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.
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.
This was an odd session. In Blades mechanical terms we had Free Play, then some Downtime and then some more Free Play. It was also an amazing session where we struggled to figure out what the gang was really about – our dreams of a better world, the worst of our trauma or just the money.
The first round of Free Play saw the group heading to Lord Scurlock’s manor to drop off the book they stole during last game’s job. There was tension in the gang. Maud wasn’t sure if the payment was in Coin or if they were going to be paid in Scurlock’s expertise in demonology and his ability to read the ancient book. Skannon wasn’t having that; if they did they job they should get paid, he thought.
A young man (I pictured him at 17 years old or so) answered the door, a bit high and bleeding from the neck but seeming not to notice. They recognized him as the son of the Lord Governor.
Scurlock paid the crew 3 Coin that was manifested by 3 antique coins about the size of an adult hand. He told them that how they dealt with the young man was up to them and that he would be watching to see what choice they made. He paid Skannon while staring him down. When confronted with an ancient vampire lord who is a one-man-Tier-3-gang Skannon didn’t blink. In the end, they took the bleeding young man with them and Maud even went to some risk to break Scurlock’s arcane hold on him.
There was a rift in the group on how they should handle the situation. That conflict ran into the next bit of Free Play. Sean checked in with Pete to make sure he was cool with their characters conflicting, which was really nice. I’ve seen that turn ugly in the past.
Maud gathered info to find out what the hell happened to the Lampblacks. It turned out they hit a gambling den that belonged to the Hive after seeing the Wobbegong Crew take the Hive’s warehouse with little to no consequence. All of the Lampblack’s lieutenants were found dead and burned in a drug den that was destroyed by a fire. The Bluecoats wrote it off as a spark-related death.
But they’d heard that Bazso Baz was still alive in a drug den in Dunslough. It was too late in the evening in the real world to start a score. They decided to go visit Bazso – more Free Play.
When they found Bazso in the worst slum in Doskvol he was a broken man – hooked on spark. I thought of him, mechanically, as a character who retired with nothing saved up. The Hive had left him alive as a cautionary tale.
Once again the characters were divided. Maud wanted to leave him be but build up his family and personal network to help him regain what he had lost.
Charming wanted to pick him up, splash some water on him and get him back into form or just use him as a resource.
While Charming and Maud were debating, Skannon ghost veiled in and slit Bazso’s throat.
Skannon a.k.a. The Crow got a 3rd trauma this game. He is teetering on the brink. The Crow wants to take the Hive’s offer, to prove to them that they can make money with the Wobbegong Crew in their pay without human trafficking.
Hence the title of the blog post. We are going to find out in the upcoming sessions what the gang is going to become.
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.
I was sitting with my friends a few weeks ago, talking about our Blades in the Dark games. A cool thing about talking about Blades, especially with a friend who is GMing is that you not only talk about the cool things that happened but you ask how they handled it within the rules. There are so many choices for dealing with the same outcome with partial successes, harm and clocks.
Something that is a job in one game could be a downtime action in another. A wound that would kill a character in one game is shrugged off for stress in another.
TITHING RULES: Six segment clock for tithing entanglements
Add together tiers of factions tithing to the crew. Can choose to take up to that in coin per downtime, but each coin taken marks a tick on the entanglement clock. When the clock fills, roll entanglement.
What do I like about it? It embodies mo’ money, mo’ problems through simple game mechanics. It makes the gang’s life more complicated; they get more coin but there is a price.
Another interesting thing about this is it causes the gang to be invested in another gang’s growth. They directly profit from a smaller gang advancing in Tier.
Tithing house-rules by Charlotte, Jim, Aaron and Nikki
In which the Wobbegong Crew try to set Maude’s demonic mistake right, angering the Hive and the Lampblacks in the process and brutally fail in the mines under Coalridge.
In the end this game happened because Maude failed some rolls and turned Coalridge into a charnel house. Sean decided that Maude had a conscience, which is a gutsy and fun decision. My favorite parts of this game were when the players made decisions for their characters that gave the situations and supernatural setting stuff real weight.
Maude deciding that she had to own up to her mistakes and ask the gang to do a job to make it right.
Willoughby and Charming acting scared when meeting Roric’s ghost.
It is one thing to have a Heavy-Metal-Album-Cover Demon unleash hell in a city district and having a ghost smoking a cigarette but Sean, Rob and Jay’s decisions gave it all real weight and feeling. It was inspiring.
Everyone had moments where they shined and the group is getting better at playing off one another. From Charming making brutal use of Willoughby’s truth-hearing to the way Willoughby managed to be the only person to escape.
We learned a bunch about Duskwall tonight. From the warehouse where the Hive sells people and their brutal security teams to the fact that if you sacrifice the right people on the Saint of Witch’s altar you can rummage around in the dead bodies and pull out weapons.
Lucella: accountant for the Hive – sacrificed to the Saint of Witches
Atreus: The Saint of Witches blood-thirsty son, now roaming free in Coalridge.
We were going to do a job concerning the hostage they had and using that leverage to broker peace between the Red Sashes and the Lampblacks but Maude had a problem. She had unleashed a demon into Coalridge and the word I used to describe the quarantined district was charnel house. It was weighing on Maude’s mind.
Charming and Willoughby agreed to put the hostage job aside and help Maude try to put this demon back in the bottle. Charming grabbed 2 people from a Hive-owned warehouse where they stored slaves, or as the Hive calls them, Product. He grabbed a guard and an accountant.
Willoughby found a coin-generating job to do in Coalridge, finding out that a factory foreman had a vault with treasure in still in the deserted district. It was a way to make some money on the endeavor. They never got to it.
Maude took the 2 human-traffickers from the Hive and killed the one still alive. The Saint of Witches put weapons inside them. It was squicky! Killing someone in a fight is one thing but killing an accountant who is chained up, even one who helps the slave trade was uncomfortable for all of us. It wasn’t over the line but it was close.
The failed their engagement roll and ended up in the crossfire between the Spirit Wardens and the demon and its cultists. Turns out the cultists were Lampblacks.
It was a total disaster. They prowled into position. Willoughby provided a distraction, acting like a scared citizen. After that it was a disaster. Charming broke against the demon in an assault – he trauma’d out. Maude tried to channel the demon’s mother’s voice. She failed to contain that much energy and vomited blood.
Willoughby wanted to grab Charming and bounce but she rolled a 5. She got out but Charming stayed.
I don’t keep track of the players’ stress; they do that. When Charming trauma’d out it was a surprise to me. The stress mounted slowly and surely. The scoundrel’s grind is brutal.
Demons are no joke.
I liked the way it all shook out. I can’t wait to see what happens next.
In which the Hellspawn steal a briefcase from an Imperial Agent, talk to the Dimmer Sisters about some lost muscle and learn more about the demon.
I had nearly forgotten that in the first job in the rush of fire and larceny the Hellspawn had stolen a second painting, one that was not requested to be stolen by their employer. Helles decided to look it over; they thought that perhaps it was somehow arcane. Dev said he was using Attune and I asked him how Helles was doing that which led to his cool description. Helles had a cup of water that she was using like a magnifying glass over the tapestry. She rolled and failed, drawn into the depths of the tapestry, depicting an ancient siege.
He discovered Naria, who had been muscle for the Dimmer Sisters but had become trapped in this tapestry. Helles was not able to bring them both out.
They met with the Dimmer Sisters when Helles looked into the tapestry they stole during the last job. She discovered that the demon was using the tapestry to gain access to their dreams and that there was a long-lost Dimmer Sister trapped within it. The Dimmer Sisters want their sister back but are leery of having that kind of Tycherosi magic in their manor. They’ve offered their help on a future job should the Hellspawn find a way to free Naria, who was lost on a job in the Veil Social Club 40 years ago.
The Hellspawn’s reaction to the Dimmer Sisters was starstruck awe. They had cool matching black dresses with black lace on the trim, mystique and poise. “I hope the Dimmer Sisters like us.” I described Roslyn,the Dimmer Sisters go-to gang member for outside-the-house dealings as a young Whoopi Goldberg with black lipstick on. I’m not sure why but that is what I saw when I pictured her.
Una completed a long term job about learning more about the demon. She learned that he’s known as The Serpent and was the power-behind-the-throne for the Goat King, whose siege is depicted in their stolen tapestry. She knows that well-to-do Tycherosi worship the Serpent in weekly rituals.
They took this job as penance because the Demon was pissed at them but also kind of impressed with their moxy. They’d be paid but there was no question. The job had to be done or the Demon would be pissed.
An Imperial Agent was coming to Doskvol via train and picking up a briefcase. They were to steal this briefcase. They did not know exactly where the briefcase was to be picked up. The crew set up around the likely exits of Gaddoc Station and rolled a 6 on the Engagement roll. The agent walked up to Helles and threw her a silver. “Go get me a cab and there will be another in it for you if the cab looks tidy. There’s a good lass…”
Flashback to Una securing a cab a few days ago and she is there to pick him up. He finds her Tycherosi heritage a charming exotic touch to the trip and asks to be taken to the Doskvol Academy. I explained to Dev and Laura that they’d have trouble following across the Great Bridge into Whitecrown. Flashback to Vestine, hidden in the trunk of the goat-drawn cab. The agent came back to the cab with the briefcase chained to his wrist.
They took a side-road route through the Docks and once they were in an abandoned area of warehouses dosed the agent with trance powder, threw a cloak over his head, cut the chain from his wrist, set another case in its place rigged with a fire oil trap and convinced him that a Bluecoat broke the robbery up before it could go down and the cab-driver had been driven off in the process.
It was the smoothest job I have ever seen. There were very few rolls (2 or 3…maybe too few?) and because they hit their engagement so well, I had that first roll to dose him with trance powder be Controlled, Great. I just didn’t think the agent would have any reason to doubt anything they were doing to get him into position.
Back in the safety of their cave HQ, they wanted to see what was in the briefcase and studied it carefully before doing so. They discovered that the case was fine but the papers had the Seal of the Undying Emperor, meaning that whoever broke said seal would send information back to the Imperial Court – but exactly what information was unclear. They decided to leave the seal unbroken.
The Demon paid them 6 Coin, letting them know that this payment included taxes for property and personnel damage previously incurred (setting the club on fire and killing the waiter). The Hellspawn thought that was pretty fair.
Before the game started I explained how the fictional positioning in Action Rolls worked.
After the job, I showed them the Turf map on the Crew Sheet. “Your next job could be just what you pick up from around town, in which case I’ll offer 2 or 3 jobs and you can pick one or you could go to the Demon or the Dimmer Sisters and see if they’ve got any work for you. Or you could pick up some turf, which means taking something from another gang because you are all rats in a barrel.”
The primary interest was around stealing a Gambling Den from the Crows or taking Turf from the Dunslough Pigs, a Tier 0 gang created during character creation; the Pigs are the gang they stole their cave HQ from. They decided that taking on the Crows was not wise at this point. They’re going to take a barn on an eel farm next week, occupied by the Pigs, used for god-only-knows-what.
I liked that the turf gave us a reason to talk about setting stuff a bit. Suddenly, Lyssa having just betrayed Roric had a direct impact on them because her unsteady hand meant this was more ripe for the taking than it otherwise would’ve been. The turf map gave the setting info context.
Una said, “I think taking on a more experienced gang, led by someone who is willing to kill her own friends, not to mention a group of young thieves in a small gang who take her shit, is not a wise move at this point.”
These Dunslough kids are smart for a pack of scoundrels.
NOTE: I haven’t written about the adorable free play with the characters bickering and poking fun like a group of sisters but I felt like I over-wrote this AP as it was. More on that later…
In which the Hellspawn, Tycherosi prison orphans who operate out of a cave in Dunslough, accept their first job – stealing a piece of art in a social club.
In which Janaki and I game with our neighbors, Dev and Laura. Yay, face to face game. Having neighbors who are friends in NYC is a rare treat. It is nice to have a face to face game again.
Helles “Bell” Tycherosi, the Spider, from whom the gang gets their name, the leader. Her older brother is Twelves, who is serving time in Ironhook but is allowed visitors and is the gang’s mentor. She has crystal faceted eyes due to her Tycherosi heritage.
Una “Bricks” Tycherosi, the Cutter, a pugilist who fights in pits all over Doskvol. She has goat horns on her head due to her Tycherosi heritage.
Kestine “Thistle” Tychero, the Leech, inventor of alchemical birth control. She has rows of shark teeth in her mouth due to her Tycherosi heritage.
The job was fun but I felt like it didn’t allow a moment for everyone to stretch their wings and be cool. I was vexed and tense.
Relax, Judd! You are among friends.
I looked over the jobs chart and saw something about stealing and replacing a piece of art. I noticed that there was a Tycherosi owner of a social club. I liked that option because the crew had to debate about it a bit. Would they rob a Tycherosi? I like those moments, especially in the first games, where the gang can decide their boundaries and codes of conduct.
The crew got into the social club on a fight night, under the auspices of being there to support Una, there to fight her pugilist friend, Marlane.
I loved what the players were doing and their choices. I asked for a roll for the Leech to fool a waiter and there should have been no roll there. It led to cool stuff, though, so I should chill out a bit.
When Kestine was sneaking around on the second floor of the social club she saw a young rich kid getting worked over by Aldo, a bookie with the Crows. Later they he was unconscious while the second floored burned because of Una’s alchemical fire. Helles saved him and now they are kind of courting. Una and Kestine gives her shit for that. The rich kid’s name is Milos Strangford.
The job ended with the Veil on fire, the art stowed away and the Spider in her under-garments.
I’ll call that a successful first session.
I did a bunch of escalating instead of Harm. I’m not sure if those were wise choices.
We jumped right to downtime and in order to lower their Heat, they went back and killed a waiter who they’d left alive. The Cutter and the Leech grabbed him and knifed him on his way back from work so he couldn’t identify them. Ruthless!
Dev wanted to get something to help with the Train Job and he tried to acquire an asset, which is really difficult as a Tier 0 gang.
I remembered to roll Entanglements after the Downtime was over. I got Demonic Notice/Show of Force. There was a bunch of talk about the owner of the Veil, a Tycherosi who is said to have a snake’s body for his lower half. The gang was doubtful that he really had a snake’s body or even if he was really Tycherosi at all.
The Demonic Notice began to take shape. He’s a demon and now that they’ve damaged his place, he wants them to do a job for him. They have to steal a attache case from an Imperial Agent leaving the city on a train. The next job is a train job.
Next game – more on how to get more dice for each roll. More Devil’s Bargains. More Harm. Better clocks. More relaxed Judd.