factions were working together, I’d have the larger faction roll their dice and the smaller faction offer a helping die. This provided action and movement as both sides moved towards concrete goals. I did this privately, narrating only what the players would have heard about.
At one point a fire broke out as the Hive was courting Lord Scurlock, so I decided that it was the Circle of Flame using the Hand of Kotar to mess up that diplomatic meet-up in an abandoned tower. At another point they visited the Hive Galleon and saw a Dimmer Sister floating above a building in the Ghost Field, taking notes on the coming’s and going’s of the ship so they could burn it into the harbor later.
The cool thing about this mess is it gets everything into play and on the board. It dumps the toy chest on the floor, so to speak. The Hand of Kotar, the Hive, Lord Scurlock, the Crows all hit the table because of Roric’s War.
The next game we’ll go over the fallout after a cataclysmic clash with the demon hiding among the Circle and Flame’s leadership and we’ll see if the investigators can push to continue the case in order to gather evidence on The Hive.
In investigative games I want a few things set from the start:
The Crime Scene
I want to know what happened and why.
I might learn more later as details emerge. There might be people involved who I had never anticipated, not because the players are adding bits of narrative details but because I didn’t think of everything; there are white spaces on the map where new things can come to light.
That said, I want to know who dunnit, why and how.
This takes us to…
The players should have somewhere to go.
If the leads dry up, that is okay because…
The forces at work are in motion, either covering up the crime or going after their own goals.
That said, failure is okay. I don’t mind a case where the evidence dries up and the leads go cold. There are parts of earlier cases that were unsolved due to bad rolls; that is fine and I don’t mind a case being unsolved. Something might come up later and the cold case grows hot again.
Bits and pieces of the Scoundrelexicon are painted on brick alley’s walls, carved into benches of pubs and some have even heard its wisdom screeched by ravens. You can tell that they are different from other graffiti because they are lucid and are good advice for those who have disregarded all other good advice and started a scoundrel’s life of crime in Doskvol.
No one has all of the Scoundrelexicon’s wisdom, though some back-alley scholars have begun to gather them together. Are they the work of a ghost? Are they some kind of ghostly manifestations of crews that have fallen to the unrelenting pressure and grind the scoundrel’s life demands?
Here are a few of them, written down here before they were painted over, sanded away or otherwise cleaned from existence:
No use telling a crew not to punch above their weight because we all do but know this: make friends above yer weight too.
Is eeking out a life of poverty under a bridge better than bleeding to death on that same bridge? That is the question Doskvol forces you to ask once you float down the Scoundrel’s Canal.
A job going to chaos isn’t a sign of a poorly wrought plan. It is a sign that you are living the life of a scoundrel and that life’s tapestry is woven with chaos, death, vendetta and time lost to cruel Ironhook.
Whispers make good problem solvers but bad priests.
Sometimes a an Iruvian dueling knife is the only thing that can pry out a bullet and sometimes the finest Imperial pistol is the only club at hand. Look at yer load with fresh eyes every time you load out.
Ironhook is our schoolmaster and it is a vicious, miserable educator.
War is bad for business but so is love.
When the cutter wants war seek out diplomacy and peace; when the spider wants peace make fell war.
The Red Maids were a group of chambermaids who turned to crime. Like so many gangs, they gathered too much heat too quickly. Because their enemies were among Brightstone’s and even Whitecrown’s elite and not yet among their fellow criminals, scoundrels still speak fondly of them as both a cautionary tale and a kind of heroic tragedy.
When their crime spree was over Brightstone was said to be painted blood red. The gang’s leader, Scar, was hanged under charges of witchcraft and the rest were put in prison by an over-zealous magistrate under heavy pressure from the City Council.
Forty years later and the only surviving member of the gang is getting out, not because of any mercy but because everyone in power has forgotten. Scoundrels all over the city want to recruit her as she leaves Ironhook. None even remember her real name, only her street nickname.
What playbook was she?
Cutter: Bloody Mary
Hound: The Wolf Crone
Leech: Dr. Scarlet
Lurk: The Old Shadow
Slide: The Red Masque
Spider: Spinner Scarlet
Whisper: The Red Matron
There are barroom arguments, did she kill more people on the streets of Duskwall or while serving time in Ironhook?
This isn’t so much about one character getting out of Ironhook but as something new being added to the scoundrel’s underworld that acts as a spark. This is a fun way to have gangs compete over something that isn’t too high stakes. Of course, some gangs are going to claim their gang has some lineage leading straight to he Red Maidens, making their claim on this wise old-timer more than another or perhaps she has a link to a solid score that everyone wants, some money the Red Maids stowed before they made their valiant and foolish last stand.
Can your gang outbid and out-maneuver the other gangs and get this elder scoundrel to try life on the streets again?
In which we meet Clave who gets out of Ironhook in time to do his first job with the crew just in time to put on Ironhook overalls on and pretend to be convicts in order to break in to a Leviathan Ship with a secret science-cult in its depths.
Jason and Sean were back with us playing Maud and Charming, the gang’s Whisper and Cutter. Mad Jay joined us with Clave “The Wrench” Davaa, the crew’s new Leech. Clave was on the engineering team that did upkeep on the Imperial Army’s first War Hulls back in the war but was put into Ironhook after lashing out against his C.O.
The Unity War, specifically being involved in the battle at Barghast Bay is the magnetic force that brings the group together.
There was this nice player moment where Mad Jay had Clave say something cool and Jason’s Charming said, “I missed you, mate.”
It gave Clave context in the group and was a welcoming move and creative decision.
I was having trouble finding a grip on the game and getting things moving and had one vague idea for a job. I spent more effort describing the folder the job’s intel was in than the job itself because let’s face it, the job was vague.
The Hive offered info on a science-cult on a Leviathan ship, the Dunvil Rover, that was their largest client in human trafficking. Nothing to steal, no one to kill, just info to do with as you will on a former client who might lash out now that their line on fresh humans is dried up.
There was a moment when I realized this might be just too damned vague and let them know that if this job wasn’t juicy enough, they could always take some turf.
In the end, they took the job that ended with a Leviathan ship on fire in the harbor – The Usual Suspects-style. The Heat on this job was astronomical – the worst ecological disaster in Duskwall history.
An NPC named Cricket really came to life, so much so that Sean might play him for a while while Maude takes jail-time to deal with the crew’s Heat.
In which the gang burgles the library in the haunted manor of the Dimmer Sisters to steal a book about demons, written by the Emperor before the Cataclysm, for Lord Scurlock, the book’s original owner.
Charming was separated from the group as a kind of front door diversion and that made framing scenes and going back and forth tricky. This felt like it was right up Skannon’s alley and it made me squirrelly when Pete’s dice would bite him. I’ll write more about that below. Maud had infiltrated the sisters’ ectoplasm-powered psychic network, giving her a strong hand-hold.
The players got to Tier II and the Dimmer Sisters are also Tier II. For once, they weren’t punching up but squaring off with an equal. I’m glad that my Handlinger-inspired descriptions of the Dimmer Sisters and their pairs of floating upright psychic witch enforcers in black lace veils and matching funereal dresses had the desired effect; the players were freaked out by them.
I’m also glad I waited until after the session that came after this one to write this up. I had this feeling that the session was too easy but everyone was stressed to the gills. Rock on.
In the end, they stole the book and got out without losing anyone. The Dimmer Sisters know damn well who did it. The gang’s Faction Status with the Dimmer Sisters is now at a precarious -2.
Folks kept failing Risky Standard conflicts (we call them Whiskey Standard) and I kept exercising the option to escalate them to Desperate. I’m not sure if that was the best way to go. Maybe I should have started to dole out some Harm.
Something to think about. I might go back, watch the session and make another blog post about this with links to moments of play.
In which the gang smuggles 3 patriotic Skovlander ghosts from the Lost District to Ulf Ironborn.
It was Jay and Sean – Charming and Maud. The timing for them to be in a mission together was kind of perfect, as they had a disagreement last game and Maud had stormed off.
Taking lead from Jay who continues to name background Skovlander children as Charming acts as a babysitter, I mentioned a child gets back late one night with his blazer torn. He boasts that Ulf Ironborn paid him a bushel of apples to sneak under a fence and open a door so Ulf’s gang could murder a city councilor.
The child goes on to say that Ulf has a smuggling job for them if they want it.
Before deciding on jobs Maud and Charming visit Lord Scurlock to ask about demons. They tried to get Scurlock to commit to saying that he was dead against demons but he was non-committal. The vampire lord of Doskovol says that he could help them but his best book on demonology was stolen by the Dimmer Sisters.
They decided to wait for Skannon whose skills would be necessary when infiltrate the Dimmer Sisters and took Ulf’s smuggling job.
The 3 Skov Ghost job was given to them by Ulf’s second-in-command, Havid. They were to take the Blackjack out past the Lightning Barrier into the Lost District and an agent would be waiting for them there with 3 ghosts. They were to smuggle the 3 ghosts past the Lightning Barrier to Ulf and his crew who would be waiting in the basement of a public house on the docks.
Maud and Charming was not pleased with the unknowns and they pushed, using dice to find out more. It caused them some stress but in the end they found out that the ghosts were going to be put into Skovlander War Frames, as used on Barghast Beach, the bloodiest engagement of the War and the battle that forged his gang. Ulf was planning on using the warframes to cement his gang’s place.
As jobs go it went smoothly but there were hitches. The ghosts weren’t ghosts; they were people – members of a Skov special forces unit who were hit with a location spell by an Imperial War Whisper. If they entered the city they’d be located by the Imperial Army; it was in their blood. When Maud tried to cut the spell it nearly attached itself to her but she fought it off.
After discussing it, they decided that Charming could kill them quickly with a knife, which he did and then they’d wait for the ghosts to separate with some help from Maude. This was represented by a 6-count clock along with a second 6-count clock to represent a pack of ghosts finding the crew. Given the bad rep of the Deathlands and the Lost District, I should’ve made the pack of ghosts finding the crew clock a 4-count but that is alright.
Charming killed the Skov patriots with a knife. They held hands and sang Skovlander soldier songs while he did it.
Another hitch, Ironhook convicts came down the beach towards the crew. Charming confronted them while Maud dealt with peeling the ghosts away from the newly dead’s bodies.
Smuggling jobs, like stealth jobs, are tricky as a GM. I want complications but I don’t want the players to feel like their employer effed them over. I want the players to be cool but I don’t want the job to be too easy. I want ways for the job to get complicated without the players being bad at smuggling. I felt like I found a good balance. There was a bunch of stress but it didn’t go entirely pear-shaped. Nothing caught on fire or exploded.
There were ghosts and lots of danger; the Deathlands felt dangerous, even if it was just across the river, within sight of the Lightning Barrier.
At the end of this game the Wobbegong Crew became Tier 2.
Ulf Ironborn is in play. The Skovlander refugees are a good link to him and he thinks well of the Wobbegong Crew because of their anti-trafficking efforts despite the side they took during the war. Also, he is the first gang of a lower tier than the players, which is cool. They get to be mentors.
There was word around town that the Lampblacks thought the Hive looked weak when their warehouse got taken so easily by the Wobbegong Crew, so they tried to take some Hive turf for their own. Since then, the Lampblacks have entirely disappeared. No one has heard anything about them.
On the first day of Bladesmas my scoundrels gave to me a spectre in a dead tree….
We had Maude, Charming and Skannon tonight. With 3 PC’s, we are tending to wait until we’ve got a full crew before playing lately. I liked the way having different characters in different jobs changed the way we’d approach each job or which job we’d take when offered a few.
The Five Faces of the Moon – The teahouse Skannon often frequents when he pays for company.
Liz Lomond – reporter who brought the Hive’s human trafficking into the light.
Edlund – the “kindly” Bluecoat who always comes to talk the gang into taking a less bloody route.
Jol – the Bluecoat who took a crowbar to the Blackjack, the crew’s main boat.
Djera Maha and Karth Orris – leaders of The Hiven, NPC’s named in the book.
Narcus Comber – Hive’s Lawyer – the man Charming stole a watch from back in the early days, back before their HQ had a door and the barrister just walked in
Azin, Kimiya, Orkiden, Yass – Whispers with the Red Sashes – ladies who can go from frightening witches to doting grandmothers in the spin of a penny.
Barghast Bay – the bloodiest engagement in the War is where this gang was forged and is mentioned often.
Jonah – a mischievous Skovlander child who mistreated Skannon’s dining room table. Jason is often dropping the names of children during the game as we see Charming trying to be a baby-sitter.
As per their peace agreement with the Red Sashes, they returned the Upper Deck, turf taken during the war, but the Red Sashes had to aid them in taking a warehouse from the Hive. They took it using magic, knowing that the arcane arts and ectoplasmic sciences are weak points in the Hive’s arsenal.
The sent the fermenting mass of ghosts from the bilge of the Upper Deck, which had been used by some long gone gang as a place to stow bodies, into the Hive’s warehouse and managed to control it, keeping the situation from becoming a cannibalistic mess. The group made their rolls for the most part and utilized a weakness in the Hive, an unwillingness to utilize ghosts and sorcery. A roll demanded a complication, and so the warehouse is now forever haunted.
As a result, the Hive offered Maud and Skannon jobs and had a talk with Charming about why they did what they did. They offered Maud an estate in Six Towers with a view of the Scurlock Manor and offered Skannon his family’s ancestral ship, now docked just within the Lightning Barrier.
Now the group has a haunted warehouse full of Skovlander refugees as turf. Good stuff.
The mechanics brought an entanglement in which the Bluecoats took out their anger on the Blackjack. I also consider the NPC’s mentioned in the faction section as part of the mechanics. The personalities and links between gangs and factions is well wrought. Pluck one string and it causes ripples throughout Doskovol.
It was fun starting the game off with Maude and Charming being held by the Spirit Wardens while Skannon was at the HQ, having entirely missed the Coalridge Demon job. Cutting between these 3 different points of view for the first hour was satisfying.
I liked how those opening minutes colored the downtime – from Charming adopting a demonic persona in his fight career, taking on the name Atreus (the demon they failed to kill in last session’s job), how Maude is suspected of being a snitch because she was caught by the Spirit Wardens and Skannon getting invited to the Doskvol University to hear Professor “Bakoros” speak.
We only got to some downtime but it was great to be back in Duskwall with these scoundrels.
I’m getting a better and better grasp on the way limited success and failures work and how to best deal with them in a given situation.
Something I love about the Blades in the Dark book is whenever I look at it I come away inspired. I had to glance at it today when I wanted the Spirit Wardens to knock on the Wobbegong Crew’s door. Would it be a masked Spirit Warden? Do they have a mouth-piece, someone who is seen without a mask? Professor “Bakoros” was there waiting for me.
Right there in the NPC’s section on page 296 was Bakoros, the pseudonym of their academic face. I loved the idea of this kindly old professor knocking on the door of this Imperial SWAT Ghostbusters. Skannon, with his noble family background, suave air and scientific curiosity was the perfect scoundrel to meet him. When Pete told me that he almost stabbed the professor and sacrificed him to the Witch Matron on her altar, I was in shock. He decided not to do that but what a shockingly different game that would’ve been.
We saw the inside of the Doskvol Academy, a Spirit Warden safehouse/interrogation chamber and the manor of a group of rich cultists whose members include the prestigious Rowan family (and who knows how many others?).
We know that the Hive are at war with the Unseen, who are trying to infiltrate the Spirit Wardens. We’re getting embroiled in rivalries way above the Crows, Lampblacks, Red Sashes and Billhooks. Good stuff!
There is an odd, almost grudging respect towards the Spirit Wardens from the crew that I found fascinating.
Quess, the maid in service to the Witch Matron’s Brightstone Temple.
I picture Quess as being played by Lydia Night, lead singer of the Regrettes, shown below in their video for Seashore.
Timoth Rowan, the teacher’s assistant Skannon took out for drinks to get more information about why ghosts attach themselves to a certain place from their lives, gaining 5 ticks on that long-term project.
Timoth is going to be a blend of every beleaguered grad student Pete and I knew from our days in Ithaca, N.Y.
Atreus, up and coming Pankration heavyweight who moves like a middle-weight and is drawing strange uptown high society folk to his fights. He wears a demon mask and totally isn’t Thaddeus “Charming” Thimbleford, Cutter for the Wobbegong Crew. That idea is just preposterous!