Actual Play – Bonds and Boils (6/13/2016)

GM: Sean Nittner
Players: Karen Twelves, Eric Fattig, and Adrienne Mueller
System: Blades in the Dark, Quickset Rules v.6

This game was a bit weird for me. After last session I had rolled for entanglements and gotten an arrest, which is the most severe of entanglements, and didn’t seem appropriate for the amount of attention they had garnered, especially since they had just reduced all their head during downtime. But there was a good justification, the just ousted the Dimmer Sisters, and though they weren’t going to go out of their way to hurt the DSS, tipping off the Spirit Wardens that illegal spirit essences were on the site was a pretty easy way to bring these new kids on the block some pain. So, check, it makes sense…but still didn’t play out like I would have liked. More below…

What was Harland doing?

Since we ended the last session with Harland feinting in the presence of Lucella Kardera, we first found out what his new trauma is [Paranoid] and then flashed back to give him his Downtime actions.

Acquire an Asset: Harland rounded up a small band to form a student patrol. These strapping young students and some had been (or certaintly could have had been) students agreed to help patrons get home safely at night, to keep out the troubling elements, and generally keep the Cat & Candle safe. Our new band of [standard] thugs is comprised of Bazran, Ogre, Stev, and Volette. They wear sashes and carry batons!

Long Term Project: At the Jayan School of Anatomy and Alchemy laboratory, Harland began tinkering with an unguent that would keep parcels safe during transport, and a solvent that would dissolve it afterward. So far he’s come as far as making a substance which hardens when exposed to extremely cold temperatures…and then never softens at all [2/6 ticks].

What is he doing now?

Waking up with a pink carnation on his chest, the sign that the Path of Echos is displeased with you. Outside the small room with the cot where he was he could hear the crackle of lightning and feel the thrum of an electroplasmic generator. As he arose he was greeted fondly by Cricket/Vond and the Hierophant, as well as a few other acolytes.

[Note, we decided that while the high ranking members of the Path are masked, the acolyte identities are known. Personally I suspect that there is some kind of ritual to reach this higher level that requires several acolytes, who all wear masks, to attempt and only one of them succeeds. The failures are either cast away or perhaps perish in the attempt. This way, if you were around when someone received their rank, you might know who they might be, but not who they were for sure.]

The showed him, Lucella, chained to a wall, bound in lightning. She had claimed another acolyte’s body, but disappointed in it, caused it to start harming itself. The now kept her bound to the wall and in the body, while they decided what should be done next. Vond/Cricket asked Harland why he would not serve as her vessel, as she was content only with him. Harland turned the tables and told the ancient ghost that her niece was was not worth of her faith. That she had ridden inside him and revealed secrets to him, and that she should be destroyed.

Vond, predisposed to destruction by nature, did not expect this, but as Harland continued talking, it became easier and easier for her to project her failures on her niece. Perhaps Lucella wasn’t actually event that loyal to the Emperor at all! Vond consented that perhaps her niece was as weak as Harland said, but to replace her, Vond would need a mortal scion to take her place. The merchant’s son agreed [Mechanically, Harland took a Devil’s Bargain that he would offer his aid to Vond, which started a 4 tick clock that he had committed to her fully and filled in 1 tick. He then rolled a 4-5 result on a Desperate Action and the serious consequence filled in the last 3 ticks. He could have resisted, but opted not to.]

The electroplasmic generator had various dials and gauges, all of which she turned up to their maximum. The bells of the crematorium rang. Lucellea and the acolyte she possessed were gone. The deathseeker crows took flight.

Arrest at the Cat and Candle

Tipped off by an agent of the Dimmer Sisters, a large group of Blue Coats accompanied by one Spirit Warden raided the building early in the morning after the Scholar’s Eve.

Claive the burly server, very aware of the spirit essences hidden within, made a dash for the alley out back and received a crushing blow to his face, breaking his nose, as one of the Bluecoats waiting outside clubbed him, and then put him in chains.

Hix, meanwhile, was still coming to her senses after a long night of inebriation and cavorting, when two Bluecoats unceremoniously thumped an ancient dust covered amphora on the table in front of her. As she rubbed the sleep from her eyes, the room lit up with a bronze glow coming from the mask of a walking in. When he faced her the glow was nearly blinding, perhaps because of it’s intensity, perhaps because of her hangover. The all look down at her intensely as one of the Bluecoats unrolls a arrest warrant, worn with age from so many previous uses,  and tells her that she is under arrest for possession of illegal spirit essences. The bronze masked spirit warden merely glared through thin slits in his spirit mask.

Blades_afterlifeComing to her senses, Hix, quickly began to fast talk the Bluecoats, explaining that this was all a misunderstanding, she was just a student and had no idea this amphora contained anything of the kind. Surely there was a reasonable fee she could pay to them to safely remove it from the premises, yes? Acting as though she was as upset about this as they were, she pushed it away from her, but pushed too hard and the amphora fell off the table and cracked open, releasing the ghosts within.

As the Spirit Warden’s eyes widened behind the mask he tried to quickly compel one of the ghosts, but as it had caught him by surprise and his mask acted as a window into his own soul for the ghost, he was instead fighting off his own possession, while horrible black boils began forming around his neck and shoulders. The building was quickly evacuated and the Bluecoats accepted Hix’ lesser bribe, though the Warden would not soon forget her.

[Mechanically it broke down like this. Hix was trying to sway Bluecoats and a Spirit Warden who were very much in their element. They had her beat in both quality (being higher tier) and magnitude. That effectively left her effect level reduced two steps, so a standard result would mean zero effect. She was also trying to pull off this half bribe to both Bluecoats and a Spirit Warden, so it meant unless everyone was getting paid, it was going to be really hard to get one of them to look the other way. So, rough as it sounded we called this a Desperate roll with effect reduced two steps. Hix took pushed herself and used that to increase her effect level to just reduced (instead of zero). Her result was a 4-5, and the serious consequence of that was the ghosts trapped inside were now free inside the Cat and Candle. I made a fortune roll for the Spirit Warden, and he also got a 4-5 range, which meant he was able to contain one of them, but took grievous wounds (blistering black boils) in the process. Hix talked the bribe down from 3 coin to 2.]

A nice day for a sandwich

Meanwhile, Elke, who is fond of sandwiches, had purchased one from a street vendor and was walking toward the Cat and Candle to check in with Hix about Harland, who she hadn’t seen in a few days. She noticed the crowd forming around the building and saw Claive being marched off in chains. She snuck around back and spotted Bluecoats inside, searching through the kitchen, and interrogating Ezme, the tavern’s ostensible owner.

Feeling the hair rise on the back of her neck, and that something very wrong was going on inside, she attuned to the ghost field and realized there were four ghosts free inside the building. She saw the spirit warden being moved into the kitchen as the black boils formed on his neck and shoulders and he fought with a spirit inside him. The Coleburn family who once once lived in this manor home, now converted to a cafe, had all been murdered in this kitchen, boiled to death in their own vast cooking pots. And they now were claiming the house again!

Elke quickly found Hix, who had paid the officers one coin and with using Augus’ name as collateral promised to pay them another soon, and got both of them out of the building before it was entirely cordoned off! Being the good friend she was, she also offered Hix the remainder of her sandwich.

Finding Harland

Putting their heads together and confirming that neither had seen Harland since before the Scholar’s Eve, Hix and Elke headed to Morlan Hall, where they knew the Path of Echo held secret scenances in the basement catacombs, and went searching for him.

As they rowed their gondola through the underground canals and saw the electric lights in the building dim, the made their way into the basement and saw the final moments of the acolyte’s life and of Lucella’s unlife, just as Harland made his vows. Sandwich dropped.

A very short score

As it was late, we decided to finish off a quick score, in this case exorcising the house of the remaining Coleburn ghosts. Hix distracted the Bluecoats outside who were preventing anyone from entering by delivering the second half of her bribe while the others snuck inside the building and using all her whisper resources “electroplasm vials, spirit bottles, her fine lightning hook, and their own ability to “hold” ghosts within them, Elke and Harland destroyed two of the ghosts, and trapped the other two in spirit bottles, which they sold to Flink, the Spirit Trafficker.

Payoff, Heat, and Entanglements

Coin: 4 (Spirits are worth some serious cash)
Rep: 2 (Primarily hurting the Dimmer Sisters by holding onto the Cat and Candle)
Heat: 6 (Loud and chaotic, plus death was involved!)
Entanglement: Arrest (Again? My goodness the Duskvol Spectral Society has no luck. I guess that Warden is more upset at Hix than we thought he was)

Places, People, Things, and Organizations

The Cat and Candle (Updated) – Once a manor home of the Coleburn family, it’s original residents had been trapped there by some perverse creature that first killed them, then caged their ghosts, then left them for all to see in large amphora shaped spirit bottle. The Coleburn ghosts, now either destroyed or sold off to the highest bidder, no longer haunt the place, and it’s firmly in the hands of the Duskvol Spectral Society.

Ezme – The proprietor of the Cat and Candle, who understands without saying so, that that the cafe is protected by the DSS, and they are the ones who actually run the place.

Claive – The brawny server whose nose was broken as he got rounded up the Bluecoats.

Bazran, Ogre, Stev and Volette – Students and ‘aspiring’ students who now act as a patrol to keep the Cat and Candle safe and execute the will of the DSS. Thugs.

What Rocked

At some point in the session, I think as part of Hix’s Forsight move we determined that Harland adjusting his moustache was a sign to “follow my lead”. During the scene of pledging eternal fealty to Vond (which was witnessed by Hix and Elke) there was some furious mustache adjusting!

The discussion after “rescuing” Harland was great. Elke was affronted, Harland was deflecting. I loved it!

When they went into the Cat and Candle to vanquish the ghosts all the candles had been snuffed out. It was probably my best moment of the night.

What could have improved

Oh goodness, there are things I’m good at and there are things I’m terrible at. Coming down like a hammer is in the later bit. Like, I’ve seen enough crime dramas to know that depicting cops as using overwhelming force is totally appropriate to crime fiction. And yet, I feel like such a heel telling someone they are being arrested and short of a huge bribe (3 coin!) there is nary they can do about it. Why would they specifically be arresting Hix (or any of the Blades) rather than say Ezme, the tavern owner, or anyone else. I mean… they did arrest those people too, but I didn’t feel like I did a good job connecting the mechanical result of an Entanglement roll with the narrative. It was all a little brute forced.

The Tower and the DemonAs an allegory to that, I don’t think I present challenges that are of different tier very well. So if you’re trying to talk down some Bluecoats out of a standard bribe, you’re going up against magnitude (more of them than you) and quality (higher tier, they’ve seen this before). It’s pretty much the Tower and the Demon (see page 10 of Blades QS 6 for more details) and I should have been better about offering mitigating options. As is, we worked it up to barely doable by pushing, rolled the dice, and watched chaos unfold. I just think there was a missing piece between me saying “mechanically, you’re fucked” and explaining why you’re so fucked in the fiction.

This came up, but in reverse when they faced the ghosts. Ghosts are supposed to be terrifying in this setting, but short of getting violent (which is certainty an option) they don’t pose nearly as much threat to the Duskvol Spectral Society due to their Ghost Passage ability.  I feel like four ghosts should have been terrifying to face, but in part because it was getting late, and in part because I couldn’t think of any way in which that fear would manifest, the whole score felt very transactional. Like it was the fourth or fifth time the Ghostbusters used the Ghost Trap, instead of the first time. I just felt like my presentation was pretty underwhelming.