Actual Play – Academic Probation! (12/7/2016)

GM: Sean Nittner
Players: Karen Twelves, Eric Fattig, and Adrienne Mueller
System: Blades in the Dark, Quickset Rules v.7.1

Despite there internal disputes, one thing the entire society agreed on was that “oh crap, we have exams that we need to study for!” And thus we found Harland, Hix and Elke cramming late into the night at Strathmill Hall.

Academic Misconduct

One by one, their sponsoring professors, department chairs, and the dean entered the increasingly crowded study room:

  • Augus Mendelson, professor of Sparkwright Tower. Sponsor of Hix Stromfass, with whom he holds a secret pact.
  • Una Farros, professor and chair of Sparkwright Tower. Professional rival of Augus. Enemy of Hix.
  • Yerial Danwood, professor of Spectral Philosophy, playboy of Morlan Hall. Sponsor of Elke Salkaren.
  • Donvan Jayan, professor and chair of Jayan Hall of Anatomy and Astronomy. Only tangentially aware that he is the sponsoring faculty member for Harland Younghusband.
  • Andris Oliweather, professor of Imperial History, and witness in the crimes for which the Spectral Society is being accused.
  • Polonia Clellald, magistrate and professor of jurisprudence. One of the aggrieved parties!
  • Thena Hellyers, famed artist, professor, and dean of admissions at Charterhall University. The senior faculty member presiding over the trial. Unwilling to make eye contact with the students.

And what’s more, two others entered behind them:

  • Kamelin Prichard, first mate of the Leviathan Hunter Ironmast. A sailor with baubles from parts across the world including hair dressed up in an Irruvian beehive style and a sleeve of Severosi tattoos. The other aggrieved party.
  • Grace Wells, fellow student, and extortionist. Grinning like the cat who ate the canary.

Professor Hellyers began by addressing the society by their sanctioned charter name “The Doskvol Spectral Society, for the enrichment of students seeking to better understand they mysteries of modern science and spectrology.” She then began an accusation but cut herself short and turned to first mate Prichard to give her the room.

Kamelin looked over the lot of the society and asked plainly “Do you have my book?” When she got a confused response she clarified “The captain’s logbook for the Ironmast. We know you took it. Do you have it?” Again, confused and now somewhat indignant responses.

Seeing that the Society was not able or willing to produce the log book, Hellyers took over again and pronounced that they have been found guilty, based on testimony from a reliable source, of stealing the log book from from the home of Polonia Clellald. Their charter would be disolved, the society ended, and each of them put on academic probation. If the wished to appeal the sentence they had three days to do so.

[What the hell happened here? During the downtime action after the books disappearance, I made fortune roll for the Leviathan Hunters to find out what happened to their book. It was based on their tier (4) and I felt they had plenty of opportunities to ferret out the information. Rowan, who went with them, is a braggart and a fool. Grace, who meant to offer Harland the opportunity to buy her out couldn’t find him, instead aided the school, and first mate Prichard is a devil with the details. I rolled and got a crit. The Leviathan Hunter and Charterhall by extension, has them dead to rights!]

I Protest these Charges

Of course they do. And, after filing the appeal the DSS has three days to convince the seven professors who will judge the matter, than they are of the highest moral fiber and could not possibly have committed the crimes for which they are accused (breaking and entering, theft, and worst of all, behavior unbecoming of a Charterhall student).

Augus Mendelson

Each of them sought out individual professors to find out what they could do for them. Hix spoke with Augus, both about the recent failure at the their collective lightning tower, and about their academic status. His response was “we can’t talk about this here, meet me at 2AM tonight in our sanctum” and “you had better start earning the favor of each professor”, respectively.

Thena Hellyers

Elke and Harland found Thena Hellyers in her office (of which the very pitiful looking professor Oilweather was finally moving out of completely; Hix followed him to his new office in the basement downstairs). Thena at first did not want to speak with the two of them as it was unbecoming while their status was still in dispute, however, her fondness for Elke eventually won out.

Hellyers told them that although she was fond them form an academic standpoint, she had no experience for which to evaluate their moral fortitude. However, if they could help her with a problem, specifically the student debt yet unpaid by the Kinclaith family, that would demonstrate for her their loyalty to Charterhall [Gathering information, what score can we pull to get your vote? Result: Standard effect]

Andris Oliweather

Meanwhile, Hix helped professor Oilweather carry some of his books down a creaky set of stairs into a moldy and musty basement of Charterhall. Thena had finally taken over their shared space completely, so down to the dark basement he was sent. The lights down here popped and fizzed and when they did finally come on, it was a dull glow, certainly spelling out a strain on the eyes for any who would spend their days down here reading.

To start off on the right foot, Hix climbed up on Oilweather’s new desk and started tinkering with the light. She cleaned corrosion off the wiring, replaced a burnt out fuse, cut her hand and traced her blood across the bulb consecrating this space for the Keeper of the Flame, and tightened all the contacts in the in the junction box. All the normal things you do [Risky tinker with a Devil’s Bargain to let her god have access into this place through the power lines]. The junction box sparked, nearly electrocuted Hix [Resited with Prowess] and then the lights in his office suddenly came alive, filling it with a golden red glow. [Set up action]

After that Hix offered up a bevvy of services that she could possibly provide. She could talk history with him, she had an attractive figure that he could oggle, she could improve his space further, but the one that truly sparked his interest, the offer that made him raise his eyebrows and sit up straight in his chair, was to speak with Ms. Wick, who was in charge of office assignments.

Oilweather taught in Morlan Hall, which was clear on the other side of Charterhall from his office, which meant he spent a large part of his days walking back and forth between classroom and his office…even more now that he was in the basement. Unfortunately, due to have the building sinking into the canals and being flooded decades ago, there was only one teachers office, and that was held by Professor Danwood, and positively littered with his trophies from around the world. If the Yerial could just be convinced to store a few of his baubles then a placard that read DANWOOD AND OILWEATHER would surely look very nice above the office door…didn’t she think? [Risky Study, with limited effect improved to standard effect with the setup action, Success!]

Reuniting a Family

While the DSS had only three days to appeal the charges against them, Elke had even less time to make good on her promise to Bazso. When she arrived at the coal factory with Arquo he got a set of suspicious looks. Aqruo was supposed to be out. What was he doing coming back?

Tension aside they were led into the room with the dead Raina, her family, and Bazso. Arquo, experienced with doing this put on the heavy gloves, grabbed the tongs, and picked up the ichor covered circlet. Though he knew prolonged contact would be painful, he held onto it throughout the process so that Elke could focus on speaking to Raina’s spirit [Setup action. Desperate Finesse. Devils Bargain: Starting a clock for Otherworldly Nightmares 1/4. Success]

Elke, attuned to Raina’s spirit, controlling her it through the circlet and commanded her to inhabit her body once more, and say farewell to her parents. Raina sat up, as if waking form a dream and embraced her family. She was able to say three things in her own voice, which Elke had instructed her to do. She loved her family. She was at peace. She had to go. After that Elke knew that any command she game would come out a stiff and in Elke’s voice rather than Raina, so the body simply sat there, waiting as her parents said their farewells. Bazso witnessing all of this, realized that in Elke’s hands the circlet could do so much more. The gears started moving in his head and he stated making plans for how he could use her in the future. [Desperate Attune. Great Effect. Partial Success. Serious complication that Bazso viewed Elke as an asset he needed to control].

Settling Accounts

While Elke was too focused on controlling the spirit to notice, Arquo saw the wolfish glint in Bazso’s eyes. Once the family had left he stepped up to clarify a few things “Elke has done this thing as a favor to you, because she is powerful and generous, not because she owes you anything.”

[At this point we had a discussion of what to do next. Adrienne wanted Bazso to not only keep his hands off Elke, but also to respect and fear her as a fellow gang leader. We discussed that Arquo was trying to turn the tables, and decided he should first resist the complication and then make an action to force Bazso to respect Elke. Initially this was going to be risky, but Adrienne wanted to bump it up to Desperate for great effect. Bazso would not only respect Elke, he’d pay her now for her services!]

“In fact, why don’t you pay up for services rendered” [Protect: Resist with Resolve. Desperate Command with Great Effect. Partial success. Serious complication] Bazso agreed but also understood this was no longer a favor between friends, this was a business deal, and he had put his most prized possession in the hands of people he couldn’t be sure he could trust. He handed over a sack of coin but told them in the future to stay off his turf unless a mutually agreed meeting was arranged.

Elke, shaking from of her focus on the circlet and the spirit of Raina, tried to make amends. She didn’t want his money, but if he wanted to give it to Arquo that was fine. And this of course tied back to Arquo’s anger at Bazso for not providing for his family when his sister died. The single coin was instead seen as blood money for Arquo’s sister which he judged as not nearly enough. [Protect: Resist with Insight. Complication reduced to only excluding Arquo from Lampblack turf].

A bitter exchange happened. Arquo shook the pouch and ask if that is what Bazso intended to pay him for his sister’s service and her death. Bazso, having had enough of these negotiations locked eyes with him and said “That’s all that a Llewellyn is worth!” An insult to both Arquo and his family. Mostly to Arquo though! [But hey, +1 Coin!]

Kinclaith Family Debts

Gathering information is a bust. Hix went to Silvermark Avenue in Brightstone posed as a sparkwright tending to one of the electric lights on the street. She observed the house. Large but little activity. Few servants were seen and most of the drapes were closed. As she scanned the windows, though, one of the curtains suddenly flew open and a woman stared out from inside. Hix quickly averted her gaze so the woman would not see her face and carried on. [Controlled Survey to Gather Information. Bad Outcome. Opportunity Lost]

The Plan: Occult. The Detail: Sending Cavelle into the Kinclaith home to cause havoc and offer to remove him only if they paid their debt to Charterhall University.

Engagement roll: Bad Outcome.

As they sent the chaos seeking Cavelle onto the grounds of the Kinclaith estate, they all witnessed electricity arcing wildly through the ghost (as they expected). When he crossed the threshold, one of the streetlights surged and burnt out, darkening the area. Only the shadows seemed to not just deepen, but also take shape. As though they contained something from within. A canine mouth formed in them, it’s eyes burning embers, and bit into Cavelle, causing the spirit to spark and spasm wildly! [Desperate situation!]

What rocked

You’d think, with a few weeks of knowing about this threat of academic probation I’d have considered which of the professors would favor the DSS and which ones they would need to win over. Also, you’d consider that I’d have thought of what each of the professors wanted. But I didn’t. I could have done that work in advance. Start all of them with clocks and motivations, but I didn’t. And you know how much that affected the game… not a all. Maybe for the better. When the students approached the respective professors, I just thought about what they wanted. Hellyers comes from a powerful family with great expectations. She want prestige for the school and bolster it financially. Oilweather is a meek man, he just wants a comfortable office to smoke his pipe in, without having to walk to far to his classroom. I was pretty happy that it was so easy to think of things they wanted (Hellyers I made up, but Oilweather’s desire I based off Adrienne’s good ideas).

Though I didn’t mention it above, we did flashback at the very beginning of the game to Elke and Harland talking after his sermon was over, as they were folding up and putting away the chairs. Elke was just getting used to the idea that they had a gang, let alone that they might be leading a cult. Plus, she didn’t agree with Harland’s ideas! It was a dramatic moment for both of them, which Elke punctuated by going to Harland’s apartment (she had a key) and taking all his nice clothes to give to Arquo. Since he’d wouldn’t need them any more, now that he was putting aside all the pleasures in life! It was petty and delightful. [Mechanically I wanted it to have a little oomph so I told Harland to remove one from his stash, for Arquo to add it to his, but in retrospect I think that should have been like withdrawing… two from Harland’s stash turned into one coin that Arquo could do anything he liked with].

Watching Rollplay has given me some great ideas for the world. I totally stole Irimina and Myth from that game!

Oh, Oilweather, you set your sights so low. This character is a lot of fun to play out. He’s so easily cowed.

Hell yeah to Arquo stepping up to Bazso. It really didn’t go that well but it was an awesome scene, which also really showed how Arquo and Elke’s motivations differed. This is still a fresh wound for Arquo, and Elke keeps inadvertently pouring salt on it.

V8 Engagement rules were fun and easy to apply!

What Could have Improved

During game I made a misstep. I tried to steer the crew into doing particular scores that I thought were interesting.

At bit of background. As a GM and fellow player I’m interested in the DSS pulling scores inside Charterhall University; making friends and enemies within the school, and generally having more investment in the school itself. This recent development with the Leviathan Hunter, who carries a lot of clout with the school, seemed like a good way to give the Society opportunities to do that. Steal form one professor to give to another, get involved with the schools finances, find out each others petty squabbles and take advantage of them, etc. That said, my interest does not trump (or equal) the desire of the group.

As the group was discussing how they would deal with the situation, one of the ideas was to find Rowan and get him to recant his confession. I tried to dissuade them from that option by saying “that isn’t what the professors want”. That isn’t fair, nor is it playing by the rules. The professors can want whatever the hell they want, but that doesn’t mean a group of daring students can’t solve their problems in whatever way they see fit.

This was a bad choice to make as a GM and it’s specifically not how Blades is played. I am interested in seeing school-based scores, but I get to offer that up as a suggestion, not as an imperative.

I sent an email to the players saying most of what is above (and also apologizing) and we’ll see if they want to continue on the score as is or back out of it. I have a couple ideas if they do decide to back out and choose another option.

  • Out of fiction: We can say none of that stuff with the Kinclaith family happened and start the next game with another score.
  • In fiction: We could wrap up this score very quickly by you determining that the Kinclaith has more formidable occult defenses than the DSS was prepared for and that once they deal with the immediate situation (Cavelle trapped by a guardian spirit) the students back off and re-think their strategy.

4 thoughts on “Actual Play – Academic Probation! (12/7/2016)”

  1. – I’m really happy we went with the ‘get the members of faculty what they want’ score, because it let’s us interact with them more. If we’d laid into Rowan, it also would have been cool – but we wouldn’t have gotten to find out more about our Professors and how Charterhall works. Super happy!

    – This forgotten gods stuff. I’d really like to know more about them. I keep on having Hix deploy this connection without really understanding it and I want to be able to describe things more coherently. Can’t wait for 2am at the sanctum!

    – It’s been a rough ride for Arquo and (prior to that) Hix the last few sessions. I’m loving all their hardship but I’m also so excited for them to not get beaten on/yelled at/told they’re worthless for a full game. (Which happened basically next session! Yay!)

    – Wonder if clocks serve the dual purpose of 1) building tension and 2) giving players the opportunity to come to terms with future badness – so they can accept instead of immediately rejecting it.

    – Despite the mandate to avoid lengthy planning sessions, some planning is unavoidable even if just to decide which sort of plan we want to use.

    Favourite Bits
    – Harland giving up his clothes to Arquo (including mustache wax!)
    – Elke questioning Harland about his love interests. Insinuating to the Dean that Grace was just an ex with a grudge.
    – Oilweather just sweetly wanting to share a tiny niche of Danwood’s office.
    – Harland shushing his toadie in the flashback!
    – Elke’s small (as yet unexploited) reveal that she knows more about Arquo’s sister’s death than she should. So good!
    – ‘That’s all a Llewellyn is worth.’

    1. For some reason, the comment about clocks being used to build tension and come to terms with upcoming pain just made me have a Well Duh moment – is there any reason why opposing clocks can’t be a thing? Not a single tug-of-war clock (because my read on those is that it continues to go back and forth until it eventually – perhaps inevitably – fills) but two clocks in opposition to one another?

      So if the players are sufficiently not okay with a clock displaying upcoming badness, and it makes sense for the characters to know about it, could they start another clock trying to beat the GM clock to filling?

      Sorry if this is out of place; I’m new enough to BitD that I’m trying to get a solid hold (hah) on the fiddly bits and how they can shine.

      1. Opposing clocks are definitely a thing. For instance, the starting situation in the book pits the Lampblacks and the Red Sashes against each other. Each has a clock for destroying the other. But this can be done on a much smaller scale as well for sure.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *