Actual Play – Research Grant Applications (3/12/2017)

GM: Sean Nittner
Players: Karen Twelves, Eric Fattic, and Adrienne Mueller
System: Blades in the Dark

Blades in the Dark, special edition (it feels like there is a lot of that going around right now). We decided to do an extra long Sunday session to pull off the big score, getting Elke her research grant! The forgotten gods know, she’s been working on it for a while! But just to recap Elke:

  • Comes from the most unconventional supernatural background. On her home at the Dagger Isles, her family the Salkarnas have made a “peace” with ghosts. Elke only knows bits of it, but form her experience ghosts are friendly and subservient. [Background]
  • Has undergone a ritual where Nyryx took complete control of her for two days and during that time built a spectral cocoon where she could safely store a ghost as well as protect herself from future possession. She has shared this process with most of the Spectral Society [Ghost Passage special ability]
  • She pillaged through the Dimmer Sister’s old tomes and discovered how they create hollows, and then developed a technique to protect your soul from the same happening. It required gaining positive standing with the Severosi consulate (which they did by convincing two professors Oilweather and Danwoot to write a book on Severosi history, which Jadvyga had to scribe) to purchase Severosi Callous Quartz (normally not traded with non-Severosi) to create an amulet which will protect the wearer from being hollowed [Multiple long term projects and performing a ritual].
  • Extensively studied the process of possession, both forced and willing, enabling her to detect and better exorcise possessing ghosts [Long term project + Ghost Mind special ability].
  • Has developed her natural tolerance and resistance to supernatural terrors and threats and refined it to make her unflappable in the face of the unnatural. [Iron Will character special ability + Anointed crew special ability]
  • Learned that Bazso has a circlet which draws spirits into it and then gives the wielder the power over them. Both be getting in the best of standing with the Lampblacks [+3 Faction Status] and by doing personal favors for Bazso which helped him appease members of his gang, was granted permission to study the circlet and use it on multiple scores. From what she experiences, she also devised a ritual for animating the dead. [Multiple scores + long term project (Ritual)]
  • Has learned the Dimmer Sisters ritual of carving off the spirit essence of a solider and placing it into a spider, creating a sentry servant [Long term project (Ritual)]
  • Has encountered ghosts from several eras and interacted with them extensively. The midwife of the last Skov queen before the emperor conquered what is now Doskvol. Vond, an ancient ghost who served under the Emperor in the first Unity Wars hundreds of years ago. Nyryx, a Severosi ghost, at least a hundred years old, bound to the Salkaran family, and tied to affairs with Scurlock.

So, suffice to say, when she wrote all this down [Aquire Asset, Tier IV Research notes] it made for a very impressive body of work!

Payoff from last Score

We did a little clean up that we missed on the last score, here was the payoff from the surprise visit to Scurlock

  • Coin: 0
  • Rep: 0 (Nobody knew about their deal)
  • Heat: 3 (Spirit wardens noticed Setarra’s passing)
  • Entanglement: Gang Trouble (more on that below)

Downtime and Free Play

Now that Arquo had been possessed (twice!) it seemed like high time for him to be protected. Since Nyryx demurred from riding another (he was feeling out of sorts since his encounter at the Hound’s Tooth) and because Elke didn’t like the idea of amorous Arquo (it was awkward enough already) she coaxed Hoxen into ride Arquo, and then ordered him a nonstop supply of eel sandwiches, meanwhile she worked (trying to ignore the sounds of digestion and indigestion) on her proposal.

During the possession both Arquo and Hoxan learned something of each other. Specifically the Hoxan had been starved inside Ironhook (that’s how he died) and that Arquo had recent encounters with Scurlock and Setarra (both of which caused Hoxan to wince and eat even more feverishly). [Arquo gained the Ghost Passage ability]

Elke spent her time (when she wasn’t distracted) studying the Callous Quartz with Nyryx. She probably should have been documenting it, but mostly she was nerding out with him about how it captured light in it’s crystals and then didn’t let of of it immediately, and had similar interactions with spectral energy. Once she got into the discussion with Nyryx, who wasn’t impressed by the crystals, she got a little carried away and started trying to impress Nyryx quite loudly with all the exploits. Loud enough that they could be overheard through the walls and all the gang’s clattering of dishes and raising of their own voices didn’t prevent people from hearing things like “When I bound those two ghosts into my service and fought back the psychic attacks of the Empty Vessel, I could have used something like this!” [Indulge Vice, Overindulging, +2 Heat, +2 Awesome]

Harland was spending his time being pushed around by faculty, asked for impossible amount of material for publication by Jayan, and mistrusted by students. The life of a new professor at Charterhall is rough. To gain some ground, he decided to establish himself as an actually bonified good teacher, starting with the students. Harland worked hard to make his classes the best, opened up extensive office hours in the Strathmill Hall study room, which was conveniently on campus and not guarded by a disgruntled pikeman. It was also, of course, the Spectral Society’s lair, but surely nothing bad would come of that. His efforts bore fruit, as three students who were frustrated with Jayan’s teaching style quickly started taking advantage of Harlands time. [Long term project: Secure the associate professor status. Result: Critical. 5/8 ticks]. Harland impressed (or at least interacted significantly with):

  • Amosen (an eager Skovlander)
  • Thadrick (a well connected Akorosi that reminded Harland of himself)
  • Mist (A distant and scholarly Tycherosi who remained interested in Harland’s knowledge but did not become personable)

Aqruo woke from his stupor feeling as though he needed to relieve himself in every possible way and seeing evident from the full chamber pots that he already had, several times. Next to him at the table was Elke, sleeping. The book she had passed out on was replaced by a pillow, and a blanket was placed over her. Across the table from her was a man dressed in bright silks with a thick mustache and beard. His well oiled skin glistened in the candle light and his deep v-cut shirt revealed a thick bushel of dark chest hair and strong muscles beneath. He was staring at Arquo when he woke up and gave him a look of faint disgust, then returned to watch over Elke. The man, was beautiful in so many ways, and it just made Arquo feel even more repulsive as he sat in his own refuse and bile.

Unrelenting however, the hound stood up, walked out side to unencumber himself of Hoxan’s remains and then came back in to clean the up the entire library, removing all signs of his gluttonous adventures. After he was finished he looked at the man there, who he knew had to be Nyryx and told him to leave, he would take care of Elke from here. And there was a small tingle in the back of his neck, as small taste of power that reminded him how spectral energies are just or a mortal’s remains, they are inherently weak and have only fleeting purchase of the living. Welcoming this new confidence he gave Nyryx a hard look, and the man retreated, seeing something of the violence that Arquo could do to him if he was roused to it [Risky Command. Great Effect. Full Success. Devils Bargain: Gaining insight into a ghosts weakness, visions from Setarra]. He left her to sleep peacefully.

Elke woke along and decided to get back to work. Having studied them (and made a whole to do about it) decided to perform the ritual and trap some of her own life essence [3 stress] along with other ritual components into making the protective amulets. Two of them. One for her, and one for Jadvyga. Not one for Arquo?

Arquo, know that the Society’s both wasn’t going to dredge itself out of he canal went to the common room to round up some of the School Patrol to help him pull it out. Only, they weren’t having any of it. When he found Wester, Ogre, Bazran, and Vey, they seemed to be at odds but weren’t talking about it, just giving each other dirty glances. Arquo, not having any time for their personal grievances told them to be “out with it!” Wester came forth calling Ogre on his bullshit. Ogre new about the plans to steal the grant money from the Sparkwrigths and was fine with it it. Wester, one of Una’s students and loyal to the college [Bummer having a gang that is principled] wasn’t having any it, and was personally irate with Ogre for holding onto that info and not sharing with him till just now. The crew was at each other’s throats and weren’t going to be of any use till someone straitened them out.

Arquo tried first to reason with them, which yielded nothing, then to order them, which got him an accidental jab to the jaw from Ogre (it was intended for Wester) when a fight broke out, and then finally violence when he put a gun to Wester’s head and twisted Ogre’s arm, much harder than he had to to subdue him, but he liked the feeling of having the power to not just hurt but permanently damage the man. [Controlled Command, elevating to Risky Skrimish. Devil’s Bargain to get another tick from on the demonic corruption clock 3/4]

Together they dragged the boat out of the canal, carried it to the Charterhall University grounds and promptly dumped it near a machine shop for fixing, after all, it was technically university property. [Recovery action for the Boat. Consequence: Earning the ire of the professors who realized it was missing]

Harland, while on campus already, reserved the use of a basement classroom in Morlan Hall. He could do that afterall, as a professor. His first picks for late night meeting places weren’t available, checked out to some Forgotten God cult or another Spectrology study group, but he did find a place, and in the late hours he invited Lizette to meet him there. When she arrived the room lit only by candle light, set up especially to shroud Harland and only reveal his silhouette and not his face. He told her than he knew she doubted him, that the didn’t see eye to eye, and that he respected people who were steadfast in their beliefs. Because of that he wanted to offer her the position of Mistress of Secrets. Which she accepted, only after stabbing him in the throat, and finding that he did not falter in his stance or in his offer to her [Desperate sway roll. Devils Bargain of stepping in very close. Partial success. Level 4 harm] Seeing him stand, despite what should be a fatal wound was finally what convinced Lizette he was authentic. He is the prophet, even if he divided her marriage and ruined her life [Thank you Battleborn and a Prowess resistance roll for making that wound only “really bad” and not “fatal”].

Arquo, feeling the pull of Setarra’s will decided to face her directly. He saw the way Elke summoned her and he knew her true name. So he went alone to the docks, called her named, and was about to cut his hand and bleed into the void sea, when she appeared behind him and caught his hand, preventing him from hurting himself. Setarra’s allure was in full force. Her sexuality, her offer of power, and her familiarity to Elke all raised Arquo’s temperature, but he came for a particular reason, to find out how to destroy Lord Scurlock.

…Wow, let’s talk about this shall we. This wasn’t what I expected but of course it makes sense. Arquo is obsessed with Elke and wants to grant her hearts’ desire. And Setarra has a back and forth relationship with Scurlock which is currently going in his favor. She doesn’t despise him, but freeing herself of his hold on her would be in her interest. Plus, here is this mortal servant just waiting to server her. Okay, let’s do this…

She smiled and stepped closer. “I can give you the means to defeat the old man, but before I aid you in this way, you must give yourself to me. Completely. ” And Arquo said “I do.” The stepped into the void sea water together and instead of splashing the simply lowered down into the water. The bodies entangled with one another and Arquo’s lungs were filled not with the sea water but with Seterra’s breath, filling him with life and sating his every desire. She was the voluptuous sea captain from the Dagger isles, she was the scaled, shark eyed demon, she was Elke. She was all these things to him, and he was naked in front of her.

When the rose from the waters he felt a fever coming on, something inside of him burning hot enough to consume him. And part of that fever was a spark of insight, knowledge that he did not have before about the villain Kotar who took what did not belong to him and who left behind three artifacts could undo the obscenity that Scurlock has become.  He had a vision of the old Kinclaith manor home in the Lost District, now controlled by Lord Sukur, and the hand residing inside of it.

[Mechanically this was an interesting twist. Arquo didn’t bind Setarra, almost the opposite. So we decided to reverse the script somewhat on the ability:

When, having bound yourself to the service of Setarra, and she indulges your desire, she may command you and you may not refuse it. When the Setarra’s desire is not well-satisfied, she receives permission to work to punish you for your indolence. You gain a new vice “Obligation: Setarra’s Dark Desire”.

I’m not sure this is perfect but we’ll test it in play and adjust as is needed. One thought is that the control is unbalanced now (just as it is with the Bound to the Demon ability) so who knows, maybe Arquo can turns the tables on Setarra at some later time. I mean, that is what Setarra and Scurlock have been doing for ages, yeah?]

Harland visited his brother Corro, again in the distillery and again said he had no advancement on the sealant that he had previously showed Corro working in action.  And although he had technically graduated, he still did not intend to leave the university and return to “real work”. All of these things displeased his brother greatly, as he expected. Instead he offered that the Society could do another job for him. If he knew about a shipment coming in, perhaps they could intercept it for him. Corro did not believe his brother for one moment, but did decide that he wanted to know what his brother was really up to. Corro sent Harland with information about their next score against the Ministry of Preservation and sent him with Fletcher, a trusted Skovlan agent of the Hive, as Harlands assistant. But we all knew that he was there to keep an eye on Harland [Desperate Sway. Partial Success. Serious complication].

Arquo, feeling warm and sated inside, went to visit his family. Shared a meal and laughed with them. Everything as right as rain [Indulge Vice].

The Score

Feeling invigorated, even powerful from their recent experiences (gaining a mistress of secrets, putting fear into a ghost, finishing the ritual to create protective amulets) the crew met in Strathmill Hall where Harland had scheduled a meeting with professor Danwood (he can do these things now!).

Danwood arrived intentionally without a lot of time to spare. He had other obligations to tend to was his way of showing Harland that he the junior professor didn’t control his schedule. Still, he was going to meet his favorite student, and decided he could make time in his day, even if it was just to find out what they were up to.

What followed was a hard sales pitch from Elke and Harland (which occasional backup support from Arquo) to get Danwood to first read Elke’s research notes and then to take the idea of making a Spectrology grant request seriously.

[When the players enter a physical combat I don’t often think about what the potential consequences are because they are easy to come up with in the moment. When people start swinging around sharp pointy things, people (sometimes the same people) are bound to end up on the wrong end of them. But when you’re managing a tough sell it’s different. Danwood likes Elke, and he’s got a modicum of respect for Harland. Going into the conversation he had no intention of helping them with their brazen scheme as it would anger the Sparkwrights (who were currently getting the grant) and potentially threaten his academic status, but nor did he have a reason to try and harm the Blades or even hinder them beyond saying the whole thing was a bad idea.

So, before we started rolling dice, we talked a little bit about what Danwould would want and came up with this short list: Fame (Credit for this work), Leverage of Harland (another professor, even an junior one, owing him something is a good thing), and Elke’s adoration (to sate his own ego and vanity). That way when consequences did come up (and they did) I knew what Danwood should grab for. This ended up working great]

“The idea is far on the fringe, and almost certainly illegal. And besides all that, there is no money to be had, at least not without taking it out of the Sparkwrights pockets. You want to study the recently dead before the Spirit Wardens get to them. This seems fraught with peril.” – Opening lines, Yerial Danwood

Yes, we are going to do this! Let me have your research notes. I’ll change them into a proposal that the Ministry will actually read. Enough detail to entice them but no so much as to reveal all that we know already!” – Closing statements, Professor Yerial Danwood.

What happened in the middle? Harland told him about killing so, so many of the Dimmer Sisters (leverage Yerial will have over him later), Elke shared with him her work (Tier IV asset) and peaked his interest, and he positioned himself as their only chance at getting funding (earning her adoration). [This was several risky (because of the illegal nature of their work) sway actions, two of them with partial success].

During the meeting with Danwood, Fletcher stood outside the study room with a listening glass at the door, overhearing all of it [Command roll on Harland’s part to have him stand outisde. Bad outcome]

Engagement Roll

With Danwood at their back, it was time to make an appointment in Gaddoc Rail station, walk up to the marble staircases to the highest levels and meet with the administrator of public funds, Lady Slane. What did the constable say when they met him at the base of the stairs “Professors Danwood and Younghusband… right this way!” [Full success].

The halls of the ministry were pristine despite the soot which sifted up from the station below. Clearly they were cleaned daily. The electrplasimic lights were not the flickering unstable bulbs that most Dusker’s accustomed to seeing, but golden orbs glowing evenly with a soft radiance that was pleasant to the eyes. The bluecoats, of which their were many did not carry pistols or even truncheons, but small, nearly decorative saps on their belts and military sabers (clearly not decorative) at their side.

The ministers office was spartan to a fault. She was not present when they were led in, so they had a few moments to observe the trade maps on her wall, the electroplasmic powered kinetic hanging ball ornament, and the inbox on her desk with a single sheet of paper sitting in it. There were two chairs in front of her desk. One taken by Danwood, one taken by Elke. Harland eyed this and then grabbed another chair from the lounge outside so that he, one of the professors at the table, would be seated as well.

Arquo stood behind, fascinated with a dais that had a small pool of water. He watched it start to blacken in front of his eyes, but when Elke also took notice, it diffused back to clear drinking water.

Fletcher stood behind Harland, waiting and watching to see what he would do in front of the minister he had told Corro he was going to rob.

When Lady Slane (chief of operations, insightful, subtle, effective) entered she had a stern but courteous countenance. She greeted them, but before beginning the meeting proper, she took the sole document from her inbox, scanned it quickly, signed the bottom and placed it in an outbox for a constable to retrieve.

At the appointed time and place, with introductions made, Lady Slane was ready to receive their proposal [Full success on the engagement roll].

Dirty Deeds, Done Dirt Cheap

From here, Elke, Harland, and Danwood all worked their hardest to show the incredible value of Elke’s research, which they believe could potentially alter the process of spectral separation (the three days between death and spiritual disembodiment) so that departing spirits were not feral, vengeful creatures that we knew today, but peaceful ghosts ready to do good for society. The attempted to focus on the public good while sidestepping the necromantic studies that had already been done to get this far and the extensive ones they would need to proceed further.

[Mechanically I created two clocks. One called “Taken seriously by the Ministry of Preservation” with 4 ticks. This clock was optional but if not completed by the end of the negotiation would result in losing faction status with the Ministry, as they might be persuaded to give the money, but would be suspicious of the Spectral Society and do what they could to prevent renewing it again in the future. The second clock was “Research Grant Obtained” with 4 ticks. This was what they were going for!

I made a third, tangentially related clock called “Danwood’s Font Size” which was on a scale from Danwood’s name not appearing in the results (at 0 ticks) to Danwood’s name being the one only that appeared on the cover (at 6 ticks). Each time they asked for Danwood’s support (handled as devil’s bargain) or used the Asset he created (Tier 5 Grant Application) he got a tick on the clock.

They could advance either clock, but once the grant was given, the “taken seriously” the meeting would end. Also, because they were Tier II (DSS) and Tier III (Charterhall University) they were often starting with limited or no effect. This was mitigated (in some cases) by using the Tier V Grant Proposal, the Tier IV Hive Plans to attack Ministry transports, and through all the usual means (setup actions, pushing, and taking more risk for greater effect.]

Unforseen Outcomes

In efforts to sway Lady Slane [Lot’s of sway rolls, but when getting desperate command was used as well] they made all the normal appeals of this work doing public good as well as deriding the Sparkrights [who they were trying to steal the claim from] as being incompetent (citing the Lightning Tower failure in Dunslough) and frivolous (citing Una’s “ridiculous” plan to move people and objects through the ghost field), but that just wasn’t enough. Even with the amazing grant proposal and Charterhall backing, it was clear that Lady Slane would take this all under advisement and consider it once she saw the Sparkwrights grant renewal applications [Flashback to Arquo sneaking into Arcus’ office and stealing the application so they had to hastily recreate it. 2 Stress]

In desperation [this really was a desperate roll] Arquo produced the map provided to him by Corro and admitted that he had connections within the Hive and knew about an attack on a shipment of Leviathan Blood moved by the ministry. At this point many, many bad things happened.

  • Fledcher pulled his hidden dagger form it’s wrist sheath.
  • Lady Slane called a constable to arrest this group of criminals.
  • Elke “protected” the group by calling Harland a traitor to the cause and saying this was never part of the Society’s plan.
  • Harland doubled down and got in Lady Slane’s face threatening to give away more information which incited Fletcher to attacking him and constables to arrest both of them with extreme prejudice. [Level 3 Harm, Concussion]

[This is what happens when you make a desperate roll, and get a 1-3 bad outcome result, while having a wanted level, against at Tier V opponent.]

A very different meeting

Harland and Fletcher were both carted off. Elke barely kept Lady Slane from kicking them all out of her office, and then some very impassioned pleas were made. In this:

  • Elke shared the extend of their research (fully).
  • Lady Slane made an offer for the Society to become agents of the ministry and help them gain control of the Leviathan Hunters, which they refused and further frustrated the already sorely tested Slane. [This killed the “Taken seriously by the Ministry of Preservation” clock, started a “Lady slane is your enemy” clock for Elke, and also cemented that Lady Slane would be watching the Doskvol Spectral society very closely from here on out.


At the end of the day, the score was finished, but was it worth it.

  • Coin: 4 (starting funds from the grant. 8 total, but 1/2 went to Charterhall)
  • Claim: Research Grant (-2 Coin per score payment to Ward Boss: Charterhall University)
  • Rep: 4 (Job against the Sparkwrights)
  • Faction Status: Ministry of Preservation -1 (Total -1), Charterhall University +1 (Total +2), Sparkwrights -1 (Total -1), Hive -3 (Total -2).
  • Heat: 8 (Wild Devastating exposure, On hostile turf, and against a high profile target). Dropped by 6 for Elke talking the fall (see below).

Feeling like at least they mostly all made it out in tact, they went home to celebrate. The next day Elke was going to get started on the work with Arquo first thing in the morning…but she never showed up. That night, alone in her apartment, Elke was found by three Spirit Wardens (somebody actually gave her work a read), in chorus their voices filled her small apartment as they intoned a proclamation that she had violated the Emporer’s laws, and then all went dark.

What Rocked

I finally figured out a way to represent the pressure Harland’s obligations were creating for him. For each obligation (to the Hive, to Chaterhall, and to the True Path) he needed to spend one downtime action appeasing them, else start a clock that represents their displeasure. Since that is more downtime actions that he has, that either means he’ll be spending coin to satisfy them all, trying to balance their demands, or oh… never mind.

I had fun not depicting Nyryx when Elke was interacting with him. He’s just in another body, no worries, but then going through all the details of his appearance and demeanor when Arquo, who is jealous of any one that has Elke’s attention was interacting with him. It’s fun to be an unreliable narrator sometimes.

Oh, I’m so clever with my Demonic Corruption clock. I’m really going to make Adrienne fear for Arquo’s fate. She’s going to be terrified to even thing about Set – oh… never mind.

Elke snuck in that Arquo was going to be her research assistant at the end with Danwood, so he agreed to sponsor yet another new student, and Arquo was finally enrolled in Charterhall and made a full member of the Society.

At the beginning of their meeting Arquo tried to size Lady Slane up and got a bad outcome, so instead she did the same to him. Earlier Adrienne had said that the Trauma Arquo took from his time in Setarra’s underwater travel was Unstable, and it represented his soul being somewhat disconnected from this body, making him easier to manipulate, especially by powerful women. Lady Slane saw in him the shame he had about his time as a soldier, and she used that, subtlety to control him during the meeting. She revealed just a hint of her military experience so that he knew she had served as well, and that was a enough to get her hooks in him. Though it didn’t amount to anything substantive, it was a wonderfully subtle interchange between the two of them, unnoticed by anyone else in the room.

I can’t believe the Harland just outed himself (and Corro) right in front of Fletcher. Had it worked, he would have sealed the deal, but it all exploded in his face. As a player these kinds of losses can be hard but Eric embraced the turning tides, and maybe now we’ll get to have that Ironhook score afterall!

Elke’s arrest actually happened post game. Karen and I were discussing it and she wanted to try playing another character for a while, plus it felt like a strain to both of us that a Spirit Warden wouldn’t take some interest in her. So next session we got to meet Ro Masura, the Irruvian Slide!

What could have improved

I realized that to ramp up the tension even more, I should have added one more clock for Lady Slane. A 4 tick clock that was “Your allotted time has expired” which would tick up with each action, but that would be battled back down with some negotiation. Something to keep the tension up (not that it was really needed, but the speed of bureaucracy should have reared it’s ugly head as well).


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